Despite being on par with the anime industry in terms of reach and size, the manga industry doesn’t get as much news coverage outside of what’s selling in any given week. This means that, as much as many like to debate its counterpart’s much-publicized highs and lows, the same can’t always be said for the manga industry, leading to more than a few misconceptions. This is a shame, as, on top of reaching all-time highs in North America in 2020, it’s also been a record-breaking year in Japan, against all odds.
This may have slipped under your radar, but as revealed by the All Japan Magazine and Book Publisher’s and Editor’s Association (AJPEA) earlier in February 2021, manga (referred to as the “comic market”) saw domestic sales increase by 23% in 2020 to 612.6 billion yen, or $5.6 Billion. This the highest since statistical figures were first reported in 1978. It’s also surpassed the industry’s last peak of 586.4 billion yen, which was in 1995. Though this doesn’t include international sales, it’s worth noting that those numbers alone overshadow the domestic sales of Anglophone comics and graphic novels, which reported a “new high” of $1.28 billion in revenue for the same period.
Just as notable, however, is how this came about. In no small part, this is due to the industry’s adoption, and embrace, of digital distribution after 2014. This undoubtedly arrested the apparent decline in physical sales that had been going on for nearly 20 years, with electronic platforms becoming more readily accessible to consumers. Moreover, within a few years, it has come to comprise over half of those impressive figures, eclipsing both book copies and traditional magazines. This isn’t to ignore how massively successful Demon Slayer turned out to be, “special editions” boosting print releases, or how “Covid fatigue” may have played a role in spiking profits. Still, given how consistent this trend has been, who could have expected this to break the old status quo, and so dramatically?
Amazing as all that sounds, it gets more so when you put into account all the odds seemingly going against manga. Online piracy, for one, has been a recurring issue for the industry, prompting concern from both the government and mangaka like Ken Akamatsu. The impact of COVID-19 also could not be understated, playing about as much of a role in the decline in physical sales for 2020. Meanwhile, there’s been greater competition over time, notably from Korean manhwa through platforms such as WEBTOON. Fears of censorship have also been raised, as highlighted by the now-infamous, if retracted, remarks from Kadokawa CEO Takeshi Natsuno. In addition to how some of the most popular works nowadays, including Demon Slayer, already had their endings announced, such developments have certainly left some wondering just what the future may hold going forward.
In spite of such issues, however, manga has not only persevered but thrived in this brave new world. Promising works like Sakamoto Days have come out over the past year, while Japanese publishers are increasingly taking matters into their own hands – such as the World Maker Manga app for aspiring mangaka, and digital platforms like MANGA Plus to attract overseas audiences. Clearly, they’re stepping up to the challenges ahead, rather than resting on their laurels. Although it’s not all smooth-sailing, it is certainly a far cry from the grim sentiments of just a decade ago.
Despite the odds, it looks like your favorite works are here to stay.
What are your thoughts on the state of the manga industry today? Feel free to chime in the comments below!