New Japan Academy is the story of Tetsuya Naito in manga form and it achieves two things: it’s a really fun read and a great vehicle to tell the story of not only Tetsuya Naito, but Okada and Tanahashi alongside a couple of more NJPW cameos. This manga is funny and emotional at the same time, and does not shy away from feelings of hopelessness when one has eyes set on a goal and sees everything crashing down. Yes, this is volume 1 and I can say that the ending ain’t the happiest. After all, this is Naito’s story, and long time fans of his know how it goes. Also? This story is set in high school.
This manga by HIROKU. and published by Yen Press is something that I had no idea I was going to enjoy and it’s an imaginative twist to Naito’s story. New Japan Pro Wrestling is turned into a high school, with the Young Lions being trained from a very young age, then becoming first-year students, and so forward. What some on the internet call the NJPW Dads (the vets that are relegated to opening shows and tag matches) are the school teachers. Instead of wrestling venues, these wrestling students wrestle in abandoned buildings where a mad Toru Yano charges visitors at the entrance, the biggest one being The Dome, an abandoned planetarium buried in the hills.
This is Tetsuya Naito’s tale, and we start with him being interviewed alongside his Los Ingobernables de Japón teammates (with EVIL, this manga is pre break up) about his life story. After eating way too much and BUSHI ordering the priciest things in the menu, we get to see how Naito was inspired to go to New Japan Academy after seeing first year student Hiroshi Tanahashi have a great first match and win his first IWGP title. After Naito becomes a wrestler, he challenges Tanahashi for the belt, loses, and then comes Okada the popular boy to steal his spotlight. Vol. 1 ends after Wrestle Kingdom 8, where school students decide to vote for the Intercontinental title match of Tanahashi vs Chaos’ General (that’s his name, I swear) instead of Okada vs Naito to main event the Dome because they really hate Naito. Okada is mad because his schoolmates did not want him in the main event since he, alongside everyone, thought that Naito is just lame because he misses his best shot whenever he has the chance.
The main story focuses on Naito trying to be the face the New Japan Academy by beating Tanahashi, Okada, and getting the belt. You see the high school version of his connections with not only Okada and Tanahashi but you can slowly see throughout the book how he met his stablemates and other NJPW wrestlers. Funniest one was how he met SANADA, a boy from another school that he helped in a fight since he was outnumbered in a fight under a bridge. He met BUSHI since they started training together and at school lunch they connected.
That is the kind of charming fun that you get in the manga. You can see them being kids and do things like Instagram stories or fight over popularity. Even though it’s Naito’s story to the top converted into a high school setting with the shenanigans that it ensues, the story has a lot of heart. I bet you that you will have feelings on how Naito describes how Okada intimidates him or questioning if he’ll be able to surpass Tanahashi. His really tough time dealing with an injured leg is told in a serious way. And worst of all, your heart will break (again, if you are a fan already) on how he could not fulfill his dream of winning the title fast and main eventing the Dome.
The art is incredible too. The author clearly studied his tapes and you can see how moves are performed, and you get matches drawn here. Since this is in high school, all of it is really cute and cool at the same time. I quite liked the art and it was the perfect medium for the story.
This manga has pro wrestling, NJPW, laughs, silliness, heart, great art, and pro wrestlers as high schoolers. What’s not to like? Most importantly, it clearly respects and loves the subjects, especially Tetsuya Naito. This book is a great entryway to someone that is on the fence on NJPW by giving them one of the most interesting story arcs in an easily digestible way that doesn’t need them watching hours of matches. Also, it shows to those “NJPW does not do stories” dumdum that if someone can make a manga out of the company, maybe they can and have been telling stories. Naito and NJPW fans will love it, and I count myself as one of those.
At the moment it is only available on digital platforms.