Naoki Urasawa

Naoki Urasawa (Japanese: 浦沢 直樹, Hepburn: Urasawa Naoki, born January 2, 1960) is a Japanese manga artist and musician. He has been drawing manga since he was four years old, and for most of his career has created two series simultaneously. Urasawa has been called one of the artists that changed the history of manga and has won numerous awards, including the Shogakukan Manga Award three times, the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize twice, and the Kodansha Manga Award once. By 2016, his various works had over 126 million copies in circulation.[1]

Naoki Urasawa
Naoki Urasawa at the 2012 Japan Expo, Paris
Naoki Urasawa at the 2012 Japan Expo, Paris
BornNaoki Urasawa
浦沢 直樹
(1960-01-02) January 2, 1960 (age 60)
Fuchū, Tokyo, Japan
OccupationManga artist, musician, TV and radio presenter
EducationMeisei University
SubjectSeinen manga
Notable works20th Century Boys
Notable awardsShogakukan Manga Award (1989, 2000, 2002)
Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize (1999, 2005)
Years active1981–present

Urasawa's first major work was illustrating the action series Pineapple Army (1985–1988), which was written by Kazuya Kudo. The first serial that he wrote and illustrated himself, and his first major success, was the sports manga Yawara! (1986–1993). He then illustrated the adventure series Master Keaton (1988–1994), which was written by Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki, and created the sports manga Happy! (1993–1999). The thriller Monster (1994–2001) was his first to receive international acclaim and success, which continued with the science fiction mystery 20th Century Boys (1999–2006). Following the acclaimed Pluto (2003–2009), which is a re-imagining of Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka, one of his biggest influences, he created the mystery series Billy Bat (2008–2016). After two short series, a sequel to Master Keaton and Mujirushi: The Sign of Dreams, Urasawa began his currently ongoing Asadora! in 2018.

Early lifeEdit

Urasawa cited Osamu Tezuka as one of his heroes, being particularly fond of his manga Phoenix.[2] "The Greatest Robot on Earth" and "The Artificial Sun" arcs of Tezuka's Astro Boy were his first experiences with manga at four or five years old.[3] Around that same age is when he started to draw manga, and at eight he created his first complete story.[4] Even at a young age, Urasawa saw the gulf between his work and that of a "real manga artist." He said that he could also identify manga that was "commercialized" and made just for the money, something he did not want to do. Thus he never thought of becoming a professional manga artist, and graduated from Meisei University with a degree in economics.[4]


Debut and success: 1982–2009Edit

When Urasawa visited Shogakukan to apply for a business job, he decided to bring some manga he had drawn out of curiosity.[5] An editor from Weekly Shōnen Sunday did not give him the time of day, but the head editor of Big Comic Original happened to walk by and felt the work was better suited for Big Comic Spirits, and took Urasawa to their editorial department. He ended up submitting manga for their 1982 New Manga Artist Award, which his unpublished work "Return" won. It was only then that he thought about becoming a professional manga artist.[5]

After working as an assistant, Urasawa made his professional debut in 1983 with "Beta!" before creating the short serialized work Dancing Policeman the following year. He began his first major serialized work, Pineapple Army, in 1985 in the semimonthly Big Comic Original. He was the illustrator of the series, while Kazuya Kudo was its writer. It ended in 1988 and was collected into eight tankōbon volumes. While working on Pineapple Army, Urasawa began Yawara! in the weekly Big Comic Spirits in 1986 which he wrote and illustrated himself. It earned him the 1989 Shogakukan Manga Award in the General category.[6] That same year it was adapted into a live-action film and an anime television series. It ended in 1993 and was collected into 29 volumes.

When Pineapple Army ended, Urasawa began Master Keaton for Big Comic Original in November 1988. He illustrated it, while Hokusei Katsushika wrote it. It ended in August 1994 and was collected into 18 volumes. An anime television adaptation began in 1998, before finishing as an original video animation in 2000. Likewise when Yawara! ended, Urasawa began another solo series in Big Comic Spirits. Happy! ran from 1993 until 1999 and was collected into 23 volumes. It was adapted into two live-action television films in 2006.

Following Master Keaton's end, Urasawa began Monster in Big Comic Original in December 1994. It earned him the 1999 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize,[7] and his second Shogakukan Manga Award in the General category in 2001.[6] It ended in December 2001, was collected into 18 volumes, and adapted into an anime television series in 2004. Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, praised Monster and proclaimed "Urasawa is a national treasure in Japan."[8] With Happy!'s ending, Urasawa began 20th Century Boys in Big Comic Spirits in 1999. It earned him the 2001 Kodansha Manga Award in the General category,[9] and his third Shogakukan Manga Award in the General category in 2002.[6] It ended in 2006 and was collected into 22 volumes. The story briefly continued as 21st Century Boys in 2007, which was collected into two volumes. 20th Century Boys was adapted into three live-action films, which were released in 2008 and 2009.

While working on 20th Century Boys, Urasawa began adapting "The Greatest Robot on Earth" story arc of Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy into the series Pluto. It was serialized in Big Comic Original from September 9, 2003 to April 5, 2009 and collected into 8 volumes. It earned him his second Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize.[7] In 2008, Urasawa began working for Kodansha, serializing Billy Bat in Morning. It ran from October 16, 2008 to August 18, 2016 and was collected into 20 volumes. Also in 2008, Urasawa took a guest teaching post at Nagoya Zokei University, where he taught "Modern Expression Course: Manga Classes" two to three times a year, although the class met every month.[10] Initially planned for only five students, he agreed to expand it to fifteen in an effort to create more "real artists."[10]


Oricon held a poll on the Mangaka that Changed the History of Manga in 2010, mangaka being the Japanese word for a manga artist, and Urasawa came in tenth.[11] Urasawa created a picture book in 2011, illustrating Kosuke Hamada's story Red Oni Cries.[12]

Urasawa began writing a sequel to Master Keaton in 2012 titled Master Keaton Remaster.[13] When asked why he went back to a series after so many years, Urasawa stated it was because with the original series he had a hard time making the story he wanted due to contractual obligation, and because people affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami said they had enjoyed the series, so he wanted to do something for them.[14] Beginning in the March 2012 issue of Big Comic Original it finished in 2014 and was collected into a single volume. As a guest at the 2012 Japan Expo in France, Urasawa talked about how he entered the manga industry, gave a live drawing demonstration, and performed two songs as a musician, and joined rock band Hemenway on stage the following day.[15]

In August 2013, Urasawa created his first "monster manga" titled "Monster Kingdom", a 41-page one-shot published in Big Comic.[16] Urasawa is the host of the NHK Educational TV documentary series Urasawa Naoki no Manben (浦沢直樹の漫勉, "Naoki Urasawa's Manga Exertions"), which focuses on a different manga artist each episode and explores their individual styles. It began as a one-off special in 2014, a first season was launched in September 2015, a second in March 2016,[17] a third in September 2016,[18] and a fourth in March 2017.[19]

Urasawa created a short three-page manga about 1960s British rock band the Beatles time-traveling to 2016. Released in June 2016 on the website of Tokyo radio station InterFM897, it coincides with the TV program KKBOX Here comes The Beatles and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the band's visit to Japan.[20] On April 9, 2017, Urasawa began co-hosting a radio program with actor and comedian Junji Takada. Junji and Naoki (純次と直樹) airs Sundays at 5pm on Nippon Cultural Broadcasting and features both men talking about their lives, professions, and favorite hobbies.[21] That year Urasawa also began the limited series Mujirushi: The Sign of Dreams in a collaboration with France's Louvre Museum. It began in Big Comic Original in October 2017 and ended on February 20, 2018.[22]

In January 2018, Urasawa attended the 45th Angoulême International Comics Festival in France, where he received the Fauve Special Award and the Fauve Polar SNCF Special Award for mystery. The festival also held an art exhibit of his work, before it moved to Paris from February 13 to March 31.[23] Urasawa was the subject of the June 23 Wowow Prime TV program Nonfiction W Urasawa Naoki ~Tensai Mangaka no Owaranai Tabi~ (ノンフィクションW 浦沢直樹 ~天才漫画家の終わらない旅~), which followed him around Europe, including to the 2018 Angoulême International Comics Festival and meeting Klaus Voormann in Germany.[24] Urasawa began Asadora! in Big Comic Spirits on October 6, 2018.[25] The November 2018 issue of Monthly Big Comic Spirits, released on September 27, was given the special title "Urasawa Jack". It included Urasawa's one-shot "It's a Beautiful Day", which adapted a story told to him by musician Kenji Endo, an interview between him and Shigeru Izumiya, and a calendar featuring illustrations of "beautiful women" by the artist.[26] On December 27, Urasawa co-hosted a special radio program about Osamu Tezuka alongside Chiaki Kuriyama for Nippon Cultural Broadcasting.[27]

In 2019, he designed the official posters of the 2019 Osaka Women's Marathon and a classic car charity event organized by Toshiaki Karasawa for reconstruction after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.[28][29] On January 23, 2019, Japan House Los Angeles presented the first North American exhibit of Urasawa's work, titled "This is MANGA – the Art of NAOKI URASAWA". The exhibit ran until March 28, 2019, and featured more than 400 original drawings and storyboards. Urasawa participated in an artist discussion and book signing on opening day.[30] The exhibit moved to Japan House London from June 5 to July 28, also attended by the artist.[31] Urasawa was a 2019 nominee for entry into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame.[32]

In 2020, Urasawa drew advertisements for the Samsonite Red luggage brand,[33] and was chosen to create one of the official posters for the 2020 Summer Olympics.[34] For the second year in a row, he drew the poster for the Osaka Women's Marathon.[35] In June, Urasawa created the cover portrait for Universal Japan's 250th anniversary release of music by Ludwig van Beethoven.[36] Urasawa appears in July 2020's ZK/Zunō Keisatsu 50 Mirai e no Kodō, a documentary film about the rock band Zunō Keisatsu.[37]


An illustration by Urasawa depicting many characters from his oeuvre. Critics have praised his characters for their facial expressions and for being independently recognizable.[38][39][40][41]

Fusanosuke Natsume said that prior to entering university, Urasawa's style showed influence from Shinji Nagashima and Osamu Tezuka's 1970s work, but went on to claim that in 1979 it became aligned with that of Katsuhiro Otomo.[42] When talking in 1997 about the future of manga, Urasawa opined that "Tezuka created the form that exists today, then caricatures appeared next, and comics changed again when Katsuhiro Otomo came on the scene. I don't think there's any room left for further changes."[5] He has also expressed admiration for French bande dessinée artist Moebius and American novelist Stephen King.[43][44] Although Urasawa's works like Yawara! had light entertainment with cute young girls, Natsume says Urasawa developed his own personal style with Monster, which he described as realistic, or directorially based, with cinematic panel layouts similar to Otomo and gekiga artists. Natsume also noted that many of his characters resemble famous movie stars.[42] Urasawa himself described his approach to manga as similar to storyboarding a movie,[45] and acknowledged his work as adult-oriented, stating that even as a child he never liked manga aimed at children.[46] However, he noted that he and Otomo both prefer to have their work called manga and not gekiga.[46]

When asked where he gets ideas from, Urasawa said "I have been illustrating all my life. Inspiration is everywhere, when I get in the bath, when I get out. It's whether you are perceiving these ideas and whether you are able to catch them."[47] He also said that he does not worry about what the readers want, and simply draws stories that he finds interesting.[45] The artist said that while manga is often looked at as simple, he makes sure to use subtleties to show dramatic expressions and convey emotion, claiming "You won't find two expressions that are the same" in his work.[47]

On his storytelling process, Urasawa states, "When I start a new project, I start with the larger arc of the story. I visualize a movie trailer for that story, and after I compose this movie trailer in my mind, there comes a point where I'm so excited about it that I have to write the story. And then I imagine, 'Where do I start to begin to tell this narrative?' and that's usually the first chapter."[45] He does not plan the story out in advance, claiming that it tells him where it wants to go, and that if the story does not keep surprising even him, then he can not continue making it.[45]

He also does not determine the page or panel layouts in advance. Having drawn manga for over five decades, he just follows his instincts, explaining "When I start to structure a story narratively, the question of tempo — developing a character moment-to-moment and then jumping to a two-page spread — how do you determine where that happens? It's like breathing to me — I know when it feels right."[45]

For most of his career, Urasawa has written two different series simultaneously.[48] Urasawa frequently collaborates with manga editor and author Takashi Nagasaki, to the point where Nagasaki has been called his "producer." The two met when Nagasaki was made Urasawa's editor upon his debut. Although the two continue to collaborate even after Nagasaki became freelance, they rarely socialize outside of work.[49] With the exception of 2018's ongoing Asadora!, none of Urasawa's manga have ever been legally available in digital formats. The author stated that he prefers physical books.[50]


Urasawa performing live at the 2012 Japan Expo.

Urasawa is also a musician. He stated "A lot of artists really struggled to decide whether to become manga artists or rock musicians, so the two are intertwined, they're synonymous!"[46] Urasawa started playing guitar in junior high school inspired by folk rock singer-songwriters Takuro Yoshida and Bob Dylan.[51]

Under the stage name "Bob Lennon", he wrote and performed the song "Kenji no Uta" ("Kenji's Song)", which was released on a CD included in the 2002 first pressing of volume 11 of 20th Century Boys.[52] He released his debut single "Tsuki ga Tottemo..." (月がとっても…) on June 4, 2008,[52] and his debut album Hanseiki no Otoko (半世紀の男, "Half Century Man") in 2009. In 2012 he performed a Japanese cover of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country" and "Guta lala suda lala" from his series 20th Century Boys at the Japan Expo, and the following day he joined rock band Hemenway on stage.[15]

Urasawa's second album, Mannon (漫音) which he wrote and produced himself, was released in 2016.[51] Urasawa wrote a demo for a song titled "Kanashiki LA Tengoku" (悲しきLA天国) and sent it to musician Mike Viola, who finished the track and invited Urasawa to Los Angeles to play on it. The people playing on the song are Urasawa, Viola, drummer Jim Keltner, and Mitsuru Kuramoto. It is included on the album The Best of Mike Viola which was released on January 22, 2020 with the performance credited to Monaka.[53] In 2020, Urasawa was one of many people who submitted lyrics that were adopted by Sunplaza Nakano-kun into a new version of Bakufu Slump's 1984 song "Murida! Ketteihan" (無理だ!決定盤).[54]



  • Pineapple Army (パイナップルARMY, 1985–1988) - written by Kazuya Kudo
  • Yawara! (ヤワラ, Yawara, 1986–1993)
  • Master Keaton (MASTERキートン, Masutā Kīton, 1988–1994) - written with Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki
  • Happy! (1993–1999)
  • Monster (モンスター, Monsutā, 1994–2001)
  • 20th Century Boys (20世紀少年) / 21st Century Boys (21世紀少年) (1999–2006, 2007)
  • Pluto (プルートウ, Purūtō, 2003–2009) - written with Takashi Nagasaki, based on a work by Osamu Tezuka
  • Billy Bat (ビリーバット, Birī Batto, 2008–2016) - written with Takashi Nagasaki
  • Master Keaton Remaster (MASTERキートン Reマスター, Masutā Kīton Rimasutā, 2012–2014) - written with Takashi Nagasaki
  • Mujirushi: The Sign of Dreams (夢印-MUJIRUSHI-, 2017–2018)
  • Asadora! (連続漫画小説 あさドラ!, Renzoku Manga Shōsetsu Asadora!, "Serial Manga Novel Asadora!", 2018–present)

Other workEdit

  • "Swimmers" (1979) - Unpublished until the May 13, 2003 issue of Evening.
  • "Return" (1981)
  • "Beta!!" (1983)
  • Dancing Policeman (踊る警官, Odoru Keikan, 1984)
  • N・A・S・A (1988)
  • Jigoro! (1994)
  • Early Urasawa (初期のURASAWA, Shoki no Urasawa, 2000)
  • Another Monster (2002) - novel written with Takashi Nagasaki
  • Pleasure! (2003) - album cover for Domino88
  • "Tsuki ni Mukatte Nagero!" (月に向かって投げろ!, 2006) - written with Takashi Nagasaki
  • Wakui Sings Dylan (ディランを唄う, Diran o Utau, 2007) - album cover for Koji Wakui
  • Talkin' About Bob Dylan (ディランを語ろう, Diran o Katarō, 2007) - book written with Koji Wakui, includes the manga "Bob Dylan's Great Adventure" (ボブ・ディランの大冒険, Bobu Diran no Dai Bōken)
  • Manben (漫勉, 2008) - art book
  • All Time Best Tensai ka Jinsai ka (ALL TIME BEST 天才か人災か, 2010) - album cover for Shigeru Izumiya
  • The Tibetan Dog (2011) - initial character designs
  • "Monster Kingdom" (怪獣王国, Kaijū Ōkoku, 2013)
  • "Be Hero" (2014) - single cover for Fudanjuku
  • Urasawa Naoki Egaite Egaite Kaki Makuru (浦沢直樹 描いて描いて描きまくる, 2016) - guidebook
  • "Damiyan!" (ダミヤン, 2016)
  • "It's a Beautiful Day" (いっつあびゅうてぃふるでい, 2018) - original draft by musician Kenji Endo
  • Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection (くしゃみ 浦沢直樹短編集, Kushami Urasawa Naoki Tanhenshū, 2019)



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Further readingEdit

  • James Dorsey. "Urasawa Naoki's Twentieth Century Boys: Autobiographical Manga for Japan’s Children of the 60s,” in Michael A. Chaney, ed., Graphic Subjects: Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), pp. 117~120.

External linksEdit