The Key To The Popularity Of Japanese Manga



In this article, I analyzed the reason why Japanese manga is so popular from a manga artist’s standpoint.

This type of analyses is really rare, so, please don’t miss it!



Since I am a manga artist, people from abroad frequently ask me about the key to the popularity of Japanese manga. And I have found many opinions about it on the internet or in the critics’ books.


But almost every time I read those opinions, I feel a little discontented with them. This is because usually they are written from an observer’s point of view. I feel that they only provide an objective analysis and they do not refer to the essence of the creation that charms the public.


As a manga artist, 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 exciting that manga and Japanese animation is popular in many countries, but since I am not an animator, I do not have specialized knowledge about animation. So I would like to focus on manga in these articles.




The First Key To The Popularity Of Manga


 As you may know most Japanese manga artists not only draw pictures but also create stories and characters on their own. And most people tend to be interested in manga artists’ ability to draw pictures.


However, it’s more important for manga artists to have a good ability to create interesting stories 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 amateur manga artists in Japan, and some of them can draw better pictures than professional manga artists. But in most cases the professionals surpass the amateurs in the ability to create good stories and characters.


Usually manga artists have to discuss what kind of the stories and the characters their manga will have with editors before they start drawing pictures. In general the manga editors of big Japanese publishing companies place great importance especially on how much the stories and characters of manga can charm their readers. Each of the editors seems to have some kind of policy to make them more attractive from their experiences as editors. Editors themselves do not create excellent stories and characters since they are not creators. All they do is to give manga artists some advice from the readers’ point of view.


If the stories and the characters are not attractive enough to the public, they reject them repeatedly until they are sufficiently improved. So manga 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 some others ruin the works.


Since I’m teaching comic-drawing as a side job, I always tell my students that they can’t do well without improving this ability, but many of them seem to have hard time actually realizing how hard it could be. One of my former students is a new professional manga artist working at some editorial department of a major publishing company. When he was creating his first manga 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 this is often the case, though it is not generally known.


Of course I would not disregard the ability to draw pictures. But in many cases the manga whose pictures are not very good as a professional work but the story and characters are excellent sells better than the manga whose pictures are excellent but the story and the characters are boring in Japan.


I guess this is because people need 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 works by manga artists”.


Even though we can’t touch nor see the energy physically, it surely exists. Usually manga artists 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 to them 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.


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 at all since it was easy for me 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 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 manga artists working at major publishers are so energetic that they can devote large amounts of energy to their works. Furthermore, there are two conditions that make manga artist much more energetic, so let me introduce them to you.


The Impending Deadline

One of them is the impending deadline. The weekly deadlines would be hardest, but more or less every manga artist faces the same problem. In Japan it is generally known that manga artists 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 manga artists. They do their very best to meet it, because if they fail to meet the deadline, they might be fired or they might give priority to other comic artists. This severe struggle for existence is another condition to make them energetic.


The Struggle For Existence

I have heard that one out of 1000 would-be manga artists can become a professional in Japan. I do not think this is based on statistics, and probably the competitive ratio is not as high at minor publishing companies. But I feel that is not necessarily a whopping lie, on the contrary, the competitive ratio would be much higher than that at big name editorial departments. As a rule, the bigger the company is, the higher the competitive ratio will be.


Actually when I made my debut at Shougakukan publishing company, there were only two debutants out of around 600 applicants. Additionally it seems that at least 80% of the debutants 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 conditions make manga artists more energetic and make 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. Maybe I can say this is a double-edged sword.



Can a big manga culture like that in Japan be established in other countries?


I think if two conditions are completed, this is possible.

The first condition is to create manga by putting greate importance on the charm of their stories and characters' personalities..


The second condition is to increase the number of manga artists who devote themselves completely to their job. Because such devotion like this can make really attractive manga, and as a result the number of manga fans will increase.


In Japan, I think these two conditions were completed by Japan’s rapid grows of economics after world warⅡand the appearance of unparalleled genius of manga, Osamu Teduka, who is a founder of Japanese modern manga.


He was famous as a story teller, and he fascinated his fans by the attractiveness of stories and characters’ personalities rather than the charm of pictures. I think the style has been naturally passed down to the present manga artists.


In addition, he was known as a terrible workaholic. He appeared at the beginning of the rapid growth of economics, when every Japanese people were hard worker. Thus, being a workaholic was easy to be accepted socially and it seems that this hardworking style spread among the following manga artists. In this way, his devotion to manga and hardworking style is also passed down to the modern manga artists.


Of cause things are different in other countries, but as long as the two conditions are satisfied, there is a grate possibility of a birth of huge manga culture.




My Additional Thoughts About Positive Thinking



I referred to the manga artists’ spiritual strength earlier. Manga artists working at major companies are generally positive and strong-minded. In other words, only manga artists like this can survive. Although it is difficult to be positive when we face problems, a positive way of thinking in adversity is most important in order to achieve a difficult aim.


Since my life has been full of obstacles, I have always been struggling to overcome them, and I found the following rule.


If you try to overcome obstacles with a negative feeling, usually things get worse.


It seems that the negative feeling draws another obstacle or misfortune and makes things much harder. And I feel that the degree of true success is proportional to the amount of obstacles which we have overcome. That is why every time I face obstacles I try to keep positive.


I hasten to add, I would not say all manga artists have a respectable personality. As a matter of fact, it is not rare that their positive thinking and strength of mind comes from insensitivity or a lack of ability to objectively analyze. Thanks to the insensitivity they do not have to feel stressed, while people around them are annoyed by this, and the lack of ability to objectively analyze prevents them from worrying about their real capability or their precarious position in the manga industry. Therefore they can always be full of groundless confidence, so they are positive and strong-minded as a result.


I am sorry to say this is not my ideal “strength”. Their extreme insensitivity hurt others and it might backfire on them someday. Concerning the lack of ability objectively analyze, it is not bad in itself, since creators need a subjective point of view. And a subjective belief sometimes makes things possible that are considered to be impossible from an objective point of view. So being subjective is not a problem, but being “always” subjective is a problem.


It seems that really efficient people can both subjectively and objectively analyze, and therefore they can use one of these depending on the situation. My ideal is to be positively strong-minded but sensitive enough to understand others’ feelings or situation, and to juggle subjective and objective aspects.


Anyway being objective under adversity is profitable for anybody, I would like to show you some concrete methods to keep positive.


The first one is to write about what annoys you on a piece of paper, and burn it in a perfectly safe place in order not to cause a fire. You can write about every negative feeling such as discontent, fear, anger, sadness, anxiety. Probably because of a psychological effect, it would be a weight off your mind.


Another one is to say “it’s no big deal” or “it doesn’t matter much” to yourself when you face a difficult problem. For example when you have to finish tons of work in one day, you can start working by saying “OK, It’s no big deal!” This method also has a psychological effect, actually it makes things better compared when you do something with an overwhelmed feeling. In this way, I am always trying not to be negative.