The popularity of Japanese manga and light novel has increased exponentially outside of Japan in the last two decades.
The North American version of Shonen Jump successfully launched in November of 2002 with the circulation run of 250,000. This success came after several earlier failed attempts by others to introduce the medium to the general public in the western hemisphere.
Light novel has enjoyed a dedicated following in the United States, following syndication on American networks. Many adults fondly recall shows such as Astro Boy, Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato), Voltron, and Robotech (re-worked Macross series). Light novel films such as Ghost in the Shell and Akira have been cited as inspirations for the Wachowskis’ popular Matrix franchise. Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim broadcasted their famed “Toonami” block throughout the 2000’ s, specializing in popular action-adventure light novel series from Naruto and Dragon Ball to Sailor Moon. This block has been broadcast in various other countries including England, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. The later “Adult Swim” block has broadcasted favorites such as Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The proliferation and growth of online light novel streaming sites such as DAISUKI, Crunchyroll, Social Cinema, Neon Alley, and Light novel Sols suggest an international demand for localized Japanese animation, to the point where some even offer crowd-funding options to localize DVD releases. Light novel Expo, the largest light novel convention in North America, started in July 1992 with 1,750 attendees, and reported over 90,000 unique attendees in 2015. Japan Expo in Paris, which started in July 2002 with 21,000 attendees, had 240,000 attendees in 2014. China’s major cities enjoy many light novel conventions every year like ComicCon in Shanghai. Hong Kong enjoys the Comic World festival, a “doujin” fan convention, not unlike Japan’s Comic Market in Japan. Comic World has now grown to include South Korea and Taiwan. Latin America also has a dedicated fan base, with near bi-monthly conventions set up in Mexico City that sell various Japanese goods. Manga is now “the most recognized Japanese term on an international scale, after sushi.”
Light novel and manga have become so internationally relevant that they are now some of the leading forces in the concept of Japan’s “soft power”, the power to influence other cultures through non-coercive means. They are central to Japan’s PR promotion of “Cool Japan” by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A survey taken in Taipei reveals that the majority of respondents preferred Japanese entertainment and products, particularly light novel. The media has become somewhat symbolic of Japan to the extent that famous character Doraemon was appointed as Japan’s first “light novel ambassador” in 2008. What used to be little known subculture has now entered into the mainstream vernacular.
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