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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Lyons ミシェル ライオンズ

How to create an anime or manga IP franchise

If you’ve ever wondered how to create your own anime or manga IP (intellectual property), you’ve probably searched the internet for an answer at some point. You didn’t find one, did you? Fear not, we’re here to shed some light on this mystery.

How does anime and manga IP work?

Where businesses expand solely through internal actions, such as hiring more staff or offering new services, an IP franchise expands externally too. This expansion happens through licensing deals, whereby other businesses (such as a production company or publisher) pay to use the IP franchise’s name, branding and marketing. In return for being granted the right to use this material, the business may produce, distribute, promote, or sell the franchise’s content and products.

Licensing deals are a two-way relationship. Although it’s easy to approach it with the mindset of ‘what can I get out of their business?’, you will likely be more successful if you consider ‘what can they get out of using my IP?’. The simple answer should be: something worth paying for.

Building your IP with the same thoroughness you would use to build a successful brand is what will help you establish the substance, strength, and clarity that will appeal to potential licensees.

Creating an IP franchise is a lot like building a brand. Here's how:

It has a look and feel

Branding can be boiled down to two key elements that define how a brand looks, and how it makes us feel:

  1. A visual identity which helps us to identify a brand and become familiar with it.

  2. A messaging strategy that a brand uses to communicate in alignment with its personality.

Together these elements help us understand what kind of brand we are engaging with, and decide whether or not it suits our tastes.

A brand’s look and feel is usually influenced by its personality and values, however, anime and manga franchises work a little differently. An IP franchise starts with a story upon which the brand is built, whereas other businesses build their brand first to inform everything they do thereafter.

You don’t want your brand to place unnecessary limitations on your content and creative freedom. Rather than a pre-determined personality, the look and feel for an anime or manga franchise would be based on the world you are building, the stories you are telling, and the overall genre. For example, the Jujutsu Kaisen franchise has a fairly dark and moody appearance, whereas the One Piece franchise is loud and fun. Both are representative of the stories they tell.

Like any other brand, an IP franchise must also maintain consistency with their look and feel. Unexpected changes in the way the brand looks and communicates can confuse and deter the audience, and make it hard for them to connect with the great work you’re doing.

You need to know your audience

A successful brand has to be selfless. Brands exist to serve their audience before themselves, so if the audience isn’t happy - the brand is in trouble. Knowing what the audience needs, wants, likes and dislikes helps businesses to improve what they have to offer. This is the same for any anime or manga IP.

Where other businesses aim to convert potential customers into brand advocates, an IP franchise should aim to convert potential readers or viewers into fans. An established fanbase can be a great selling point for an interested licensee.

To achieve that fan-worthy status, you need to know how to please your audience at every stage as they transition from being an interested party to a die-hard fan. This is where Kikubari comes in - the art of anticipating needs. By observing and engaging with your audience, you can develop a deeper understanding of what they need from you, and offer it to them before they could even think to ask. Perhaps it’s content translated into other languages, a dark-mode option for your web comics, or an online community for connecting with likeminded fans. Whatever it may be, people love a brand that can read their mind.

A strategy will pave the way to your goals

Strategy can sound daunting, but it’s just a fancy word for ‘plan’. Brands typically have a strategy that defines who they are, what they do, who they serve, and outlines action steps for reaching their goals.

The strategy process is designed to uncover gaps that need to be bridged in order for you to achieve your goals. As an anime or manga IP creator, you need to plan for your goals too. Doing so can help you use your time and energy more effectively, and prevent potentially limited resources being squandered.

Say your goal is to pitch your manga IP to a production company in the hopes of having your work animated. It would be costly to have to pitch it again if it doesn’t go right the first time, so how can you prepare? The key is in comparing where you are now to where you need to be in order to secure a deal. It is here that you will discover the gaps that need to be bridged, and the actions you need to take to bridge them. This will form the basis of your strategy, and it will play a fundamental role in the success of your franchise.

Your IP can adapt to change

Too many brands are stubborn when they need to be flexible. These are the common objections to change:

  • This is what we’re known for

  • This is how we’ve always done it

  • That new trend, tech, method, or approach isn’t a threat to us

When a brand defines themselves by what they do and how they do it, adapting to changing circumstances can feel impossible. They believe that if they lose these things, the brand will fall apart. You don’t want to put your IP in this position.

The solution is to future-proof your IP early on by building it in a way that accommodates possible changes further down the line. For example, if you hope to turn your manga into an anime series one day, you need to ensure the storyline can be adapted. Maybe that alters the manga in a way you didn’t want it to, but it’s a necessary sacrifice if you want to achieve the long-term goal. Perhaps you’re faced with a change in audience preferences that forces you to venture into new territory - or risk being left behind. Circumstances change, and you must afford yourself the flexibility to move with them.

It’s built with scalability in mind

Once a business has established themselves, their next step is to scale up. This could involve expanding their product range, entering a foreign market, or funding the growth of their team. As an anime or manga IP franchise, you probably want to do the same thing.

It’s important to understand that scaling your IP franchise should not be forced or treated like an add-on. It should feel like a natural evolution of the foundations you have built so far, and a choice that is viable based on the resources you have available.

Let’s say you’re venturing into merchandise to create a new revenue stream for the franchise. You invest in the development of a plush toy range having seen other successful franchises do the same. After launching the toys, you receive feedback from your fanbase expressing their confusion over the new products. Plush toys aren’t at all suited to the demographic of your fans, and they think it was a pretty weird move. The toy range generates few sales and is quickly pulled - production halted, money down the drain.

There are a few mistakes to learn from here:

  • Don’t assume what worked for one IP franchise will work for you

  • Find out what your fanbase actually wants

  • People will see right through a get-rich-quick scheme

If you want to scale your IP franchise in a particular way, build it with this in mind.

The key to building a successful IP franchise is planning for what you want

As you now know, there are a lot of similarities between building an IP franchise and a brand, but it all boils down to being prepared. From creating a plan of action to reach your goals to future-proofing your IP to adapt to change, preparation will take you far.

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