Japan’s Manga Industry in Dire Straits


Japan’s manga industry faces great peril, with a significant drop in overall sales and a precipitous drop in sales for manga magazines suggesting that change may be required sooner rather than later if the industry is to arrest its decline.

Weekly Shonen jump is a case in point – Shueisha’s flagship magazine sold 6 million copies each week in 1995, which has more than halved to 2.8 million now. Analysis suggests much the same pattern across other magazines in the industry.

Below are the decline in 2009 sales versus those of a year earlier:

Shonen, etc:

Weekly Shonen Jump 2,807,000 0.7%
Weekly Shonen Magazine 1,633,000 -6.9%
Korokoro Comic 937,000 6.0%
Monthly Shonen Magazine 902,000 -4.7%
Weekly Shonen Sunday 765,000 11.7%

Seinen, etc:

Young Magazine 843,000 -10.0%
Weekly Young Magazine 838,000 -10.4%
Big Comic Original 785,000 -5.3%

However, the traditional pattern in the manga industry is for the work to be developed and published in a magazine, and then for the real money to be made in publishing the manga in compiled volumes (“tankobon”).

Poor sales for magazines might be shrugged off, but even tankobon sales have been suffering, though not with the same substantial drop in circulation exhibited by manga magazines.

Below you can see magazine (red) vs tankobon (blue) sales, with volumes sold in units of 100 million above, and sales in units of 100 million yen below (approximately $1,000,000):


One industry researcher reports that “the industry is becoming polarised between the mass market and the otaku-centric,” a fair characterisation in the eyes of many.

Not all companies in the industry face such a bleak outlook however. Kadokawa has carefully cultivated niche audiences of otaku, enjoying huge success with a “character business” based approach, as opposed to pure publishing.

Their CEO certainly agrees, though he stresses that good characters only stem from quality works:

“As we were selling our magazines, so the characters began to sell as a result. But characters don’t take precedence. First the content of the work itself has to be good.”

Kadokawa seem to have taken this business model to its logical extreme in any case.

However, one major shortcoming with this entire viewpoint does become apparent – despite what major publishers would like to believe, Japan’s visual culture industry continues to evolve, and much activity now takes place outside the auspices of the traditional manga/anime combine.

Thus it seems possible that just as traditional CD-based music sales have suffered from the advent of the Internet, so has traditional manga begun to suffer from the rapid changes wrought upon the visual culture industry over the last decade, none of which offer any particular reason to continue buying thick volumes of manga every week.

The very notion that the health of a medium can be measured by the number of blockbusters it produces is itself increasingly obsolete – in music, books and other media, markets are increasingly centred on the so-called “long tail,” with modern distribution allowing vast numbers of niche titles to be economically supported where before only a few very popular titles could ever find commercial success.

Having low or high sales is thus not a measure of how “good” a title is, but instead merely reflects the size of the particular niche a product serves.

Most people have probably lamented their favourite work not appearing in some sales chart, instead marvelling at how bad the top-sellers can be – the future of content industries are increasingly seen to be many of these relatively obscure titles appealing to obscure fanbases, rather than a few hugely popular franchises winning all.

Of course, mass appeal still seems essential in actually developing the market into something which can be differentiated, and the lack of recent franchises with truly broad appeal is a matter of concern.

Just how the production and distribution of anime, manga and games ultimately copes with the erosion of the mass-market blockbuster in favour of a hundred niche titles remains to be seen…

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    Comment by Anonymous
    08:02 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    is anime in a decline to?

    Comment by Anonymous
    08:57 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    it's because of the internets.

    Avatar of echelon64
    Comment by echelon64
    07:11 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Now this article I like, kinda hate when Artefact simply throws us a picture and a few words, not much to go on. This however is the reason I came to sankaku in the first place. Nice Job Artefact.

    Avatar of Artefact
    Comment by Artefact

    These kind of longer, more thoughtful articles do very poorly all things considered...

    Avatar of ImBZppl
    Comment by ImBZppl
    07:24 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    I say it is NOT the lack of originality but rather lack of readers from their population I mean there are like no kids to sell the manga too!

    Comment by Anonymous
    09:22 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    The entertainment options increase everyday... It´s natural manga sales will suffer. It´s still better than what happened in the USA, where the best selling comic sells something like 100.000 copies and most of them sell around 7.000 copies or less.

    Comment by Anonymous
    09:47 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    american comics are dead if you ask me nothing but superheroes and super villains
    manga > comics

    Comment by Anonymous
    14:04 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Clear ignorance of american comic culture. There are areas that manga fails to do that comics have, check out American Mcgees comics and you'll see.

    Comment by Anonymous
    01:05 17/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Wrong there are still many independent comic book markets that are still going strong.

    DC Vertigo comics Fables series is one of them.

    Just because Superman, Batman, X-men etc are worn out and declining doesn't mean the Comic Book market is dead.

    Archie comics are still going strong for some strange reason too,

    Comment by Anonymous
    06:39 19/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Thats like saying hip hop isn't dead then.
    Okay (American) comics as a whole (counting the other comic providers that aren't all about super heroes and what not) are not totally dead but like rap it's dieing.
    (I don't listen to rap btw just using it as an example)

    Comment by Anonymous
    16:37 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    maybe, but as a whole market seriously it's dead

    Comment by Anonymous
    10:55 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    They need to stop making crap moe manga's first. K-On is mind numbingly boring.

    14:07 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    "Oh hi, i love bitching on manga that i don't or never even read."

    Comment by Anonymous
    10:20 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    nowadays 70% of the mangas are harem, or love comedy fully or partyally ecchi"fied 20% are moeshit and the rest are generic shonens, shoujo and seinens.

    Comment by Anonymous
    16:40 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    wtf generic seinens? how about you list some examples so i don't think your not totally BS's

    Avatar of OTIKA
    Comment by OTIKA
    19:04 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    [citation needed]

    Comment by Anonymous
    07:02 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    maybe people are just getting sick of anime and manga, i know i am

    Comment by Anonymous
    05:02 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Here's an idea, stop with the shitty ecchi mangas, as in ALL of them.

    Avatar of Narutofreak1
    Comment by Narutofreak1
    05:12 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    It doesn't help when your authors don't give you consistent good chapters each week. *cough* Kishimoto/Kubo Tite *cough*

    Comment by Anonymous
    04:53 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    I say everything is dying even regular American Comic books are having problems too. They just closed my Comic Shop in my town and the only way I can get my comic books is if I go across town to new york or buy it on the internet. Problem is I don't trust the American comic book web sites, because there been times when they charged me three times the price for just 5 comic books.

    Not only that but they also closed Border and Barnes & Noble stores in my town as well. I'm actually sad that this is happening to everyone around the world. People say that new way to get reading material is by downloading it into a electronical reader. But what I remember what the guy at Borders told me that Writers in general don't feel like writing anything to anyone anymore, because of online sales. They are getting less money and have no choice to either find work or commit suicide which has been happening alot lately.

    I don't know anymore...this might be it...for everything...

    Comment by Anonymous
    11:25 22/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Borders, and Barnes and Noble overprice their merchandise.

    Yotsuba&! from Borders (EN TL'd, printed and bound in Canada, shipped to the US): $10.99 (MSRP $9.99).

    Yotsuba&! from Kunokuniya in the US (JP language, printed and bound in Japan, shipped to the US): $6.99.

    Yotsuba&! (JP language, printed and bound in Japan) Japanese MSRP: 600 Yen.

    Comment by Anonymous
    05:14 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Maybe if otakus weren't so fucking stupid and orgasming over shitty moe animes instead of reading manga, it'd do better.

    Avatar of stillcode
    Comment by stillcode
    06:07 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Well, it only makes sense that the fall in sales of manga would coincide with fewer people being born.

    Comment by Anonymous
    02:14 17/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Without Manga there will be alot less and crappier animes comming out. BUY SOME MAGS ! ;D

    Comment by Anonymous
    07:23 17/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Where's kenshiro? Where's Kinnikuman?

    Avatar of destructorv2
    Comment by destructorv2
    15:47 17/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    mm i dunno, make your manga moar entertaining, i mean, i can point out their bad things for the mangas now, and its not piracy.

    - Naruto is full of it now, and Kishimoto draws like he don't care anymore.
    - Bleach is delaying so much, just finish the fight, we wanna see something else.
    - One Piece: Still good, but if you stopped somewhere, don't try to continue.

    that, and all the other awesome manga finished.

    Avatar of ryvrdrgn14
    Comment by ryvrdrgn14
    04:14 21/06/2010 # ! Neutral (0)

    It may be that most people just prefer the digital delivery of content rather than paper (which is probably one of the reasons).

    You can't really bring your favorite manga book/magazine to work and read it (everyone would stare at you and think you are not working) but you can hop online and read and not feel as conscious about it.

    Perhaps if they could make a service where you could subscribe and receive the chapters immediately upon release (and hopefully also in English) and it's sent to your e-mail or phone like right away then that might be worth looking into. They could also tie this in to their magazine subscriptions in some way (get both?).

    Of course they will have to make the back end infrastructure very cost-effective in order to give out reasonable prices for the content.

    Either that or they start having manga reader sites start paying reasonable royalty fees to legally host their published works based on an "average per view to ads clicked" basis or something.

    No one wants to be 6 months behind on their favorite series. People need to learn that people want stuff right away and there are those who are willing to pay for getting things 'hot off the presses' so to speak, even if it is digital.

    Avatar of GodOfSpeed
    Comment by GodOfSpeed
    15:50 17/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Well manga is really important...without manga there won't be so many anime shows, and without those, there won't be that much figures as now, OST, and other fan related stuffs.

    Comment by Anonymous
    15:32 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)


    Comment by Anonymous
    01:07 17/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Comment by Anonymous
    15:32 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)



    Avatar of Barbarian of Gor
    Comment by Barbarian of Gor
    16:43 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Scan the stuff onto PDF formats, also "Take" the "Free" stuff fans have already done to save time and $. Offer cheap, like $5 a manga downloads on Amazon.com. Maybe $1 for new installments, translated, from the latest "Shonen Ace" and such? (Or $5-$10 for the whole phone book size scan+Translated Manga? Please? Can Haz?) Think of all the postage saved, trees saved, fans across the world?

    A lot of titles I like, but frankly these days we are all watching every dime and there's always the 'disaster' possibility of having to move quickly and live in a tent/van, etc. I don't want to own a suitcase full of "Maido" anime, but having it as tiny space on backed up hard disk drives and DVDs is cool. I like 3D software for that reason also, tons of 'action figures' for art practice, DIY porn and mini self-made movies but no need for lots of physical space.

    Comment by Anonymous
    06:01 18/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    1 dollar for new installments? My current bi-weeklies (Young Animal, Kindai Mahjong) offer 10-12 new installments an issue for 300-400 Yen. That's between 3.50 and 4.50 US. Why on earth should I pay 2-3 times more for what I currently buy?

    Comment by Anonymous
    20:04 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    -I'LL- say it's failing! You have a giant poster of Jump stars and no Cobra?! THAT'S why your stupid magazine's failing! Your damned ninja pirate soul reaper kids are killing it! Give us something with REAL adventure, naked chicks, and actual FUN! Stop pandering to elementary school kids and moe blobs and START MAKING SOME -REAL- MANGA AGAIN!!!!

    Comment by Anonymous
    19:38 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    They should start consider going digital.

    I love manga and I love buying it, but I don't have the space to go around hoarding it like crazy.

    Yeah I know we have online free manga already, but I'm talking about still supporting the industry without sacrificing space.

    Comment by Anonymous
    01:40 17/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    would so buy manga for like a half or quarter of the price online. since it will save alot of shelf space.

    Buy the really good ones physically though ;D

    Comment by Anonymous
    12:37 17/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Yeah that's what I wanna do, but it's hard when you come to love so many titles, so I'm even compromising with them. ;_;

    Comment by Anonymous
    06:11 18/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Do what the American comic industry had to do. Cut the number of titles, do smaller, better quality print runs (the US no longer prints comics on newsprint) and subsidize your print industry with your online/licensing money. Comics in print HAVE to stay as the biggest target for a comic company is children, who do not have the means or money to do electronic distribution but certainly can read a comic. These are the most important fans because they're the ones that become life-long collectors and collecting is central to the comic industry. Without the physical objects it's just stories and frankly there are better sources (i.e. movies, anime, novels) for that. Finally, make manga full colour.

    Avatar of Reboot
    Comment by Reboot
    01:52 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    The graph explains for itself:
    Shounen, with a mantaining average. Same shit, new readers, which translates to a slight increase.

    Seinen. Same shit, same readers, which translates in readers fed up with that same shit, so a declining in readers.

    It's quite obvious.
    As someone commented above: "LACK OF ORIGINALITY" which can be seen in behaviour of seinen readers.

    Comment by Anonymous
    02:26 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    printed media is in decline due to the digital age, its not something unique to manga

    Comment by Anonymous
    02:16 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    they keep on draging the stories way to long so people would lose intrest after 2 years or so...

    Bleach, detitive conan, Naruto and one peice need to end soon or make spin offs

    Comment by Anonymous
    00:52 17/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Damn Detective Conan is still going on?

    Is Rachael still clueless about Conan? lol I actually used to like that series but they kept going in circles like the Inuyasha manga did.

    Avatar of Rokudaime
    Comment by Rokudaime
    03:18 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Bleach is indeed being dragged on for too long, since it's the same shit over and over again, with a new guy stronger than the last showing up. Rince and repeat. Naruto on the other hand has alot more imagination in terms of abilities, and who is good against who. It's more a Rock beats scissors, but scissors beats paper, which beats rock - relationship. Also, the story is good. So I don't mind that Naruto lasts forever, as long as Kishimoto still manages to be creative and keeps it interesting like this.

    Comment by Anonymous
    02:51 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    the author and publishers of those series need to stop and move on.

    Avatar of Fonzer
    Comment by Fonzer
    02:20 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    it would be nice if they made more mystery horror ones.

    Avatar of Rokudaime
    Comment by Rokudaime
    03:19 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Good shit.

    Comment by SnooSnoo
    01:43 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    >>> Weekly Shonen Sunday 765,000 11.7%
    I attribute this increase to Kami no mizo Shiru Sekai.

    Comment by Anonymous
    01:19 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Anime/Manga, its all shit

    its all tits, schoolgirls and moe

    Why people waste their money and time on this sort of shit is beyond me.

    Let this horrible industry die, it needs rebooting back to the time when anime/manga was cool and not shit like it is now.

    Comment by Anonymous
    01:23 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    I think they are slowly killing the market with censorship, like i feel the anime market is going cause of it. Violence, nudity espcially nipples, and now even Pantsu are censored. How long will it be before they carn't show pantsu in manga anymore.

    Avatar of onitake
    Comment by onitake
    01:11 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    manga is by far not the only product suffering from this discrepancy between quality and sales volume.
    videogame developers have started to produce more and more crap lately, leaving the good stuff behind - just because the crap sells better. prominent current example: modern warfare 2.

    long-time fans tend to be more demanding, but one also mustn't forget that many people move on after a while. die-hard fans with a strong desire for quality are not as common as one might think.

    Comment by Anonymous
    05:00 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    As someone in the game industry, I can say yes there is a high lack of originality. I am highly disappointed with this console generation, during the previous generation there were countless great games, but this generation bores me with few games that interest me. My Playstation 2 collection is bigger than my PS3, XBOX 360, and Wii collections combined. With budgets so big and risks so high, companies don't take the chances they used to. Luckily, i'm high enough on the ladder to have some control, but some simply isn't enough. I'm a planner/director (sometimes other jobs) that gives me some creative freedom but I can't count the number of times the suits or the producers have fucked me over. They just focus on PROFIT, BUDGET, GRAPHICS, HYPE thats it sadly. I'd rather make Playstation 2 games with creative freedom, smaller budgets, weaker graphics, originality, great gameplay, and great stories. Sadly though, it's just those 4 points that matter to them, if it sells thats what we make. We must break the cycle

    Avatar of OTIKA
    Comment by OTIKA
    01:49 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    This, and the fact that with how commonplace video games and animation has become (to the point of saturation as pointed out in an earlier post), it's like the population has been split into "Consumers" and "Developers"; with most of the shit hitting the fan for the latter as they are potentially pressured with unreasonable demands because one does not understand how the other works (i.e. ignorance or genuine lack of knowledge).

    The industry's low success rate is not limited to lack of 'creativity' and 'originality', but feels almost inevitable with the amount of free entertainment avaliable online (for example) to keep the 'consumers' satisfied with themselves.

    Avatar of makkun
    Comment by makkun
    02:11 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Then there are pirates who sell pirated stuff to customers without permission from the developer and the likes. These things really kills most entertainment industry , not just manga's, slowly but sure.

    Avatar of OTIKA
    Comment by OTIKA
    02:16 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    ... this as well.
    Coming to think of it, this may just prove that Sony's approach with the PSP-Go is all but a 'transition bridge' to combat piracy as developers eventually distribute content exclusively through online means.

    Avatar of OTIKA
    Comment by OTIKA
    02:45 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Of course it is. The point is that with the way that the internet is becoming more available to the general public (private, or otherwise), it would make sense to start off with a service which tries to make use of it.

    I know Sony has taken things a bit too far, but the point is that I have the impression that the PSP-Go is but an experimental transition which will eventually grow WITH the expansion and increased availability of the Internet.

    Avatar of makkun
    Comment by makkun
    02:37 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    But they failed to see some of their own customers actually have limited access to the internet. That's why this PSP-GO is underrated by Sony fans.

    Avatar of Myballz
    Comment by Myballz
    02:22 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    The only reason why people play Modern Warfare 2 it offers Multi-player action which of course people would buy it.Yes, It is crap consinder the CEO of Activision Blizzard doesn't care, he knows it will sell because Call of Duty series proven to be best seller, even though CEO doesn't play Video games.

    Avatar of Myballz
    Comment by Myballz
    07:02 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    The thing is there is some minor controversy with the game it was release same day when Fort Hood was holding a ceremony for the people who got killed or injury in that Shooting.I wasn't offended by the storyline but it may have offended a few people who didn't like the idea of a American Genral going rogue and causing a globle threat to the world it seem Fox news was talking about violence of the game the mention the level where your CIA Operative shooting in a Air Port killing Innocent people.

    They made a point the game was made for 17 and up but the funny thing I notice on Xbox live 11 year old kids manage to get a hold of a copy of the game and its annoying the hell of me when they whin that the on Voice chat.Here is another example Halo wasn't the best game but it manage to be a good Multi-player game that it became competive to the a lot of people believe it was a fun game.

    Comment by Anonymous
    10:13 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    I would say that it's lack of originality. I mean how many manga do we have of a guy being in a harem liking this one girl who totally hates him?

    Or how many anime of a guy finding himself in a weird place and that he seems that he totally kicks everyone's ass? All anime/manga is too formulaic.. Stories that aren't risque or original, and reinventing the same things over again, or worse milking old series that were great over and over.. I mean HOW many revisions to Evangelion do we NEED? They still make those stupid damn statues of Rei in her bandages.. holy crap..

    Avatar of Myballz
    Comment by Myballz
    15:50 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    You know what so funny Archie Comics is still around because Archie Digest does sell yet kids and adults buy it in super markets and mom and pop shops.They market the same old Characters Archie,Jugghead,Betty and Veronica and it still going on.

    Avatar of OTIKA
    Comment by OTIKA
    03:58 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    It's not about how good/bad they are, but how well all elements of a game mixes together after all.

    Avatar of makkun
    Comment by makkun
    02:40 16/11/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Some people are actually interested in stories, graphics and the likes, isn't it??

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