How large is the global comics market’s size? What are its trends, its dynamics, and the leading companies? So many questions for a market that has always tended to escape a rigorous quantitative vision.

In this article, we will see the state-of-the-art of the comics market, data in hand, and as you will see there will be surprises.

Size and trend of the global comics market

The value of the global comics market, according to data from Business Fortune Insights, is estimated at $ 14.7 billion in 2021. Business Fortune Insight’s projections predict $15.3 billion for the current year (2022), growing over the next years at a CAGR of 4.8% per annum, thus reaching $21.4 billion in 2029.

It is not among the largest markets in the global media & entertainment industry, but it is a market of great value as it acts as a creative engine, giving rise to several franchises that are extended and amplified in cinema and television, generating substantial revenue streams (think of the best-known cases: Marvel and DC Comics super-heroes).

The expected CAGR till 2029 is quite small in comparison with the jump recorded between 2019 and 2020, when the global market grew by an extraordinary +12.3%. The various lockdown situations in many countries had stimulated not only the consumption of digital products and services, as we know, but also of consumption of comics.

The Asia-Pacific region alone accounts for half of the global market; the explanation lies in the success of the manga genre. The second largest region is North America, where all the major comic book publishers are based.

The manga, a key driver of the growth of the comics market

Manga, a genre of native Japanese comics, is undoubtedly a fundamental driver of the growth of the global comics market.

It is a genre that has long spread to numerous markets outside Japan, thanks also to the parallel spread of classic Japanese anime animation (intricately connected to the manga from a stylistic and narrative point of view) through digital channels and television streaming.

A bit as if manga and anime have managed to achieve synergies, facilitating each other’s opening and growth of new markets.

A classic example of global manga success is that of One Piece, born in 1997 from the imagination of  Eiichirō Oda, which tells the unlikely adventures of a bizarre crew of pirates. According to the Guinness World of Records, One Piece is the most published comic book by a single author of all time: from 1997 to 2022 it reached something like 416 million copies.

Since 1999 Toei Animation (the one already known for the Tiger Man, Mazinger Z, Captain Harlock, etc.) has begun to produce anime series for television and has also produced fifteen feature animation films (the last of them, One Piece Red, is already #1 box-office film in Japan for 2022).

The leaders in the global comics market

The global comics industry is a rather fragmented one, and absolute global leadership is not recognized.

However, Marvel maintains its leading position, thanks also to the success of its blockbusters on the big screen (Marvel owns the biggest franchise ever, the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and thanks to the distribution system of content and products it enjoys following the acquisition by Disney in 2009.

Another publisher that has benefited from the synergies with the big media is DC Comics (Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Aquaman and more), a company owned by the Warner multimedia group.

Wonder Woman DC ComicsNames less known to those who are not passionate about comics, but always relevant in the market, are those of publishers – all American – such as Dark Horse Media (The Mask, Hellboy), IDW Publishing (Ninja Turtles, Transformers), Image Comics (The Walking Dead, Spawn), Archie Comics and DMG Entertainment.

Outside the USA, the major players are manga publishers and therefore based in Tokyo: Shūeisha, publisher of One Piece but also of the famous Naruto and Dragon Ball, Futabasha (publisher of the manga Lupin III) and Akita Publishing.

In the kid’s segment, through an international system of licensing agreements with various local publishers (Panini in Italy, Egmont in Germany, Unique Heritage Media in France, etc.), Disney continues to play a leading role, in particular with the comic book starring iconic characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. A comic production that is not actually aimed exclusively at a children’s audience but is appreciated also by adult readers.

The distribution channels of the comics market

Looking down on the global comics market, the two most relevant channels are bookstores and comic shops, which are now flanked by e-commerce with an ever-increasing weight, also accelerated by the recent lockdowns.

Today, no comic book publisher can afford the luxury of ignoring online sales in its commercial strategy, whether through e-commerce platforms such as Amazon or through its online stores.

But a peculiarity of the comics industry is that distribution models can change significantly from country to country.

In the United States, there is a model that is applied to the distribution chain since the 70s: the direct market.

It is a network of 2,000 independent stores (where in addition to comics you will also find books and periodicals) that procure comics publications from a single large national distributor, Diamond Comics, with contracts that usually do not provide for the right of return.

Diamond Comics has a central role in the direct market model: a sort of distribution monopoly, which has recently been broken by Penguin Random House Publisher Services, distributor part of the Penguin Random House publishing group (the second largest book publisher in the world). Penguin Random House Publisher Services in 2021 snatched from Diamond the distribution of the Marvel comics and then from this year also of the IDW comic.

As we said, the distribution models change significantly from country to country. The direct market is a different model, for example, from what is historically established in Italy, where newsstands have always represented a primary channel in the comics channel, even if over time – due to the decline in the number of these obsolete stores – the Italian market has increasingly shifted towards the bookstore channel.

This transition has also been stimulated by the strategies of the Italian publishers which have rightly seen the bookstores as the most suitable point of sale to develop turnover.

The challenge of technology to the comics industry

Although the consumer experience of the comic reader is still associated with the paper product, in reality digital technology has already brought a push for change both in terms of product and distribution channels.

While the consumption of comics in digital format has not reached a significant weight in Europe, where the fruition remains anchored to the physical product, in Japan the digital comic has reached a share of about 40% of the market.

The pandemic, if it has stimulated the comics market, has done so even more in the case of digital comics. Even in the Italian market, a rather ‘conservative’ one, there was a growth in 2020 of +63% in the number of digital editions compared to the previous year.

But the most surprising phenomenon has recently been seen in South Korea, where it has had significant success, upsetting the market, the webtoon: manhwa comics (traditional Korean comics) created specifically to be read on smartphones, scrolling through the cartoons vertically.

The webtoon is not a mere adaptation of comics to digital, but a real native digital comic. It is no coincidence that the stories are in colour, an element completely absent in the traditional manhwa on printed paper, and occasionally enriched by animation or sound effects.

It is foreseeable that the use of webtoons can quickly expand internationally: in recent years this new media has already reached India, China and Taiwan.

Comics going hi-tech: blockchain and AI

But there are ways of applying innovative technologies to comics even more surprising.

The inclusion of illustrations – if not entire stories – within NFT, the non-fungible tokens exchangeable on the blockchain, is a form of distribution innovation that several publishers are already considering, among them Marvel that has recently distributed a Spider-man comic through NFTs within the Veve platform.

But also from the point of view of content development, technology has a weight: in June 2022 the publisher Living the Line Books announced the creation of the first comic illustrated by artificial intelligence and developed in partnership with MidJourney AI. The comic will soon be distributed in the United States by Diamond Comics.

The collector’s consumer segment

Globally the adult is the predominant segment, compared to the ‘kids’ segment. The prevailing weight of the adults is explained also by a relevant and historical phenomenon in the comic market: collecting.

The adult consumer is in fact often the buyer of high-priced copies in special editions (for example, with precious variant covers), or of multiple copies intended some for reading but others to be jealously preserved to be eventually resold later in the secondary market.

The secondary market has its own distribution model, mainly based on comics trade fairs and comic-cons and on digital marketplaces such as eBay and Catawiki.

Collecting comics is a passion accessible to all budgets, but for some publications it can reach truly incredible prices.

The record is held by a copy of the number one of Action Comics magazine where Superman first appeared back in 1938, and which changed hands between two collectors in 2014 for $ 3.2 million. It is no coincidence that among the great collectors of comics there are celebrities such as Nicolas Cage, Kevin Smith and Eminem.

The weight of comic-con in the comics market

A peculiarity of the global comics market is given by the weight of comic conventions, the famous comic-con or comicon. These are events of significant importance, from multiple points of view: (1) marketing communication (often the big launches of new series take place during such events), (2) the relationship with consumers who are attracted in a unique and unrepeatable consumer experience that enriches the simple use of the content, and (3) distribution, being the comic-con an incremental sales channel.

The passion of the readers was tangible by the impressive numbers of visitors who returned to crowd the various conventions around the world, as soon as the lockdowns let go a little.

The most famous in the world remains the San Diego Comic-Con, started in 1970, which has long reached and often exceeds 130,000 participants every year, and which now represents an event no longer restricted to the world of comics, but extended to the entire world of entertainment. In general, every year San Diego is the largest comic convention in the world in terms of visitor turnout.

The New York Comic-Con, started in 2006, has grown year after year, and in 2021 has even overtaken San Diego, reaching 150,000 participants; unlike the San Diego Comic-Con, it remains more focused on comics.

Another great comicon is that of Tokyo, known as Comiket (comic-market) with remarkable numbers of participants: in 2004 broke all records, reaching half a million participants.

Comicons are popular also in the European market. A remarkable number of visitors (approx. 200,000) is often recorded in France during the Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême, dedicated exclusively to comics. The French Festival also has also particular importance for the prestigious awards that are given to international authors and publishers.

But it is in Italy, precisely in the beautiful city of Lucca in Tuscany, that one of the most important and crowded events in the world takes place every year: Lucca Comics & Games. Founded in 1993, the annual event reached 300,000 paying visitors in 2021, an impressive number even compared to the great US conventions.

Even leaving aside the 2021 exceptional result (a clear reaction to the long months of lockdown) the Lucca event enters quite regularly in the first three places of the major comicons in the world.

Lucca Comic-Con, Italy


In conclusion: what future for the comic industry?

Comics is a language born over a century ago (several historians set 1896 as the date of appearance of the first comic strip: Yellow Kid), but continues to demonstrate its vitality, despite its consumption is still based mostly on a very traditional media format: the printed paper.

The diffusion first of the mass media (television) and then of the new digital media has not at all cancelled the pleasure of reading for a wide audience belonging to different generations. While for some categories of print media, such as newspapers, several experts predict its total extinction, comics could even continue to grow driven by innovative technologies, as Korean webtoons seem to demonstrate.

The comic also benefits from its ability to bring people together to the point of creating real communities: communities of cosplayers, communities of collectors, and communities of passionate readers. And being part of a community is an aspect that can greatly enrich the consumer experience.

The result? For the global comics market, the growth recorded in recent years is expected to continue in the coming years (do you remember those CAGs?) with percentages unthinkable in other publishing categories.

Comics can feed the contents of the big media (cinema and television) and then obtain in turn increased awareness of the franchises, as demonstrated by the Marvel case. This dynamic happens also in the case of the virtuous circle that is created between manga and anime.

This symbiosis with the big media gives the comic a role that is anything but marginal in the media & entertainment industry and goes far beyond the turnover generated.

Comics publishers have also to face conflicting trends, such as the general decline in reading that has been recorded for some time (and which has an inevitable impact on the various sectors of publishing). But if they will be able to embrace change, both in terms of content and content distribution, comics will continue to be a pleasant content consumption in the daily lives of thousands of people in many different countries and cultures.