Leading manga publishers are trying to make the most of digital tools by offering high-tech drawing apps for free and providing new platforms for posting work, in an effort to discover new talents at home and abroad. These moves could bring radical change to the world of manga.
In June, Shukan Shonen Jump, a weekly manga magazine published by Shueisha Inc., released Jump Paint as its official app for drawing manga on smartphones and tablets. The free app has so far been downloaded more than 500,000 times.
Users can learn about creating manga, as the app carries images from works by artists regularly featured in the magazine, such as "One Piece" author Eiichiro Oda. They can practice various techniques, from making a storyboard to digitally inking lines. Also on offer are more than 120 types of pen tips and more than 1,000 screentones, making it possible to complete an original manga using the app alone.
There are other manga drawing apps available, but most of them require user fees. Providing such a sophisticated tool for free is a bold move.
"Editors are always seeking encounters with new mangaka," said Yuta Momiyama of the Shonen Jump editing department, who was involved in developing the app.
Years ago, aspiring artists had only two ways to become a pro: taking their manga drawn on paper to a publisher themselves, or submitting their work to competitions run by magazines. With the arrival of high-tech computers and drawing tools, more and more artists are creating manga using digital gadgets -- it is said half of professional mangaka are already using digital tools in some way -- and there are an increasing number of sites for posting works online.
"To draw manga manually, you must get hold of drawing tools to some extent," Momiyama said. "If you use Jump Paint, you can create your work right away for free. The app makes it easy for even junior high and high school students to give it a try."
Jump Paint also helps users post their works on Shonen Jump Rookie, an online site for posting manga, of which Momiyama is in charge.
The app's development was based on MediBang Paint, manga drawing software that can be downloaded for free. According to MediBang Inc., the developer of the program, 70 percent of its 3.7 million registered users live overseas.
"This is one of the major reasons we've joined hands with MediBang," Momiyama said. "It's difficult for new mangaka living abroad to make their debut in Japan with work drawn on paper, but it will be much easier using a digital platform."
Rival companies are also making similar moves. Kodansha Ltd. announced in September that the publishing house will develop a new manga app by cooperating with pixiv, one of the largest illustration sharing sites in the world.
"We want to provide more platforms for presentation, rather than the means for drawing," said Ikuko Nakazato, head of the editing department for three Kodansha manga magazines. She described the new app, which will be released next year, as "an open medium for manga artists of any genre to shine in."
The app is set to come with a system to enable readers to support their favorite works.
"We want an app designed to encourage users to develop the tool on their own," Nakazato said. "We aim to create a new business model in which artists can gain profits even by creating digital drawings."
Shogakukan Inc. has been running the Manga One app since 2014, which includes a "serial manga tournament" that is very popular with readers. Any participant can post the first installment of their manga but they have to receive enough support from readers before they can release the second installment.
"Anyone can take up the challenge of drawing a serial manga from the beginning, and this is the app's best advantage," said Yuki Wada, deputy editor of Manga One. "Our goal is to produce megahit manga from the posts."