The Manga Guide to Physiology is an amazing marriage of description, explanation, everyday interactions and visual analysis. Having reviewed several volumes in this series before, it was a delightful surprise to see one in physiology, the area of my doctoral studies. As a quick background, the series deals with many areas of mathematics and the basic sciences cast in the background of Japanese cartoons. Each volume delves into the subject area with interesting plots, amusing zingers, well-moving action and succinct explanations. All of this in an easy to assimilate style with drawings dominating the text and well-illustrating the major points.

Physiology is the study of the workings of life, the how's and why's rather than merely boring facts to be memorized. It gives rise to observation, hypothesis, experimental design and, ultimately, to uncovering the secrets of life (albeit very slowly).

As most college-level physiology texts, the book covers the basic physiologic systems:

  • circulatory
  • respiratory
  • digestive
  • renal
  • nervous
  • musculoskeletal
  • endocrine

In addition, several chapters treat special topics such as the brain, kidneys, body fluids, and ― to keep up-to-date with the latest and most intensive areas of research ― cells and genes. (It also gets a little cute with the chapter subtitles such as "pumps working in harmony" and "the multitalented liver"). Although some sources claim it can be read by children as young as nine years, it would be much better absorbed by junior high and high school students. Also I would not hesitate to assign it as supplementary reading to any college undergraduate struggling with an intro physiology course.

The plot concerns Kumiko Karada, a freshman nursing student who severely ticked off her physiology professor by not only flunking his class but forgetting his name! She is given a second chance to do a (very) crash course to take a makeup exam (10 volumes in 10 days!). Following a plot line that was used before in several volumes of this series, she happens upon a young researcher/teacher who helps her through the curriculum.

The text is sprinkled not only with excellent drawings and illustrative diagrams, but also humor. Like when the young scientists asks Kumiko to draw the heart. She draws a stylized heart (like one we see on a valentine) but correctly labels the four chambers. The young professor then comments "Well, at least your heart is in the right place." This type of interchange is usually followed by an extremely illustrative diagram relating the conversation to the physiological process, as below:

One of the most important takeaway lessons from the conversations and diagrams is the fact that physiology is far more than an exercise in memorization, as it is first thought of by too many students. Also, it is vitally important to understand what the young professor refers to as "the bigger picture and how each part relates to everything else.” If the students can start thinking about the implications and ramifications of a particular structure and its function, the learning experience is not only more pleasant, but far more fruitful.

For those of us with more advanced knowledge of the subject, the most delightful feature of the book is what follows the basic illustrated concepts. For next, we receive a more detailed presentation of the preceding subject with maximal information through concise verbiage. Here is where maximal information is presented to amplify what has already been absorbed concerning the basics.

In the circulatory section, it was particularly illuminating to read the explanation of why so many electrodes are needed for an electrocardiogram. Many of us who had the EKG's as part of an annual physical also wonder such things! A similarly pleasing explanation for events related to blood pressure follows several pages later.

Suffice to say that the rest of the book follows this intriguing format. The student nurses and clinical technicians will enjoy learning more about what the clinical testing of blood yields and how it relates to the physiology of the circulatory system.

My greatest interest during graduate studies regarded the nervous system. In this area, the authors have our student nurse at a fair/shopping mall where she learns about sensory physiology by holding and touching an object with her eyes closed. She describes the sensory "feelings" while touching an object that turns out to be a small turtle. This launches her into a deeper understanding of the nervous system and its intricate interconnections, especially in the brain.

This text is an amazing marriage of description, explanation, everyday interactions and visual analysis. As with most Manga guides, highly recommended!


The Manga Gide to Physiology, by E. Tanaka, K. Koyama, and Becom Co., LTD. No Starch Press, San Francisco (2015), 239 pp. ISBN 1-59327-440-8, $15.05

John Wass is a statistician based in Chicago, IL. He may be reached at