Anime has become popular and mainstream in recent years. Not only has the industry grown bigger in Japan, but it’s overall popularity also expanded in the West. According to the 2018 Report on Japanese Animation Industry, the overseas market, which grew by 131.6%, almost surpassed the domestic market in terms of size. In terms of the West, an article from ParrotAnalytics shows the USA, France, and Canada as part of the top 10 countries outside of Japan with the highest demand for anime. The USA tops this list by doubling the demand of the country next in the list, Philippines. So it’s not a surprise that this kind of thing happens:
and most recently, this:
Now to fans, these are all good fun. Still, even with anime’s growing popularity, many people would be undoubtedly confused. And thus to shed light on all this confusion, let’s talk about anime.
What is Anime?
Anime is a Japanese colloquial term for the word animation. In the Japanese context, it refers to all forms of animated media regardless of the country of origin. Domestic productions, and even Western productions, known as cartoons, are all categorized as anime. Thus be it a Studio Ghibli or a Disney-Pixar output, they are all considered as anime in Japan.
In the Western context, however, anime does not encompass all animated media. Instead, it refers only to animated content originating from Japan. Such is why a distinction between anime and cartoons exists in the West.
Anime vs. Cartoons
Something to consider with regards to the differences between anime and cartoons is the shared influence between Japanese and Western animation. This two-way influence brought about by collaborations or referenced stylistic inspirations has blurred the lines that separate the two styles. Such as in the case of Western animation, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Despite being a Western production, Avatar featured a significant amount of elements found in anime. Facial designs of the characters included large eyes and mouths. Expressions were also highly exaggerated, which is another nod to the Japanese art style. The creators of Avatar, Bryan Konietzko, and Michael Dante DiMartino, in fact, confirmed the anime influence in their work. In a magazine interview, they mentioned that Hayao Miyazaki, artist and co-founder of Studio Ghibli, along with other Japanese studios, were sources of inspiration in the creation of Avatar.
Now, Western animation has also influenced its Japanese counterpart. Walt Disney and Max Fleisher profoundly influenced Osamu Tezuka, the Godfather of anime. Tezuka’s art style, featuring the present anime trend, large eyes, was derived from the character Betty Boop. Aside from this, the Disney influence is also prevalent in Tezuka’s work, Astro Boy. The following clip featuring the 1963 animation is highly reminiscent of the old Disney films.
With the shared elements between Western and Japanese animation, there is a blurring of the distinction between the two styles. Differences then between the two would often be subtle, if not, subjective. Still, there are general differences between cartoons and anime.
Anime features an exaggerated art style in both the physical characteristics and expressions of characters. Large eyes, wild and big hairstyles, long torsos, and elongated limbs are all general characteristics of anime characters. Character expressions such as a bloody nose to indicate arousal are also commonplace in anime. Despite such exaggerations, the details in anime are generally close to reality.
Cartoons, on the other hand, are typically non-realistic. Cartoon illustrations are usually caricatures and don’t follow human anatomy.
While both cartoons and anime may tackle topics like life, death, and love, anime does so in a more serious manner as compared to cartoons. Anime often goes in-depth on life issues and matters close to human emotions. Thus, themes such as depression and gore are not uncommon in anime. Cartoons, however, are generally more comical and are often on the humorous side.
Culture is also a factor in terms of the differences between theme presentations in anime and cartoons. An example of this is how anime tends to focus on a collective group of characters, while cartoons generally concentrate on a specific individual.
A considerable amount of anime series is released every season, such that it would seem as if there is no shortage of releases. Thus one might wonder, where do companies get the material for these shows? Well, anime could either be adapted or original. Original of course would refer to content explicitly made for the creation of an anime while adapted refers to those based on referenced sources. Quantity wise adapted anime is much more common than original ones. But what exactly are these sources?
Manga is the most common source of anime adaptations. In the Japanese context, manga refers to all kinds of cartooning or comics. Similar to the term anime; however, manga in the Western context strictly means comics of Japanese origin.
The image above is a page from the manga Kono Oto Tomare!.
Visual novels are another source for anime adaptations. A visual novel is a particular game genre likened to interactive fiction. They feature a text-based story and usually include sprites and backgrounds illustrated in the anime art style. These games allow a player to navigate through a specific narrative by playing the role of one of the characters. The player gets to be involved in the story by taking part in the dialogues and events presented in the narrative scope. These games include very minimal gameplay mechanics, and usually only requires the player to click to keep the story moving. The emphasis on storyline makes Visual Novels prime sources for anime adaptations. Anime based on visual novels include Clannad and Steins;Gate.
While different from visual novels in terms of gameplay mechanics, video games also feature narrative. Anime sometimes derives their stories from the storylines presented in video games. Examples of anime adapted from video games, are Pokemon and Final Fantasy.
Light Novels are Japanese novels made for young audiences, such as teenagers and young adults. These novels contain illustrations made in the anime or manga art style. They have an average word count of 50000 and are relatively shorter than novels (60000 – 80000). Popular shows adapted from light novels include Fate/Zero, Overlord, and Sword Art Online.
Common Anime Genres
As indicated by the genre title, intense action characterizes this genre. The action genre features well-animated battle scenes, coupled with some adventure and comedy. Popular action anime include Attack on Titan, Naruto, and My Hero Academia.
This genre emphasizes exploration and character movement. Shows of this genre are usually drawn-out and paced slowly. Such pace allows for well-established storylines and character development. Adventure integrates well with other anime types. Well-known shows in this genre include One Piece, Hunter x Hunter and Dragon Ball.
Comedy is a commonly used genre in anime. As the name implies, these type of shows are all about jokes and laughter. Similar to the adventure genre, comedy is also usually integrated with other genres. Notable comedy shows include Gintama and Grand Blue.
Opposite to comedy, the drama genre is all about tears and emotions. This type of anime usually includes a well-made plot and well-developed characters allowing viewers to be immersed and invested in the story. Such immersion then, often, eventually leads viewers to tears. Paired commonly with drama is the romance genre. Known tear-jerkers include Clannad, Clannad: After Story, Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, and Your Lie in April.
One word, magic. Fantasy features magical worlds with magnificent sceneries, magical powers, and monsters. This genre is usually incorporated with action and adventure to develop the plot. One of the more common anime types in recent times, Isekai, is a sub-genre of fantasy. Shows in this category include No Game No Life, Re: Zero, and Sword Art Online.
Ghosts, monsters, blood, and gore are all features of the horror genre. Horror in anime usually highlights slaughter and bloodshed over actual scares. They often dive deep into psychological issues and topics, including depression and suicide. Included in this category are Corpse Party, Another, and Tokyo Ghoul.
This genre is all about high tech armors, space crafts, and most importantly, robots. Prominent shows in the mecha genre include Evangelion, Code Geass, and the Gundam series.
As expected from a romance show, this genre is all about love. Romance, while typically focusing on the relationship between two main characters, usually includes harem. Other than that, comedy and drama are also commonly paired with this genre. Examples of romance anime include Toradora!, ReLIFE, and the world-renowned movie, Your Name.
Slice of Life
This genre allows viewers to get a slice of the life of the characters as viewers follow the lives of the character. Shows in this genre tend to focus on stories in the real-life setting. Usually incorporated with this genre are comedy and drama. The Slice of Life genre includes Ao Haru Ride and Karakai Jouzo no Takagi-san.
Now, those are the common genres. Aside from those, however, there are more genres and sub-genres not listed. The following image from MyAnimeList shows the list of most, if not all, genres in anime.
With all these genres and sub-genres, there’s bound to be a genre for everyone.
Subbed and Dubbed
In terms of viewing, anime can either be subbed or dubbed. Subbed is short for subtitled, this format preserves the original Japanese audio while text, usually in English, is shown to aid non-Japanese speakers. Dubbed on the other hand pertains to voice-overs, meaning the audio presented features a translated script based from the Japanese version. Now, there are differences between both formats, and there are sometimes even debates about which one is better. But considering how each viewer may be more comfortable using one over another, it’s all primarily subjective. With better technology and production, both formats more or less provide the same experience.
I wrote this article to provide information, especially to those who are new to the concept of anime. In such light, I hope that I have been able to provide such information. However, reading about something is just one side of the story. Even in this case, experience will remain as the best teacher. So if you are someone who has not watched anime before, I suggest you dive in. The titles I’ve listed in the genres section popular and well-regarded shows, all of which I recommend. So go ahead, pick a genre you like, and start exploring.
Anyway, that’s it for this article on the question “what is anime?”. I hope that I’ve been able to provide the proper information, and should you have any queries or comments, just let me know. Thanks for reading and as usual, keep exploring.