10 Things I Learnt About Manga From Bakuman

Last weekend I finished reading Bakuman. I started reading to learn more about the creative process of manga, but along the way fell in love with the characters and the story line. It’s well worth a read.

My housemate and I decided create a manga together in September 2014 – this was back when I had only read a few volumes of Attack on Titan and Naruto. I knew nothing about how manga was created, especially with a duo. My housemate recommended I read Bakuman since it was about two guys who create manga together, with one doing the writing and one doing the artwork, just like my housemate and I are doing.

I started reading Bakuman in September 2014 and finished it in June 2015. 20 volumes of awesomeness – amazing art, laughter, shock, heartache and joy.

As well as enjoying the story it also taught me a lot about how manga is created and about how the manga industry in Japan works.

So here are 10 things I learnt about manga from reading Bakuman:

There’s one spoiler for Bakuman in the last paragraph

1. One shots and awards

When a mangaka decides to start a new series, or when a rookie mangaka submits their work to a magazine they often test out an idea they have for a series with a one shot.

The one shot is normally about 45 pages, compared to the 19 pages that a weekly manga normally is. If the one shot gets good results in the magazine surveys then the mangaka will draw the storyboards for the first couple of chapters of the series they want to create from the one shot. Their storyboards will then get submitted to a serialization meeting, where the editors will decide whether or not to run the new series.

Another way a rookie mangaka will test their skills is by entering their manga into an award. This is a good way for rookie artists to get noticed, especially since the judges are popular and respected mangakas. Normally if the one shot submitted for an award wins it, or places in the top three places then it will go on to be submitted for serialization.

2. Popularity

The length that a manga series runs for is high based on how popular it is in the magazine it is published in.

Manga magazines use surveys to determine how popular a manga is with its readers. The readers pick their top three manga, mark them down on the survey and then send the sheets into the magazine office. The votes are counted and the manga series are ranked. The ones with the least votes are often ended to make way for new series. The mangaka whose series is cancelled is given a certain number of weeks to wrap up the series.

There are a couple of tricks mangaka use to get more votes for their series – often in shounen manga they include awful fanservice scenes and panty shots.

It is a general rule that the first chapter of a new series will receive a place in the top three, as will a manga that is given colour pages for that issue, or if the manga series has a newly aired anime.

3. Workflow and assistants 

When a mangaka gets a series they need assistants to help them complete the manuscript. A lot of mangakas start off as assistants to help them build their drawing skills and understanding of manga before they start their own series. The mangaka’s editor will help the mangaka find the right assistants for them, matching assistants to their art style and content. Assistants are paid out of the mangaka’s salary from the magazine. Assistants work part-time, so they often have other jobs.

It is very very rare for a mangaka not to have assistants – there is only one example I can think of…Yoshihiro Togashi. Not only do mangakas have to draw 19 pages of content every week (if they’ve got a weekly series), but they’ll also have to draw volume covers, extra volume content, and any extra colour pages. And if they’re working alone they’ll have to plan out future chapters. You can understand why Oda Eiichiro is always in and out of hospital.

I actually picked up a good understanding about manga workflow from Magi – in the bonus material at the back of volume 1. Shinobu Ohtaka says that on day 1 she draws the storyboards for her latest chapter, on day 2 she shows it to her editor, on day 3 she sketches the finalized version and inks it. On days 4, 5 and 6 her assistants come over and together they draw the backgrounds, extra characters and FX lines. Then on day 7 she sleeps for most of the day…!

In Bakuman because Mashiro and Takagi are working on the manga together – one doing the writing and one doing the art – Takagi draws very rough storyboards for Mashiro to do his storyboards from. For the Owari no Seraph manga the writer, Takaya Kagami writes the chapters in word form, and then Daisuke Furuya draws the storyboards from that to give to Yamato Yamamoto, who then draws the final version!

4. Magazine management structure

Every mangaka has an editor. They work closely with their editors, showing them every storyboard before they start inking it to get their feedback. The editors will also help mangakas with research and developing characters, and generally getting their manga onto its feet. Sometimes though a mangaka will get a new editor – the editor they have for their one shot might not be the same as the one they have for their series. I image series like One Piece have had quite a few editors in their time since they have been running for such a long time.

I’m not sure if this is how it works within every magazine, but in Shounen Jump they have teams of editors, who then have captains. The captains are the go-between for the editors and the Editor in Chief. There is also an Assistant Editor in Chief. When it comes to serialization meetings and deciding which manga series to drop and which new ones to start, only the captains and the Editor in Chief and Assistant Editor in Chief have a say in the final decision – the editors are not allowed to attend these meetings. Once it has been decided which series to end and which ones to start the captains report back to their team of editors, who then relay any information to the mangakas.

5. Income

Mangakas get paid very little money. Rookies they will receive a yearly salary and they also get paid a page rate. Each year the magazine reviews the mangaka’s salary and page rate, and they adjust it depending on how much their work has contributed to the magazine’s success. And then the mangaka will get royalties from volume sales, and then more if their manga gets turned into anime.

In Bakuman is it stated that the artist or author (I tried to find the Goddamn quote, but couldn’t anywhere!) of Death Note (who is also the author/artist of Bakuman!) said that even if they were to continue being a mangaka for the rest of their lives they would never be able to retire… And this is Death Note! One of the most popular anime/manga series. Just goes to show how little money mangakas earn.

And, of course, if you are working as a pair then you have to split the salary between you…

6. Manga to anime

Normally, if a manga series is popular the magazine that publishes it will be approached by an animation studio about one year after the series started. It is up to the editorial department whether or not to accept the offer. If they accept the offer then the mangaka is consulted, but they have very little say in what happens.

The mangakas will have a bit of input when it comes to voice actors – if they have someone in mind for a role then they can tell the animation studio who take their opinion into consideration. The animation studio will also consult with the mangaka for art style and story etc.

An alternative to a manga becoming an anime is for it to become a drama CD. This is when just the dialogue from the manga is read out by the actors and there is no animation – it’s just voice acting and sound effects. Sort of like a radio play.

7. Age

The younger you are the higher chance you have of getting published. This is because not only do magazines want new talent, but also because of the high work load that comes with drawing manga.

Younger people are able to cope better with long working hours and stress levels compared to older people, which is why most manga artists are young. If you’re going to start a new series the magazine wants the artist to be young so that if the series runs for over 10 years – like Naruto did – then the mangaka will still be young enough to cope with the heavy work load.

8. New years break

There are two weeks a year when a mangaka doesn’t have to turn in work – that is New Years Break, which happens around Christmas and New Year.

So 50 out of 52 weeks per year a mangaka has to turn in 19 pages of content if they have a weekly series. The only other way to take a break is to put their manga on hiatus, which is very damaging for the manga’s popularity. Often if a manga goes on hiatus once it comes back it is cancelled because the popularity has dropped so much that it doesn’t receive votes. Again, Yoshihiro Togashi seems to be the exception here, since he keeps going into and out of hiatus, coming back to release a couple of chapters of Hunter x Hunter before going back into hiatus. If Hunter x Hunter wasn’t a classic and extremely popular manga then the series would have been cancelled by now.

9. Gambler vs. manga artist

Mashiro says that when it comes to being a mangaka you are either a gambler or a manga artist. Some mangakas will spend their whole lives trying to create a hit without succeeding – these guys are gamblers. They gamble their whole lives on manga and never win anything. And then you have manga artists who have enough intelligence, skill and luck to be able to create a hit – a manga that runs for years, gets an anime and huge fan base.

It is stated a lot in Bakuman about how there are two types of mangaka – those that are geniuses and those that are calculating. Genius mangakas have the skill to create a bestselling story without much thought – they have a natural skill. And then you have a calculating type who look at what manga is popular at the moment and then create ideas based on their findings.

10. Target audience 

Manga genres are pretty set in stone. If you write for a shounen magazine then your manga needs a male lead and a heroine.

But then within shounen as a genre you also have other genres – so traditional battle manga (such as Naruto and One Piece, where the main character goes up against antagonists who gradually become stronger as the series goes on), and then you have non-traditional battle manga (where the fighting is done in an alternative way, such as mind battles, instead of using weapons).

Then you have cult hits, such as Death Note, which is a non-traditional battle manga since Light and L battle each other with their intelligence rather than weapons.

Shounen magazines also publish romance stories – e.g. Your Lie in April – slice of life, gag manga, etc.

Different magazines appeal to different age groups. Near the end of Bakuman when Mashiro and Takagi create Reversi they transfer PCP over to another magazine to become a monthly series. They say that it will be a good thing for the manga because moving it to that monthly magazine (Hissho Jump) will allow them to write stories that appeal to an older audience, since Jump is read by a younger audience and Hissho has an older readership.

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2 thoughts on “10 Things I Learnt About Manga From Bakuman

  1. This was a pretty cool breakdown of how manga works. I loved Bakuman for the fact that, for the first time in my life, I got to see the process that actually made all the animes I love. No matter what we do in our lives, anime will always be a part of millions of people around the world. Kudos to the writers of Death Note.

    They saved us all.

    Liked by 1 person

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