Manga Answerman - What exactly does a “manga editor” do?

by Deb Aoki,

Editor's note: Manga Answerman is on hiatus this week, so we're republishing one of our favorites - please look forward to a new installment next Friday!

What exactly does a “manga editor” do, on both the Japanese side and the English localization side?

In my conversations with manga editors in Japan and manga editors in N. America, the basic difference is that the manga editors in Japan are more responsible for the tasks related to the creation of manga – from finding, vetting and nurturing new talent, to overseeing the creation of new stories and development of stories in ongoing series, and the publication of the manga in weekly or monthly magazines, and eventually into published books. They also contribute to the marketing and promotion of the books too.

Editors in N. America get into the process after the manga has been published in Japan – they often keep tabs on what's being new and getting a lot of buzz, and then make a business case for picking up the title for publication in English. Once the title is licensed, editors the process involved in taking the original Japanese content and making it ready for publication for English readers. This includes stuff like overseeing the translation and graphic design/sound-effects touch-ups. They often do a lot of hands-on editing/localization of the Japanese content, and oversee the production work that goes into turning manga into published books as print or ebooks, or in some cases, simul-published chapters. They too contribute to marketing and publicizing the books – for example, they write blog posts, book descriptions for catalogs and websites, blurbs for the covers, and even spend time at conventions selling books, meeting fans and talking about their titles at panels.

This is pretty much a broad strokes description of the difference between manga editors in Japan and N. America – but for more insight on this, I reached out to International Manga Editor of Mystery, Carl Horn from Dark Horse Comics.

Carl has been working in the manga publishing biz for quite a while – first at Viz Media editing titles like Golgo 13, and now at Dark Horse, where he's worked on titles like horror/action series Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and lighter fare like Oreimo (Ore no Imōto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai / “My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute”). Here's his take on the difference between what a manga editor does in Japan, and what a manga editor in N. America does to get your favorite manga from Japan to you:

"This is a broad generalization ^_^ but a manga editor in Japan starts from a point where the manga to be published does not yet exist (i.e., it's only a concept or proposal, and hasn't been written, drawn, or designed yet), whereas the manga editor in North America starts from the point where the book does already exist (that is, the Japanese edition).

I say “broad generalization” because I can already think of various exceptions. For example, the Japanese editor may be working to publish a manga that already exists in some form—a web manga, a print or digital doujinshi. Maybe it's even been created and released before in Japan at some point in the past, by a different publisher which once had the rights to it, or which has gone defunct.

Likewise, the North American manga editor does not always start from works that already exist in Japan; on rare occasion they may work directly with Japanese creators to help bring about a work whose first publication is in English (or some other foreign language). Even in the much more common instance, where the the manga already exists in Japan, the particular format of the North American edition may not. This is often the case with English-language manga editions that are in omnibus or oversize page format; such manga may exist in Japan only as individual tankobon (even when there is an omnibus version in Japan, the English-language version may be different; for example, it may be larger).

There's also another major conceptual difference between the Japanese and N. American manga editor. Manga in North America, with various exceptions (the digital Shonen Jump being the most prominent) are published as individual series/titles. By contrast, the manga industry in Japan publishes manga collectively—that is, in an anthology magazine. When a Japanese editor is trying to help make a new manga happen, they think not only about the individual manga story, but where and how it will fit in the lineup of a magazine. Only later (and sometimes not at all) will the manga be published as an individual tankobon.

Because we generally lose this aspect of the Japanese industry when individual manga get licensed here, it's vital to remember that the vast majority of professionally-produced manga (as opposed to doujinshi) are not “green-lit” in isolation, but as one manga among 10-40 (depending on the size of the magazine) that will appear all together at the same time in a weekly, biweekly, or monthly anthology publication.

That's the big picture, and in a real sense, a Japanese manga editor is the editor on a manga magazine first, and an editor on an individual manga second. It's like how a traditional TV network thinks about the entire week's lineup, and how they fit together and balance each other, not just the individual series."

Thanks Carl! For more from Carl and what's going on at Dark Horse, check out the Horn Zone at Dark Horse Manga Zone blog.

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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for Manga, and now writes about manga for Anime News Network and Publishers Weekly. She is also a comics creator/illustrator, and has been a life-long reader of manga (even before it was readily available in English). You can follow her on Twitter at @debaoki.

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