Finding Manga Story Ideas
Finding ideas for a manga story (or a book, movie…) can seem complicated when you are not used to it. But I will show you a 4 steps method that will guide you in the process. With a bit of practice, this method will allow you finding more ideas than you can handle.
Facts about finding ideas
First, some facts and misconceptions about getting ideas:
- Everyone can get ideas,
- And it is rare for a good idea to come out of the blue.
A good idea is generally the result of a long thought process triggered by the willingness to find an idea. You will not find ideas if you don’t intentionally want to find one.
By willing to find an idea, your brain will start the work and will come with something. That something most probably will not be good, or not make sense, or be déjà-vu.
Many will stop here thinking they are not got at finding ideas, but this is where the real process starts. You have to build on that first idea that might look like nothing good, and reshape and refine it.
By keeping at the process, your brain will continue the job. You will think about it, dream about it, even perhaps discuss about it… Slowly it will grow and evolve. You will start to add new features, to remove the ones you don’t like. New elements will come to add totally new facets to your idea.
And you will see suddenly that after some time you will have something you start to like. Something that makes you feel that this could be something good.
4 steps to finding a story idea
As described above, the approach I propose contains 4 steps:
- Frame your idea – First, you need to have an indication of where you want to go, what you want to achieve.
- Get inspiration – Once you have the frame, you have to look for references (manga, movies, books…) that you think match this frame, or that you would like to fit in, and identify the points you like, and the points you dislike about these references.
- Shape your idea – Next step is to build concrete ideas from the points you have identified during the inspiration phase. It is like creating a sentence from a set of words. Some will not make sense, others will do.
- Give it time and fine-tune it – Now that you have the base for some ideas, you can rework them, refine them, and select the one you like the most.
Let’s have a mode detailed look at these 3 steps.
Framing you idea
The first step in finding an idea is to get a clue of where do you want to go with your manga.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to guide you in this step:
- Fiction or non-fiction – Do you want to invent something? Or to relate some personal events, events you have seen or events you have been told?
- Things you like – Doing sports? Listening to music? Playing video games? Hanging out with friends? …
- The genre of manga you want to make – Do you want to build a fantasy adventure? A love story? A spy story? …
- Messages – What do you want your readers to learn or discover when reading your story?
Having a direction will guide you in the next stage which will consist in looking for inspiration.
Let’s say for instance we would like to create an “adventure set in our present world”.
I took something simple and fuzzy to show the process, but of course you can start with a more refined direction.
Now that we have a direction, we will look for some sources of inspiration.
Looking for sources of inspiration is simply looking for references in manga, books, movies, video games, stories or events you have read, watched, heard of or experienced, that resonate to some extent with where you want to go with your manga.
Try to find 3 or 4 of these sources of inspiration at the beginning, and look for more if you don’t have enough elements to create your idea.
Then for each of these sources of inspiration you will identify what you like, and if applicable what you don’t like about it.
For instance, if I search for some inspiration around “adventure set in our present world”, I can identify:
- Pokemon, where I like the travel/adventure aspects and the discovery of creatures,
- One Piece, with the fruits that you eat to get powers, and the journey over many different islands with friends,
- Cast Away, where Tom Hanks lands on a lost island after an accident and learns to survive alone.
Now that we have found some sources of inspiration and some elements we like and/or don’t like, let’s give our idea a shape.
The objective will be to take elements you like from your sources of inspiration and combine them. You will remove or correct the parts you dislike, add a twist here and there, and then make simple sentences for each idea.
It can be as simple as taking Harry Potter for instance, but with a girl as the main character.
If I take my sources of inspiration above I have: travel, discover creatures, eat to get powers, survive alone after an incident…
How can I combine these… For instance:
- A young boy getting lost and surviving thanks to powers given by a fruit.
- A young girl whose parents are captured and saving them with the help of some creatures.
Give it time and refine it
Last step is to fine-tune your idea. See how you can refine your initial ideas and identify a general plot.
That plot shall indicate:
- the context of your story,
- how it will evolve
- and how it will end.
Question your ideas using the 5W: Who? What? Where? When? Why? You can also use How?
Who is your hero? Who is the foe? Where do you want your hero to go? What do you want your hero to achieve? How do you want your hero to succeed?…
Based on the answer to your questions start to build a paragraph for each idea. BUt no need to go into too many details yet. We will see in the next steps how you can build your full story outline and then refine your story through scripting.
Do not hesitate also to let your ideas sit aside for a day or two and come back to them. You will see that your brain will continue working on it without you being really conscious of it.
Also do not hesitate to speak of your idea with someone else. Others might be able to come with good ideas, or to give you new sources of inspiration.
Taking my two ideas above, here is how they could be refined
A kid that was on cruise with his parents falls into the sea during a storm and finds himself washed onto the shore of an island. Alone, he tries to survive by himself and ends up eating a strange fruit hanging from a glowing tree in a cave. He suddenly can see some small creatures hiding in the cave. The creatures were hiding from another creature, but the kid chases it. To thank him, the small creatures then decide to accompany the kid and help him get away from that island and go back home. After travelling the sea and many islands, the kid will finally come back home.
A young girl was travelling with her parents caring for animals in a wild area. One day they discover some poachers embarking encaged animals onto a boat. They tried to free some of the animals but quickly got discovered. The young girl, holding a small cage, was able to escape thanks to her parent. But these ones got captured and were forced onto the boat. The boat ends up departing while the young girl remained helpless. The day after, when she wakes up, she discovers that the cage she had saved was containing a strange animal. And her surprise gets bigger when she discovers that when fed, the animal was able to change shape. She suddenly foresees a way to go and save her parents… She starts her journey across the sea, helped by the animal, to pursue the bandits. After many adventures, she finally saves her parents.
What if you can’t seem to find inspiration
Again, keep at looking for ideas and inspiration and give it some time, because you might unexpectedly get inspiration.
It might come by surprise while listening to some music or watching a TV show or a movie. Look around you at pictures, posters, ads, read some book excerpts in a bookstore or on an online store. Google some keywords. Discuss about it.
Look at what you like or dislike about these films, books… and ask yourself what you would have made differently.
Keep at it. Ideas come because you look for them, therefore as long as you keep looking for an idea, your brain will work at it in the background.
And if you think your ideas are bad, then take them apart. Remove the parts you dislike, add new ingredients by changing or adding new sources of inspiration…
Also, do not seek for perfection, you could waste your whole life at it. Nothing is ever perfect. Whole of the most famous manga have flaws. They can have been patched here and there. Or they could have been enhanced if the author had thought of that…
The important is to get something acceptable, and then to start doing what you came to do: writing and drawing a manga.
I don’t have the time to wait for an idea to come
If trying to find ideas seems too complex or time wasting for you, a few alternatives might exist:
- Find someone to find ideas for you
- Use an online tool to generate ideas
- Use ChatGPT (2023 update)
Here are some references to some plot generators.
Simple (one-click) ones providing some good details:
This one is providing more basic inspirational ideas:
Finally, this one is more customisable, but more complex to use:
This is the end. Next time we will have a look at how we can build a compelling story based on our idea.
Do not hesitate to like, share and comment :0