June 25, 2015
The teen manga artist
Despite the manga market in Japan cooling off largely due to the inevitable demographic shifts, publishers are still actively recruiting new talent. This has produced a YA genre unique to Japan that centers around the teenage manga artist.
The genre falls into two general categories: 1) the amateur/self-published (dojinshi) manga artist, often a member of a high school or college manga club; 2) a teenager earning a living as a manga artist.
In the former category are Comic Party and Genshiken. In both cases, the goal is getting a booth at the Comiket comic fair (or its equivalent), the world's biggest dojinshi convention.
A few of the more talented club members may parlay this into a career in the future, but that's not the point of the story. As Kate points out, the setting has the important function of giving the characters something to do.
The problem of providing genre romantic characters with a difference can often be solved by simply giving the main characters jobs, and then remembering what those jobs are.
This is literally the case for the teenagers in the latter category. They often even live alone (second item). This isn't unusual in Japan, where a high school student can enroll in an "escalator school" away from home, or whose parents are working abroad.
In anime and manga about making manga, "the teenager as working artist" breaks down into several sub-categories:
- As in Ef–A Tale of Memories, being a manga artist is simply one aspect of a person's character and a source of conflict as such.
- Though more commonly, the main character being a manga artist comprises the whole plot device.
- As an added twist, a guy is writing a romance manga or a teen girl is writing for a sexually explicit imprint (like Cheese).
Everything I've read says that Bakuman is the best series about growing up to become a manga artist. The story follows two ninth grade boys who are striving to break into the business, with Moritaka Mashiro as the artist and Akito Takagi as the writer.
Media Blasters had picked up the anime but subsequently abandoned the license. The manga series is published by VIZ Media.
Otherwise, the best of the rest is Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. Nozaki Umetaro is a hunky high school student who, unbeknownst to most of his classmates, draws a popular romance manga for a girl's magazine.
Producing two chapters a month leaves him desperate for new material. And help. Established manga artists employ a small staff to help meet the always pressing deadlines. Nozaki resorts to roping his classmates into those chores, including Chiyo.
Because of an understandable misunderstanding, the first time he broaches the subject, she thinks he's asking her on a date. Instead she finds herself learning how to do beta (that means filling in designated areas with solid black).
Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun confirms that "giving your characters something to do is always more interesting than letting them sit and around and get angsty." Nozaki has something to do, a place to be, and Chiyo a non-awkward reason for being there.
The monomaniacal Nozaki is the perfect straight man, navigating a sea of absurdity without straining belief. The series is good-natured, not too sit-com stupid (a trap Comic Party falls into at times), and honestly very funny.
The genre doesn't stop with high school. Yasuko and Kenji (a live-action comedy not available in the U.S.) has the leader of a biker gang abandoning his old life and becoming a manga artist to support his kid sister when their parents die.
Mangirl (an unfortunate-sounding portmanteau of "manga" and "girl") is about just that, a very silly and very short (less than five minutes per episode) but surprisingly smart show about four OLs launching a manga magazine.
The people making these anime are following the adage of writing what they know best, so the added bonus is that you will learn a good deal about the manga industry in the process (including dealing with odd editors and eccentric artists).
Incidentally, the best series about the anime industry right now (said by industry insiders to border on documentary accuracy) is Shirobako. It's also about working adults, though they started out in a high school anime club.