In a rapidly evolving literary landscape, a remarkable phenomenon is captivating the imagination of a new generation of readers. Translated fiction, once considered a niche category, has undergone a vibrant resurgence, with sales in translated fiction increasing by 22% last year compared to 2021. According to the Booker Prize Foundation in the UK, the largest purchase group for translated fiction is made up of 25-34 year olds which is a much younger cohort than the overall largest fiction purchase group which is aged 60-84. This data “excludes the sales of graphic novels such as Japanese manga”. Topics from Argentinian horror to Japanese thrillers have changed the landscape of literature, ushering in a wave of internationally acclaimed stories that have captured the hearts and minds of young readers.
Historically, Norwegian and Swedish authors were the most popular within the genre of translated fiction. This was replaced by a burst of French fiction making up the highest proportion. However, of the 2 million translated fiction books that were sold in Britain last year, the most popular language, with just under half a million volumes purchased, was Japanese (excluding manga) followed by South Korean. This article explores how translated fiction has become a cultural phenomenon around the globe, fostering an intercontinental literary exchange, and examines the forces behind its meteoric rise.
The rise of translated fiction owes much to the efforts of independent publishers who have fearlessly championed works that might have otherwise remained hidden gems. Publishers like Fitzcarraldo Editions and Pushkin Press have become synonymous with literary quality and have played a pivotal role in shaping the tastes of young readers. Jacques Testard, the founder of Fitzcarraldo Editions, attributes the success of his publishing house to its commitment to engaging with contemporary themes and issues. This emphasis on relevance and resonance has struck a chord with younger readers seeking stories that reflect their world.
The International Booker Prize, an annual award established in 2016, sought to make translated authors integral to the literary mainstream, and it has succeeded admirably in doing so. Fiammetta Rocco, the prize's administrator, affirms its influence in reshaping perceptions of translated fiction, stating that its intent was always to be more than just "a book award with a nice dinner.".
The younger generation of readers has embraced translated fiction with open arms, rejecting the notion that such works are akin to unpalatable medicine. This shift is partly attributed to the daring and boundary-pushing nature of translated narratives. Rachel Atkin, a prominent voice in the literary community, observes that there's an undeniable appeal in reading stories that push the boundaries of convention. Social media platforms, particularly TikTok and Instagram, have amplified this appeal, offering readers a platform to share recommendations and discoveries, creating a community that thrives on personal endorsements rather than algorithmic suggestions.
Japanese literature has experienced a particularly fervent reception among these young readers. The appeal of Japanese fiction lies in its ability to explore universal themes through a distinctive lens. Lucy North, an accomplished Japanese translator, believes that Japanese authors excel in short fiction that is “quiet, undramatic, and deeply introspective”. This aesthetic resonates with young readers who seek to understand the world through different perspectives. Furthermore, the visual nature of social media has led to the rise of iconic book covers, with Fitzcarraldo Editions leading the charge. These covers have become symbols of cultural affinity, adorning social media posts and turning reading into a chic cultural accessory.
One of the big publishing success stories and perhaps one of the industry’s biggest surprises of the past few years is how well manga is selling around the world. The global manga market is experiencing robust growth, projected to achieve a remarkable 17.4% compound annual growth rate between 2023 and 2030. This growth is fueled by its engaging narratives, captivating visuals, and enduring cultural significance all whilst being heavily promoted by teens on TikTok.
The Japanese manga sector is flourishing, defying conventional expectations and prompting calls to leverage its potential for economic growth. The COVID-19 pandemic provided a boost to the market, as lockdown measures increased interest in manga and anime. The manga market is still in its infancy with fast projected growth in multiple channels (online and offline) and content formats (print and digital). Manga is a particularly dominant force in North American graphic novel publishing with 16.9 million units sold in 2022 in the US which contributed to 54% of total graphic novel sales. According to Brian Hibbs, these units raked in over $246 million last year. Despite current gender-specific trends, new target audiences are expected to develop a similar love for graphic novels such as manga in the near future.
The phenomenon of translated fiction and graphic novels capturing a new generation of readers is a testament to the power of storytelling and the human thirst for discovery. The younger generation's embrace of translated fiction underscores their willingness to engage with stories that challenge norms and broaden horizons. As the literary landscape continues to evolve, the future of translated fiction and graphic novels shines brightly, promising an era of exploration and connection that transcends borders and languages.