One of China’s most popular mobile apps for reading comics, Kuaikan Manhua, announced Friday that it had completed a Series D financing round totaling $177 million — the largest investment to date for the country’s booming comics industry.
The financing round was led by international capital fund Coatue Management. Other participants included China Media Capital, the Chinese mainland’s most prolific media industry investor founded by Li Ruigang, who has been compared to Rupert Murdoch.
“China’s animation and comics market has huge potential compared to developed countries,” Coatue’s China director, Jiang Kai, told media outlets including Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper. “The younger generation’s needs are far from being satisfied.” According to data consultancy Big Data Research, China’s animation, comics, and games market is expected to be valued at 150 billion yuan ($22 billion) by the end of the year.
Kuaikan Manhua was established in 2014 by 22-year-old Chen Anni, who rose to fame while still in college for her autobiographical comic published on microblogging platform Weibo. The Kuaikan Manhua mobile app now has 130 million registered users, including nearly 10 million daily active users. According to a report published by tech data service provider QuestMobile in December 2016, Kuaikan Manhua ranked No. 60 in a list of the 100 most popular apps among millennial users in China.
Yet the company has had a rough road to success. In December 2014, when Chen lamented in a postpromoting the app that she was only living “1 percent of life,” some commenters criticized her for trying to “emotionally blackmail” people into supporting her dream. In the same month, Kuaikan Manhua publicly apologized for republishing two much-loved comic artists’ works without their consent. Keen-eyed readers were quick to point out that the app had also reproduced several comics by foreign artists without authorization.
But in the last couple of years, Kuaikan Manhua has improved its copyright compliance record and shrugged off its past negative publicity. In September, its original content won two awards at the China Animation & Comic Competition, a major event backed by the country’s official media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The company has also introduced original Chinese comics to foreign markets: For example, Japanese platform Comico imported three comic series after they found fame on Kuaikan Manhua.
Kuaikan Manhua has announced that the latest investment will be used to serve and support comic artists on its platform, scout out rising talent, and hold competitions to celebrate the sector’s development.
–This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.