Initially published in 2014, “Bungo Stray Dogs” is an ongoing manga series following Nakajima Atsushi, a homeless orphan in Japan. After getting kicked out of yet another orphanage and on the brink of starvation, he accidentally stops the suicide of Detective Osamu Dazai. Upon learning that Atsushi can transform into a white tiger, Dazai recruits him into the Armed Detective Agency (ADA), a team of people with similar supernatural abilities. Finally part of a family, Atsushi and the rest of the ADA use their abilities to fight crime around Yokohama and meet other shapeshifters in the process.
That’s just a little background. However, this article will not be focusing on the story itself, nor the characters. What’s special about “Bungo Stray Dogs” is the characters’ names, as most, if not all, characters are named after famous authors and poets. The abilities of the characters usually correspond with the literary styles or works of the person they are named after. Even the manga’s title, “Bungo Stray Dogs,” incorporates literature: The word “bungo” translates to “literary” in English.
By referencing these various literary figures and works, “Bungo Stray Dogs” exposes its fans, specifically those from the West, to works of literature and authors they may never have heard of otherwise. Many of the main characters are named after Japanese authors and poets, so most western audience members may have trouble recognizing their names and influences. However, the series also introduces characters named after more well-known western figures: Edgar Allan Poe, Francis Fitzgerald and H.P. Lovecraft, for example. Once fans recognized that the characters were named after authors, they were quickly inspired to look into their various works. This sparked a popular trend on TikTok in which fans bought the works of referenced authors. Many of these books have been integrated into fandom conversations. Author names are not the only literary reference within “Bungo Stray Dogs,” as some of its characters are based on figures from these novels or even the novels’ authors themselves. In this way, reading the works of the authors can help shed light on both the manga and its characters.
Many online phenomena have come about due to fans of the series becoming more familiar with the authors that characters are named after. For example, some fans have created entire blogs — such as Japanese Literature and Bungo Stray Dog Tumblr Blog and BSD Die Hard Fan Tumblr Blog — connecting Japanese literature to the show, documenting old photos of authors and detailing notable encounters that authors have had with each other. The two blogs above are actually the ones I used to learn more about the authors referenced in BSD as well as the series as a whole. These blogs made it a lot easier to find information about the authors and their works because it was all centralized in one place.
For me, finding new books to read is often difficult because I am very picky and the process of looking is too strenuous. Often I just give up, but having access to blogs like these or to TikTok creators that talk about the books has made that process of choosing my next book a lot easier. The overall influence of social media, specifically TikTok, is what introduced me to this manga series and, in turn, to many works of classic literature I was newly inspired to read. My introduction to these works is mainly attributed to fans of the series who go out of their way to create content about it in the form of art, edits, blogs or even analyses. Apart from fan creations, the show also motivated fans to read the literary works of authors both new and old. There are even living authors, such as Japanese mystery writers Yukito Ayatsuji and Natsuhiko Kyogoku, who are seeing benefits from references in BSD.
But why is it so important that “Bungo Stray Dogs” inspires its fans to read the authors and works it references? I’ve always believed that consuming media from different parts of the world can help you understand the way things work in other places. Our points of view are limited in scope but can be widened if people decide to look into different works from throughout the world. On a more personal front, I think opening yourself to art from other cultures can expose you to media that can be just as relatable and life-altering as mainstream pop culture in your own country. “Bungo Stray Dogs” makes it easy to find new authors and new works, since you just have to look up a list of character names. It makes the process of finding new literature and authors simple and accessible for anyone curious enough to investigate. One example of a book I found because of this series was No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, which I really love. It is probably one of the first pieces of media that I’ve ever felt represented in.
The manga is amazing in and of itself; however, what makes “Bungo Stray Dogs” even better is the wide range of literature it exposes you to.
Daily Arts Writer K. Rodriguez-Garcia can be reached at email@example.com.