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2017-09-20 16:43
By David A. Tyson



Asian manga have become popular in the U.S., with sales of manga books reaching $85 million last year, up from $75 million in 2014. This provides an opportunity for Korea to expand its Korean wave profile, which has already been established in music and films. It is a lucrative market that Korea should grow in conjunction with Korean-American communities based in the U.S.

But to do so, Korea must break the dominance Japan has in the manga market in the U.S. There are good reasons why Japan has become highly successful. It has focused on crafting a series of superheroes, an important ingredient in the current popularity of comics and manga that have led to the superhero franchises, from Spider-Man to Superman, which have become juggernauts ― not to be mistaken for Juggernaut the X-Men villain ― on cinema screens around the world.

Japan has started to pick up on this international trend, with its manga experimenting with “American-style” superheroes. It is building on its legacy of producing Japanese-style superheroes such as Ultraman, Kamen Rider and Sailor Moon.

One Japanese manga series that is attracting attention and has been translated into English is “My Hero Academia” by Kohei Horikoshi. This is a shonen, or young boy, manga about a school of superheroes. It uses a more American superhero style to tell its story, including a blonde Superman named All-Might who serves as a mentor to the young hero. Despite its American iconography, it is still a shonen manga at heart. It uses the Japanese manga story device known as the tournament arc, which consists of an escalating series of battles with opponents who become increasingly difficult to defeat. The series borrows the team concepts of the Justice League and Avengers by combining teams of superheroes with a variety of powers, or even X-Men which is itself set at a school for superpowered mutants. For example, one team consists of a girl who controls gravity and a bird-like man who controls shadows.

But Korea has largely failed to exploit the use of superheroes in its manga. The few that have appeared have tended to be Korean-American superheroes or characters created for the American market, such as Amadeus Cho, who is a Hulk-like character. There is also Silk, a Spiderman knock-off. One superhero aimed at the domestic Korean market by foreign publishers is White Fox. She debuted in a webcomic to promote the Avengers and was used recently in the comic book series, “Contest of Champions,” by Al Ewing, a British author who writes for the “Mighty Avengers” title and “Loki: Agent of Asgard” for Marvel Comics.

Although scenes from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” were filmed in Seoul in 2015, Korea has produced few movies involving superheroes. Probably the best-known is one featuring a manwha series hero, Priest, which was poorly received in the U.S. 

For Korea, superheroes are becoming a popular film genre and a commodity to exploit. If Korean publishers were to team up with authors like Ewing and Korean-American talent they could infuse this rich culture with new perspectives informed by its own cultural insights and new story ideas.


David Tyson is a certified appraiser of manga and comic books in the Washington, D.C., area. Write to davidtyson25@gmail.com.


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