A Childhood in the Land of Monsters

In his manga 'NonNonBâ', Shigeru Mizuki chronicles the early period of a life between fleeting happiness and a passion for the supernatural.


WordsClémence Leleu

© Shigeru Mizuki / Mizuki Productions.

NonNonBa takes the reader on a journey through time. Shigeru Mizuki’s tale is set in the 1930s, a time when he was only a young boy. The story has an almost autobiographical slant: the same era, the same geographical environment (the west coast of Japan), and the same surname. A lot of the author can be found in the adventures of the hero of this manga, with a face as round as the moon. The reader follows him as he tames yokai, the fascinating and frightening legendary creatures held dear in popular Japanese culture, who go on to become his faithful companions. He discovers them thanks to the arrival in his life of NonNonba, an old, mystical, and mysterious woman. 

Shigeru Mizuki was born in 1922, in the small coastal town of Sakai Minato in Tottori Prefecture. He was passionate about drawing, but the war scuppered his artistic ambitions as he was enlisted in the Imperial Army and joined the troops in New Guinea, where he lost an arm and contracted malaria. It was not until 1957 that he started working as a mangaka, with his childhood, popular culture, and the supernatural world featuring prominently in his work. Shigeru Mizuki went on to create and preside over Sekai Yokai Kyokai, an organisation for fans of these Japanese spirits.


Seeing the invisible

The book has no particular plot, other than telling a story of childhood with its discoveries, fears, and first experiences, with decisive encounters that send the individual plunging headlong into a previously unknown universe by way of transmission. ‘The fact that we do not see them does not mean that invisible things do not exist’, NonNonBa declares to the young Shigeru while the two are taking a walk. This maxim is obviously applicable to the yokai, but also to those who have gone, having left the countryside for the city as if having disappeared. In 2007, NonNonBa received the prize for Best Album at the Angoulême Festival.


NonNonBa (2007), a manga by Shigeru Mizuki, is published by Drawn and Quarterly.

© Shigeru Mizuki / Mizuki Productions.

© Shigeru Mizuki / Mizuki Productions.