In the West, we get the impression that the Japanese love anime. Like, they really love it: unless they are at work, the Japanese, we imagine, are watching Dragon BallGintama, or Fullmetal Alchemist anime shows, reading Cowboy Bebop or Neon Genesis Evangelion manga series, or playing one of the million video games based on anime characters.

We really do believe that it makes up a fairly major part of Japanese culture. And really, we're not the only ones. China banned Death Note and Attack on Titan – and some commentators saw this as a response to the specifically Japanese nature of Japanese animation.

Yet, is this really true? Are all Japanese people anime fans? Is the country really full of people mad about anime and manga, Goku and Code Geass?

The answer – obviously enough – is a little more subtle and complicated than this. And this will be the topic of this article.

So, let's dive in and have a look at the strange relationship between Japan's most famous cultural product and the country itself.

And you can learn everything about anime in another article.

A street in Tokyo
The home of anime, Tokyo (Source: Unsplash
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What Is Anime?

Whilst, to the rest of the world, anime is something they do in Japan, for the Japanese themselves, this term means something a lot broader. 'Anime,' in reality, is just short for 'animation.'

This means literally any animation production, Japanese or non-Japanese, for kids or for adults. Consequently, anything you might see on Cartoon Network or Adult Swim – regardless of its geographical provenance – could be called anime.

However, things with this word are a little more complex than this – as not all Japanese animators like the term.

The famed animator, Hayao Miyazaki – known for his work with Toei Animation and, later, Studio Ghibli, with whom he made the hit films, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke – is one of these. His argument is that this shortened term, 'anime,' really expresses the decline of the animation form.

This term came about in the eighties, with the mass production of anime series, and its verbal contraction expresses the new limits of the form in general.

Each to their own; it's not the place to have these conversations here. However, this attitude suggests that not everyone is over the moon about the state of Japanese manga and anime.

Find out our favorite anime series - and our top anime characters!

Astro Boy
Astro Boy is the most iconic anime character (Source: Pinterest)

A Bit Of History

Anime – as we shall still call it that, for ease – started, people say, in the late 1910s, when a number of painters, cartoonists, and political caricaturists became interested in working with animated images.

These guys were working off the back of European and US influence, and the same can be said of the big breakthrough in Japanese anime in the 1960s. This came, pretty much, with the celebrated Osamu Tezuka, whose works – like Astro Boy and Princess Knight – were heavily influenced by the popularity of Disney's movies from the thirties.

Remember that name, Tezuka – because it was him who really defined the style that we know today as 'typically' anime or manga. That's the large eyes – able to express all sorts of emotional depth – and the wacky hair.

After this, anime and manga boomed – throughout the seventies and into the eighties. Classics like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam were early favorites, whilst hugely influential works like the film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Dragon Ball came later on.

The first of these gave Japanese animation a global audience – and transformed the image of anime from a sub-cultural trend into an art form with really profound possibilities. If we're identifying the moments at which anime became hugely culturally influential, this was one of them. People all around the world began to watch anime – and people of all ages too.

However, when Neon Genesis Evangelion arrived in 1995, it emerged during a bit of a slump for the form. The eighties were a difficult decade economically for Japan, and, as a result, the anime industry had struggled. Evangelion changed this – and it became a bit of a sensation, influencing the next decade of anime productions.

Ten million people in Japan watched the last episode of Evangelion – and anime went mainstream.

Learn how to draw anime!

The history puts into context the developments in – and the growing popular awareness of – this art form known as anime. But does it explain its enduring popularity?

No, we suppose not.

The key thing to know about anime is that it is a massive industry, it's a form of cultural identity and power for Japan, and it is a hugely diverse scene. It is not a monolithic thing, but rather the name we give to a very broad category of different products. These, if not the history, are the things that explain its success.

Let's take a closer look.

It's A Massive Multibillion-Dollar Industry

Let's be a little cynical, just briefly.

The anime industry is worth a huge amount of money: $19.1 billion annually – or at least in 2017. To put this in perspective, the entire global film industry is worth $136 billion annually – including box office and home entertainment.

Even though this figure includes everything from the light novel to the anime games, the merchandise to the anime movies themselves, Japan's anime makes up a fairly huge chunk of the world's film industry.

This isn't to be scoffed at. And, one of the reasons why anime is so big around the world is because Japanese producers deliberately exported their work since the days of Tezuka. They did this precisely because not enough people were watching their animes in Japan. (This sort of exposes the idea that all Japanese people love anime, no?)

By selling these Japanese cultural products cheaply to the rest of the world, the audience grew. In Italy, Spain, and South America, interest in anime grew massively.

An Example: Pokémon.

The really interesting thing about anime's popularity is that it was never only about the animated series themselves. It became, rather, a whole cultural identifier and multimedia franchise.

Pokémon, for instance, was originally a computer game. Yet, the success of these games produced an anime adaptation, as well as a manga series. And then, The Pokémon Company released a card game, as well as films – including a live-action film – music, and even a theme park.

This was anime's breakthrough franchise in the US. It has since become not only the biggest media franchise in the world but also the biggest-selling video game franchise and the highest-grossing anime film in the US.

The reason for this was that Pokémon became a part of life – with all sorts of different cultural forms available to engage with this universe.

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Someone holds a Pokemon toy
An absolutely massive anime game, Pokémon (Source: Unsplash)

It's Ubiquitous

Japan's anime industry is massive. And, as a result, anime imagery is everywhere across the country. This doesn't necessarily mean that recognizable anime characters are everywhere. However, the style and tropes of the form are ubiquitous.

In airports, in railway stations, on school buses, on snacks, and on bottled water, you'll find images from anime almost anywhere you look.

It's A Symbol Of Japan

As we said above, anime has become associated with Japan – for better or for worse. Whilst this sounds obvious – because it all comes from Japan – the point is a bit of a different one.

When people talk about a country's influence around the world, they talk about two types of power: 'hard' power and 'soft' power. 'Hard' power is the sort of power which we conventionally understand as power: with guns, invasions, and soldiers.

'Soft' power, however, is about culture. The US is very good at this: everyone across the world listens to American music, watches American films and TV shows, and speaks English.

Anime is Japan's own version of all this. If everyone is watching Japanese anime, of course, Japan is going to be happy about this – and so will give the industry as much help as it can get.

And There's An Anime For Everyone

Less cynically, then, part of the broad appeal of anime in Japan is that it is a form that has an audience across all sorts of demographics, ages, and genders.

Shonen manga, for example, is aimed at teenage boys. This might include Dragon Ball. Then there is shoujo manga, aimed at girls.

There is something like this for all different demographics in Japan – and this gives anime a really broad and diverse audience.

This, really, is the great achievement of specifically Japanese anime: even adults enjoy it. That's because there is a type of anime designed with them in mind: serious themes, complex plots, and adult humor.

No. Not All Japanese People Like Anime

So, yes, anime is popular in Japan.

However, it wouldn't be so surprising if we were to find out that Japanese people often ask, why is Disney so popular in America?

These would be good questions. Yet, we know, living here, that, really, not everyone likes or even watches Disney Shows.

In the same way, of course, a lot of Japanese people don't care at all about anime. Just as plenty of Americans don't like Hollywood, or plenty of Colombians don't dance

Anime: Why Is It So Important To Japanese Culture?

In 2016, the Japanese anime industry made a handsome $17.7 billion in revenue. This incredible amount resulted from seven years of consecutive growth but only signaled a 10% increase.

Meanwhile, if we look at the domestic box office earnings, we would see a 14% increase in revenue. Moreover, the total overseas sales experienced an increase of almost one-third over the previous year.

All of this clearly shows that the anime industry is hugely popular in Japan and across the world. So now the question is, what factors make anime so significant in Japan's culture?

For starters, popular anime characters have been strongly associated with Japanese culture. This is highlighted by the fact that Japan's government-sanctioned mascot for water day is a Pokemon named Vaporeon!

A view of a street in Japan full of people and colorful lights
Anime is watched and loved by a lot of people in Japan. Most children find themselves inspired by famous anime characters to the extent that they cosplay them and try to mirror their personalities (Source: Unsplash)

Additionally, anime has been around for decades, and considering its ever-growing popularity, it is not going anywhere soon.

Over the years, despite massive technological advancements in media and entertainment, anime and manga have stood their ground.

As a result, despite its Nippon origins, anime has found massive audiences in the US, Europe, and the rest of the world.

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Out of numerous reasons, one reason that anime and manga have stood the test of time is their potential to influence viewers.

The storylines and characters are real, and so are their problems. And because of its visual freedom, producers can make these narratives seem larger than life.

In the words of a famous anime expert, Takamasa Sakurai: the unique genre is loved due to its unconventional nature. Hence, anime has killed the idea that only kids watch cartoons.

Anime is not just targeted at kids; it is made for older viewers. And this is highlighted by the heady narratives, nudity (sometimes), gore, violence, and distressing themes.

Most international viewers and fans love anime because of its hard to predict endings that come with captivating storylines.

Other than that, a few more reasons make anime so significantly important in Japanese Culture. But you will only understand them when you start watching.

Historical Admiration Of Visual Arts.

In Japan, anime started early in the 19th century. However, by the mid-1930s, Japanese artists began getting a handle on the required art style.

Japanese devotion and appreciation towards the visual arts go way back, and it would be fair to say that it has strengthened and evolved. Their love for the culture is also frequently portrayed in animes.

Chado (The Way Of Tea)

Chado (The Way of Tea) is yet an example of the breathtaking Japanese art imitating culture. In this anime, the Japanese visual art is pretty decently evident, including the projection of ceremonial preparation alongside the exquisite positioning of matcha and green tea.

These ceremonies were initially part of ancient Buddhist formals, and so they started back in the 9th century.

Moreover, you will also be able to witness ancient scrolls of Buddhist calligraphy hanging on the walls.

The Ikebana

The Ikebana is an example of anime that beautifully portrays the ancient sublime art of Japanese flower arrangements.

It is also known as 'kado' and revolves around the aesthetic floral arrangement. Ikebana is still considered a fundamental blend of human artistry and nature.

This art depicting Japanese purification has had enormous impacts on the creation of visual art culture in Japan.

As an outcome, people are more appreciative of the visual appeal of anime and its historical association with Japanese culture.

Anime's Influence On Japans Culture

An action figure of famous anime character Goku from the series Dragon Ball Z
Goku is one of the most notable anime characters. Due to his calm personality, he makes it to every top ten popular anime characters list. His infamy in Asia can be equated to Superman, with many fans convinced that Goku would come out victorious against the man of steel (Source: Unsplash)

In Japan, anime dominates pop culture. In contrast, the West only views it as a new form of entertainment.

For instance, Japan's colossal pop culture includes; music, video games, local Japanese cuisine, cinemas, and TV. And anime finds its way into all of this.

It goes side by side with all these entertainment categories and, this is something only seen in Japan and not the rest of the world.

Additionally, most of Japan's pop culture segments can also trace their origins to Japanese art.

Japanese Society Promotes Being Lovable And Cute

What is Japanese anime, if not adorable? In Japan, the cultural phenomenon, Kawaii, is defined by the nation's obsession with cuteness.

Pretty, cute, loveable, and adorable is the indefinite translation of Kawaii. It refers to things and people that are innocent, shy, childlike, vulnerable, and charming.

For instance, specific genres of manga and famous anime characters are known to be kawaii. This includes Hello Kitty, Pikachu, and Doraemon.

The Kawaii culture is closely related to Japan's strong, unshakeable appreciation regarding specific genres of manga and anime.

An anime could show the bloodiest, goriest of scenes and then follow it up with a cute bunny-like creature making a tiny pot of tea. This hot and cold narrative is also what attracts viewers.

However, it does not just conclude with manga and anime. The Kawaii culture also rules over clothing, food, toys, and other items in Japan.

Besides, we can also see the Kawaii culture having an influence over etiquettes and even personal impressions.

Japan's Recent History In Favor Of Anime

The increase of anime all over the world has been speedy in recent years. However, the industry has somewhat tangled recent history with Japan.

Anime was popular in Japan long before American institutes started teaching how to draw anime. It also pre-dated the progression of the modern Japanese film industry.

In fact, this animated art was the first-ever form of media broadcasting in the country.

During the period of Meiji, there was a notable exchange in the cultures of the US, Japan, and Europe. Nonetheless, the first-ever time manga was made for commercial consumption was in Japan, published in 1917. This ancient piece was named 'Makzo Imokawa, The Doorman.'

But the first anime film came in 1945; the Japanese Imperial Navy majorly funded this feature movie. The sole purpose behind this was to uplift the spirits of Japanese children.

It was developed to primarily target the youth alongside the adolescents, compelling them to be more courageous, mainly because they grew up during the war.

Japanese Love For Anime From Early Age

The locals of Japan start to watch anime at a relatively early age; however, it does not end there. The genres and categories of these animations are age-specific.

A wall full of screens that shows different animes
The Japanese anime culture is full of amazing and exciting shows targeted to a wide range of viewers. Additionally, the viewership of anime ranges from kids to adults, and they are targeted to each gender (Source: Unsplash)

In Japan, children typically start watching anime soon after they can comprehend visuals and texts. Moreover, there are specialized samples of anime categories available for children between 6 and 18.

These categories also assist the personal interests of both genders. For instance, there are specialized anime segments for girls of different ages entirely depending upon their interests, and the same goes for boys.

Some animes are not age-specific and attract a wider audience; one example of this is Shonen. This is an anime character who portrays an adventurous spirit resulting in action-packed stories.

On the other side of the discussion, girls aged 12 would typically and most commonly show interest in watching "Shonen-ai," which loosely translates to "Boy Love." This anime features charismatic romance and romantic themes.

Furthermore, there are animes specifically for adults, generally, those aging above 18 years. This category is known as Seinen, which translates to "adult" in English.

The category specializes in the animation of more mature content, and so the themes are related.

Learn How To Write, Produce, And Draw Anime With An Expert

In conclusion, Japan and anime have a great relationship that goes way back in history. Therefore, the art knows no age and isn't bound by cultural or societal norms.

This is why everyone becomes a fan of anime, no matter at which age they start watching it.

Most kids in Japan and worldwide started watching anime in childhood and stuck with it through adulthood.

And if you're one of them, your love for consuming anime has probably turned into a desire to create it.

Hence, if you want to level up your love for anime, you can visit Superprof and learn to write, direct, or even draw anime.

At Superprof, you can learn a massive variety of skills, courses, and even languages. All you need to do is sign up and start your journey of fun and learning.

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