As a reader, I got hooked on manga before I even started watching anime. In fact, I still recall my amazement when I borrowed the first tankobon of Fruits Basket from my high school classmate. It was my first time reading anything from right to left, and it was all my homeroom class could talk about for a while.
It’s been well over a decade since, and manga has only gotten more popular and mainstream. Although it may seem that anime has gained more international acclamation, Japan’s manga industry continues to hit record numbers year after year.
Now, if you’re a casual anime watcher from the West, this may be surprising for you. And so in this article, we’re going to take a look at information and data to assess and understand manga’s popularity across different nations and cultures.
Let’s get to it!
How popular is manga?
In this section, we will consider manga’s popularity in Japan and America, as they are two nations with the largest market share in the manga industry.
Manga is the most popular form of entertainment in Japan. It is at the heart of their pop culture, and it is far more accessible and easier to consume than other entertainment methods.
Manga can be bought anywhere – in bookstores, convenience stores, and 100-yen store chains. And given that many people in Japan tend to live on work and sleep alone, manga becomes their quick escape as they read it on trains and during their lunch breaks.
Manga is, after all, significantly cheaper in Japan. The average volume sells for 400 yen. This converts to $3.64. In contrast, the cheapest brand new manga that you can purchase in America is $8.
Demon Slayer is the most popular manga in Japan. It sold 82.35 million units in 2020. This is ten times more than the second most popular manga, Kingdom, which sold 8.25 million units.
Meanwhile, anime is something that people actually take the time to watch at the end of the day. In Japan, people have to turn on their TV and watch their preferred series at their specific time slots.
If you missed the viewing time, you would have to buy an anime DVD, which can be quite costly.
For example, one volume of Tantei wa Mou, Shindeiru costs 670 yen or $5.87. Meanwhile, the DVD of episodes 1-4 of the anime costs 12,100 yen or $105.93. This is why anime there is viewed as a market for hardcore fans or otaku.
It is also important to remember that Japan considers manga as a form of literature. Although the most popular titles are typically shounen series, the medium itself caters to a large demographic.
This is why manga has so many genres, including historical, horror, tragedy, psychological, and memoirs.
A closer look
According to the All Japan Magazine and Book Publisher’s and Editor’s Association, otherwise known as AJPEA, the industry hit 612.5 billion yen in 2020. That equates to a cool $5.6 billion, by the way.
It’s the highest profits ever recorded for the manga market in Japan!
Sales spurred on by digital manga certainly helped, as it made the product more accessible to people around the world.
For reference, digital manga sales went up by 31.9% from 2019 to 2020. Given this time of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that people shifted to purchasing volumes online instead.
But that doesn’t mean that the physical manga lagged behind, as their sales still increased by 12% from 2019 to 2020. Clearly, the manga industry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
By the numbers
So that you can better appreciate the growth and trends of the manga industry, I took the data tracked by AJPEA and outlined them in the following table:
|Year||Sales of Physical Manga Volumes||Sales of Physical Manga Magazines||Sales of Digital Manga Volumes + Magazines||Total Market Size|
|1994||252 billion yen||332.5 billion yen||N/A||584.5 billion yen|
|1995||250.7 billion yen||335.7 billion yen||N/A||586.4 billion yen|
|1996||253.5 billion yen||331.2 billion yen||N/A||584.7 billion yen|
|1997||242.1 billion yen||327.9 billion yen||N/A||570 billion yen|
|1998||247.3 billion yen||320.7 billion yen||N/A||568 billion yen|
|1999||230.2 billion yen||304.1 billion yen||N/A||534.3 billion yen|
|2000||237.2 billion yen||285.1 billion yen||N/A||522.3 billion yen|
|2001||248 billion yen||283.7 billion yen||N/A||531.7 billion yen|
|2002||248.2 billion yen||274.8 billion yen||N/A||523 billion yen|
|2003||254.9 billion yen||261.1 billion yen||N/A||516 billion yen|
|2004||249.8 billion yen||254.9 billion yen||N/A||504.7 billion yen|
|2005||260.2 billion yen||242.1 billion yen||N/A||502.3 billion yen|
|2006||253.3 billion yen||227.7 billion yen||N/A||481 billion yen|
|2007||249.5 billion yen||220.4 billion yen||N/A||469.9 billion yen|
|2008||231.2 billion yen||211.1 billion yen||N/A||442.3 billion yen|
|2009||227.4 billion yen||191.3 billion yen||N/A||418.7 billion yen|
|2010||231.5 billion yen||177.6 billion yen||N/A||409.1 billion yen|
|2011||225.3 billion yen||168 billion yen||N/A||393.3 billion yen|
|2012||220.2 billion yen||156.4 billion yen||N/A||376.6 billion yen|
|2013||223.1 billion yen||143.8 billion yen||N/A||366.9 billion yen|
|2014||225.6 billion yen||131.3 billion yen||88.7 billion yen||445.6 billion yen|
|2015||210.2 billion yen||116.6 billion yen||116.9 billion yen||443.7 billion yen|
|2016||194.7 billion yen||101.6 billion yen||149.1 billion yen||445.4 billion yen|
|2017||165.6 billion yen||91.7 billion yen||174.7 billion yen||432 billion yen|
|2018||157.8 billion yen||83.4 billion yen||200.2 billion yen||441.4 billion yen|
|2019||166.5 billion yen||72.2 billion yen||259.3 billion yen||498 billion yen|
|2020||207.9 billion yen||62.7 billion yen||342 billion yen||612.6 billion yen|
To understand the nuances of this graph, you must know that when mangas are published in Japan, they are released through manga magazines.
Manga magazines typically contain around 20 – 30 different manga series. Each series releases one chapter, weekly or monthly, and they are compiled into an anthology.
There are over 120 different manga magazines. Some of the most popular manga magazines like Shonen Jump and Kodansha Shonen have made their magazines available to international audiences in English and via digital release.
Meanwhile, manga volumes are the compiled chapters of a specific manga series. This is the kind of manga that is typically sold in bookstores on our side of the world.
The ups and downs of manga
We can see in the table that manga, in general, peaked in the late 1990s, and then it slowly declined until it hit its lows in the early 2010s.
Although some argue that this decline was due to the stigma that came about surrounding mediums like manga and anime, I can’t entirely agree.
My personal hypothesis is that this decrease wasn’t necessarily brought about by fewer manga readers. Instead, it was caused by fewer manga buyers. After all, it was during that time that manga piracy became rampant.
And with smartphones and tablets becoming more common during those years, even the most ardent of manga supporters may have been lured in by the convenience.
Unfortunately, at the time, the manga industry refused to turn digital, so people turned to unofficial manga apps and websites instead.
This is probably why when digital manga became official in 2014, the industry began bouncing back. We also see a shift in numbers as people made the switch from physical manga to digital manga.
Yet, for the most part, the total amount of sales between 2014 to 2019 stabilized, implying that while readers shifted mediums, their overall numbers stayed the same.
Hence, the only reason for the big jump in manga sales come 2020 is this: new fans were drawn into the world of manga.
The growth continues.
America is the birthplace of Netflix, so, unsurprisingly, Americans have an affinity for TV shows and movies. In general, it is a place where you will find more watchers than readers.
This is why it might come as a surprise to you to discover that the manga industry has been booming in America.
NDP Bookscan, the leading sales tracking organization in publishing, released their top-selling Adult Graphics Novels for the first quarter of 2021. Guess what? Manga filled every single one of the top 20 slots.
Fun fact: 19 out of the 20 manga books that were part of NPD Bookscan’s Top 20 Adult Graphic Novels were published by Viz Media. The most famous seried included My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer, and Jujutsu Kaisen.
This doesn’t come as a surprise for those who keep track of the industry numbers, as manga sales in America increased by 43% from 2019 – 2020, surpassing their previous all-time high.
Overall manga sales in 2020 amounted to around $250 million, making up 75% of graphic novel sales for the year.
By the numbers
To better understand the manga market in America, let’s take a look at the numbers.
The data outlined below was obtained from ICV2. Do note that there are no reliable sources for the tracking of digital manga sales in America, and so we didn’t include them in this table.
|Year||Sales of Physical Manga|
The trend is fairly similar to what can be seen in Japan’s table, and it can be argued that the proliferation of piracy manga websites also had something to do with the sharp decline in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
However, given that these numbers don’t reflect digital manga sales, we can’t attribute the recovery to the shift to digital publication. Viz Media, an American publishing company, credits it to the increasing popularity of titles like Tokyo Ghoul and One Punch Man instead.
This is because these stories appealed to a wider market, including older readers. In contrast, previous popular titles such as Fruits Basket and Naruto largely appealed to a younger fanbase.
The rise of anime also helped. In fact, ICV2 credits the beginning of the turnaround in 2013 to Attack on Titan, which began streaming in English that year. Viewers who became fans of the series went on to purchase the manga, as they wanted to consume more of the story.
Is manga more popular than anime?
With that said, you may begin to think that anime’s influence on manga sales may have to do with the fact that it’s more popular. After all, it’s good to hear that manga is doing great, but is it doing good enough to beat anime?
There are two ways to tackle this question: subjectively and objectively.
- Subjectively: By asking manga and anime fans about their preferences
- Objectively: By looking at the data and comparing industry sales
Manga vs. Anime popularity according to the Western fans
As we have discussed in the section above, manga is more popular than anime in Japan, so that answers that question. But do Western fans share the same opinion? After all, buying a manga in America is more expensive and tedious than buying one in Japan.
I went to the My Anime List forum and conducted a poll to find out. Here are the results:
|Option||Number of users||Percentage|
|I read manga, and I like it better than anime||20||17.39%|
|I read manga, but I like anime better||74||64.35%|
|I don’t read manga because I like anime better||21||18.26%|
At the time of this writing, we were able to obtain a small pool of 115 respondents. Nonetheless, given that everyone who goes on the forum is a dedicated anime fan, I would say that it’s a reputable reference.
And if we base it on this table, a total of 81.74% of anime fans answered that they still read manga. Although more than half of them stated that they liked anime as a medium better, they could not deny the fact that the manga counterparts usually contained more of the story.
This comment perfectly encapsulates that idea:
And so, subjectively speaking, although many Western fans prefer anime, that doesn’t stop them from reading manga as well.
You can access the results here to see more detailed responses from those who participated in the poll.
Manga vs. Anime popularity according to industry numbers
Now, let’s look at what the industry numbers have to say. If manga and anime were to go head-to-head, which one would come out on top?
According to Netflix’s 2020 Year in Review, anime viewing rose by over 100% from 2019.
While the manga industry has been hitting record highs, the anime industry hasn’t done as well as people have hoped.
According to Teikoku Databank, total anime sales for 2020 amounted to 251 billion yen or $2.3 billion. That is 1.8% less than anime sales for 2019 and 59% less than manga sales for 2020.
This is in spite of the fact that Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train made box office history in 2020 as the highest-grossing film in Japan — ever.
And so, while many would argue that the drop in sales was caused by the pandemic, as production on several anime series has been delayed, one would think that this would have been offset by the record-breaking numbers of Demon Slayer.
Still, it wasn’t so.
And so, if we’re going by these numbers, we can say that anime is actually 59% less popular than manga.
Is manga more popular than comics?
For several years now, manga has been outselling comics globally. In fact, it has gotten to the point wherein it would be more appropriate to say that the manga industry has completely eclipsed the comics industry.
Just one volume of a popular manga series does well enough to match the yearly sales of all comic books.
In 2020, the comics industry sold a total of 15.5 million units for all titles. In comparison, Dragon Slayer sold more than 100 million copies of its manga for that year.
This large gap can be attributed to many things. A quick search through forums online would show us that comics fans themselves have grown tired of the stories and characters being re-used by Marvel and D.C.
Although the multiverse may be a point of interest in the movies, comics readers beg to differ.
Meanwhile, despite common tropes, mangakas continue to come out with original characters and plot lines. Even long-running series like Naruto and One Piece found ways to keep their stories fresh.
But of course, there’s much more to it than that. The following video provides an interesting comparison of the manga and comics industries. It makes several points that could give us an insight as to why manga has become more popular globally:
Although manga fans may not be as vocal as anime or comics fans, they prove their affinity for the medium through sales and numbers. Manga is not only popular; it is arguably the most popular form of entertainment among its counterparts.
And with digital manga on the rise, we can say that it’s only just getting started.