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Graphic novels made in Japan are having a global moment - just take a look at “Deadpool: Samurai”, the first partnership between Marvel and Japanese comics publisher Shonen Jump. Photo: AP

How Marvel’s Deadpool uniting with Japanese superhero from My Hero Academia shows the blurring boundaries between manga and non-Japanese works

  • Deadpool: Samurai, published in Japanese in 2021, was translated into English this month and was the bestselling Marvel comic last year
  • The world of manga and Japanese anime is going increasingly global, including crossovers with Korean webtoons

Deadpool, meet All Might.

Perhaps nothing highlights how the world of manga – the comics and cartoons originating in Japan – has gone global better than that coming together of superheroes American and Japanese.

In Deadpool: Samurai, Marvel’s Deadpool gets help in his battle against evil from All Might, the muscular hero in My Hero Academia, a hit Japanese manga that’s sold 65 million copies worldwide.

Deadpool: Samurai, published in Japanese in 2021, was translated into English this month. The Japanese Deadpool: Samurai was the bestselling Marvel comic last year, surpassing more than 1 million views online. It marks the first partnership between Marvel and Japanese comics publisher Shonen Jump.

Sanshiro Kasama is the author of “Deadpool: Samurai”. Photo: AP

Sanshiro Kasama, the author of Deadpool: Samurai, says he was thrilled to take on the job because he has always loved Marvel heroes and wanted more Japanese people to love Deadpool.

“I said, yes, yes, yes, yes! I really want to do it. It’s unbelievable the guy who always wanted to create a manga like Deadpool really gets to do Deadpool. I was so excited,” he says.

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One challenge was that Marvel was protective of its characters and would often insist what he had Deadpool doing was out of character. In one scene, where he had Deadpool shooting someone, a gun had to be changed to a paint gun, says Kasama.

Deadpool: Samurai features drawings by Hikaru Uesugi, Kasama’s collaborator, but the scenes with All Might had drawings by its original manga artist Kohei Horikoshi. Deadpool: Samurai is the first collaboration between Marvel and US manga publisher and anime distributor VIZ Media.

Manga has quickly become the top adult fiction category in the US. Sales in the graphic novel category – which includes manga and is exemplified by My Hero Academia – jumped 160 per cent in 2021 year-on-year, growing 15 times faster than the total adult book market, according to The NPD Group, which tracks such trends.

Japan still makes up for the world’s biggest manga market at 45 per cent in 2020, but the rest of the global market combined is quickly catching up, according to Grand View Research, a researcher and consultant based in San Francisco in the US. The global manga market, valued at US$23.5 billion in 2020, is expected to balloon to US$48 billion in 2028, it said.

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Julia Mechler, creator of the manga Hymn of the Teada, found that an American publisher was more interested in her work, which stars a woman from Okinawa, than Japanese publishers, who saw it as niche and political.

Mechler wants her works to give a voice to Okinawa, a southwestern Japanese island where a gruesome land battle was fought in the closing years of World War II.

“I thought the beauty of Okinawa is that they really value peace,” says Mechler, whose mother is Okinawan and her father American.

“I was educated that peace is the most important thing in the world. Peace and life. And that sounds like a cliché, but, looking at the world, that’s actually really difficult to achieve.”

Julia Mechler is the manga artist who created “Hymn of the Teada”. Photo: AP

Mechler believes the boundaries between Japanese manga and works by non-Japanese are blurring, with the world of manga increasingly going global.

Japanese animation, known as anime, is popular on Netflix. Shows like Demon Slayer and Attack on Titan were first published as manga. Netflix is promising more anime this year, as are other streaming services like Hulu and Disney+.

Manga is also behind hit Netflix series that star human actors like Fishbowl Wives, which focuses on marital infidelity in a middle-class Tokyo neighbourhood. Such shows are drawing not only Japanese but also American and other global viewers.

Another hit Netflix show, All of Us Are Dead, in which zombies overrun a high school, is based on a webtoon, a form of manga that started in South Korea.

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Although manga has long been available online through Kindle, Apple Books, Google Play and other platforms, webtoons cater for cellphone reading by rearranging the boxes to line up vertically, allowing readers to scroll from panel to panel with a flip of the finger.

“As a platform, we wish to offer benefits for the artists in offering the best environment, in terms of readership size and profits, too, of course,” says Baku Hirai, chief operating officer at Line Digital Frontier, which runs a webtoon business in Japan.

“By being on our platform, the work is relayed both domestically and globally, offering the chance for becoming a global hit.”

A page from “Deadpool: Samurai”. Photo: AP

Works are being developed in Japan that bring together the best of webtoons and manga, says Kojuro Hagihara, chief executive of Tokyo-based Sorajima Studio, which produces webtoon works for various platforms.

“All we need is a mass hit, something people who don’t usually read webtoons will be interested in,” he says. “To do that, we need to create a webtoon work that will be turned into a series on Netflix or Amazon Prime.”