Anime is more mainstream and desired today than 10 years ago. Most of us are familiar with well-known characters like Pikachu (Pokémon) and Goku (Dragon Ball) and South Africans can easily hop onto Netflix, Showmax and Amazon Prime Video, to escape into the colourful worlds created by some of the best Japanese anime.

But what is anime exactly?

Most of us will immediately associate anime with Japanese culture and even though it has become one of Japan’s most successful exports, their meaning of anime differs slightly from ours. To us, anime is a specific style of hand-drawn animation in film or television that originates from Japan, while the Japanese see all forms of animation, for all ages, regardless of genre or style, as anime.

In this article we’ll touch on the popularity of anime, how manga drives its development and give you some of the best series and films you can watch. Whether you want to learn how to draw your own anime characters, learn about the Japanese culture or just want to get lost in the best art animation in the world, this article will get you started.

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What Makes Anime Original, Unique and Exciting?

Anime is a complex and varied industry in Japan. Unlike Disney films, anime has become part of the daily life in Japan and is a good representation of the nation's cultural tapestry and art.

You will see anime characters as part of everyday life in Japan, on billboards in big cities and in train stations, in games, in marketing merchandise and campaigns, and people on the street can be seen dressed up as their favourite anime characters.

Manga is used to create new characters and worlds. Originally black and white comics, manga sets the stage to test how anime fans will respond to characters before big names like Studio Ghibli or Toei Animation turn them into full commercialised animated productions.

The process of creating anime from manga, has allowed freshness and originality to shine through and enables affordable concept testing for each production.

The way anime developed allowed the artists to freely create various new genres in fantasy, horror, drama, apocalypse and action.

Learning a bit more about the history of anime and its rise to popularity will not only help you appreciate this art form more, but you’ll also understand how the works of famous names like Osama Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata established the look and core elements you'll see in today’s anime world.

What do you think makes Japanese anime so distinctive?

A fan of animation will easily call out some of the visual and auditory elements that are characteristic of the anime industry, especially those who plan to make a career of filmmaking or animation. Here are some of the main elements that give anime its original look:

  • Emotive faces and big, googly eyes
  • Character tropes (i.e. drops of sweat when anxious, expressive spirals and stars in their eyes or plasters on body to represent pain)
  • Stylised and big hairstyles
  • Specific camera panning techniques, especially with action shots
  • Recognised poses and postures
  • Bright colours and breathtaking landscapes
Person reading manga comic
Most of the time, anime is the production of animated works from an original manga series. - Source: Unsplash

Those interested in the art and drawing of anime will notice that the above elements work in tandem with the bright colours and dynamic movement to paint the nuances of familiar character archetypes in the industry.

The Japanese created anime works for a wide variety of age groups, and it is thus also incredibly popular with adult audiences. The Dragon Ball anime was an original production for a young male audience, but Goku, the lead character, grew up with his audience and Dragon Ball became one of the most popular Japanese anime works in the world, grossing over $1 billion worldwide.

The two highest grossing anime films worldwide are Demon Slayer: Mungen Train and Spirited Away; two very different films especially when you consider genre and the audiences they were created for. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba was like many other works a popular dark fantasy and martial arts manga series before it became a sensation in Japan and across the world.

Watch Some of The Best Anime to Get Started

With some many popular anime series and stories out there it’s tricky to say which are the best. There’s something for almost any type of person and the general emotional appeal, character originality and breath-taking worlds, together with strong story lines and complex adult themes is what makes an anime series or movie rise out above the rest.

The 10 most popular anime according to animenewsnetwork.com are:

  1. FullMetal Alchemist Brotherhood
  2. Steins;Gate
  3. Clannad After Story
  4. Your name
  5. Rurouni Keshin: Trust and Betrayal
  6. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
  7. Spirited Away
  8. Cowboy Bebop
  9. Mushishi: The Next Chapter
  10. Princess Monoke

This process of selection can be a complex one, especially since anime has a way of creating passionate fans. Each person's subjective list will be dependent on personal taste. As a newbie you’ll have to work your way through a couple to find the genre, film or series you like.

In our anime and manga search we wanted to get you started and created a list of five Superprof favourites that might interest you.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Anime series on Netflix (26 Episodes)

Genre: Mecha, Action, Psychological drama

Synopsis: This anime series from the '90s is about a group of characters from Nerv (an organisation in futuristic Tokyo) and how apocalyptic events influence the psychology of people when they try to survive. It’s certainly only for adults and filled with visceral and frightening violence.

Similar Series: Code Geass, Akira

Howl’s Moving Castle

Film by Ghibli studio (Running time 1h 59m)

Genre: Adventure fantasy

Synopsis: A story about an 18-year-old girl who gets cursed by a witch and turns into an old woman before meeting a magician with a floating castle. It’s suitable for all ages and has a very deep theme around the lasting quality of love regardless of age.

Similar Film: Princess Monoke

Similar Series: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (Rated for 14 and older, but contains adult themes and action)

Sword Art Online

Anime Series from a novel range

Genre: Science fiction, Adventure

Synopsis: Based on a novel series, this science fantasy is an anime series for teens and over a range of seasons they live virtual existences in the future 2022, fall in love and even marry in-game.

Similar Series: Hunter x Hunter, Overlord

soul eater figurines and manga
There are anime and manga genres to cater to every age group. - Source: Unsplash

The Seven Deadly Sins

4 Seasons and 2 films

Genre: Adventure fantasy

Synopsis: This Manga series has fantasy, action, romance and comedy and is about a group of knights known as The Seven Deadly Sins who fight to retake their Kingdom now ruled by corrupt Holy Knights. Watch this for endless battles that includes them, the demon clan, fairies, goddesses Elizabeth and the Holy Knights.

Similar Series: One Punch Man, Fairy Tail

Fruits Basket

Manga Series (Season 1-3)

Genre: Slice of Life, Drama

Synopsis: When it comes to high school anime, there are quite a few, and one of the best is Fruits Basket, a story about a high school student (girl) who tries to balance real life and the complexities of relationships, as she navigates her way through romance, family drama and even a curse. With a bit of magic, some good comedy and reality of adolescence mixed in, this is something for all ages.

Similar Series: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Great Teacher Onizuka

Learn more about shonen, shoujo and seinen and other magnificent original genres that created some of Japan’s top anime here.

The characters in Anime are larger than life, but they remain relatable, and the Japanese have always had the ability to incorporate the same complexities and moral challenges we experience as humans.

When it comes to the creativity around characters, the sky is the limit. Robots, aliens and inanimate objects get human qualities and personalities and it is nothing new for people to fall in love with them whether young, old, hero or villain.

It might be obvious, but in anime the stories are very much character-driven and you’ll notice that most of our favourite anime characters come from the best manga titles:

  • Edward Elric – Fullmetal Alchemist
  • Kurisu Makise - Steins;Gate
  • Killua Zoldyck – Hunter x Hunter
  • Kazuto Kirigaya – Sword Art Online
  • Monkey D. Luffy – One Piece
  • Narturo Uzamaki - Naruto
  • Lelouch Lamperouge - Code Geass
  • Levi Ackerman - Attack on Titan
  • Light Yagami - Death Note
  • L Lawliet – Death Note

If you want to discover more or learn what makes a good anime character, be sure you read our article on iconic anime and manga characters.

We hope we've given you enough inspiration, background and works to explore as you discover the exciting world of anime. Most animated works have been translated or dubbed into a variety of languages, so you can enjoy them in English and if you are keen to learn Japanese they could be a powerful resource along the way.

There’s no more enjoyable way to learn about Japanese culture than through anime.

You’ll be emotionally moved, challenged and thrilled while learning about Japanese customs, food, architecture, and life in general.

Learning about Japanese culture has never been so much fun!

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Mauritz

Writer and qualified yoga instructor, who is passionate about health and well-being.