Why You’ll Never Write A Successful Manga
September 12, 2009
(An article I wrote for the ICS, back in the day)
So, you’ve finally done it. After hours, days, or maybe even a couple weeks, you’ve managed to create the masterpiece that will supplant Dragon Ball as the world’s greatest manga! The premise is ingenious, you know. After all, your intelligent, manga-loving friends would tell you if something was wrong, right? Of course they would! They’re experts!
The main character, Sasuke Ryu (let’s face it, putting last names first is stupid), is a ninja with a dragon inside of him, trying to unlock its power so that he can do… well, you’ll think of something. His girlfriend, the attractive, shy, but somehow stubbornly controlling type has a strong interest in Sasuke that she tries to hide. Couple that with an enigmatic, silent stranger, and you’ll have written a manga so popular that God himself commits suicide because he knows he’ll never be as great as you. Of course, your art might not be the best, but that’s okay, because your friends (especially those great artists on DeviantArt) tell you that you’ve got the talent to succeed!
You know what might help you get past the final push and succeed? One tidbit of advice, that’s what! It’s very important that you pay attention to every word. Ready? Here it is:
No matter what you try, you can never be a dragon.
Think that doesn’t have anything to do with you being more awesome than God? It does, and I’ll get to that in a bit, but let me take a slightly different tone, for a moment. Some people, you included, have no business attempting to write a manga. I’m not talking about writing to get famous or plagiarizing from other works–both very common mistakes of new writers–I’m talking about not understanding who you’re writing to.
I’m talking about how your not-being-Japanese precludes you from writing a successful manga. “Wait,” you might say, “Americans have written successful manga! Just look at Usagi Yojimbo and Dirty Pair!” Aside from the fact that both series were created by Japanese people and that the former is actually considered an American comic book, neither of these books are particularly successful, especially in terms of name recognition. You see, even people who don’t know much about comics, Japanese or otherwise, are more likely to recognize Dragon Ball or Naruto than they are Dirty Pair. That’s the kind of success we’re talking about.
Of course, it’s far easier to define that kind of triumph as “something you’ll never have.”
You aren’t Japanese. If I was delivering this article at a Convention, there would be a shocked hush right about now. After all, if you dress like you’re Japanese, spout “genuine” phrases like “Watashi wa Desu,” eat pocky, and can understand Japanese (because the only real way to watch anime is unsubbed!), you pretty much are Japanese, right? I mean, aside from the physical features and where you were born, in your heart and soul, you know you understand so much about being Japanese that you actually are, right?
Wrong! You’re a moron.
See, this is where we get back to the dragon point: no amount of surgery or psychological adjustment will transform you into a dragon. You were born human, so even if you act like a dragon, you’re going to act like how you perceive a dragon would act, not how a dragon actually acts. Likewise, no matter how much you might know about being Japanese, the fact is that you aren’t. You’ve been raised elsewhere, most likely in the West, and now you’re hardwired to operate with a western mentality. I don’t care that you take your shoes off when you enter homes or that you don’t touch people because Japanese culture apparently doesn’t like touching or anything like that. No matter how much you want to be Japanese, you aren’t, and nothing you do can change that.
The highest-selling, most popular manga out there are always written by Japanese people, writing for a Japanese audience. The cultural divide that separates the Japanese from the non-Japanese is vast and uncrossable. In writing, there are three important rules that must be followed: be concise, be intelligible, and know your audience, and rule number three is the reason you’ll never write a succesful manga. Deep down inside, you don’t truly know your audience. Ultimately, any attempt to hybridize Western and Japanese culture is going to fail miserably, especially when compared to your goal of reaching those fourteen or fifteen million volumes of Dragon Ball.
So please, give up while you’re ahead. You’ll never write the next “Bleach.” Maybe I’m just a softie who hates seeing people fall flat on their faces, or maybe I just want to rid the world of socially awkward otakus with delusions of grandeur, I dunno. What I do know is that you’ll never get anywhere if you try to write a successful manga, because the only successes in the manga industry are one thing you aren’t: Japanese. No amount of motivation, talent, and skill is going to overcome that, although psychic powers that give you an innate understanding of culture might. You’re better off learning to write an American or European comic book, and even then, don’t try to be successful; try to be good.