Graphic Novels, Comic Books Are Growing In Popularity

Graphic novel sales boomed last year, with some saying the pandemic led readers to the genre.
Posted at 9:27 PM, Feb 21, 2022

As comic book movies made their way back onto the big screen last year, comic books themselves also saw a huge growth.

Sales of adult graphic novels more than doubled in 2021, and one publisher said it was their biggest year ever.

"While television productions kind of shut down, the rise in reading and books and comics actually increased," said Jessica Tseang, international comic book historian.

Tseang credits the growing popularity of graphic novels to the pandemic, as well as the rise of comic book writers and artists from all over the world.

"There's great comics from South America, Africa, Australia, India," Tseang said. "I would love for more of a global love of it."

The top-selling graphic novel from the beginning of 2021 was a volume of the Japanese superhero series "My Hero Academia" — which was also one of the most in-demand animes of the year.

Other experts say anime is one of the driving forces behind the growing popularity of graphic novels, and specifically Manga from Japan.   

That subgenre of graphic novels saw a growth of 171% in 2021 compared to 2020, and that amounts to a little more than 24 million books sold last year.

Comic book expert Deb Aoki grew up reading Manga during a time when it was considered a niche genre.

"We're on the second or third generation of people who read Manga in English," said Aoki, who is also an illustrator and "Publishers Weekly" writer.

She says the market in the U.S. has grown over the past couple decades, allowing more titles from Japan to be translated to English.

"There's Manga about food, there's Manga about hockey," Aoki said. "We've always only gotten the very tippy tippy top of the iceberg of what Japan produces, but we're starting to get more variety."

That growing variety of titles is especially exciting for longtime fans of graphic novels, but it's also good news for bookstores.

No one knows that better than James Daunt, the CEO of Barnes & Noble.

"The rise of an increasing popularity of Manga and graphic novels is bringing our stores — our stores are just full of young people, and that's exactly the demographic that you want in your stores."

Some of this year's most-anticipated graphic novels — including "Fine: A Comic About Gender" and "The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere." — are throwing big spotlights on diversity.