Because some manga sell well in bookstores and others in comics stores, it’s hard to get an overall picture of the market. But ICv2 has probably the best approximation, as they compile sales figures from Bookscan (bookstores) and Diamond (comics stores) into a single list of top manga properties for their quarterly Anime/Manga Guide. You have to buy the guide to get the top 50 properties list, but here’s the top ten:
3. Kingdom Hearts
4. Fruits Basket
5. Death Note
6. Full Metal Alchemist
7. Vampire Knight
8. Absolute Boyfriend
Now the analysis. Let’s start with anime, because ICv2 makes an important point: the number of anime releases is down sharply: 35% from this quarter last year, which in turn was a 20% drop from the year before. Whoever wrote this hedges a bit on the next point:
With the bulk of sales increasingly concentrated in a small number of titles, the decline in the number of anime DVD releases doesn’t necessarily translate automatically to a decline in sales, though it does provide indication that American anime companies are increasingly circumspect in their planning.
If sales are staying high, it’s because the anime publishers can do just as well selling a lot of a few properties as they can selling smaller amounts of many properties.
Manga seems to be more robust: Sales are up and so are releases.
Although sales of manga are also increasingly concentrated in the top properties, a number of new releases including Viz Media’s Vampire Knight (#7), Tokyopop’s Mugen Spiral (#24) and Viz Media’s Gentleman’s Alliance (#27) all made surprising inroads into the ICv2 Top 50 Manga Properties list.
Note that those “surprising” new releases are all shoujo. In fact, look back at that top ten list and you’ll see that every title on it is at least girl-friendly. Bleach, Naruto, and Fullmetal Alchemist may technically be shonen, but they all have a lot of female readers. And two of the top ten, Vampire Knight and Absolute Boyfriend, are Shojo Beat titles, as is The Gentlemen’s Alliance+ (memo to ICv2: check those titles!).
Sales numbers (as opposed to rankings) are hard to come by, but the ones I have seen show a top-heavy distribution. I’d bet that total sales of Naruto are three times the sales of Tsubasa, maybe more, and by the time you get to number 25 on that list you’re talking a tenfold drop.
So far, though, manga has stayed more diverse. Viz and Tokyopop release a lot of books, and they don’t seem to be dropping series in the middle. At the same time, we have a number of smaller publishers that seem to be able to keep their heads above water with fairly small lines. Perhaps the cost factor makes a difference here: I can buy three manga for the price of one anime DVD.
I also think that the audience is more diverse. Take another look at that top ten list: Don’t Bleach, Kingdom Hearts, and Absolute Boyfriend make strange bedfellows? They’re very different titles aimed at very different audiences, but not only are they doing well, they are probably read by the same people. My 14-year-old daughter reads eight of those ten titles (Kingdom Hearts is too young for her, and I won’t let her read Loveless, despite her protests). And she loved Mugen Spiral, too. Maybe manga readers are more willing to try new things within their medium. Whatever the reason, I’d rather have a couple thousand titles to choose from than a whole rack of a single series, no matter how good it is. So far, that doesn’t seem to be a problem.