Being a mangaka is not an easy profession. Constantly under pressure with deadlines to meet and in constant competition with their peers to keep their place in a pre-publication magazine, it is not easy to live the life of a mangaka. Adored by society today, particularly in the 2020 Olympic Games (21), being a mangaka is a unique profession that makes Japan shine around the world. But would you be surprised if I told you that it hasn’t always been the case?
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An unappreciated profession
Not so long ago the profession of mangaka was not an enviable or easily achievable one. It was mostly considered seen as a sub-profession. To understand why we must go back to its origins. Used initially for propaganda purposes by the Japanese government to solicit its population to rebuild a Japan in ruins following World War II, the manga quickly took its place as literary entertainment. Some young mangaka sews liberal ideas in their writings, stoking the contradictions with the mentality of the 50s and questioning the great traditions while criticizing the evolution of modern Japan turned towards frantic production. The manga was inspired by universal facts, social issues, whether emotional, academic, sexual, or work, and addressing themes that everyone refuses to tackle. ((Akira, MW, The Story of the 3 Adolf, Princess Sapphire, Gen of Hiroshima, etc …)
Today, manga is used as a medium to convey the reflection of Japanese society, both the good and the bad. The famous Inio Asano, for example, is perfectly specialized in this field due to this critical and open-ended tradition.
The profession of mangaka has long been shunned. Many mangaka, anxious to remain anonymous, opted in the past for a very particular self-portrait: the jigazo, this drawn self-portrait representing the mangaka for its readers.
Towards the general admiration of the profession
Over the years and with the manga’s gain in popularity, mentalities change slowly. The arrival of the excellent Bakuman in the Shônen Jump, by Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Oba, will be a huge success in Japan. After the success of Death Note, the two mangaka brought a series with 20 volumes to the table to demystify the profession of mangaka. Telling the beginnings of two talented young boys wishing to write their own manga, the series brilliantly succeeded in popularizing the profession as well as the path to the serialization of a story in a magazine, by taking us behind the scenes of this new profession. . Mangaka is finally becoming a standardized profession: there is no longer any shame in letting oneself dream of becoming a manga artist.
The popularity of the big hits of the 2000s, especially with their Big Three (Naruto, Bleach, One Piece), will reveal the missing piece to this complex puzzle. Even if the profession remains quite hard physically and morally, it becomes a source of perseverance and self-sacrifice. Making a living as a mangaka is long and complicated, but not impractical. It is, above all, very desired by artists. Even despite the immense success of One piece, putting the standards high for any artist, several titles are doing very well. The meteoric rise of Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen, manga made by the young mangaka, is proof that, for a good story, any work can have its hour of glory, even going so far as to overshadow the eternal No 1: One Piece, having achieved so much itself by dethroning at the end of 90 the popularity monster that Dragon ball represented!
Being a mangaka is therefore not what it was before. It has been standardized and is recognized as a real profession. Several official infrastructures have been put in place: the appearance of manga schools and the numerous competitions organized by Japanese publishing houses for young talents are now very good proof of this improvement.
As we have seen, the place of the mangaka in Japanese society is much better than it used to be. Just look at the staging of the last Olympic Games: Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball), Takehiko Inoue (Slam Dunk, Vagabond), Naoki Urasawa (20th century boys, Monster), Hirohiko Araki (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure), and many others have been enlisted to promote Japanese culture to the world. We finally have a Japan proud of its pop culture, going so far as to choose manga heroes such as Luffy, Goku, Usagi, Naruto, Shinchan, or Astro as official ambassadors of its J-O.
In recent years, mangakas have emerged from their comfortable area of anonymity and put themselves, their work, and their profession at the mercy of the gaze of others by posting on the internet and social networks. Several mangaka present on Twitter or on YouTube does not hesitate to promote an event, a signing session, or just their everyday life, thus creating a strong and intimate bond with whoever wants to interact with it. The manga Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-sa tells the life of Honda, a bookseller with a skeleton head, and it illustrates with great humor the relationship between the mangaka and his readers from a new angle: the author’s relationship to its community as well as the abandonment of the traditional anonymity.
The manga has been gaining in popularity for several years, and that’s a fact! The image conveyed by this success has been able to give dignity to the image of the mangaka profession. Today, the profession of mangaka is recognized and valued as it should be: an honorable artistic profession. Mixing passion and total abnegation towards work, the mangaka bring their readers to the depths of their work through a story. Think about it: couldn’t this imaginative journey of unconditional dreamers be considered one of the most beautiful jobs in the world?