Manga About Creating Manga

A selection of the best works of “manga artist manga” (manga featuring manga artists as the main characters) from passionate dramas to comedic, behind-the-scenes takes on the industry.

By Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Kazuhiko Shimamoto "Moeyo Pen", Shogakukan, p.215

Portraying manga creators, describing life in the profession, and imagining the industry

Day and night, manga artists continuously create countless works of manga from the tips of their pens. Manga artists have also become subjects in manga, sparking our interest and imaginations in a variety of forms, from passionate dramas about their creative processes to gossip about the mysterious manga industry. How have manga depicted their creators, the “manga artists” themselves, throughout history? Here, we introduce numerous varied examples of “manga artist manga” that are not simply autobiographical works.

Fujiko Fujio (A) "Manga Michi" Chuko bunko edition, vol.7, p278 (2014)Original Source: ©︎Fujiko Studio, Chuokoron-Shinsha

Autobiographical “manga artist manga”: A youth spent in pursuit of the “dream” of manga, as depicted by a master

Fujiko Fujio (A)’s "Manga Michi" [Path of Manga] was a long-running series that was published from 1970 to 2013 in "Weekly Shōnen Champion" and several other manga magazines. A coming-of-age story about Michio Maga and Shigeru Saino, two boys who share the same dream of “becoming a manga artist,” this work of manga is one that anyone would acknowledge to be synonymous with “manga artist manga.” 

It is also heavily autobiographical in nature. Creator Fujiko Fujio (A) depicted episodes that capture, among other things, the sense of awe he felt for manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka, the state of monthly magazine publishers at the time, and his memories of every member living at the Tokiwa-so apartment, including Hiroo Terada—valuable testimony to the vibrancy of the early days of postwar manga. 
"Manga Michi", which illustrates the journey to becoming an artist, established a coming-of-age (Bildungsroman) style of “manga artist manga” that has continued to be used in countless masterpieces, such as Tatsumi Yoshihiro’s "A Drifting Life" (Seirinkogeisha, 2008) and Akiko Higashimura’s "Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey" (Shueisha, 2012–15).

Shinji Nagashima "Mangaka Zankoku Monogatari" vol.1, p.187Original Source: ©️Shinji Nagashima / Group zero

Portraying manga creators (1): An ensemble cast featuring “manga youths” and their struggles 

“…Manga… / I want to create manga that reflects my true self…”. Shinji Nagashima’s "Mangaka Zankoku Monogatari" [The harsh story of manga artists] (1961–64) was published in the short manga magazine "Deka"(Tokyo Top Sha) available at rental bookstores in the early 1960s, when manga was gradually developing from reading material for children into a form of expression aimed at young people in general. Encompassing elements of thriller style and comedic touches, the tragicomedy of these young manga artists is permeated with the anguish, conflicts, and frustrations entailed in creating manga. 

The characters of this work are not “literary youths,” but rather “manga youths”—and their torment overlaps with the atmosphere of a time when manga itself was approaching the peak of its prime. It would also lead to a series of autobiographical novel-like works starting in the late ’60s, such as Kazuhiko Miyaya’s "Like a Rolling Stone"(Freestyle, 2017), in which the author’s fictional alter ego waxes eloquent about manga and art.

Makoto Kobayashi "Seishun Shōnen Magazine 1978–1983", p.72 (2008)Original Source: ©︎Makoto Kobayashi/Kodansha

Portraying manga creators (2): Memories of “comrades” consumed by manga

In 1978, "Weekly Shōnen Magazine" published a few works by newly debuted rookies alongside those by its mainstay manga artists: "Ichi, Ni no Sanshirō" [1, 2, 3(San)shiro] by Makoto Kobayashi, "Jun no Smash" [Jun’s Smash]by Shinji Ono, and "Toughness Daichi" by Natsuki Owada—three artists affectionately referred to as the “stupid newcomer trio” in Makoto Kobayashi’s memoir "Seishun Shōnen Magazine 1978–1983"(Weekly Shōnen Magazine, 2008). 

Kobayashi depicts, with an expressive touch of jest (his forte), the life-shortening work that goes into creating a weekly manga series, a reality he describes as one that “would have killed me were I not careful.” Filled with tears and laughter, his memoir of youth recalls memories with his manga-devoted comrades, from their debut as “three stupid newcomers” pressed for time by the demands of the profession up until their premature separation in later years.

Cozy Jokura "Chaser" vol. 1, p.160 (2013)Original Source: Shogakukan

Portraying manga creators (3): The outline of a genius, as seen through the eyes of a “chaser”

Cozy Jokura’s "Chaser" (Big Comic Superior, 2012–19) opens in the 1950s, when manga in monthly children’s magazines reached the height of its popularity. It depicts the figure of Koichi Kaitoku, a manga artist burning with a sense of rivalry toward Osamu Tezuka, his contemporary, who was on his way to becoming the favorite manga artist of the times.

While verbally denouncing Tezuka’s works, Kaitoku cannot help but imitate every aspect of Tezuka’s life, from the way he composes his manuscripts to his very lifestyle. This story of a man who, as a “fellow manga artist,” chases behind Tezuka-the-genius through his ups and downs from the 1950s to the 1980s, outlines the career trajectory of the “god of manga” through the history of postwar manga until the end of the Showa period. On the other hand, in the semi-autobiographical short manga "Gacha Boy’s Life Story" (published in Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine in 1970) created by Tezuka himself, Tezuka depicts himself as “a person being chased” by a steady stream of newcomer artists.

Tetsuya Chiba "Nerima no Itachi", pp.114-115 (1981)Original Source: ©️Tetsuya Chiba, Kodansha

Describing life in the profession (1): The day-to-day routine of a “production” workplace

Published in "Young Magazine", Tetsuya Chiba’s unusual work "Nerima no Itachi" [Nerima’s Weasels] (1980) places the character Ginji, a man who appears out of the blue one day asking to work as Chiba’s assistant, in a critical supporting role. In contrast to "Yaneura no Ehonkaki" [A Picture Book Writer in the Garret] in which Chiba depicts his own roots as an artist, this manga illustrates the day-to-day work involved in producing a manga series as a part of a workplace community, as Chiba labors day in and day out to complete manuscripts alongside his assistants.

The warmth of the artist’s gaze on these young manga illustrators can also be glimpsed in the way in which he is depicted in the manga "Ashita no Joe ni Akogarete" [Admiring Ashita no Joe] by Sanbanchi Kawa, a former assistant of the Chiba Tetsuya Production company. Works of manga focusing on the role played by assistants include, among others, Nami Sasou’s "Bara wa Shuraba de Umareru" [Roses Are Born in Scenes of Bloodshed] (East Press, 2020), an essay-style manga that depicts life as an assistant in the shōjo (girls’) manga industry during the 1970s.

Kazuhiko Shimamoto "Moeyo Pen", p.215 (2002)Original Source: Shogakukan

Describing life in the profession (2): Quotes that reveal the intense sense of pride in being “professional"

“I want you to think that all manga artists are like this!” Moyuru Hono, whose name means “flames ablaze,” is your typical, run-of-the-mill manga artist. Battling deadlines day and night, his unflagging commitment to completing his manuscript is depicted with intense passion in Kazuhiko Shimamoto’s "Moeyo Pen" [Burn, Pen] (published in Sinbad and others, 1990–91), a series that continues in "Hoero Pen" [Growl, Pen] and "Shin Hoero Pen" [New: Growl, Pen] (both published in Monthly Sunday Gene-X, 2000–2010).

 The “fiery quotes” that Hono uses to inspire himself in the face of the grueling work involved in producing a manga series—such as (in the hell right before a deadline) “Dare…to sleep!” and “Getting paid for a trashy work is the mark of a true professional!!” —highlight the sense of pride felt in being able to continue creating manga as a “professional” artist even in the midst of sometimes ridiculous developments. This manga is one you’ll want to read along with "Aoi Honō" [Blue Blazes](currently serialized in Monthly Shōnen Sunday), a semi-autobiographical prequel to the series that is based heavily on the author’s own experiences.

Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma "Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga" (21st Century Collector’s Edition), vol. 1, p.21 (2006)Original Source: Shogakukan

Describing life in the profession (3): The struggles of making a living as a manga artist revealed through comedy

“I’ll teach you everything you need to know about manga without sparing a single detail! As long as you read this, you’ll be able to draw manga, even if you’re a monkey!” Opening with this line in the first episode of the series in "Big Comic Spirits","Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga" (1989–91) by Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma is not your typical guide to drawing manga.

Riddled with jokes and parodies, this strangely persuasive analysis of the manga industry reveals in detail the struggles of making a living as a manga artist, covering everything from choosing a pen name to trends and strategies for landing a spot in a famous manga magazine, dealing with editors, and closing off a discontinued series. The circumstances surrounding the manga industry were widely covered in the 1980s, and such information became “material” to be shared with readers. The result is this cult classic.

Written by Tsugumi Ohba, Drawn by Takeshi Obata "Bakuman.",vol.15, pp.164-165 (2008)Original Source: BAKUMAN. © 2008 by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata/SHUEISHA Inc.

Imagining the industry (1): Depicting the Jump manga serialization system using the grammar of shōnen (boys’) manga

Aiming to become Japan’s top-selling manga artist under the combined pen name of “Ashirogi Muto,” Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi work together to achieve their respective dreams. Their struggle, set in the world of "Weekly Shōnen Jump" where reader survey results mean everything, is depicted in the major hit manga "Bakuman." by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata (Weekly Shōnen Jump, 2008–12). Using the characteristic grammar of Jump-style shōnen manga, it portrays the process of manga creation as a strategic battle of minds against eccentric rival artists vying to win popularity among readers.

Like "Bakuman.", “manga artist manga” in the 2000s diversify to include works of drama that go beyond simply describing the profession. Other examples include Yowoko Nihonbashi’s "G Senjō Heaven’s Door" [G Battlefield Heaven’s Door] (Shogakukan, 2003), which similarly focuses on the relationship between two main characters aiming to become manga artists, and Naito Yamada’s "Beatitude" (Kodansha, 2008), a story that reimagines the Tokiwa-so apartment in the style of the BL (“boy’s love”) genre.

Seiki Tsuchida "Henshū-Ō" (Big Comic wide-ban edition), vol. 1, p.147 (2000)Original Source: Shogakukan

Imagining the industry (2): Is manga “culture,” or “product”?

Kanpachi Momoi, whose career as a boxer is cut short by illness, is invited by a childhood friend to enter a new fighting ring: the editorial department of the extremely popular manga magazine "Young Shout". Seiki Tsuchida’s "Henshū-Ō" [Editor King] (Big Comic Spirits, 1994–97) depicts Kanpachi’s unsophisticated, single-minded fight against the cold logic of giant manga publishers who view manga based on sales numbers alone.

The work reconstructs the manga industry in the form of a drama about rogues who struggle between the extremes of “creativity” and “business” from the perspective of the editor, a salaried employee caught in the middle between artist and company. The episode about Manbo Kozuka, which tells the story of an influential manga artist and alcoholic who finds salvation in creating manga again after his great downfall, offers glimpses into the life of the artist Seiki Tsuchida, who himself was a self-destructive type of genius artist.

Nawoki Karasawa "Mangaka Chō Zankoku Monogatari: Seishun Zōhoban [Youth Enlarged Edition]", p.25 (2014)Original Source: ©︎Naoki Karasawa / KADOKAWA

Imagining the industry (3): Unusual depictions of a sinful “manga industry”

In "Mangaka Zankoku Monogatari", master of the coming-of-age story Shinji Nagashima depicted a tragicomedy about “manga youths.” In contrast, in "Mangaka Chō Zankoku Monogatari" [The Super Harsh Story of a Manga Artist]" (Monthly Ikki and others, 2000–2005), joke master Nawoki Karasawa depicts the monsters lurking in the corners of the manga industry mixed in with all sorts of erotica, vulgarity, and nonsensical jokes.

The depths of the interesting and eventually sad “karma” surrounding manga, such the jealousy, longing, vanity, and self-conceit depicted in this work, intensify further in Karasawa’s subsequent works "Manga Gokudō" [Manga Gangster] (Enterbrain, 2007–13) and "Mangaka Sōshingeki" [Attack of the Manga Artists]" (Enterbrain, 2014–16). This style of re-imagining a mysterious industry is not limited to these works, but is also adopted in works such as "Comic Master J" written by Yoshiaki Tabata and drawn by Yuki Yogo (Shonengahosha, 1997–2005) and "Identity in the Small World" by Rensuke Oshikiri (Kodansha, 2017–19), who continue to create unusual forms of “manga artist manga” about the industry.

Credits: Story

Text: Saika Tadahiro 
Edit: Nanami Kikuchi, Natsuko Fukushima+Yuka Miyazaki(BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.) 
Supervisor: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University) 
Written in 2020

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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