One of the more difficult questions to answer about any industry is anything regarding income. The short (and probably more accurate) answer is almost always “it depends,” but that isn’t really helpful to anyone. Making the issue all the more complex is the problem of mean vs. median income. A very small number of very successful people making a lot of money can easily make the average income look to be much higher than what the majority of people actually earn. That said, there are still some basic things that could be said about how much money a manga artist can generally be expected to make, and it’s definitely worth taking a look into!
When I was younger, I always assumed that any time you saw someone’s work getting published – be it a movie, album, book, or comic – they must be wildly successful. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who came to this conclusion, either. As I got older, moved to Japan, and actually got to know a few published manga artists, I was quite surprised to learn that this isn’t exactly the case.
As it turns out, the money that a manga artist can expect to earn from actually drawing the manga itself is actually pretty low.
Most manga is initially published in a weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly magazine, the top-five most popular of which being (numbers in parentheses being issues printed in 2015):1
- Weekly Shonen Jump (2,422,500)
- Weekly Shonen Magazine (1,156,059)
- CoroCoro Comic (1,050,000)
- Weekly Young Japan (577,273)
- Monthly Shonen Magazine (575,376)
While it’s pretty unlikely for a newcomer to the manga industry to get published in one of these big name magazines, it wouldn’t really matter too much since rates are about the same across the industry. In fact, the rates don’t even change much for famous industry veterans, though they of course have other avenues of income, as we’ll discuss later.
Manuscript Income (原稿料; Genkouryou)
A manga artist is generally paid between ¥3,000-8,000 (avg. ¥5,500) per manuscript page,2 and a typical story carried in a weekly or monthly magazine is around 20 pages each. There may be additional payments made for cover images, sketches that appear throughout the magazine, or other images to be used in advertising, but generally this is the limit of direct income from the serialization of the manga. So rough annual income in the case of a weekly and monthly magazine would be:3
- Published weekly: (¥5,500 × 20) × 48 = ¥5,280,000 [~ $51,920]
- Published monthly: (¥5,500 × 20) × 12 = ¥1,320,000 [~ $12,980]
It’s also worth noting, though, that more successful manga artists (and artists working on short deadlines, such as those publishing weekly) generally hire one or more assistants to help out with backgrounds, text cleanup, and other tasks. These positions are paid for out-of-pocket by the artists and can directly impact their bottom line. The average cost for an assistant is ¥180,000 per month, per assistant.
Compiled Volume Royalties (単行本の印税; Tankoubon no Inzei)
Assuming that the manga goes well and a decision is made to compile it in a volume, the manga artist can expect to make royalties off of the published books. This is actually where the majority of an average manga artists’ income comes from. In most cases, the artist is entitled to 8-10% of the pre-tax price of all of the printed copies of the book for the first run. From the second run and on, the artist is still entitled to royalties only for the number of volumes actually sold.
Using the real-life case of an acquaintance of mine, the publisher opted to do an initial run of 30,000 volumes to be sold at a MSRP of ¥429. Assuming there is no second printing,4 he could expect to make:
- Royalties per book: (¥429 × 30,000) × 9% = ¥1,158,300 [~ $11,390]
This number can easily change quite a bit, though, depending on how many volumes are printed, whether there is a second (or even third) run, and how many books are actually published in a given year. It’s not uncommon to release two or more volumes per year if the manga had enough of a head start in magazines.
Anime Royalties (著作権使用料; Chosakuken Shiyouryou)
The best information I could find on how much money a rights-holder (in this case, the manga artist) can expect to make from having their series turned into an anime was approximately ¥150,000-200,000 per 30-minute episode produced.5 Apparently live action remakes of a manga pay at much lower rates, most likely do to the degree that the series is generally reworked with regards to character designs and stories in order to make them fit better into the real world. Assuming that the anime is ultimately released on DVD, the rights-holder can expect to make around 0.5% to 1% of the sale price of each DVD sold.
Though there’s obviously a lot more to factor in about how much a given manga artist earns depending on how well known they are and what other products their work is made into, it’s interesting to take a look into what an upcoming manga artist can expect to make, assuming their story and characters take off. As for how much the upper echelons of the manga industry make, it seems that the sky’s the limits with reported incomes up into the hundreds-of-millions in yen for the artists behind such titles like One Piece (~¥3.1 billion), Dragon Ball (~¥1.5 billion), and Attack on Titan (~¥1.3 billion).6
- See Number of Manga Magazines Printed in 2015 ↩
- See Research into Manga Income ↩
- Amounts in US dollars are calculated as of September 13, 2016; $1 = ¥101.69 ↩
- Apologies to my friend… I’m sure he’s immensely talented and will get a second printing! ↩
- See Calculating Royalty Income for Manga Artists ↩
- See 2016 Manga Artist Income Ranking ↩