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About Traditional Art / Student Ken19/Male/United States Group :iconwhyt-manga: Whyt-Manga
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TL;DR, folks.

This journal is about a topic I've been exploring for years; the (line) quality of manga art. Most of it is opinion, but I know there's some truth in there for you to think on. I'm no expert, so you have been warned.
I have seen hundreds of manga styles in my, um, "studies", and I have noticed quite a bit about the quality of line in different styles and how they can change over time. To explain, allow me to give this illustration:

Imagine a rubber band that has just been twanged. The string flits up and down at a high frequency, and you can see the mid-line where the rubber band will supposedly come to a rest. 
This is where I feel most manga artists start their professional careers. At first they have unsure, less refined lines, are more willing to experiment, don't have all the basics down, but are getting there. Some even make this unkempt line their dominant style, like Katsuhiro Otomo in Akira (a style I visually prefer). The result is usually visually interesting, even if lacking some technical quality.
For examples see: Early Naruto chapters, the Ghost in the Shell manga, Street fighter Gaiden by Mami Itou, and Lone Wolf and Cub: Art by Goseki Kojima 

Over time, the rubber band's frequency speeds up more quickly toward the mid-line as it is being pulled taut.
This is the where the artist, with a style already established, is free to take more risks, has surer line quality, and most, if not all of the technical skills down pat (if the artist made them a priority). This is where we see the gradual evolution in to the artist's final form. 
Examples would be:
  • The transition from the Frieza to the Cell Saga in DBZ
  • The transition from the beginning of Naruto Shippuden to middle
  • The first 4 volumes of Akira
  • The Enie's Lobby arc of One Piece

At some point, the rubber band is stretched nearly to it's limit, but never truly stops it's vibrations, however slight.
This is where I feel like most manga artists take a turn for either the better (the full realization of his or her style), or the worst (the realization causing a stagnation in one's ability). Unfortunately, in most cases I feel like it's the latter.
Why? I think this is the point where the artist begins to lean more on stylistic shorthand over reality. At one point it seemed more of a design matter, used to keep up with the time constraints of a strict deadline. But over time, without looking at real human faces and anatomy for accuracy, the artist more often uses his or her own pre-made symbols for expressions and body parts. Look at any anime character as they try to emote. How many times have you seen a blue forehead, wide-eyed expression? Or when a "cute" girl lowers their face to hide her (apparently intense) lines of blush? Even the "anime" eye is just a symbol for a real eye! In the wrong hands, the eye can look like it was pasted on the face (randomly pick a girl almost any currently running show). But in the right hands (FLCL for example), the eyes can be as expressive as, (or even more than) reality. 

After a style reaches it's peak, it begins to tighten up either to the artist's detriment or or benefit, visually speaking. 
This tightening-up is mostly unavoidable for most artists, and can change depending on the needs of the story or the conscious or subconscious effort on the part of the artist. This is a (mostly subjective) list of the most noticeable examples of full realization and/or stagnation of style in various manga:
  • I'd say there's quite a bit of stagnation in the art of Naruto, to be honest. The beginning parts had a more expressive line and a more solid form. The fights felt more tactile. By the middle, as the story became more about who had the best eyes or the biggest explosions, the art seemed to shift from this visual tension. And by then end, with very little sense of danger in the story, though the author has very high technical proficiency, the lines seem to have become a bit flat, with very little variance in line width. This is especially noticeable when looking at characters faced forward.
  • This also happens DBZ but to a lesser extent. The ending lines are still very expressive, but more rigid, to accentuate the increased musculature of the characters. Whereas the beginning of DBZ to the Frieza saga had rounder, more smooth lines, as the series was still breaking away from it's more comedic first half, Dragonball. I actually enjoy the more rigid line quality in the end, as much as the smoother lines in the beginning.
  • In the final two volumes of Akira, the lines on Otomo's characters seem to get thicker and more "on model", as if the characters had a more solid form. I think that this was when he came into full realization of his iconic style.
  •  Masamune Shirow, who I feel was at one point ON PAR with Otomo (albeit, less technically structured), seemed to take an especially unfortunate turn in his art style, replacing his expressive, animated line, and anatomically sound female characters with wierdly deformed alien-like (supposedly female) creatures, and thin, lifeless lines.
  • In Bleach the characters now have a more fluid line compared to their earlier rigidity. Now if only they had an actual environment to inhabit. Oh snap!
  • Compare Early series Kenshin to End-series Kenshin...and then look at Kinema Ban! It's the same artist, I swear! 
  • Every shoujo manga artist ever seems to stick to a certain style of sparse backgrounds of rose petals and sparkly explosions (okay, okay, maybe not all, but seriously, check it out. And don't look directly into the girls' eyes!) Standouts from this style the I've seen are Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun and Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun. I'm not super familiar with shoujo, so let me know your standouts in the comments :)

While the rest should by no means be seen in a negative light, I think it gives artists something to think about in the future. Now I want to highlight some artists who seem make it a conscious effort to keep evolving. And trust me, it's a lot harder to find examples of this because it's a lot harder to do.
  • Yusuke Murata: Okay, what the hell! Why is he still getting better?! I thought he peaked at the end of Eyeshield 21, but NOOO, he had to go and draw One Punch Man! Then I thought he peaked in that "animated" chapter where Genos and Saitama spar (chapter 17), BUT NO, NOT THERE. Then he goes and "animates" an entire chapter IN COLOR. (Chapter 25) And it was just a landing sequence!! Madhouse, give up now. He's already done the work for you. Unless you're prepared to match or exceed his skill don't even try! (just look up the GIFs) This man already has an established style, but for some reason keeps pushing the boundaries of what can be done within it. Not only that, he chose a story which allowed him to release his full creative potential, and I believe he still has more up his sleeve. Just look at the earth in chapter 47. DAMN.
  • Eiichiro Oda. I've always held him in the same light as Murata, but for different reasons. Because what Oda lacks in sheer technical skill, he makes up for in almost unmatched imagination. Going back to the rubber band analogy, Oda seems to have flicked his a proactively over the course of One Piece, allowing him to proactively reverse the stiffening process. If you look back at the beginning of One Piece, the characters' lines were thicker and more cartoonish, but as the story progressed and became more demanding of detail, Oda seems to have found a way to make his lines more expressive and alive, in such a way that the anime adaptation looks stiff by comparison. Not only that, but the combat moves and forms he creates for his characters are probably the most creative of any manga I've ever witnessed. In an industry where samurai swords and power blasts have become stale, this is a welcome sight indeed. 
  • George Morikawa. Oh my goodness, I almost forgot about him. My deepest apologies. For this man seems to have tapped into the essence of boxing and pulled out something more visceral than any other fight I can experience in manga or reality. Though his line has stiffened to the point of making his characters' bodies look kind of like plastic, this only seems to accentuate the strength on display in ANY one of the numerous matches going on in Hajime no Ippo. I think the only reason it's a 1000+ chapters is so that he can have more fun drawing all the fights and making you feel every single punch along the way.
  • Boichi. (Sun Ken Rock, Wallman) I started Sun Ken Rock, but never really finished (too sexually gratuitous for my tastes). But look at those mother. f*cking. MUSCLES. This guy already started of at genius level skill, but is some how still improving. Believe it or not, I think the characters were more simply drawn at the beginning of the series compared to what I'm seeing now. Take look for yourself. They literally can't animate this. It can only be live action. 
  • Last one, I swear! Kentaro Miura. MAN, can he draw. The amount of detail he puts into every drawing is god-like, from his monsters to his humans, everything has an air of realistic fantasy unmatched by most others in the field. And his expert conveyance of movement completely removes the need for an anime. He, and the other artists on this list have work that stands ENTIRELY on its own, as manga should.  
I haven't read their much work yet, but also check out Makoto Yukimura (Vinland Saga) and Takehiko Inoue (Slam Dunk, Vagabond) two beasts of Seinen manga that are held in the highest regard in terms of artwork. They are also both continuously evolving.
I do realize that not everyone has the desire to step outside of their limits once they've set the boundary, and there's nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of artists with amazing, distinctive established styles, that produce and maintain consistent, quality work, without declining, and that takes a lot of work (I think. I dunno from experience lol). Best examples I can think of right now are Kiyohiko Azuma and Hayao Miyazaki. They don't need to draw like Yusuke Murata or Boichi. They're stories, (Yostubato! and any Miyazaki movie) already have simply unmatched charm. The kind only an astute observer of reality can produce.  
The kind of charm that puts people in hospitals, man.  

Like I said, not even the best artists can escape this tightening up. Your style will only go as far as the vision you want to produce. But a common trait among the best seems to be a basis in real life studies. I believe it's what they do within their styles that makes them stand out.
I once watched an HBO boxing documentary about Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather before the fight. Pacquiao was training with Freddie Roach on mitts. To paraphrase, the narrator said that while training, they were making small incremental improvements only those two could see. To everyone else, it just looked like regular punch practice. This part really stuck with me because it said something about the theme of mastery.
As an artist's style becomes somewhat automated in their minds, it leaves extra mental space to master the other aspects of their craft. In this case the tightening-up is very beneficial. However, some artists seem to completely ignore this space for improvement and their work suffers for it.
Flat, uniform lines, same-looking faces, boring composition.
Others who make full use of this space, allow themselves to improve in those tiny increments late into their careers or respective manga series.

We'll all hit a plateau at some point. It's just a chance to either elevate yourself or sink into the valley below. Though both may occur before any progress, but it's our choice of direction in which to make that progress. The last thing I want to see from other manga artists (and myself especially) is a decline in skill, based on lazy stylistic choices, which is seems to be very easy to become susceptible to late (or early) in one's career.

That being said, anyone who reads this can now hold me accountable for my continuous growth and evolution in my career (whenever that starts, hah). I never want to settle too neatly into my ways. It's a somewhat irrational fear I have. And I think the only way to avoid that is to try to come closer and closer to the KICK-ASS vision of what I want to see in my own work.
Thankfully, I can't do that yet, so I still have a ways to go.

Feel free to agree or disagree with anything here in the comments section. If I missed any of your favorite manga artists please let me know!

And check these links out for various (and sometimes startling) examples of Art Evolution:……


Artist | Student | Traditional Art
United States
Current Residence: Hutto,Texas
Favourite genre of music: Japanese Rock/Pop
Favourite style of art: European Comics/ Manga/Anime

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GrandSACHI Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you so much for faving my last chapter of The Adventurers! :)
StyxTwig Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2015
May17 2015 FavStampTHanks by StyxTwig
SaigoNakisage Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
No, thank you for thanking me! Now I got a neat pic in my comments :D
StyxTwig Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2015
Leuname-X31 Featured By Owner May 14, 2015  Professional Traditional Artist
:pc: Thanks 4 the fave! :D
SaigoNakisage Featured By Owner Edited May 4, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
noodle-survivor Featured By Owner May 4, 2015  Student General Artist
Hey there! Thank you very much for the favorite~! ^u^
SaigoNakisage Featured By Owner May 4, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
You're quite welcome! :)
Jovan-Ukropina Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2015  Professional Artisan Crafter
Thanks for the fave! :) Nice gallery!
SaigoNakisage Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
Thanks! It'll be a while before I can get to your level of comics, though. You have a great sense of composition! 
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