Content Warning: the following article contains statements about a possible suicide.

The mangaka Hinako Ashihara, the pen name for Ritsuko Matsumoto, was found dead on Monday in a suspected suicide. They were reported missing on Sunday, and their body was found in Tochigi prefecture the next day.  The artist recently turned 50.

Ashihara was one of the more successful shōjo and josei mangaka of her generation. Her manga was published internationally and was adapted for television.  Her career began in 1994 with the short story “That Sweet Organ Song” in the anthology Bessatsu Shōjo Comic. She was a regular contributor to that magazine, a home to artists such as Moto Haigo (The Poe Clan), Akimi Yoshida (Banana Fish), and Miki Aihara (Hot Gimmick), with short stories and longer series throughout her career. 

Hinako Ashihara/Viz Media

North American audiences are probably most familiar with her series Sand Chronicles, published by Viz (currently available on the Viz app), and Forbidden Dance, which Tokyopop published in 2003-2004. Viz also published a collection short stories SOS, which included her debut, in 2003. She won the prestigious Shogakukan Manga Award for Shōjo twice in her career; the first time for Sand Chronicles and the second time with Piece: Kanojo no Kioku. Her most recent manga was Sexy Tanaka-san, a romantic comedy centered around belly dancing.

NTV/Hinako Ashihara

Both Piece: Kanojo no Kioku and Sexy Tanaka-san were adapted for television. The latter was the subject of some controversy last week when Hinako Ashihara herself shared details of the production on her blog. Ashihara agreed to an adaptation on the conditions the series be faithful to the manga and they use an ending for the series she provided them (the series was still going at the time of production). According to her, the scripts simplified the plots and diluted characters. She repeatedly asked for revisions to protect what made the characters and the story so unique. Her frustrations with adaptation grew to the point that she ended up writing the final two episodes herself. While she expressed her frustrations with the production on her blog, she did thank the cast and production staff for their work.

Hinako Ashihara

Though her work might be under recognized in the English speaking world, Ashihara still cultivated a loyal following at home and abroad. Her series were full of characters with rich interior lives and those lives drove the stories she told. The women in her stories were complex individuals who never fell into cliches. They always struggled with messy emotions and self confidence. 

Hinako Ashihara/Viz Media

As an artist, Ashihara made her comics look effortless. Those messy emotions that she was so fond of in her characters? She could expertly convey those in her art through mastery of body language and facial expressions. She always experimented with her page compositions so that they added to the emotions expressed in conversations between characters. Her linework favored a less is more approach. She could do more with few lines and large white spaces on a page than some artists do with piles of details. 

The loss of Hinako Ashihara is one that will be keenly felt not just by family but the countless fans of her work around the world. She was artist dedicated to her craft. She also fought for the integrity of her work in other mediums. What is now her final work, Sexy Tanaka-San, remains unfinished at the time of her death.


Editors at Shogoakukan have released a statement on Ashihara’s passing. The statement is in Japanese. Their statement goes into detail on protecting artist’s moral rights and why they took so long to respond. Weekly Shougakukan Edition, a reliable fan account, brought attention to the update and translated relevant parts of the message on both X and BlueSky. They also included a link to the original post (which is in Japanese). Read their translations below. 

If you or anyone you know is suicidal or has suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by calling 988 in the US. The Crisis Text Line, a texting service for emotional crisis support, can be reached by texting HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential. A list of international resources can be found here.