Johnny Bunko -- optimistic and iconoclastic career guide in manga form

Daniel Pink, author of many well-regarded business books, wrote his first manga business book, Johnny Bunko, after receiving a fellowship to live in Japan and study manga. Bunko is a quick, funny, and extremely, inspiringly sensible book on career-planning that throws out all the traditional bullshit about getting a straight job to fall back on if your creative gig fails on you. Instead, Bunko makes a convincing case for pursuing your dreams, working to your strengths, throwing out the idea of planning, and persevering rather than relying on talent to make it.

I spent a lot of my life ignoring (with some difficulty), the advice of well-meaning people who wanted me to know that I'd never, ever be able to live on what I made from writing. Instead, I took on a series of careers in fields that hadn't even existed when I was a student, each one bringing me closer to my dream of being a full-time scribbler. If I'd listened to the software aptitude test my high-school guidance counsellor gave me, I'd be a "geriatric nutritionist" (cook in a senior's home) today.

Johnny Bunko is a miserable accounting drone who finds a bundle of magic chopsticks. Every time he separates a pair, a genie emerges to help him navigate his way to career freedom. It's a great little device, and the manga artwork -- from the award-winning Rob Ten Pas -- is simple and clean and often very funny.

Bunko is a refreshingly frank and optimistic (but clear-eyed) story about the perils of choosing a safe, lucrative and hateful job that you'll never be able to afford to leave, and the joys of failing in interesting ways, learning from your mistakes, and making more of yourself. I wish someone had given me a copy when I was 16 or so, and forced me to re-read it every year until I was in my mid-twenties. Link

See also: Johnny Bunko Book Trailer


  1. Hmm this could be a good read.

    My parents kept suggesting I get a “real job” for most of the years I worked at a University. Ironically now that I make computer games they finally see that I have a real job.

  2. One thing many people seek from a job/career is meaning – and it is hard to find. This book sounds as though it would be very helpful.

  3. I usually ignore all reading suggestions from pretty much everybody, but I have to admit this one does look quite appealing. Thanks for the link, Cory. :)

  4. Sounds like a good business book. If you love what you do for a living, then it’s not ‘work’.

  5. @holtt:

    I’m in a very similar boat.

    It’s worth pointing out, though, that the Kudos (or was it Cascaid?) software my high school careers guide had me down as being either a games programmer, games tester or games journalist.

    Joke was on it, though- I’m a games designer.


  6. I bought this book a few months back and enjoyed it immensely. It gave me some new perspectives, and confirmed some others. I gave my brother a copy of the book over the holidays and he enjoyed it as well.

  7. “The last career guide you’ll ever need”

    Until his next book in which Homer Simpson will advise you in a hilarious way how to avoid working at a nuclear plant.

    Think of something you would love to do that also pays.
    Train to do it. (or sleep with the right people)
    Do it.

  8. Ironically, I was laid off yesterday… and here’s this little ditty. I was one of those “drones” for a major financial company (rhymes with “Leryl Mensch”; I worked in technologies). My career of choice? Hell, no. That’d be the job I left to return to my hometown (dumbest move I ever made).
    Going to see if I can locate a copy…

  9. Loci, the devil is in that first step. People spend their whole lives, as Cory said, being told that anything they love to do can’t possibly pay enough to live on — and not everyone succeeds in ignoring all that advice. (This is especially true when you live in a country like the U.S. that doesn’t have much of a safety net, and even more so when you’re watching the economy go into a protracted recession.)

    It can be tough to see a path towards doing something you love, especially when — as Cory also said — some of the jobs along the way may not even exist yet.

    Another great read on this topic is Paul Graham’s “How To Do What You Love.” I still haven’t decided if it’s inspiring or depressing, but that may just be because I’m in the middle of a Ph.D program and having a quarter-life crisis about whether I even picked the right direction for my life. It certainly makes you think.

  10. Freaky. The computer test I took at the work agency after finishing school, twelve years ago, also told me to become a nutritionist.

    I, too, aspire to an artistic/creative career (goldsmith/writer – have in fact finished training as a goldsmith, although I’m not currently working as one for a living, preferring the safe income of a job in a library to see me through university.)

    Is there something intrinsically similar between being a nutritionist and being a writer, I wonder? ;-)

  11. Hilarious. The test I took in high school suggested I should become a “commercial artist” which was exactly what I wanted to be (backup: hairdresser). I didn’t care exactly what that’d lead to — animation, website design, industrial design, painting dogs on mugs… I’d have done any of that.

    I got talked into something else that I’m pretty sure I suck at instead of something fun that I’m pretty sure I’d succeed at. I didn’t pick the worst possible option given that I couldn’t afford school in another city anyway, but I regret it. I do have something of a safety net in my family, but they were the ones who were convinced I needed a straight job.

    I think I’ll be kicking myself for a while.

  12. On my high school test I got something like “unskilled service sector” which included such glorious careers as movie usher and volunteer. It’s because the only thing I scored high in was my desire to help others.

    My friend got a category that included “worm farmer” because she liked the outdoors.

    I’m an 8th grade science teacher so feel free to make all the jokes you want about me working in an “unskilled service sector.”

  13. There are three things to realize when looking for a job: desire, ability and availability.

    Thats all ya need to know.

    Certain things like taking a test (for instance, the Strong Interest Inventory) might help narrow things, but it comes down to you. Nothing more.

    Do you want to do this job? If not, nothing else count. At least in this day and age. Or at least for those with ‘options’.

    Ability…you might want to be a brain surgeon, but if you just ain’t smart or you haven’t had the training, you aren’t gonna be one.

    BTW the Meyers Briggs test is a far better judge of career success than a standard occupational test. Figure out your personality and pick a career that complements that.

    Finally…availability. For instance, in the US nursing use to be a job that was had to get into…there weren’t enough jobs. You could be the best in the field and still not find anything. Now, they are hiring folks in this field that aren’t licensed and doing more and more that would have required licensure. If you have any skills, you can probably be hired (ok…I’m exaggerating, but my last girlfriend was a nurse and she complained about this all the time).

    So the tests shouldn’t give you a specific occupation you should choose. A career counselor looking at your past experience should be able to tell you what you are good at. Me? I was horrible in school my first go around…barely passed high school. Was great at computers. I went into this area thinking it was for me. I gave this up a few years ago to go back to school for a career in something completely different. No test could have told me this. No one would have told me that while I got Cs in courses I knew everything about, I could get As in courses I knew nothing about (let alone in grad school for something that I have no past experience with).

    Find something that seems fulfilling and go for that.

  14. I’ve interviewed a lot of successful creative types in my day and they all had one thing in common: Perseverance. Or, more accurately, ceaseless, Borg-like drive to succeed. And some talent, too.

    Take Cory for example. I don’t think he sleeps. He pens science fiction stories from the basket of his balloon while managing the war on DRM and unfair copyright laws, simultaneously speaking about the Singularity—via teleconference, of course—and composing his next novel. Oh, and I forgot about the radio show interviews and the book tours. A working madman and inspiration to us all, for sure.

    The trick is finding all the energy to make it happen without keeling over. It’s tough, but it’s possible.

    Cory, do you have any advice for finding the energy/will to persevere and succeed in a creative field like, say, writing?

  15. Piehammer — Thanks for picking up a copy. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Cherib — Thanks for posting that MCAD speech.

    Loci — I like your recipe. You should write a book!

    Dustin — I think you’re right. Cory is superhuman.

    All — If you’d like, check out the book’s trailer:

    Dan Pink

  16. I just bought this book and will devour it the day it arrives.

    After four pretty good years as a day trader– a microterm momentum scalper on the NYSE– I had a bad year at a critical moment in my life (international wedding + first house purchase). When I hit my loss limit, I reluctantly gave up the freedom of working from home whenever I wanted, and fell back on my old student job as a window cleaner for the busy season while I regroup and plan the next step of my career.

    So while I was downtrodden I started listening to the naysayers and looking for a “real job”. I hope to return to trading ASAP, and I hop this book motivates me to find a way to do it sooner so that I’m back to doing what I was meant to ASAP.

  17. Preserverence is basically the art of self-deception — you just keep telling yourself that you’re certain to attain victory ANY SECOND NOW, even if you have no basis to assert this.

  18. as some old guy said:
    “First you must write”
    “Then you must finish what you write”
    “Then you must sell what you wrote”

    but what did he know?

  19. If you stomp out your own path, following your muse, it would be a good thing if you were equipped and prepared to make a living at it. Surprisingly (not), the US tax codes and regulatory environments are NOT designed to make this easy. It’s probably a tragically common thing for someone with both talent and perseverance to do well at what s/he is creatively, uniquely good at, but to fail miserably anyhow, for lack of familiarity with the quotidian realities of self-employment and small business laws.

    Get some business courses under your belt.

  20. sign painter
    disc jockey
    union organizer
    bookstore owner

    I pretty much sucked at all of them. I should have followed my bliss and my first dream and become a … cowboy.

  21. #3: “I usually ignore all reading suggestions from pretty much everybody…”

    Why would you do that? Is that wise? How do you learn about things?

  22. Here is a REAL-DEAL career guide, based on the spot-on Myers Briggs test:

    Do What You Are
    by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger

    No super-trendy manga pictures, but hey.

  23. I’ve never heard of the book, but it sounds really cool. I’m definitly checking it out.

  24. i have an odd feeling this has already been posted. might just be deja vu and my brain wires are gettin’ all fried though.

  25. People who say “never give up,” please read Fooled by Randomness. There’s a survivorship bias in these testimonies.

    It’s like playing the lottery. While it’s true you can’t win if you don’t play, playing does not do that much to improve your chances of winning.

  26. Ooo, a fellow MCAD alum (class of ’05 BS:Vis alum myself)! Glad to see we’re still pulling in interesting speakers there.

    I have to say, if its one thing I learned from going to art school there with some of the most creative individuals I’ve ever encountered in my life, its this:

    Creativity isn’t something you necessarily nurture. It is something that no matter how hard you may try to contain it, somehow manages to squirt out of every little pore of your body and permeate everything you do.

    The truly creative (not just those trying to fake it) out there know this and just go with the flow. If they can make money doing what they do they enjoy it but it certainly isn’t their reason for doing it. That’s why so many poor artists are content to slave away in a coffee shop while painting at night in their tiny studio apt.

    For anybody who is near the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, I encourage you to just walk through their halls (they are open to the public). Every week I would find new inspiration in all of the student work that went up.

  27. Mr Pink has now written three books that are perfect. My life would have been different/better if they’d been available 40 years ago. Each one is different, yet the themes resonate. Using manga is a clever and appropriate way to communicate these days.

  28. I read it, and all I have to say is Wow. It was one of the most insightful and practical books I’ve read in a long while. I googled those people the genie(?) told Bunko to look up, and one of them (forget name now.) I instantly reconized a book I’ve seen by him many times (“First break all the rules.”) that my dad has, now I want to take a look at that too.

  29. Hello,

    Thanks for this original book ! I personally started a crazy project : read 52 of the best businesses books in 52 weeks in an attemp to pass the Personal MBA (a MBA for less than 1 500$) in one year ( see my blog )

    The Personal MBA is a comprehensive list of 77 books (93 with the supplements) in 12 categories that is intended to deliver the 20% of the knowledge given in an MBA that give 80% of the results.

    There is no manga in the Personal MBA list, so i think it is a great complement, and a funny one ;) . Thanks for that :)

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