KEY POINTS

  • MrBeast has overtaken 10-year-old toy reviewer Ryan Kaji and become the highest-earning YouTuber of 2021
  • YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul reportedly made $45 million in the past year
  • Gaming creator Markiplier was the third-highest-paid content creator on the platform in 2021

Several YouTube stars saw their fortunes grow by tens of millions over the past year.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a major upheaval in traditional entertainment. Concert halls are closed, museums are gathering dust, film production is paused and movie theaters are shuttered entirely. For YouTube, however, it was a time of boom.

The  Google-owned video service saw the most significant growth of any social media app among American users during the pandemic, CNBC reported, citing the Pew Research Center. YouTube saw usage grow from 73% of U.S. adults in 2019 to 81% in 2021, according to the research center's report.

Over the years, YouTube creators have increasingly gained mainstream recognition as they’ve been able to earn as much as A-listers and athletes from their videos and their external ventures. For the year 2021 alone, the five highest-paid YouTubers made a combined $195 million, according to a new Forbes list.

Jimmy Donaldson, the 23-year-old star known as MrBeast, was YouTube’s highest-earning content creator in 2021.

His popular videos and stunts, which included recreating the Netflix smash hit "Squid Game," have generated more than 10 billion views on the platform and earned him $54 million in gross revenue – the most of any YouTuber ever, according to Forbes. 

Donaldson has overtaken 10-year-old toy reviewer Ryan Kaji, who previously topped Forbes’ annual list of highest-earning YouTube stars for two consecutive years. 

The second-highest-paid YouTuber of 2021 is social-media-star-turned-professional-boxer Jake Paul, who marks his first appearance in the top 5 since 2018.

The 25-year-old's high-profile fights against MMA stars helped him earn $45 million last year. Paul fought three times in 2021, beating Tyron Woodley twice and Ben Askren once.

Coming in third on Forbes' list after Paul is gaming creator Markiplier, who reportedly made $38 million in 2021. 

The 32-year-old YouTuber, best known for his gaming content, animation and sketch comedy, reportedly saw strong sales from his Unus Annus merchandise, causing his earnings to nearly double from Forbes' 2020 estimate.

Trailing behind him is longtime comedy duo Rhett and Link, whose “Good Mythical Morning” talk show on YouTube celebrated its 10-year anniversary this week, with $30 million. 

In fifth place with a reported $28.5 million in earnings is "Minecraft" phenomenon Unspeakable, the popular YouTube channel of Nathen Graham.  Over 20 million people subscribe to his channel, where he posts videos of himself playing "Minecraft" and other games. 

Jimmy Donaldson aka MrBeast Jimmy Donaldson, famously known as MrBeast, is one of YouTube's biggest stars. Photo: Instagram/MrBeast