The Key To The Popularity Of Japanese Manga
In this article, I analyzed the reason why Japanese manga is so popular from a manga author’s standpoint.
This type of analyses is really rare, so, please don’t miss it!
Since I am a manga author, people from abroad frequently ask me the key to the worldwide popularity of Japanese manga. And I have found various opinions about it on the internet or in the critics’ books.
I have read many of them and I liked some of them, but noticed in many cases they are written from an observer’s point of view not from the the inside of Japanese manga industry.
I thought it would be interesting if someone inside it, especially an actual creator of manga, tries to analyse it and refer to the essence of the creation that charms the public. As a manga author, I would like to reinterpret it from a creator’s standpoint. This article is rather long, but I hope you will find something interesting.
It is also exciting that Japanese animation is popular in many countries, but since my specialty is not animation, I would like to focus on manga in this articles.
The First Key To The Popularity Of Manga
As you may know, professional manga creators in Japan are called "mangaka" in Japanese.
In many cases, a mangaka is a manga author and does both storytelling and picture drawing by himself or by herself. When mangaka needs to finish the manga pictures in a short period of time, he or she hire assistants, though.
(Of cause there is a mangaka who is a manga artist and draw only manga pictures based on other manga writers' script. But since the number of manga authors seems to be much larger than the one of manga artists in Japan, I mainly refer to manga authors in these articles.)
I feel people tend to be interested in mangaka’s ability of drawing pictures.
However, it’s more important for mangaka to have a good ability of storytelling which include attractive characters. In this case “attractive” refers to the characters’ personality or behavior rather than their appearances.
“The fascination for stories and attractive characters” is the first key to the popularity of manga.
There are so many would-be mangaka in Japan, and some of them can draw better pictures than mangaka. But in most cases mangaka surpass the amateur manga author in the ability of storytelling.
Usually mangaka have to discuss the content of the story and the characters of a new manga series with editors before mangaka start drawing pictures.
In general the manga editors in major publishing companies place care about how much the stories and characters of manga would charm their readers.
Each of the editors seems to have some kind of policy to make the stories and characters more attractive from their experiences as editors. Usually editors themselves do not create stories and characters since they are not creators. What they mainly do is to give manga artists some advice from the readers’ or editor's point of view.
If the editors think the stories and the characters are not attractive enough for the readership, they reject them repeatedly until they are sufficiently improved. So mangaka should do their very best to achieve it. Their advice is usually based on their policies, and some of their advice can be very precise and useful to create successful manga, while others ruin the works, though.
(As long as they are human being, everything cannot be perfect. Things are the same as mangaka.)
Since I’m teaching manga-creation as a side job, I always tell my students that they can’t do well without improving storytelling ability, but many of them cannot imagine how hard it would be until they face the situation.
One of my former students is a new mangaka working at some editorial department of manga magazine of some major publishing company. When he was creating his first manga series, the editors rejected his stories and characters at least thirty times saying they are not attractive enough to be published. Now he knows what I meant. It might sound very harsh but it's often the case in big publishers though it is not generally known.
Of course I would not disregard the ability to draw pictures. But in Japan, in many cases, manga whose pictures are not so good but the story and characters are excellent sells better than the one whose pictures are excellent but the story and the characters are boring.
I guess this is because people need to have an artistic sense to some extent to appreciate the charm of wonderful pictures fully while everyone can enjoy interesting stories and attractive characters without having any specific sense.
The Second Key To The Popularity Of Manga
There is another important factor which makes manga so popular.
The second key is “the big energy devoted to the manga by mangaka”.
Even though we can’t touch nor see the energy physically, it surely exists. Usually mangaka working at major publishing companies are physically and mentally strong. In a word they are energetic. People like this comparatively can devote a large amount of energy to their works.
Generally speaking, the works or the performances which have huge energy devoted by the creators or performers attract many people. I’m not referring to anything especially superstitious but the fact that any excellent creators and performers know empirically. Regardless of the genre, works can have large energy, even quiet style works can have it.
Such energy is brought into the works by the creators passion, effort, concentration.
In other words, it can be brought about when the creator doing the creation in a way desperately.
Let me cite a concrete example. On one occasion, some stage actor who had a leading role of some play suffered from a sudden illness and another stage actor was chosen as a substitute urgently. Only three days were left before his first stage performance, so, he had to practice acting very intensively. But finally when he finished his first stage performance the audience gave him an enthusiastic applause. People were surprised to hear the news, because he usually didn’t have a good reputation for his acting ability.
As a matter of fact, I wasn’t surprised by the news at all since it was easy to guess the secret of the success. The extreme shortage of time to practice acting forced him to make a desperate effort, and as a result he devoted all his energy to his acting on the stage. The energy was much bigger than usual, so it is not mysterious that his acting attracted the audience. Furthermore, other actors and staff members must have made more efforts than usual to overcome the emergency, and this must have made the play more energetic. The whole energy of the play was so big that it captivated the audience.
You can’t get the right key to the popularity of manga without taking account of this theory of energy. Generally mangaka working at major publishers are so energetic that they can devote large amounts of energy to their works. Furthermore, there are two factors that make mangaks much more energetic, so let me introduce them to you.
Factor 1: The Impending Deadline
One of them is the impending deadline of the manga they are drawing.
In Japan, manga works are put on manga magazines first and then, they will be published as individual manga books later. So, the number of the times of the deadlines in a year varies depending on the magazine's frequency of publishing.
The weekly deadlines would be the hardest, but more or less every mangaka faces the deadline problem. In Japan it is generally known that mangaka often stay up all night just before the deadline. I have kept drawing comics for 50 hours without sleeping and it is not so unusual for mangaka. They have to do their very best to meet the deadline without ruining the quality of the manga within the limit time.
In addition, if they fail to meet it, they might be fired or they might give priority to other mangaka. This severe struggle for existence is another factor to make them energetic.
Factor 2: The Struggle For Existence
I have heard that one out of 1000 would-be mangaka can become a professional in Japan. I do not think this is based on statistics, and the competitive ratio is not that much high at minor publishing companies. But I feel that is not necessarily a whopping lie, on the contrary, the competitive ratio would be higher than that at big name editorial departments of manga in major publishers. As a general rule, the bigger the company is, the higher the competitive ratio is.
Actually when I made my debut at some major publishing company, there were only two who made it out of around 600 applicants. Additionally it seems that around 70% or 80% of the newcomers mangaka leave major companies losing the struggle for existence within three years, and the survivors must continue the struggle until they quit the job.
It is a fact that these two factors make manga artists more energetic and make them devote everything to their works. This makes their works more attractive, but at the same time, hard conditions like these are so stressful and exhausting that sometimes they ruin their health badly.
I would say this is a double-edged sword.
I don't think I was able to analyse the essence of the creation that charms the public completely.
But I feel I expressed some part of it as far as manga-creation concerned.
I'd be happy if this article is helpful to some extent to understand the worldwide popularity of manga.
Thank you for reading.