Manga and anime are more popular than ever, showing how Japanese pop culture and entertainment have permeated the globe. Although Japanese media is definitely the most internationally prolific form of Asian media, it's been given a run for its money in recent years by Korean media. K-pop, K-dramas and even webtoon comics have become nearly as big and mainstream as anime, and the rise in popularity once revived a national rivalry.
Manga Kenkanryu was a 2005 Japanese manga about anti-Korean sentiment in Japan, criticizing South Korea's historical actions in a book that shook the nation. Although it's now long since been forgotten, it temporarily caused a movement of cynicism toward South Korea in Japan. With Korean music and shows bigger than ever in Japan and the West, here's a look at the manga that called out the BS in BTS.
Hating the Korean Wave
The plot of Manga Kenkanryu follows Japanese student Kaname Okiayu, who becomes turned on to a mentality of Korean critique after finding out about the scandal surrounding the Korean soccer team at the 2002 World Cup. Upon entering college, he joins a club called the Far East Asia Investigation Committee, which looks into the historical animosity toward South Korea and Japan.
Coming down especially hard on the former, their debates and investigations tackle concepts like South Korean culture supposedly stealing ideas from Japan, the seeming inferiority of the Korean Hangul language and issues surrounding Zainichi Korean immigrants, as well as the overwhelming popularity of the Korean Wave. This wave of popularity of Korean media is referenced in the book's name itself, which translates as "Hating the Korean Wave."
The book, written by Sharin Yamano, is more of a series of narrative lectures than a real story, focusing more on bloviating than character development. Many of the characters, such as Kaname's Zainichi friend Koichi, are essentially just plot props used to get points across. It's also worth noting that Japanese characters are drawn in stereotypical "manga" art styles that give them exaggerated, almost Caucasian features. The Koreans, on the other hand, are drawn as being clearly Asian in an almost caricature-like fashion. Despite the controversy that it would cause and its less than literary nature, the book would last for 10 volumes, with the last coming out in 2015.
The Impact of Manga Kenkanryu
Due to the controversy and hype generated by a book so blatantly attacking the popularity of Korean media, Manga Kenkanryu sold incredibly well. A desire to pre-order the book in droves to send a message made it an instant best-seller upon release. With over 600,000 copies sold, a sequel titled Manga Kenkanryu 2 was later published. There was also Manga Kenchugokuryu, in which Sharin Yamano espoused anti-Chinese sentiments.
The response in Japan was decidedly mixed, with some seeing the book as inflammatory and one-sided while others, namely netizens on message boards such as 2channel, came out in favor of the book and its message. The response in the West was muted at absolute best, likely due to K-pop and K-dramas still being about a decade away from really becoming mainstream there. In South Korea, however, the book was obviously criticized for being one-sided and potentially inaccurate in some cases. One response was a book from Yang Byeong-sol titled Hyeomillyu, which translates as The Anti-Japan Wave, although this reversal book wasn't nearly as successful or even controversial in either country.
The book would likely have an even bigger impact nowadays with Korean media vying so hard for attention next to Japanese media, but it's perhaps for the best that Manga Kenkanryu is mostly forgotten and people across the world can easily enjoy entertainment from both South Korea and Japan.