Making a Manga is a Man’s Love: Bakuman Teaches Me to Be a Man

bakuman 02 25-26

I find out about a manga from a review, shared via google reader shared items. I read all 42 scanlated volumes only pausing only to comment on the review and sleep. This has never happened to me before. Ever. Suffice to say, I recommend Bakuman. I’ll let the review I mentioned give you the lowdown.

But I will share some of the that got me so hooked on this manga. First of all, and probably most important is my realization that I’ve been a snobbish, elitist piece of shit with my attitude towards shounen manga and anime. I have been unfair, especially since I’m still very much in love with Dragon Ball now that I’m watching Dragon Ball Kai. While I don’t write reviews (in general) or spew hatred for shows like Naruto and Bleach, I know in my heart I consider them inferior works, immature works, and I generally act as if I’m too good for them. Hate isn’t the opposite of love, indifference is. And I have been indifferent with my casual dismissal of these shows as things I’ll never ever watch (or read).

Now, I’m not saying that I’m suddenly going to start watching Naruto and be an instant fan. Not at all. I only give up my attitude that these shows and manga are generically bad, or worse: that they are cheap and require no brilliance or genius in their production, writing, or craftsmanship. After all, it’s not as if robot anime is superior by default. My preference for my pet works is more or less, a contingency of exposure and taste. My taste tells me they are better, but it is not the truth. It only works for me and other mecha fans. So yeah, Bakuman is changing my life. When was the last time a silly little pile of pictures and text did that for you?

What would be fair I think is to accept that everyone excretes crap, just as greatness can come from anyone who does so.

Shounen manga and anime follow formulas. Formulas are not bad things. You’ll find plot formulas in your favorite anime and manga. Very few works truly defy formula. I can think of Grave of the Fireflies, and My Neighbor Totoro, but not to say that these do not use narrative tropes and conventions; otherwise I can think of very little else. Serial manga, will have to follow formulas to sustain longevity and success. For example,

  1. Character arc (introductions, presentation of motivations, possibly framing of conflict)
  2. Training arc (preparation for battle, power levels are incresed)
  3. Battle arc (conflict is resolved)
  4. Repeat

This formula is identifiable in works like battle/quest shows/manga like Dragon Ball Z/Kai and sports shows/manga like Slam Dunk. Are these works dismissable for following such a simple generic formula? Does it mean anyone can make something and duplicate the tremendous success that these works as simply as the formula suggests?

No. Success in the entertainment industry is a zero-sum game. Only a few get to be really successful, and while it seems that luck may factor in a very big way, since the formula suggests that a lot of works will seem very much alike, success is distributed unequally in a big way… it takes guts to bet one’s career and livelihood in making manga. One can argue that another action manga is better than Naruto, and it would probably be true, but that won’t impact Naruto’s following or success. Also, it is also a dead end to blame fans for being stupid or for being n00bs, or for having poor taste. Naruto is an excellent gateway anime targeted on the kids who will love it. Obviously, it’s not written for a 32-year old and married mecha anime fan. I would not be creating any value to anyone should I endeavor to elaborate all the reasons why it’s not a good piece of work.

So how did Bakuman give me this?

bakuman 05 17 the 5 rules of being a man

Self-serving? Sure. So what? Shounen manga is too, about young boys trying to be men. Bakuman is no different, and its conceit is that manga too lays out a path to manhood. Here’s more:

bakuman 05 18 the 3 rules of being a mangaka

Thus are presented some of the major themes in Bakuman: the portrayal of genius, hard work and guts (guts is another way to read conceit), and the role of luck in the success of mangaka. And yes, I think it does brilliantly in narrating a story with these themes, giving me a very cool insider look in the manga industry. And yes, Bakugan is a fantasy where kids do spectacularly well against the odds — and this is why it is very entertaining as well.

Man, I want to be these kids. I want to be Mashiro with his ridiculous romanticsm (in a small way, I was like him — I asked sybilant to marry me on our third date… well she didn’t say no!). I so enjoyed the deep respect for others, and how great rivalries can happen outside the context of hate and right vs. wrong.

And there’s this bit near the beginning, when Mashiro called his dad to tell him how wrong he was to think that his uncle (a ‘failed’ mangaka) killed himself:

bakuman 03 20-21

Oh man, I’m GAR for Mashiro’s dad. Such manly fatherhood, life lessons from awesome manga-scenes! My baby on the way is going to be raised right I tell you!

So shounen manga and anime can be comically manly, plying such lines and in other cases exaggerated feats and unrealistic displays of courage. In Bakuman we find this too, with the exaggerated feats and unrealistic displays of courage playing out in the various fictional manga within the narrative (probably names and ideas of the creators that never made it into actual manga) while the main characters grow and mature with heartwarming sensitivity. I’ll be following this title for good, and I really want it to get licensed because even though original anime is very difficult to come by here in the Philippines we do get licensed manga.

macross plus isamu dyson luck is one of my skills

Yeah, I’m taking these lessons from Bakuman to heart and applying to my otaku blogging. I got guts, talent, and luck. You’re all gonna remember love more and more. I’m so Isamu that way.

Further Reading

The review shared by Owen_S via google reader (tj_han 2009/06/21) READ IT!

My documented experience with Weekly Shounen Jump anime adaptations:

Yeah I love Dragon Ball Kai [->]

I wrote some foppery; whimsical and indulgent stuff about it too [->]

I hate The Prince of Tennis [->]

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, Bakuman, fanboy, meta and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Making a Manga is a Man’s Love: Bakuman Teaches Me to Be a Man

  1. tj han says:

    You wrote a good review. I’m much younger than you and thus I’ve actually been following shounen manga and have read most of the good ones since its golden period in the early nineties. I’ve read Naruto and Bleach since they were launched in Jump more than 10 years ago, before it got uncool to like them haha. Even so, Bakuman offered a new perspective and I realised I was just reading and not thinking about shounen. Now, I think I can appreciate a whole new level of it.

    Unfortunately, Bakuman seems to have petered out a bit in recent chapters, similar to how Hikaru no Go did. I’m sure you didn’t read it, but basically after Hikaru gained all his skills and joined the leagues for the pros, all the chapters went like just showing his results and the results of his rivals, and this went on until the end of the story. I’m hoping Bakuman won’t turn out like that, but it appears to be heading that direction at the moment. There are some unresolved issues like the marriage thing, and Nizuma as well.

    Finally, I started reading a LOT more manga since Bakuman. Since then, I’ve covered over 400 chapters or more of various genres, and my eyes hurt from reading on screen (can’t be helped, the financial costs of reading so much is immense).

    • ghostlightning says:

      Thank you. I haven’t read a lot of manga at all, though I’ve read a bunch of really good ones. Bakuman’s provocative portrayal of the (perhaps idealized) mangaka creative and production process is a big draw for me.

      While I’m sympathetic to your opinion that it ‘petered out’ lately, the only thing that’s missing (and it’s not that big a loss for me) is the godly masculinity in the earliest chapters. Instead there’s more of the ‘honorable’ rivalry and the sense of fraternity with the same rivals. I dig it a lot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hikaru no Go has much of the same. It’s a good formula after all.

      I’m doing most of my reading online as well, which is very tough on the eyes. Manga is expensive and while I do go out of my way to buy the books I like, it gets difficult.

  2. Kiri says:

    Yeah, Bakuman is kind of awesome. I don’t particular feel as if the life lessons it gives is that far off from typical shounen, but that’s probably exactly why it works and why shounen resonates so well with young boys (since it teaches them to be men). I find it pretty amusing that Bakuman still manages to follow all the rules and formulas that it describes though I doubt that many of its typical (that is, shounen — young boy) readers would realize that.

    For me, the much of Bakuman’s attraction comes from the insight and commentary it gives on the manga industry, though I suppose Ashirogi Muto’s quest also resonates a lot with me. The first chapter of Bakuman really hits home as far as career confusion goes, and it’s inspiration for me to watch them go at it. The dedication is romanticized, but wouldn’t it be great if we could all force ourselves to be the same.

    • ghostlightning says:

      The fact that the manga manages to follow the rules and formulas, isn’t so remarkable… it’s more like it can’t escape it!

      However, I do think that every now and then it’s tempted to depart from this the same way its heroes are tempted to attempt complexity and enter seinen territory.

      Ashirogi’s quest resonates, I believe, with anyone who wants to create and takes satisfaction in having done so. Whether or not we act on the inspiration is variable.

  3. Great review on Bakuman! I’ve been a fan of the current mainstream shounen, but I began to lose faith on them for being too long and even longer for the sake of having more material for the fans T_T but Bakuman made me respect them once again. Learned more things about the manga universe even. And it’s not just about manga, it has something do do with being MANLY even xD haha . . . and lots more

    I don’t watch Dragonball Kai anymore *because of her incredibly long and getting even longer watch/read list* but I would really love to watch it when I find the time. I miss dragonball~

    • ghostlightning says:

      Yeah… I can’t really give you useful advice re: sticking with overlong series. I prefer endings myself.

      I do think that the appreciation for shounen titles that is inspired by Bakuman is a lot like meta appreciation. I may enjoy the shounen manga in the sense of ‘what will the mangaka try to pull off next?’ rather than what happens to the characters or plot. After all, it’s more of the same formula. But the respect will be there, and at times, even awe.

      Dragon Ball Kai is worth it. What else are you watching anyway?

      • I really prefer series to end even if I love them a lot. But it also sucks if they end TOO SOON and there are many of those~

        To be honest, I don’t really know the meaning of “meta appreciation” but I think I get the idea. . . and yeah, Bakuman inspires that way of thinking.

        About Dragonball Kai, I know but . . . it also has something to do with my laziness to watch remakes. I’ve been doing the same to the current FMA >_>;;;

        What else I’m watching? Almost 10 of spring 2009 anime and I am already keeping an eye on some summer 2009 anime and there’s also this bunch of DVD’s waiting to be marathoned and also some pending shows I’m not done watching yet that are also waiting to be marathoned. Seriously, it’s a lot. And that’s excluding my manga reading list. Ehehehe~

        • ghostlightning says:

          Meta means beyond. When I say meta-appreciation I mean appreciation beyond the work itself (i.e. beyond the story, to include the manga industry, and how it impacts fandom and appreciation in general).

          You do watch a lot of shows. Well, not knowing your taste I can’t tell you what to drop to make room for dragon ball. At least if you got frustrated, you know it’s there waiting for you ^_^

  4. SunshineDuk says:

    This was awesome. I thoroughly approve of this post. Excellent review.

    Except for one thing.

    And yes, Bakugan is a fantasy where kids do spectacularly well against the odds…



    • ghostlightning says:


      While I apologize for the misspelling,

      4. If you should fail, never cry. Study your failure and let it give birth to success.

      Maybe I should give Bakugan the old try, so in case it’s actually awesome I won’t have to worry about these typos anymore.

  5. vendredi says:

    Bakuman looks particularly interesting; there’s only a very small sampling here but overall the series doesn’t exude the same sort of ‘special attack fetishization’ that as you’ve pointed out prior, can be quite endemic in anime.

    I think the real genre constraint of shounen is similar to what tj_han points out about Bleach and Naruto: overreach! Or more specifically, the nature of their syndication is such that the series is dragged ever onward without a chance to pause, cut the current storyline, and perhaps start fresh. 10 years is a lot of material, and even if it were all good it would be particularly daunting for any newcomer to go through; that grueling length alone is often enough for me to pass on most stuff that shows a hint of being “shounen-y”.

    • ghostlightning says:

      No special attack fetishization here, and it’s actually conspicuous now that it’s never ever discussed in the now 43 chapters that I’ve read. I wonder why. I’d think it’d be worth mentioning. I suppose it can be saved for later.

      I do appreciate how they battle the temptation to ‘sell out’ and turn whatever story they’re making into a battle manga. I suspect that the formulaic nature of Naruto will make many arcs dispensable. One would only need a guide to the ‘essential’ chapters from a new-fan-friendly fanboy to make one’s way in.

      Would I be interested in something like that? Sure.

  6. Ryan A says:

    I think I may! Also, I like the perspective of bringing shounen into view. Dammit, this should really be bumped priority in my reading.

  7. gloval says:

    Why do I have the feeling that this Bakuman manga will draw from me Manly Tears?

    • ghostlightning says:

      While it’s possible, I haven’t experienced any tears manly or otherwise. Most of the time I’m just blown away by the wit and some of the laughs in the narrative.

  8. Azuki says:

    Yoh, I’ve read every single chapter of Bakuman and I love it. I learn so much about manga, making manga, becomign a manga-ka and about how Shonen JUMP works. I mean like….. I wanna be a comic/manga maker now, XD. It just a ideal career and dream for me right now. And I like how they had the shonen themes of becoming a man, friendship, rivals and training. And I also like the stories that are put in here, like the mangas inside the manga. This is a must read for all manga/anime otaku.

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  11. joe mama says:

    i’ve read every chapter of bakuman and it’s inspired me to become a mangaka. I’ve always been good at drawing so i know i can do it.

  12. Ali Al-Saffar says:

    I really think they should have a website to keep non-japanese readers informed of new “english” releases.

    Ali Al-Saffar

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