Relativistic Physics … and Manga?

How often have you wanted to learn whilst having fun? For some, fun comes in reading manga, a medium capable of tackling anything from bread making (Yakitate! Japan), the arts industry (Bakuman), even existential philosophy (Ghost in the Shell). But what if you could learn physics using manga? That is exactly what this book offers! It has all the charm of traditional manga, but is full of accessible demonstrations of relativity.

After hearing about a series of manga guides to physics, I rushed to the university library to find the ‘Manga Guide to Relativity’, and became hooked from the prologue. The book opens at the end of the school year, with the students going over their plans for the summer and a closing speech by the headteacher.Little do they know, he has a wheel of fortune on the stage, with the outcome determining what the students will study during the break. The dart is thrown as the wheels spins and it hits – relativity! The student body president Minagi cries out against this outrage, but is forced by his peers to accept the challenge to study on behalf of all the students.

While improbable, the story arc progresses in this rather bizarre fashion, with the physics teacher trying to earn brownie points by teaching young Minagi all about relativity. All the fundamentals are demonstrated with richly drawn characters, helping bring the points to life and keep interest during the more difficult concepts. In addition, at the end of each chapter a more rigorous explanation of all the topics mentioned is provided.

I wouldn’t recommend this book as a primary textbook, but it certainly qualifies as one to read to help the mind grasp the more difficult concepts of relativity. And with a typical manga arc, plot twists, and colourful characters, what’s not to love?

Caveat: the ‘Manga Guide to Relativity’ suggests that mass increases with speed, which is a contested subject in physics. At the University of Birmingham, it’s more often taught that the force needed to accelerate a fixed mass increases, rather than the mass itself increases.

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