What Is Anime? The History & Evolution Of Anime

What Is Anime The History & Evolution Of Anime


Anime is a much-loved form of content that has swept the world by storm. This content is very popular and while many people have different opinions about what Anime is and what kind of content it includes, many of these opinions are wrong.

Anime people

Anime is simply animation. Some people would view it as cartoons for kids. However, there is plenty of content that is only for adults such as violence, vulgar language, and so on. Some others wrongly see it as the type of content you would only find on the more inappropriate side of the Internet, however, this is also incorrect. Anime is available in all styles and forms, with shows and movies for all age groups, genders, and interests.

But, what exactly is Anime, where did it come from, and how has it grown to its modern size? Today, we will answer all these questions.

What Is Anime?

What Is Anime

People outside Japan use the word Anime to describe cartoons or animated content that is produced within Japan.  Anime would cover everything from Japanese animated children’s TV, all the way to violent R-rated animated content for adults.

You can go from the child-appropriate animations of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, all the way to the Adult only content of ‘Black Lagoon’, ‘Helsing’, and so on. There is no age restriction to Anime, as there is something for everyone.

For decades, Japanese artists produced Anime for Japan consumers, as a local product with a distinctive look and feel to the artwork, storytelling, themes, and concepts. However, in recent years Anime has gained millions of fans all around the world and been translated into many languages.

A whole generation of people in the West have grown up with Anime in their lives, and now they pass it on to their children.

Some of us may think of Anime as a genre. However, that is untrue.  It is no more a genre than is animation itself.  You wouldn’t lump Finding Nemo in with Family Guy, would you?

Anime is simply a description of how the content is made. Anime has many genre.  You can get horror, action-adventure, comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, and more.

How is it special?  Well, that is a matter of individual opinion. Many people say “it’s just different.” However, many people who grew up with it were attracted to the distinctive ‘Manga’ style of the artwork.  In recent years this has changed somewhat and while some styles retain the ‘Manga’ style we grew up with, many Anime production houses have new artistic takes.

Anime styles range from flamboyant and outlandish to simple and direct. Think of Samurai Champloo in comparison to Azumanga Daioh! The style and the animation style makes it look new and fresh, and there is always new content. Unlike much animated western content, there are thousands of Anime shows and movies to choose from. You could watch Anime every day for a decade, and there would likely still be content you will not have seen.

The History of Anime: The 20th Century 

The History Of Anime The 20th century

So, where did it all begin? Many of us have now grown up with Anime in our lives in one way or another. If you were born in the ‘80s or ‘90s, you likely grew up with Anime in your childhood or your teen years. While you may think it started then, it actually started way before then. Anime has been around longer than you may think. Anime may even pre-date your parents.

Early Anime Films Were Only For Japnese Audiences 

While Anime didn’t strictly begin until the 20th Century, you can find traces of it in the 19th Century.  It was a French art movement, called Japonisme, that helped inspire Japanese artists and create some of the first examples of modern animation.  But it wasn’t until WWII, when  their government started promoting cartoons to raise morale, that Anime gained popularity.

In its most basic form, Anime began in 1906. A short animated film, called Katsudo Shashin, had only 50 different frames. This inspired many later shorts. Finally, in 1917 the Japanese artists produced and broadcast the first commercial Anime in Japan.

Between 1920 and 1950, Japanese filmmakers started experimenting with popular animation techniques that were already common in Europe and the U.S. This early Anime struggled to compete with foreign alternatives. 

Nevertheless, animation studios continued, using what limited resources they had and creatively engineering stories. This difficulty gave Anime its unique style of storytelling and set Anime apart from all other animation types today.

Throughout this time, Anime was still just for Japanese citizens. International animation was still dominant worldwide over Anime, and it was around this time that Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was released. This seems to have had a big impact on Japanese animators and led to the next few decades in Anime evolution.

Modern Anime Began In 1956

Following the Second World War, in 1948, the very first modern Anime production company, known as Toei, came into being. This award-winning studio is today a behemoth in the industry, and while there are plenty of other fantastic studios that came later, it was the spark that brought Anime into mainstream television in the 1960s.

It brought about new heavy hitters like Gegege no Kitaro, Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, Digimon, and One Piece.  Many of these are still incredibly popular to this day.

As the styles and techniques of Anime progressed over the following decades, so did the popularity of Anime. In the 1960s Anime first began to appear in other countries around the world.

The efforts of Toei, and their innovativeness, brought about modern Anime. While American animations are partly to thank for inspiring the growth of Japanese animation, they cannot take all the credit. All they did was set the machinery in motion in the minds of Japanese content creators. This led to Toei taking the reins and lighting the flame of Anime popularity.

Of course, there were still many obstacles ahead, and Anime had a long way to go from this point. Still, we can say that modern Anime began in the 1960s.  This is where modern Anime truly began.

1963: The First Anime Show (Astro Boy)

Since the arrival of Anime predated the invention of television, the first Anime that made it to the small screen was not the first Anime that ever existed. The first Anime to make it to television was a milestone series for the industry.

This show was called Tetsuwan Atomu in Japan, and in America was titled Astro Boy. It aired on Fuji Television on January 1st, 1963.  What a way to welcome the New Year, huh?

At that time, it was pretty incredible. It could have been a lot better of course, but it is easy to say that now. The studio was poorly funded, and the creators did whatever they could to minimise the number of drawings and lines needed. They had to be innovative so as to create a sense of movement through sound and dialogue, rather than have the characters move. 

It was not ideal, but it was an example of the creativity and imagination that spurred on the Anime industry and brought it to the vast popularity it has today. An industry that has limited resources must be more creative to gain the desired effect.

So, despite the fact that many studios today have plenty of funds to fuel their ideas in new ways, they still often use the traditional means, at least a bit. This helps them retain the magic that made Anime so loved back in its heyday.

1980s: The Golden Age Of Anime

Many consider the 1980s to be the golden age of Anime. Many of the industry’s best-loved titles appeared in this decade, including Dragonball, Tsubasa, Akira, and more. These titles are synonymous with the success of Anime in Japan and around the world.

However, this era didn’t just produce these releases though, it also brought about a studio beloved by many. In 1985, Studio Ghibli, probably one of the most iconic Anime production studios in the world, commenced production.

After his success with Nausicaa of the Valley back in 1984, director Hayao Miyazaki who had worked with the aforementioned Toei Studios began his own studio. He went on to release two of the most successful Anime movies we know to this date; Luputa: Castle in the Sky, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. This studio continued to produce some of the industry’s most iconic projects. 

As home video revolutionised  film and TV worldwide, the Japanese love for technology led to a lot of experimental Anime. Creators worked on projects and manga adaptations went straight to video, allowing more experimental storylines and various experimental animation methods. 

This also gave Japan just what it needed so that more people could now access Anime overseas too. Of course, this was a difficult process. However, Anime was more accessible to the world than before, and this helped the industry tremendously.

1990: Japan’s Economy Crashed And Many Anime Film Studios Closed 

In the 1990s, the Japanese economy suffered a prolonged recession that followed the collapse of the fabled economic bubble of the 80s. This was known as the ‘lost decade’, and it only finally ended entirely in 2002.

During this time, Japan saw a significant amount of their Anime studios close under the economic pressure of the period. However, all was not lost, though it may have felt like it at the time. Though production was not as heavy in the 90s as it was in the 80s, bigger animation studios such as Studio Toei, and Studio Ghibli survived.  In fact, this period even created something new.

In 1991, Japan started the lost decade, and the guarantee of a life-long job disappeared. People were working harder to succeed, but it was getting difficult.  In response to the stress of this period, people sought out ways to relieve anxiety and loneliness. 

Many of us are familiar with this feeling. The USA went through something similar following the Great Recession of the late 00s, and Great Britain has also been through this many times. 

Emotional intimacy and healing became an industry in itself. Like everything, Anime was struggling and the joy it brought was not quite as apparent. The result of this was things like Tamagotchi–which ended up going worldwide–you might have had one.

However, it was more than Tamagotchi. This era also birthed the idea of Pokémon.  Pokémon did not become an Anime for a while longer, they were virtual companions at this time. You had to catch ‘em all by meeting other players.  Much like the modern-day Pokémon Go.

2000s: More Anime Shows Released, Such As Naruto 

In the 2000s, as Japan came out of the lost decade in 2002, artists created more new Anime. This included popular shows such as Naruto, Bleach, Inuyasha, One Piece, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Cowboy Bebop, Final Fantasy, Hellsing, Pokémon, Spirited Away, Fullmetal Alchemist, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Black Cat, and hundreds more.

Anime gained a large following outside of Japan, thanks to zealous marketing strategies on the part of industry giants. During the 90s much Anime took off thanks to the Internet, shows like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z became household names. 

By the time the world entered the 21st century Anime was booming.  Japan came out of its economic downturn, and Anime rose higher than anyone expected.

The Anime industry is thriving.  However, profits have dwindled. While the Internet was good for Anime, allowing worldwide access to the content, piracy was and remains a problem.  Illegal streaming was very big in the 00s and early 2010s. It is still a problem now, but new streaming platforms make it easier to access the content legally.

The History of Anime: The 21st Century

The History Of Anime The 21st Century

In the 21st century, most people have seen Anime at some point. While the older generation in the western world may not be really into it, the vast majority of people under the age of 45 have at least one favorite Anime.

You might think that Anime finished growing there and there is not much more to say. The truth is, technology did not stop growing and neither did Anime.  In the 21st century, Anime has become more widespread than ever. People worldwide love Anime, from Australia to Austria, from Mexico to Micronesia, and from Vietnam to Venezuela.

So how is it possible that in just over two decades, Anime has gone from a few shows accessible only in Japan to thousands of Anime shows available worldwide?

21st Century: Anime Gained Popularity All Over The World

In the 21st century, we have seen many new shows begin. Anime has gained worldwide popularity. In the 00s, you might have seen a girl in your school drawing an Anime character on the back of her textbook. You might have gone home and streamed Bleach online, and maybe a few of your classmates would know it.

But now, 20 years later, everyone knows Anime. There are mass online groups dedicated to talking about Anime characters and shows. Millions or billions of people know shows like Fullmetal Alchemist, Deathnote, Dragon Ball Z, and Inuyasha. These shows all have avid fan bases. Deathnote even given had a live-action adaptation in the U.S.

However, let’s not give all the credit to these shows. We know that the most avid fans of Anime tend to have very similar starting places.  Many long-term fans of this unique style of content first fell in love with Studio Ghibli. Spirited Away also achieved a lot of love in th+e Western world.

Today, it is still one of the most popular Anime movies yet. It became the most successful and highest-grossing film in Japanese history and held the record for 19 years, from 2001 until 2020. In 2020 Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and the movie: Mugen Train overtook it.

2010s–Anime Was As An Establishment Of The American Entertainment Industry

Thanks to the increase in global communications and Blu-ray regions that put North and South America in the same region as Japan, studios have started tackling international releases themselves. They have even created their own streaming sites.

People all over the world recognize Anime as a great source of art and entertainment. At first only Disney took up Anime, but now other Western shows such as Avatar: The Last Air Bender take their inspiration from Anime.

Studios are also continuing to adapt to advancing technology. For example, they now use mobile phones as express viewing devices, so animators can show their content to the world without needing a distributor. This is great for welcoming new talent to the Anime industry. 

America has started working in tandem with the Anime world. American content producers recognize that Anime is huge and people love it. Asian culture is now beloved of fans worldwide.

Not only is Anime a major interest for so many people, but K-pop is now becoming more popular. If you have ever been on the Internet you are also likely to know the terms Weeb, or Waifu, another aspect of the Western fascination with Asian culture. All of this came from Anime.

It’s not a one-way street, though! America has its hands in the Japanese pie too.

Thanks To Netflix And Other Streaming Services, Fans Have More Access To Free And Legal Anime

How does America influence Anime? Mainly through online streaming.  Who doesn’t know that Netflix has started creating their own Anime series?  The ‘Castlevania’ series, based on the game, was very popular. Another one was ‘Dota: Dragon’s Blood’, another Netflix original animation based upon a video game.

Nowadays Netflix is constantly releasing its own animated series and movies. They even released an animated movie ‘The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf’ after they made the live-action series.

But Netflix is also streaming Anime originals on its platform.  If you haven’t yet seen Spirited Away, go on Netflix and you will surely find it. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and so on, offer us the ability to watch free and legal Anime shows. Well, you pay for the subscription, but it’s less than buying a DVD.

This means that the Anime industry’s struggle with online piracy is no longer as big an issue. With streaming services hosting these shows and millions of subscribers having access, the industry now has the perfect safe platform to offer these shows to a more widespread audience. That means that Anime can thrive and grow and reach more people than ever before.

The Evolution Of Anime

Anime has evolved beyond any doubt. If you watch some of the first Anime series to reach the Western world, and then watch some more recent shows, you will notice that the graphics, style of animation, and artistic style have all advanced, along with a whole lot more.

Technological development continually influences Anime. For example, CGI has greatly improved the look of Anime. As the Internet became widespread, it changed even faster.

Also, we must note that as more people are able to watch Anime across the world, industry profits grew. That means that more money can go to improving Japanese animation.

Anime has grown in other ways too. Gender-based marketing was big to start with, but this decreased in the 90s. In the following decade, mature and thought-provoking content like Death Note replaced gender-oriented shows.

The ‘Moe’ art style (which exaggerates the cuteness of the characters) came in during the 1990s and helped the industry. It wasn’t all flowers and sunshine, though. Sometimes these characters are overly sexualized, and the connection drawn from childlike innocence and cuteness to sexuality is disturbing.

In 1983 CGI was used in Anime for the very first time. The first noteworthy instance of CGI in Anime was when CGI animated the movement of helicopters in Golgo 13. Sometimes CGI works out well, and sometimes not so well. In the 2017 Anime Land of the Lustrous CGI makes the animation smooth, but in the 2016 Berserk it looks a bit awkward.

The Popularity Of Anime Events

The Popularity Of Anime Events

If you have never been to a comic-con, then you should go at least once. Comic-con events allow for cosplayers and regular fans of TV shows, films, books, and more to gather, socialize, dress up, buy unique items, and have a blast.

You might expect that a comic-con would be full of DC and Marvel characters (and you wouldn’t be wrong), but there are also lots of Anime characters at these events.

Early Anime Conventions

Anime conventions started in the 80s, and at the beginning they were very similar to comic-cons. These early conventions were just groups of fans coming together to talk about the things that they loved. Back when this all started, being an Anime fan was not as simple as today. 

It required trading fansubs on VHS tapes. Often, you needed to go to a convention if you wanted to see any Anime at all. Viewing rooms were often an essential part of the experience, offering a small number of shows on a small screen with dozens of people crowded around it.

These conventions would often attract hundreds of people, and big ones would go over a thousand people.

Then in the 90s, there was a proliferation of Anime events. Many of the new conventions still run today. Most Anime events remain not-for-profit.  That means that fans run a lot of these events in their spare time. Only a few Anime events have dedicated, full-time staff.

In the modern-day, Anime Expo is one of the largest Anime events in the world. It has sold as many as a quarter of a million attendees.  Comiket in Japan has had over half a million people attend.

Anime events have grown substantially in recent years, with more and more people attending these events. Not only is the fan base growing in numbers worldwide, but in size and passion too, as anyone who attends an Anime convention can see.

The Future Of Anime

The Future Of Anime

The growth of Anime depends primarily upon demand. Once upon a time, the average release rate of new Anime series was around one per month.  Nowadays a new Anime series is released nearly every day.

On the supply side, the industry provides jobs to anyone who has an interest in animation. The Anime industry has jobs for freelancers in spades, and that means incredible innovation with new story concepts and character development practically growing out of the air.

Some predict that in the next five years, the market will increase tenfold. As for the art itself, which is digitized animation, Anime could one day compete with traditional IT and the digital industry.  It seems like the only way for Anime is upward. 

It is even possible that we may one day consume Anime via virtual reality. VR is mainly a means of gaming at this point, but it is entirely possible that it could branch out into providing an immersive film and television experience.

With the innovative tendencies of Anime and quick industry-wide growth, it would not be at all surprising if Anime shows will be the first to appear in virtual reality. They might already be working on that for all we know!


Anime Girl Blowing kisses

Anime is not a genre, it is an art style, and the term is specific to Japanese animation. First appearing in the 19th Century, Anime has grown rapidly over the years and now has a huge fan base. 

One Anime product could have more fans than the whole NFL! The development of Anime in less than 150 years is very impressive, and its rapid growth in the last 30 years is astounding–and it is far from done growing.

Whether in traditional print media and animated shows, conventions, merchandising, or virtual reality games and shows, we expect to see Anime becoming an even more prominent [part of our lives.