How to Become a Manga-ka
The path to becoming a Manga-ka is one of sweat, tears, malnutrition, and lack of sleep…

Someone e-mailed me recently, asking a lot of questions about how one goes about becoming a Manga-ka. I am not a professor of the subject (I’m not even a Manga-ka myself ^_-), but I have picked up a lot from freetalks of various Manga-ka I have read. (Especially from Sakura Momoko).

So I have set up a little FAQ with questions I was asked and with questions I have come up with myself. If any of you aspire to be a Manga-ka (or are just interested to know how people become Manga-ka), read on… ^_-

How does anyone know if your trying to be one or not?

You have a couple options:

1. Write a "debut" episode (about 30 pages of a manga story with a beginning, middle, and end. No "to be continued"s…) and send copies of it out to various manga-magazines (like Ribbon, Shocomi, Nakayoshi, Hana to Yume, etc…) to the "Henshuu-bu" (or "Editing Department"). If they accept your story and decide to publish it in their magazine (most people don’t get accepted the first time. I think it took Watase Yuu about three times…), then you will be working for that magazine and they will assign you to write more manga (usually short stories) as long as you are still popular among their readers.

2. Apply to be an assistant to an existing Manga-ka. Some people who want to be Manga-ka decide to be an assistant first so they can learn what it takes and learn how to draw better. An assistant of a Manga-ka usually does the shading and backgrounds, erases pencil marks from the rough drafts, gets food for everyone (^_-), etc. you can apply to be an assistant by sending a letter to a Manga-ka you want to assist, along with samples of your work.

Do you have to live in Japan?

You will most likely have to move to Japan (I’ve never heard of a Japanese Manga-ka who doesn’t live in Japan…). I know they let Manga-ka live in different cities in Japan (the magazines publish in Tokyo, but I know some Manga-ka who live in Hiroshima, Osaka, etc.), but I don’t think the magazine you write for would let you live in another country.

Don't you have to write for a company?

It’s the easiest way to get your stuff published. If you write for a company, there are several restrictions on what you do or don’t write, how long/short your stories are, etc., but you will gain more popularity and more readers this way. Some Manga-ka will go a little free-lance after they’re had lots of success and experience (like Watase Yuu with Appare Jipangu!), but if you’re just starting out, I’d say writing for a company like Ribbon or Nakayoshi is your best bet.

Does it matter what age you are?

I don’t think there is a limit, but I’m guessing you should be at least 18. Some Manga-ka (like Sakura Momoko) made their debuts while they are still in High School (ages 16-18), but most wait until they are out of college.

How about if you don't speak the language or write in it?

That’s obviously a problem ^_^;; If you want to be someone’s assistant, it doesn’t really matter if you speak the language *well* or not (as long as you can understand "shade this in for me" and "could you get me a cup of coffee?" ^_-) if you want to actually write manga, though, you will need to learn the language. (I suggest taking a couple classes and living in Japan for a couple years…as a bare minimum. The grim truth is that no matter how much you study Japanese and no matter how long you live in Japan, unless you are extremely talented in linguistics, you will never learn Japanese well enough to actually write a literary work on your own. You will need to find a native Japanese person with superior language skills who can edit your dialogue and make it sound more "Japanese". There are several subtleties (speech patterns, word choice, proper sound effects) which your writing might lack if you don’t have a native Japanese person proofread your work.

Is there any type of schooling you have to take?

Not required, but there are "Manga Schools" in Japan (I saw them advertised sometimes in magazines). There is a difference between simply drawing pictures and drawing comics with stories to them. I’m sure there are also several techniques to learn. Many times, a Manga-ka will make her debut with a magazine, and then proceed onto Manga-school. If you look at a Manga-ka’s debut work and compare it with something she has written ten years later, the differences in art style and technique and formatting are dramatic. Those of you familiar with Watase Yuu’s work, check out this drawing she did for the cover of her very first manga. O_o

I know how to make my "debut" now, but then how do I keep it up?

This is a crucial time which depends almost solely on your popularity (with the editors/staff of the magazine you write for, and the readers.) Readers of the magazine write in to the staff and tell them what they thought of a certain Manga-ka’s debut work. If the new Manga-ka found favor with the editors and readers, she stays. If she doesn’t, she leaves.

I’m still not too clear on this part yet, but I believe once you make your "debut", you’re sort of signed on to do more episodes until you’re not popular anymore. A Manga-ka might have spent 3 years thinking over and perfecting her debut work and it might have been spectacular… this is nice and all, but she will never be able to produce 30 pages per month if that’s the way she works. You’re basically put "on trial" during your first few Yomikiri (short stories).

When do I get my first serial?

Usually after you write about 6 Yomikiri, you are then assigned a Rensai (serial comic). [Though some Manga-ka end up writing mostly Yomikiri, especially if you write for a branch magazine like "Shocomi-Cheese", or "LaLa"…] Your first serial is usually not very long (around 2-4 episodes). So if you have a story you really want to write, it’s a gamble. You can either use it as your first serial and have it much shorter than you wanted, or you can save it for later (if there is a "later", that is… THAT’S the risk… ^_-). Usually, when you are assigned a serial, the title page(s) of your first episode are in color.

When do I get my first tankoubon published?

Usually a Tankoubon of a beginning Manga-ka (volume of manga about 180 pages long) contains her first serial, her debut work, and another 1 or 2 Yomikiri (depending on how long her serial and yomikiri are). Your first tankoubon is another crucial part of your career. The decision lies in the hands of potential manga-buyers (yes, even us overseas). If your first tankoubon does not sell well, and if you stop receiving favorable comments from the readers of the magazine and the editors, you pretty much fizzle out there. ^_^;;

What if I make it safely past my first tankoubon?

Then you continue to write more yomikiri and short serials, which are then published into more tankoubon.

When do I get to write my first long serial? (At least 3 tankoubon long)

This really depends on how popular you are and how well you sell. But it’s very hard to plan ahead for these things. The magazine reserves the right to say "the next episode will be your last" or "I want you to extend this story another 2 episodes". Most Manga-ka really have no control over how long their stuff is. If some manga seem choppy or drawn-out too much, that is the fault of the staff on the magazine (and the fault of the readers for liking/disliking the story too much ^_-). I remember Mizuto Aqua mentioning that her Go! Virginal Hanayuukishould have been only 6 episodes long (thus constituting one tankoubon), but after she finished episode 5, it was extended 2 episodes ^^; I think she handled the sudden change very well, but it must have been mind-wracking to have to change her whole plan on such short notice.

Once you have been writing manga for a few years and have some loyal followers, you have a little more freedom in what you write and how long/short it is. It is then that most Manga-ka will bring out the story they’ve been wanting to write for years.

Will being a Manga-ka take up all my time?

It depends on which magazine you write for, for starters. If you write for a once-a-month magazine (like Ribbon), you will only need to write about 30 pages per month (a little more than a page per day). This includes furoku (color drawings you draw outside your actual manga that are turned into merchandise), and color pictures for the covers of your tankoubon (if your manga is animated, you will also need to spend some time with that, too)… But if you’re just a normal Manga-ka for Ribbon, your time will not be eaten up. (Some Manga-ka even had a 9 to 5 job while they were starting out. Yoshizumi Wataru and Sakura Momoko were both secretaries during their first couple tankoubon ^_^)

If you write for a magazine that publishes twice a month (like Shocomi), you will need to produce 60 pages per month. (about 3 pages per day) this is a little tougher, but still not too bad if you budget your time, have good assistants, and don’t waste time with video games ^_-.

Where do Manga-ka work?

Usually in their own homes. Sometimes they might rent office space (if they don’t live alone). They tend to move to Tokyo, as this is where the magazines are located, but some live in other areas of Japan and fax/mail in their stories. Business with the editors and other staff is usually done over the phone.

How do I get assistants?

However you want ^_^. Mizuto Aqua set up an ad in Shocomi and in her Milk Crown tankoubon, asking for assistants, some advertise in their tankoubon in their freetalk space, and others just employ their family members ^^; (Fujii Mihona’s assistants are her mother and brother ^_-)

When will I get to publish my first artbook?

….Maybe never ^^;; Only the Manga-ka who are really considered good "artists" will have their color pictures published in artbook-form. Popularity of the series also dictates whether or not there will be an artbook.