Planning/Editing: Weekly Shonen Jump Editorial Department, Yu Saito
Translation/Adaptation: Caleb Cook
Lettering: Brandon Bovia
What They Say
From Dragon Ball to Demon Slayer, from One Piece to My Hero Academia and beyond, Weekly Shonen Jump has published some of the finest manga to grace the earth. Now, the creators and editors behind several of the most popular manga in Shonen Jump sit down to discuss how to craft exciting stories, how to use your tools to the best of your abilities, and more. Whether you’re getting started on your artistic path or a veteran looking for new tips, The Shonen Jump Guide to Making Manga is the perfect book to sharpen your skills.
Featuring commentary and advice from Eiichiro Oda (One Piece), Tite Kubo (Bleach), Shun Saeki (Food Wars), Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu (The Promised Neverland), Yusei Matsui (Assassination Classroom), Kohei Horikoshi (My Hero Academia), and more!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Are you looking to get into writing comics/manga but have zero idea where to start? Then The Shonen Jump Guide to Making Manga might just be the volume for you. Put together by the editorial staff of Weekly Shonen Jump (a Japanese magazine that publishes manga chapters), with the assistance of quite a few of the mangaka published in said magazine, this book helps guide you from concepting your ideas and developing them into a fully realized comic. The interesting thing about this book is that it is not one of the million books already out on the market that teaches how to draw in the manga style. Other than giving some hints as to how to go about learning to draw manga, it does not touch on that at all.
What we have instead, this book is far more useful to people who have already begun to develop their own style and are trying to figure out how to take the next steps. This book does far more to explain the more technical and business side of being a comic creator. It discusses concepting, storyboarding, layout and paneling, and dives into all of the tools you can use—both analog and digital—to develop the comic you have in your mind. And once you have your comic drawn? Then it touches upon how to go about getting yourself noticed and what they at Shonen Jump look for in comics to solicit. There is quite the wealth of information in here, and I think it could be very helpful to a lot of people.
That said, it’s also important to note that while there is a lot of information in here, there is nothing in this book that would be new information to anybody who has any knowledge of how to make a comic or the industry in general. This is very much a beginner’s guide, with the emphasis on beginner. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, as there are plenty of people who have an interest in making comics that don’t understand what they are looking at, and this book would be a great primer for anybody at that level. Everybody has to start somewhere, but it is important to note that if you are already well down the path of comic creation, there’s not likely anything in here for you to learn.
The real issue with this book for me is structural, and there are a couple issues here. The book is setup to be a conversation between a famous mangaka named Kosei who is speaking to a group of aspiring mangakas and helping them learn how to break into the business, and much of the book are flashbacks to conversations a young, aspiring mangaka Kosei once had with various editors and creators as he himself was trying to break into the industry. That’s a perfectly fine approach, and when the book opens as a comic, it set me up to expect something along the lines of Scott McCloud’s seminal works on comics, Understanding Comics and Making Comics, where he wrote his “essays” as comics so that he could illustrate the concepts he was discussing as he was discussing them. It’s an effective approach and one that this book would have done well to emulate.
However, once we get past the initial setup, the book shifts into a more standard text-only approach, which undercuts the messaging a little bit. This would not have been quite so bad if the text was accompanied by plenty of visual examples of the concepts they dive into, but I found the visuals to be lacking overall. There are visuals, certainly, but not enough for a book that is ostensibly about how to make a comic, and frankly, most of the visuals are just random drawing of characters from Shonen Jump characters thrown in more to spruce up the page than actually illustrate anything. It’s great that you want to tell me that the average gutter is 3mm to 10mm and then explain how deviating from that affects the comic (positively and negatively), but then illustrate it so that we can see what you mean. As somebody who understands a lot about comics already, I could follow what they were saying, but I could see it being confusing for people who are just getting into it and starting from the beginning, again, the sort of person this book would be helping.
This leads to the second issue with the layout, which to be fair, is just a problem with Western translations. For those unaware, the Japanese read right-to-left rather than what we consider to be the normal left-to-right. In the early days of manga being published in the West, manga was mirrored so that we could read it in the format more familiar to us. However, by the late 90s/early 2000s, Western fans of manga had grown sophisticated enough to appreciate manga in its original format, and the Western publishers took note and stopped mirroring the books. We learned to read comics right-to-left and have never looked back.
The problem is that only works for manga. We still have to read text left-to-right, so the translators were left in a little bit of a pickle. What do you do with a book that is mostly text but also has right-to-left comics in it? I don’t know what the right answer should be, but I know they are all awkward, including the solution they came up with. The book is published in our left-to-right format while semi-preserving the right-to-left nature of the comics. I say semi-preserving because while each comic page is read right-to-left, the pages are printed in left-to-right format, like we have in a Western book. So you open to a couple pages of comic, read the left page right-to-left and then the right page right-to-left. Sound confusing and/or awkward? If so, good, because it is. My brain was always fighting with itself to determine where my eyes needed to go next, and it took me out of the book every single time. Again, this isn’t a problem with the original concept of the book, as in Japan, it would just be right-to-left all the way through. It’s purely the sort of pitfall that can arise when translating something from one language to another and can’t be helped. As I said, I don’t know what the answer to this problem should have been, and I don’t think any of the answers would have been ideal, but it’s worth mentioning that issue exists.
The last thing to note about this book is that, specifically, it is a guide on how to hopefully someday get published in Weekly Shonen Jump, a goal that’s pretty unrealistic for audiences outside of Japan. Now certainly, a lot of the things they discuss, such as comic layout and the tools you can use to create your comic, are pretty general to the industry, whether Japanese or otherwise. But each comic publisher does things differently both in terms of the actual creative process and the more business side of things such as how to get noticed and break in. DC does things differently from Marvel, who does things differently from Image, who does things differently from Kodansha, who does things differently from Shonen Jump, etc, and much of what they say in this guide is directly related to getting published by Shonen Jump, which again, is an unrealistic goal for non-Japanese audiences. What they say in these places can certainly be adapted and learned from, but when they say things like how they pay close attention to contest submissions and pixiv for possible new talent, that might not be a universally true attitude across the board. However, as long as you keep that in mind, what they say can still have merit.
The Shonen Jump Guide to Making Manga is an interesting title, diving into the more technical side of making a comic and breaking into the business than your average “How to” book. This is not a “how to draw” book, but rather examines what to do next once you understand that first step. On that front, there is a lot of good information in here. However, it really is a beginner’s guide. Of course, that’s not a problem, but anybody with any amount of insight into the comics industry is not likely to learn much from this, and while much of the things discussed are general to the industry as a whole, the angle of the book is the goal to eventually get published in Weekly Shonen Jump, a goal that does not help readers outside of Japan all that much. Still, most of the information is solid, and it’s interesting to get the insights of some of the more well known mangaka in recent times. I would not recommend this to everybody, but if you are just getting started out and looking for as much information as possible (or would just like to know more about comics behind-the-scenes), then this can be a really good primer.
Content Grade: B
Packaging Grade: A-
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 7+
Released By: Viz Books
Release Date: October 18, 2022