Jujutsu Kaisen’s Hiatuses Are a Sign of Manga’s Biggest Problem

Fans of Jujutsu Kaisen were alarmed by a recent Twitter post, that announced that Chapter 178 of the popular manga would not be appearing in the weekly Shonen Jump, due to the ongoing health issues of its enigmatic creator, Gege Akutami.

Following rumors of difficulties and delays, the announcement from the notoriously reclusive Akutami came as a shock to fans. Since then, despite thousands of well-wishes from concerned readers, this latest unplanned hiatus brings attention to the most troubling problem of the manga industry: the working conditions of its artists and creators.

The demanding and too-often exploitative conditions of the comics and animation industries have been common knowledge for some time, but recent high-profile hospitalizations and unplanned hiatuses of creators including the tragic passing of Berserk creator Kentaro Miura have begun to illuminate the field's biggest problem. That being the working conditions faced by staff artists and creators. The outpouring following both Miura's death and Akutami's hiatus has been substantial, but the lack of any real changes to the unrealistic and unhealthy demands of publishers and consumers alike bodes poorly on the hopes for positive, lasting change.

Some factors which contribute to this phenomenon have to do with trends of overwork endemic to Japanese working culture as well as the unprotected status of many mangaka and studios with regards to their employers and publishers. This leads to unrealistic and unhealthy working habits, and of course, high demand. A troubling graphic shared by an anonymous mangaka, now since infamous, described the high-pressure and scant personal time available for artists.

Unlike much of the regular workforce in Japan, manga artists are often self-employed. As such, they do not always qualify for the mandatory health coverage required by Japanese law. Effectively contractors, manga artists are often typically only compensated with the completion of a set amount of work. This external pressure, when coupled with the demands of producing satisfactory and inspired art -- versus merely "content" -- problematizes much-needed time taken for rest and recuperation. The ultimate effects of these intersecting, negative incentives can be tragic as they are predictable.

What this means, is that in addition to the external demands of the media industry, mangaka runs into the perennial problem of creating a professional pursuit out of one's passion. The aggressive production and publication schedule can be particularly brutal for younger, inexperienced creatives. These artists often lack professional, sustainable habits and when combined with the steep rise in demand that accompanies sudden success, this often leads to problems down the road. Though passionate and talented, simply being unaccustomed to the realities of working life in contemporary media often leads to unrealistic personal expectations and poor management, all of which, take a human toll. The outpouring from fans of Jujutsu Kaisen is proof that fans are willing to wait just a little bit longer for the next chapter out of concern for Akutami's health is one sign that the enormous and grueling work of a mangaka is not taken for granted.

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