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A Drifting Life (Gekiga Hyoryu Complete)

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  2,218 Ratings  ·  213 Reviews

The epic autobiography of a manga master

Acclaimed for his visionary short-story collections The Push Man and Other Stories, Abandon the Old in Tokyo, and Good-Bye—originally created nearly forty years ago, but just as resonant now as ever—the legendary Japanese cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi has come to be recognized in North America as a precursor of today’s graphic novel

Softcover, 856 pages
Published April 14th 2009 by Drawn and Quarterly (first published January 1st 2008)
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William Parham
Jul 13, 2011 William Parham rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans Of Biography, Manga Otaku, Gekiga Geeks, People Interested In Post WWII Japan
First off, don't read this book expecting a fast paced, high energy read. This is a book about a man making manga and not a book of manga. That distinction needs to be kept in your mind at all times while reading this book. There are no wide-eyed, big tittied manga babes in short skirts. There are no slick, suit wearing secret agents hiding in the bushes with silenced guns. There is a lot of crippling self doubt and talking about the way books were being published in the middle of the 20th centu ...more
Jun 08, 2009 Nnedi rated it it was ok
currently about 100 pages in...gah, boring. hopefully it gets better. i mean, he never goes in to what DRIVES him to draw. as a kid, was he really ONLY about drawing? ugh, what a childhood. he just talks about how he slowly got published- blah.

i'll give it another 100 pages in a few days but he better amp it up a bit.

Some Wks Later:
I give up. This graphic novel is boring me to DEATH. I hate to be harsh but...I mean, he never delves into his personal life. It's just about his focus on his art.
First of all, while this is by a legendary mangaka (manga artist), this is not a work of fast paced, action packed manga. If that's what you're looking for, I would not pick this massive volume up.

Rather, this is an artist's odyssey from a young kid obsessed with reading manga to a visionary artist and author striving to push the boundaries of his art form. It's a bit slow, some times even tedious or repetitive, but I honestly loved every second of it.

I was particularly drawn to Hiroshi's strugg
Nov 26, 2011 J rated it liked it
Shelves: comics
I expected more from this, having been a huge fan of the author's collections of shorter pieces like "Abandon the Old in Tokyo." Here, each chapter is about the length of those shorter stories but the narrative often lacks any kind of energy.

Ach, will the hero publish with this manga house or that one? Well, a couple chapters of these kinds of dilemmas go a long way, but Tatsumi spends more than the necessary time in his 800ish pages putting his thinly veiled autobiographical stand-in through t
Jul 08, 2011 Janice rated it it was amazing
The 800 or so pages of this book are initially a little daunting, but I was hooked on this book from the very beginning. It's a kind of 'portrait of the artist as a young man.' But it's also the story of the development of manga publishing in Japan as well as of Japan itself and the morale of the Japanese in the post-war period. It's interesting to see Hiroshi's (Tatsumi writes about himself in the third person, giving his character the name Hiroshi) growth from 7th grader sending postcard manga ...more
Eddie Watkins
Oct 02, 2009 Eddie Watkins rated it liked it
Shelves: manga-comics
Masterful, but after speedily flipping through 1 5/16” of its 2 1/16” thickness boredom set in. And reading this in conjunction with Gaddis’ JR (one of whose themes is how money crowds out all other subjects) did not help matters, for A Drifting Life is a bildungsroman but instead of focusing on the artist’s emotional or psychic life it concerns itself almost entirely with how the artist constantly adapts to please the public and convert that public interest into money. This does not particula ...more
Alex Robinson
Apr 27, 2009 Alex Robinson rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: dweebs
Shelves: comics
I really wanted to like this book but was somewhat disappointed. I think part of it was that there was a lot of discussion about Japanese comics which went over my head so if you're more familiar with the artists he's talking about you may find it more compelling than I did.
Mar 19, 2011 Andrew rated it it was amazing
First thing’s first: this is not a review. In fact, do not trust my critical opinion on this book at all. I’m in love with it, and I have been since first laying my hands on the original Japanese manuscript and the Microsoft Word translation document back in May 2008. If you want my opinion, anyone with even a passing interest in graphica and/or manga and gekiga should pick this brick of a book up. It’s epic, sweeping, and an absolute joy to get caught up in.

But again, might be best to make up y
Sam Quixote
Jul 24, 2011 Sam Quixote rated it it was amazing
The book starts in 1948 where the author is 13 years old and embarking on single panels of manga and sending it into magazines, and finishes in 1960 when the author is 25 and a successful author of manga and a new style he created, "gekiga". The book is autobiographical, taking in details of Tatsumi's (renamed Katsumi HIroshi in the book) home life, his ill brother, his philandering father, his dedicated mother, and moving him through high school becoming progressively interested and committed t ...more
Peter Derk
Jul 24, 2011 Peter Derk rated it it was ok
Holy lord, that bastard was long. I mean long. I mean like [Apatow joke] long.

This epic graphic novel follows the life of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, from a young manga fan to a writer to, apparently, a manga master.

I don't know much about manga, so don't take my ignorance here as a slam on ol' Yoshi.

The best parts were the stories from his personal life, and the small details about living in post WWII Japan were interesting. For example, it was years after the war before Japanese citizens were allowed t
May 03, 2009 Tosh rated it it was amazing
Tatasumi is a poetic genius when he's writing about the every-day man in Osaka (or is it Tokyo?) dealing with their various sexual fantasies, etc. But here we have a massive book regarding the history of post-war manga - and for me it's a fascinating history. For other people it may be not that interesting.

Since I am a publisher, I am always obsessed by publishing trends in the past. And this book is heaven sent to me, because I am very much interested in Japanese pop culture of the post-war yea
Kristine Hansen
Oct 30, 2012 Kristine Hansen rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, manga
A monster book, at times engrossing, at times a bit tedious. This is an unexpected work, though if a manga artist were to write an autobiography, how else to do it but in the format of manga. Hundreds of pages long, this is not a 'light' read on any level. Still, it was not only enjoyable but at times inspiring. To me as a writer, I came away with the desire to create and not give up, much like our main character who set out to do something different and to redefine an art form at a time when it ...more
Derek Parker
Feb 18, 2016 Derek Parker rated it it was amazing
I was on the fence of whether to give this book a four-star or five-star rating on Goodreads, and I decided on the latter. The one thing that had me consider the four stars is the book's ending, which, out of contexts, seems to be abrupt. But if you look at this longer narrative alongside Tatsumi's short stories, then the type of an ending makes more sense. This is definitely a long and encompassing story. It covers the early life of Tatsumi as he develops into a manga artist, and in this way, t ...more
Paris W-y
Mar 24, 2010 Paris W-y rated it really liked it
This is such an amazing story, a journey through comics, about comics, and in comics. It tells the life story of Yoshihiro Tatsumi (referred to throughout as Hiroshi) and how he among others helped to take Japanese comics from 4 panel greeting card gags to actual stories, and a serious form of art. His story combines both his saga, and the development of Japanese comics into one interesting volume. It's kinda big and hard to carry around, but if you have the time, I highly recommend it.
Robert Beveridge
Yoshihiro Tatsumi, A Drifting Life (Drawn and Quarterly, 2009)

Despite my loathing of memoirs, every once in a while one comes along I can't not read. And while Yoshihiro Tatsumi's monstrous A Drifting Life is not, in the strictest sense, a memoir, by all accounts this “autobiographical fiction” is truer to Tatsumi's early years in the comics industry than are most memoirs. At over 850 pages, it's also Tatsumi's most ambitious work. Despite the usual scope of Tatsumi's material, it's also in many
Jun 10, 2010 Vicki rated it liked it
Shelves: manga-and-comics
This is an autobiography of the manga creator Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who was one of the fathers of 'gekiga' - a subset of manga that was created back in the '50s in order to differentiate manga written for adults from children's comics (as, at that time, almost all manga were still written for children).

As well as the differentiation between adults and children's books, gekiga artists were instrumental in taking manga from its beginning as 4-panel gag comics towards the form we see it in today - lot
Feb 13, 2012 Marta rated it liked it
This autobio brick of a book, originally published in installments as with most Japanese manga, traces the development of Tatsumi as a manga artist trying to change and expand the possibilities, perception, role and audience of manga. For the beginning and middle section of the book, I was very engaged by his development as an artist, his growing career and relationships with various publishers. However, in the last section things started to feel fairly repetitive. Tatsumi is constantly taking o ...more
Apr 01, 2016 Aoi rated it really liked it
Shelves: manga
A Drifting Life is an autobiographical work that follows the protagonist Hiroshi Katsumi (read : Yoshihiro Tatsumi) from his youthful days of obsessive manga creation to being a full fledged artist.

For a budding mangaka who found it difficult to write beyond 20 pages, this book is a whopping 800 pager mammoth! The story flows in a form of a series of vignettes - thematically shifting from discovering a passion for manga to petty sibling jealousy, from young ambition & (sometimes) thwarted d
Mar 25, 2010 Wayne rated it really liked it
This book will no doubt be one most "Best of 2009 Graphic Novel " lists, and it certainly belongs there. Owning a comic book store in these interesting times, there has to be a permanent display of essential Manga graphic Novels. The Manga fad seems to be waning, indeed I'm in the process of liquidating below wholesale most of the genre at this time. What will be left on the shelves for the future is the task ahead. The one book that will be most essential will be this one. It legitimises the wh ...more
Nov 16, 2009 Parka rated it it was amazing
Shelves: manga

(More pictures at

For those who follow the work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, this book is a treat. It's a wonderful manga memoir that took almost 10 years to create. The main protagonist is no other than Yoshihiro himself, using another name of Hiroshi Katsumi.

In this book, he explores the journey he took to become a manga artist. It's an inspiring tale that looks into his relationship with his family, friend, fellow manga artists and publishers. The book title is apt as we see how Kats
Jan 16, 2012 Sylvia rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novel
Not often do I read an 800+ page book in a few days, but this fascinating autobiography of one of Japan's leading manga author/artists riveted me. Tatsumi tells the story of his early adolescence and career as a comic artist in post-war Japan, chronicling the rise and evolution of manga from short, gag-filled comics, to the longer, more psychologically interesting stories he helped develop. A Drifting Life is a sprawling work that covers a lot - key political and cultural moments in post-war Jap ...more
Sep 15, 2009 Alina rated it really liked it
I really loved this graphic novel. The illustrations were not only excellent, but they were key to the development of the story, which is an autobiographical account of the author, a look into the Japanese mindset and culture of post WWII, and an explanation of the rise and changes of manga. This is a true example of the graphic novel form's relevance and its fit with certain stories. For example, certain panels were illustrations of the comic or manga that Tatsumi was explaning. In a traditiona ...more
May 31, 2015 Monique rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
Epic in both its size and its content, A Drifting Life is one of the most engrossing and moving memoirs I've read. Though, admittedly, I haven't read many.

My love of comics and the history of comics had me reading each chapter eagerly. The pace is slow as the flow of the panels breath with a steady rhythm. For those looking for something more fast paced, prepare to be disappointed.

Sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic but always honest, Tatsumi reveals his struggles and triumphs as he passionat
Aug 17, 2009 Jacobmartin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: manga
A Drifting Life is one of those manga you have to read - not because it has a stuffy literary worth (not that this doesn't have literary worth) but because it chronicles a pre-moe-moe time in Japan's manga history where the people who made manga were actually significantly rebelling against a changing society, you learn things like how originally manga grew out of magazine formats to short story manga collections to the longer pieces which were serialised in manga magazines later on. Back in the ...more
Stewart Tame
Apr 01, 2013 Stewart Tame rated it really liked it
This was superb! The book is basically an autobiographical account of the rise of the Japanese manga industry in the 50's and 60's. It makes a nice companion volume to Fred Schodt's classic Manga! Manga! Full of observed detail and incident, this book is a must for anyone with an interest in the medium. Legendary creators such as Osamu Tezuka and Takao Saito are part of the story, naturally. There's an extensive section of footnotes at the back translating some of the text appearing in the backg ...more
May 12, 2009 Louis rated it liked it
So I enjoyed this mammoth memoir from one of manga's living legends. However I really didn't emotionally connect with anything that was going on. It was very interesting to see the description of the development of manga as a medium and to compare it to what I know about the American comic book industry/artform. However every time there was some kind of conflict that the author encountered, it was easily resolved within the next 10-20 pages. I understand that the book is over many years, but som ...more
Lars Guthrie
Jun 15, 2009 Lars Guthrie rated it it was amazing
Absolutely extraordinary. Stunning. It was interesting to read this cheek by jowel with 'Reading Lolita in Tehran,' because it operates on the same three levels: profoundly moving personal memoir, valuable historical overview, and exemplary model of cultural analysis. The story begins in Japan immediately after World War II, and follows the insecure but vastly talented Tatsumi as he becomes a manga star in the 60s. Along the way, we get glimpses at, and insights on, literary works from Dumas to ...more
Mar 01, 2010 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comics, memoirs
As skillfully paced a comic as you'll find, this 800 page book reads quickly - more like 200 pages - but with enough depth and emotional impact to keep it from feeling like you're eating candy. If Tatsumi was as popular in the manga/anime world as something like "Bleach", the world of comics would be a much different, and better, place.
Caesar Meadows
Apr 16, 2009 Caesar Meadows rated it really liked it
A very satisfying read for anyone interested in learning about the history of "gekiga" manga(alternative japanese comics) and the joys and sorrows of being an artist which sustain an individual through the ebb and flow of life. Very inspiring if you happen to be a cartoonist like myself or anyone who has creation as the focus of their life.
David Kim
Jun 02, 2012 David Kim rated it liked it
I read about half of this this thick book and probably won't finish it. If rendering early judgement makes me a bad reviewer, so be it. Blurbs on the back say stuff like "manga master" and "one of the most significant works" but I don't see it. The only thing interesting is the protagonist's personal and professional relationship with Osamu Tezuka. I didn't feel any emotional hooks to pull me in.
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi (辰巳 ヨシヒロ Tatsumi Yoshihiro, June 10, 1935 in Tennōji-ku, Osaka) is a Japanese manga artist who is widely credited with starting the gekiga style of alternative comics in Japan, having allegedly coined the term in 1957.

His work has been translated into many languages, and Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly have embarked on a project to publish an annual compendium of his works
More about Yoshihiro Tatsumi...

Other Books in the Series

Gekiga Hyoryu (2 books)
  • Una vida errante, Volumen uno (Gekiga Hyoryu, #1)
  • Una vida errante, Volumen Dos (Gekiga Hyoryu, #2)

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