Once upon a time, many considered anime a nerdy hobby. Fans of mainstream media couldn’t understand what was so appealing about this unique Japanese animation style. Over time, the veil fell, with more and more fans stepping up to say, “I love anime,” with pride.
So, how did anime become so popular in America? The answer depends on who you ask. A combination of technique, media representation, and perseverance propelled this genre into the Western spotlight. To fully understand how anime ingrained itself into American pop culture, you’ll need to explore the nuances. From classic Japanese television to the beloved stories we know today, the rise of anime in Western media is a thrilling tale worth learning.
A Brief Timeline
Anime has been around a lot longer than many realize. What might seem like a newer form of entertainment has origins as far back as the 1960s. The genre has had nearly six decades to develop and spread to every corner of the world, making it one of the most sought-after animation styles for fans everywhere. If you want to know how anime became so popular in America, understanding the timeline is a great place to start.
1963: Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka creates and premieres Astro Boy, the first popular anime in the US. NBC’s Fred Ladd creates an American adaptation for Western audiences.
1967: Ghostwriter Peter Fernandez popularizes Speed Racer for American viewers.
1977: Star Wars takes the West by storm. Animated Japanese space odysseys like Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers attract fans of epic astro-adventures.
1984: Full-length anime films find international success with Hayao Mayazaki’s Warriors of the Wind.
1988: Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira flops in Japan but soars in American cinemas with a more mature subject matter.
1991: Anime sees mainstream success with shows like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon.
1997: Toonami launches on Cartoon Network, providing a steady stream of anime to devoted fans.
2001: Miyazaki’s Spirited Away became the first anime to win an Academy Award.
2002: One of the most famous anime of all time, Naruto, hits American television.
2014: Netflix adapted and released Knights of Sidonia, its first anime series.
2022: Over 50 million people worldwide rent, purchase, and stream anime for their viewing pleasure.
The Universal Appeal
When it comes to the successful history of anime, time is definitely on its side. However, this is not the only aspect we can attribute to the style’s triumph over Western media. There are so many qualities that make this Japanese genre universally appealing, from the writing to the distribution tactics.
The unique animation style stands out the most from traditional cartoons. Classic action anime like Cowboy Bepop showed viewers how far creators could push animation in thrilling fight sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat. Newer anime such as My Hero Academia and Hunter x Hunter continue to break barriers with intricate details and action-packed scenes that surprise even the most critical followers.
If violence and gore aren’t your scenes, worry not; the world of anime is full of captivating storylines that make the genre so enticing. Japanese creators make world-building an artform, constructing elaborate nations with backstories that sound like something out of a history book. Coupled with fantasy and romance elements, anime like InuYasha attract a wider audience while retaining thrilling qualities.
Anime isn’t just about the visuals; it’s also about the music. Dynamic intros and outros are staples of the genre, often paired with a killer soundtrack that fans can’t help but associate with their favorite stories. Music is a universal language, making it a helpful tool that Japanese creators knew to capitalize on when marketing their projects to the West.
In the early days of cartoons, American networks saw how much success their Japanese counterparts were having. However, animation is expensive, requiring skilled artists, advanced technology, and a ton of patience to create the shortest clips. The US media decided it was much more convenient to rebrand existing Japanese cartoons, opting instead to record English dialogue over the original script and market it to a Western audience.
As with most forms of entertainment, things really started taking off when the internet became a household feature. You no longer needed to be an expert in Japanese culture or wait until Toonami aired your favorite anime to enjoy the genre. The internet created a safe space for forums and hobby blogs, where fans could gather and discuss the latest happenings in the subculture. Now, all it takes is a quick Google search for curious newcomers to immerse themselves in this exciting animation style.
Along with the World Wide Web, streaming services played a significant role in the recent anime explosion. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have made cable nearly obsolete since viewers can watch whatever they want, whenever they want. Genre-specific platforms like Crunchy Roll and Funimation also created a space dedicated to the art form. Now, you can access countless anime titles, no matter what streaming app you download.
Nothing gets anime fans more excited than merch. Popular shows spawned countless pieces of merchandise for anime lovers to collect. T-shirts, board games, action figures—you name it, there’s a product out there featuring your favorite anime character. The accessibility of merchandise made it easy for admirers to dive deep into their most cherished fandoms.
Of course, the true heroes of anime are the loyal fans that carry the genre forward. From organizing conventions to memorializing classics, there would be no success without people who adore the style. As specialty shops, online retailers, and hobby websites grow in popularity, the anime subculture looks more and more like a full-blown community. While there are clearly many reasons the genre is so successful in the West, none are as important as the people who make everything possible.
Whether you’re new to anime or an avid follower, Shumi Toys & Gifts is ready to make you a superfan. Start your merch collection the right way with high-quality Nendoroid toys that will impress even the most knowledgeable collector. Anime doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, so shop our inventory and join the craze sweeping the nation!