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Will Japanese Manga Culture Be Left Behind by South Korean Comics?

“Vertical-scroll and full color manga are becoming the global standard,” according to Tokyo a publishing executive, while the merits of the different style of Japanese manga are not being conveyed to the world.

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More and more Japanese people are reading manga from South Korea.

Unlike monochrome Japanese comics, South Korean ones are full color, and readers can view the content easily by scrolling up and down on their smartphones.

Some experts believe that vertical-scroll manga will become the global standard. Certain Japanese publishers are also moving into this new market. 

Will traditional Japanese manga – a proud part of the country’s culture – be left behind?

Japanese scrolling manga

Slick Reading

“We appeal not just to people who like manga, but also to those who enjoy viewing content on their smartphones. We have succeeded in creating a way of enjoying manga that can be habitual,” reveals a press officer at Piccoma, a manga subscription service.

Piccoma was developed and released by Kakao Japan, a subsidiary of the South Korean company Kakao.

Kakao’s vertical-scroll manga “Solo Leveling,” which was localized for the Japanese market, surpassed a monthly sales figure of ¥200 million JPY ($1.7 million USD) in May 2020 – gaining attention in the publishing world.

Piccoma’s annual sales figures jumped from about ¥13.4 billion JPY ($117.6 million USD) in 2019 to approximately ¥37.6 billion JPY ($330 million USD) in 2020.

Vertical-scroll manga roughly makes up 1.4% of the company’s digital content range, yet it accounts for about 50% of the firm’s sales.

South Korean vertical-scroll manga are also referred to as “webtoons.” Unlike the split frames spread across two pages that one sees in Japanese manga depicting various scenes, there are hardly any split frames in vertical-scroll manga.

The reader scrolls from scene to scene, gliding smoothly through the story, making it easy to enjoy because no time is wasted between pages.

Two Leading Apps – Also South Korean

According to the Research Institute for Publications, estimated overall sales for the domestic comic market in 2020, including both paper and digital, reached $12.6 billion JPY ($110 million USD)– the highest so far.

In particular, digital comics saw an increase of 31.9% compared to the previous year, and hits such as Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer) attracted new readers as more people stayed indoors due the pandemic.

With the digital comic market expanding, there have also been some major vertical-scroll hits. According to “LINE Manga,” the South Korean love comedy “True Beauty” has been viewed 580 million times, and 5.1 billion times globally.

The Tokyo-based data analysis company Values informs us that the number of manga app users in Japan has increased dramatically since March 2020.

In particular, LINE manga and Piccoma have pulled away from the likes of “Maga-poke” with estimated users of about 6.4 million and 5.5 million people, respectively.

“LINE manga’s parent company Naver (South Korea) and Piccoma’s parent company Kakao Entertainment (South Korea) are massively expanding their vertical-scroll range, as part of their global strategy,” explains a marketing consultant at Values.

“The advantage of this format is that there is no need to adjust the layout according to each country/language, so all you need to do is translate it,” adds the consultant.

Japanese Manga

Global Domination

According to LINE manga and Piccoma, Japanese publishers and writers have been inquiring more about vertical-scroll manga, and have even been entering the market.

Companies involved in the format are also looking to perform well globally, which raises the question: Will Japanese manga, with their monochrome “top-right-to-bottom-left” frames, be left behind?

“Vertical-scroll and full color manga are becoming the global standard. At this rate, with the merits of Japanese manga not being conveyed to the world, the industry will shrink,” warns a senior executive at the Tokyo-based vertical-scroll producer Cork.

“The content market, including manga, is incredibly huge. However, there isn’t much that remains in one’s soul. If you can produce vertical-scroll manga that is really worth reading, you can probably dominate the global market. Even if the format changes, manga culture will not disappear,” adds the executive.

Meanwhile, Jimpei Yoshida, president of Beaglee – which provides a digital comic service – believes that monochrome manga with the multiple frame format can succeed in the global market.

“A lot of information can be put onto one page. There is room for imagination in those frames – making Japanese manga more expressive,” says Yoshida. “To lead the global market, it comes down to whether you can create a content market that can go global. Our mission is to expand overseas with our service.”

Companies are trying to win over smartphone users with a wide range of content. And it can be said that Japanese manga is being threatened by global competition.

(Read the Sankei Shimbun report in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Rie Terada