What Is the Japanese Word for Manga Artist?

If you’ve been reading Manga for a while, you’ve likely come across many new terms. One of them is probably in reference to Manga Artists. And what do the Japanese call Manga Artists?

Mangaka (漫画家) is the word for Manga Artist in Japanese. Mangaka refers to someone who writes and illustrates Manga. While the term is typically associated with just Manga, it refers to anyone who works on any variety of comic.

That said, the usage of the term is a bit more nuanced. For example, if you write for a Manga, but don’t illustrate it, you’re not a Mangaka. And even famous Mangaka don’t like to refer to themselves as such.

But before we get into that, let’s break down the etymology of the word so it makes a little more sense.

What Is a Mangaka?

The word Mangaka (漫画家) is made up of two parts Manga (漫画) and Ka (家). The first is what you’re thinking.

Manga (漫画), originally meaning whimsical or aimless (Man, ) pictures (Ga, ), are the Japanese equivalent of comic books in the west. The term refers to any kind of comic regardless of style or origin.

In the west, Manga explicitly refers to Japanese anime-style graphic novels, but in Japan, Manga refers to those, western superhero comics, or even newspaper comic strips. It’s a catch-all term; kind of like how people who don’t know what Manga is will refer to them as comic books.

Ka (家), literally meaning ‘house’ or ‘home’, is used as a suffix to denote expertise or authorship over something. Hence, the word ‘home’ suggesting dominion or ownership = being the master of something.

You’ll usually see it attached to anything to do with the arts, like Artist (Gaka, 画家)or Author (Sakka, 作家). But it can be attached to pretty much anything requiring some degree of skill. Think of it like suffixing a word with -er (Plumber, Baker) or -cian (Electrician, Mortician) in English.

Anyway, while any comic artist can be called a Mangaka, not everyone who works on Manga is referred to as such. In the event that one person writes the story for a Manga and another illustrates it, the first isn’t considered a Mangaka.

The term would instead be Gensakusha (原作者), literally meaning original-creation-person, or Original Author.

The most famous example of this are the creators of Death Note: Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Tsugumi, the writer, is a Gensakusha, while Obata, the artist, is a Mangaka.

All that said, Mangaka as a moniker is not taken lightly in Japanese culture. Anyone who creates Manga is a Mangaka, but few would dare to refer to themselves as such without first going through proper channels.

Specifically—those associated with “officially” becoming a Mangaka.

How Do You Become a Mangaka?

While there are rare coincidences such as a bigshot editor seeing your doodles on a café napkin and hiring you on the spot, I don’t imagine they happen too often.

Instead, aspiring Mangaka undertake one or more of the following four methods to become professionals:

Higher Education

Most Mangaka either majored in a Manga-related art in college or graduated from a school specializing in Manga. But this is usually just step one. Rare is the Mangaka who goes pro without first learning from another professional. Which he does by entering a—


Many aspiring Mangaka will work under another as an assistant for some time before going off on their own. This is commonly referred to as an apprenticeship.

An apprentice can learn what it takes to make it in the fast-paced world of Manga this way. Plus, when it comes time to submit her own work for potential publication, she’ll have built up some clout and connections within the industry.

One notable example of many would be the artist of To Love-Ru, Kentaro Yabuki, who was mentored by the aforementioned Takeshi Obata.

Winning a Contest

And the best way to get noticed within the hyper-competitive Manga industry is by winning a contest.

Rather than scouting talent on their own, publishers and editors will hold Manga contests. In which, swathes of aspiring Mangaka will send in their Manga (usually in the form of a One-Shot) to be judged.

If he wins, the Mangaka will usually be able to debut his Manga in a weekly or monthly format depending on the magazine.

Anyone can apply to such contests, but it’s safe to assume those already known in the industry (by being an apprentice) will be looked at more closely.

Getting Famous in the Indie Scene

If none of those options sound appealing or are even available, an aspiring Mangaka still has one last method.

With the advent of the internet, contests are no longer as useful to a publisher. Why sort through thousands of no-name entries when they can just go see what’s popular online?

Many famous Manga (One-Punch Man, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun) started out as Webcomics published entirely online.

Publishers took note of their popularity and reached out to the creator to have his work officially published in a Manga magazine.

While this is still a rare event, it was unthinkable just a couple decades ago. Now anyone has an opportunity to become a professional Mangaka without any need to go through the ‘proper channels’.

Do Manga Artists Work Alone?

While you might’ve thought Mangaka work alone, you’ve probably realized by now—that’s not quite right.

There are Mangaka who write, illustrate, and do everything else on their own before handing it off to their editor, most Mangaka work with a team of assistants.

And as noted, not all Mangaka write their Manga, but only illustrate it.

That said, no Mangaka truly works alone unless she publishes her work entirely online as a webcomic. All Mangaka must work with an editor to bring their Manga to the public.

Let’s take a look at each one.


An assistant is just that: someone who assists a Mangaka in the creation of his Manga. Of which, there can be any number, but any more than three is rare. Their work can entail several tasks, but it is usually that of finalizing finer details.

Most Mangaka will sketch and ink each illustration on their own. This leaves all the detail work like backgrounds, shading, sound effects, or lettering to the assistants.

Many Mangaka started out as assistants, but not everyone goes professional. Many remain an assistant for their entire career or possibly move into more specialized roles.

For example, someone skilled in historically-accurate drawings of warplanes would be called in as an assistant and consultant for a Manga about the Second World War.

Ultimately, assistants are just there to ensure the Mangaka is able to meet her deadline without killing herself in the process.


The majority of Mangaka both write and illustrate their Manga, but some of the most famous Manga separated these roles. For example:

  • Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata: Death Note, Bakuman, and Platinum End
  • Saki Hasemi and Kentaro Yabuki: To Love-Ru, To Love-Ru Darkness
  • Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu: The Promised Neverland

This allows for more flexibility in the creative process. First, the writer writes the script and creates the storyboards. Then, the artist will likely rearrange or rewrite both to better fit the medium of Manga.

The relationship is similar to that of screenwriter and director of a film. Both the story and art potentially come out much stronger as the focus is no longer divided between the two.

However, if one doesn’t understand the other, it can lead to problems. Rare is the script that perfectly matches with the unique panel arrangement and art direction of a Manga. The script usually has to be trimmed quite a bit to fit.

Regardless, it allows for potentially faster production and less stress given two people working on the Manga instead of just one.


If published in a Manga magazine, Mangaka are almost always assigned an editor. They are often treated as the Mangaka’s boss or manager. It’s up to an editor to ensure the Mangaka meets her deadlines and delivers the Manga on time for publication.

An editor can have innumerable roles, but are focused primarily on:

  • Nurturing new Mangaka or scouting for new talent through contests or scouring webcomics
  • Advising on a Manga’s story and pacing, art direction, and ensuring it meets reader’s expectations
  • Marketing Manga and ensuring anything associated with it such as merchandise or an Anime adaptation fit the company’s standards
  • Making sure the Mangaka meets his deadline so it can be published in the magazine on time

Basically, Manga wouldn’t see the light of day, come out on time, or make a lick of sense if an editor wasn’t involved to keep everything in check.

Us artistic types maybe aren’t so great at business or time management, so it’s better to leave it up to an editor.

Why Are Manga Artists Also Called Sensei?

Another term you might’ve seen attached to a Manga Artists name is Sensei. But if Mangaka means Manga Artist, what does Sensei mean?

Sensei (先生) is a blanket term applied to anyone who is a teacher or master of some art form or skill. So, because a Mangaka can be seen as a ‘master’ of drawing Manga, they are often referred to as Sensei. Typically in the form of: Last Name-Sensei.

You’ll usually hear Sensei used in school settings being used to refer to a teacher or professor. Although, it can also apply to higher education occupations like doctors or lawyers and skilled artisans like authors or swordsmiths.

Depending on the Mangaka, he may be honored to be called Sensei or outright embarrassed. Because it’s seen as belonging to a ‘master’, many fledgling Mangaka don’t think themselves worthy of the title.

More than anything, the title of Sensei is used as a sign of respect toward a Mangaka. Because it’s so difficult to become a professional Mangaka, colleagues and fans alike want to pay respect to them for having become skilled enough to achieve great success in their chosen line of work.

Can a Non-Japanese Manga Artist Be Called a Mangaka?

If you’re a Manga Artist reading this article, you’re probably not Japanese. And because of that, you might be wondering whether or not you can refer to yourself as a Mangaka. Unfortunately, there are two answers to this question—

Linguistically, any Manga Artist regardless of nationality is a Mangaka because the term literally means ‘creator of comics’. Culturally, however, the term Mangaka is reserved for those who have achieved great success within the Manga industry.

Unless you’re a big shot Mangaka published in a major magazine, it’d be considered rather pretentious to refer to yourself as such. Even professional Mangaka rarely refer to themselves as such. For two reasons:

A. The Ka (家) part of Mangaka might function as a catch-all suffix linguistically, but culturally, it is reserved only for those who are recognized masters of their craft. Many Japanese will replace the Ka with Sha (者), meaning ‘person’, in order to point out how much of a master they aren’t.

B. The Japanese culture is all about saving face, being humble, and fitting in. Exhibiting pride in any form is a great way to screw all three of those up. So, referring to yourself as a Mangaka, regardless of how famous she is, is extremely difficult for a Japanese person.

Anybody who creates a Manga is a Mangaka, but calling yourself one is almost always seen as stuck-up or childish.

Now You Know What a Mangaka Is

The term may not make as much sense now that you’ve learned all the nuances, but you’ll at least know sort-of what it means the next time you come across it.

A Manga Artist is a Mangaka who is also a Sensei, but no one likes to be referred to as either.

So, if you somehow encounter a situation where you have to describe your career as a Manga Artist, just stick to telling everyone: “I draw Manga.”

They’re sure to have more interesting questions once you say that.


Hey, my name's Azuma. I first dove deep into Otaku culture in 2010 and never quite grew out of it. After a million different anime, light novels, manga, and visual novels, I learned a lot about each art form. Knowledge I want to share with you from writing advice to drawing tips. I'm also the Author of two light novels series, Garden of PSI and On Creating the Ultimate Weapon. Happy creating!

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