What Is Anime? History, Attributes, Cultural Impact & More

What is Anime? History, Attributes, Cultural Impact & More

Anime is a truly unique and fascinating phenomenon. Although it is, in the most direct sense, simply Japanese animation, the worlds and characters we have been introduced to via anime series are unique in most cases and very, very different from what we’ve seen in Western animations. Anime series reflect a specific view of the world, something that Westerners don’t have. This is what makes anime series so special and in order to honor that influence, as well as give a thank you to the worlds that have also shaped yours truly, we have decided to tell you what anime is in this article.

The history of anime

Emakimono and kagee are considered precursors to Japanese animation. Emakimono was common in the 11th century. Traveling storytellers narrated legends and anecdotes as the emakimono unrolled from right to left in chronological order, like a moving panorama. Kagee was popular during the Edo period and originated from China’s shadow theater.

Bunraku theater puppets and ukiyo-e prints are considered predecessors of characters in most Japanese animations. Finally, the manga were a great inspiration for Japanese animation. Cartoonists Kitzawa Rakuten and Okamoto Ippei used cinematic elements in their strips. Animation in Japan began in the early 20th century, when filmmakers began experimenting with techniques pioneered in France, Germany, the United States, and Russia.

The earliest claim to Japanese animation is Katsudō Shashin (c. 1907), a private work of an unknown creator. In 1917 the first professional and publicly exhibited works began to appear; animators such as Ōten Shimokawa, Seitarō Kitayama, and Jun’ichi Kōuchi (considered the “fathers of anime”) produced numerous films, the oldest of which is Kōuchi’s Namakura Gatana.


First Anime and First Manga Ever Created

Many of the early works were lost with the destruction of the Shimokawa warehouse in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. By the mid-1930s, animation was well established in Japan as an alternative format to the live-action industry. It suffered from competition from foreign producers, such as Disney, and many animators, including Noburō Ōfuji and Yasuji Murata, continued to work with cheaper cut-out animation instead of cel animation.

However, other creators, including Kenzō Masaoka and Mitsuyo Seo, achieved great success. technical advances, benefiting from government sponsorship, which employed animators to produce educational shorts and propaganda. In 1940, the government dissolved several artists’ organizations to form Shin Nippon Mangaka Kyōkai.

The first sound anime was Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (1933), a short film produced by Masaoka. The first anime feature film was Momotaro: Sacred Sailors (1945), produced by Seo with sponsorship from the Imperial Japanese Navy. The 1950s saw a proliferation of short animated advertisements created for television.

In the 1960s, animator and manga artist Osamu Tezuka adapted and simplified Disney’s animation techniques to cut costs and limit the number of frames in his productions. Originally intended as temporary measures to allow him to produce material on a schedule crammed with inexperienced staff, many of its limited animation practices came to define the style of the medium.

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Three Tales (1960) was the first anime film to be broadcast on television; the first anime television series was Instant History (1961–64). An early and influential success was Astro Boy (1963–66), a television series directed by Tezuka based on his manga of the same name. Many animators from Tezuka’s Mushi Production later established major anime studios (including Madhouse, Sunrise, and Pierrot).

The 1970s saw a growth in the popularity of manga, many of which were later animated. Tezuka’s work, and that of other pioneers in the field, inspired features and genres that remain foundational elements of anime today.

The bubble economy of the 1980s spurred a new era of high-budget, experimental anime films, including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987), and Akira (1988).​ Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995), a television series produced by Gainax and directed by Hideaki Anno, ushered in another era of experimental anime titles, such as Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Cowboy Bebop (1998).

In the 1990s, anime also began to attract increased interest in Western countries; major international hits include Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, both of which are dubbed into more than a dozen languages ​​worldwide. In 2003, Spirited Away, a Studio Ghibli feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film at the 75th Academy Awards. It later became the highest-grossing anime film. Since then, the world of anime has been a steady part of Western culture and tradition.

What are the main attributes of anime works?

In this section, we are going to discuss how different anime series work in different contexts, explaining how some of the basic narrative and structural elements function within the world of anime.


Among the notable characteristics of the genre, the development of complex plots during a certain number of episodes stands out, while the characters are presented in-depth and with defined personalities. Much of anime is structured in television series with defined episode numbers dealing with a specific plot that may involve complex concept work.

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In the 1970s, anime begins to take a different direction in the world of animation. While Western productions were characterized by being directed toward a child audience, anime dealt with more complex themes such as existentialism and sometimes used more mature language, some violence, and sexual scenes. Various target demographics often affect the ideological contexts of the work: for example in the shōnen, in the action series, moments that happen in adolescence are taken as friendship, companionship, fights, adventures, and sacrifice for love.

In seinen, created for an adult audience, the topics take on more mature themes such as political, sexual, or scientific. It also has to be taken into account that when a manga or light novel series is very successful, it is common to adapt it to anime, so it takes elements from it.


Although anime is considered a different genre from animation, it uses many features applied in cartoons such as storyboarding, voice acting, and character design, among others. The anime also tends to borrow scenes from many manga texts in the background, and the layout panels as well. For example, an opening may use panels to tell the story, or to dramatize an issue for humorous effect.

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Most of the time, a manga is adapted into an anime —although anime series can also be adaptations of a light novel, visual novel, or web novel—; commonly having less detail in their strokes. Generally, anime refers to cel drawing, but it is also applied to computer-generated animation, such as Final Fantasy, although for the latter there are usually names such as CG (computer graphics).

Character design

Visually, anime works exhibit a wide variety of artistic styles, which differ between creators, artists, and studios, however, anime is usually guided by the drawing style of manga, and also the design of the characters share a neotenic style of drawing. Some notable features of character design in anime series are:

  • The eyes: they are a specific characteristic of this style of animation; through the eyes the character can have different expressions and depth, they are usually very large, oval, very defined and with striking colors such as red, pink, green, purple, apart of the normal ones like brown and blue. Osamu Tezuka is often named as the one who introduced big eyes to give more personality and facial expressions to anime characters. Tezuka first used this technique with Astroboy, keeping the other characters small-eyed. In animated feature films, large eyes are used to accentuate personality. Not all animation productions have big eyes, an example of this are Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Nowadays big eyes are no longer exclusive to Japanese anime, as some western animation productions also have big eyes. The coloring is to give depth to the eyes. Generally, a light texture is used for the brightness, the color tone, and a dark shadow for the background. Body design for male proportions.
  • The hair: there are all shapes, sizes, and volumes, for male or female characters. In addition to a wide variety of colors such as the eyes. Being able to have different forms of shading to give it the desired volume.
  • The body: it can be very similar to the proportions of the human body, although in a very sculptural way as in the moe. By keeping the proportions of the human body, the characters are inevitably too big and tall with respect to the animation frames, it is always a 1/4 ratio (head and shoulders), by half (from the waist up), or slide a scene to show the whole character. They only appear complete in chibi proportion or super deformed where the features are small and exaggerated, although these are to give a touch of comedy to the series.
  • The face: the anime uses a wide variety of facial expressions to denote moods and thoughts compared to western animation. The nose and mouth are small, the chin is very similar, but there are a lot of exceptions to this.

It must also be taken into account that the characteristics of non-human beings such as animals, robots, monsters, and demons vary depending on the context and are very different from those of humans. The animals can have a drawing as they really are, although there can also be hybrids between humans. Robots and monsters can be gigantic in size like skyscrapers, although they can also have chibi characteristics, in a comical way.


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Music and soundtrack

The soundtrack used in the different formats is usually called OST as an abbreviation for “original soundtrack”. The elements that an anime OST consists of are:

  • Opening (or opening): A song placed at the beginning of the animation, when the opening credits appear; an animation that usually characterizes the series is accompanied. They can be performed or composed by popular bands or singers in Japan.
  • Ending (or closing): A song placed at the end of the animation when the final credits appear; it is accompanied by a simpler animation than that of the opening. They can be performed or composed by popular bands or singers in Japan.
  • Central soundtrack (soundtrack): Songs that are used to accompany the scenes, depending on the directors, a complex composition of opera can be used.
  • BGM or Background Music: Musical tracks (very small that are actually not a song) used to accompany the scenes.
  • Bonus or Extras: Songs composed especially for the animation but that do not appear in it. They can be pieces inspired by this or songs thought from the point of view of a character and performed by the same seiyū, voice actor, as an example see the song.

Due to the type of historical dissemination of anime, the English terms are more popular than their original version. The cast of voice actors in anime is called seiyū. The seiyū profession is known and developed in Japan.

Cultural references

Cultural references to historical figures in anime are a mixture of mainly Japanese and Western cultures. From the western genre, it rescues some archetypes of characters, presentation in chapters of the same duration, and animation techniques, among other things. To this, it adds traditional Japanese concepts such as an emphasis on everyday life and a modernized traditional Japanese style of drawing.

In addition, other types of mythologies can be presented, such as Greek, Chinese, and Scandinavian (if examples were taken, they would be the Saint Seiya, Dragon Ball, and Matantei Loki series respectively).

The cultural impact of anime

The combination of Internet communities and the increase of anime material from images to videos created the world of fandom in anime. Great successes throughout the history of anime have spread this type of expression in successive waves; usually, it was the high-impact films that draw the attention of new sectors to the anime industry, with notable examples being Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Spirited Away.

A clear example of assimilation in the world is the Spanish production Gisaku (2005), which is the first anime-style feature film made entirely in Europe. There have also been numerous US anime-style shows like Castlevania, as well as numerous US-Japanese coproductions, like Transformers or Super Mario.


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The phenomenal multimillion-dollar success of the Pokémon franchise has greatly helped the franchise, and the different spin-offs of the series; Pokémon is currently approaching its 25th season after being on the air consecutively since the late 1990s.

It has also influenced animation made outside of Japan, but in the anime style, which we have talked about. The creators of the Megas XLR and The Boondocks series have commented that they were inspired by anime for their creation. A French production team for the Ōban Star-Racers series was moved to Tokyo to collaborate with a Japanese production team.

Critics and fans of anime do not consider anime-influenced shows as anime, though.

Most famous anime franchises

And while it is almost impossible to give a complete overview of the world of anime, we have decided to bring you a list of what we think are the most famous anime franchises. The list is going to include 35 different titles in random order, so if you don’t know where to start, you can definitely pick one of these:

  1. Dragon Ball
  2. Pokémon
  3. Naruto
  4. One Piece
  5. Attack on Titan
  6. Gundam
  7. Death Note
  8. Fate series
  9. Bleach
  10. Digimon
  11. Neon Genesis Evangelion
  12. Sailor Moon
  13. Fairy Tail
  14. One-Punch Man
  15. Yu-Gi-Oh!
  16. My Hero Academia
  17. Gintama
  18. Fullmetal Alchemist
  19. Sword Art Online
  20. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
  21. Jujutsu Kaisen
  22. InuYasha
  23. K-On
  24. Doraemon
  25. Toradora!
  26. Saint Seiya
  27. Cardcaptor Sakura
  28. Psycho-Pass
  29. Mirai Nikki
  30. Hellsing
  31. Claymore
  32. Berserk
  33. Tokyo Ghoul
  34. Blue Exorcist
  35. Black Clover
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