Manga has been around for ages, but recently, there’s been a fundamental shift within the hobby. Where once the fandom could be considered a niche interest, manga has become a bonafide mainstream piece of pop culture. In 2020, and especially within the past few months, manga sales are booming throughout the US — which means increased visibility for manga enthusiasts online.
“Manga sales have been steadily increasing for the past several years but 2020 saw an explosive growth,” Kevin Hamric, vice president of publishing sales at Viz Media, the largest manga publisher in America, told Polygon over email. Hamric shared that, according to the consumer research group NPD Bookscan, manga grew by nearly 43% in 2020.
“During the COVID crisis readers were binging on manga series — especially those that have an anime tie-in,” Hamric said.
More recently, data from the trade publication Publishers Weekly, a trade magazine for booksellers, showed that the superhero-inspired manga My Hero Academia Vol. 27 by Kohei Horikoshi was the sixth best-selling book in the country in early April. Weekly print sales for My Hero jumped from 11,620 to 21,820 units over the course of five weeks and sold 70,985 units in total over that period of time. Titles like Tatsuki Fujimoto’s dark fantasy series Chainsaw Man Vol. 4 outpaced high-in-demand novels like the paperback version of Where the Crawdads Sing. Crawdads, for reference, was the number one selling novel for 2020 and sold roughly 1.8 million units, but it still couldn’t beat sales for either Chainsaw Man or My Hero Academia Vol. 27.
Series like Gege Akutami’s Jujutsu Kaisen are regularly on the bestsellers list for national book sellers like Barnes & Noble, though the retailer did not respond to Polygon with specific figures. This means that, at one point, Jujutsu Kaisen’s Gojo Satoru and his bloody fingers were on a list right next to Barnes & Noble’s other best sellers, like The Women of the Bible Speak: The Wisdom of 16 Women and Their Lessons for Today.
For budding fans, there are a lot of reasons to read the paperback versions. While it might be more approachable to start a show, manga updates out more regularly. Manga series often also offer fans more character details, and take longer to develop stories than their television counterparts, making the books a way to experience a familiar plot in greater depth.
Kate Sánchez, a writer and founder of an online geek community, is one of many readers who got into manga over the pandemic. She now posts her own recommendations and unboxing videos on her Instagram. Manga videos like these are booming online, as fans rush to post their manga collections and manga hauls showing off recent shopping sprees.
And while many manga are available to read digitally, paperbacks enhance the overall experience of reading and are fun collectors items. “[The manga] are just beautiful,” Sánchez told Polygon.
“The covers, the layouts, the spines. There’s just something, emotional to them,” she later added. Sánchez had initially started reading digitally, but to her, owning the physical copies felt special. “The illustration doesn’t necessarily have the same quality [digitally] as when you read it in print,” she said.
One especially popular TikTok shows a video of a person filling up their new bookshelf with their extensive manga collection. The white bookshelf starts out empty, but someone is determined to change that. Holding as many books as they can, they gently place more and more titles on the shelf. These colorful spines belong to sets of manga. Each set hits the shelf with a satisfying thud, perfectly lined in ascending order and ready to be shown off. The video, while simple, is satisfying to watch — which is likely why it has 2.5 million views.
filling my new shelves!! #mangacollection♬ Cinnamon Bun - Prod by Rose
Now that the community is large enough, and visible enough, that people like Sánchez are joining in. “I wanted to be a part of that online community and that space,” she told Polygon. “Growing up, manga was just something that I did by myself.” Now, she gets to share it with others.
All these perks of reading paper copies are backed by a roaring year for anime.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train had the largest foreign language debut of any movie ever. Sony’s Funimation bought the anime streaming service Crunchyroll for $1.175 billion. In addition to this, major companies like Netflix are starting to invest in anime in a serious way, like when the company announced it will release “around 40” anime titles, movies and series in 2021.
Being into manga no longer feels as niche as it did 10 years ago.
“If you had told me, like little me, who used to get bullied for reading manga, reading comics, watching anime, that kind of stuff, that we’d be in such an amazing environment I wouldn’t have believed you,” Sánchez said.