Mangaka (漫画家) is the Japanese word for a comic artist or cartoonist. Outside of Japan, manga usually refers to a Japanese comic book and mangaka refers to the author of the manga, who is usually Japanese. As of 2006, about 3000 professional mangaka were working in Japan.
Most mangaka study at an art college, manga school, or take on an apprenticeship with another artist before entering the industry as a primary creator. More rarely a mangaka breaks into the industry directly, without previously being an assistant. For example, Naoko Takeuchi, author of Sailor Moon, won a contest sponsored by Kodansha, and manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka was first published while studying an unrelated degree, without ever working as an assistant.
A mangaka will rise to prominence through recognition of their ability when they spark the interest of institutions, individuals or a demographic of manga consumers. For example, there are contests which prospective mangaka may enter, sponsored by manga editors and publishers. They are also recognized for the number of manga they run at one time.
The word can be broken down into two parts: manga (漫画) and ka (家).
The -ka (家) suffix implies a degree of expertise and traditional authorship. For example, this term would not be applied to a writer creating a story which is then handed over to a manga artist for drawing. The Japanese term for such a writer of comics is gensakusha (原作者).
Relationship to other staff
While Japan does have a thriving independent comic market for amateur and semi-professional artists, creating manga professionally is rarely a solo effort. Mangaka must work with an assortment of others to get their work completed, published, and into the hands of readers.
Most professionally published mangaka work with an editor, who is considered the boss of the mangaka and supervises series production. The editor gives advice on the layout and art of the manga, vets the story direction and pace, ensures that deadlines are met, and generally makes sure that the manga stays up to company standards. The editor may also function as a brand manager and publicist for a series. When a manga is the basis for a media franchise, the editor may also supervise the designs for licensed merchandise, anime adaptations, and similar products, though this duty may also fall to the mangaka or an agent.
A mangaka may both write and illustrate a series of their own creation, or may work in collaboration with an author. The mangaka typically has a strong influence on dialog even when paired with a writer, as any conversation must fit within the physical constraints imposed by the art. Takeshi Obata of Death Note, Tetsuo Hara of Fist of the North Star, and Ryoichi Ikegami of Sanctuary are all successful mangaka who have worked with writers through the majority of their careers.
Most mangaka have assistants who help them complete their work in a clean and timely manner. The duties of assistants vary widely, as the term incorporates all people working for a mangaka's art studio, but is most commonly used to refer to secondary artists. The number of assistant artists also varies widely between mangaka, but is typically at least three. Other mangaka instead form collaborative groups known as "circles" but do not use additional assistants, such as the creative team CLAMP. A few mangaka have no assistants at all, and prefer to do everything themselves, but this is considered exceptional.
Assistants are commonly used for inking, lettering, and shading, though the predominance of black and white art in manga means that unlike in the western comic industry, a studio rarely employs a colorist. Some mangaka only do the sketchwork for their art, and have their numerous assistants fill in all of the details, but it is more common for assistants to complete background art, leaving the mangaka to focus on drawing and inking the characters. Assistants may also be employed to perform specialized artistic tasks. Go Nagai, for instance, at one time employed a specialist to draw helicopters and other military vehicles, Kaoru Mori employed a historical consultant for Emma, and series that incorporate photorealistic architecture, animals, computer-rendered imagery, or other technically demanding effects may employ or contract separate artists trained in those techniques. Assistants almost never help the mangaka with the plot of their manga, beyond being a sounding board for ideas. A mangaka's assistants will be listed in the credits for a manga tankōbon, and short interviews with or illustrations by assistant artists are a common form of bonus material in these collections, but they do not receive individual credits in magazine publication.
Most mangaka started out as assistants, such as Miwa Ueda to Naoko Takeuchi, Leiji Matsumoto to Osamu Tezuka, and Kaoru Shintani to Leiji Matsumoto. It is also possible for an assistant to have an entire career as such without becoming an independent mangaka. Assistants, particularly specialists, may work with several different mangaka at the same time, and many assistants also self-publish works of their own in the dōjinshi scene.
- Bakuman, a late 2000s manga series offering a dramatized look at the inside of the industry.
- List of Japanese artists
- List of manga artists