One classic crime genre involves yakuza, the Japanese equivalent of gangsters. With their scars and sunglasses, colorful suits, and colorful tattoos, yakuza are instantly recognizable in manga, and often in real life, too. Although they sometimes clash with the authorities or citizen groups, they are considered (or at least consider themselves) a semilegitimate part of the community; after the 1995 Kobe earthquake, the local yakuza openly helped provide food and supplies to the victims. Today, they make most of their money from protection rackets and gray-area businesses such as pachinko, gambling, prostitution, and loan-sharking. Yakuza represent the extreme of traditional Japanese machismo; in the 1960s and 1970s yakuza movies were a massive genre, traditionally depicting their heroes as noble samurai warriors in a corrupt modern world, although later portrayals became more ironic and nihilistic, following Kinji Fukusaku’s 1973 film Jingi naki Tatakai (“Battles Without Honor and Humanity”). While many manga are willing to use yakuza thugs as cannon fodder, others are more ambivalent. In Masaomi Kanzaki’s Gun Crisis: Deadly Curve, before the heroic cop blows away the drug-dealing yakuza, it’s made clear that he’s a “bad” yakuza (“I met with your head boss earlier … I’m to inform you that you are banned for life from the Kanto-kai!”).
Yakuza manga, usually serialized in men’s magazines or rougher shônen magazines such as Weekly Shônen Champion, are traditionally a popular genre: some of the longest-running titles include Ayumi Tachihara’s Maji! (1987) at 50 volumes, Kazumasa Kiuchi and Jun Watanabe’s time-traveling yakuza story Emblem Take 2 (1990) at 62 volumes, and Tatsuo Nitta’s Shizuka naru Don (“The Quiet Don”) (1989) at 80 volumes and still running. Possibly due to their generally old-fashioned themes and art styles, almost no yakuza manga have been translated, with the exception of Sho Fumimura and Ryoichi Ikegami’s Santuary (1990). Kazuma Kodaka, a female artist, was forced to draw under a male pen name when working in the traditionally manly genre; perhaps in retaliation, she went on to create the yaoi yakuza manga Kizuna: Bonds of Love (1992).