Momoko Sakura, the creator of the much-loved Chibi Maruko-chan manga and anime series about a little girl called Maruko, died of breast cancer on Aug 15, her company said Monday. She was 53.

The funeral has been already held, with only family members and close friends in attendance, the firm said in a statement posted on its website together with an illustration of Maruko and her friends.

Sakura, who debuted as a manga artist in 1984, started the Chibi Maruko-chan series in the August 1986 issue of the monthly manga magazine Ribbon.

Photo: 1982 filepic by The Yomiuri Shimbun

The series proved to be extremely popular and in 1990 it was made into an anime series, which also became a big success and still continues to this day. The anime series was aired in many other countries and regions including China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

The first theme song of the series, Odoru Ponpokorin, became a hit, selling more than 1.73 million copies in 1990.

“I feel so sad about her demise, which came too early. But the bright smiles of Maru-chan and her friends will keep shining in the minds of readers ranging from kids to adults,” wrote Soichi Aida, the editor-in-chief of Ribbon, in a statement posted on the magazine’s website. “Big thanks for Ms. Momoko Sakura,” he wrote.

The last blog post by her was dated July 2. It was about the advancement of the Japanese national football team into the knockout round of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. “I wonder if it’s lucky for them to advance into the (knockout part of the tournament). Anyway I want them to hang tough in the game against the Belgian team,” she wrote.

According to local media reports, the production team of the hit series has stated their intention to continue the series. – The Japan Times/Tribune News Service