Whenever I ask my students here in Japan about their favorite comics, someone invariably names One Piece. So it's not surprising to learn the recently-released 56th volume has a record-smashing print run of 2.85 million.
Still, the number boggles the mind. How many prose novels have print runs as large? Murakami Haruki's latest novel 1Q84 had its print run increased by 100,000 to 480,000 copies when it proved to be an enormous hit, but I'm not sure of the total. The current prose record-holder is Dan Brown for his book The Lost Symbol with 6.5 million. For a comic book to be even in that general vicinity, that a national newspaper would run a story on it and that it has 176 million copies in circulation in a nation of roughly 127 million people is quite an achievement and a testament to One Piece's pop cultural impact since its 1997 debut.
For more perspective, the 300 ranked monthly magazines in the U.S. sold 6.24 million combined copies in October of this year. The single best-selling comic that month was DC's Blackest Night #4, which moved 137,086 units. While it's not really fair to compare directly a single volume of a manga series-- especially one printed in graphic novel form-- to books that come out as monthly magazines, you can still draw some inferences about comic book readership in Japan versus that in America. To wit, many more people are reading comics in Japan than in the United States.
And most of those people probably don't give a shit about Blackest Night.
Oh, and the previous sales leader in Japan was a comic book about basketball. Are there any comics about sports in the U.S.?