Who generally owns the intellectual property (IP) rights to manga characters and stories?

In the USA, comic books are generally produced by a team -- writer, artist, inker, colorist, letterer, editor, and maybe even plotter. Sometimes one or more of these folks can sometimes even get replaced mid-issue. The characters are typically part of a shared universe involving multiple, interacting characters. It makes sense that Marvel and DC, the largest publishers would own the IP.

It also makes sense that some of the artistic folks would want full ownership and control over their work, and independent publishers were formed allowing this. The leading publishers partially adapted to this desire, and sometimes grant limited exclusivity to the creator of a character. Ownership was still with the publisher, but only the creator could make decisions concerning their character, so long as they remained with the publisher.

From what I understand, manga is vastly different. One person handles writing, art, and lettering. There is no colorist, and the publisher's editor generally suggests things, not mandates them. Characters from different manga seldom interact. With the one-person focus, it would make sense to me that the mangaka would hold IP rights. Is this generally the case?

Anime is broader, involving many folks for one series. Are they simply licensed to tell the mangaka's (or some other person's) story? (Maybe this is similar to how Fox is licensed to make X-Men movies, even though the X-Men themselves belong to Marvel.) I know some anime is a new work not based on a manga or light novel. In those cases, the studio is the creator, and it is likely they own the IP as well.

  • +1, I've also been curious for a while whether manga are creator-owned or publisher-owned.
    – Torisuda
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 4:59
  • My guess is that the publisher owns the rights to the particular publication, but the creator may retain the rights to the general ideas (but I'm probably horribly wrong on that front). I'm thinking, for example, of the Phoenix series by Osamu Tezuka where he released parts of it in various magazines.
    – ConMan
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 22:15

2 Answers 2


summary (final paragraph):
Like the five previous examples, the mangaka (or writer) shares the copyright. Since this occurred in six of the five works I looked up, I'll assume it to be the "general rule" my question asked for. If someone knows different, please let us know!


Duh! -- It just occurred to me my Crunchyroll subscription includes access to manga. So I went there to look for the copyright notices. At first I didn't find any. My expectation was each chapter would have one, so I was scanning thru the volumes of Sweetness and Lightning and couldn't find such a thing. Not at chapter start or end, or even volume start or end. I tried a couple other manga, and I could not find notices for them either. Finally a tree appeared out of the forest --- near the bottom right of the stupid start page for each series. (Anyone can see these without a subscription. Non-subscribers won't be able to view any actual pages, though.)

There appears to be no standard template, so I chose three at random, listed by order of complexity. Since the info does not appear to come from the manga issues themselves, what you see is my transcription of Crunchyroll's translation. The original Japanese may include different and/or standardized notices.


Publisher: Comico
First Published:
Author: Yayoiso
Artist: Yayoiso
Copyright: © Yayoiso / comico
Translator: Andrew Cunningham
Editor: Emily Sorensen
Letterer: Cheryl Alvarez

Both the author and publisher share copyright. I'm guessing the letterers are for the English version, and the author did the original Japanese lettering.

Sweetness & Lightning

Publisher: Kodansha
First Published: 
Author: Gido Amagakure
Copyright: Based on the manga "Amaama to Inazuma" by Gido Amagakure
  originally serialized in the monthly good! Afternoon magazine published by KODANSHA LTD.
  Sweetness and Lightning copyright © Gido Amagakure/KODANSHA LTD.
  English translation copyright © Gido Amagakure/KODANSHA LTD.
  All rights reserved.

Once again, a shared copyright between author and publisher. They also take ownership of the English translation. Whether it was a staff person at Kodansha or Gido is fluent in English, I do not know.

Fairy Tail

Publisher: Kodansha
First Published: 2005
Author: Hiro Mashima
Artist: Hiro Mashima
Copyright: Based on the manga "FAIRY TAIL" by Hiro Mashima
  originally serialized in the weekly Shonen Magazine published by KODANSHA LTD.
  FAIRY TAIL copyright © Hiro Mashima/KODANSHA LTD.
  English translation copyright © Hiro Mashima/KODANSHA LTD.
  All rights reserved.
Translator: William Flanagan
Editor: Erin Subramanian
Letterer: AndWorld Design

These three may indicate a shared copyright is the norm. Same publisher as S&L, but now the translator is given credit by name.


I tried to check for copyright on several anime series. The few I looked at did not bother translating the opening or closing credits, so if copyright info was there, I could not read it. I also checked their English dub of Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club, but the dub did not translate the credits either. Funimation's site appears to be in transition right now, and I cannot access anything there. If no one else adds animation info, I'll update this later with any anime info I find.

/edit add 5 hours later

Funimation is back up with its site revamp operational. They have also started airing 2003's Wolf's Rain, and I remembered noticing that dubs of older series tend to translate the credits. Sure enough, it does. It's notice is a one-liner, and reads:

© BONES • KEIKO NOBUMOTO/BV Licensed by Funimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The copyright is once again shared, this time between the studio and writer. However, Wolf's Rain appears to be a special case, in that the manga and anime were being released simultaneous, with Kodansha publishing the manga. It would be interesting to know if the manga copyright lists Kodansha in place of Bones, in addition to it, or not at all.

(... searched and found the manga copyright online). The manga copyright does not even include Kodansha. The notice is listed at the end of the last volume (11) and reads:


So the manga copyright added the illustrator's name, even listing him first. In context, now, it appears Keiko was probably an employee or contractee of Bones. I don't know what the "/BV" after his name means. I'm guessing Bones hired Iida to be the manga illustrator, and part of the deal was that he be given co-owner status of it.

The page containing the copyright gives lots of credits, mostly for the anime staff. Viz Media was the English license holder at the time, and their presence is prominent on the page as well. Another thing I notice is that the Japanese copyrights don't seem to concern themselves with listing a year or year range. But this page was clearly for an English-speaking audience, and the copyright here is more like I expect to see -- "© 2004". (Watching the first few minutes of the anime, it was instantly clear that Viz chose an excellent voice actor cast! The first four episodes are currently up.)

Since Wolf's Rain is a special case as a product of an anime studio first and manga second (well, co-released), I looked up another old series on Funimation, Mushi-Shi. I also verified that the manga came first. It ran from 1999-2008, and the original 26 episodes of the anime were broadcast in 2005 and 2006. The copyright reads:

   ©Yuki Urushibara / KODANSHA - MUSHI-SHI Partnership.
Licensed by Kodansha through Funimation® Productions, Ltd.
                   All Rights Reserved.

I find this case interesting in that Artland, the anime studio, was not called out specifically. It is likely part of the entity called "Mushi-Shi Partnership".

Like the five previous examples, the mangaka (or writer) shares the copyright. Since this occurred in six of the five works I looked up, I'll assume it to be the "general rule" my question asked for. If someone knows different, please let us know!

  • 1
    I think letterer might refer to typesetter, the one responsible for placing the translated texts so they fit into the boxes and looks nicely. Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 11:54

Almost everything in the world of Japanese animation is owned by "committees." This is usually just a fancy way of saying that between 5 and 30 companies (more or less) got together, each contributed something like $10,000 to $500,000 (more or less) to the project, and then in turn each own a percent of the project. Usually one company contributed the most, and it's usually a Television station, as they also in-turn in the most ad-revenue from the anime. That company is usually the contact for licensing information and is usually listed as the copyright holder in publications.

They do this chiefly to minimize risk, in case a project or an anime loses money. Additionally, it makes planning easier - say a company makes figurines for anime, if that company is on this committee and contributed money, it's obvious that they're going to be the company who wants the rights to make merchandise.

When it comes to manga, most manga artists work for a particular publisher, who pays their salary. If they're receiving a salary during that time, the work is owned by the publisher, however the manga-ka typically also retains a lot of say in what happens with the manga. Whether or not it's legally required, or if it's simply expected and "the way of things", is still unclear to me.

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