Truths about debuting in Japan as a mangaka

I was recently contacted by a Shogakukan editor, (from the Shonen Sunday department,) who became interested in me after I left my contact details and some of my samples at the publisher's. (Since the editor I first went to was not very interested in me)

This new editor, let's call him Mr.L. It seems that he was thrilled that a foreigner like me decided to come to Japan and start from 0 to debut as a mangaka. He proposed me to meet in a cafe in Ikebukuro and talk about how to help me get the desired serialization. And the truth is that it was a very productive talk.

All you have to do is make an interesting manga. But is it really that easy? Not at all.

It's easy to write a story that entertains and doesn't bore you completely, but it's extremely difficult to write something really interesting. And this last is what Japanese publishers are looking for.

Competition of Oneshots「読み切り」

There are exceptions such as Jump SQ, which only requires a storyboard to participate in its oneshots contest (読み切りen Japanese). But most of the magazines require you to submit a storyboard from the beginning to the end to be allowed to participate in the contest.

First of all, as I have said in previous entries, you have to focus on drawing a oneshot. And with it, winning the monthly contest that most commercial magazines have. It looks like what happened with the HumanExe oneshot, which I got to publish in the Gangan Joker of SquareEnix, was a pure exception in the manga publisher's world. You're usually put in competition with other authors' oneshot, and only the best oneshot are published. So that readers can then choose, through surveys, which project they are most interested in for possible future serialization.

In Jump SQ I tried it for about 2 years, and I didn't get any results. It was like banging your head against the wall, because it was horrifying to make the editor accepted a project. And once he accepts it after a thousand changes, at the contest meeting, his bosses knocked it down because of the high standards they have in that magazine.

But going back to what is normal in most Japanese contests, as well as in the Shonen Jump or the Shonen Sunday, it is imperative to draw a oneshot and present it in the monthly contest they promote. Obviously this only applies to authors who have not yet debuted with a serialization in a Japanese commercial magazine (it doesn't matter if you published in your country, it doesn't count). So as soon as you get your debut and have a series with some popularity in Japan that can support the possible success of your future project, the development of a new oneshot is not so important anymore.

Going back to the oneshots contest, Mr.L told me that there are 3 main prizes in the contest, "Gold", "Silver", "Bronze" and some smaller special prizes. But many times they have to leave the "Gold" award empty, even the "Silver" one, because they consider that no work submitted meets the requirements for those awards. We can deduce that the level of demand is very high, and not worth anything to win. However, if you win them, it is a very well paid money that is collected from the prize.

And well, according to Mr.L, winning a contest like this, along with a Japanese editor who supervises your work throughout the process (from the development of the storyboard to the delivery of the finished manuscript in the competition), can take at least more than 1 year until one of the projects submitted wins a prize. After the oneshot is successful and the serialization is prepared, it can take 1 or 2 more years, and this is the best of luck. Because Mr.L has (Japanese) author cases that he has been supervising for more than 4 years and still not getting results.

It is a very slow and strict process, and for that reason I would dare to say that there are so few foreign mangakas in Japan. Since normally the residence visa you can get (either tourist or student visa), it doesn't usually cover the eternity of time it takes to get the publisher to want to publish your work. First understand how a Japanese publisher thinks to write a manga that has a minimum of possibilities. And then write something that will appeal to both Japanese publishers and readers. So I'd say it's almost impossible (99.999%) to go with a project drawn from your country and expect to get it published in a commercial magazine like Jump right away.

Make an interesting oneshot

But let's get back to what's important: making an interesting oneshot.

Mr.L suggested that the ideal for a oneshot would be between 32 and 34 pages. I was surprised because most of the oneshot I have read of Shueisha have an average of 45 pages. But I think that every publisher and magazine will have an ideal page average. Although this is not an exact science, and it doesn't matter if you go a few pages too far. As long as the story is interesting and requires it, of course.

When writing the story, Mr. L suggested that it's best to start with just the characters. The characters are the most important thing in the story, and it's the story that should revolve around them. So there's no point in thinking of a very original and entertaining story if the characters are empty or of no interest to the reader.

Therefore, as an author, one should not focus so much on creating an original story, but on creating very original and charismatic characters. A oneshot should have between 2 and 3 characters in which the story should revolve, and those characters have to be interesting both on their own and as a whole. Give them some goals to each one with their respective motives so that the reader will want to encourage and sympathize with them. Characters that can easily create a link with the reader, because once this is achieved, the story will come out on its own, and obviously it will be interesting.

Right now (while I am still working as an assistant in Gantz:E) I am in this process, the one of creating interesting characters, and then drawing a oneshot with them. We will see how long the process takes, or if there is luck and I can start faster with the elaboration of the oneshot. Luckily I have an editor in charge, Mr.L, who helps me to differentiate when something is or isn't interesting, so it's all a matter of time until something worthwhile comes out to move forward.

And well, I'm saying that I just wrote what I would have liked to read before I came to Japan. Because really, when you know all this, you can have your feet on the ground and get much better organized for such a titanic goal that is to serialize a manga in a Japanese commercial magazine.

See you at the next entry!

10 Comments on "Truths about debuting in Japan as a mangaka.

  1. Thank you very much for writing this post!

    I'm very interested in the theme you comment on, the characters have to be original and charismatic with a goal in mind. A very interesting topic. I think that the author himself must be charismatic to be able to capture it.

  2. I'm still quite young, but I know that what I'm passionate about is drawing and creating stories and one day I'd love to put my ideas into the pages of a manga. It seems complicated to stand out and I know that you have to make a lot of effort so I will do my best to achieve it, thank you very much for the information and the hopes you give to the little aspiring mangaka. Good luck in your future projects 🙂

  3. Thank you for writing this, I hope that one day you will fulfill your dream and I am sure you will!
    I also plan to achieve my big dream of being a mangaka 🙂

  4. Excuse me, I have a question, it's great that you are working in Japan but what kind of visa are you currently staying with in Japan?

  5. The good thing is that magazines are more open in terms of where a story is focused.
    I take as examples full metal alchemist, kimetsu no yaiba, vinland saga, and why not one piece. Before it used to be a pity to see a story that wasn't ultra japanese. Nowadays they are more open to themes based on other cultures outside of Japan. However! Working on them is difficult, you have to already have a lore! To hook the reader, so that from ep.1. Everything has coherence and a lot of sense.
    I understand you, but if you are Spanish? You should try to be influenced by your own roots, investigate cultural stories of your native country, legends, myths, etc. That will help you a lot to create a fantasy story, why not! With slight touches of the country in which you currently reside Japan.

    1. "However, if you are Spanish? You should try to be influenced by your own roots, research cultural histories of your native country, legends, myths etc".
      I have no interest in that, it doesn't motivate me. Besides I don't make stories, I just draw them.
      But thanks for your comment!

  6. The good thing is that magazines are more open in terms of where a story is focused.
    I take as examples full metal alchemist, kimetsu no yaiba, vinland saga, and why not one piece. Before it used to be a pity to see a story that wasn't ultra japanese. Nowadays they are more open to themes based on other cultures outside of Japan. However! Working on them is difficult, you have to already have a lore! To hook the reader, so that from ep.1. Everything has coherence and a lot of sense.
    I understand you, but if you are Spanish? You should try to be influenced by your own roots, investigate cultural stories of your native country, legends, myths, etc. That will help you a lot to create a fantasy story, why not! With slight touches of the country in which you currently reside Japan.
    You know, no. If there's a katana in between giving legendary attacks. That's enough.

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