Luffy wakes up from a nap bursting a barrel
Eiichiro Oda/Viz

On Thursday March 21st, Eiichiro Oda announced he was taking a three week hiatus from his massive hit One Piece. The beloved creator explained he was in good health and the break was a scheduled one (Oda has taken several breaks through the years on his best selling series). He even admits that part of the reason he’s taking a break is to figure out what exactly the “one piece” actually is.

Oda made a point in his announcement to mention the passing of Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragon Ball, whose death was announced on March 7th. There’s been some backlash from fans who want Eiichiro Oda to keep drawing One Piece. Why take time off for the death of someone not in his family?

The Grand Master of Budokai addresses the crowd
Akira Toriyama/Viz

However, Oda has never been shy to talk about Toriyama’s influence on his work. Both he and Masahiro Kishimoto, creator of Naruto, wrote touching tributes to their greatest inspiration. It’s clear the passing of his mentor hit the bestselling cartoonist hard. 

It’s painful to now write that Akira Toriyama was the Osamu Tezuka of his generation rather than remains.  The combined 60 volumes of Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball are high points for comedy and action in comics. They were produced in a 15 year period though.

Kuririn narrowly avoids getting attacked during the Budokai tournament.
Akira Toriyama/Viz

Toriyama is not the only beloved Japanese artist in recent memory to die at a relatively young age. This year the also saw successful shoujo artist Hinako Ashihara die by suicide at age 50. 2021 saw the death of Berserk creator Kentaro Miura at age 54 from an aortic dissection. 

Kentaro Miura/Dark Horse

Fellow Shonen Jump alumnus and creator of Yu-Gi-Oh Kazuki Takahashi died at the age of 60 in 2022 in a swimming accident. And last year, another veteran Jump artist, Buichi Terasawa creator of Space Adventure Cobra and Goku Midnight Eye, had a fatal heart attack after years of fighting malignant brain cancer at age 67. 

The deaths of prominent and successful manga authors is not a recent occurrence but one littered throughout manga history. Both Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishinomori, two absolute legends of Japanese comics, only lived to the age of 60.  It’s rare manga artists get to live into their 80s or 90s, like Leiji Matsumoto and Shigeru Mizuki did when they died.  Mizuki once even joked he outlasted Tezuka and Ishinomori because he slept 8 hours every night.

A Japanese blogger compiled the average lifespan of the average Japanese man versus the average mangaka and the result is shocking.

62.6 years for a mangaka versus 83 for the average Japanese is mind boggling. 

If you’re looking for potential clue as to why some of these artists passed at a young-ish age, look no further than the typical schedule for someone who makes a weekly manga series. This has been circulating since at least 2010 but it’s hard to think it’s changed in the time since.

A spreadsheet noting the production schedule for a weekly manga
Credit Reddit user Cardenas

Erratic sleep schedules, only time for two meals a day, and three hours in a week for time off. This also isn’t taking into account if the mangaka is collaborating on TV series, video game, or other ancillary products. It’s hard to see anyone who isn’t Oda to take a three week hiatus and keep up the pace or success of their series.

Oda himself has admitted that he only sleeps about 3 hours every night as recently as 2021. Even Rumiko Takahashi, the queen of manga and who still produces a weekly series at age 66, keeps a schedule that is shocking.  

This doesn’t take into account the number of artists alive but suffering from debilitating injuries due to brutal production schedules. Maybe the most famous modern example is Yoshihiro Togashi. The creator of YuYu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter famously takes long breaks between chapters due to debilitating back injuries. 

In the lead up to the opening of an exhibit of his art in 2022, Togashi gave the following message

“I am pleased to announce the Yoshihiro Togashi exhibit -PUZZLE-.

This was only possible thanks to the warm feelings and support of the readers. Allow me to express my sincere gratitude to you all.

That was stiff of me, huh? I think so too. You’re probably thinking, “Go draw the next chapter already.” True, I was unable to sit in a chair for two years, which made me unable to draw, but by throwing conventional methods to the wayside, I’ve been able to resume drawing somehow. Everyone, I sincerely ask you to take care of your backs and hips. Just two weeks before writing this message, I couldn’t get into position to wipe my butt and had to take a shower every time I pooped. It takes 3-5 times longer for me to do everyday movements. Your hips are important.

So if you’re at the exhibit and you happen to drop something, I recommend assuming a sumo crouching posture when you pick it up. Sincerely, Yoshihiro Togashi.”

This is the other end of the spectrum from #ComicsBrokeMe. Where American artists might scramble for job after job hoping for a publisher to pay them, these mangaka are and were wildly successful artists both in Japan and internationally. However, that comes at the cost of their physical health in an industry that demands product on even tighter deadlines than American comics along with quality control on multimedia empires.

Will the death of Akira Toriyama, especially three years after the passing of the equally beloved Kentaro Miura, bring about changes in production of weekly manga? If an artist as beloved and successful as Rumiko Takahashi still keeps a schedule as demanding of hers at her age and her success, does that set a bad precedent for younger artists? These are questions that editors at all weekly manga magazines need to ask themselves after so many high profile deaths. 

Eiichiro Oda is only 49. He’s drawn One Piece over 27 years and 108 volumes. He’s still producing manga on the same schedule with the same dedication as he did in his early twenties. If anyone has the same stature among his peers and fans as Toriyama or Miura, it’s Oda.

His break for the next three weeks is a good thing.  However, he and other artists of his stature need to find ways to make sure that they to protect not just themselves but future mangaka from the demands of success.

Shanks puts his hat on a young Buffy
Eiichiro Oda/Viz