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Manga comics go grey, but with spirited readers

Japan’s greying population is changing the character of its beloved manga comics, spawning a new genre in which the elderly aren’t pitiable oldsters but protagonists making discoveries, finding friends and sometimes even having hot sex.

Manga comics go grey, but with spirited readers


Demand for stories focused on the elderly has grown alongside their audience: 27.7 per cent of Japanese are older than 65, up from 21.5 per cent just a decade ago. Readership cuts across society, the publishers say, from retirees looking for plots they identify with to younger Japanese watching their nation age, with growing concern about their later years. “Different social problems and concerns rise up as opposed to when society is centred around young people, and manga that show the reality of an ageing society are in demand from both readers and writers,” said Kaoru Endo, a sociology professor at Tokyo’s Gakushuin University.

Manga, both print and digital, pulled in 430 billion yen ($3.81 billion) in 2017, according to the Research Institute for Publications. They’re ubiquitous in daily life, showing up everywhere from crowded subways to coffee shops and waiting rooms. Although no public data exists on the market share for senior-focused manga, the genre is clearly growing. Eight of the 11 most popular such works, according to industry insiders, started publication after 2014. Three were in 2017 and 2018.

“The over-60 generation - in whose youth manga gained wide acceptance - have loved manga since they were kids,” Endo said. Yuki Ozawa, illustrator of ‘Sanju Mariko,’ about an 80-year-old widow who sneaks out of her crowded family home to live on her own and write, thinks escapism plays a big role too. “When you watch news about ageing, there are so many dark, serious topics. It makes people anxious,” she told Reuters.

“There are also a lot of people who are single, who probably will never marry and always live alone, and when they’re feeling gloomy they read Mariko and feel as if they’ve seen a ray of light,” she said. Virtually no topic has escaped manga since the medium took off about 50 years ago. There have even been manga on the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, including the Fukushima meltdown.

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