Rootport, the pseudonymous author of Japanese manga, doesn’t know how to draw. He has been eagerly awaiting a digital art partner since 2019, when he blogged that while AI has repeatedly beaten humans at chess and Go, “human-machine” teams would yield better results. “The manga industry will be no exception,” he wrote.
When AI text-to-image generators boomed in 2022, Rootport, then 36, set out to make that partnership a reality. Using Midjourney, an AI art generator, to conjure the illustrations—and tinkering with similar AI software to patch up details it initially struggled with, like hands and food—the writer produced the first completely AI-illustrated Japanese comic, rendering almost 9,000 frames and piecing them together in panels. Titled Cyberpunk: Momotaro, Rootport’s full-color manga spans 108 pages, which he says would have taken a Japanese mangaka (artist) more than a year to produce. Rootport finished in six weeks.
Shinchosa, the manga’s publisher, tells TIME that they released Rootport‘s work after careful and thorough deliberation. Some other creators also appear receptive to the entry of AI into the industry: the writer of best-selling manga One Piece asked ChatGPT to generate plot ideas for a new chapter earlier this year.
Other mangaka and animators are worried about their jobs. Iconic horror mangaka Junji Ito has described AI as a “threat.” Rootport tells TIME, however, that mangaka are notoriously overworked and underpaid, and that AI “has the potential to dramatically improve these labor problems” by acting as an assistant. Image generation is just one of many steps in creating manga, he points out, and technological innovations in the past, like Adobe Photoshop and Screen Tone, helped artists with their craft rather than sending the manga industry into decline.
“It is not uncommon to see manga artists using software such as Unreal Engine and Unity to apply 3D [computer graphics] to their manga,” he says. “Even with such technological advances, there are still manga artists who create almost all of their work by hand.”
Rootport will continue to use AI to illustrate, he says: “For most manga artists, the ‘story they want to express’ should be their first priority. Technology is merely a means to express that story.”
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