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"Comics are carried by characters. If a character is well-created, the comic becomes a hit." - Kazuo Koike
You ever think about why character popularity polls in manga happen? It’s because of what the quote above is trying to point out. While doing some research on legendary mangaka, Kazuo Koike, I learned about his philosophy in creating great characters to drive the story. His approach revolves around strong character development. It’s a truth that I believe is very applicable to real life - emotional stories involving people/characters matter and you should think about using them to inspire others.
A brief background about Koike before we start. He is one of the most influential mangaka of all time and is known for his work on titles like Lone Wolf and Cub, Crying Freeman, Lady Snowblood, Samurai Executioner among others. Koike didn’t stop there as he had a college course on how to create manga. He has guided the likes of Rumiko Takahashi (InuYasha, Ranma 1/2), Tetsuo Hara (Fist of the North Star) and Hideyuki Kikuchi (Vampire Hunter D) to become excellent creators. You know what’s even better? The man still wants to evolve, despite his old age, as he expressed his love for Puella Magi Madoka Magica and its complexity. Koike is truly the most interesting mangaka in the world, wouldn’t you say?
Why should you think hard about creating characters? It’s because we’re more likely to be driven by personal stories than the overall scope of things. Think about it this way - why should we care if your world is full of ninjas, death gods, pirates, magic, man-eating giants, etc. and has interesting scenery? There isn’t much emotional context as those worlds are imaginary and/or hard to relate to. The reader will most likely be in awe at first and then move on. Yet by crafting well-designed and believable characters and putting them in those worlds, you get your reader to suddenly care about your fictional settings and how they affect the characters living in them. Content may be king, but content that resonates emotionally with others is literally god.
Need more proof that character development is important? Here’s a brief speech from Koike about his teachings:
“Throughout these lectures, I teach that “comics = character.” Indeed that’s the only thing I teach. It’s not only the basis of comics, it’s all there is to comics. If you don’t grasp the importance of character, it doesn’t matter how strong the story you create, or how wonderful the ideas you put into it, or how skillfully you write dialogue; something will be lacking, and it won’t be an interesting work… .
To state it somewhat extremely, when one hears the title of a comic, the only thing that comes to mind is the character’s image and name… .”
A huge concern for new folks trying to draw manga is their inability to write a well-crafted story. Yet every story has its bumps along the road. That’s where your characters can come in and possibly save the day. Their personalities can be used as a device to trigger the emotions of readers for better or for worse, as long as they help further or enhance the story. Never forget that character subplots that involve tension can fuel people’s curiosities.
One more important thing I want to emphasize to future mangaka about character development is that it’s not always about you. Create characters that your readers will greatly appreciate. Have thorough ideas about what the target audience(s) you want is/are all about. Then begin to build characters from there. Yes, it can be very time-consuming, but it will save you a lot of time in the long-run. Just ask the many mangaka that have developed unique casts of characters to win the hearts of many. We’re all drawn to the lives of people if a connection is formed, whether they are real or not.
The best way to do this is to develop your own inner character first. Explore, be helpful, ask questions and listen. Don’t shut yourself inside a wall and fear the titan that is dread. This applies to everyone else. You can touch people’s lives and create character without being a mangaka. We’re all storytellers that have the power to build supportive bonds within a developing tribe.
As Persona 4 once stated, bonds of people is the true power.