Learn the Art of Creating Manga from a Legend!

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure mangaka, Hirohiko Araki, teaches you the craft of storytelling in Manga in Theory and Practice.

By Nick Mamatas June 13, 2017

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There are an enormous number of how-to guides about manga-style art and characters. Aspiring writers are spoiled for choice when it comes to inspirational or practical books about writing publishable fiction. And yet when it comes to the creation of actual manga, that perfect synthesis of visual and textual storytelling, there have been few options until Hirohiko Araki, creator of the legendary shonen manga JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, brought us Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga.

If there’s a sociological reason for the lack of books on manga creation, it is probably to do with work and publication processes in Japan. Promising unpublished mangaka are often cultivated by editors, who closely look over submissions along with the creator and make specific suggestions for improvement. (Check out the publishing manga Bakuman or I’ll Give it My All…Tomorrow for some fun details.) By way of contrast, you couldn’t even get past the lobby of the building VIZ Media’s offices are in without being tackled by security. Don’t try! Artists serve apprenticeships and work as assistants to established mangaka. Mangaka are made via the transmission of lore associated with the art form through specific social networks.

Manga is also heavily associated with creators. Though editors have immense influence, as does reader reaction and feedback, manga works and characters are the offspring of the original creators in a way that the famous characters and settings of many Western comics—superheroes, tie-in characters from other media—are not. The corporate property rather than the individual concept is paramount in the U.S. comic book industry. So in the U.S. there is a market need for people who know how to draw “the Marvel way,” or who can write a Superman script one week and an adaptation of an old Hanna-Barbara property from the 1960s the next. And thus, the occasional guide to comic book creation can find an audience here in the West. The machine needs workers to keep throwing switches and yanking on levers. In manga, new creators need to develop on an individual basis, as they are expected to create their own ideas. Creator-centered training means there’s less demand for mass-market training guides.

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(A clever sort might want to know why, if creator-centeredness is such a big deal, why are there so many writing guides for would-be novelists in the U.S.? Novels are author-centered rather than property-centered after all. The answer is that the audience for those guides aren’t writers or even aspirants, but daydreamers who most often never end up publishing or even writing a novel. A how-to guide for actual beginning writers wouldn’t sell more than 100 copies a year.)

It’s perhaps no surprise that Manga in Theory and Practice was written by Araki, a creator whose seminal manga JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is just that—bizarre!—while also holding to the story structures and thematic concerns of shonen manga. The book combines memoiristic discussions of Araki’s own ambitions and the influence of history’s great artists and writers on his work, with straightahead dictums about the creation of manga including charts and graphs detailing the specifics of plotting.

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A mangaka whose work existed too far beyond the commercial realm couldn’t write a book on art and storytelling that would be applicable to most aspiring creators, and a book by a run-of-the-mill mangaka simply wouldn’t be interesting enough to bother with. After a career of pushing at the edge of commercial manga while remaining fully a part of it, Araki captures the essence of manga creation—an individual creator-centered mandate to please a mass audience. He knows the theory and the practice, and with his guide, so too will you.