5) Tetsuo Hara
"You are already dead!"
Chances are, if you're a well-versed nerd, you know where that line comes from. In 1983, a 20-something Tetsuo Hara turned the otherwise lighthearted and escapist Weekly Shonen Jump into a scary, desolate, superviolent wasteland, where mountainous mutant humans in Mad Max outfits are felled in spectacularly bloody ways by Kenshiro, the last beacon of truth and justice in this ruined world. Fist of the North Star only ran for about six years, but that obviously led to an array of popular animated series, a major motion picture put out by Streamline in the '90s that kids like me snuck past their parents at Blockbuster Video, direct-to-video sequels, and all that jazz.
Tetsuo Hara is still cranking out weekly comics after all these years; since 2001, Hara has been hard at work on a Fist of the North Star prequel, called Fist of the Blue Sky. The rub? Well, nearly 30 solid years of writing weekly comics surely has its downsides, and Hara suffers from a degenerative eye disease known as keratoconus, leaving him blind in one eye. Still, in true badass fashion, rather than surrender his work to assistants, Hara continues drawing nearly every scene himself.
Of course, his assistants always have to clean up his drawings to make up for errors in perspective caused by his one-eye blindness, but God bless the bastard for the temerity to keep cranking out his violent kung-fu comics.
4) Go Nagai
Yet another Certified Manga Badass, Go Nagai has been instrumental in developing and popularizing a ton of genres that are now synonymous with anime and manga: giant robots (Mazinger Z), ultraviolence (Violence Jack), transforming naked magical girls (Cutey Honey), and of course, sideburns.
Unlike Tetsuo Hara, though, Go Nagai's health issues started quite early in his career, as he was studying hard in school and dabbling in manga in his free time. After contracting colitis, Nagai, fearing his mortality, took it upon himself to make the most of whatever life he had left. He promptly quit school and devoted himself to manga full-time, drifting around in various states of unemployment and bankruptcy until he was picked up by the manga magazine Shonen Sunday, having caught the eye of Gigantor creator Shotaro Ishinomori.
That was in 1967; in 2013, Go Nagai is still kickin', content to relax and enjoy his long life of voluminous output and casually show up randomly in live-action productions for varying reasons. Praise the lord for Go Nagai's early butt disease, for it gave us all the chance to experience his insane and ridiculous things.
3) Tomoko Ninomiya
Moving on from the deliberate excess of crassness of Go Nagai, here we have the delicate, layered work of Tomoko Ninomiya. Her manga Nodame Cantabile is a charming-as-all-Hell slice of life drama about two aspiring classical musicians, and their lives and loves and hopes and dreams are splayed out for all of us to devour. It's won the prestigious Kodansha Manga Award and is a perennial example of how comics can appeal to all ages and genders.
Course, the big joke for anyone who either writes or draws for a living is that we're soon going to painfully suffer from severe Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Fortunately for me, jerks, I've been writing for over ten years and my wrists are as good as ever! Hah! Unfortunately for Ninomiya, that's exactly what happened; around the time that she was pregnant with her first child, she announced that Nodame Cantabile was taking a break because, y'know, not only was she having a baby, also her wrists were probably about to shatter and collapse into cartoonish dust.
Once her leave of absence resulted in a healthy baby and a fully recovered wrist, in 2009, Ninomiya was hospitalized due to "acute appendicitis." Yipes.
2) Ai Yazawa
If there's any through-line that connects all these stories of death and misery, it's this: not even a serious illness will keep a devoted manga artist down. Come Hell or High Water, they'll keep drawing and working and writing with pen in hand until the bitter end!
Well, not always. Take Ai Yazawa: fashion school dropout and shoujo ("girls") manga extraordinaire. Though she'd been a published manga artist since the mid-'80s, in 2000, Yazawa started work on two differing series that would drastically add an edgy element of sex, danger, and elegance to the shoujo genre - Paradise Kiss, and NANA. Paradise Kiss ran for five volumes, while NANA topped out on 21 volumes in 2009, although the story is still - infuriatingly - unfinished.
And that's because Ai Yazawa suffered from an "unspecified illness" in June of that year, and was hospitalized until April 2010. That's almost an entire dang year of being in the hospital. Yeesh, what happened?
Who knows, but we do know that Yazawa has gone on record stating that she has "not gripped a pen" since her illness. That attitude, plus the complete secrecy about the nature of her illness, has been driving her ardent fans batshit crazy for a solid three years now, and thus far, not a peep has been made either by Yazawa or her publisher regarding the fate of NANA. Time to move on, folks.
1) Eiichiro Oda
If you wanted to make a pissing contest out of global popularity, you'd have a hard time measuring the massive global success of One Piece against nearly every other contemporaneous comic series around the world. Monkey D. Luffy and his Straw Hat Crew currently make billions of dollars in merchandise, their yearly movies regularly top the Japanese box office, theme park attractions are packed to the gills, and every one of its 70 volumes (!!!!!) has sold bajillions of copies.
Still, in the midst of all this success, creator Eiichiro Oda is finally willing to take a break. Or, rather, he had to, because of complications from tonsillitis, which afforded him the luxury of a fortnight of solitude while recovering from a peritonsillar abscess. If anybody deserves a break, it's Oda.
Course, the rumor mill going around is that Oda still can't quite give up the urge to draw, even in a hospital bed. Jesus Christ, manga artists. Relax, you're gonna give yourselves a heart attack! I mean, moreso.
Previously by Brian Hanson: