What Is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Ghost in the Shell'Credit: Studio Ghibli
What is anime and what is not? Learn the difference in this informative post. 

What was your first exposure to anime? When was the first time you saw this kind of art that connected with you? For me, it was through television and Dragonball Z.

They were the first kinds of this artistic medium I ever thought was created. I was wrong. There was so much more out there I didn't know about. 

Since then, I've noticed an explosion of cultural awareness regarding this animation in America, but I also see audiences continuing to ask, "What is anime?" They classify it wrong.

Today we're going to define anime, learn what anime is short for, find out whether anime has to be Japanese, learn the types of anime, and even learn which anime filmmaker created this medium. Plus, we'll read a ton of anime statistics that will blow your mind. 

Sound like fun? Let's dig deep into this incredibly popular style that is different from American cartoons. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Voltron: Defender'Credit: Netflix

Table of Contents


What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Dragonball Z'Credit: Crunchyroll

What Is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style 

This is one of the most interesting kinds of art because it feels easiest to define it by seeing it. But we'll try to take you exactly where you need to go to understand how to define anime to your friends and family. We hope to deliver an anime guide to you. We'll start with what anime means. 

Anime Definition

The term "anime" refers to a style of animation that originated in Japan. It usually contains colorful graphics, energetic characters, and action-oriented plots.

Thematically, we usually see futuristic or fantasy elements at the forefront of the storytelling. Anime characters usually have large, emotive eyes and mouths. 

Anime Description

What is Japanese anime? Well, it's a different type of storytelling. Visually, it has a wide array of styles across Japan, along with its imitators all over the world.

Characters have larger eyes, and when they speak, their lips are not animated to move exactly with the dialogue. While no single artistic style is dominating all of the styles, they all have similar character designs. 

The fundamental here is flat expression and thematic range. You can tell any story in this medium, but you are beholden to the style and ideas with very defined lines, cheerful colors, and stringent ties to a concentrated genre. That's what makes an anime an anime. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Pokemon'Credit: Nintendo

What Are Some Anime Examples? 

Around 60% of the entire animated content across the globe is Japanese animation. It's something that's taken the world by storm over the last century and grows in popularity each year. Anime series and anime shows are incredibly popular.

Works such as Ghost in the Shell, Princess Mononoke, Dead LeavesFLAGSerial Experiments LainMonsterMind GameLucky StarCat Soup, and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann are all great examples of this style. 

But there is so much left to learn about the medium. 

The Anime Guide

Now we're going to delve deep into the world of anime projects. There's so much to unpack when it comes to this world and the way stories are told within it. 

Is Anime a Genre? 

No. While it has distinctive tropes and characteristics, it is a style of animation and not a genre.

Anime comprises many different genres found in other animation mediums and in live-action. It is a very specific animation that is created in Japan. There are many imitators, but only one original. 

The Word "Anime" in Japanese 

The word anime in Japanese is derived from their word for animation, or animēshiyon.

It is written in Japanese as "アニメ."

What Does "Anime" Mean? 

Anime refers to and is short for animēshiyon, from the English "animation." The first time anyone called it that, it was 1985. Before then, "Japanimation" was the term throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Princess Mononoke'Credit: Studio Ghibli

What Are Animes? 

Technically speaking, this only refers specifically to animation produced in Japan. If there is an animation produced outside of Japan that seems like it has the same style as anime, we call that "anime-influenced" animation. 

What Language Is Anime In?

Traditionally, anime is in Japanese and then can be dubbed in any number of languages around the world. This dubbing or subtitling allows anime to be incredibly accessible to people from different walks of life. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Tengen Toppa'Credit: TV Tokyo

Anime History 

People have been making animation in Japan since around 1917, but the distinct style we associate with anime did not appear until the 1960s.

A cartoonist named Osamu Tezuka was the first to draw with the distinct style we see today. From there, copycats and other artists helped make the style ubiquitous today. 

The distribution also increased, from daytime TV shows in Japan to widely distributed comics, novels, video games, TV shows, and movies. 

The look and feel of anime also differed itself from Western animation over this period of time. Anime focuses less on movement and more on the detail of settings and camera effects like panning, zooming, and angle shots. There are lots of creative edits as well, and bursts of color or graphics that denote an action-packed background or emotive style. 

Visual accents also play into character design. As we mentioned earlier, you can usually tell this kind of animation, or anime-inspired animation, because of the characters' large, emotive eyes. But what was the first-ever anime? 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
Osamu Tezuka’s Star SystemCredit: Tezuka in English

What Is the First Anime Ever Made? 

We've talked about how many movies have gone missing over history, which is really tragic. Well, the history here is no different.

In the book Animated Film in Japan until 1919. Western animation and the beginnings of anime by Frederick S. Litten, he actually traces the first anime film back to 1907. It was a movie called Katsudō Shashin. We have a film strip but not much else of it. 

When it comes to the kind we recognize closer to what we've talked about, you get the 1933 Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (Within the World of Power and Women).

As we delve deeper into the '30s and '40s, you actually see that it was used as war propaganda during World War II, with 1945's Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei becoming the first anime feature film ever created.

But again, we are looking for modern-day surviving animations, so if you want something a little earlier that is intact, The Dull Sword, which was released on June 30, 1917, still survives and is one of the original movies. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
Momotaro: Umi no ShinpeiCredit: IMDB

How Many People Like Anime? 

One of the reasons we're doing a post like this is that people greatly underestimate just how popular it is across the world. It is estimated that 40% or 60% of the global population watches anime. That means almost three billion people consume some kind of anime at any given time. 

Did you know that in 2020, around 100 million households watched at least one hour of this kind of show on Netflix? That's a breathtaking statistic. The anime industry is humungous, consisting of over 430 production companies, including major studios you may have heard of like Studio Ghibli, Sunrise, Bones, Ufotable, MAPPA, Wit Studio, CoMix Wave Films, and Toei Animation. 

There are way more facts to know. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'My Neighbor Totoro'Credit: Studio Ghibli

Facts on Anime 

The folks over at Ampere AnalysisMorning Consult, and Parrot Analytics have published some statistics about anime, households, and streaming services.

  • 36% (or 2.88 billion) of viewers worldwide enjoyed watching in 2021.
  • Over 100 million households globally watched at least one of these titles on Netflix in 2020.
  • It is the third most in-demand subgenre worldwide with a 5.5% demand share.
  • Around 30% of American adults have a favorable impression of the style.
  • Around 33% of the Japanese said they often watch anime or read a manga.
  • Almost 90% of young Japanese said they watch.
  • Detective Conan is the most popular of all time.
  • The industry reached 2.4 trillion yen ($22.5 billion) in 2020.
  • The Japanese Media Arts Database has over 136,700 different titles in 2022.

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Spirited Away'Credit: Studio Ghibli

Different Types of Anime

This is such a specific type of animation that it has five main subcategories that cover the kinds of anime you might see across mediums. They are known as shonen, shoujo, seinen, josei, and kodomomuke—but there are really 10 categories of what it can be.

Each kind is focused on the kind of viewer they think would watch it, or the things that happen to characters within the story. There are many other categories of anime we will cover here as well. 

This is by no means a "rule," but think of it as an aim by the creators to capture a certain audience. 

Let's go over these Japanese words together and how they reflect the art style.

1. Shonen

When you think about shonen, you have to go to the root of the word, which means "for boys." It is by far and away the most popular kind of anime, based on how much of it is produced. These are shows like Dragonball Z, My Hero Academia, and Slam Dunk

Shonen encompasses sports, fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories. Its focus on stories for boys is what sets it apart from other genres. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'My Hero Academia'Credit: Hulu

2. Shoujo

Shojo is known for its focus on stories for "young girls." It carries titles like Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Fruits Basket. They all have stories that focus on romance, relationships, and female friendships. 

There's usually some flare in these stories, with gems, magical spells, and tropes like love triangles. While there still can be epic battles, they usually center on people falling in love or friendships outlasting evil. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Sailor Moon'Credit: Cartoon Network

3. Seinen

Seinen anime takes its focus and places it on young men. Think of it more for teenage men, with high school stories, hijinks, and a wide array of angsty teen emotions. There can be real violence and sexuality in this one too, so some decidedly adult themes. 

Ghost in the Shell and Black Lagoon are two main examples of this kind. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Black Lagoon'Credit: IMDB

4. Josei

Josei is anime for teen girls. It's stories of crushes, school friends, and breakups. Some examples are Paradise Kiss, Princess Jellyfish, and Kids on the Slope. These stories have the potential for heartbreak and tough lessons. 

Even with deeper themes, there is still comedy in this genre too, but the themes are more adult. Love, melancholy, and comedy here are all driven by adult desires and ideas. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Kids on the Slope'Credit: IMDB

5. Ecchi

Ecchi is a risque or "naughty" kind of anime. It's more adult themes and has the connotation in Japanese of sort of a dirty magazine. This storytelling is sex-forward, and each storyline will have to do with sexuality. 

Some examples of ecchi anime are Kill la Kill, High School of the Dead, and Zero no Tsukaima

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Kill la Kill'Credit: IMDB

6. Harem 

Harem anime involves stories focused on average guys who are not dating one woman, but many. Usually 30 of them. Harem stories usually incorporate other genres, but all of them will have the throughline of a man with a bunch of women. 

There are even "reverse-Harem" stories, like in Ouran High School Host Club, where women date many men. Again, they can tell any story as long as part of it involves dating multiple people. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Ouran Koukou Host Club'Credit: IMDB

7. Isekai 

Isekai anime is focused on stories about people being swept away to magical lands. These are unsuspecting people on the adventure of a lifetime far away from the world they expected. 

Some examples of isekai anime are Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away, as well as Fushigi Yugi and Magic Knights Rayearth. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Magic Knights Rayearth'Credit: IMDB

8. Mecha

Mecha anime is concerned with giant robots. These hyper-specific science fiction stories can fall under other subcategories as well. These giant robots will sometimes fight kaiju or one another.

Some examples of mecha are the Gundam series, as well as Mazinger Z and Giant Robo. You may notice the hugely popular Neon Genesis Evangelion here as well. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Gundam'Credit: Warner Brothers

9. Kodomomuke

Kodomomuke anime is skewed toward children. It features titles like Pokemon, Hamtaro, and Yo-Kai Watch. This category has none of the adult themes in the other categories. It's things marketed and made for the entertainment of a child. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Pokemon'Credit: OLM, Inc.

10. Iyashikei

Iyashikei anime is described as "healing." It does not have much story, but instead focuses on making you feel a certain way watching it. It should be calm and restorative. 

Laid-Back Camp and Girl's Last Tour are two very popular titles within the category. They both want you to be released and to enjoy the moment. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Girl's Last Tour'Credit: IMDB

Some Famous Anime Terms

  • Arigato (どうもありがとう): Thank you. 
  • Arukimasu (歩きます): Walk.
  • Ashi (足): Leg.
  • Atarimae (当たり前): Of course.
  • Atsui (熱い): Hot.
  • Ayamaru (謝る): To apologize.
  • Baka (馬鹿 or ばか): Foolish, stupid, dumb. 
  • Bijin (美人): Beauty.
  • Bikkuri Suru (びっくりする): To be shocked. 
  • Bimbo (貧乏): Poor. Lacking money. 
  • Bishounen (美少年): A beautiful young guy.
  • Chikara (力): Power, strength.
  • Daijōbu (大丈夫): All right, okay, unhurt.
  • Doshite (土して): Why?
  • Kawaii (かわいい): Cute, adorable.
  • Sugoi (すごい): Amazing, great.
  • Oniisan (お兄さん): Older brother.
  • Imōto (妹): Younger sister.
  • Kawaii (かわいい): Adorable, cute
  • Itai (痛い): Pain, ouch.
  • Konnichiwa (こんにちわ): Hello.
  • Nani (何): What, really?
  • Oniisan (お兄さん): Older brother, big brother.
  • Otaku (オタク): Nerd or geek.
  • Senpai (先輩): An upperclassman or elder.
  • Sugoi (先輩): Amazing, great, superb.
  • Sumimasen (すみません): Excuse me; I'm sorry.
  • Tomodachi (すみません): Friend, pal.
  • Ureshii (嬉しい): A person is happy.

You can read 250 more phrases here that will help you learn Japanese and gain a deeper understanding. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
Manga titlesCredit: Book Riot

What Are Mangas? 

We've been talking so much about anime that it seems like the perfect time to dip our toes into manga. You should know, manga and anime are not synonymous. 

Manga Definition 

Manga is a style of Japanese comic book or graphic novel. 

What Is the Difference Between Manga and Anime? 

Anime is animation or moving images done by Japanese animators in a particular style. While manga may have a similar look and feel, it is only used to define the books, and not animated films, TV shows, video games, or web series. 

Is Anime a Cartoon? 

This is a question that has been batted around a lot. It's our job to get to the bottom of it. So we must ask, is anime a cartoon? The answer is a little complicated.

In short, no, it is not a cartoon. 

Cartoon vs. Anime 

Cartoons are a film or TV show made using sequential drawings. But anime is a very specific kind of animation that has colorful graphics and themes. Because of its specificity, anime is limited as an art form. Cartoons can be drawn and edited in any way, but anime creations must be done within the defined parameters. 

There are several more main differences between anime and cartoons. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'The Simpsons'Credit: Fox

What's the Difference Between Anime and Cartoons? 

When it comes to characteristics, anime is distinctly different from your average cartoon. Anime is often considered a form of limited animation. You have to draw within certain character spectrums and expectations.

Also, it frequently reuses frames and motions instead of drawing each frame. This lowers production costs because fewer frames need to be drawn, and it even fools you into thinking there is more motion. Anime backgrounds depict the scenes' atmosphere with color and effects in ways cartoons do not.

Cartoon backgrounds usually lay flat, where backgrounds are an active part of the storytelling. 

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Mitchells vs the Machines'Credit: Netflix

How to Make Anime

Not to be a buzzkill up front, but unless you're in Japan, I think you can probably only make anime-inspired animations at home. But I bet that's good enough for you. And I also think it gives you a lot of elbow room to riff on your own identity and vision for the characters. 

Like any medium, you're diving into something, you should understand the tropes and expectations. If you're drawing the frames yourself, remember you can be expected to reuse frames, and a lot relies on the editing and the backgrounds being lively. 

There's a lot needed to make professional work. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DSnKa--aMM

Equipment Needed to Make an Anime 

First things first, you're going to need paper and an animator's table. You'll also need an assortment of pens and inks to draw your characters. Many animators use Mitsubishi 2B pencils, and then anime animation software to put it all together. 

When you start to make an anime, you need to do an E-konte or storyboard of the images you want. You're laying out what images you want to happen when so then when you go back, you know what you're drawing in detail.

There's a ton that goes into making these animated ideas. What better way to learn by watching?  

Anime About Making Anime

If you're in the market to learn more about how to make anime, you should really dig deep into what YouTube has to offer. There are thousands of artists who are willing to let you in on their process. You can learn how it is made and even perfect your own skills. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un9_xitSseI

What Is Considered Anime?

As we went over earlier, anime is a Japanese art form in animation. It's an animated film style that originated in japan. But there are lots of imitators around the world. 

What Is Korean Anime called? 

To distinguish itself from anything made in Japan, Korean animation calls itself hanguk aeni (한국 애니; lit. Korean animation) or guksan aeni (국산 애니; lit. domestic animation).

It is not as big but has its own style. Most of its fans simply call it "aeni."

Aeni Examples:

  • Ghost Messenger
  • Jang Geum’s Dream
  • The God of Highschool
  • Noblesse

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Ghost Messenger'Credit: Amazon Prime

American-made Anime 

Americans in anime are not a new phenomenon. They have always been fans of Japanese export, and therefore have produced a lot of anime-influenced material, like the '90s X-Men cartoon, Spiderman, and Thundercats

American-made anime examples:

  • VOLTRON
  • Castlevania
  • The Powerpuff Girls
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Avatar: The Last Airbender'Credit: Nickelodeon

What Do They Call Anime in China? 

In China, it is known as Donghua. It is very popular and is spreading across the world. They even have their own manga books that play on the traditional Japanese style, but with more Chinese culture.

Donghua Examples:

  • Quan Zhi Gao Shou
  • Mo Dao Zu Shi
  • Lan Mo De Hua

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style
'Lan Mo De Hua'Credit: Anime Planet

Summing Up "What Is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style"

Now that you've unpacked this exciting and expansive style, it's time to steep yourself in the world. Dig into this medium with its offerings around the globe, and explore what anime means for people far and wide.

Got comments, suggestions, or recommendations? Let us know below.

Now go out there and enjoy some Japanese animations!     

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