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Becoming a professional illustrator and living and working in Japan is a dream held by many international anime and manga fans.
“But where should I start!?”
Yes, it’s intimidating to start out on a journey without knowing what direction to take, so let us take you through some easy steps to get you started, and get you closer to your dream!
1. Learn some Japanese!
This may seem like an obvious one… but of course, to become an illustrator for a Japanese magazine, you’ll need to write the lines in Japanese!
So first of all, we suggest studying the Japanese language.
Just a simple change like choosing the sub version over the dub version when watching anime is a good place to start, but it you’re serious about working in Japan, you’ll need a bit more than “sugoi” and “kawaii” in your vocab! Try making some Japanese friends to practice with, and start self-studying, or maybe even consider enrolling in a language school.
Of course learning Japanese is the most optimal route, but if you’re not at all linguistically inclined, try finding a Japanese-speaking partner to collaborate with. They could write the lines and help you out with communication, while you provide the illustrations.
2. Send your work to a Japanese publisher
The most common way that artists get hired as manga-ka is called “mochikomi” – which literally means “bringing in” or “bring-your-own”.
If you want the world to see your work, you can’t just sit around waiting for the offers to come to you – you have to make your work known to the people that count! And in the case of aspiring manga-ka, the people that count are the editorial department of manga publishing companies.
By directly meeting the editors and taking your work to them, you’re not only in with a chance of getting hired, you can also receive comments and advice from the editorial team that will help you grow as an artist.
Because headquarters are often located in Tokyo, there are many obstacles like budget, time and distance, so this certainly isn’t the easiest method, but there are certain cases where a “mochikomi” will get you an editor assigned to you on the spot, so it’s definitely worth the effort! Having an editor assigned doesn’t necessarily mean you will be published, but the editor will work with you personally, giving you advice and feedback to help you push towards a debut.
There are also some editorial departments that accept manga “mochikomi” online, but either way only manga written in Japanese will be accepted, so remember to work hard on your Japanese!
Here’s a list of some of the most popular manga magazines and their “mochikomi” info. It’s all in Japanese, but you could try using auto translate on your browser to get a rough idea of how each handles their submissions.
3. Apply for a manga publication’s “Manga Award”
There are many ways to make a debut as a manga-ka, but trying out for a manga publisher’s “Rookie of the Year Award” is certainly one of the most popular.
In Japan, there are constantly all kinds of manga contests being held by manga publishers great and small. Applying for these contests and getting top prize in a Rookie of the Year award is a sure-fire way of landing yourself a publishing deal and a debut!
Even if you don’t get the top prize, if someone at the publishing company sees potential in your work, you could be assigned an editor to work with, who will stick with you, and help and advise you as you work towards your debut.
Even if you don’t get a prize at all, you can get valuable comments and feedback on your work, which will help you improve and work towards a better submission next time. Particularly in the shoujo manga industry, manga contests are thought of less as a contest, and more as a “manga school”, with the aim of helping aspiring artists improve their work. So you’ll get your work back with very detailed comments and advice. With contests like this, it’s common for children to start submitting their work while they’re still at elementary or middle school, and some even make their debut while still in their teens!
The biggest pro of this method is that anyone, anywhere can apply!
Most contests take submissions via both post and internet submission, so as long as the work is written in Japanese, international applicants are welcome! Unless otherwise stated, there is usually no regulations regarding age, gender or nationality, so it’s a level playing field where everyone has a chance to succeed.
The following site provides a rundown of all the current manga contests running in Japan, so take a look and see what’s on offer! (Again, you may need to have your browser translate parts of the page)
4. Start posting on Japanese online “manga reader” sites and social media
From around 2013, a new kind of site emerged in Japan. These online manga databases are run by Japanese publishers and the creators of manga reader apps, with the intention of spotting new talent.
You can post your manga online for users to read and enjoy, and from there the editors will pick out the most popular and talked-about pieces, and get in touch with those authors directly!
Here’s a useful list of some of the most popular of these online manga readers. (Again, there’s no English site unfortunately!)
Of course, it’s not just these official sites that offer the chance of being scouted. Posting your work on Twitter, complete with Japanese hashtags and comments, or posting your work on Japanese illustration sites like Pixiv are other great ways to get yourself noticed by publishers. Get your work out there as much as possible, and be sure to leave a business email address so that you are open and available to offers from publishers!