You can call them 'geeks', 'nerds' or otaku - die-hard fans of animation, comic, game culture (ACG culture) - but in March a group of them staged a street protest against discrimination, triggered by a TVB Sunday Report programme on gender relations in Hong Kong. Otaku claim the programme described them as losers who are poor in expressing themselves and as unproductive members of the society. Several said they found the programme insulting.
Thomas Choi Ka-man, owner of Japanese Culture Laboratory, a cafe for otaku in Mong Kok, initiated the protest. He said otaku are just a group that loves ACG culture, and are just like any other interest group that likes, for example, chess or sports.
'Everybody has their own interest, why should someone's interests be looked down on or described as weird,' he said. 'Reading comics may not be mainstream Hong Kong culture, but there is no need for society to label ... it is as a bad habit.'
Mr Choi said there was a general misunderstanding that people learn nothing from comics. He called this 'absolutely wrong', adding that only people who knew nothing about comics could have this opinion.
'I admit that there are some violent and indecent comics on the market, but those do not represent the entire comic industry,' he said. 'There are a lot of comics about history and social problems ... Many people love to read comics ... about Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is a great way to learn history.'
Mr Choi said another misunderstanding about otaku is that they are poor communicators.
'I am an otaku and I have been talking with you [the reporter] now for more than an hour.
'Do you think I have problem communicating?'
Japan has a more enlightened attitude towards comics, he said.
'Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso is a big comics fan and he is not afraid to show his passion for comics,' said Mr Choi, who added he started Japanese Culture Laboratory 'to provide a venue for comic lovers to discuss comics and promote the culture'.
Dave Graham, a high school teacher in the United States, said he was passionate about comics and he thinks that it is an absolutely normal hobby. 'I've been a comic fan for 18 years. I find it frustrating when others disregard it as naive ... There are moral lessons in comics, just like from films or television. As an educator, I use comics to teach English and world literature, and the students are intensely engaged by the way story and ideas are communicated through the images.'
When asked if he thinks otaku are geeks, he said: 'I've been called a dork more than once, because of my hobby and I am not ashamed to be called one. I will talk about comics any time of the day, any day of the week. If otaku are described as geeks who cannot fit in the real world, how about sport fans who paint themselves in the colours of their favourite teams and dress in the uniform of their favourite player?'