June 25, 2015

The teen manga artist

Despite the manga market in Japan cooling off largely due to the inevitable demographic shifts, publishers are still actively recruiting new talent. This has produced a YA genre unique to Japan that centers around the teenage manga artist.

The genre falls into two general categories: 1) the amateur/self-published (dojinshi) manga artist, often a member of a high school or college manga club; 2) a teenager earning a living as a manga artist.

In the former category are Comic Party and Genshiken. In both cases, the goal is getting a booth at the Comiket comic fair (or its equivalent), the world's biggest dojinshi convention.

A few of the more talented club members may parlay this into a career in the future, but that's not the point of the story. As Kate points out, the setting has the important function of giving the characters something to do.

The problem of providing genre romantic characters with a difference can often be solved by simply giving the main characters jobs, and then remembering what those jobs are.

This is literally the case for the teenagers in the latter category. They often even live alone (second item). This isn't unusual in Japan, where a high school student can enroll in an "escalator school" away from home, or whose parents are working abroad.

In anime and manga about making manga, "the teenager as working artist" breaks down into several sub-categories:

  • As in Ef–A Tale of Memories, being a manga artist is simply one aspect of a person's character and a source of conflict as such.
  • Though more commonly, the main character being a manga artist comprises the whole plot device.
  • As an added twist, a guy is writing a romance manga or a teen girl is writing for a sexually explicit imprint (like Cheese).

Bakuman is the best series about growing up to become a manga artist. The story follows two ninth grade boys who are striving to break into the business, with Moritaka Mashiro as the artist and Akito Takagi as the writer.

Media Blasters had picked up the anime but subsequently abandoned the license. The manga series is published by VIZ Media.

Otherwise, the best of the rest is Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. Nozaki Umetaro is a hunky high school student who, unbeknownst to most of his classmates, draws a popular romance manga for a girl's magazine.

Producing two chapters a month leaves him desperate for new material. And help. Established manga artists employ a small staff to help meet the always pressing deadlines. Nozaki resorts to roping his classmates into those chores, including Chiyo.

Because of an understandable misunderstanding, the first time he broaches the subject, she thinks he's asking her on a date. Instead she finds herself learning how to do beta (that means filling in designated areas with solid black).

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun confirms that "giving your characters something to do is always more interesting than letting them sit and around and get angsty." Nozaki has something to do, a place to be, and Chiyo a non-awkward reason for being there.

The monomaniacal Nozaki is the perfect straight man, navigating a sea of absurdity without straining belief. The series is good-natured, not too sit-com stupid (a trap Comic Party falls into at times), and honestly very funny.

The genre doesn't stop with high school. Yasuko and Kenji (a live-action comedy not available in the U.S.) has the leader of a biker gang abandoning his old life and becoming a manga artist to support his kid sister when their parents die.

Mangirl (an unfortunate-sounding portmanteau of "manga" and "girl") is about just that, a very silly and very short (less than five minutes per episode) but surprisingly smart show about four OLs launching a manga magazine.

The people making these anime are following the adage of writing what they know best, so the added bonus is that you will learn a good deal about the manga industry in the process (including dealing with odd editors and eccentric artists).

Incidentally, the best series about the anime industry right now (said by industry insiders to border on documentary accuracy) is Shirobako. It's also about working adults, though they started out in a high school anime club.

Related posts

Manga economics
Manga circulation in Japan
The manga development cycle

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# posted by Blogger Katherine Woodbury
6/25/2015 12:33 PM   
Otomen includes a supporting character, Juta, who is a manga author. Desperate for new ideas, he begins using incidents from the lives of his friends, the main characters, Asuka and Ryo. Except he switches them! Since Asuka is a manly man who likes feminine pursuits and Ryo is a feminine young lady who likes male pursuits, Juta has Asuka perform Ryo's actions and vice versa. At one point, Ryo rescues Asuka from an unwanted engagement. Juta uses the event but has his male manga character do the rescuing instead . . . (Juta does suffer qualms on whether he is helping Asuka and Ryo for their sakes or for his own, but he has a family to help out, so his job always wins in the end!)
# posted by Blogger Unknown
7/08/2015 8:23 PM   
I love Bakuman and Nozaki-kun exactly for those reasons! The characters have ambitions, something to do - and it's even something I can identify with.

Many manga (both shoujo or shounen) feature either completely 'blank' characters that kind of drift along, with the story just happening around them (I do like to read these sort of mellow (often romance) stories, though it's hard to identify with the characters on a personal level...), or on the other end of the scale they get sucked into a fantastical story and become warriors/anything of that kind, which is exciting to read but often becomes the sole passion of the character. So the characters in Bakuman working towards their dreams meticulously, even if combined with slice-of-life and romance, was so exciting and new to me!

Many shonen manga actually have these really driven characters with concrete goals in the beginning, but then kind of just escalate into epic battle manga with most of the original character goals being lost (One Piece comes to mind... What happened to becoming the best cook, creating the perfect map etc...?)

Sorry for this rambly comment, but I just realised how much this bugs me while reading your blog post, haha...

# posted by Blogger Eugene
7/10/2015 12:01 PM   
You make a very good point about "blank characters that kind of drift along, with the story just happening around them." I've got a couple of posts on this subject coming up, but briefly stated: short of an overarching goal in life, simply giving a character a part-time job or a serious hobby can add dramatic depth to every other aspect of the adventure.
# posted by Blogger Mangareaders
6/05/2017 9:45 AM   
Check out this site http://mangareaders.co/s-yasuko-to-kenji to read this Yasuko to Kenji manga. Enjoy reading