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More Fun with Manga

by Brian Dunning, Nov 05 2009
The Manga Guide to Calculus

The Manga Guide to Calculus

People always used to make fun of me for learning calculus, on my own, for fun. For some reason my formal educational track always managed to swerve around calculus and I missed out, leaving me forever jealous of my friends who knew what integrals were.

And so it was with some nostalgia that I recently opened a package from No Starch Press and found The Manga Guide to Calculus inside. Now you don’t have to be a complete dork to study calculus on your own; you can do it simply for the fun of enjoying manga (Japanese comic art).

The regular reader may recall that I’ve written about No Starch’s Manga Guides before. I think that blending a normally dry science subject with entertainment is a fine idea. The Manga Guides are arguably not the best in comic book storytelling, nor the deepest in instructional detail, but I find they strike a happy balance. They give the average novice a solid, practical understanding of the fundamentals, and they do it in an approachable manner that can appeal to almost anyone. I think the most compelling selling point of this teaching style is that everything is given in the context of a real-world example. The heroine in the calculus book, for example, is a news reporter and has to learn the math behind the stories she reports (an approach that, I think, many of our mass media reporters could benefit from).

The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology

The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology

I also received The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology. Don’t laugh, but I’ve actually used this as a reference once in a Skeptoid episode. More to the point, my daughter (currently 10 years old) is obsessed with it: She plans to be a biologist and I’ve often drilled into her the need to be conversant in molecular biology and organic chemistry. The Manga Guide makes it possible for a 10-year-old to develop a decent working knowledge of a subject that sends most college students running for the hills.

You know those cheat sheets they sell in stationery stores, they’re like laminated double-sided guides that list out all the details for a given subject? I used to buy those all the time but found that they lack context. My bet is that one of those, alongside a Manga Guide, make a pretty strong duo. They won’t turn you into the next Stephen Hawking, but they just might (as they did for me) fill a gap in your knowledge in the most painless way.

By way of disclosure, I should state that No Starch Press did send me these books at no charge in the hope that I might post a review. So this article is not entirely charitable (there I go shilling for The Man again); however people send me stuff all the time, and most of it never sees the light of day. I do enjoy these books.

20 Responses to “More Fun with Manga”

  1. tudza says:

    Sure, you’re shilling for The Man, but this is manga. The Man has odd sparkly eyes and weird spikey hair.

  2. Jeremy O'Wheel says:

    Wow this is awesome. I’m going to their website to buy some right now :P

  3. Anthony O'Neal says:

    LOL, hoping to get more?

    • Anthony O'Neal says:

      Reading this I was honestly like, is he getting paid to say this? Is this really appropriate?

      Sorry, it just gave off that sort of vibe. But if it’s just a voluntary review in response to them sending it to you, whatever…

  4. oldebabe says:

    Good for you. Obviously, you are not an academic snob. Manga Guides ARE fun, and can provide a quick basic understanding, it seems to me, which is all one may need about certain subjects.

  5. Shawn S. says:

    It doesn’t matter how the material is presented as long as it is presented accurately. I enjoyed my calculus classes, even though I was nearly phobic of them at first, because they finally showed me why I had studied algebra all that time. Calculus was what math could really do! Presenting it in a fun, and eye pleasing way, is a great way to get people to look at a subject they would normally turn their nose up at. You’re still a geek for learning calculus on your own, though, but I’ve never considered that a criticism. :)

  6. John Paradox says:

    The Calculus book is one I’ll have to check, after taking it in college, then getting (from the Library)various ‘dummies/idiots/DIY’ books I still can’t retain the basics beyond about five minutes after reading the books. With my general ability to absorb the basics behind various subjects, that is extremely frustrating to me.

  7. Lisa V says:

    I can’t believe my first comment to this blog is about Calculus. I took Calculus (and passed) in college but never felt that I grasped it. My years of not having to study for math courses did not pay off when it came to Calculus. It frustrates me whenever I think about it.

    I recently told a coworker that I wanted to pick up a “Calculus for Dummies” book so that I could relearn and (hopefully) understand it. That got me a weird look. I may just check into this Manga Guide instead.

  8. Cthandhs says:

    The Molecular Biology guide has just been put on my Late-December-Gift-Giving-Ritual list :)

  9. Xplodyncow says:

    “People always used to make fun of me for learning calculus, on my own, for fun.”

    One question: “used to”?

    ;-)

  10. Patrick S. says:

    I need to look into these types of guides. I am trying to read “The Singularity is Near” and the science behind the book is sometimes over my head. I wonder if they make these types of guides for physics and other science related topics as well.

  11. Patrick S. says:

    I guess all I needed to do was click on the link in the article to get my answer – been a long week – have a good weekend all!

  12. MadScientist says:

    I’ll definitely look through if I see either of those books in a shop. I doubt I’ll be giving up my volumes of calculus by Courant and John though; I’ll be shocked if I ever see a better calculus text.

  13. Nexus says:

    This actually sounds fun. I wish that I had had some sort of guide like that in High School, when calc was the bane of my existence.

  14. kabol says:

    calculus – bright colors – death and destruction by giant flying robots (well, the BEST anime has that, i dunno what this manga has…)

    what’s not to love?

  15. Chris says:

    Brian, is there any chance “No Starch” would have a booth at our local anime/manga con, Sakura-Con (sakuracon.org)? Did they have one at Comic-Con? That is where I met the “Girl Genius” folks (of course, they are local to us).

    There are several of these cons through-out the year (like Comic-Con and Dragon-Con, only smaller and specifically geared towards manga/anime).

    I just spent the weekend in a hotel room with my teenage daughter and her friend for Aki-Con (akicon.org). I had to because I am an indulgent mother, and she is under the age of 16. But I think I would love it if I could come away from one of those weekends with the Manga Guide to Something Useful!

    (Okay, to be truthful… my daughter’s love of anime made her check out the videos from the library while in elementary school. She and a friend would watch them in Japanese with English subtitles. When she started Japanese in 7th grade she found it easy… as a 10th grader she still finds it easy!. Next year she plans to take AP Japanese, and then start to learn French. She has also learned how to sew her own costumes, along with having her drawing skills inspired by manga. So manga/anime has been a good thing. The upshot is that we both have DeviantArt accounts, mine is SewUntalented and she is delimit-insanity.)

    PS: For those who have trouble with calculus… here it is in a nutshell: The derivative is the slope of the line, and the integral is the area under the line — the rest are just pesky but important details. The weirdest detail being that there is one number where the derivative is itself, that being “e” (named after Euler). It is a wonderful number. One weird thing about that number is that if you take the equation for finding periodic interest of a bank loan to a ridiculous degree… the answer is the number that matches “e.” It is really cool. See Maor, Eli; e: The Story of a Number. In my former life as a structural dynamics engineer I most often used e^i(theta)=cos(theta) + i sin(theta). (the superscript hyperlink did not seem to work, bummer, it is Euler’s Formula… if my daughter and I make it to the next TAM, I hope to have a T-shirt with that formula on it!… I’ve prgrammed into my embroidery software… nerd mom who sews!)

  16. Chris says:

    I feel stupid for doing a spell check, or a grammar check!

    Of course I “programmed” my embroidery software for my embroidery machine (it is a numerical controlled machine for embroidery… a home version of the type you in some shopping malls for custom T-shirt and hat embroidery). Go into any store selling sewing machines, and you will be shown these machines. I’m cheap… I got in under the price of a good used car.

    Also, I saw the “Girl Genius” people at Sakura-Con. It is an interesting world which is very steam-punk.

  17. Chris says:

    Bah! Grammar check fail! Time to go to bed!

  18. Science and manga are pretty much my two favourite things! Though, I’m a manga creator, more than a reader. It’s great to see manga being used as a teaching tool. Though my work doesn’t attempt to teach actual science facts, my goal is to create stories that promote critical thinking and contain charaters who are role models as good skeptics. Legend of the Ztarr is my manga series that I’m currently working on to do this.

    I’m going to have to check out these manga guides!