One of the incredible byproducts of the advent of streaming media is the widespread access to international films and television shows. Specifically, Western audiences have more exposure to the world of anime than ever before. The growing popularity of this animation phenomenon has even pushed American studios to produce anime-like shows. So, what is anime and why has it captured the such a massive global fanbase? We’ll dive into all that and more in this article.

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what is anime?

First, let’s define anime

The term anime can be new to many Western audiences. However, in the last few decades, it has made a breakthrough infiltrating areas of mainstream entertainment. Where did it come from and how is it made? Before we dive into that, let’s define anime.


What is anime?

The term anime [a·nuh·mei] is a Japanese colloquialism used as an abbreviation for the term “animation.” Generally in Japan, the word anime (written アニメ) is synonymous with animation of any kind from anywhere. Internationally, however, anime is typically referred to as animation that is produced from Japan. The distinction between anime and cartoons is more cultural than it is technical and its origins date over 100 years ago.

Classic Anime Movies and TV Shows:

  • Spirited Away 
  • Astro Boy
  • Dragon Ball
  • Akira
  • Pokemon

where It All Began

A history of anime

Anime itself dates back over a hundred years. The first confirmed example was produced in 1917 titled Namakura Gatana with a run time of only four minutes. Over time, it has had its highs and lows facing various obstacles both within Japan and internationally. 

This video by Screen Rant summarizes the history of anime and how it evolved from its 1917 origins to the animation styles we see today.

The Evolution Of Anime

Through its evolution, various artists have pushed the limitations and the stories told with it. The genres within this category are as seemingly limitless as art itself. Many Western audiences have an idea of how typical anime looks. 

However, the artistry and styles fall onto an also seemingly limitless spectrum dependent on the artists themselves. Despite the varying styles, one thing is certain throughout all of these productions — the process is laborious. 

animation workflow

How anime is made

Anime is no different technically to the animation productions of Western culture. Which, if you know anything about, takes an incredible amount of time and work. Stories must be written, storyboarded, workshopped, taken into an animatic, voiced, and animated.

This is a process that can take months and often years to finish. All of these projects are created from an entire studio of artists typically led by a director. This video covers the workflows from various animation studios and just how intensive it is to create animated work.

How Anime is Made  •  Inside the Studio

Even with new technology that allows artists to create animation with digital tools, anime is still an arduous form to produce. Digital technology has pushed the envelope of what these films can look like stylistically with lighting techniques and more, but has not taken away from the labor of the artists. 

What makes all animation so incredible is the imagination of the artists that create it. The medium allows limits to be pushed in every genre imaginable and opens doors to stories that could not otherwise be told.

Is anime popular in West?

Anime in Western culture

Overtime, anime has made its way into Western culture. Despite not being at the heart of mainstream entertainment, it has found such a large Western audience that Western animation productions have created shows in the same style. Shows like The Boondocks and Avatar: The Last Airbender are American made shows with Japanese anime influence.

This brings up a popular debate: “Are American cartoons that look like anime considered anime?” While the answer to this is still debated among fans, the common consensus is that anime refers solely to Japanese produced projects. However, the line blurs as American and Japanese artists continue to collaborate on new shows and movies. 

Anime in 5 Minutes

As this video points out, whether or not certain shows can be dubbed the “anime” is arbitrary. What is important is the recognition of it as an incredibly entertaining and powerful storytelling medium. 

Its Japanese origins and influences have made it a unique form of storytelling that has drawn international interest. Trailblazers like Hayao Miyazaki, Makoto Shinkai, and Satoshi Kon have not only created the best anime films, but have created some of the best animated films ever. 

No matter what interests you have or genres you like, odds are there is an anime show or movie out there for you.


The Best Animated Movies of All Time

Some of the best anime films fall under the top ten best animated movies of all time. Which movies are they? Check out our complete list of the best animated movies of all time from Aardman Animation to Zootopia.

Up Next: Best Animated Movies →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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