Name: Kazuki Takahashi
Birthday: October 4, 1961
Born In: Tokyo, Japan

The creater of YU-GI-OH! became passionate about drawing comics in his teens, and made his debut in Japan's best-selling weekly comic magazine, Shonen Jump, in 1991. After taking some time to recharge his artistic energy, he began drawing the comics series YU-GI-OH! in 1996. The animated version of YU-GI-OH! debuted in 2000 and became an immediate hit, spawning a mania that included video games, animation, and a card game, all of which boasted record sales. 23 million comics have been sold thus far.

This is an interview had with Kazuki Takahashi

TIME: How did you get your start in manga?
TAKAHASHI: As a kid, I always liked to draw. But it wasn't till high school that I tried to actually put a manga together. I published my first one 20 years ago. It was a cartoon comedy about a high school, and it was a total flop. Then I followed with one about pro-wrestling, which was also a failure. I don't really like to think about it.

TIME: How did the idea for Yu-Gi-Oh! come to you?
TAKAHASHI: I've always been obsessed with games. Certainly as a kid, and even today, I like blackjack and board games like Scotland Yard. In a game, the player becomes the hero. And that's the basic premise for Yu-Gi-Oh. The main character, Yugi, is a weak and childish boy who becomes a hero when he plays games.

TIME: In the early episodes, Yugi plays a whole variety of games, some with toys, others with gadgets. But the manga didn't take off until you introduced the card game.
TAKAHASHI: That's right. Originally, I'd planned to phase out that particular game in two episodes. But the reader response we got was enormous. Shonen Jump started getting calls from all these kids who wanted to know more about the game -- how to play it, where they could get it. At the time, kids didn't really play card games; they were way into video games. But it's much more thrilling to battle against a human being while looking them in the eye than playing with a machine. I realized I'd hit on something, so I began to concentrate on the card game.

TIME: Is it hard to come up with unique creatures for the cards, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses? I heard you've created something like 700.
TAKAHASHI: I stopped counting, but I think it's more like 1,000. And, yeah, it's hard. I'm not sure how many more I've got left in me. But all boys love monsters, and I'm no different, so it's also really fun. What I try to do is fit the creature to the characteristics of the character playing the card. For instance, Kaiba, Yugi's archenemy, is mean and vicious, so his cards tend to be that way, too

TIME: What's your favorite card?
TAKAHASHI: Blue Eyes White Dragon. It's the very first card I introduced, so it has special significance.

TIME: Yu-Gi-Oh! has been called the next Pokemon. What has turned it into such a monstrous hit?
TAKAHASHI: The thing about the card game is that you can't play by yourself. You have to play with friends. That's how it spread: one kid saying to another, let's play Yu-Gi-Oh. As far as the manga story goes, I think all kids dream of henshin -- the ability to turn into something, or someone, else. Yugi's henshin into a savvy, invincible games player is a big appeal [to children]. There's also the mystery surrounding the games and the characters on the cards. Kids like that, too.

TIME: How do you think Americans will respond to Yu-Gi-Oh?
TAKAHASHI: The story centers on the life of a normal Japanese schoolboy, so I'm not sure they'll understand all of it. But here's the main thing I want them to understand: if you combine the "yu" in Yugi and the "jo" in Jounouchi [the main character's best friend], you get the word yujo. Yujo translates to friendship in English, but it's actually more powerful than that. If American kids get a strong sense of friendship among the characters in the story, I'll be happy.