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General Manga writer discussions / An Essay On Power Fantasy Stories
« on: November 28, 2021, 12:10:00 PM »

So last weekend I watched Gigguk’s video on the manhwa “Solo Leveling”, and ended up binge reading all of it in one sitting. That said, I don’t think I enjoyed it nearly as much as he did… But, it got me thinking about other power fantasy series - One-Punch Man, Noblesse, and Overlord - which I have now caught up on also. I have thoughts about writing in this particular sub-genre, if you’ll permit me to share.

You’ll notice that, compared to other super-powered fantasy stories such as Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Fairy Tail yada yada yada… the series that I previously listed all have one thing in common, and that is a protagonist that is in another stratosphere of power compared to every other character (Noblesse maybe less so, but still…). To summarise each: Overlord’s Ainz is isekai’d to a fantasy world with all of the power from being a top player in what sounds like a pay-to-win game; Noblesse’s Raizel is the bedtime story that keeps the vampires in check; Solo Leveling’s Sung Jin-Woo can level up infinitely into a K-Pop super-star-esque adventuring god in a world where everyone else has been given a fixed level; and One-Punch Man’s Saitama… well he just did a normal workout routine until he could win every super-powered fight with one punch. So that’s the meta-concept at play here, one that I think has its own unique challenges that I will hopefully discuss in a bit.

(To quickly address the elephant in the room… There is actually one major mechanical difference between Solo leveling and the other three series: Sung Jin-Woo’s power progresses. Now, this is technically true, to an extent, but it really isn’t too long before his power reaches a level that surpasses all others and his further growth becomes somewhat meaningless.)

The main reason Solo Leveling got me thinking, whereas the other series didn’t, was because, outside of some surface level spectacle, I really haven’t been all that interested/impressed by it. It wasn’t bad enough for me to put down, but it wasn’t hugely compelling either - although it had its moments here and there. But I read something like 174 chapters and I had to go and look up the main character’s name to write this piece, which I think says something about my level of emotional investment… So what is the difference between this series and the others, and what lessons can I extract?

Firstly, I want to touch on where I manage to derive enjoyment from these kind of power fantasy stories. It’s easy to think/compare them to the power-fantasy aRPG’s that I enjoy playing (especially with the gamified settings of Solo Leveling and Overlord), where I hack’n’slash my way through hordes of enemies and power up my character to do so with greater ease and cooler abilities, and climb to higher levels of challenge or previously inaccessible content. Focusing on Solo Leveling, the series features pretty much all of these elements, but on reflection I really didn’t get the same feeling of enjoyment from them at all… This is for two reasons that I can see: 1. The reader lacks the agency that a video-game player has in participating with this progression of power; and 2. I just wasn’t that invested in the world of Solo Leveling to care about the abilities or the items and the power increases that came with them. There is no RPG here, just action. No, my moments of enjoyment were much more discrete in Solo Leveling, although they are moments that all of these series shared: Mainly 1. The satisfaction when the protagonist finally reveals their power level to everyone in the scenario, after they have been sorely underestimated; and minorly 2. The set-piece moments of artwork that just show off a really cool still image (usually when they use the whole anime neon white eyes with those wispy glowing trails and the looming silhouette etc). The reveal moments are the real gold here though. They are the satisfying release after building tensions from everyone else underestimating the protagonist. But while those tensions build, the reader is also being empowered in a way that feels good (possibly like a stand-in for the agency video games can give) because they know the relative strength of the protagonist and the other characters don’t. It’s about basking in the inevitability. Basically, readers become the cheerleaders for that one sports team in the league that always wins every game, and you feel sorry for the challengers who think they have a chance…

This cycle of minor deception and reveals seems to remain fairly satisfying as a plot function, so long as the story or context for each cycle is varied and interesting. Unfortunately, this is not a strength of Solo Leveling for me. At best it’s a story concept that an edgy high-schooler could come up with, with very basic plots and themes that aren’t really explored at all, and a main character that is basically the Korean Superman, who is able to right pretty much every wrong in the world… On top of this, the cycles of satisfaction get fewer and farther between because he becomes world famous so can’t really hide his strength to be underestimated. It really doesn’t hold a candle to the comedic and deconstructionist themes and scenarios of One-Punch Man, the much more deep and interpersonal plots of Noblesse, or even the political and dungeon-keeper plots in the mess of storytelling that is the Overlord manga. This highlights the core of the issue for me… How interesting can things really be if the protagonist winning is a foregone conclusion, AND when they won’t even have to struggle to win? Well, my personal answer to that is: innately, not very… This means that everything surrounding and framing the protagonist’s inevitable, effortless victory has to be much more engaging and interesting to make up the difference.

It is here that I want to move on to another major short-coming of Solo Leveling when compared to the other series I have mentioned: the supporting/side characters. And yes, I realize the irony about complaining about this in a series called SOLO leveling… The thing is, every other series is so much better for having characters that not only have more personality, but are also powerful enough to have to hold their own and participate in the context of the story. In fact, often-times the side characters become the main focus of these other stories and the main protagonist basically just makes a cameo, providing some variety in powers, plots, themes and scenarios that can be explored. Conversely, in Solo Leveling, the power levels of Sung Jin-Woo AND the enemies of the story so quickly outclass the S-Rank and even some of the National-Rank hunters that it ends up feeling awfully pointless and boring to even give anyone any page time at all, because their actions will have absolutely no impact whatsoever (I felt similarly about the school-kids in Noblesse, who were kept around in the main narrative of the story way past their usefulness and welcome...). Solo Leveling treats all of its side characters as measuring sticks for the protagonist, whereby they beat certain monsters to show off their strength but then immediately get bested by the next monster to show its equivalent strength to make it look more impressive when Sung Jin-Woo beats it. But when Sung Jin-Woo has the power of a god that completely dwarfs that strength anyway, who really cares about the strength of the monster, or the side character, or the previous monsters, or the lower-rank hunters anyway - you aren’t really measuring anything with them anymore because they aren’t a useful scale.

This side character issue is exacerbated by something else I have a gripe with in Solo Leveling; Sung Jin-Woo’s secret “Necromancer Class” abilities… Despite initially being cool (albeit cringe-inducingly edgy…) and actually being at least fairly intelligently used by Sung Jin-Woo in the story, they develop to not only 1. Invalidate the participation and development of interesting side characters by giving him a loyal army, but 2. They partially invalidate Sung Jin-Woo’s own initial character development and detract from his agency as a character having to engage with situations in the story. The boss monsters he turns into his minions basically become side character stand-ins without the requirement for actual character development and as much dialogue, and then their power makes it feel as though Sung Jin-Woo is not actually using his own power to overcome challenges anymore (he does, but it feels like the minions lessen his engagement), which detracts from the power fantasy. I would actually have less of a problem with the latter point if Sung Jin-Woo had immediately reawakened into the Necromancer class and not gotten me as the reader invested in him developing as a Rogue/Assassin type character for ages beforehand, as to me it felt like there was a disconnect between the new class and the old. I actually enjoyed the fact that him gearing up felt meaningful and that he was the one that had to fight and unlock the potential of his current skills and learn new abilities from extracting those cores etc. Getting the Necromancer class doesn’t feel like it was a natural career progression option like you’d see in a final fantasy or fire emblem game, but I don’t even mind the fact that he was gifted a secret class - it’s that it doesn’t feel like complementary multi-classing and build-craft. He doesn’t feel like a Shadow Assassin or Nightblade or a Wraith/Spectre, he feels like a Rogue and a Necromancer, and that feels like wasted potential…

I have other minor gripes, but I think I’m going to leave it there for now, because I want to just highlight my take-aways from all of this. To Summarize:
1. The most enjoyable thing about power fantasy stories seems to be the cycle of hiding the protagonist power level and then revealing it at the best possible time in the most effective way.
2. The story itself still needs to be compelling to facilitate repeating the cycle.
3. It is important that side characters still feel competent, well developed and relevant in the story being told, so that they can participate and be engaging, even if they are just measuring sticks for the main protagonist.
4. Power development isn’t necessary for the main protagonist, but if you choose to do so then make sure that it is cohesive and doesn’t cause further problems.

I hope people found this interesting and maybe worth discussing. Maybe you strongly disagree or believe I'm analyzing too much about a sub-genre that just shouldn't be thought so hard about. Maybe you have your own thoughts and ideas that you would like to share in response. Please feel free to share :)

Anime Talk / Re: Which Anime series you are watching ?
« on: November 21, 2021, 05:30:49 PM »
Technically not an anime, but "Arcane" on Netflix was fantastic. It was always going to be interesting for me to see the lore for these LoL characters that I've known for years being expanded upon, but honestly I was blown away by the intensity and maturity of some of the writing and themes explored here, especially in the final 3 episodes. And of course, I found the art and animation to be stunning throughout. Honestly, makes me really excited for if Riot ever end up releasing this Runeterra MMORPG.

General Manga writer discussions / Re: Dune... confused me...
« on: November 21, 2021, 05:24:06 PM »
Just to complete this story; a couple of weeks ago I went to see Dune Part 1 at the cinema with my brother, and I wanted to sit on it a little while to formulate my thoughts. I obviously have read the series, whereas my brother has not, so we had two perspectives going in knowledge-wise.

I thought it was very good and definitely the best adaptation to date. But from what I can tell from talking to others and listening to discussions online, if you have not read the books then there is about a 50/50 chance that you'll enjoy the film. My brother definitely did - he did really well at picking up on the themes, and just enjoyed the Sci-Fi universe that he was presented with through great visuals and costumes, generally great acting and casting, and Zimmer going absolutely ham with the soundtrack. Others, though, struggled with just being dropped in at the deep-end with the worldbuilding, or just found it boring. Prior knowledge definitely helps so you can just sit back and enjoy seeing everything being brought to life on the screen. There is a reason the book had a glossary in it, and they should've probably printed it and handed it out with tickets for newcomers to Dune!

For me, I really hope that there is a 5 hour long, Lord of the Rings-esque, directors cut of this first part, and the same for the second. It tells the story of about the first half of the Dune book, but adapts about half of the material. They were intelligent about what they cut and what they chose to show, and very good at adapting a book that is very heavy on cerebral monologues into a visual medium, but I honestly think that there is a significant amount of depth and richness in those missing parts. Also the more overt politicking that they cut out (Yue, Thufir Hawat, the dinner party with the other Houses) may have made up for the lack of action in this first part. I didn't know that it was a two-part film (although they didn't know if they were approved to make part 2 yet either...), so wasn't expecting it to just end when it did... That said, I was just relieved that they didn't try to cram and rush it all in one film. My major gripes were: 1. The music was waaaaaaay to loud at points, especially during the Gom Jabbar scene when it completely drowned out Jessica reciting the litany against fear; and 2. Zendaya's performance as Chani - she is either just not a good actress, or she was putting in noticeably lower effort than the rest of the cast...

Overall though, I think it was a good film, that will only improve when the second is shot and released. I was hoping to be able to recommend it to people over reading the book, because of how just obtuse the writing style is, but I'm still kind of on the fence still.

General Discussion / Re: How To Get Started As A Manga Artist
« on: November 14, 2021, 05:39:40 PM »
Self publishing literature and comics seems to be a lot more accessible nowadays - webtoons and even Amazon offer these services fairly openly. For new creators, I imagine that successfully self-publishing and generating engagement in your work will probably become a requirement for even getting picked up by traditional publishers outside of Japan (inside Japan is it's own story as always...). Anyways, if you get a piece of work done and are serious about publishing it, then this is all to say that this shouldn't be as much of a hurdle any more... the real challenge is self-marketing and driving engagement.

As for the work-ethic side of your post, I think others have already offered decent advice. But, from me: if you are struggling to focus on a single project at a time and cannot force it, then, as an alternative to creating shorts (only if that's not what you want to do) you can actually try just write/draw everything! Get it all out of your head and onto a page, then find a way to organize it later. This allows you the freedom to just create what is in your head freely without worrying about chronology or plot holes or other usual sticking points that prevent progress. Then you may find that, after working on them separately, a few of your disparate ideas can be ordered or brought together into one longer piece. I often find that if I have competing ideas taking up my mental space/energy I end up doing nothing productive with any of them. So I write out summaries/do research until I've satisfied all the itches and can just focus on the project I am currently working on.

Welcome Center / Re: HI TO ALL!!
« on: November 11, 2021, 08:30:35 AM »
Hey, welcome to MangaRaiders David :)

I look forward to reading some of your stories and I hope that you can find an artist to make friends and collaborate with.

Develop Your Story / Re: CAIRLANN - Coming Soon
« on: November 09, 2021, 01:49:22 PM »
Yo Op!

So I finally got around to reading and commenting on more of your story here. I have focused on the first 7 chapters (8 seemed like it isn't finished yet?) and it seems that The Battle of Garagil Pass is its own thing, so I'll get to that another time.

You can read my feedback here if you are interested.

I must say, reading your story has given me an itch to go back to my more Nordic inspired project... but I left it in such a disastrous state I don't know if I can face it :push:

Welcome Center / Re: Heyy!
« on: November 08, 2021, 07:02:00 PM »
Welcome Luna :)

You sound very artistically talented! And turning live action into anime is a relatively fresh angle that sounds like fun. What do you find to be the major differences and challenges going in that direction??

Manga Art Gallery / Re: Echo Archives
« on: November 08, 2021, 06:30:14 AM »
Good luck with NaNoWriMo!

Very cool results from these drawing projects you’ve done, and very inspiring! It’s actually got me wondering do you use your doodles and prompted drawings to inform and shape your story writing around, or do you tend to start from a story concept before the art? It’s actually been fairly difficult for me to write for my graphic novel story and I think it may be because I lack the concept art/visual storyboard element when I’m writing.

Anyways, pretty sure Day 1’s song is “Wrong Side of Heaven” by Five Finger Death Punch… not too sure about the others… if the same person suggested a song for Day 4 it could be an old song from Story of the Year??

Excited to see more from you as always :)

Video / PC Games / Re: What video games are you playing at the moment?
« on: November 03, 2021, 04:32:18 PM »
Currently, finally, FINALLY, after 14 YEARS of wishing for a sequel!!!, playing through NEO: The Wold Ends With You!

After 36 hours of playtime I am 50% of the way through the total missions, and averaging just under 50% of the total collectables, enemy notes and achievements (but this is basically 90% of what's actually been available to me to get so far).

I was worried that this wouldn't live up to its predecessor, and also copy some aspects of the more modern popular JRPG games that I don't enjoy, but honestly I'm having a blast! It's actually very faithful to the feel of the original game in almost everything, so much so that I feel a huge wave of nostalgia every time I'm playing.

The only thing that is significantly different is combat gameplay (which is to be expected considering the drastic change in hardware and control scheme) - I will warn you, the button mashing is near carpal tunnel inducing... but the combat has been very satisfying and still captures a decent amount of the creativity and style from the first game. Difficulty can be tweaked quite a lot on the player's end to go after experience and reward boosts. I found Easy and Normal too easy so am playing through everything on Hard until I unlock Ultimate, but certain reward drops are locked to each specific difficulty tier so you have to fight everything on every difficulty mode anyway (which is fun in its own way when you go back to easy with strong powers and basically feel like a god!).

The storytelling is not overly childish like I felt in Persona 5 and the recent Fire Emblem, and thankfully the social aspect of the game isn't some jarring schoolkid and creepy romance simulator - it's a cool take on a skill tree that ties together small side missions with the ever awesome shopping system and functionality of the main game. The characters are all pretty enjoyable and well written so far, with a couple of surprises that have definitely had me grinning. On top of this, the english voice acting has been so good that I haven't felt the need to change over to Japanese to prevent my brain flowing out my ears. The soundtrack is pretty good too, but the tracks are unlocks from record shops so the starting pool is limited and will repeat a lot - enjoyable music though.

Overall, I'm super happy with NEO so far and hope that I continue to enjoy myself right through to the end. Hopefully I can 100% this one too!

Manga Creations / Re: A Deadman's Search For Redemption
« on: November 03, 2021, 03:51:33 PM »
You got right to it in sharing a story - awesome!

I too enjoy the combination of fantasy with piracy as a setting, and I really like the idea of a mimic being the ship. However, this immediately brought up a point of confusion for me in your first chapter...: If Belephore is with Dorian in the bar then wouldn't that mean that there is actually no ship for the supplies to be delivered to, or for them to pay a docking fee for?? (If this was an oversight then perhaps the altercation can be over the mysterious disappearance of his ship from the dock and requiring to keep the empty space clear, and the upsetting rumours about Dorian bringing a monster to town?)

My personal feeling is that Dorian's backstory, regarding his confrontation with his captain and subsequent trial, needs a little more work to be convincing. Why does he care about "monsters" when other people don't, and why does he care so much as to be so actively defiant over it? Just pointing to his upbringing of "honour" and "comradery" seems a little weak... Solutions to this could involve something like a teenage love interest with a more humanoid monster, members of his father's crew being monsters that helped to raise him, or maybe his father was actively working to abolish monster slave trade as part of the military that was actually corrupt behind his back.

This actually leads into my second point - who exactly is making sure that the trial was rigged against Dorian, and why would they bother? It can be good to be quite focused in scope at the start of your story, but at the moment the backstory leaves things a bit vague and nebulous. If it were me, I would have the Govenor be corrupt and invested in the monster slave trade, enlisting several military captains to help run his operations, and then orchestrating Dorian ending up on the slave transport ship where an altercation was likely to occur, so that he would have an excuse to remove Dorian's father's military faction that is obstructing his schemes. This way there would be a very clear logical line that Dorian can follow on his trail of revenge (Dorian and the readers don't have to know this backstory until it plays out obviously).

My favourite pirate revenge story is currently Black Sails, so looking forward to how this turns out in comparison! Good luck!

Welcome Center / Re: Hello Everyone
« on: November 03, 2021, 03:18:00 PM »
Welcome to MangaRaiders :)

Always great to have another TTRPG fan on the forum! My mates and I were looking at starting a Starfinder Game when we wrap up our current D&D 5e campaign, but I think we ended up settling on Warhammer Fantasy 4e instead...

Also what are your favourite boardgames?? I'm always looking for recommendations (my new favourite is Escape The Dark Sector).

Manga Creations / Re: MR War Arc: MR Sentai Revival!
« on: October 27, 2021, 06:55:21 PM »
Thanks as always, will get started on with writing the final chapter and epilogue next week I think. Feels very satisfying to be completing projects, even more so to a standard that I am fairly proud of (even if it's essentially just Power Rangers fan fiction...  :sure:)

Music / Re: What are you listening to
« on: October 25, 2021, 10:14:06 AM »
Yo! Been a couple of weeks since I've shared my music listening, and we've gotten a few new releases that I've been very excited for:

Twelve Foot Ninja - "Vengeance":
What a fun band. And what wacky music videos! Continuing on their insane ability to fuse reggae, funk and latin influenced sections into a prog-metal backdrop, Vengeance also sees them take these back to the 80s, and puts a large focus on what I think are a vatiety of other music styles from the same era - e.g. darkwave and pop-ballads. Most of the time it works really well - Start the Fire is perhaps my new favourite TFN song and they go super hard on Culture War in a way remeniscent of Sikth. There was very little I didn't enjoy about the album - only a couple of tracks didn't really interest me (Gone and Dead End), but because of the stylistic variety others may get more out of them.

Gemini Syndrome - "3rd Degree - The Raising":
I had completely forgotten about GS over the years (in the same way I tend to do for no good reason with similar sounding bands that straddle the alternative metal/radio hard rock sound - Sevendust, Red, even Breaking Benjamin...). But I was pretty impressed by the singles that this band put out earlier in the year. Instrumentally not super special, but solid, and I found that there are some cool rhythmic choices in the very strong vocals that carry over that alternative metal influence in a way that I enjoy listening to. Unfortunately, for me the album drops off fairly quickly with a greater focus on more tepid radio rock and a lack of dynamism within the songs. The penultimate song Where We Started From clawed it back a bit, but a bit too little too late for me sadly. But if you are into bands like modern Three Days Grace then this might be a good album for you.

Ice Nine Kills - "Welcome To Horrorwood: The Silver Scream 2":
INK are a band that divide metalheads... They are a bit like a heavy version of old Panic! At the Disco - Theatrical styled alternative music, but with breakdowns this time instead of electronica. They return to more horror films on this album, and musically it's pretty enjoyable stuff if you don't mind this style. They undeniably know how to write catchy songs, and they can definitely get heavy too. Something that kind of gets lost along the way, however, is the horror... While the songs are enjoyable and fun, they are lyrically kind of surface level takes on the films that inspire them and really don't delve too deep into the themes, nor try to recreate the horror atmosphere - with the exception of maybe Funeral Derangements, inspired by Pet Sematary. For me it doesn't make the music bad, it just comes across like more of a musical theatre album than a horror music album - so you have to decide if that's enough for you too.

Every Time I Die - "Radical":
The kings of southern-style hardcore return with a new rip-roaring album bursting with nihilsm and attitude. It is intense and in your face from the get go, and while the vitriol is fun in a cathartic kind of way, it's actually the less heavy tracks on the album that stand out to me: Post-Boredom is super catchy and fun; and Thing with Feathers has wonderful crooning vocals that are equally emotive as the poisonous screams elsewhere. You can just feel everything in ETID's music. The instrumentals in every song make me want to move, and the vocals are just so expressive and emotive that they drag me into them. This is definitely an album of the year contender for me.

More new albums that I haven't gotten around to listening to enough yet:
Biffy Clyro - "The Myth of Happily Ever After"
Don Broco - "Amazing Things"
Unto Others - "Strength"
Starset - "Horizons"
Prisma - "Gold"
The Agonist - "Remnants in Time"

Manga Art Gallery / Re: Echo Archives
« on: October 23, 2021, 09:16:55 AM »
Oh yeah :party: another Echo Inktober! Cute slimes and spirits!

Manga Art Gallery / Re: Robin's Art
« on: October 23, 2021, 09:14:51 AM »
Ah congrats on graduating and on joining Libertades! Good luck with the webcomics!

If I ever remember to check the discord I will catch up with you on there :)

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