Rocket Staff, startup behind free manga apps, acquired by Japan’s largest anime retailer

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons / Rocket Staff

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Rocket Staff, known for its “all-you-can-read for free manga” app called Manga King ( iOS / Android ), was confirmed that it has been acquired by Japanese largest anime retail chain Animate. The amount of the acquisition has not been disclosed but we learned that Animate will take a 70% stake of Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean business entities, making Rocket Staff a consolidated subsidiary of Animate.

Following this acquisition, Animate CEO Ryu Takahashi and several of its directors are expected to join the board of directors at Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean companies. Kou Youngwook, the founder of Rocket Staff, will continue serving his company as the CEO, and there will be no major changes in their business.

Animate made 65 billion yen in an annual group sales and accounted for a third of the entire Japanese anime market which is estimated to be worth 240 billion yen. Having about 30 group companies under their wing, the anime giant is considered active in corporate acquisitions. As one residing in the Japanese startup community, it is still fresh in our minds that Pixiv, the Japanese startup behind a social illustration service under the same name, was acquired by the Animate group in 2015.

CEO and Founder Kou Yongwook (left and front) and some of his team at Rocket Staff.
Image credit: Rocket Staff

Kou came to Japan alone from South Korea 20 years ago at his age of 20. After working at a TV station based out of Tokyo, he established Rocket Staff in November of 2010. Making the most of his Korean background, he developed apps across Japan and South Korea, coordinated app marketing for both markets, and served as a correspondent reporting on the state of technology in Japan for an IT-focused TV channel in South Korea. Some of his notable apps include Peppermeet, which allows users to chat and share photos with others nearby, and Ad&Joy, which allows users to earn points by watching ads.

In 2018, Rocket Staff launched a blockchain-powered decentralized ad network called ACA Network, but this did not work out and was subsequently forced to shut down. The company’s core business is currently Manga King, which turns manga titles published in a printed form in the past into the mobile app format so that they can share revenue from ads placed alongside manga episodes with manga publishers. There are more than 50,000 manga episodes available on the mobile app now, and users have downloaded these episodes over 300 million times to date.

Rocket Staff’s joining the Animate group is expected to help accelerate the latter’s digital transformation initiative. In our previous interview with Kou, he revealed his vision such as partnering with popular manga artist teams in Taiwan and South Korea, building a new distribution system for manga using blockchain, and working with publishers and other organizations to create a unique ecosystem where fans’ evaluations can lead to creators’ motivation and income.

Stay tuned for our further coverage reporting their business development details after the acquisition.