NobuhiroWatsuki is the Japanese creator of several popular historical period manga series including the samurai drama Rurouni Kenshin (1994-1999), which has been listed among the top twenty best selling manga of all time. Born in 1970, Watsuki’s career development as a shōnen or boy’s manga artist exemplifies many aspects of the production, publishing and stylistic trends representative of the manga industry in 1990s Japan. Opportunities arising from publisher sponsored talent spotting contests and mentorship roles as well as adoption of the publishing format known as “one shot” manga – the creation of short, self-contained stories published in a single issue of a manga magazine – all boosted the establishment of Watsuki’s industry profile and popularity as a manga artist. Mixing together different genres such as action, romance and the supernatural while graphically combining visual influences that include Marvel comics and arcade-style fighting video games, Watsuki’s storylines and characters have consistently captured a broad adolescent readership.

Watsuki’s first publication, published while in high school, was the result of winning WeeklyShōnen Jump’s Hop Step award which targets new artistic talent. Beginning his career as an assistant illustrator to Takeshi Obata, creator of the manga series Death Note (2003), Watsuki would go on to mentor the development of other manga artists, such as EiichiroOda, creator of One Piece (1997). And his use of the “one-shot” publishing format launched the popular appeal of RurouniKenshin and Embalming: Another Tale of Frankenstein (2007).

Most of Watsuki’s manga series utilize highly recognizable historical periods from nineteenth century Japan, Europe and the United States as iconic imagery for settings and character design while adapting main characters from historical and fictional sources. Rurouni Kenshin, first serialized in the manga magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump, is set during Japan’s Meiji period, with the titular character, a former assassin who has renounced killing, is partly modeled on an actual samurai assassin. Emblaming: Another Tale of Frankenstein, serialized in the manga monthly Jump SQ, is set in Europe in the 1880s, with the character of Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) depicted as a real scientist, and the rediscovery of his scientific legacy of resurrecting living humans from corpses has left Europe populated with Frankensteinian monsters. In Gun Blaze West (2001), a short-lived series first published in Weekly Shōnen Jump, adolescent gunfighters in nineteenth century United States undertake a dangerous quest to locate a fabled city inhabited by famous gunslingers.

In terms of merchandising, Watsuki’s series typify the impact of manga licensing on both Japanese and international markets. Rurouni Kenshin and Buso Renkin (2003), Watsuki’s second most popular series, have been franchised across multiple media formats including video games, anime television series, music CDs, and novels, while Rurouni Kenshin has been adapted into live action films. The box office success in the Philippines of the film version of Rurouni Kenshin and its sequels represent twenty years of international popularity of a series that has been credited with the resurgence of the French manga market in 1999, as well as listings in USA Today’s Top 150 Best Selling Books in 2004 and 2005 and The New York Times Best Seller manga lists in 2014.

Mio Bryce and Jason Davis

Further Reading

  • Bryce, Mio, and Davis, Jason.“An Overview of Manga Genres.”InManga: An Anthology of Global Perspectives, edited by Toni Johnson-Wood, 34-61. New York: Continuum, 2010. Print.
  • McCarthy, Helen. 500 Essential Anime Movies.The Ultimate Guide. Lewes: Ilex, 2009. Print.
  • Richmond, Simon. The Rough Guide to Anime. London: Rough Guides, 2009. Print.
  • Rosenbaum, Roman, ed. Manga and the Representation of Japanese History. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
  • Yadao, Jason S. The Rough Guide to Manga. London: Rough Guides, 2009. Print.