The most popular manga ever

As a long-time manga/anime lover, I have many times wondered why some series -very popular in Japan -are almost unknown in Europe, no matter if overall the fandom base has been growing everywhere since the 1970s. Without having lived in East Asia for so many years, I would have probably never discovered some of them. Moreover, a few that became an overnight success in Japan are not necessarily the favourite ones in other countries (or mine, for what that matters).

So I have decided to do a little investigation about the most popular manga (anime, the video adaptations that in some cases came before the manga, in others after, are not part of this list) in Japan and how it differs from the rest of the world, USA included. This is what I have found out:

  • The top of the list (with several hundred million copies sold – yes, this much): everyone knows about (most of) them. Their names: Naruto, Dragon Ball, Pokemon, Doraemon and the immortal AstroBoy. There’s also Hokuto No Ken, also known as The Fist of the Northern Star, (whose official soundtrack you can hear in *almost* any Pachinko shop of Shibuya Tokyo). But there are also One Piece, which is far less known in Europe, at least until quite recently, Slam Dunk, Golgo 13, and Case Closed (AKA Detective Conan), known in some countries only because it features Lupin III in one adaptation.
  • The series featuring in the midlist are a mix of virtually unknown stuff and celebrities like Devilmen, Ranma 1/2, City Hunter, Full Metal Alchemist.
  • Surprisingly, series very famous in Europa and the US like Saint-Seiya, Berserk, Sailor Moon, Tokyo Ghouls (which topped the NYTimes List for Best Seller Manga 2016), Death Notes, Versailles no Bara (aka Lady Oscar, The Rose of Versailles), have fared quite worse than the ones mentioned at the beginning.
  • My favourite franchise, Gundam, is not even present in that list, for more than one reason – one being that TV/movie distributions are not considered here. However, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, managed to make it on 2015 the NYT list for the US market.

[PS. I found the Japan sales ranking here in Wikipedia, but others do exist. For the US, I have checked out the NYT list mentioned above. Incidentally, the journal has stopped in 2017 publishing one, for the reasons explained here. While these rankings differ in many aspects, this is irrelevant for the purpose of this post.]


  1. sjhigbee

    Thank you for a really handy starting point for those of us who know NOTHING about the genre…

    1. Steph P. Bianchini (Post author)

      Thanks Sara. More to come 🙂

      1. sjhigbee

        Looking forward to it:))


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