TOKYO, March 1 (Reuters) – Two South Korean tech companies are borrowing from mobile gaming to shake up – and dominate – Japan’s manga industry, a plot that has broadened the comics’ fan base to a new generation of readers .

Backed by tech giants Kakao Corp (035720.KS) and Naver Corp (035420.KS), Piccoma and Line Manga have become Japan’s highest-grossing mobile apps outside of games. These online manga platforms have seen a resurgence in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Piccoma’s third-quarter transaction volumes more than tripled year-on-year to 11.6 billion yen ($110 million), extending a wave of online manga sales that has already seen digital overtake print in Japan’s $5 billion manga industry.

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Line Manga, now operated by SoftBank’s internet business Z Holdings (4689.T), saw trading volumes jump by a third to 8.2 billion yen in the same period. Naver declined an interview request.

Piccoma overtook Line Manga to become the top-grossing manga app last year on Apple’s iOS and Android (AAPL.O). Her rise dates back to 2016, when she introduced a revenue model she calls “zero yen if you wait.”

The app’s manga tales – from classroom love stories to supernatural horror – are serialized. Users have to wait for a timer to unlock the next installment or pay to read ahead.

Inspired by smartphone games in which the game is free but the additional content is not, the approach marked a radical departure from the typical model of selling an entire volume of manga at prices of $4 to $6.

“We believed that if we could grab 5% or 10% of the biggest gaming market, it would drive growth,” said Yukiko Sugiyama, senior manager of Kakao Japan’s business strategy department.

Readers, eager to find out what happens next, often end up paying. The business model became the norm as dozens of booksellers, tech companies and publishers rushed to come up with their own apps.

PAPER TRACK

Megumi, a 34-year-old office worker in western Japan, said she read about 20 pages of manga on her phone on her lunch break and turned to both apps when stuck at home. house caring for children during the pandemic state last year. emergency.

She got “hooked” and paid for a hit Line Manga series, “True Beauty,” about a young woman whose makeup skills make her popular with men.

The comic originated in Korea, where the rise of the internet saw paper sales plummet, replaced by comics optimized for smartphones.

Manga apps offer a huge catalog of exclusive titles and tapes.

“You can read manga with just your smartphone – it’s convenient,” said Kana Misaki, a 36-year-old caregiver living near Tokyo who reads manga “mostly” through apps.

In Japan, manga online is generally still formatted like a book, and traditional publishers are a powerful force, with editors closely involved in every stage of production.

Printed in black and white on inexpensive paper, manga paper remains affordable and disposable. The industry is protected by Japanese law from selling books for less than their sale price, even online.

“For new titles, paper sales are much higher,” said Shu Hashimoto, editor of longtime publisher Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine.

Even the most ardent app users say they’ll buy paperback editions of their favorite titles.

“You don’t know when titles will disappear from apps, so when I want them handy, I buy them,” Misaki said.

($1 = 103.6900 yen)

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Reporting by Sam Nussey and Yuki Nitta; Editing by Gerry Doyle

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