Seiyuu Ranking System and Earnings

Seiyuu Ranking System and Earnings

How much do seiyuu earn?

That is a common question. But before I get to it, let me give you an overview about the topic before diving into the math.

Contrary to what most people think, being a seiyuu is hard. The road to becoming one involves sacrifices, a lot of discipline and a complete focus on honing your skills.


After all the trials and tribulations of enrolling and attending a voice acting school, and then being considered “good enough” to debut by your talent agency… it is time to make a lot of money.

Yeah… That’s daydreaming.

You’re a junior seiyuu for 3 years, earning just enough to survive doing what you love. If you “survive”, you’re then promoted into the ranking system as an F rank seiyuu.

Yes, seiyuu do have a ranking system. And different ranks correspond to a different base paycheck.

Think of each rank as a level in a game.

More years of experience, popularity and success naturally lead seiyuu to higher ranks, climbing those until they hit the top.

Higher ranks open new opportunities for them.

At times, those higher ranks lead to a seiyuu not having to attend auditions but, instead, being chosen directly by the director for a role.

However, at the same time, higher ranks mean more expensive fees, something that small projects and anime productions will try to avoid at all costs.

I find this topic to be quite interesting and, although there isn’t much detailed information on it out there, in this articleI will give you a breakdown of the ranking system and how much is estimated to be earned by a seiyuu in each rank.

A note that this information is based on Japanese articles about the voice acting career in Japan. I leave in the footer of this article a couple of interesting reads on the topic that influenced this article and the SEIYUU LOUNGE episode you have below.

A note that those reads are only available in Japanese. If you’re not comfortable with the language, I hope this article manages to fill you in on those details.

A note that: the earnings mentioned in this article apply to both male and female seiyuu. However, this website focuses primarily on male seiyuu and that is where the focus will be in this article.

As fans, we can’t help but to wonder, at times, if our favorite seiyuu are actually just scrapping by or are living a comfortable and good life.

That worry is bigger the less experience that seiyuu we support has in their career, or how many work opportunities they are getting per anime season, for example.

You’ve probably read stories about how Tatsuhisa Suzuki survived in the 1st years as a seiyuu thanks to Junichi Suwabe supporting him with food and some kitchen appliances.

Or how Soma Saito attended college, voice acting school plus juggled 2 part-time jobs at the same time just to pay his bills.

Or how much Kenichi Suzumura struggled to just scrap by each month when he was a rookie.

Or that Yuki Kaji didn’t go broke thanks to Takahiro Sakurai helping him out in his early days as a seiyuu.

There are many stories like these out there. And notice that I mentioned those seiyuu that you now can comfortably say that they are, indeed, successful and most of them pretty rich.

I can’t even fathom what happens to those seiyuu that never get to have their breakthrough. The seiyuu industry is brutal.

These kinds of stories are not made up. Being a seiyuu and earning a lot of money is just a utopia.

When I mentioned that it involves a lot of sacrifice, it includes also the monetary part.

You have to invest in classes, moving to Tokyo in case you’re from outside of the city and, as we all know, Tokyo is an insanely expensive city to live in.

And why moving to Tokyo? Most top tier voice acting schools are there, although many already have franchises all over the country. At the same time, seiyuu hopefuls want to be closer to the action.

If you don’t have a consistent stream of money, it sure is hard to live and survive in Tokyo. And usually that means that, as a seiyuu, you really need to work to the bone in your first years, juggling voice acting gigs with a part-time and, sometimes, multiple part-times.

Yeah, being a seiyuu isn’t easy.

That is why seiyuu are so eager, especially in the last couple of years, to do as many things as they possibly can.

Seiyuu release photobooks, launch solo careers, kick off apparel brands, write books, turn into YouTubers, do modelling, act, you name it.

You may think that they are following trends.

Yes, in a sense, they are. But what they are truly looking for is 2 things:

  • To boost their image so that they can be noticed by producers and companies that might need their talents
  • And to have an additional source of revenue

Pretty acceptable reasons as to why male seiyuu are now, more than ever active everywhere.

So, the seiyuu industry does have a ranking system.

When a seiyuu makes their debut, they are titled a junior seiyuu. A junior seiyuu is a status that is not even part of the ranking system.

So, every single seiyuu out there must be a junior seiyuu for a whole 3 years. After that, they are promoted to the lowest rank in the seiyuu ranking system.

JUNIOR SEIYUU

I think of this status as something akin to an unpaid internship.

You work hard, often doing jobs others don’t want to because well, they have a status to maintain, and, in the end, you go unnoticed for the duration of the said unpaid internship and are trying to stay afloat and not go broke in the process.

Being a junior seiyuu is not that different in its essence. There’s a little bit of money involved but not as much as they deserve.

Besides the fact that it is mandatory to be a junior seiyuu for 3 years, there are some things that come with the territory that may seem a bit unfair.

Imagine you are a junior seiyuu and got a supporting role in a kids anime. Pretty big time for you.

The producers want the leading actors – for this example, they are ranks F and D – and you, the supporting actor, to participate in an online panel or promotional video.

What happens is that your colleagues, because they are ranked, they are paid for public appearances.

You… not so much.

Junior seiyuu are not paid for public appearances.

So, whenever you find a rookie seiyuu on a panel – and they don’t have 3 years in the industry – they are not being paid to be there. They are working for free.

They, unfortunately, have to do their job with a smile on their face while thinking how to get money to pay the electricity bill this month.

This might seem like me throwing shade, but it isn’t. I want you to understand why it is so important to support male seiyuu – or just seiyuu in general – from the get-go and that this industry is far from being a paradise.

Junior seiyuu are not entitled to any fees from anime reruns or DVD/BD releases

It is a common practice for seiyuu to be paid whenever an anime series has a rerun or when a Blu-ray and DVD is released.

Simply put, all the work you do as a junior seiyuu for those 3 years, and ends up being rebroadcasted or distributed in any way while you’re still a junior seiyuu, is basically unpaid.

Fellow ranked seiyuu are getting their fees and you are glancing at your wristwatch thinking that it is almost half an hour until your shift at 7ELEVEN.  

If junior seiyuu are not paid for public appearances, rebroadcasts and the sort… what are they paid for?

Anime work, Adult drama CDs, regular drama CDs, dubbing – if they have any -.

For example:

In anime:

  • They receive, per 30-minute episode, 15.000 yen, which converts to 122 euros or 143 dollars.

In Drama CDs:

  • They receive a flat-rate, per word, around 20 to 50 yen, which is under 50 cents in both Euros and Dollars. And that’s the rate they get, if they are paid at all.

So, what if that seiyuu barely has any lines and ends up acting 1 minute in total in an anime series? – You ask.

They still get those 15.000 yen. It’s the base rate regardless if they have a lot of lines or not.

You might think “Well, just a grunt in an anime series and I score 15.000 yen. That’s good business.”

Yeah… I don’t think so.

This is not enough money because rents in Tokyo are ridiculously high and you still have to eat and pay for utility bills – remember, the electricity and everything? It’s still a lot to pay.

Don’t forget that your talent agency gets 20% of that money and the other 20% are withholding tax so, in the end, you get around 9000 – 10.000 yen per 30-minute episode. Around 80 euros or 90 dollars per episode is not much.

And remember as well, you are a junior seiyuu.

People don’t know you and you have to go audition to as many roles and anime as possible, trying to score more minor roles or even a supporting role or two to have enough to scrap by and survive another month.

To earn the bare minimum to survive in the industry as a junior seiyuu you have to, at least earn a minimum of 200.000 yen.

On average, rents in the Tokyo metropolitan area are around 100.000 yen. Add to that the utility bills, food and transportation and you have just enough to survive.

How many episodes in anime in 1 month you must have in order to have that money? 19.

As a rookie seiyuu, those minor roles that no one pays attention to actually help them have money to meet all their necessities. But few junior seiyuu have that work load.

Continuing our exercise:

The 3 years are over.

After graduating from being a junior seiyuu, you’re finally in the big league. Congratulations!

Now, you’re rank F as a seiyuu, the lowest rank available.

And you need to climb the ranks if you ever want to live off being a voice actor and live comfortably.

The seiyuu ranking system

Seiyuu are ranked from F to A. Or, alternatively, they are ranked 15 up until 1. Both are traditional ranking systems.

An example of the Rank 15 – 1 and no-rank system for seiyuu

There are seiyuu that have no rank, these are the top of the top. The ones that get to negotiate their paychecks.

These ranks can be quickly climbable if you happen to have a breakthrough moment in your career such as winning an award at the yearly Seiyuu Awards, being the leading actor in a popular anime series or being part of a 2D idol group or project that is extremely popular…

If a seiyuu manages to keep that momentum going, they can rise pretty quickly in the ranking.

A note that you may have some veteran seiyuu that, unfortunately don’t have much work nor popularity, and are not ranked at the top. They may even be in the middle of the ranking.

At the same time, you may have some seiyuu that are not even 40 years old and they are already at the top due to being insanely popular.

Reaching the top of the seiyuu ranking system is not decided solely by how long you’ve been in the industry.

It is a mix of experience, popularity, variety of work and work load.

I won’t be going over what each rank is entitled to because there is little information on that.

However, I can compare the lower to the higher tiers for you as both Daisuke Namikawa, Akio Otsuka and Masako Nozawa have dished about those 2 ranks and the no-rank seiyuu on TV appearances and, in Otsuka’s case, on a book about the seiyuu industry.

  • An F rank seiyuu earns 15.000 yen per anime episode.
  • An A rank seiyuu earns 45.000 yen per anime episode.

And a no rank seiyuu goes over the 45.000 yen threshold. There’s no limit in here and fees are negotiated directly with the seiyuu themselves and are different case by case.

If you notice, even at A rank, seiyuu still have to do a lot of anime work to have a decent paycheck.

That’s why many branch out and do other things.

Changes in the seiyuu industry

Due to the fact that seiyuu work can fluctuate a lot, some talent agencies have started to ditch the F to A ranking system and, instead, are paying a fix monthly fee to their voice acting talents.

This seems like a fairer option to the ranking system, one that enables junior seiyuu and even those in higher ranks but with drastic fluctuations of work load, to have a steady income.

It introduces more stability in an industry that is known for being extremely volatile.

Why not going freelance?

While going freelance might seem like the best decision ever, you need to have a certain status to be able to do so and continue to have work coming to you.

As a freelance seiyuu, you decide the jobs you want to audition for or, if you’re offered roles (it may happen if the creators have the money to spare and really want that specific seiyuu to join the cast), which to reject or accept, how much are your fees, plus the money you make is all yours – only taxes deducted.

At the same time, you still need to audition for roles, plus you have to maintain that established image you have, that image and “name” that makes people want to continue to work with you and having you in their projects.

For that you need to sell your image. A good way is by kicking off a solo career, doing a lot of variety work, participating in live reading events, doing theatre or acting in TV dramas.

A good example of male seiyuu that are freelancers and still have a solid stream of work include Daisuke Ono and Hosoya Yoshimasa.

What about setting up their own Talent agency?

Male seiyuu like Kenichi Suzumura, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Tetsuya Kakihara, Shinnosuke Tachibana and Jun Fukuyama have established their own talent agencies.

Most have enlisted friends or acquaintances in the industry to join their own talent agencies.

Usually, these types of talent agencies do not ask for insanely high percentages from a seiyuu’s earnings like most established big talent agencies do. This ends up creating a safe, sound and respectful environment for junior seiyuu and veterans alike.

Which are the jobs that pay the most?

Contrary to popular belief, anime work is one of the lowest paying jobs for seiyuu.

As of 2018 (the freshest information on the topic available online), the work that pays the best for seiyuu is lending voice to PACHINKO machines.

source – Kayoko no heya mayonaka no game kaigi (2018)

For reference, pachinko machines are arcade games that work similar to slot machines in Casinos.

There is no reference as to how much are the fees for Pachinko work. A seiyuu that is well known for doing a lot of Pachinko work is Takaya Kuroda.

Then we have:

Games

  • that pay 30 yen (junior seiyuu) up to 200 yen (A rank seiyuu) per word – the fee per word can double in case of popular games

Dubbing of foreign movies

  • that pays 50,000 yen per hour (base fee) can go up to 150,000 yen per hour (A rank seiyuu)

Narration

  • that pays 100,000 yen per episode (average fee) and can go up to 1 million yen for A rank seiyuu

Anime

  • that pays 15,000 (junior seiyuu) up to 45,000 yen (A rank seiyuu) per 30-minute episode

Radio (the lowest paying job)

  • that pays 5,000 (junior seiyuu) to 10,000 yen (A rank seiyuu) per episode.
  • Radio work is viewed as a stepping stone for seiyuu, usually used as training for junior seiyuu or to establish and solidify the image of seiyuu to later take off for different projects.

For reference: the annual income of male seiyuu such as Hiroshi Kamiya and Tomokazu Sugita is estimated to be over 15 million yen.

Fellow male seiyuu, Koichi Yamadera earns more than 20 million yen per year.

Variety and music fees are unknown

A note that work as an artist/singer and variety appearances are not mentioned anywhere.

Variety appearances should not be very different in rates as the ones specific for their ranks in the anime category. I may be wrong on this one though. Then again, there is no information out there about how much money seiyuu earn from variety appearances.

Now, I dare say that work as an artist/singer can be really different in fees between seiyuu.

Estimated earnings without taking the music label and talent agencies’ fees and studio time + production expenses. You can expect the seiyuu to earn at least 1/4 to 2/4 of the estimated earnings above

If the seiyuu is a physical sales monster like Mamoru Miyano or Soma Saito tend to be, their fees, of course, extracting the percentage that their music labels take, are pretty substantial.

Estimated earnings without taking the music label and talent agencies’ fees and studio time + production expenses. You can expect the seiyuu to earn at least 1/4 to 2/4 of the estimated earnings above

And, if the seiyuu happens to be a sales monster and also a singer-songwriter for everything they release – like Soma Saito – yep, he’s making big money by being a solo artist, adding to the sales of his CDs, those royalties fees that drop monthly or yearly.

In the case of Toshiyuki Toyonaga, that doesn’t have big sales numbers yet he produces, composes and writes everything he releases and owns his music label, the fees he gets can be on par to Mamoru Miyano and Soma Saito’s – the 2 most successful male seiyuu solo artists. And remember, Toyonaga doesn’t have KING RECORDS or SACRA MUSIC (Sony) behind him, he’s doing it all as an indie artist.

Selling a lot of CDs is necessary to break even from the expenses incurred during the album or single production.

After that, all sales over that necessary number – depends from artist to artist and even for the same artist, it depends from release to release, as some CDs might be more expensive to craft than others – is profit.

Also, the more active they are – releasing multiple CDs or digital singles per year – the more money they make. That is, of course, if their sales are consistent across all releases in that year. Attention that, if the seiyuu barely sells any CDs and keeps releasing music constantly, they might be incurring in losses pretty quickly.

Remember, underperforming CDs usually end up creating debt instead of turning a profit. There’s the band, the sound engineer, the producer, the arranger, the management and more to be paid with the sales of that CD. There’s a lot on the line.

All in all, the big reason as to why many male seiyuu are desperately trying to kick off a career as a solo artist is because of how high their fees can be if they are successful.

As you can tell, being a seiyuu is not easy.

Earning a lot of money doing voice acting work is also not easy. They have to literally sell themselves continuously in order to be successful.

And, like Daisuke Namikawa said on TV when asked about the seiyuu industry: only 300 out of 10 000 actually get to live off of their dream job as voice actors.

That is just 3% of those active as seiyuu.

The others, unfortunately, have to strive to stay afloat, while having to juggle voice acting work with part time jobs until they either have a breakthrough or can no longer live that life and give up on that dream.

The seiyuu industry is not shy about being hard and cruel.

Final considerations

It is never enough to stress that you should support your favorite seiyuu in best way possible.

If you do have the means, please support seiyuu directly.

Like I mentioned in previous episodes of SEIYUU LOUNGE (links below), purchasing their music, the games they voice characters in, magazines, their books and apparel are direct ways to help them stay afloat in the industry.

If you don’t have money to support them, at least stream their music for free on Spotify. It pays little, but it pays. That is a start.

You can find the podcast on the following platforms

YouTube

Spotify

Apple Podcasts

Google Podcasts

Interesting reads on the topic (in Japanese)

  • Career Picks Japan: https://career-picks.com/average-salary/voiceactor-nensyu/
  • Shinjin Seiyuu: http://shinjin-seiyu.com/archives/34
  • AM Gakuin: https://www.amgakuin.co.jp/contents/voice/column2/debut/become/income

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