Comicsbeat has released a stunning report on the sales of graphic novels and trade paperbacks in 2021 that shows the current strength of the market — especially for manga. It’s been another enormous year for print manga sales, following up on 2021’s momentum.
The review covers all book store sales through NPD BookScan, which reflect all bookstores that report to sales tracker and data center NPD Books. This includes Amazon and many major retailers, but it isn’t a complete look at the industry — it misses out on markets like library purchases, digital comics, or Scholastic book fairs. Despite these limitations, there are still some starting numbers showing the comic industry’s recent success.
The report’s author, Brian Hibbs, explains: “In 2021, comics thoroughly exploded in a way that almost defies rationality — not only was raw circulation up by nearly 70% (!), more comics material was sold in 2021 than 2018 and 2019 combined (!!) If we compare the 2021 sales to our first BookScan report in 2003, there’s more than a 558% growth in number of copies sold (!!!). If I didn’t see the numbers written in black & white, I’m not sure I’d even believe it.”
Hibbs notes that 64% of all sales are of books by just 95 people — but he sees that as a good sign. “This is a vast broadening of the talent pool — in 2020 it was only 51 people, who represented 61% of sales,” Hibbs writes. Some of the most popular creators selling comics and manga right now include Dan Pilkey, creator of the Captain Underpants series; My Hero Academia creator Kohei Horikoshi; authors from the Babysitter’s Club graphic novel adaptations; and YouTuber FGTeeV.
“What you can take from this is that only a tiny number of creators drive the majority of the business in comics (and books in general, as far as I can tell); and conversely, this probably means that the numerical majority of comics aren’t actually significantly profitable any given year.”
Manga has seen a similar boom. Sales tripled within the top 50, and are up 280% in calculated dollars in 2021. While this is mostly concentrated in popular franchises like Chainsaw Man, Attack on Titan, and My Hero Academia, it shows that the cultural impact and popularity of manga are increasing over time.
The full Bookscan 2021 report is on Comicsbeat, where Hibbs does a deep dive into every facet of the data. However, the numbers are an extremely promising sign for the industry’s continued success.