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Anime broadens its reach — at conventions, at theaters, and streaming at home

The Anime NYC convention attracted more than 55,000 fans this year.
Timm Dower
Anime NYC
The Anime NYC convention attracted more than 55,000 fans this year.

When Hajime Isayama was growing up in Japan, anime wasn't considered cool. "It was kind of looked down upon at that time," the manga artist told NPR. Since then, anime's reach has increased — a lot.

Anime movies have broken box office records. Crunchyroll, the leading streaming service of anime, now has 10 million subscribers. More than 55,000 people attended the Anime NYC convention in 2022 — up from 22,000 in 2017. Anime Expo in Los Angeles brings in more than 115,000 fans.

Hajime Isayama recently made his first U.S. appearance at <a href="https://animenyc.com/" data-key="823">Anime NYC</a>.
/ Kodansha
Hajime Isayama recently made his first U.S. appearance at Anime NYC.

Isayama recently made his first U.S. appearance at Anime NYC. His manga, Attack on Titan, has sold more than 110 million copies worldwide and spent more than 100 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list.

It's about a civilization bound behind a set of colossal walls, perpetually threatened by giant, man-eating humanoids. Through an interpreter, Isayama told NPR that as a manga artist, he is happy to be part of a "long-lasting tradition" — and play a role in this "greater culture."

A young, online, global audience

Anime's fans are largely online, and the pandemic — when people were suddenly able to focus on at-home or online interests — helped fuel growth.

It's a young demographic consuming the majority of popular anime, and that's a good thing, said Anime NYC director Peter Tatara, since those early impressions are formative. Teens "see themselves reflected through these heroes in a way they might not see themselves reflected in a billionaire who builds a suit of armor," Tatara explained.

Isayama remembers when anime was much less in the mainstream. In Japan, "it was really specific for kids who were called otaku — who were really deeply into anime," said Isayama.

Now, hardcore fans embrace otaku — the Japanese slang word that roughly means geek, nerd, or someone who is detrimentally obsessed with pop culture.

"I definitely started to think about the global audience as soon as the anime became available globally and more audiences started to be aware of Attack on Titan," said Isayama. "And that's around the time when I also started to get into TV shows like Game of Thrones, and I was definitely feeling the influences there."

The creator has also cited American entertainment like Breaking Bad and Jurassic Park as inspirations for his work. In Europe and the U.S., there are more comic artists emulating manga styles. Animators are also embracing the influence, as seen in Steven Universe's many references and the Avatar series' element-bending fight scenes.

Anime in America

People who grew up with anime are now watching it with their kids. Macy's 2022 Thanksgiving Day parade featured a prominent anime protagonist, and celebrities are sharing their enthusiasm for the Japanese artform.

Actor John Boyega tweeted asking for recommendations. Ariana Grande has a Spirited Away tattoo on her arm. Megan Thee Stallion has said she begins and ends her day watching anime. Jamie Lee Curtis loves One Piece and Samuel L. Jackson, who starred in Afro Samurai and Afro Samurai: Resurrection, is no stranger to the more ... adult forms of the medium.

"You start to even see members of Congress acknowledge some anime watching and gaming and keep geeky habits," said Tatara.

Will a U.S. president one day talk about their love of Dragon Ball? "That's a watershed moment for me," Tatara says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

From <em>Attack on Titan</em> by Hajime Isayama
/ Kodansha
From Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama

Maison Tran