Flush with cash, Kuaikan is girding itself for global forays of its original creative content

A woman dressed in a uniform performs on stage during the China Joy exhibition in Shanghai. Chinese cultural elements are now fodder for locally made comics, which will target overseas audiences with content across genres and styles like historical adventure, romance, humor and slice of life. (CHEN YUYU / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Chinese mobile comics platform Kuaikan said its aim now is to bring more Chinese comics to international markets.

Kuaikan was founded in 2014 with Chinese internet heavyweight Tencent Holdings Ltd as one of its backers. It raised $240 million in a new funding round in August, having started exploring overseas markets in 2018.

Kuaikan delivers a vast library of comics developed by professional creators and a community of fans. The company said in August that it has 100 contract authors, and 8,000 content partners.

Experts said Chinese comics, or manhua, feature a wide range of genres and styles ranging from historical adventure to romance, humor and slice of life. It is not easy to promote Chinese comics in foreign countries.

Yet, Chen Anni, CEO and founder of Kuaikan, said the company is cooperating with more than 70 comic platforms covering nearly 200 countries and regions in 12 languages, including Japanese, Korean, English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.

Kuaikan termed the August infusion as the largest fundraising deal in China's comics industry. Investors include South Korean app marketplace One Store, Chinese investment company CCB International (Holdings) Ltd, and existing backers such as Tencent and Coatue Management.

The deal valued the company at more than $1 billion-a big bet on the mobile-first digital comics business, following South Korean tech giant Kakao's acquisition of US-based Tapas for $510 million earlier this year.

The August funding will be used toward the planned 1 billion yuan ($154.7 million) investment over the next three years to boost the development of original comics. Another 1 billion yuan will go toward partnerships for the production of videos and plays based on comics.

Kuaikan will accelerate overseas expansion. "In Japan, South Korea and other countries where users are willing to pay for comics, we are trying to expand our influence to generate more revenue. In Southeast Asian countries where the comics communities are growing rapidly, we are trying to attract more people to watch Chinese comics," Chen said.

The overseas push was inspired by home market success-Kuaikan boasts more than 340 million registered users and 50 million monthly active users in China.

Models in colorful Chinese traditional costumes walk the ramp during the China Joy exhibition in Shanghai. Local culture is a strong theme in Chinese comics that will go global. (CHEN YUYU / FOR CHINA DAILY)

It said 85 percent of its users are young people under 25, and consumers born between 1996 and 2010-Generation Z-are its target. Quest-Mobile, a research firm, predicted the demographic will make up two-thirds of all online entertainment consumption in China by 2023.

Chen said, "Generation Z consumers pay more attention to content consumption and they are more willing to create their own content."

Data from the Beijing-based market research company Guduo Media showed 80 percent of high-quality original Chinese cartoon and comics in China are posted on Kuaikan, judging from the users' interactions, and comments.

Kuaikan hopes to maintain the young-people-first strategy in overseas markets where DC Comics, a division of WarnerMedia, announced a deal in August with Webtoon, a South Korean mobile comics platform, to distribute new stories of DC characters in the vertically scrolling mobile app. The move is seen by many as an attempt to grow the audience for superheroes among younger readers.

Ren Hongli, managing director of CCB International (Shenzhen) Investment Co Ltd, said as a very young and energetic platform, Kuaikan represents the future of Chinese comics and it has already achieved excellent results in exporting Chinese comics.

DC Comics made an interesting try with its new Chinese superhero Monkey Prince. As a spinoff of Wu Cheng'en's 16th-century epic Journey to the West, Monkey Prince was created by Gene Luen Yang and Bernard Chang.

Monkey Prince was launched in the anthology DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration (2021) in May, which generated an immediate buzz among comic fans.

Edward Cheng, vice-president of Tencent, said, "The prerequisite for China's cultural works to reach a broader foreign audience, especially younger generations, is to have excellent China stories well told."

Driven by that realization, Tencent decided to adopt three approaches: exploring the full potential of theatrical topics based on daily lives; developing intellectual property derived from quality internet novels, cartoons and comics; and fostering an ecosystem of content creativity and industrialized production.

For instance, Super Cube is a Kuaikan comic series about an ordinary boy who provokes underworld gangsters, accidentally receives goddesses' boon, and obtains a mysterious cube that brings him superpowers.

Super Cube became popular on Japanese platform Piccoma, according to Kuaikan. "We are using digitization to create an innovative mode of creation, distribution, and commercialization of comics. We want to create works that can make the world feel happy and moved," Chen said.