What Is The Lifestyle Of A Manga Artist?

by Justin Sevakis,

Fredrik asks:

Given how I've noticed that there is an unfortunate pattern of some manga authors dying at young ages, that has lead me to wonder: what is the lifestyle of a mangaka actually like? Generally, is writing/drawing their main source of income, or is writing only a side-job for most authors?

A few years back, famed manga artist Takehiko Inoue (Slam Dunk, Vagabond, Real) visited New York City to paint a mural on the wall of the new flagship location of Books Kinokuniya. I was there to cover this event, and remarked to one of his handlers that it must've been hard to fly there from Japan, and immediately overcome jet lag to paint such an impressive mural. The handler replied to me that Inoue was under a tight deadline, and was actually painting all day, and then immediately going back to his hotel room to draw manga all evening.

Real, honest-to-goodness serialized manga authors don't have time for side-jobs. Heck, they barely have time for anything other than work. This is especially true of those just starting out. Most manga artists do everything in regards to their work: the writing, the layout, the penciling, the inking. It's often too much: many of them have to hire assistants -- sometimes quite a few assistants -- to get the work done in time. With the magazine and print industry in general in decline, it's a constant struggle to keep fans happy and keep sales up.

The very top manga artists can rake in millions. Eichiro Oda, for example, was reported to have taken home ¥1.3 Billion (US$15 Million) in 2009 alone. Obviously someone like Oda can afford to have many assistants, and while he may spend quite a bit of time working, he no longer has to completely break himself to turn in x number of pages to Shonen Jump editors every week. But yet, he still does: according to recent magazine articles, he works pretty much non-stop every day from 5am till 2am.

Successful manga artists don't all break themselves continuously like this. Famous ones like Masashi Kishimoto, Akira Toriyama and Rumiko Takahashi are similarly well situated. Not only do they make royalties from their manga, but from the anime, merchandise and other licensing as well. A top manga artist might still work a lot and have a lot of stress, but they also probably get to do other things, like have a social life.

But those guys are the exception, not the rule. Unless your work gives birth to a successful multimedia franchise, most artists are stuck with just tankoubon (graphic novel) royalties and the piddly amount that magazines pay (typically around US$100 per page), which is barely enough to live on, let alone hire an assistant. The average royalties made by manga artists successful enough to get tankoubon printed was reported to be just ¥2.8 Million (~US$35,000) in 2009 -- enough to live on, but not particularly well. And those are the artists are still the more successful ones: many artists' work is not popular enough to be printed in anything but anthology form.

But manga artists generally love their work. Even without much of a work/life balance, they live for their manga, and are proud of what they do. Burn-out is high, especially at lower levels, and it's not what I would call a healthy lifestyle. But, like many creative pursuits, it's a very competitive field. People do give up a lot to achieve their dreams.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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