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Number crunching: How Looking at Graphic Novel Circulation Statistics from Many Perspectives Help You Know What’s Really Flying Off the Shelves

The circulation numbers for graphic novel collections have always been a selling point.  Considering my circulations recently, the numbers are truly impressive.  Case Closed, as a series, has circulated over 1200 times (with an average of 40 circulations per volume).  In prose fiction, this number can’t even be touched by the Twilight series (352 circulations, average 24 per volume).  If I look at the circulation of books to compare, popular graphic novels are as popular as titles from Meg Cabot, James Patterson, Anthony Horowitz, Rick Riordan, and Philip Pullman.  I see the high circulation in talking to my patrons and seeing the sheer number of graphic novels coming in and going out every day, but it’s satisfying to have the figures to back it up.  Remember how important these statistics are for proving value, especially to administrators, and make sure to report them.

Running statistics on my graphic novel collections this past week, this time in order to prove my collections worth to maintain support for more funding over the year, I considered how best to use the stastistics our system gathers automatically.  With the economy still spiraling down, everyone knows their budgets will be cut.  It’s more important than ever to prove the value of the collections and to select titles wisely.

All of this got me thinking about how many libraries run statistics on collections if they do at all.  Most of the time, when I look at my statistics, it’s pure circulation statistics: the number of times an item has been checked out plus the number of times it’s been renewed equals the total circulation number.  I look at both the total circulations for an item, and then the same number for the past two years just to see what’s popular now versus what’s been popular over time. 

Most librarians, myself included, don’t have the time to manipulate the numbers to see if anything else can be learned.  For my general collections, from books to DVDs, the basic numbers are a good measure of what’s gone out and what’s rising or falling in popularity.  In looking at my graphic novel statistics, though, I’ve realized a few things.  One, they all get checked out.  It’s difficult to identify the shelf-sitters versus the titles that are gaining ground in popularity.  Two, because my statistics count each volume’s circulation, rather than by series,  the most popular volumes rise to the top.  As graphic novels are by and large serial, how can I better judge popular series rather than just popular volumes?  Would the list look drastically different if I calculated a whole series’ stats rather than volume by volume?

First off, here are the top circulators in terms of those volume numbers alone.

Total Circs over the past two years (Top 30)
Format: Title, Volume number (total circulations)

1. Naruto, v. 30 (20)
2. Naruto, v. 4 (19)
3. Naruto, v. 2 (19)
4. Naruto, v. 17 (19)
5. Immortal Iron Fist, v. 1 (19)
6. High School Debut, v. 1 (19)
7. Skip Beat, v. 12 (19)
8. High School Debut, v. 2 (19)
9. High School Debut, v. 4 (19)
10. Bleach, v. 2 (18)
11. Beauty Pop, v. 2 (18)
12. High School Debut, v. 3 (18)
13. Beauty Pop, v. 7 (18)
14. Beauty Pop, v. 8 (18)
15. Naruto, v. 29 (18)
16. Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War, v. 2 (18)
17. Iron Man (Civil War) (18)
18. High School Debut, v. 5 (18)
19. Naruto, v. 3 (17)
20. One Piece, v. 1 (17)
21. Case Closed, v. 19 (17)
22. Case Closed, v. 13 (17)
23. Batman: The Killing Joke (17)
24. Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War, v. 1 (17)
25. Bleach, v. 3 (16)
26. Bleach, v. 4 (16)
27. Asterix, v. 19 (16)
28. Case Closed, v. 1 (16)
29. Case Closed, v. 5 (16)
30. Case Closed, v. 15 (16)

By this list, the top titles include Naruto, Immortal Iron Fist, High School Debut, Skip Beat, Bleach, Beauty Pop, Green Lantern, Iron Man, One Piece, Case Closed, Batman, and Asterix.  None of this comes as a major surprise.  (Selfishly I’m pleased to see Immortal Iron Fist getting due attention.)  24 manga volumes, 4 superhero titles, and 1 comic series (Asterix) — again, no huge surprises.  This list doesn’t really tell me anything I don’t already know.

Next I decided to look at the most popular series from the past two years by taking each series and adding together all of the circulations per volume.  I’ve listed the total number of volumes as well.  Keep in mind that the number of volumes is how many copies per series we own, so if there are duplicates or extras they count as another volume.  For the character centric superhero series, like Batman, I count them all as one series even if they’re officially made up of different storylines from different eras. 

I realize the numbers skew depending on how many volumes a series has.  I was still curious to see how the ranking would turn out.  I’ve bolded the titles that appear on the first pure numbers list.

Total by Series, circs per series in the last two years
Title, Number of volumes (Total Circulations per series/Average Circ per volume)

1. Case Closed, 30 volumes (259/8.6)
2. Bleach, 27 volumes (254/9.4)
3. Batman, 27 volumes (243/9)
4. Inu Yasha, 38 volumes (217/5.7)
5. Exiles, 15 volumes (200/13)
6. Naruto, 44 volumes (175/4)
7. Hana Kimi, 19 volumes (174/9.2)
8. Flame of Recca, 31 volumes (167/5.4)
9. Black Cat, 21 volumes (157/7.5)
10. Kekkaishi, 18 volumes (153/8.5)
11. Angel Sanctuary, 19 volumes (146/7.7)
12. Fruits Basket, 27 volumes (146/5.4)
13. Fullmetal Alchemist, 17 volumes (146/8.6)
14. Bone, 13 volumes (145/11)
15. Elemental Gelade, 10 volumes (143/14)
16. Hunter X Hunter, 17 volumes (133/7.8)
17. Dragon Ball Z, 14 volumes (130/9.3)
18. One Piece, 21 volumes (126/6)
19. La Corda D’Oro, 10 (125/13)
20. Negima, 17 volumes (119/7)
21. Crimson Hero, 11 volumes (117/11)
22. Ceres: Celestial Legend, 12 (109/9.1)
23. Genshiken, 9 volumes (108/12)
24. Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, 12 volumes (102/8.5)
25. Oh My Goddess, 17 volumes (102/6)
26. Civil War, 11 volumes (101/9.2)
27. Rurouni Kenshin, 25 volumes (100/4)
28. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 11 (99/9)
29. Fushigi Yugi, 17 volumes (99/5.8)
30. MAR, 15 volumes (98/6.5)

Intriguingly, this list only has five of the series titles from my first list.  These results also include numerous series that don’t appear near the top of the volume by volume rankings.  It’s interesting to see that while many of these series have over thirty volumes, those with around 10 can still make it to the top by sheer popularity.  This distinction is important when thinking about which series to complete and which I might have to drop for the time being.

Then, for comparison’s sake, I looked at the total circs per series for all years.  This examination should help me see what has been popular over time rather than what is popular at the moment.  Again, I’ve bolded the titles that are in common with the above, 2 year limit list.

Total by Series, total circs per series
Format: Title, Number of volumes (total circulations per series/average circulation per volume)

1. Case Closed, 30 volumes (1204/40)
2. Hunter X Hunter, 17 volumes (842/50)
3. Flame of Recca, 31 volumes (818/26)
4. Bleach, 27 volumes (796/29)
5. Exiles, 15 volumes (771/51)
6. Inu Yasha, 38 volumes (766/20)
7. Ranma 1/2, 36 volumes (720/20)
8. Black Cat, 21 volumes (702/33)
9. Angel Sanctuary, 19 volumes (527/28)
10. Nodame Cantabile, 16 volumes (440/28)
11. The Wallflower, 19 volumes (373/31)
12. Death Note, 12 volumes (371/31)
13. Fruits Basket, 27 volumes (363/13)
14. Asterix, 13 volumes (363/28)
15. Dazzle, 8 volumes (360/45)
16. After School Nightmare, 11 volumes (346/31)
17. +Anima, 8 volumes, (345/43)
18. Godchild, 7 volumes (332/47)
19. Ceres: Celestial Legend, 12 volumes (320/27)
20. Superman, 8 volumes (303/38)
21. Nightwing, 8 volumes (286/36)
22. Love Com, 8 volumes (278/35)
23. Teen Titans, 15 volumes (271/18)
24. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, 4 volumes (266/67)
25. Hana Kimi, 19 volumes (262/14)
26. Tail of the Moon, 10 volumes (259/26)
27. Oh My Goddess!, 17 volumes (254/15)
28. Bone, 13 volumes (248/19)
29. Let Dai, 15 volumes (247/16)
30. Black Sun, Silver Moon, 6 volumes (239/40)

First of all, it’s quite a statistic to realize that Case Closed has gone out over 1200 times.  I recall that I bought this series because a teen requested it.  Obviously that was a good investment, and one I need to make sure to continue.  The main titles at the top are consistent with our previous lists.  The variety of older titles that show up on this list help me know what to keep when I’m weeding ruthlessly.

Now, from all of this number crunching comes my favorite list.  This is a ranking of series by average circulation per volume.  To my mind, this may be the best way to tell how popular a series is.  It shows me immediately which titles I need to get more of that I have (usually unwittingly) been ignoring.

Series ranking, average circ per volume only
Format: Title, Number of volumes (total circulations per series/average circulation per volume)
1. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, 4 volumes (266/67)
2. Exiles, 15 volumes (771/51)
3. Hunter X Hunter, 17 volumes (842/50)
4. Godchild, 7 volumes (332/47)
5. Dazzle, 8 volumes (360/45)
6. Antique Bakery, 4 volumes (173/43)
7. +Anima, 8 volumes, (345/43)
8. Absolute Boyfriend, 2 volumes (81/41)
9. Case Closed, 30 volumes (1204/40)
10. Fairy Cube, 3 volumes (120/40)
11. Black Sun, Silver Moon, 6 volumes (239/40)
12. Batgirl, 5 volumes (196/39)
13. Apothecarius Argentum, 6 volumes (232/39)
14. Superman, 8 volumes (303/38)
15. Death Jr., 2 volumes (75/38)
16. Fall in Love Like a Comic, 2 volumes (74/37)
17. Nightwing, 8 volumes (286/36)
18. Good Luck, 5 volumes (176/35)
19. Love Com, 8 volumes (278/35)
20. Cardcaptor Sakura, 5 volumes (172/34)
21. Fantastic Four, 4 volumes (134/34)
22. Black Cat, 21 volumes (702/33)
23. Imadoki, 5 volumes (166/33)
24. Fever, 2 volumes (66/33)
25. Aria, 3 volumes (96/32)
26. Fire Investigator Nanase, 2 volumes (64/32)
27. After School Nightmare, 11 volumes (346/31)
28. Death Note, 12 volumes (371/31)
29. The Good Witch of the West, 4 volumes (120/30)
30. Tactics, 2 volumes (60/30)

What I love about this list, and what made all this calculating worth it, is that it really does show me what I’ve missed.  Clearly I need more Daredevil (a problem since my most popular volumes are from series that I can no longer get because they’re out of print — thanks, Marvel.)  I had no idea that Dazzle was so popular — 45 circs per volumes?  Goodness, I’d better see what else I can get.  I knew Absolute Boyfriend had been popular, but wasn’t sure how much it was still popular.  Here’s my answer — another series that moved up to become a must-purchase.

This list also proves the worth of some series that I was less certain about: Antique Bakery, a personal favorite, didn’t initially go out as much.  Here I can see that per volume, it’s going out like gangbusters (and that warms my heart.)  I’m equally glad to see Apothecarius Argentum, Fever, Aria, and Fire Investigator Nanase up there as titles that may not have the buzz that other titles have but are obviously catching the attention of my readers.

Finally, as we all know there are piles of graphic novels that are not series, but instead stand alone, I wanted to take a look at the circulation of those titles that are complete in one volume.

Total Circs, Stand Alone volumes
Format: Title (total circulations per volume)
1. American Born Chinese (20)
2. The Demon Ororon (12)
3. Family Complex (12)
4. White Tiger (11)
5. Azumanga Daioh (11)
6. Tekkon Kinkreet (11)
7. Voiceful (10)
8. Persepolis (9)
9. Missing White Dragon (9)
10. Japan Ai (9)
11. Garden Dreams (9)
12. Shirley (9)
13. Beyond My Touch (8)
14. Shazam (8)
15. Nabi: The Prototype (8)
16. Angel’s Coffin (8)
17. Castle of Dreams (8)
18. Monster Zoo (8)
19. Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies (7)
20. Time Lag (7)
21. Castle Waiting (7)
22. First Love Sisters (7)
23. Death (6)
24. Creature Tech (6)
25. Big Guy (6)
26. Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow (6)
27. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (6)
Fray (6)
Only the Ring Finger Knows (5)
30. Identity Crisis (5)

First, you’ll notice I have included a few omnibus editions here — these are the only way my readers have seen some of these short manga series, so I’m counting these as one book.  Second, stand-alone titles will never have the sheer numbers that series volumes do.  They rarely break into the volume rankings unless you pull them out for a separate list.  I believe it makes sense to compare stand alones independently as they attract different readers. 

That being said, I find it intriguing that the top few (Demon Ororon and Family Complex) are not at all what I expected.  American Born Chinese makes sense as the title that leaps to the top.  The popularity of White Tiger saddens me knowing that Marvel canceled the series before it ever got a chance to take off with book readers (not comics readers, but book readers.)

It is even more telling that 16 of these titles are manga or manhwa.  Many readers (myself included) tend to think of manga and manhwas as series-driven.  These numbers show the appeal of the format no matter the length of the story.  Here is also where I see a number of the teen-centric boys love and yuri titles.  As subgenres more often published in single volume stories, it’s good to see that they are meeting a need in my collection. (I’m betting if I took a look at my adult collections, I’d see even higher rankings for this subgenre given that most of them are shelved in adult.) 

The folks who toil away on the literary and remarkable indie books should not fear.  I’m well pleased to see titles like Monster Zoo, Creature Tech, Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies, Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, and Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms making their mark. 

In all of this I have learned a few lessons about considering statistics, and how I might use them.

1. It’s important to take a look at circs per volume if you want an accurate picture of how series are doing.  This is especially true when you have a large collection (as I do) and feel like weeding anything is challenging. 

2. It’s equally vital to consider the purpose and presentation of titles rather than just expect stand alone titles to fight on an even footing against the biggest series.

3. As I’ve noticed, but now see reflected in the numbers, the more volumes you have a series, the better it will do overall.  All those libraries that only buy a couple of volumes of a series are missing a vital push.  In times of budget crunches that means choosing one or two series instead of  getting 10 different ones. It also argues for thinking network-wide.  If another library already has all of one series, maybe it’s time to purchase something else in full for patrons to request.

Robin Brenner About Robin Brenner

Robin Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. When not tackling programs and reading advice at work, she writes features and reviews for publications including VOYA, Early Word, Library Journal, and Knowledge Quest. She has served on various awards committees, from the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards to the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards. She is the editor-in-chief of the graphic novel review website No Flying No Tights.


  1. Nathan Hale says:

    Thanks for the awesome number crunching. There’s a lot of interesting info here. I wish my library were so well stocked with gn’s.

  2. Robin Brenner says:

    Hello Nathan! Glad to be of help. I always find it interesting, so I’m glad to find other folks do too.

    Hopefully this can be used to argue for your local library beefing up its graphic novel collection! After all, if they beat Twilight…

  3. Hi Robin,

    This is fascinating, but I’m curious about the metrics involved. When you say “volume,” you mean the various volumes of a particular series (so volume 1, volume 2, volume 3 and so on), correct? If so, do these stats track how many copies of each title/volume you have? In other words, are all these stats showing only one copy circulating? Or do you have, say, 10 copies of Case Closed Volume 1 circulating at the same time? I’m not clear on this point.

    I’m also curious what you think about the following article that ran on the Library Journal some years ago (The Circulation Trap, I thought there was some interesting food for thought.

    Questions aside, though, it’s really neat to see this so thanks again for sharing!

  4. Robin Brenner says:

    Hello Von Allan,

    For me, volumes mean literally the number of volumes I have per series. Part of the reason I clarified that we may have a few duplicate volumes is that there are a small number of series where the volume number listed is higher than the total number of volumes published. This is true, for example, with After School Nightmare: we ended up with an extra copy of volume 1, so I decided to add it given how much the series went out. That makes the total number of volumes potentially circulating eleven, even though the series only has 10 volumes officially.

    The majority of the series we own, though (I’d say 98%) do not have any duplicate volumes, and if anything have volumes missing from the total run. So, for these statistics, most often I mean volumes in the sense of total volumes own and in the sense of the series run (so, Ranma 1/2 has 36 volumes total, and we have 36 volumes, numbers 1-36, in our collection.) Does that clarify what I mean?

    As per the Circulation Trap, I certainly understand many of their points. Circulation numbers are always tough — administrators and town government rely on them as the ultimate marker of a library’s worth, and they are certainly an easy quote if you can rattle off how many items have circulated per year, or how much circulation has improved. As with any statistics, they can be easily manipulated as well as leave aside factors that should be considered. One thing that almost always gets left out of circulation numbers is how often certain items are read in the building itself (and thus never checked out.) Some libraries track this for particular items (magazines and newspapers), but while I know for a fact comics and graphic novels and novels get read every day in my Teen Room, I rarely get a chance to actually register those “in-house” circulations within our computer system.

    That article’s main point is that we need to be careful about what we count, and consider the importance of each number. As someone who works with teens, I know that having four teens attend a program is about on par with having 15 children attend a children’s program due to how much harder it is to get teens to show up for a library program. That’s definitely a case where the numbers don’t mean as much as the quality of the program and the patrons it reaches.

    Those of us who work with graphic novels know that all graphic novels circulate more than prose novels for one simple reason: they’re faster to read. A patron may walk out with 12 graphic novels and come back three days later for 15 more, but that is a lot less true of patrons checking out a pile of novels. This doesn’t make graphic novel circulation numbers insignificant, it just means you have to remember what you’re talking about. For example, this past year was the first time that my graphic novel circulation numbers surpassed the circulation for my DVD collection (I’m one of the few teen librarians that has my own DVD collection.) DVDs almost always circulate more than any other item in a library because of both popularity and quick turn around time, so the fact that my graphic novels moved out ahead was significant. I just have to make sure that when I present that fact, I give it the context it needs to make sense.

  5. Kristy Valenti says:

    Thank you. This is precisely the sort of information I was hoping to find. (And thanks for the context, too: the same thought occurred to me about the speed-of-reading factor.

  6. Betsy Levine says:

    Hi Robin–

    Thank you for your in depth number crunching. I was glad that you mentioned, albeit in your response to a comment, the fact that so many GNs get read at the library and never get checked out. It’s frustrating that there isn’t an easy way to also count these in our circ stats. We have lots of teens who are unable to check anything out because they have a problem with their library card (billed items, etc.) but will come and read a whole stack of GNs while here. Another frustration for me, is keeping up with volume #s of series that are all missing or billed and need to be replaced. I think you are completely right when you say we need to be thinking about having all volumes in a series and working together as a system (“network-wide”) to spend our money strategically.

  7. Robin Brenner says:

    Kristy: I’m glad the post is helpful!

    Betsy: Yay! I hope that more libraries can start counting internal statistics — I can here, but we’ve never developed a great way to count them every day (too many different folks clean up in the Teen Room.)

    I know just what you mean about keeping track of what’s been lost or stolen. I’ve had a number of problems where items have been billed, and I keep hoping the patron will eventually bring them back, but I eventually cave and buy the missing volumes. Then, of course, they finally get returned and I have 2 copies.

    I think especially with graphic novels, we need to be thinking in terms of networks — I’ve been lucky in my current position to have the funding and support to build a strong collection here, but I know how rare that is. I am pleased to see our collection going out to other libraries, although I hope too the success of our collections encourage them to build up theirs as well.

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