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There’s no better time to get into manga than now. Titles like My Hero Academia dominate the bestseller charts. New series are released every month, and more license announcements are made on a regular basis. But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that we usually talk about manga in terms of series: the best series to read, the best shonen manga to record, or the best romance manga to swoon. We don’t talk so much about the creators: who are the most influential mangaka, who are the most famous mangaka, and who are the best mangaka?
Compiling a list of famous mangaka can be tricky. What are the criteria? Is it fame? The number of works in your back catalog? Your legacy? With these questions in mind, I’ve explored all of the genres, categories, and time periods. I’m not going to lie.I didn’t include every major manga creator here, but I did point out to cover names that we should recognize and acknowledge, and whose works are available in English.
No list of famous mangaka would be complete without the god of manga. Osamu Tezuka was so influential that he was also known as the father of manga and godfather of manga. We cannot overemphasize its legacy. A descendant of Hattori Hanzo – a famous ninja whose name should be recognizable to lovers of Japanese history – Tezuka became a mangaka after studying medicine. However, these educational efforts were not lost. His medical knowledge informed some of his work, including Black Jack and Dororo. Incredibly productive, it was considered by many to be the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney. American film director Stanley Kubrick was a fan of Tezuka’s landmark Astro Boy and wanted him to be the art director of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately, Tezuka couldn’t take the job, but can you imagine if he would have been able to?
Notable works: Astro Boy, Black Jack
Many mangaka begin to work as assistants to other creators. Go Nagai is no different. He began his career as an assistant to Shotaro Ishinomori. (Ishinomori is another famous mangaka, and the only reason he’s not on this list is because most of his work isn’t legally available in English. His work was under Ishinomori’s tutelage, and made his debut as a professional mangaka in the late 1960s was one of the first mangaka to be published in a relaunched anthology magazine called Weekly Shonen Jump. You may have heard of it. It is the current home of My Hero Academia, One Piece and Jujutsu Kaisen. Nagai pioneered the super robot, the magical Girl and the post-apocalyptic manga and anime genres and became notorious because his works included erotica. Considered scandalous back then, most people would not even turn an eye on her today. Even so, he has influenced many creators, including Kentaro Miura, the mangaka by Berserk and CLAMP, which you will learn about later on this list.
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Notable works: Devilman, Cutie Honey
Moto Hagio, widely known as the founding mother of Shojo Manga as we know it today, also helped advance BL Manga. As a member of the influential Year 24 Group, she urged Shojo Manga to explore subjects and subjects beyond the simple storylines that dominated the genre before the 1970s. Perhaps her most famous work is Heart of Thomas, which exemplifies the kind of BL stories told at the time: beautiful boys who fell in love in boarding school, but often had tragic consequences. As a big science fiction fan, she names Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein as the main influences on her work. And if you wonder what inspired you to become a mangaka? A manga by Osamu Tezuka.
Notable works: The Poe clan was 11 years old
Another member of the 24th grade group, Riyoko Ikeda was one of the most famous mangaka in the 1970s. Her shojo manga showed historical locations and dealt with topics such as gender and sexuality. Although she still works as a mangaka, in recent years she attended music school and became a singer. A good reminder that it’s never too late to learn something new and start a new career.
Notable work: The rose of Versailles
Most of the people on this list are both manga writers and illustrators. Sometimes they both made a certain title. Sometimes they just took on a role. Kazuo Koike was a manga writer and only a manga writer. We can split our hairs on whether that really makes him a mangaka by the traditional definition of the term, but I included him here because he worked on some basic series. While he is best known for his artistically violent works, Koike was also a professional mahjong player. He was excited about teaching the next generation of manga creators and started an educational course for that sole purpose. Graduates from the course include Hideyuki Kikuchi from Vampire Hunter D, Tetsuo Hara from Fist of the North Star, and Rumiko Takahashi, who is next on this list.
Notable works: Lone wolf and cub, Lady Snowblood, Crying Freeman
Rumiko Takahashi is one of the most famous and commercially successful mangaka of all time – both in Japan and around the world. She has won many awards, including the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême, and was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame. Her works are very popular with English-speaking readers and were already widespread before the first manga boom in the early 2000s. We’re talking about back when manga was still a mirror image for North American readers, instead of keeping the familiar right-to-left format.
Notable works: Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha
Akira Toriyama wasn’t always a mangaka. He worked for an advertising agency. After quitting, he entered a contest for aspiring mangaka. Although not winning, Toriyama received encouraging feedback from the judges and soon made his professional mangaka debut. It wasn’t an instant success, but it stuck to it. Eventually he found his step with Dr. Slump and then of course Dragon Ball. The Dragon Ball manga was ridiculously popular and became the best-selling manga at the time. Even today, almost three decades after it ended, it’s still the third best manga of all time. The anime adaptation of Dragon Ball became even more famous than the source material, especially outside of Japan, and it is widely recognized that it catapulted anime to become the global sensation it is today.
Notable works: Dr. Slump, Dragon Ball
Naoko Takeuchi has had many ups and downs during her career. Before Takeuchi became a manga creator, she worked as a shrine miko. Her experience later informed a certain character of Sailor Moon. She began her career as a mangaka with a series of oneshots and shorter works, but eventually hit upon the idea that would later become codenamed: Sailor V. When a studio wanted to do an anime adaptation, she revamped the idea by adding four more girls and Sailor Moon was born. And that’s just as well! Megumi Ogata, the voice actress for Sailor Uranus, introduced her to Yoshihiro Togashi, the famous mangaka behind YuYu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter. The two would later get married and have two children. A mangaka meeting – sweet!
Notable works: Sailor Moon
Some mangaka worked in other professions before they found the calling of their lives. Others, like Naoki Urasawa, have created manga all their lives. What do I mean by that? Urasawa started drawing manga when he was 4 years old. Sometimes you know early A few decades later, Urasawa would make his professional debut. He has created some of the most famous manga ever published. If you had to choose one of his mangas to read, you can’t go wrong with an Urasawa work. He’s also a musician and believes that creating manga and rock music have a lot in common. That is, if you’ve ever wondered why most Urasawa mangas aren’t (legally) available in digital format, it’s because he prefers to print.
Notable works: Monsters, boys of the 20th century
CLAMP is not a single mangaka, but an all-female team of developers. Founded in high school between a group of 11 friends, the membership shrank until the four members we know today remained: a writer, Nanase Ohkawa, and three artists, Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi, and Satsuki Igarashi. The group originally started out creating doujinshi, or amateur fan comics. In fact, RG Veda, her first professional series, began as a fan comic. It was this amateur work that caught the attention of a manga editor at Shinshokan. They are famous for their stylish artwork and equally notorious for leaving series incomplete.
Notable works: X, CardCaptor Sakura, xxxHolic
Compared to the other mangaka on this list, Hiromu Arakawa had a later start in the industry. Born and raised on a dairy farm, she helped in the family business for several years after graduating from high school. But if you have a dream, never let it die. She took oil painting lessons while working on the family’s dairy farm. Eventually she moved to Tokyo and started working as a manga assistant at Square Enix. She posted a couple of one-shots before starting work on Fullmetal Alchemist, considered by many – including you – to be one of the best manga series of all time.
Notable Works: Fullmetal Alchemist, Silver Spoon
Eiichiro Oda is the creator of the daring pirate saga One Piece, which is also the best-selling manga series of all time. And it will be a very long time before another manga comes close to taking that title away. In fact, it is the best-selling comic book series around the world. Oda always wanted to be a manga artist and submitted his first work at the ripe old age of 17. This work won many awards and earned him a job at Weekly Shonen Jump as a manga assistant. He drew a couple of one-shots before One Piece began serialization in 1997, which continues to this day. The other mangaka on this list have multiple titles in their bibliography, although they may only be known for one. But Oda shows us that you can strike gold fresh out of the gate. It’s rare, but it happens.
Notable work: One piece
As I said at the beginning, this is not a comprehensive list of famous mangaka. I was striving for variety compared to all of the juggernauts from Shonen Manga, of which there are many. That said, it does cover a few key names that you should know, and I encourage you to delve deeper into the mangaka that inspired them, who are their peers, and who are their rivals.