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For aspiring professionals : How the anime industry works

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Hello! Sayuui here again. These last years, I've been trying to figure out how the industry works to be able to enter it. All the following has been written with personal experience, the help of other pros that already worked for the industry and with what my mentors that have been in the industry for years have reported to experience. I will not quote their names here for secrecy reasons. Since I haven't yet worked for the industry, some of the information here that might be incorrect will be edited soon.

First off, it's important to state that the market absolutely does not go easy on artists. For everyone that wants to enter, it will either require much technical skill, practice, feedback from other pros and for some cases, even an audience on social media. Some people treat it like they have to be born again in Japan to be able to have their dream job. Some state that you must know Japanese. But that's not how it works and I'll try explaining it here.

It's also important to put that the anime industry no longer exists in Japan only. Nowadays, it exists on China, Korea and some other asian and european countries. If you are looking to enter an industry that's either too hard to enter or has lower rates, I'm going to discuss ways to go around the problem.

Since this is the first time I try writing about this, I'll accept suggestions to change and add text from people who have experience. If you have reported experience in the industry and have something to add or change, please let me know and I'll ponder the article.

The anime (Japanese art style) industry divides itself into:

  • Animation industry;

  • Manga industry;

  • Game industry;

  • Illustration industry;

  • Action figure and vtuber industry.

Animation industry

When we're talking about anime, we're talking about Japan only. There is no anime outside of Japan. You can still learn frame-by-frame animation outside of Japan, but that won't be considered anime until you are working for their industry or learn their animation methods. This industry is the harshest of them all, having the lowest rates. If you really desire to enter this industry, you'll be likely to need to be prepared to go to Japan and live in scarcity. There are also studios that make outsourced animation for certain Japanese anime, but these only make simple scenes and are located in countries around Japan, like Indonesia and the Phillipines. However, these animations still go through a lot of revisions from the Japanese studio before the final product.

The animation industry has a high bar to join in general. Consistency in drawing is important, and the whole animation goes through a lot of revisions to look consistent throughout the whole process.

There are also studios that make animation for vtubers. Some of them will hire animators for twitch alerts, lore videos and music videos. As an animator, you can also join a western studio, build your own studio or sell animation services on your own.

As an example of a foreigner that has worked for the Japanese anime industry, we have Ilya Kuvshinov. You can watch interviews with him here and here.

You can also make bone-type animation with spine or live2D, but this is not what this topic is about.

Manga Industry

The main question I would get asked here is: can you live off your own manga story? The answer for that question is: probably not. The easiest way to get paid to make manga is to use it as a portfolio to be able to personal and company clients. But still, it's hard to get paid what it's worth for a page, specially if the client asks for intricate scenes and your prices are tabled. For this industry, the greater volume of work you can get accomplished with quality in the shortest amount of time, the better it is. It's also important to state that when working for Japan, you'll need a far education not only in Japanese language, but in Kishotenketsu and kakimoji forms -- there is no manga without kakimoji. Good luck, because it's nothing like our ocidental narrative structure.

Printed media is also dying in the western world, and nowadays people can post their own stories on, where readers can support their favorite authors with a support program and premium stories. In Japan, manga is still widely printed and the industry is still ignited.

Now here's an industry that's very misunderstood. Is the Japanese manga industry looking for foreigners? Absolutely yes, and many people still don't know it. Whether it's from Shonen Jump's international contests, or other smaller contests.

Also, people forget that there's no need for words to tell a story, and that's why the Silent Manga audition exists -- to lure in talented artists that want to become professionals for the industry. It happens twice a year, and rewards the winners with a trip to Japan and an encounter with their favorite manga artists -- all of that demanding zero knowledge in Japanese. Be reminded, though, that even though you pass and become a "masterclass", there are many classifieds per year and there's no guarantee you'll be called to serialize a story in Japan. If you are good at what you do though, there are editors in France that might call you to do so. YES, MY FRIEND, there is manga in France and you don't need to be able to speak French! The rates also tend to be higher and they also tend to let artists take their time for the sake of quality.

Recently, shueisha has created Manga plus - a website where you can post your manga and participate in the monthly awards and get published with cash prizes.

Not all mangaka are born knowing everything -- in fact, they are quite average at the beginning. Try opening your favorite serialized manga on the first, then last magazine. You're likely to see a huge difference, both in drawing and in storytelling skills. This happens because mangaka normally learn through their meetings with the editors. If you already speak fluent Japanese, you might want to give it a try.

Game industry

This is the one I'm particularly trying to enter, and that has the widest variety in hired artists. Right now, this industry exists in China, Korea and Japan. The rates are normally higher in China, and they're likely to have someone who speaks English in their offices too.

Another thing that needs to be mentioned: For the industry, there is a scale of production. Each artist will make a limited illustrations, never the entire game. Also, being called to work on one game does not mean that you'll be called for another one. An artist that works for Arknights, for example, might not have the competence to work for Final Fantasy, and that's a harsh side of this industry.

The artists have two categories:

Employee artists

These are the ones that go to the company 5 days a week and get paid at the end of the month. Their rates are not high at all. In Japan especially, there's a chance that you won't be hired to work remotely due to their traditional work values. These will normally do character designs and concept art.

Freelance artists

These are likely to pick up the cover and event illustrations, and are highly value according to influence. Yes, you'll need high skills AND a following to be in this category. The rates per illustration tend to be very high. There are games like FGO that are made almost entirely with art from freelancers.

The game categories are:

Visual Novels

These tend to still be made on 2d, with 3d being used for specific scenes. You must know how to draw NSFW well to fit into this category. There are also indie visual novels that are made with a lower bar entry level.

MMOs and RPGs

The staff for these ones tend to be employee artists. Some of them will hire freelancers for cover and character illustrations.

As seen above, employee artists and freelancers have different roles in the game development. But there are cases where a freelance artist might pick up work that an employee would do. If you are an extremely versatile or fast artist, there are chances you might pick up this kind of work remotely, even without speaking Japanese -- I observed this happen in one case only, though.

For this industry, being a freelancer offers much more chances of success in a carreer. In that case, there is no point in moving to another country. You might want to see this other blog post: 1 year of being a full-time anime artist.

Illustration industry

This one is basically within the game industry. Both skeb and Pixiv's request system are not considered industry since it's for particular clients, but I think they deserve a spot here.

Commissions are not big in Japan, and for Japanese artists, there is no much alternative instead of trying to work for the industry or being a complete hobbyist.

An information that's normally not shared because it might divide opinions - if you work for pixiv itself, you'll often appear as #1 or #2 in their ranking charts, as a thanks promotion for your work. That's how many artists get to grow on the platform. And you thought it was all merit, huh.

Action figure and Vtuber industry

This is the one I know the least about. If you how to make 3D models, you might want to work either for companies or for clients. The 3D industry is growing, and offering good rates and many spots all over the world.

Do you like this article? You might want to check my work here and follow me on social media.

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