A breath of fresh air in the world of manga publishing

On September 2, 2019, Mantra, a new manga reading service unlike any other was launched. You may have seen sites where translated manga are available to read, but many of the ones out there are pirate sites, the existence of which hurts manga creators.

Mantra is a breath of fresh air in the world of manga publishing. Both the name of an automatic manga translation system based on text recognition and machine translation technologies, as well as the name of the online service where fans can read the translated manga, Mantra has very big goals.


The service has been running for two months, so we interviewed a representative of Mantra to find out how readers have reacted so far, get insights into how Mantra works "behind the hood" and learn about their ambitions for the future.

Startup story

grape Japan (gJ): Could you explain how Mantra was created?

Mantra: Shonosuke Ishiwatari and Ryota Hinami were classmates at the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Engineering. They got the idea from their respective fields of research, formulated a business plan and launched it through the university’s venture company support program. That’s how Mantra got started.

Dr. Ishiwatari’s area of expertise was developing AI-powered machine translation technology. When he was very young, he went to an international school, where he keenly felt a barrier between him and others because of differences in values based on language and nationality. However, he also came to believe that entertainment content such as manga and anime could remove such barriers and bring people together. Inspired by this formative experience, he began to research technologies which could free people from language barriers.

Dr. Hinami, on the other hand, conducted research at the University of Tokyo on AI-powered image recognition. He’s an exceptional researcher who graduated with the highest marks in his field. He met Mr. Ishiwatari at university, and in the process of conducting their research, the two of them came up with the idea for Mantra and decided to jointly launch a business. They won a startup contest hosted by the University of Tokyo, and then, after they presented their project at SXSW, Mantra began full operation.

© Ken Akamatsu | © Mantra

Mantra: the manga reading service

gJ: Mantra launched on September 2nd, 2019. What kind of feedback have you received since then?

Mantra: Thankfully, we’ve been receiving positive reactions from many manga fans outside of Japan. We’re still at the startup stage, so we frequently conduct user interviews to improve our product, and within these interviews, we often receive comments from those who have read manga on Mantra such as: “I was able to read manga I didn’t know about before, so it’s interesting” or “As a fan, I’m happy that there’s an official site for creators,” or “It’s good to have simultaneous publication in multiple languages. I’d like to see more works being published this way.” We’ve also received positive reactions from creators. Manga creators who initially published their work with Japanese fans in mind have told us they’re happy to see their works translated and published.

gJ: What kind of manga do you publish and how do you select them?

Mantra: When making our selection, of course we publish battle, romance, human drama and fantasy genre manga which are popular outside of Japan, but we also publish laid-back slice of life manga and animal-themed manga unique to Japan, and our very own startup drama-themed manga as well. There are also cases where we individually contact freelance manga creators who are popular on social media and make direct offers to translate and publish their works, or cases where established publishing companies give us works from young manga creators. We also take requests. If creators contact us through our Twitter account or our corporate site, we’ll quickly respond.

© Shuho Sato | © Ume / Keiichi Matsunaga | © Mantra

A screen capture of the Mantra manga reading service (as of November 13th, 2019)

gJ: Mantra extracts training data automatically, but aren’t there any copyright issues with using already published manga this way?

Mantra: No, there are no problems. We have already confirmed with several lawyers that there are no copyright problems when it comes to using already published manga to train our machine translation engine.

The Netflix of the manga world

gJ: How many manga works are there on Mantra now? Do you have an objective such as an ideal number of works you’d like to carry?

Mantra: We were able to publish ten manga within one month of our launch. Thereafter, we’ve been increasing our numbers and will continue to publish new manga as we go forward.

Our objective for an ideal number? All the manga in the world (lol). It may sound like I’m joking but we are seriously aiming to be something like the Netflix of the manga world. We’d like to cover everything from indies to popular manga, classics to the latest works. That’s how eager we are in this enterprise. To accomplish this, we’re currently expanding our network and establishing new ties with publishers.

gJ: Do you only publish manga which have not already appeared on pirate sites?

Mantra: Many of the works we publish are indies and new manga creators, so their works are probably not on pirate sites. However, it’s possible they exist, and we haven’t discovered them, or they may appear there in the future.

Mantra: under the hood

gJ: On your corporate site, you explain that you combine the Mantra translation engine with manual correction. Does that mean you use professional human translators?

Mantra: Yes. At the current time, we use humans at the end to fine-tune the translation and proofread the work. Machine translation becomes more accurate the more data is collected and translation technology is improving day by day, so I think it’s possible we’ll eventually produce perfect translations without relying on human intervention.

gJ: Do you check your translations with the manga creators before publishing your translated versions?

Mantra: We begin by agreeing on the terms with creators and publishing companies, and if we receive requests to do so, we check the translations with them before publishing.

Looking towards the future

gJ: Will Mantra continue to be available free of charge or do you intend having paid content?

Mantra: We are currently considering our business model and are looking into these possibilities. There’s the subscription model, the advertisement model, many possible options. Whatever we finally decide, we’d like to implement a business model which will allow manga fans the world over to enjoy many manga works in a way that’s easy to access and in a safe environment.

gJ: For those who create manga in English or Chinese, is it possible to translate their works into Japanese?

Mantra: Of course, it’s possible. There are many manga creators in China and South Korea, for example, and their markets are thriving. Therefore, the possibility of translating non-Japanese language works into Japanese is something we have in mind.

Try Mantra for yourself and read their growing collection of manga on PC or mobile devices:


By - Ben K.