The Biggest Problem in Manga

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Manga and Anime are suffering from a recycling problem. Artists take a well-known formula and apply it in different genres, to give an illusion of creativity and uniqueness, when in reality they’re all pretty much the same story.

Let’s look at shounen real quick for example. It’s getting hard to sell new battle manga because of the huge competitors (One Piece, Boku no Hero Academia, Naruto’s sequel, etc), so mangaka just take the exact same plot that these ones have, and apply it somewhere else.

This formula is:

  1. Ambitious teenage male main character wants to be the best at X.
  2. He battles other strong people who want to be the best at X, becomes stronger along the way and makes friends.
  3. He beats the final boss and becomes the best at X with the help of his comrades.

Sounds familiar? This format (and some variations) is used a lot in storytelling in general, but excessively so in manga. “I’m going to be the Pirate King!” “I’m going to be the next Hokage!” “I will surpass my father as a Chef!” Stuff like that.

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Now that this has proven to sell, it’s leaking out into other genres. The now hugely popular Shokugeki no Souma is the same shounen battle manga you’ve seen a million times, but disguised as a cooking manga. It also has the ability to show disgusting amounts of fanservice through the “food tasting reactions” (yeah right, we all know what you’re doing there, Tsukuda Yūto).

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This is supposed to be a “funny reaction”? Come on.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying such titles, though. I personally read One Piece and Shokugeki no Souma, and I have fun doing so. Kuroko’s Basketball is a shounen battle manga masked as a sports title (It even has special powers and abilities). However, it’s still in my Top 10 Best Sports Manga of All Time list. They are not necessarily bad, and as I’ve said many times before, uniqueness is not a measurement of quality. However, the problem doesn’t lie in shounen only. Seinen manga (Aimed at young adults) are often just used to show sexualized female characters or huge amounts of gore/blood to sell copies, at the expense of quality, with no actual plot for the stories.

The worst offenders are manga about cute girls doing cute things. I don’t know what else to call them, or what genre to assign them to, but you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s those titles made to pander to the “otaku” demographic, with a cast of 4 or so main girls following well known personality tropes (tsundere, shy, clumsy, whatever). It’s basically a deceptively similar style of manga to the sorts of Azumanga Daioh, a regular slice-of-life manga that happens to have women as main characters, but in reality it’s recycled garbage with slightly different looking characters but no changes in personality, or even in backstory.

I’m talking about stuff like K-on, that pretends to be about music, but is actually just about cute girls doing cute things. In the anime, there are only about 3 or 4 instances in two seasons where they actually play music for a crowd and they’re supposed to be a band. What?

I say that these are the worst offenders because they can actually be bad for people. They are targeted at a very particular audience, which is people that are not happy with their lives, or with themselves, and are looking for comfort in any place they can. This type of manga gives the illusion of comfort, they tell you that it’s okay to be who you are, and that kind of stuff. However, in reality, it can have the opposite effect: These people can get drifted further away from reality, further away from the people who can actually help them, and just make them become more unhappy with who they are. All to sell some figurines.

Some people can get genuinely inspired by such manga, though, and that is okay! I don’t claim to understand the psyche of all humans or anything of the sorts. I’m just worried at the consequences that this type of thing can have on someone that literally has no other source of comfort.

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Seriously?

Manga is a highly competitive market, and if a title doesn’t sell, it will get axed. There is also a limited amount of popular magazines in Japan that serialize manga and actually sell.

This means that there is only a small amount of manga that can be serialized successfully (until completion) at the same time. This leads to artists having to use the well known tactics I’ve been talking about to sell copies and make sure that they can make a living! More and more of these exclusive spots get taken up by unoriginal manga that don’t have the passion we’re used to when we read stuff like Fukumoto Nobuyuki or any of the Greats of the industry. Again, these manga are not bad – they just will never be masterpieces, not matter how many copies they sell!

This way, less and less mangaka are willing to take risks with creative storylines and a rising amount are just trying to write what will sell. The industry has always been like this, but I feel like it’s worse than ever now and it’s dangerously approaching a critical point, where original mangaka will have no space to do what they do.

To be clear – you cannot write manga as a hobby. Some of the west’s best literature was written by people who didn’t earn money through writing, like Franz Kafka, but this cannot be done properly in manga. Making a complete manga story is a huge time investment, and mangaka can barely manage to churn out one chapter a week. In fact, many have a team of assistants. Imagine writing over 100, just for a hobby! No way. There are some exceptions, like Chikan Otoko by Takuma Yokota.

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Oda’s desk (Author of One Piece)

So how do you fix this issue? How can you encourage creative writing in such a competitive context? It’s clearly not the mangaka’s fault, because they just do what they have to in order to stay relevant and make ends meet. The readers are not at fault either, because you can’t blame someone for reading the titles they enjoy, and nobody can objectively say what is good and what is bad. The companies that publish the manga are not to blame for cancelling the poor performing titles, as they need to profit to maintain operations and be able to publish anything at all.

To be honest, I don’t have a solution. The best way the readers can contribute to fixing the problem is directly supporting mangaka that publish original and creative manga and buying their work, in English or not.

And complaining about it online, I guess?

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