Vietnamese adults and their manga obsession

By Minh Trang   April 25, 2022 | 09:15 pm PT
When asked how many comics he currently owns, Nguyen Hoang Viet stayed silent for a moment before shaking his head and admitting he has "lost count."

Viet has a 30-square-meter room just for storing his comic books, but even that is not big enough for all of them, and so he has had to store some in cardboard boxes.

"One time I helped a friend buy a comic book he liked. When it later got mixed up with the stacks of comics in my house, I wasn't able to find it to give to my friend."

Two bookshelves in Nguyen Hoang Viets house are stacked with comic books. Photo courtesy of Viet

Two bookshelves in Nguyen Hoang Viet's house stacked with comic books. Photo courtesy of Viet

The 29-year-old from Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung District was first exposed to Japanese comics (manga) when he was four years old.

"My parents would give my sister a comic book every time she got a high score, and I got to read them as well. I still remember vividly that 'Duong Dan Den Khung Thanh' (The Path To The Goal, Kattobi Itto in Japanese) volume 18, was the first ever comic I read."

He gradually began to develop a passion for collecting comic books. In 2011 he became the admin of an online community group where people exchanged and shared information about manga.

Though he has lost count of how many manga series he currently has, he says he owns "40 out of 50 manga that are currently available in Vietnam".

He emphasizes that he collects them because it is a passion and not just for the sake of "trying to increase the quantity of his collection".

Viet claims the money he has spent on comics in the past five years would be "enough to buy an apartment in the heart of Hanoi."

Besides the manga series published in Vietnam, he also buys comics published abroad. One of his most valuable series is 'Thuy Thu Mat Trang' (Sailor Moon) with the author's signature that was sold in the U.S. for more than US$2,000 per volume.

My Chu is another big fan of manga though she is already 30 years old and married.

A large room in her and her husband's home in the U.S. is used to store more than 10,000 comics.

Chu has been a manga fan since the age of five. As a kid, she used to spend all her ‘lucky’ money and the money given to her to buy breakfast to buy comics.

After growing up, the salary from her graphic designer job has allowed her to buy 90 percent of the series released in Vietnam and 30 percent in the U.S.

She also hunts for old, rare series like the ones created by famous Japanese manga artist Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989).

To obtain them, she is willing to wait months for the shipment to arrive and pay two or three times the original price.

Adults addicted to comic books like Viet and My Chu are not uncommon, as Nguyen Thanh Tung, owner of a comic book store in Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung District points out: "50 percent of my customers are over the age of 25."

Viet too says many members of his online community group are adults. According to Facebook analysis data, the 25-34 age group accounts for 40 percent of the nearly 230,000 ‘likes’ for this page.

"There are teachers in their 50s also collecting manga," Viet says.

Manga is frequently associated with entertainment, but for adults who are addicted to comics, that is not the only reason they collect them by the thousands.

"Some collect comics now since they could not afford them as kids," Tung explains.

Huong Mai stands next to her bookshelves with over 3,000 comic books. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Trang

Huong Mai stands next to her bookshelves with over 3,000 comic books. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Trang

One such person is Le Huong Mai of HCMC's District 2.

The 30-year-old doctor says: "My mother rarely allowed me to buy comics when I was a kid. She completely forbade me to own any comics when I was in middle school, and so I rented them to read. At the time all I wanted was to have enough money to buy comics without worrying about the price. Fortunately, I am able to do so now".

The series Mai buys are nostalgic manga comics linked with her childhood like 'Sailor Moon', 'Tham Tu Lung Danh Conan' (Detective Conan), 'Bay Vien Ngoc Rong' (Dragon Ball Z) and 'Vua Tro Choi' (Yugi Oh).

But she also buys new ones she likes for their plot, drawing style and others.

She has bought over 3,000 comics since 2015.

The manga market is extremely diverse, she says.

"The world of comics is vast. Each age group has its own series, so the notion that 'manga is only for children' is false".

Adults who read comics point out some have plots that are too deep for children to fully comprehend.

Until the age of 17 Viet read manga merely to unwind, but as he grew older he realized that they also had "valuable life lessons".

"In Doraemon, for example, every time Nobita uses a magical item to benefit himself, he encounters trouble as a form of karma. Or whenever the character Gian bullies his friends, there is no happy ending."

Many adults rediscovered their old hobby of reading manga when social distancing was in place.

"I would have gone insane without my comics during the lockdown period," Chu says.

She said that she only went outside four times in all of 2020 and continues to work remotely until now. During the Covid years she bought a large portion of new manga series.

Tung says comics are an easier hobby than many others unless it means buying limited editions from abroad, such as Viet's 'Sailor Moon' collection.

In Vietnam, a manga series is published once a month or every two weeks. A comic costs VND30,000 on average.

"So buying more than a dozen manga series every week is not a problem for working adults," Tung says.

Parents no longer come between a person and their love of comics when they reach adulthood.

Chu's father and husband even paid for shipping 70 kg of comics from Vietnam to the U.S., made bookshelves for them and frequently takes her to bookstores.

My Chus comic book collection. Photo courtesy of My

My Chu's comic book collection. Photo courtesy of My

However, they do get unfavorable comments from people around them.

When she posted photos of her comic book collection on social media, Chu got many comments criticizing her for being wasteful.

Mai is often teased by her coworkers who tell her she is still single because she still reads comic books.

But it is like water off a duck’s back."I will not give up my passion because of the opinions of people who do not respect me," Chu says.

Mai says she "still loves manga," it is a hobby and helps her relieve stress.

The idea of getting bored of manga has never even crossed Viet’s mind. "I don't think I will stop collecting manga anytime soon."

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