From the creators of the much-acclaimed Death Note manga, comes what may one of the highest and longest-running achievements in world-wide meta-fiction.
Bakuman is a superb slice-of-life depiction of what it means to be a comic book creator trying to make it big on the Japanese industry (which is not so different from the American industry as one might thing).
It shows the inner workings of Shonen Jump (the largest comic book anthology in Japan), and it’s currently one of its stronger titles, head to head with marketing behemoths such as Naruto or One Piece.
Unlike the aforementioned titles, Bakuman is geared towards all age groups. This manga meticulously describes the process of creating Japane comic books, and its protagonists are two young men – writer and an illustrator, collectively going by the alias Ashirogi Muto.
The title “bakuman” is a wordplay that translates in something like “gambling with manga” – and that’s just what the young duo Ashirogi Muto sets out to do, right from the first chapter (referred to as “page”) in this story.
(note: the snippets in this review read from right to left, as usual with some Japanese manga).
1 – Why should you read Bakuman?
If you’re the slightly bit interested in comic book creation, either/both from a technical and commercial standpoint, you will absolutely love reading Bakuman.
You’ll only wonder what took you so long to find this amazing story; Bakuman is getting serialized weekly at Shonen Jump (the same company where the protagonists, who are surely reflections of the creators, work).
There’s a massive amount of technical insight, carved between each panel of this comic book.
Anyone who aspires to create a piece of work in this medium will benefit greatly from this information, and the way it’s dispensed – as part of an engaging psychological battle manga, is quite refreshing and interesting.
It’s not to say this book can’t be enjoyed by people who aren’t curious about the inner workings of the comics industry in Japan – it surely can, and the book does work as a slice of life narrative.
However… for anyone who’s fascinated with the technical side of creating comics and making stories up, Bakuman will surely find it’s way to that person’s list of favorite comic books of all time.
2 – What you may not like about Bakuman.
There are some aspects of Bakuman which some people may find excessively conservative and prude, but these are mostly cultural discrepancies.
This is a series that expresses belief in a very pure and innocent type of romantic love.
For example, there’s this protagonist who is hopelessly in love with a girl he has known since middle-school.
Even though she reciprocates his feelings, early on they promise each other not to even go on a date until they have achieved their dreams, so then they can married once he’s an accomplished manga creator with a work that spawned an anime, and her a professional anime voice actress.
Well… it’s a really sweet thing in essence, but for some people it may come across as outright unreal and excessively moralist and prude.
Also, some people would argue that women tend to be excessively subservient in this comic book, but later in the story some strong female characters are introduced that clearly dismisses that notion.
That’s also one of the greatest strengths of Bakuman as a comic book: it clearly learns from its mistakes.
Reading these books, one gets the impression this is an impeccable work of meta-fiction that provides a meticulous demonstration of what storytelling in comic books is all about… and the very story that one is reading seems to dynamically adapt and reinvent itself throughout, much like the main characters in the stries also have to do the same, in order to keep rising on their professional ranks.
3 – Something unique about Bakuman!
One of the most interesting things about Bakuman are the side-stories that show up besides the main story, which revolves around two struggling creators trying to be the biggest and newest mangaka (and gradually succeeding, despite the intermittent setbacks).
This is a very special comic book because it presents several fictional series in it – some of which you’ll grow to love and wish you could also read someday, others that will seem absolutely preposterous – and that’s a great accomplishment since it provides an analogy to what the manga industry is all about: creating good and enjoyable stories, the vast diversity of which end up appealing to all imaginable tastes.
Asides from the manga which the protagonists themselves imagine and publish throughout the main story, you’ll get to know a good dozen of other imaginary manga from imaginary authors.
Some of these imaginary titles are amazing concepts, that substantially juices up the world of Bakuman and makes it appealing for everyone, even those who aren’t particularly interested in creating comic books.
4 – Where to buy Bakuman… or get further information!
At the time of writing, Bakuman is on page (meaning chapter) 115; it’s been running weekly for nearly two years, and it will most likely keep running for many more, judging from the popularity charts and the newly-released anime version (which ironically was released before the protagonists could get a fictional anime for one of their series).
Currently, there are 5 paperbacks (around 150-200 pages each) available from Amazon, at just $7. The original Japanese version is also available, and it’s currently on volume 8.
This is interesting because there’s a good measure of wordplays in these stories, and to fully understand what’s going on, you should be able to read Japanese. No need to worry though, because the English translation is more than appropriate – only seldom will you find the occasional pun too cryptic and foreign.
At all rates, Bakuman is a story remarkably endearing meta-fictional narrative, and it features memorable characters portraying a delicious bitter-sweet drama that clearly illustrates the highs and low of creating comic books.