I have long been a manga reader, and ever since the death of Berserkits creator Kentarou Miura I’ve been paying closer attention to mangaka who need to take breaks due to health issues and was shocked at how common these situations are. I was hoping you could shed some light on the working conditions for mangaka and how we keep hearing about even high-profile authors, such as My Hero Academia‘s Kōhei Horikoshi, had to take breaks due to ill health from overwork. It is my impression that working too long hours at the expense of one’s health is relatively common in Japanese society, but is there something unique about the manga industry that is so detrimental to the health and well-being of the author? What can be changed to improve the situation for mangaka and the industry as a whole?
First, desk jobs — or any job that requires prolonged sitting — have a host of associated long-term health risks. They can cause neck, back and shoulder pain and compromise your metabolism. These increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cervical spondylosis, among other serious problems, and generally reduce life expectancy.
Working as a manga artist has all these problems, compounded by the highly stressful nature of deadlines and the physically taxing work of drawing for hours on end. It is common for artists to get cramps and repetitive strain injury (RSI) from using a pen too much, and these can develop into more serious problems over time. Nodame Cantabile‘s Tomoko Ninomiya developed carpal tunnel syndrome, while a CLAMP the artist was diagnosed with a lumbar compression fracture. hunter x hunter‘s Yoshihiro Togashi is currently in the spotlight for his severe back pain, which made it impossible for him to sit at a desk for two years.
Although Japan has a cultural problem with overwork, manga artists have it much worse than other professions. Recent legislation limiting the amount of overtime for employees has little meaning in an industry where 98% of artists identify as self-employed. This means that there is nothing stopping people from working 18-hour days, and some artists freely admit that they do just that to meet tight deadlines.
On the other hand, although the law does not directly help manga artists, the growing awareness of overtime-related issues is having a noticeable effect on the industry. Some publications have addressed it openly, such as when Morning editor Toshihiro Miura noted that readers have become more accepting of artists taking breaks, and that he wants it to become a regular thing. The fact that it is becoming more common for popular manga to take breaks also points in that direction.
The shift to digitally drawn manga and online distribution is also a welcome trend. In accordance Chainsawman and SPY x FAMILY editor Shihei Linsome of the positives of working with a digital publication that Shonen Jump+ is that your deadlines can be more flexible. In addition, it is becoming more common for artists to use tablets instead of traditional pen and paper, which makes the process more efficient and less burdensome for the individual. Fairytale and Eden’s Zero the creator Hiro Mashima employs an entire team of assistants and only pulls four days a week. With the right setup and support, even a weekly serialization can become a healthy working environment.
So while it’s true that many manga artists suffer from health issues, and only the most successful will reliably get the support they need, the industry is already moving in a better direction overall. Continue to be compassionate and understanding of the artists taking breaks – the more normal it becomes, the better for everyone.
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