The Barcelona star took home £99.8million from salary and endorsements over the past 12 months, £14m more than Juventus talisman Ronaldo.
The world’s most expensive ever footballer, Neymar, completes the top three as footballers dominate the podium spots of Forbes’ list of the 100 highest paid athletes.
Messi leapfrogged Floyd Mayweather, who held the crown last year after his lucrative bout with Conor McGregor ensured he would lead the way for the fourth time in seven years.
‘The global impact of soccer is clearly reflected in earnings in 2019, with the top three athletes on the list being Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar,’ said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor, Forbes Media.
‘But basketball players continue to dominate the top 100 overall with 35 athletes on the list earning a total of $1.29 billion (£1.01bn), with 72 per cent of that income coming from salaries rather than endorsement deals.’
Basketball dominates the overall top 100 with 35 athletes making the cut, which has reached its highest entry requirement ever at $25m (£19.6m).
The UK has the most athletes in the list of any country other than the United States, with five in total. Lewis Hamilton placed 13th – tied with Anthony Joshua, Rory McIlroy 32nd, Justin Rose 47th and Gareth Bale 79th.
Hamilton and Joshua both took home £43.2m ($55m), while McIlroy landed £30.7m ($39m).
Serena Williams made a welcome return to the overall top 100, placing 63rd after no women featured on the list last year.
See list of the top athletes below: