I thought it would be impossible to become a manga artist.
It’s a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. Drawing and practicing my artistic skills consistently, I knew I would be that one foreigner to get published in Japan. However, I was told both online and off that it is not a realistic career goal. The Japanese manga industry is already competitive enough, why would they want to hire a foreigner like me to work for them when they already have a plethora of more talented and accessible artists they could hire?
After I graduated from art school, I was lost. How am I supposed to make money drawing manga? I’ve always been discouraged from doing it, maybe it is impossible to make a living from manga art in the United States after all…
But the problem is, I love drawing manga. I love it so much, I can’t stand not to do it. Thus, I threw away this helpless attitude and got to work. I took any creative job I could find, which in the beginning mostly meant low paying commission jobs. For my first year freelancing, I only made $500-$700 a month working full time, so we can say I was less than prosperous. However, I was determined not to take some random full time job that has nothing to do with art. I’ve heard the stories before: someone who used to pursue art took a full time job, they’re exhausted after work, and no longer have energy to draw, so they stop. I was determined not to become that person.
Now, three years after graduating from college, I’m in a much better place than when I started. I found out the truth: that if there’s something you’re determined to do, you’ll be able to find a way to do it. And thanks to the internet, its possible to create your own business and make a living from art as long as you’re diligent and passionate.
Here is the key to making a living as a manga artist outside of Japan: Make sure to have multiple sources of income. This income can come from a variety of places which may not be enough to make a living from on their own, but combined can become a reliable income. Here are a few things you can do to make money as a manga artist.
1. Open Commissions
If you follow any artists online, you probably already know about commissions. This will probably be the first thing you start with in your artistic career since it goes by a simple premise: someone pays you to draw the art that they request. There’s a lot to be said about this subject which I may go into in a separate blog, but I would say the most important things to know before taking on commissions are: Make sure that the commissioner pays you BEFORE you start (don’t ever give someone a finished piece of art when hey haven’t paid you yet! Many artists get ripped off because of this), give the commissioner updates as you’re working on the piece (show them the sketch, line art and color, that way if they want edits they can request them while you’re working on it), and make sure not to undercharge. It can be easy to price your commissions very low when just starting out, but think about how many hours it takes to get a piece of art done and remember that freelancers have to pay pretty high taxes in most countries, so don’t forget to consider those factors.
2. Start a Patreon
Patreon is a platform that gives followers of an artist or any content creator a chance to donate monthly in order to receive some reward. For artists this often involves giving Patrons high quality digital files of your work, or small commissions. For my Patreon, I give access to my Patron-only discord for $1 a month, and for my highest tier of $50 a month they get a 1 hour art lesson, a commission colored postcard in the mail and more! Don’t be afraid to offer higher-paying tiers for your dedicated fans! Just make sure that your rewards are realistic for you to fulfill and that you can give them out in a timely fashion.
3. Open An Online Store
Opening an online store is a great way to make some extra revenue as an artist. It’s true that you’ll have to put some money in first to make the merchandise, but you can always start out with products that are cheaper to produce such as prints and stickers and move onto more expensive items later, such as t-shirts and enamel pins. I recommend using the website Alibaba to make your more expensive items. With this website you can contact factories in China to make items for you, and I’ve only had good experiences using them so far. I am currently using a manufacturer in China to produce wall scrolls and body pillows. You can check out my online store here for reference. And plus, you can sell any merch you’re not able to sell online at anime con Artists Alleys! Speaking of that…
4. Sell In Artists Alley at Anime Conventions
Now, this one is actually very important, more important than I first realized when I started my artistic career. At first, I went to sell at anime convention artists alleys just for fun and didn’t really expect to make money from it. However, as time went on and I learned what kind of merch sells and doesn’t sell for me, it became a good boost to my income. It’s easier to make money at big conventions, but small cons are great too since it’s usually cheaper to get a table and it can be good for networking with artists and getting commissioners, something that can be difficult to do at large cons since they’re so busy. Use the website animecons.com to find conventions near you!
5. Teach Art Lessons
This is something I got into more recently, but teaching art lessons can be a great way to make some extra income as an artist. This can be anything from uploading videos to Skillshare to teaching private art lessons online, or even teaching more formal lessons at a school or community center if you prefer (I used to have a small manga art teaching job at a local library which was quite fun!). There are many options to teach art, though I recommend private online lessons the most since you’ll have a wider range of students to teach and you’ll be able to make more money, but without a social media following it may be hard to find students in this way. Do some research and see if you can find an art teaching position available if you feel it’s a good fit for you!
Freelancing is a lifestyle not made for everyone, but if you are able to make it work, it can be a fulfilling and exciting career. Besides, how great is it to make your own schedule and do what you love everyday? Though I still long to one day become a published manga artist and see my work being sold in stores (and trust me, I’m working towards this goal everyday), I’m glad that for now I can hone my craft while working on fun creative projects everyday.
However, don’t feel ashamed if you can’t make a full income from art. Even now, I run an Airbnb in order to help pay my rent, and I even did cat sitting so I could save up more money. But whatever you do, make sure any part time or side job leaves room and energy for your passion: creating art.
Do you want to become a manga artist? What steps are you taking to reach your goals? Feel free to let us know in the comments below, and thank you for reading! <3