There are some seriously, seriously long-ass manga out there, and a lot of them are really great. There are some like Golgo 13 and Detective Conan that have been doing the same thing for decades and are still going strong, which is cool. There are also those with a continuing story that keep on truckin’, and some serious long-runners that ended somewhere along the line like the Dragonball saga. I want to talk about three long-running manga series that are very influential to me and what makes them so.
1. One Piece
I think it’s kind of funny that One Piece is so often mentioned alongside other manga such as Naruto or Bleach – I guess it’s just a time-and-place thing combined with the fact that all three of them are pretty damn long, and yes even that’s by Shounen Jump standards (looking at their history of titles, you’d be surprised how few of them lasted more than a max of seven years/under 40 volumes.) But at 55 volumes, One Piece really is one of the single longest (in terms of volumes) manga of all time, and according to Eiichiro Oda, it’s only about halfway complete thus far.
What makes One Piece influential to me is that Eiichiro Oda planned the entire story before he ever started writing it. Now, One Piece has been published for over 12 years now and will probably run for at least another 12 pending on Oda’s good health, and I think it’s a pretty powerful thing to stick to one plan for 25 years, personally. You can see where this extensive planning comes to fruition in One Piece because SO much happens in the series! Look at it in comparison to the likes of Bleach or Naruto which are almost entirely dominated by a handful of large arcs (i.e. not much happens) whereas One Piece has felt like a massive adventure already.
I greatly admire Oda’s dedication to his life’s work, and I think he had a great idea to write his story this way – with the structure all in place, he doesn’t have to worry about what will happen, but concentrate his efforts on how, which is something that I wish to be able to do in my work as well. That’s why ever since my earliest days as an author (11yo) I’ve tended to write out my ‘Table of Contents’ before ever putting anything on paper.
I have a hard time believing that Bererk is as well thought-out as One Piece is because it becomes sort of slogging in the 30-volume area (where it still is thanks to Kentarou Miura’s constant need to go on hiatus and play Idolm@ster) though it’s also possible that knowing the story is exactly what drives Miura to take more time with it. I also think that his interests have changed over time as Berserk has steadily become more and more of a magical girl manga since volume 23 or so. But hey, the guy has made similar mission statements as Oda’s such as ‘Berserk is about halfway done’ which is FAR scarier coming from a guy who has written half as much as Oda in nearly twice the time.
No, Berserk’s focus isn’t what influences me (anyone who would be influenced by that is totally screwed anyway, hehe), instead it’s the character Gattsu. Berserk is the tale of Gattsu’s life from the event of his birth, presumably to continue until his eventual death. As a reader, you can feel as though you truly know Gattsu – you’ve seen his entire life, the way he’s acted and reacted to everything, and the state of his mind at all times. We understand him and his world, and when he goes through his stages of self-discovery, I know I feel like I’m discovering something about myself as well. I’ve always wanted to create characters like this whose entire lives are laid out for the audience, from birth until death.
3. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Which brings me to the longest of these manga, JoJo’s, which is also the one I know the least about, having read only five volumes of it (out of, if you combine the three JoJo’s stories into one, a total of 97 volumes and counting.) JoJo’s BA shares the Berserk element of beginning from the VERY beginning, and continuing to the end, but it is never content to stop there at the end. Rather, while JoJo’s can’t claim to flesh a character out to the absurd extent that Berserk does over it’s endless volumes, it instead follows the characters by the generation. When one character dies, we take over where his son or even distant grand-baby is born.
This, too, is something I wish to be able to do. I do love the idea of following a character from birth to death, but I also think it’s kind of boring if that character never bears children! And once the children are out, it’s their turn to be followed along by the story! Indeed, I would love to create a saga as epic as JoJo’s BA. I haven’t read enough of JoJo’s to know how planned-out the series is, but if I can create a story with the generational movement of JoJo’s, the sheer character development of Berserk, and the strength in planning of One Piece, I think I will be eternally proud of my life’s work.
So, what is my life’s work? Right now the story I’ve poured all of my focus (and really, all of my other stories) into is the ‘Princess of Blue‘ saga. It is a truly epic story that follows a girl’s entire life’s adventures until the birth of her child and spans a total of four generations on an insane adventure across different settings, genres, and any other kinds of boundaries. I definitely hope for this series to become ‘the one’ for me.