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Becoming a Japanese Manga artist

As manga (漫画 – Japanese cartoon) experiences growing popularity out of Japan, more and more people decide to learn the techniques behind this art. Still, becoming a true manga artist may be much more challenging than it seems, as many renown mangaka (漫画家 – manga artist) went through a great deal to create insightful stories that are respected the world over.

Mangaka - manga artist

There is this common misconception in the West that manga is just a drawing style for comics, in which characters have big eyes and small noses and mouths. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Manga has also a very particular rhythm and narrative structure, which differ greatly from Western comics.

For instance, mangas tend to develop the characters psychological conflicts. It is no surprise to discover, therefore, that manga main characters tend to be more deep and complex than Western leading characters. Think about the differences of Rurouni Kenshin and Superman. While the first is constantly haunted by the memories of his samurai days throughout the story, we know very little of the fears and traumas of the superhero.

In order to create believable, captivating characters and complex storylines with many details, mangakas go through extensive researching and planning work, sometimes becoming nearly obsessed about their work.

Hard work for the ‘father of manga’

Osamu Tesuka became known worldwide for his beloved creations, such as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. He also influenced most of the major shonen manga (少年漫画), and also many Western artists as well.

Kimba the White Lion

Becoming the ‘father of manga’ was very hard work, and certainly was not an easy decision. In fact, Tesuka gave up his career as a doctor to become a full-time mangaka. Interestingly, all the scientific knowledge he got while obtaining his medical degree ended up helping him create details in many of his sci-fi stories.

Tesuka also had to refuse great opportunities to keep up his hard work as a mangaka. Once, he was invited by Stanley Kubrick to be the art director of his next movie, which was none other than the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the manga artist could not stay away from his studio for a whole year, so he refused.

The work was hard and plenty, but Tesuka had great love for his job. He drew until his final days, and it is stated that his last words were, ‘I’m begging you, let me work!’

More than just drawing

Some mangaka undergo a lot of study to obtain the information necessary to the plot. Hiroshi Fujimoto, one of the creators of Doraemon, studied a great diversity of subjects to include all sorts of teaching in his manga and later on his anime. The creator of Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon, Naoko Takeuchi, studied astronomy, mythology and the position of miko (巫女) in Shinto tradition to give depth to her story.

Other manga artists gain the knowledge for their work from difficult life experiences. Shigeru Mizuki, known as the master of yokai manga (妖怪漫画), suffered a great deal while serving the Imperial Japanese Army. He watched friends die, lost his left arm in an explosion and contracted malaria. All these horrid experiences influenced the artist greatly, serving as inspiration to his horror stories.

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