If There’s One Manga Character We Need, It’s Naomi Osaka


If There’s One Manga Character We Need, It’s Naomi Osaka

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

At just 23 years of age, Naomi Osaka is already a household name, especially in houses where tennis fans reside. The Haitian-Japanese tennis star, who burst onto the global stage by upsetting the nearly invincible Serena Williams at the 2018 US Open, is now going to be known for more than just her rocket of a serve or her growing collection of Grand Slam titles. In Japan, the Nakayosi magazine has announced it will be publishing a manga series centred on a protagonist based on the 23-year-old. Called Unrivalled Naomi Tenkaichi, the series, aimed at teenage girls, will launch on December 28.

Osaka herself is excited about the manga series. Unveiling her character on Twitter, she said, “Growing up reading manga/watching anime was something that bonded me and my sister immensely so this is really exciting for both of us”. Her older sister Mari, who is also a tennis player, was involved in the creation of Unrivalled Naomi Tenkaichi. Nakayosi Magazine also shared the artwork for the series, while revealing that another pair of sisters, Japanese illustrator duo Futago Kamikita, will be behind the creatives.

Since her debut as a teenager, Osaka has gone from strength to strength in the sporting world. This year, she supplanted her most famous rival, Serena Williams, as the world’s highest paid female athlete.

And that’s not all. At the US Open, Osaka sent a powerful message about the Black Lives Matter protests, as she wore masks highlighting Black people whose deaths sparked racial injustice protests.

In Japan, Osaka currently has a slew of lucrative sponsorship deals, being one of the country’s most recognisable international sports stars. Her new manga series is set to cash in on her burgeoning popularity, both as a role model for girls in sports and people of colour worldwide.

As the daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother, controversy has followed an earlier cartoon depiction of Osaka, with some accusing an advertisement for a noodles company of “whitewashing” Osaka’s appearance. But with Osaka personally giving her blessings to the new manga, it appears this attempt will fare somewhat better.