Doujinshi – A Platform for Artistic Freedom As Well As a Gate to the Professional Manga Industry

Doujinshi are amateur manga created in small quantities by art circles and sold at specific conventions. Some of these conventions are small in scale while others are notoriously large. The biggest doujinshi convention – Comic Market (or Comiket for short) attracted more than 590 thousand attendants in December 2011. Doujinshi can feature characters from popular manga with a new plot or a different setting, but can also offer original stories, characters and worlds. Since doujinshi are self-made and don’t need to adhere to the strict censorship guidelines enforced by the professional publishing companies the artists behind them enjoy an almost free hand when it comes to both their doujinshis’ stories and their depiction. The conventions in which doujinshi are bought and sold tend to be lenient in their attitude towards nudity but do enforce, to a certain degree, the depiction of violence or political views. Problematic doujinshi will have to be redrawn or censored before being approved for publication.

The relative freedom found in doujinshi enables artists to fully express themselves without legal or corporal constraints. This has led to experimental, avant-garde and artistic doujinshi. It also made it possible for doujinshi based on popular existing manga series to be published without the need for complicated legal permissions. The freedom that doujinshi publications allow has not been ignored by professional manga artists. Several famous artists, such as Yoshitoshi ABe and Akamatsu Ken, draw doujinshi as a breather between their professional works. Creating doujinshi gives them the freedom to create what they want (as opposed to following the directions laid before them by their supervisors and editors in their respective companies) and also allows them to interact with their fans on a more intimate basis.

While doujinshi are a none-commercial commodity they can attract many fans if drawn skillfully. Circles with talented manga artists have the tendency to become famous and sell-out all their copies faster than others. As skillful artists tend to stand out the doujinshi conventions have attracted talent scouts from big publishing companies looking for new and promising artists to add to their companies’ arsenal. Some famous manga artists began as doujinshi artists and were later scouted by publishing companies and made the move to professional manga drawing. Such professionals include Akamatsu Ken (Love Hina), Takahashi Rumiko (Ranma 1/2), Clamp (Card Captor Sakura) and Tony. As some of these artists continue to publish their own original doujinshi alongside their professional manga there have been cases in which a doujinshi from a well-known professional artist ends up being adopted by their publishing company and becomes a professional product. Such instances include:

  • The Haibane Renmei doujinshi by Yoshitoshi ABe which was adapted into an anime series.
  • Tony’s illustrations of Crypton’s Hatsune Miku, which were later endorsed by the official company and published as an official commercial art book.
  • The Aqua doujinshi by Amano Kozue that was adapted into the commercial manga Aria (and later spawned an anime series).

Some of these artists, that began their careers as amateurs drawing doujinshi for small events, have contributed immensely to the evolution of the visuals presentation of both amateur and commercial manga throughout the years.

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