Home Comics Just the Facts, Ma’am: Which Graphic Novel Categories are the Biggest?

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Which Graphic Novel Categories are the Biggest?


Ever wonder what categories are the most popular in graphic novels?

Think it’s all manga and superheroes?

Well, as you can see on the chart to the left, it’s fairly diverse.

How did I come up with these percentages?


First, there’s this group called BISG.  They make sure all the standards that booksellers and publishers use work.  One thing they standardize are called BISAC subject codes.  These help booksellers to categorize what they sell, either online or onshelf.

Books In Print is a big database run by R.R. Bowker, who also manage EANs and ISBNs for Anglo-American publishers.  If it’s got an EAN, they list it.  Even for the rinky-dink publishers you’ll never hear of.

With a little trial and error, and hacking of URLs, I figured out a way to search BISACs for specific years.  That’s a work in progress, and I’ll publish that data at a later date.

But it’s quite easy to search for EVERYTHING by a specific BISAC code, regardless of date.

Here are the numbers for the above chart:

TOTAL 72,992
TOTAL Manga 15,143
TOTAL Juvenile 9,802
Superheroes (CGN004080) 8,811
General (CGN000000) 17,996
TOTAL Everything Else 21,240

Some caveats:  BISACs are assigned by publishers.  A title may have more than one BISAC subject code.  A title may have a “graphic novel” BISAC, yet not be a graphic novel.  (For example, a Golden Book easy-to-read Spider-Man story book.)  Version 2 of the BISAC subject codes dates to November 1997, which predates the modern era which started in 1999 with the importation of Pokemon titles by Viz Media.

(Library subject headings are just as muddled.  Some titles use “Comic books, strips, etc.”; some use “Graphic novels”.  But if we standardize the search terms, one can still study trends.)

Note that graphic novels for kids outnumber superhero titles for a general trade audience…

Manga’s numbers have decreased over the years (2013, Manga only had 14% of the titles), and “everything else” has grown (36% in 2013).

What’s it all mean?  Stay tuned…  I need to fill in the years from 1970 to 2011.

Here’s the raw data for each BISAC subject I could find, including ones since deactivated.  (Yes, they still show up…)

CGN000000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / General 17,996
CGN001000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Anthologies 880
CGN002000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Comics & Cartoons 393
CGN003000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Educational 9
CGN004000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Graphic Novels / General 1547
CGN004010 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Crime & Mystery 1309
CGN004020 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Erotica 522
CGN004030 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Fantasy 2778
CGN004040 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Horror 2056
CGN004050 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / General 10291
CGN004060 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Media Tie-In 1426
CGN004070 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Science Fiction 2322
CGN004080 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Superheroes 8811
CGN004090 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Romance 266
CGN004100 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Crime & Mystery 169
CGN004110 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Erotica 56
CGN004120 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Fantasy 2004
CGN004140 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Historical Fiction 126
CGN004150 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Horror 412
CGN004160 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Media Tie-In 237
CGN004170 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Nonfiction 42
CGN004180 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Romance 816
CGN004190 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Science Fiction 754
CGN004200 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Sports 117
CGN004210 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Yaoi 62
CGN004220 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / Religious 7
CGN005000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / History & Criticism 175
CGN006000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Literary 1479
CGN007000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Nonfiction 752
CGN008000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Contemporary Women 159
CGN010000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Historical Fiction 319
CGN011000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Religious 93
CGN012000 COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Adaptations * 21
ART004000 ART / Techniques / Cartooning 905
HUM001000 HUMOR / Form / Comic Strips & Cartoons 3642
HUM002000 HUMOR / Comic Books, Strips, etc. 42
JUV033070 JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Christian / Comics & Graphic Novels 117
JUV008000 JUVENILE FICTION / Comics & Graphic Novels / General 6025
JUV008010 JUVENILE FICTION / Comics & Graphic Novels / Manga 867
JUV008020 JUVENILE FICTION / Comics & Graphic Novels / Superheroes 1306
JUV008030 JUVENILE FICTION / Comics & Graphic Novels / Media Tie-In 413
JNF028010 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Humor / Comic Strips & Cartoons 239
JNF049190 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Religious / Christian / Comics & Graphic Novels 40
JNF062000 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Comics & Graphic Novels / General 327
JNF062010 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Comics & Graphic Novels / Biography 166
JNF062020 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Comics & Graphic Novels / History 302
TOTAL 72992


  1. With “Manga / LGBT” being on par with “Manga / Yaoi”, I’m guessing that there’s some category confusion going on, because nearly all guys-who-love-guys manga seen in the North American market is really yaoi … very little bara manga seen around here.

    I wonder if there’s any overlap between “COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Erotica” and “COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Religious”. If not, I may have to get working on that Song of Solomon adaptation I’ve had in the back of my mind. :) “Your breasts are like two fawns, twin fawns of a gazelle.”

  2. This is really cool stuff, Torsten. I can sincerely appreciate the deep dives you had to make in order to dig this stuff up. With the manga stat, I’m wondering if there is a direct correlation between the reduced marketing efforts(by the publishers) and the sales numbers.
    Sorting out proper BISAC for retail and MARC(catalog records) for libraries is still going to take a bit of time as each segment becomes accustomed to the growth of the comics category. The Dewey committee(yes, they do exist) are still resistant to the idea of creating a specific identifier for graphic novels, while BISAC still pushes young adult titles( ages 13+) to the juvenile category.
    As it is with libraries, there are traditional book sellers who understand the graphic novel category and are doing a much better job of defining and presenting graphic novels to their patrons/customers.
    Even so, the numbers you have here are really great to see. Thanks again for going “forensic” and digging up the cool info.

  3. General? Well, remember that these subjects are assigned by the publisher, so it can be a lazy way for publishers who don’t publish a lot of GNs, or don’t care to delve deeper into the listings.

    Poetry Is Useless by Anders Nilsen
    Neil Gaiman’s Lady Justice #1
    Elric: Stormbringer (which also is categorized as Horror, and Fantasy.)
    (and books about comics, like Taschen’s DC history.)

    As for sales, I have no access to BookScan or other sales data. The ICV2 White Paper is the only thing I can think of regarding sales. (Although the Germans do a robust young reader survey every year for magazines. Weiss nicht if that includes books.

  4. Mr. Quest:
    The first 25 titles returned from BIP for CGN004130.
    1. Wandering Son
    2. Wandering Son
    3. But I’m a Cat Person 2
    4. Maverick’s Mate
    5. Wandering Son
    6. Maverick’s Mate
    7. Tale of the Waning Moon
    8. A Bloody Kiss Tonight (Yaoi)
    9. One Thousand and One Nights
    10. Can’t Learn
    11. Tale of the Waning Moon, Vol. 1
    12. Love Quest
    13. Tale of the Waning Moon
    14. Wandering Son
    15. No Touching at All (Yaoi)
    16. One Thousand and One Nights
    17. Tale of the Waning Moon, Vol. 4
    18. Citrus Vol. 3
    19. Mr. Flower Groom
    20. Gen 11
    21. Mr. Flower Bride
    22. One Thousand and One Nights
    23. Mr. Flower Groom
    24. KIRA Inc
    25. Mr. Flower Bride

    Regarding your second question:
    “Your query did not produce any results. Try restating your query by using more, other or broader terms.”
    However, there are manga bibles which seem to cover every book, so perhaps therein?
    (There is a yaoi series titled “Song of Solomon”…)

  5. measuring everything with a bisac code tells you nothing, really. there aren’t 72,000 “active” GN titles.

    it should about what is active and selling, not what has ever been published.

  6. This was all inspired by the ICV2 White Paper slide listing how many titles are being published each year, for specific categories.

    Nothing was mentioned about sales, of which I have no access.
    (And if I did, I couldn’t share, due to my corporate overlords.)

    But let me check Books In Print…
    “General Subjects (BISAC): COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / General”
    (phrase searching, not BISAC subject code searching)
    24,314 total titles.
    In print: 17,008
    Out of print: 6,393
    Forthcoming: 913

    “it should [be] about what is active and selling, not what has ever been published.”
    EVERY book that exists can be “active and selling”.
    I saw a prominent comics professional buy a copy of this at New York Comic Con:
    I myself bought the Graphitti Designs edition of “Marvels”. (25% off the cover price)

    True, those sales won’t register in BookScan, but they are sales nonetheless.

    Publishers print what they think will sell.
    If Manga is hot, they’ll publish lots of manga titles.
    If they see kids and school and libraries buying graphic novels, they’ll publish titles for those markets.

  7. But if you want to see what’s selling, go look at the latest New York Times bestseller lists…
    10/26/2014 trade paperbacks
    1 SISTERS, by Raina Telgemeier. (Scholastic.)
    2 SMILE, by Raina Telgemeier. (Scholastic.)
    3 AMULET: ESCAPE FROM LUCIEN, VOL. 6, by Kazu Kibuishi. (Scholastic.)
    4 DRAMA, by Raina Telgemeier. (Scholastic.)
    5 BATMAN, VOL. 4, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. (DC Comics.)
    6 FAIREST, VOL. 4, by Marc Andreyko and Shawn McManus. (Vertigo.)
    7 EL DEAFO, by Cece Bell. (Amulet Books.)
    8 THE RISE OF AURORA WEST, by Paul Pope, JT Petty and David Rubín. (First Second Books.
    9 HEROES OF OLYMPUS: BOOK ONE, by Rick Riordan, Robert Venditti and Nate Powell. (Disney-Hyperion.)
    10 BATMAN 75TH ANNIVERSARY BOX SET, by various. (DC Comics.)

    3 juvenile biographies
    4 juvenile fiction
    1 adult fantasy
    2 adult superhero

    The hardcover list is even more diverse.
    1 BATMAN, VOL. 5, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. (DC Comics.)
    2 THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, VOL. 2, by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell and others. (HarperCollins.)
    3 FABLES: THE DELUXE EDITION, BOOK NINE, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham and others. (Vertigo.)
    4 CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT?, by Roz Chast. (Bloomsbury.)
    5 THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2014, by Scott McCloud and others. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.)
    6 SUGAR SKULL, by Charles Burns. (Pantheon.)
    7 SECONDS, by Bryan Lee O’Malley. (Ballantine.)
    8 MEGAHEX, by Simon Hanselmann. (Fantagraphics.)
    9 KILL MY MOTHER, by Jules Feiffer. (Liveright.)
    10 THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, VOL. 1, by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell and others. (HarperCollins.)

    1 adult superhero
    2 juvenile fiction
    4 adult fantasy (and each is different in style)
    1 memoir
    1 anthology
    1 literary fiction

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