It is hardly necessary to note that comics and manga are capable of conveying just about anything. Philosophy? See Ryan Dunlavey and Fred Van Lente's Action Philosophers series. Travel? Try Guy Delisle's accounts of his sojourns in tourist hot spots such as Pyongyang and Shenzhen. Memoir? Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "A Drifting Life" is a massive and massively successful portrait of the artist as a young cartoonist. And in addition to all this, creators of comics continue to make up stories, too, and to tell those stories using conventions taken from the whole history of narrative art.

AYAKO, by Osamu Tezuka, translated by Mari Morimoto. Vertical, 2013, 701 pp., $24.95 (paper)

In "Ayako," Osamu Tezuka draws on that offshoot of literary realism called Naturalism. Emile Zola and others working in that tradition were greatly influenced by Charles Darwin, though their understanding of his theory was idiosyncratic, and they put it to their own uses. Mostly what they took from Darwin's work was the notion that we are all prisoners of our heredity (a notion that wasn't exactly new: novelists had been using "blood" to explain their characters for a long time) and our social environment. "Prisoners" is the key word here: one's heredity and circumstances seldom, in the Naturalists' view, left one free to live a happy, healthy life: They were more likely to compel one toward vice, poverty, crime, incest and alcoholism.