In this day and age, being a mangaka brings you near rockstar levels of popularity. Being able to create a successful manga means you’re on the fast track to stardom in Japan, and likely beyond as well. So why is it that, even now, a lot of these artists prefer to keep their identities anonymous? To the point that they’d hide their faces in public settings.
Of course, this isn’t true for all the manga artists and writers that exist. There are plenty who have been very open and forthcoming, especially when it comes to engaging with fans in public signings or fan meets. But it is a somewhat rare thing to find a mangaka that isn’t at least partially secretive.
And there are a ton of reasons for wanting that obscurity. One of the main ones is just because a lot of creators don’t feel comfortable being recognized out in the public. Or maybe they want to keep a part of their life history hidden from ‘tarnishing’ whatever image the work they’ve put out has set. Or maybe, it’s just simply because they could care less about the star power having a famous name brings.
But, why not? I mean, if I wrote something like, say, Berserk, I’d never shut up about it. Like, imagine writing an entire beloved franchise and then hiding that you wrote it? But this is exactly what Ishida Sui, the creator of Tokyo Ghoul, does. You can barely find any info on them, let alone a picture. So, what’s the psychology behind anonymity and the elusive mangaka? Let’s dissect!
Separate Art From The Artist
Some mangakas can blend into the crowd, but their works do not. Some of the most explosive manga in recent years have been created by anonymous faces behind strange names. And one of the reasons for that is to separate themselves from the art they create.
Japan is a very closed-off society, with a huge focus on traditional roles and somewhat suffocating preconceived notions. When something like, say, an ecchi-heavy manga comes out, a writer might feel embarrassed or scared of judgment from the people around them. And so, more controversial works are often published under pseudonyms or pen names to not reveal the true identity of the creator.
This also works when you’re related to a famous writer and don’t want to be in their shadow. An example of this is the writer for Beastars, whose father happens to be the creator of Baki. Hiding her identity means she isn’t consistently compared to her famous mangaka father.
And there is some logic there, considering mangakas have been the target of negative attention before. It isn’t uncommon to have doxxing issues when it comes to them, as well as the possibility of hate mail.
Hiding Identity Allows For Genre Diversity
One of the other common reasons a mangaka might hide their face and identity is so that one specific work doesn’t become their defining trait, allowing them to jump genres as they please.
For example, a Hentai mangaka might be very popular in their specific circle but they won’t be taken seriously when they try writing something more serious like a Psychological-Thriller. This narrows the room they have to experiment with genres and get stuck being a one-hit-wonder. Remember, a manga can’t go on forever, and the mangaka can experience burnout. If they are public about their identity, it’s very easy for them to be pigeon-holed into a specific genre thanks to overzealous fans.
And privacy matters. Artists should be allowed to have fun with their art without fearing abandonment.
Gender Bias Is Still A Thing
As sad as it is, it’s true. Not only do female authors often utilize gender-neutral pen names when writing novels, but women in manga have to resort to the same extreme measures.
Let’s face it: There is a lot of stereotypical nonsense when it comes to female mangakas being allowed to take space in more male-dominated genres like Shounen, Sci-Fi, and Mecha. Usually, they are relegated to the Shojou or Shounen-Ai group, with no room for growth or expansion beyond set expectations. Female mangakas are sadly not taken as seriously as their counterparts.
A famous example of a female mangaka changing their pen name to be more masculine, and having their work be considered more ‘valid’, is Horumu Arakawa. Yes, that Horumu Arakawa, the creator of Full Metal Alchemist aka one of the best Shounen manga of all time.
Arakawa-san has always been vocal about hiding her identity because it provided her with ambiguity in the manga industry, which is already harsh enough.
But in any case, a mangaka is only human. And they deserve a right to their privacy, no matter what their reasoning is. And hey, as long as they can continue to create our favorite stories comfortably, that’s all that matters right?