Creators on the Rise: Brandon Chen's dream was to get into anime before he turned 30. He just signed his first deal at 26.

By 05/16/2024
Creators on the Rise: Brandon Chen's dream was to get into anime before he turned 30. He just signed his first deal at 26.

Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth. You can check out previous installments here.

When Brandon Chen was 14 years old, he flipped a coin to determine whether he was going to go become a witer or an artist. Heads for writer. Tails for artist.

It landed heads.


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“I deleted my art Instagram just went all in,” he tells B-ru. “I started writing novels, published my first novel when I was about 17, and then published a novel every year since while doing college.”

Growing up, Chen had fallen in love with manga and anime, and in kindergarten had started trying to write his own and sell episodes to the kids in his class for 25 cents a pop. “Anime was not popular at the time, so no one was really buying, but I was pretty determined,” he says. He kept up both writing and drawing until The Great Coin-Flip, and though he quit doing art himself, he knew he still wanted to be involved in visual storytelling.

That's why, when he was writing novels and grinding through business school and then working 80-hour weeks in finance, he kept his eye on manga. Then he had the chance to collaborate with an artist, mangakaua983, to create a oneshot manga for a Shōnen Jump contest. They didn't win that one, but their piece, Icarus Rising, ended up being a finalist for the 2021 Kyoto International Manga Anime Award, and it “went pretty viral,” Chen says. “That was the one that started giving a lot of traction towards the type of work I was doing.”

From there, Chen got connected with Webtoon, which invited him to pitch a project. He sent in a concept he'd created in college, and not too long later, Webtoon officially picked up his first webcomic, Just a Goblin.

Now, almost two years later, Chen is a full-time writer and content creator. He has his own manga studio, Inspired Productions, and is working on a fleet of different manga projects with his stable of artists. And, last but certainly not least, he also just snagged his first anime deal at 26 years old, which for him was the ultimate dream come true.

Check out our chat with him below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

B-ru: Nice to meet you! To kick us off, imagine someone's reading this and they're totally unfamiliar with you, with your work, and with your videos. Tell me about you, where you're from, and how you got into writing.

Brandon Chen: Yes. I actually started writing in this like anime-esque storytelling space when I was like, I want to say like a pretty young kid. I started in kindergarten drawing manga and trying to sell it to kids on the playground for 25 cents. Anime was not popular at the time, so no one was really buying, but I was pretty determined. Then eventually, I kept writing, kept drawing. Then when I was around 14 years old, I flipped a coin to decide whether or not I was going to be a writer or an artist, because I was pretty determined on making manga.

It landed on heads. I'm a writer now and I deleted my art Instagram and just went all in at 14. I started writing novels, published my first novel when I was about 17, and then published a novel every year since while doing college. I came from a traditional Asian household. Taking risks was not like the big thing to do. It's like, especially in the art space and especially for something like anime and manga and webtoons, which was not a very traditional pathway.

I went into finance after that and eventually got a big break during COVID because I was still publishing, releasing stuff. I did a oneshot manga that blew up on social media and then eventually got a bunch of serialization opportunities, which led to my first webtoon original, which was Just a Goblin. That's like the long or the short, semi-short version of that long story.

B-ru: What was the manga that blew up for you?

Brandon Chen: Yes. I did this oneshot called Icarus Rising. It was just a one-and-done series based on the Greek myth. It was submitted for a Shōnen contest with a lot of big mangaka were reviewing it, and it went pretty viral. We didn't win that competition. The same manga won a different competition in Japan. That was pretty cool. That was the one that started giving a lot of traction towards the type of work I was doing.

B-ru: What led to you quitting your job? Because that's a very big decision.

Brandon Chen: Yes. I think I'm very risk-averse. I was making a certain amount of money in finance. At some point I was making the same amount of money doing the webtoon stuff on the side, and was working 80 hours a week on the finance stuff. Then another 20 hours or so on my own writing. Then I thought, what if I just went in on the dream here? I was 23 years old.

Then I just decided, “Hey, I have to do this. This is something I can do now because I'm younger. This is my dream. I've been dreaming about this my entire life.” Obviously, the hardest part was convincing my parents. I had to make a PowerPoint deck for them that would pretty much be the projection of my earnings, because they care a lot about like, “Hey, is Brandon going to be on the streets? Homeless? Is he going to make it?” I have to hit certain benchmarks each year to show them that it's possible.

We've been doing fine. I think that's the main thing is, for me is like, I could have quit my job, but I think, getting my parents' blessing on all that stuff, because they supported me throughout this whole journey has been really important to me as well.

B-ru: How did you start your relationship with Webtoon?

Brandon Chen: I have a friend who was a big fan of my other manga and webtoon projects and my social media before that reached out. He's a really big time, a web novelist, his name is Jack. He's my coauthor on Just a Goblin. He reached out and he was like, “Hey, I have a contact at Webtoon would love to do a project with you if you're open. He's also a writer. Just a Goblin was a concept that I created in college and we worked on it together to pitch it to Webtoon.

Then from there, after I pitched Just a Goblin and got that greenlit, I decided, “Hey, let me pitch another one.” I pitched Samurai no Tora, which was also greenlit. Then after that, I just kept creating more and more stories. Eventually now we're doing a lot more with Webtoon. The ones I can announce are Angel Wings and Double Kill, which are two series that are coming out later this year that are pretty intensive. I think if you think Just a Goblin's crazy, like these are really crazy.

B-ru: Are you the sole writer on all of these?

Brandon Chen: For Just a Goblin, I'm the lead writer. Jack helps me on the more high-level development side. Then, I'll be writing the actual scripts and helping with the storyboards and the actual production and stuff like that. Samurai no Tora, I'm the sole writer and producer. Same with Angel Wings, same with Double Kill.

Usually that's the case for a lot of the series that I'm doing is like, I'm creating the series or creating the story concepts, I'm selling it to a publisher or a partner that is willing to invest in me and the team. Then I'll also staff the artists, whether it's just a lead artist, but also coloring, inking, assistants, that kind of stuff. Then I also obviously have a social media presence. I'm doing marketing and stuff like that. Then most recently it's been, how can I take these projects to transmedia? Outside of the just webtoons and manga-so, anime, stuff like that.

B-ru: What does the average day look like for you in terms of production? I'm very curious how you balance all of this.

Brandon Chen: I think it really comes down to batching is the only way I can really do it now. The way I batch scripts in the pre-production phase, let's say Just a Goblin, I'll write an entire season worth of the story beats, like what you would do for a television show. You write out the story beats of what the entire series looks like for that entire season. Because I know I'm going to get this season to be able to tell my story. I'll write out those story beats. Then usually, I'll pick a day of the week, let's say Monday is Just a Goblin day.

I will just go absolutely crazy writing somewhere between two, three, or even four scripts in one day. Those scripts are not absolutely perfect. Some scripts take longer, some scripts take less time. I try and write like at least two to three weeks of content within a day. Why do I do that? It's because when I'm in a flow, and this is just for me, I don't expect everyone to be able to have the same process, but for me, when I'm in the flow, and I know what's happening, I'm in the characters and all that stuff. I just happen to write faster.

That comes from me coming from novels. I used to write novels. Then, I used to write 40 to 100 pages in one sitting. That would just be because you're in a flow state, like you almost black out and the story tells itself. That's what I do for Just a Goblin, except it's even easier because I have these story beats, almost like a guide or a map that I use to pretty much do the story for me, I just have to flesh it out in visual form. I'll write the scripts in those batch forms. Then over time, as the production is happening, I just check in every day on the production of different projects and how they're going.

B-ru: I know you have your own production company, Inspired. How did the studio come to be?

Brandon Chen: Yes, I think it was the natural progression of someone who's doing multiple series like myself. I was looking at what a lot of other webtoon creators are doing who have multiple series, and a lot of them will just naturally start a studio because eventually, you can't do everything by yourself, right? Even some of the studio projects that I'm doing, I'm just producing some of the stuff that's behind the scenes. I'm starting to produce series instead of writing the whole thing, and I'm helping more at a higher level.

The studio has become a thing where instead of “Hey it's just Brandon,” it's, “Hey, how can I uplift a lot of really talented people and help elevate their projects bring their products to the table and help them get things made? That's been the next step of my studio's journey. I think it was a natural progression just because, yes, I don't want to have to do everything alone. I don't want to have to feel like I'm doing everything alone and so bring on teammates and working with collaborative artists and writers alike has been a great process

B-ru: Then I know you do a bunch of education as well, you've got a course, you have a podcast, you're writing. You mentioned with your studio, you want to be able to uplift other people in their projects, so I'm curious too about your approach to offering educational content.

Brandon Chen: Yes, so I do make videos on the educational side, and that's because, as a manga and webtoon or even an anime creative producer, when I was growing up, there was no real path or even possibility. No one had ever done it when I was growing up. I think one thing that a lot of people ask me, and I wish I could help everyone individually, but I can't clone myself, so the best way for me is really to put out videos or put out content that can educate on the space, whether it's behind the scenes answering questions and just giving general advice, I think is something that's really important to me, just because I think I would love to grow the industry.

I would love to push people to keep creating in this space, and it can be an intimidating thing when you just have no idea what that path is like, there's no college to go to, there's no school that can just tell you the step-by-step process, even I can't tell an individual, what is the step-by-step to reach this point, right? Everyone's going to have their own journey, but I'm really helping the next generation, and I know I'm still a young guy, but when I mean generation, like there's literally 13, 14-year-old kids who are really interested in making this their dream, and I think being able to support them and give them education that's accessible, just literally on a YouTube video is fantastic, and I wish I had that when I was growing up, so why not just make it.

B-ru: At the same time as you you're getting into writing manga, you also were starting your own social media channels. Tell me more about your approach to social media.

Brandon Chen: My approach to social media is this combination of like, degenerate Brandon is a big anime lover and loves anime, manga, webtoon stuff and loves talking about it, and then the other side is also like, hey, I love the education side, we just love to give back, love to talk about my projects, love to explain why I do certain things in those projects and so people can maybe, whether they're inspired or whether or not they decide to do their own thing, that's all possibility. It all feeds into each other like, “Hey, I'm promoting the projects, hey, I'm also like sharing my love for this industry. Hey, I'm also giving back and hey, I'm also growing this industry in particularly in the United States, because then I might be able to work with some of these people.”

Two of the people that I work with at my studio that are writers and producers came from people that had asked me questions, so I think it's been a great way for me to also source talent. A random thing that I didn't expect to happen, but it just happened naturally that way. It's been just a great way to reach people, and I think that any creator that's in this space, or any space, should really be doing something on social media just because it's a great way to really market your stuff and take some marketing power into your own hands.

B-ru: What's it been like working with Webtoon?

Brandon Chen: I think it's been great. I think Webtoon has an enormous amount of reach. There's a great audience that is so detail-oriented, they notice everything about Just a Goblin. Like, from a single panel that we hinted at, multiple chapters back. They'll do callbacks. They notice things that even I don't notice, like one time we made an art mistake and I didn't notice, Because we're working weekly and sometimes I miss these things, and the readers will notice. I think that the Webtoon community has been fantastic.

I think Webtoon has been developing a lot of new products and advancing relatively quickly, or maybe time is just moving really fast for me where they're creating a lot of new tools for creators on the backend that have been very useful for transparency purposes as the company's growing and stuff like that. I think that they've been very open to some of the crazy ideas that I have had, that most Western publishers would just look away and say no, and so I think they've been a great source of like being able to fuel my creativity and help bring it to life.

B-ru: I know you worked on novels before. What opportunities does manga provide as a medium that novels don't?

Brandon Chen: Yes, so I wouldn't say there's a new opportunity, I would say the difference between writing novels and doing a webtoon...If I'm doing a novel, it's going to be a lonely battle for the most part. It's going to be, you're going to be sitting there at a coffee shop every day. And here's the thing, I love writing novels. I wish I had more time to do it. You're definitely pumping out as many words as possible, and if you want to read like 100,000 word count, maybe you can put out a project, maybe two projects a year, max.

At least at my rate. Some people in the webnovel space are going four to six times that speed, and I think it's great, because if you do a novel you can also adapt it to the webtoon side and the manga side, so the natural progression is a lot of it the times is like novel to webtoon to transmedia, right? I've always had a fascination with the visual storytelling, so, storyboarding and all that stuff and managing artists, working directly with them to actually create the project in a visual sense. Even when I was writing my novels a lot of my stuff was very visual.

The way I would describe things, the way I would choreograph scenes, was also visual. In a novel, some writers might tell you like, “Hey leave it up to the imagination of the reader.” I was like not that guy, which might be a good thing, might be a bad thing, so, I just eventually leaned into like, all right, let me just take control of that and try and just lean into a medium that's more visually artistic. That's how I made that jump eventually. I do want to do novels eventually again, because I actually have a fully written novel that's been finished. I just have to find the time to edit it.

That's been the only reason, I'm just really into the visual side of storytelling. I do also want to say I think it's a lot easier to market visual stories. I remember one of the struggles when I was doing my author career as a novelist, if I post a video that's showcasing words of my novel it's a lot harder to get people with TikTok brain into it, versus like I show some really nice art and then get you into the narrative and explain the narrative. It's a lot easier just because people can align better with a visual, I think.

B-ru: Definitely true. Obviously, you've got a lot of stuff in the works, a lot of stories that are going to debut this year, any other cool projects or goals for the company that you want to talk about?

Brandon Chen: I think Just a Goblin, we're doing our second season right now, which is really exciting, Samurai no Tora is going to be continuing its second season later this year, Double Kill, Angel Wings. Those are really big series that are teams of five to ten artists that are going to be just trying to push the webtoon medium, I really think, with artists from all over the world, which is really exciting. I think most recently like I've been taking stuff transmedia as well with anime productions and that kind of stuff, which has been a dream come true. My goal before I turned 30 was to get into anime and I signed a deal a couple months ago and I was what, I'm turning 27? But I was 26 when I did it. That was a dream come true. I think really the meme here is like, what's the next thing? It's really just trying to make good stories that can keep trying to push what's possible.

B-ru: The second season of Just a Goblin just came out. I'm curious what you think about serialization, dropping an episode every week, versus batch/binge-releasing. Obviously Webtoon does an episodic style, so I was wondering what your thoughts are about that.

Brandon Chen: I've always been a fan of the serialized format instead of what you said, the batch drop, which I guess like is meant for primarily binge-reading or binge-watching or whatever it is. I think if you do that route of binge-watching, it's a lot harder to keep your audience engaged. They'll be super engaged for a short period of time, right? The first couple weeks, but then after they finish it, it's like okay, we're off the grid, and so I think what's really great about the serialized format is people are getting a little bit at a time every single week, and they're all tuning in at the same time every single week to read this thing that they love, and see what's going to happen next.

I think there's a beauty in that, and a great way to form community. Again, that's why even though I know what's going to happen every week, I'm tuning in to my own series just to read the comments, to see how readers are reacting because I love seeing how the community reacts. That's all because of, again, the serialization format. I think serialization format is just a naturally better way to grow community and a fanbase around the series.

B-ru: Is there anything else you want readers to know? Fellow writers and creators?

Brandon Chen: For fellow writers, I would say that if you're interested in this like manga/webtoon space, what would be some advice I would give? I would say that a lot of beginner writers,  if you can create something that feels fresh yet familiar, that is like the best way to create a concept, I think a lot of newer writers will send in so much stuff that's already been written.

I think like, as you're creating loglines, as you're doing that stuff, considering those two things, “fresh and also familiar.” Writers should also consider using social media more. I think a lot of writers, especially in the U.S., in the comic book space, are a little bit afraid of social media and speaking on social media. I would definitely advise to give it a try, because I attribute a lot of my own success to social media. That's why I say this. It's a great way to reach people. It's a great way to reach your community.

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