Did you know that the majority of Japanese anime series are actually adaptations of popular manga?
Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece are all based on manga that were serialized in Japanese magazines and were later turned into an anime.
Currently, 30% of all publications sold in Japan are manga (or manga magazines). Manga are a major part of the Japanese publishing industry, with a ¥420 billion (approximately $5.5 billion) share in 2009. They are consumed by everyone, from children to adults and you just have to find yourself on a Japanese train to see many passengers reading manga books, manga magazines, or even use their smartphones and tablets to read their favorite manga title.
In this article we are going to talk about the manga artists, aka mangaka, the backbone of the manga industry.
— 真島ヒロ (@hiro_mashima) October 7, 2016
The role of mangaka
Manga can be found in various formats: Long stories, 4-koma( four cell, comic strip), episodic, and many more. You can find mangaka working from relatively simple comic strips to long complex pieces. One of the peculiarities associated with manga creation is that the mangaka is responsible for everything related to the creative part of the title, from the story to the actual drawing. American comics usually employ several artists for a single comic: the writer is responsible for the story, the typist for the correct attribution of text in the speech bubbles, and the visual work is divided among inkers, pencillers, and colourists.
There are cases where Japanese mangaka also divide the creation process into story writing and drawing, since it’s very tough for one creator to do all the work by himself, especially when there are multiple deadlines. In that case, the script writer is called manga gensaku-sha (original author). While many creators hire assistants to help them with the drawings, the final responsibility falls to the mangaka that gets labeled on the comics and magazines. Working as an assistant is often considered to be the gateway to start working as a mangaka, and most famous creators got some first-hand experience as assistants.
— 石田スイ (@sotonami) October 13, 2016
Is creating manga a rigorous job?
Most Japanese manga are published in chapters in weekly or monthly manga magazines. Collections of chapters are published into a tankou-bon (単行本), an equivalent of western comic books.
Because of their episodic form, the hardest part of the mangaka job is to keep up with the deadlines set by publications and magazines. Especially when it comes to weekly magazines, mangaka who can’t keep up with the weekly programs have their work ‘dropped’ as they call it in the manga world. In such a competitive industry, you need to keep up if you want to succeed. This is why mangaka are always very busy. Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, once said that he could barely sleep when he started working on Dr. Slump, and had worked for several days straight without any sleep at all. Eiichirou Oda, the creator of One Piece, also claims that he sleeps only three hours a day.
Creating manga is a rigorous and tiring job, but unfortunately the pay is low. Assistant workers are hired by the creator and not the publisher, and it is said that many creators end up with no money at the end of the month after paying for all the people involved in the creation process. Not all mangaka are rich. Only those whose works have become so popular that they earn money from royalties and merchandise.
The not so well-known mangaka work hard to reach a future that will give them both money and fame, but most of them continue to be in the business because they simply love the process and the industry. This job can be both heaven and hell, but there are some exceptions to this rule: Hajime Isayama went from zero to hero with Attack on Titan.
— 堀越耕平 (@horikoshiko) June 26, 2016
How to become a mangaka?
So, you want to create manga? Good for you. Get ready to join a club of million of others aspiring mangaka who work really hard to make a name of themselves in an industry that is both wondrous and cruel.
The publishing world of manga works just like traditional publishing. New mangaka submit their work to publishers for consideration. It’s a valuable opportunity for amateurs to get some feedback and advice from editors. If your art and story is good enough, you’ll probably be assigned an editor who will work with you towards your debut. That doesn’t mean that your work will meet success, as most of them get dropped after a while. These publications regularly host mangaka contests in search of new talents. The winners usually have their work featured in the magazine that held the contest.
There is also the world of doujinshi, self-published works that are usually the equivalent of our fan-fiction, but for manga. Many of these amateur creators make their debut as professionals after their work is recognized by the creator or the publisher of the original work. Toyotarou, who used to create Dragon Ball‘s parody manga Dragon Ball AF, was given a job in the manga adaptation of Dragon Ball Super on V Jump because his drawing style very similar to that of the original creator.
There are many amateur creators that publish their work online, on personal blogs and social media. We must not forget that publishers and editors are (most of the times) fans themselves. They track what’s happening online and try to get ahead of titles that have a certain following. The original One-Punch Man started out as a viral Japanese webcomic penned by the enigmatic mangaka ONE. Online exposure is a good way to have your title discovered or land a job as an assistant for a more famous creator.
The Love for Manga is Worldwide
In recent years, we see many non-Japanese manga artists making a debut in Japan. オーサ・イェークストロム/Åsa Ekström is a Swedish artist who draws 4-koma comic strips about her life in Japan on her blog. Her work got published as a comic. Nationality does not matter, and as a matter of fact, there are mangaka with various nationalities: German, Chinese, Korean and so many more.
Anyone can be a mangaka as long as they are good. Your nationality, your race, gender, or age doesn’t matter. All that matters to the publishers is whether you can create a good manga or not.
Are you ready for the life of the mangaka?
The life of the mangaka is harsh. If your manga doesn’t sell, your income will be much lower than working for a company as a salary-man. You need to be patient, hard-working, and stay true to your art. Success is not guaranteed, but there is no telling what could happen if you make your debut!
Start drawing your manga, enjoy creating stuff, and who knows…Maybe you’ll be a famous mangaka!
In the words of Mashiro Moritaka:
There are three rules for being a mangaka if you’re not a genius.1. Be conceited. Believe you can do better than anyone else.2. Work hard.And the last one…Be lucky.
Do you want to be a mangaka? Let us know in the comments. You can also check out our article on how you can become a voice actor in Japan.