Photo:Vanvelthem Cédric on Wikimedia Commons

Getting into the Japanese Manga Industry

Quite a lot of people ask me about how to get into the Japanese manga industry, since I’m the only British professional manga creator in Japan. I have written more than 30 comic books/manga, including 5 books with the big publisher Kodansha. Since so many ask, I thought I should publish an article in public with my advice.

The news is not good, I’m afraid. Basically, it is very hard indeed. In general, getting published in the USA or France is easier (those being the 2nd and 3rd largest markets in the world for comics, after Japan). It's not impossible to be published by a Japanese publisher, after all, I have done it and a handful of other creators from the USA, Sweden, the Philippines, etc. have done it; but it is VERY difficult. This is my usual advice to folk who ask me:

You will need to visit Japan if you want to do some work for publishers here. Japanese companies prefer to meet people, face-to-face, especially for new business. That is the cultural norm. The 'Western' way of just sending an email etc, is not enough in Japan, most of the time.

Photo by na0905 on Flickr

Most Japanese don't speak English too well, even amongst editors at big companies. So, if you speak and write Japanese it will be very helpful in talking with the editors if you come to Tokyo to do so. If not, then you should make some partnership or cooperation with a Japanese person, so you can work on your idea together. But please also remember the cultural stuff that you need in order to cooperate with Japanese successfully. In my experience, Japanese think and do business in a very different way to British or Americans, etc. So, you need to both speak Japanese AND know how to behave in a way that fits with them.

Photo by m anima on Flickr

Few Japanese people have in-depth knowledge of international comic books and I believe that Western comic books make up less than 3% of the total sales of comics/manga in Japan. There is not a large demand for seeing any non-Japanese comics, so far. So, if you want to get published by them you need to ask what can you bring to the Japanese publisher that would make you useful/interesting for them. As well as what I said above about fitting in, you may have to show them some skill/quality that YOU have that they don’t, as a gaijin/foreigner.

As for me: since I am in Japan most of the time it is easier for me, and made sense to try to get some work in the actual Japanese manga industry. As to how I did that, to put it simply: about 12 years ago I got together with a Japanese manga artist that I already knew, who speaks English. And we made some appointments to see various editors at various publishing houses. The positive thing is that if you come to Tokyo and call up or email some editors, then you will be able to meet some. They have quite an open policy about looking at new proposals. Though I guess they do not get many foreign manga creators coming right to their office. Their contact numbers and emails are on their websites – but, again, most are only noted in Japanese.

Sean Michael Wilson and some of his books.

In my case, we got several meetings set up. The editors looked at my previous stuff and my new projects and offered advice, saying what they want. You need to show them quite a lot of art for a new book or story proposal. As much as possible, the whole story is best. Showing them an already published book if you have had one printed in your own language. But at least 20 finished pages (inked, toned and lettered), plus as many rough art pages as you can. DON’T just bring them single image illustration of characters, these are almost useless for showing your ability to tell a story in visuals. It needs to be panel art work, meaning the 5 or 6 or whatever panels per page that we see in published manga pages. Plus a text-only synopsis or summary of the whole story in Japanese, for the editors to read. Just a page or two is best, not something 20 pages long!

Most were not interested in me or the stories, or it did not develop enough for us to make any contracts. That is something in almost all creative work – most of the time most of our ideas won’t be accepted. But if we keep pushing, then some of them might be. For me three things were successful: I developed a good relationship with a small publisher, Seirin Kogeisha, and an editor there. From that came the English version of 'AX: Alternative Manga', which was nominated for a Harvey Award, chosen as one of the best ten books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly and raved about by critics. I also got a contract to have my book onto the keitai manga system, where people read manga on their cell-phone. I think I was the first British writer to have that. And I got a contract with one of the departments of Kodansha, who I am still working for. I’ve done five books for them so far.

The next manga book Sean has written, with artist Inko Ai Takita: Manga Yokai Stories (Tuttle, Sept 2020).

But all of those successes took at least another 2 years of slowly developing before anything definite came out. Not to show off but just to indicate how tough it is: I am the only British person to work on newly commissioned books in the Japanese manga industry for more than 20 years. And even my success is only moderate. So, it really is very tough. Still, let's end on a positive note: I very much hope that more foreign creators are published in Japan. If I can do it then so can others. The basic point is if you really want to try, then keep pushing; but push in the right way and to the right people.

Oh, and please buy one or more of my books! The Japanese/manga type ones can be seen here.

Popular Posts

Related Posts