Momoko Sakura, 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 already been held, with only family members and close friends in attendance, the firm wrote in a statement posted on its website together with an illustration of Maruko and her friends (www.sakuraproduction.jp)

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.

The series proved to be extremely popular and in 1990 was made into an anime series, which also became a big success and still continues to this day. The anime series has been aired in more than 60 countries and regions, including China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Mexico, Venezuela and Chile.

The first theme song of the series, “Odoru Ponpokorin,” also 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.

Her last blog post 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 for the hit series has stated their intention to continue the series.

Sakura Murakami contributed to this report

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