“You know how your parents teach you about life? I learned about life through Naruto.” — Carlos, a teen who loves anime
What is anime? What is manga?
In Japan, anime is simply an abbreviation for ‘animation.’ Outside Japan, anime refers to the specifically Japanese style of animation. So while an animation from anywhere in the world is called ‘anime’ in Japan, in the U.S. and elsewhere ‘anime’ means animation created in Japan. — Mark Trainer, writer for Share America
You can find anime about pretty much any topic. If you have a Netflix account, log on and select “Anime” from the shows or movies genres. You’ll see “Romantic Anime,” “Goofy Anime,” “Exciting Supernatural Anime,” “TV Shows About Friendship,” “Comedy Anime,” etc. Anime is more of a medium than a genre, so almost every genre is represented by this Japanese style of animation and storytelling.
While there are a few adult cartoons (like South Park, Archer, and Bojack Horseman), in the US, cartoons are mostly seen as children’s entertainment. Kids like Disney movies. Tweens watch Cartoon Network. Because anime is often intended for teens and adults, it uniquely appeals to teens who want to be treated like mature viewers. It addresses relatable themes like romantic attraction, teen relationships, depression, and the despair that can come when things don’t work out the way we want them to.
Anime and manga have a reciprocal relationship. Mark Trainer explains:
To the Japanese, manga means all comics and cartooning. It comes from two Japanese characters for ‘whimsical’ and ‘pictures.’ Outside of Japan, manga identifies the Japanese style of comics created for both children and adults. A large percentage of anime is adapted from existing manga books, and some successful anime series are adapted to manga versions.
Both anime and manga are Japanese styles of cartooning. The basic difference is that anime is the video version and manga is the print version.
Important anime terms defined
- Otaku: A Japanese word that roughly translates to “nerd” or “geek.” In Japan it implies that someone doesn’t have a social life because of an obsessive hobby (often anime/manga). In the US the connotation of “otaku” is less negative. Hardcore anime fans refer to themselves as “otaku.” In this short YouTube video, MVPerry explains the differences between “otaku,” “weeaboo,” and “weeb.”
- Weeaboo: Someone who is obsessed with everything about Japanese culture (language, food, customs, and of course, anime and manga). This person may include Japanese phrases in everyday conversations and may want to live in Japan or be Japanese.
- Weeb: Someone who likes anime. This term can get thrown around as an insult (“You’re such a weeb”, implying that, “you’re obsessed with anime and that’s weird”).
- Normie: A popular person who doesn’t have niche interests or opinions. In the anime world, a normie only casually watches the most popular anime. Because they’re more mainstream or cool, they may disown their love for anime if asked about it.
- Subbed: Anime that is in Japanese with English subtitles, so viewers read along.
- Dubbed: Anime that is dubbed over by English-speaking voice actors, so no subtitles are necessary.
If you’re interested in the many types of anime characters, this YouTube video unpacks a few of them, and gives insight into anime fan culture.
- Tsundere: A character (most often female) who acts cold or hostile toward their love interest at first (trying to hide their feelings) but warms up as the show progresses. Can violently swing back and forth from angry to sweet.
- Kuudere: A character who acts calm, cool, and cynical at first, and then shows more emotion over time.
- Dandere: A painfully shy character who can only open up around the right people.
- Yandere: A character who seems kind and sweet, but who is actually deranged and psychotic (especially when in love).
- Moe: Refers to a cute, endearing, and innocent character that you feel intensely protective feelings for.
- Anime Genres: kodomo (intended for children), shonen (teen and tween boys), shojo (teen and tween girls), seinen (young adult men), josei (young adult women), harem (about boys with multiple female love interests), reverse harem (about girls with multiple male love interests), hentai (pornographic), mecha (about robots), yaoi and yuri (LGBTQ+ romance), supernatural (ghosts, vampires, etc.). And then there’s all of the typical genres like romance, comedy, slice of life, drama, thriller, fantasy, action/adventure. Shows are often a mix of many genres.
- Cosplay: Short for “costume play.” It means dressing up as your favorite character. Cosplay isn’t limited to anime, and participants can dress up as characters from any book, movie, show, or comic (Spiderman, Luke Skywalker, Goku from Dragon Ball Z...). Cosplay is often a major part of anime conventions like the Anime Expo held annually in Los Angeles.
So why do teens like it?
Relatable characters: Anime characters are often outcasts, struggling to find friends, struggling with being shy, just wanting to fit in. Anime scratched an itch that American TV shows and kids’ cartoons just weren’t addressing. Jason DeMarco, who worked as an associate creative at Toonami in the ’90s, explains why anime like Dragon Ball Z appeals to minority teens:
Television often succeeds as a primary after school activity for children in lower-income households and urban neighborhoods where programs like sports are virtually nonexistent...It’s clear to me for a lot of families who did not have a lot of things for their kids to do after school … their TV was their babysitter, because that’s just the way it worked out. A lot of those kids remember Toonami and Dragon Ball Z as being hugely important in terms of teaching them certain values [and] giving them something to look forward to at the end of a s***** school day.
Rappers like Childish Gambino and Denzel Curry reference the anime shows they grew up watching in the songs they write today.
Gritty themes: Anime was unafraid to discuss sexuality and mental health long before American TV shows and movies were starting to grapple with those topics. Anime has long been considered an inclusive form of art, portraying same sex relationships and having non-White characters in lead roles.
Visually compelling: The animation style is fantastical, creative, and beautiful. Many TV shows don’t have the large budgets necessary to invest in special effects and crazy graphics. Because anime is illustrated, it provides visual interest and intense imagery without massive expense. If an artist can picture it in their mind, they can draw it on paper, which is why the world-building in an anime series can be so captivating.
Complex plots: A wikipedia article explains, “Unlike American cartoons where they have a lot of standalone episodes where you can jump into the series and enjoy the series, Japanese anime is more of a complex story-line that builds on the previous episodes. This is why it is so popular in the United States since people can get to know the characters better and become invested in the series.”
It’s not nerdy anymore: Anime used to have a stigma attached to it, but now that popular streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu offer anime, anyone and everyone can enjoy it! Joellen Ferrer, head of communications for Otter Media (which runs Crunchyroll), celebrates the variety of people who love anime: “What’s been really great to see, especially in the last two years, is this continued movement of mainstreaming of anime...Entertainers or celebrities or athletes are big anime fans. There are number of different athletes that are like, ‘I grew up watching Naruto.'”
Community: For those who are more deeply invested in anime, there are online forums and in-person events (think cosplay) centered on something that they enjoy and love. Discussing recent episodes, creating fan art and fan fiction, and connecting with others who share their fascination with Japanese culture is all quite easy in our digital world. Anime is enjoyed globally, (the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador, and Peru are up there with Japan and the U.S. when it comes to watching anime), so anime fandom often crosses geographic and cultural boundaries.
Cultural insight: Watching anime can increase racial and cultural awareness. A 2014 study by the MPRA showed that Korean adults who watched anime were more tolerant of their Japanese co-workers. Gen Z values inclusivity and wants everyone’s opinion to be heard. Anime is appealing because it gives them a glimpse of another culture with different norms and values. Anime gives them a broader view of the world and an understanding that cultural differences are gifts from God that don’t have to be avoided or minimized.
P.S. This is an excerpt from our new Parent’s Guide to Anime & Manga. Get this guide and every guide we’ve made with the All Axis Pass!