Five Lessons Anime&Manga Can Teach us about Writing
Growing up I was always more into manga(black and white Japanese comic books) and anime than American comic books owing to their larger than life characters and action packed stories like those in Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z and countless other series. While anime can sometimes be stereotyped as being for kids or basement dwelling man-children there are many lessons that can be gleaned from the stories found there in.
The best series hook you from the beginning. For example the start of Sailor Moon lays out the basic premise of the series and shows clips from the series so you know what you’re in for. Like wise The first episode of YuYu Hakusho opens with the narrator explaining that the protagonist, 15-year-old Yusuke Urameshi is dead.
This does two things. First it makes the viewer want to know how Yusuke died, and second how the series will progress with the main character dead. Likewise in writing you want to hook the reader early or risk them putting down your book. A good way to do this is to start the story as close to the inciting action as possible.
Another way is to start right in the middle of the action. Another technique is to open with a question or mystery for the reader and reveal things as the story progresses. Whatever approach you take make sure it keeps the reader engaged.
Suspension of Disbelief
The main reason I read manga and watch anime is because of the fantastical stories found within. It provides a nice escape from the everyday grin, but not all series are alike. The best series not only hook you but pull you in to their world by establishing the ground rules from the get go. For example the first episode of Full Metal Alchemist establishes the rules for transmutation and how one goes about performing alchemy.
But it’s not enough just to establish the rues of our world. The also must be consistent and you must have a good reason for breaking the rules that is also logically consistent with the rules of your world. For example the second time Yusuke Urameshi comes back to life it’s because of the demon blood in him which had been laying dormant until that point.
Contrast this with Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach, who whenever it looks like he’ll die something always happens to save his butt. It happens so much throughout the series that it’s known by fans as plotkai and is one of the reasons I stopped reading it.
Readers can only stretch this disbelief so far before they through up their hands in frustration. Which is where your plot comes in.
Without an engaging plot to keep readers interested people will put down your book. A prime example of this for me was with the manga series bleach. I stopped reading it because it kept recycling the same plot line over and over again, namely that the protagonist would lose his soul reaper powers and in the process of regaining them would get a new ability, only for it to become obsolete once his soul reaper powers were back.
No matter your genre your plot must have an internally consistent logic. For example one the main plot points of Dragon Ball Z is you can’t wish something beyond the power of the eternal dragon like bringing back someone to life who’s already been brought back from the dead. This plot point leads the Z warrior to planet Namek where their dragon balls have no such restriction.
The people you populate your story with can make or break your book.It’s not enough to have interesting characters they must be well rounded as well. An example of this is Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z. In the beginning he starts of as a a villain but through the series slowly becomes an antihero culminating in his sacrifice to destroy the evil Majin Buu.
Compare Vegeta with Goku, the main character, and their differences couldn’t be more obvious. Goku is one dimensional and at no point goes through a crisis of consciousness or ever questions his reason for fighting, he is the same happy go-lucky goody two-shoes at the end of the series as at the beginning and is ultimately a boring character. And being boring is the last thing you want your characters to be. Give them real flaws, wants and needs, and let them struggle before reaching their goals. But characters and plot alone are not enough to keep people reading your work.
Dragon Ball Z is infamous for dragging out fights, especially the fight between Freiza and Goku on Namek which lasted for 30 plus episodes. One problem many new writers have is they get bogged down in the backstory and bore the reader before he/she even gets to the meat of the story. A simple solution is to let readers get to know the protagonist before delving into the back story. Another is omit scenes that don’t move the plot forward and keep things going by upping the stakes with your characters.
But nonstop action will wear thin with readers so be sure to pause the action to allow bot the readers and protagonist to take a breather, and also to build tension for the next lot point.
There are many lessons we can learn from anime and manga, but the takeaway here is to balance plot, characters, pacing, and suspension of disbelief so as to craft a engaging read.