The anime industry continues to grow in the west, here is a brief history of the industry's growth.
Many millennials grew up watching shows like Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z on TV but were unaware of the rich culture backing those shows. Although they are westernized they still count as a form of “anime.” Anime has a long history that has led to a 15 billion-dollar industry. In this article, I will guide you through its many forms.
What is anime?
The word “anime” is a shortened version of the Japanese word Animēshon. Anime is a form of Japanese animation used to identify animated productions made for television and film in Japan. Over the years, anime has begun to make its way into other cultures.
Modern anime began in the early 1900s and found lasting success in 1961 with the establishment of Mushi Productions by Osamu Tezuka, a leading figure in modern manga, the dense, novelistic Japanese comic book style that contributed greatly to the aesthetic of anime. Anime such as Miyazaki Hayao’s Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001) are the modern equivalent of the epic folk adventures once filmed by Japanese masters such as Mizoguchi Kenji and Kurosawa Akira.
These animations often stem from Japanese comic books called “Manga.” Unlike American cartoons, anime doesn’t follow a set style and instead can vary quite a lot depending on the artist. However, anime characters tend to have common features such as large eyes, small features and colorful hair.
How has anime culture taken root in America?
The early 1990s served as what was known to be an “anime boom” as popular series such as Dragonball, Astro Boy, Sailor Moon, and Slam Dunk began to air.
Anime conventions became more popular in the west allowing larger groups of fans of anime and manga to come together to showcase their passion. These conventions offered panels with the creators of their favorite shows, merchandise and the ability to “cosplay” or dress up as their favorite characters. Newer conventions will often see attendees in the 100,000s, including the ever-popular Anime Expo in Downtown Los Angeles.
Brenden Martin, an avid anime watcher who has seen over 300 completed shows, states that conventions are a good way to connect with other fans. “I have made so many friends at conventions over the years,” Martin said. “I love having the ability to cosplay, visit panels and buy new art and merchandise. It’s a really fun experience to be surrounded by people just like you.”
At the turn of the 21st century, anime began to attain wide international popularity with the Pokémon television series and films such as Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2002), winner of an Academy Award for the best-animated feature film.
The ability to watch new animes and keep up with current shows airing in Japan became even easier with the launch of streaming services. The popular service Crunchyroll, launched in 2006 and has grown to over 2 million paid subscribers (and 50 million registered users) as of 2019.
Although it isn’t uncommon for fans to watch their favorite shows on anime-only services like Crunchyroll, Viewster, and Funimation. The hype in the west continues to grow as streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, continue to pick up and showcase shows. The streaming service Netflix, whose current subscriber base is approximately 150 million across 190 countries, has even begun creating its own shows.
In an interview with Vox, director of Netflix’s anime content John Derderian stated the anime market in the states is “robust” which is what led the service to launch 30 original animes in 2018. “We use the power of personalization and the algorithm to discover new fans of anime,” Derderian said. “Streaming overall has created a new wave of accessibility and discover-ability for anime. Traditionally anime didn’t have great distribution real estate, because oftentimes it was too small to secure meaningful distribution, and what having a global streaming service allows us to do is find the fandoms.”
These conventions are also incredibly interesting for those that involved as guests for panels. Morgan Berry is a voice actress that has voiced over 200 characters for shows streaming on FUNimation, Hulu, Netflix and more. “I never really expect it to be that many people interested in my work,” Berry said. “Sometimes I’ll get off a panel and then I’ll go to my autograph table and I look at the line. The people waiting to get my autograph. It’s looping around the entire room and I’m like, what? surely these people are at the wrong table right? I’m just like, no way, no they’re not here for me. Turns out they are and I’m like, well that’s insane.”
To learn more about Morgan Berry visit The woman behind the voice
The rise of popularity online
In the past, anime fans had a negative stigma attached to them. The term “weeb” or “weeaboo” was thrown around as an insult. However, as social media platforms such as YouTube and Tiktok become more popular among anime fans the term has grown to be used more positively.
Popular “AniTubers” or anime YouTubers will call themselves weebs and it isn’t uncommon to see the term used in someone's bio online. Collections of fans make content relating back to the shows that they like, which allows the shows to continue to grow.
The future in the west
A whole generation in the West has grown up with anime and is now passing it on to their own children. It is unlikely that we will see a decrease in popularity in the upcoming years. Instead, we will likely see streaming services continue to cater to their subscribers and create original content.
The stigma that anime is “just for kids” will fall away as more people watch the animes marked by adult themes and subject matter, such as Parasyte: The Maxim, Tokyo Ghoul and Fullmetal Alchemist. It is also likely that we will see a shift away from the themes of the past as society continues to evolve and the animation hopes to cater and relate.
If you are looking for recommendations on what shows to start watching, you can check out the article — Where to start your anime journey.