Otaku USA Magazine
The Surprising Backgrounds of Three Great Manga Artists

Junji Ito is one of many manga artists whose background might surprise you

When you’re trying to land a career in the arts, it can feel like your own life works against you. Maybe you didn’t get the art education you want. Or maybe you don’t get a lot of support from your family. The good news is, there’s still hope… as these manga artists show.

Here are three famous creators we love, whose careers and family situations seem like they ought to have been deal-breakers. Even so, they’ve gone onto make some of our favorite titles. No matter where you are in life, you have a chance!


Go Nagai’s Mother Tried to Stop His Career

Mazinger Z art by Go Nagai

As we pursue or dreams, there are few things that help quite as much as familial support. Knowing our loved ones have our backs and believe in our abilities is inspiring. Sadly, many manga artists don’t get that support… and some, like Go Nagai, apparently get the exact opposite.

After graduating high school, Nagai fell ill; while he recovered, he became focused on creating something that would outlast him. His brothers supported his new manga aspirations; his mother, however, apparently did not. It is said that she would go behind his back and convince publishers not to take him on. Fortunately, he was accepted as an apprentice of Shotaro Ishinomori despite her objections, and has gone on to become one of anime and manga’s most influential creators.


Hiromu Arakawa Only Got One Art Lesson a Month

Silver Spoon, based on the manga by Hiromu Arakawa

Manga artists come from all walks of life; that’s nothing strange. But when you can’t simply set aside your work to pursue your dream full-time, it can feel like you’re not making progress. Fortunately, Fullmetal Alchemist creator Hiromu Arakawa made the most of the time she had as she worked on her family’s dairy farm.

Arakawa took oil painting classes once a month for seven years — not a speedy trajectory, but one that allowed her to develop her style as she worked. She also spent some of that time drawing doujinshi with friends. If you’re familiar with her beautiful art (including her backgrounds), you can see just how well that paid off. And it goes to show, you don’t have to work fast in order to succeed.


Junji Ito Was a Dental Technician

Junji Ito's Cat Diary

There are lots of manga artists out there who started as hobbyists, but one day had the opportunity to step it up. Take everyone’s favorite wholesome horror dad, Junji Ito. The body horror drawing, cat loving manga-ka originally worked as a dental technician, with art as a part time hobby.

Three years after he began drawing for fun, he won a competition named after and juried by his own favorite artist, Kazuo Umezu. His entry would go on to form the basis of the highly popular Tomie. And, eventually, there came a time when that hobby could turn into a career. Now, of course, he’s a household name among manga fans.

If you lack familial support, or you have to work more than you’d like to, or even if you consider yourself just a hobbyist, you’re in good company. Manga artists from those exact scenarios have gone on to create world-changing art, using what little time they had and pushing forward. Will you be next?

Kara Dennison

Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, and presenter with bylines at Crunchyroll, Sci-Fi Magazine, Sartorial Geek, and many others. Beyond the world of anime, she's a writer for Doctor Who expanded universe series including Iris Wildthyme and the City of the Saved, as well as an editor for the critically-acclaimed Black Archive series.