Comic Advice from Manga Editors

by Ann Nam-Tran Le

It’s not often that people who edit comics or are interested in manga (Japanese comics) get to hear from professional manga editors from Japan in the English language sphere. While there are plenty of how-to books on drawing manga, to my knowledge there isn’t a book that focuses on comic narrative techniques and revisions in manga from an editor’s perspective. 

So I bring to those who love manga, or those who want to learn the magic behind manga, a YouTube playlist from long-time editors in the Japanese manga industry. These videos have valuable advice for those beginning, or already well into, their comic editing career.

A photo of Shuichi Mochida and Taiyo Nakashima giving the thumbs up, with manga art on the wall behind them. The photo is taken from one of their YouTube videos

Hosts Shuichi Mochida and Taiyo Nakashima explain the foundations of making manga using examples from popular mangaka (Japanese comic artists) and their own experience. They cover the conception, drafting, and revising of manga. Each video is approximately 10 minutes long with visuals (graphs, diagrams, pictures) to explain the topics.

Similarities in editing comics

I’ll start with the similarities to the Western way of editing comics. Unsurprisingly, a comic editor has to edit for the reader’s eye. If the eye cannot flow easily throughout the comic, the narrative will confuse the reader and the comic will eventually be dropped. This includes the arrangement of the panels, the layout of speech balloons and text boxes, and the composition within the panels.

Much like developmental editing, a comic editor has to ask such questions as: What are the motives of the characters? Is it entertaining enough? To make the comic engaging, it’s important to edit for what the reader wants and can understand.

While watching the videos, I was surprised by new information, despite my ongoing love affair with manga and comics. Here are my highlights that may surprise even veteran comic editors.

Real editing starts with the draft

A point the hosts drive home is that deep revision starts on the rough draft, called name in the manga industry, that contains everything: story, panel and speech balloon layouts, compositions, scenes, and dialogue. This way, the editor can edit the big picture—story, pacing, and pictures—to focus on what is needed to bring a story to life. It can also help avoid awkward visual arrangements of text, speech balloons, and sound effects with the pictures.

Four-part narrative structure

What might be hard to wrap your head around if you have always read Western stories is the concept of ki-sho-ten-ketsu, which drives the narrative in manga. Translated as introduction (ki), development (sho), twist (ten), and conclusion (ketsu), it’s a four-part narrative structure, based on old traditional Chinese poems, that’s still a popular mode for Japanese modern literature, poems, and, of course, manga. It’s fundamentally and logically different from the familiar Western three-act narrative structure. A notable difference is ten, which does not solely mean the big reveal or a new revelation, but that’s part of it. My best interpretation is that it means to catch the reader off guard. There is a three-part video series that explains it.

Emotional beats

And lastly, there’s an innovative way of storytelling which stresses the importance of using emotion to drive the reader’s attention rather than story beats. The panels are dedicated to the emotion of the character’s reaction to an event, rather than moving from action to action. This means staging characters, perspective angles, internal monologue, and scenes in panels. The goal is to rouse specific emotions in the reader so they relate to the character and want to continue with the story.


There are two things to keep in mind while watching the videos: I find that these lessons are biased toward a long serialization rather than a complete stand-alone story. In the world of manga, it’s not uncommon to have more than 30 chapters for marketing reasons, so chapters tend to end on an exciting cliffhanger. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that the narrative tropes and themes they show are aimed at shounen, a young boy audience, so the story usually contains action-packed scenes. In its long history, manga has developed various graphic narrative techniques that are unique to a specific genre, such as shojo (a genre focused on a young girl audience). Shojo uses emotional narrative, such as blooming flower motifs, to highlight the character’s emotion or their importance in the story. 

Final push

What do I want you to take away from watching this playlist? I hope their lessons will help teach you how to think with pictures and words from the perspective of a manga editor. Also, I hope it shows how important the editor’s role is in the comic process, from concept to the final product, so when you start reading manga for the first time, or rereading old favourites, you will start to notice what narrative techniques and intentions make manga a great read.

Playlist link:

Ann Nam-Tran Le, a freelance editor, writer, and graphic designer, has recently completed her publishing certificate at Toronto Metropolitan University. Comics and manga are great loves of hers, and a large part of her book collection is dedicated to the art of the graphic narrative.

This article was copy edited by Leslie Lapides, a long-time journalist. She runs her freelance editing company under the name Word Crisper.

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