Fencing with On guard by Tokihiko Tamaru, cycling with Born pedaler by Wataru Watanabe, tennis with Baby steps Hikaru Katsuki or golf with King golf by Ken Sasaki: the Japanese comic strip does not hesitate to explore many sports disciplines, much more adventurous in this field than its European cousin.
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Sports manga is in fact a genre in its own right, incredibly rich and appealing to a large readership in Japan. This success is the result of a long history in which the Olympic Games have played a decisive role. Those of 1964, of course, in Tokyo. They had a huge echo in the manga magazines (mangashi) which became weekly in the 1960s.
The “Witches of the Orient” inspired “Jeanne and Serge”
With 29 medals including 16 gold, these Games had allowed the Japanese to regain an element of pride, less than two decades after the end of the Second World War. The Japanese volleyball players in particular, victorious to everyone’s surprise against the Soviets, were the heroines of the fortnight. The “Witches of the East” – their nickname – have inspired many stories, such as Attack You! by Jun Makimura and Shizuo Koizumi, of which the French will discover in the 1980s an animated adaptation under the title Jeanne and Serge.
These stories, which above all praise the meaning of effort and sacrifice, typically Japanese values, will gradually give way to stories combining sport and school life, to better reach the young readership. “In Japan, club activities are compulsory in high school. I started basketball: it was the sport that motivated me to get up in the morning and go to school, not classes ”, says Takehiko Inoue, the author of Slam dunk, one of the most popular sports manga with over 120 million books sold.
Many sports covered
At their peak in the 1990s, mangashi enjoyed massive sales, exceeding 6 million copies. After a drop of nearly 30% in the 2000s, due among other things to competition from other cultural offers (video games, Internet), the market has stabilized today, and sports manga is looking for a second wind .
The sports covered are more and more diverse. But no title has peaked in the 25 best sales since the start of 2021. The Games are timely to relaunch the creative machine.