Although anime has always been a media phenomenon in Japan, and it had a small loyal following here in the West, it mostly passed as a peculiar niche that we only saw a lot of during conventions.
Until recently, that is. In 2020, anime rose to power as one of the entertainment powerhouses, worth $24.2 billion and expected to reach $43 billion by 2027.
Anime continues to be available on specialty websites, but it has also made its way to mainstream streaming services, gaining millions of viewers. Mostly driven by young fans, anime stood out as one of the most popular forms of media during the lockdown, and it created passionate communities.
If you’re new to anime, this world may seem a bit confusing, not only because the visual style is different from the style of cartoons we have here but also because of the themes it tackles.
Although it’s often discarded as the equivalent of Japanese cartoons, this description is very restrictive. Anime may look like cartoons, and some anime is for kids, but it comes in many other subgenres, including drama, thriller, and horror.
So, what exactly favored anime’s rise in popularity last year, and where should you get started if you want to start watching anime?
What Boosted Anime’s Popularity?
The popularity of anime in the West started sometime in the 1980s, and anime established itself as a niche pop culture element thanks to shows like Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, and, of course, Pokémon.
But despite being huge with niche audiences, anime stayed a pop culture phenomenon that most people hadn’t heard of. That changed in 2020, when anime started to gain more exposure in mainstream media.
There were many factors at play, but streaming services played a major role. Previously, fans used to watch anime online on dedicated platforms that only had anime. These are still around and continue to be the main source of new anime episodes, but, in addition to them, fans can also find anime on mainstream streaming services.
In 2019, Netflix signed deals with three Japanese anime production houses (Anima, Sublimation, and David Production) and ordered several original series.
What’s more, Netflix and similar platforms also started streaming iconic anime series like One Piece, One Punch Man, Death Note, Bleach Neon Genesis Evangelion, as well as Studio Ghibli movies.
Diehard anime fans have known these titles for years, but this time it also reached the TVs of mainstream viewers who discovered that anime is much more than Japanese cartoons.
With many live-action shows on hold due to the pandemic, anime experienced a boom of popularity on streaming platforms; so much so that Netflix’s anime catalog now includes 68 original series, including Devilman Crybaby, Knights of Sidonia, and Blood of Zeus.
Considering that an anime is cheaper and easier to make than a live-action TV show, especially amidst social distancing restrictions, the number of original anime on streaming platforms is expected to increase in the future.
However, many veteran anime fans argue that the series available on mainstream platforms are just the tip of the iceberg and that if you want to be up to date with the shows that are popular in Japan, it’s best to watch anime online on dedicated platforms that post the episodes immediately after their release in Japan.
And, without a doubt, conventional streaming services, which are jacks of all trades, cannot compare with specialized anime platforms, which have hundreds of titles from all genres you could possibly imagine.
Streaming platforms should receive an honorable mention for bringing anime to viewers who wouldn’t have watched them otherwise and even making them viral: in the summer of 2020, a viral anime filter made waves on TikTok and Snapchat, making many young people curious to try the genre.
Cosplay also helped anime culture penetrate mainstream media. There were no conventions for cosplayers to show off their skills in 2020, but that didn’t stop them from posting their costumes on social media (especially Instagram and TikTok), where they gained even more exposure than they would have gained normally.
This helped anime become more popular, as many people looked up the characters they saw on social media because the costumes looked so cool.
But while the widespread availability of anime on streaming services and its presence on social media explains why more people heard of it, it doesn’t explain why it stayed popular.
Most people who watched one anime continued to watch another and another, exploring everything that this new world has to offer, and that is due to the fact that anime, as a form of media, embraces uniqueness and self-expression.
Anime doesn’t look like conventional cartoons and comic books, and its visual quirkiness is what attracts those who want to see something different.
Anime also succeeds at subverting expectations; although it looks like cartoons, it tackles many complex and mature topics better than most Hollywood movies.
Most Popular Anime Series You Can Watch Right Now
If you’re curious what the anime phenomenon is all about, these are just a few of the award-winning anime series you can watch right now:
Other highly anticipated anime you should keep an eye on in 2021 include Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S, Sonny Boy, and The Case Study of Vanitas.