TOKYO — Kazuki Takahashi, the creator of the international smash hit manga and trading card game Yu-Gi-Oh!, was found dead in southern Japan, the country’s Coast Guard said Thursday.
His body was discovered on Wednesday floating off the coast of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture. Mr. Takahashi was traveling alone in Nago, a popular vacation destination, and had apparently been snorkeling when he died from unknown causes, a Coast Guard spokesman said. He was 60.
Mr. Takahashi, whose real name was Kazuo, began working as a manga artist in the early 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1996 that he began his rise to international fame with the story of a spiky-haired boy who challenges his enemies to duels involving magical games.
The story started as a one-off but ended up running for nearly eight years in the pages of the popular Japanese boys comic magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Along the way, it inspired movies, TV shows, video games and a collectible trading card game, which rivaled Pokemon as one of Japan’s most recognizable cultural exports.
The series and its spinoffs became a marketing goliath that sold itself: Movies and TV shows featured the characters playing a card game very similar to the one fans could purchase in their neighborhood hobby shops. New cards have been released on a regular basis since, continuing to update even after the manga and anime finished.
Yu-Gi-Oh! manga have made frequent appearances on best-seller lists, and the trading card game has generated billions of dollars in revenue for its publisher, Konami. A new video game version, released in January, was downloaded 30 million times in its first three months.
Local firefighters discovered Mr. Takahashi’s body at 11:27 a.m. Wednesday, following a report from local tourists, the Coast Guard said, adding that it is investigating the cause of his death.
News of his death broke in the late afternoon in Japan and was met with an outpouring of grief on social media both in his home country and around the world.
Rhymestyle, a YouTuber with more than a million subscribers, said on Twitter that Mr. Takahashi had given him the “greatest childhood ever” and that he still plays Yu-Gi-Oh! today.
One fan, Liam Burchell, 23, of Nova Scotia, Canada, said Thursday morning that he was upset by the news and was already looking over some of his old Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. He was introduced to the series as a 4-year-old.
After years of collecting up to 2,000 cards, some of which are stored in binders and others are kept in a box in his closet, Mr. Burchell said he has stepped away from the game with no concrete plans to return.
But he admits, “Every now and again, it’s fun to get some friends together and play and relive those older memories, whether it’s playing with the actual cards or playing one of the online simulators.”
Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.