Interview by Nakanishi Kyu
Miyuki Kitamuro is an accomplished editor behind hit manga like Melancholy of the Betrayed and ReLIFE, which have also been adapted into other media. Involved in the launch of Comico's Japanese edition in 2013, she currently works at Mixer, where she plays a significant role in promoting Japanese webtoons.
In an industry often dominated by studio productions, Kitamuro has supported numerous individual authors. We spoke to her about the secrets to success for solo authors in the webtoon world and the industry's future prospects. Where should aspiring webtoon creators start?
- Miyuki Kitamuro
- Manga editor at Mixer. Has been active since the dawn of webtoons in Japan, contributing to the launch of the Japanese version of Comico in 2013. Her notable works include ReLIFE, Melancholy of the Betrayed, Tsugihagi Mirai, and Ita no Ue de Kimi to Shinetara.
What's the difference between studio and individual productions?
── You've been involved in the Japanese webtoon industry from its early days, including the launch of Comico's Japanese version in 2013. What type of creators do you think are best suited for webtoons?
Kitamuro: Let's see... It really depends on what kind of author someone wants to be, so I can't give you a one-size-fits-all answer.
In the case of webtoons, there are both studio and individual productions, and whether someone works as part of a team in a studio or as an individual author makes a big difference. One thing I can say for sure is that slower authors may not suited for the current webtoon format, which is typically based on weekly serialization. Speed is key.
── What qualities are required for studio versus individual production?
── It sounds like the industry offers diverse opportunities for different types of creators.
── So, readers of this article should take heart and not think, "I'm this type of person, so webtoons aren't for me"?
── Based on your experience, do you notice any common traits among creators who produce outstanding works??
── So, by "outstanding works" we're talking about those that reach a broad audience?
── Most webtoons are produced in a studio setting; what do you think are the benefits of creating one as an individual author?
── You often work with individual authors, don't you?
── Does working within a studio setting make it harder to peek inside people's minds?
── It sounds like you really value this one-on-one interaction.
What works adapt well to other media?
── I imagine you often get to advise young creators eager to dive into webtoons...
── What advice do you give when they ask you, "Where should I start begin?"
── I see. So, your advice depends on their goals.
── You've worked on several webtoons like ReLIFE and Melancholy of the Betrayed that have been adapted into anime and TV dramas. What works adapt well to other media?
Kitamuro: Those that align with current trends. For example, right now, works that incorporate aspects of SDGs or LGBTQ themes.
It's a bit different for anime, though. With dramas, whether a work is aimed at major networks, local stations, or online streaming services can significantly change how the story is crafted.
── So, do you consider a potential media adaptation from the very beginning of a project?
Kitamuro: It depends on the author, but yes, we often do. And I often work with creators who focus on creating drama-friendly projects. For instance, Chika Semoto's Melancholy of the Betrayed, which I edited, was crafted with that in mindーeven picturing actors who could play the characters.
── When the webtoon was actually adapted into a drama, did the casting match your initial vision?
── That's so interesting! So it's more about tailoring the work itself to fit the drama format rather than trying to coordinate with production houses and ad agencies from the get-go.
── In other words, you're saying it's better to let authors create what they're passionate about, rather than dictating what they should draw?
Kitamuro: Absolutely. Although it all comes down to the theme... For example, a romance between a high school girl and a teacher might have worked back in the day, but now turning that into a drama would be tough with all the new regulations. So I'll ask the author, "Considering the current climate, this probably won't make it as a drama. Do you still want to go ahead with it?" (laughs)
── And I guess different authors have different priorities, right? Some might want to stick to their guns and draw what they want, regardless of their chances for a drama adaptation, while others might tweak their ideas to get a drama deal.
You can't grow without playing to your strengths
── Given your philosophy of encouraging authors to draw what they want, how do you help them reach their full potential?
── So, there's no one way to handle every author.
Kitamuro: That's right. For every ten authors, there are ten different ways to communicate. The key to unlocking their potential, I'd say, is for editors to be adaptable and flexible in their approach.
── There's no magic formula then.
── What part of producing webtoons do you find the most rewarding?
Kitamuro: Honestly, I love everything about it. I'm like a webtoon production nerd (laughs), so I enjoy every part... but if I had to choose, it's probably the planning stage. With individual authors, it's like doing a ton of practice runs. I ask for ten quick plot ideas, we play around with them, and if they don't click, we go for ten more.
But it really depends on the artist, too. Some are more about pouring their heart into a single big idea.
── It's like a workout for coming up with ideas, right? Focusing on quantity first, regardless of quality.
Kitamuro: That's the idea. We sift through these ten ideas, sorting them into four categories: "Want to and can draw," "Want to but can't draw," "Don't want to but can draw," and "Don't want to and can't draw."
For example, "How about a ninja story?" "Want to but can't draw."
── You're really digging deep to find out what the author truly wants to do.
── And what's the toughest part of the job?
── In this field, even interesting works don’t always sell...
Looking to grow the authors' fanbase
── Let's talk about the webtoon industry as a whole. How do you see the current situation?
── It's often the youth who bring that kind of momentum to a growing industry, isn't it?
── Aside from its size, what do you think has changed the most in the market since the early days of Comico?
── In a way, the fact that readers aren't required to be as "maniacal" about following specific authors has lowered the entry barrier a bit, hasn't it?
── That's quite a challenge, considering the accessibility of webtoons is one of its main appeals.
Kitamuro: Exactly... I'm not saying snack content is bad or something I want to dismiss. The thing is, webtoons in Japan have only been around for about ten years, so there's a lack of history. You can talk about your favorite Mitsuru Adachi manga, but conversations about your favorite Yayoiso work aren’t quite common yet. Yayoiso has been in the Japanese webtoon world for a decade and is one of its pioneers, but even so, they've only published three works. There’s simply not enough volume yet.
I think it'll take another ten years for conversations like "My favorite work by Yayoiso is XYZ" to start to take place.
── I see. Also, the current webtoon market is dominated by Korean works and studio productions, which might make it hard for Japanese readers to connect with individual authors.
── Yeah, it does seem like the market revolves around just about three genres.
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