Using the Hero’s Journey Structure in Your Manga Story

Using the Hero’s Journey Structure in Your Manga Story

The Hero’s Journey Structure (also known as the Monomyth) is a narration structure that can be used in your manga story. Contrary to the 3 Acts Structure, this structure is more complex and creates more intricate plots.

In this article you are going to discover this structure and learn how to use it in your manga story.

Hercules taking the Cretan Bull by the horns
Hercules, hero of the greek mythology

Why is the Hero’s Journey structure interesting for my manga story?

The Hero’s Journey structure is a storytelling structure derived from the analysis of mythological stories. As such, it is designed to provide a general template for the story of a mythological hero.

There are different variants of the Hero’s Journey Structure. Here I present the original version written by Joseph Campbell in 1949. This version contains 3 parts and 17 steps.

Why is the Hero’s Journey structure interesting for my manga story?

Stories in mythology were generally designed to serve as an example to people.

As such, they generally focus on characters accomplishing incredible deeds. And in parallel to that accomplishment, they bring strong moral and ethical messages.

This is achieved through the means of what is called a character arc. A character arc presents how a character changes, in good or bad, over time. In the Hero’s journey this is achieved by having the hero facing dilemma, failures and successes, and doubts and enlightenment.

The Hero’s Journey therefore provides a template to create appealing manga characters and stories.

Some good examples of use if the Hero’s Journey structure are Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, or Frodo in the Lord of the Rings. In manga you will have Naruto, in Naruto, or Luffy in One Piece.

The Hero’s Journey structure

Note: You will see that the name used for some steps can sound special and bring some old fashioned concepts. What is important to understand whatsoever is the essence behind these names.

Let’s have a look at these 3 parts and their stages.

Part 1 – The Departure

This first part will lead the hero to accept going out of his everyday life.

Here are the different stages of this first part:

The Call to Adventure

In this section the readers discover your hero in his everyday life. This part shall give an idea or what the hero likes, or what are his/her daily struggles. And then an event comes that menaces or offers an opportunity to change this.

This first part is important and the story shall it some. The reason is that this is where the story creates empathy between the hero and the reader.

Mulan is a young and adventurous woman. As she loves her parents, she is trying her best to fit the their expectations, but she isn’t up to the task.

A day, her father is called to go at war against the Huns.

Refusal of the Call

Although this change seems appealing, or feared, the hero refuses it. It can be that the hero likes his daily routine or has some obligations. But this change has disturbed the hero’s mind and he/she can’t easily discard it.

The objective here is for you, as a writer, to create a dilemma. This consists in confronting what the hero might lose and what he might gain from that change.

Mulan tries to prevent this departure, but as a woman she can do nothing.

Supernatural Aid

Yet, an aid will push our hero to make the first step in his adventure. This aid generally is a wise person (the mentor) that will help the hero clear his mind.

The idea is here to make the change more appealing than the current situation. And the proposition is to make use of another person to highlight it.

Mulan relates to her ancestors and finally makes her decision. Mushu is sent to guide her.

The Crossing of the First Threshold

The hero finally decides, or is pushed, to make the first step on the path of change.

The objective is here to have the hero move into the direction of the change, while still making it possible to come back.

Mulan cuts her hair and leaves her home disguised as a man. 

Belly of the Whale

As imaged by the name, the hero is like swallowed by a whale, and driven away. He/she suddenly has no control on his destination, and is cut from any retreat.

This is where the journey really begins and imposes itself to the hero as something irreversible.

Mulan enters the military training camp with the support of Mushu and becomes Ping. And there she gets embarked in the military world…

Summary of part 1

Overall, the objective of part one is to show the comfort or discomfort in which the hero lives.

Then a change is offered that creates a dilemma for the hero. This dilemma is between continuing is current life as is, or to change it without offering any control. There are great promises, but also huge risks.

The hero is then showed the benefit of accepting the change. And he makes the first move, either willingly or forced. Once this first move is made, an event makes it irreversible. Life will never be the same again.

Part 2 – Initiation

This second part will lead the hero to his/her goals after multiple trials.

Here are the different stages of that second part:

The Road of Trials

The hero will be facing a series of obstacle. Failing at first, he will end up being able to overcome them and take the real shape of a hero. This is also where he might meet new companions.

The objective of this section is to have the hero endure difficulties. It shall be clear that the journey is getting harder and harder for the hero. But that the hero is working hard to overcome these difficulties.

Mulan has to endure the hardship of the military training and share her life with men that don’t like her. She is even threatened to be expelled. But she finally shows that she indeed is a good soldier, and gains the friendship of the others.

The Meeting with the Goddess

These trials will lead the hero to a final test where he will gain something of high value. This is like finally being acknowledged by the Gods as not just a mere human.

This is basically the first big success of the hero after all these trials. And the reward he gets from that success is substantial.

Mulan finally ends up fighting the Huns and saving Shang. She is a recognised as a true man by her companions.

Woman as the Temptress

After this first success, the hero will start to take things easy. He/she will be tempted to savour the moment and to forget his/her final destination.

The purpose of this part is to make the hero becoming overconfident. He stops making efforts because he/she thinks that that first victory makes that the remaining journey will go easy-peasy.

There is no example of this section in Mulan. In the Lord of the Rings though, this is where Frodo, after a long journey, finally meats the elves. Here he is tempted to give the ring to Galadriel instead of continuing. 

Atonement with the Father

The hero will suddenly face the Father or Gods. This figure is generally something or someone far stronger than the hero. It could crush the hero, but it will let him/her go out of mercy. The hero might have paid a high price for this confrontation, like losing someone close to him/her.

The objective is here to show the hero that one victory does not make you the strongest of men.

Mulan is discovered as being a woman, and menaced to be killed by Shang. She ends up being despised by him and expelled from the army.

Apotheosis

The hero has to digest the truth. But this ordeal will make him stronger mentally and more determined than ever. Ready to accept the sacrifices that the journey requires.

This phase is a phase of sublimation. After sadness or despair, the hero will transform into someone more mature having realised what he truly was looking for. This will be the start of a new and more satisfying journey.

Mulan is sad from having been expelled and rejected, and reflects on her fate. But these reflections help her realise what her real goal was.

The Ultimate Boon

The hero will finally reach his ultimate goal. He/she can become a God or Goddess. Or he/she can give make the ultimate sacrifice to succeed.

The hero is now free of any doubt and can give itself fully to his/her quest. This will be the highest deed the hero will accomplish.

Mulan realises that what she really wanted was to save her father, not to be a soldier. And she did it, in addition to having saved her country.

Summary of part 2

The objective of that second part, is to make the hero truly become a hero.

He/she will be faced with many obstacles to show how he/she slowly progresses to finally overcome them. This will lead to a first victory that will make the hero satisfied, but also overconfident.

After taking privileges from this first victory, he/she will think being unstoppable. But he will be facing an event that will show him he still has weaknesses and can be defeated.

This will lead to a period of doubts and despair. But the hero will understand who he/she truly is and what the real goal was. With this in mind, the hero will reach the ultimate goal, accepting any sacrifice required.

Part 3 – Return

The return is the last part of the Hero’s Journey, and one which is most of the time misunderstood or put aside.

Campbell’s view is that the real intent of the journey is not to find a treasure, or to become a hero. The real intent is for the hero to understand that he/she has unused potential. That with efforts and perseverence he/she can do things he/she never thought possible before.

This last part is therefore for the hero to understand that his/her actual state is not the final one. The hero has to face new challenges and overcome them to become his/her true self. And he/she also has to share this discovery with others.

Here are the different stages of the third and last part of the Hero’s Journey:

Refusal of the Return

After so much effort the hero might not be desiring to return to his/her former life. He/she might hope his/her current state of live to last forever.

The point is here to show again that the hero has reached a plateau where he/she finds comfort. Moreover due to the effort made, he/she doesn’t want to let it go.

Again, no reference to that stage in Mulan. In Star Wars, though, Luke will choose to stay with the rebels instead of going back to Tatooine.

The Magic Flight

The return of the hero can be either supported by the Gods if the goal was reached with their consent. Or it can be undermined by the Gods if the goal was reached without their consent.

When supported by the Gods, they will accelerate or enhance the return of the hero. The objective is to add some kind of magical aura to the return.

When undermined by the gods, the hero will have to escape the tricks and traps set before him/her. The aim is here to add thrill to the return.

Mulan discovers the Huns are still alive and that they are planning to kill the Emperor. She decides to warn her former companions, but nobody listens to her. In the end she proved to be true and her former companions decide to follow her in her plan to save the situation.

Rescue from Without

This point can be an alternative to the previous point, or a complement.

The return of the hero can also be triggered by an external event that will force the hero to come back. The external event can be someone the hero has encountered in his/her previous life or along his/her journey. It can also be an event happening in the place where the hero is coming from.

Alternatively, if the Gods are chasing the hero, the hero might receive some help to escape. This help will generally come from someone he/she encountered during his journey, or from his/her original word.

In the Lords of the Rings, giant eagles come to save the company in their escape from Mount Doom.

The Crossing of the Return Threshold

The hero returns into his/her original place. But he/she has to get acquainted with the changes that might have occurred during his/her journey. He/she will also have to re-adapt to be doing less exciting things.

The purpose of this part is to show in what manner the hero has changed. What seemed normal at a time will now appear abnormal. The hero will also have changed and others might not recognize him/her.

Having saved the Emperor, Mulan comes back home to meet the parents she left behind. She is Unsure of their reaction.

Master of the Two Worlds

The hero is now able to move back and forth between the two worlds.

For instance, this is Harry Potter on his second year at Hogwarts crossing the wall platform 9 3/4 without fear.

The objective is to show that the hero has acquired the competencies to replicate his journey.

This is Mulan, both a soldier having saved the Emperor and her country, and a cherished daughter.

Freedom to Live

The hero is now reborn into a new self, stronger from his journey’s experience.

The hero is delivered from fears. He/she is ready to face any new situation, able to always overcome his/her limits.

Mulan can now fully live her life. She has taken full control of her life and gotten rid of her fears.

Summary of part 3

The elements of this part 3 can be combined in different manners, or forgotten.

If forgotten, the hero will remain at his/her goal.

Otherwise, if the return is introduce, then the hero will be coming back to where he comes from. This return can take different forms:

  • It can be forced by the Gods forcing the hero out or people, fetching him/her.
  • It can be done willingly if the hero has or desires to share the result of his/her journey.

The Hero might receive help from someone he encountered previously during his/her return.

In the end, the hero will return and see changes that occurred during his journey. These changes will be both on his/her side, and on the side of his previous life.

Whatever, the hero will be able to reintegrate his former life, while keeping what he/she gained during his journey. This reconciliation will allow her/him to move forward serenely, able to take on the challenges of life.

Using the Hero’s Journey in a manga story

The Hero’s Journey, as such, is a complex structure and can be difficult to apprehend. Yet, it provides a great toolset to build great stories, and can therefore be a great asset for your manga.

Due to its complexity, it is to be principally reserved to be used in the frame of series. It might be difficult to fit in a short story.

Then, as you could see, you have some freedom to pick the parts you wish to use or not. What is to be understood is the principle which in some aspects is close to the one of the 3 acts structure.

This structure can overall be seen as a toolset. This toolset first gives the backbone of a good story. And secondly it gives you means to highlight specific traits of your hero:

  • Fear with the refusal of the call
  • Lust with the temptress
  • Greed with the refusal of the return

And if you wish, you can use that same structure for several character’s arc in your manga story. A good example is Star Wars. You can find that same Hero’s Journey with different ingredients for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.


That’s it for this article, next one will be about character creation and character arc which are key ingredient to a good story.

See you!

Stef

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