The third of Kodansha's Draw your Own Manga series by boy's love manga artist Haruno Nagatomo. This volume aims to address two issues; deciding on characters and plots as well as drawing common situations such as arriving and embracing. The book also includes an interview with Lupin III creator Monkey Punch.
Unlike many other how to draw books, 'honing your style' doesn't offer step by step instructions. Instead it's more of a freeform essay as author Haruno Nagatomo explores common themes in manga, and then goes onto discuss common problems manga artists encounter with certain types of panel.
Rather than break manga down entirely by demographic Nagatomo instead discusses major themes, her choice is certainly eclectic as she covers everything from pet based manga, to sports, combat, boys' love, girls' love and ninjas. This section must have been a nightmare for the translator, in some places they've left in Japanese terms such as lolita and bishojo showing clear awareness they are in common use in the fan community, but in a few places these hybrid phrases sit a little uncomfortably. My favourite being the extremely specific 'school and shojo' (of which the example is Love Hina). No doubt for the original Japanese audience this section was designed to encourage the reader to think about the kind of manga they are able to obtain, but I'm sure younger readers might be encountering certain genres for the first time and a small note from the translator would have been a welcome addition. Certainly if your average teen comedy warrants notes, a factual book on manga creation does.
The author illustrates most of these sections herself, which means like many of these books it's difficult really to examine the differences in style and genre closely. Thankfully many of the sections are complimented by un-flipped two page extracts from various Kodansha publications including Ghost in the Shell, What's Michael? and Ah! My Goddess. Frustratingly there are no continuous pages from the author herself, a quick web search only throws up titles in this series. The problem with many non-Japanese how to draw manga books is that the author doesn't actually draw manga, they draw one off pin-up art. The author of this book as credited as being a professional manga artist in the blurb yet there are no continuous panels in this book. One of the best ways to assess whether a book will be helpful is by deciding if the author uses a style you yourself would like to incorporate into your own work.
The last part of the book doesn't seem quite so interesting on the surface as Nagatomo explores common scene types in manga and points out different ways of implementing them. One of the best pages looks at different kinds of laughter. The artist makes some good points, and whilst on the surface there's little to get the reader drawing I suspect this kind of book will be useful in getting over creative stumbling blocks.
The opening interview with Monkey Punch is also extremely interesting, as he talks about his influences both Japanese and Western. The interviewer also asks his opinions on flipping pages. One of the most surprising things for me was that he now works digitally, the interview pages feature come colour images of his studio which feature his massive tablet PC. The interview with Monkey Punch is enjoyable, and it's nice to see such effort undertaken
It's difficult to categorise this book. There aren't any exercises for a reader to undertake, and whilst the illustrations are interesting they aren't any better than a standard manga. What this book does well is providing food for thought offering suggestions and ideas from the point of view of a Japanese manga artist.