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What is anime?

Outside of Japan, the word is used to describe cartoons or animated films produced in Japan, such as Naruto, Sailor Moon or Studio Ghibli films. The word is actually the Japanese word for “cartoon”. In Japan, people don’t distinguish between country of origin, and the word refers to any cartoon whether it is produced in Japan or by Disney. Thus, the Japanese/non-Japanese distinction is strictly western. For this article, we will use this western wording, which means only Japanese animation.

Anime has, in the last decades, become a very popular entertainment.  Nowadays, we can see  anime everywhere – on streaming sites, on television, in movies, on social media, or even as fanfiction.

An iconic style

Anime characters have a very recognizable graphic design: exaggerated physical appearance, with huge eyes, messy hair, long and slender limbs. All these features aim a allowing the characters express their emotions in a very noticeable manner. The close-ups, zooms, slow-motion, and dramatic freeze-frames, the intense and contrasting lights, and the very bright colors are even more elements that contribute to creating  powerful emotions in the characters, transferred to the viewer.

But beyond this visual element, the rich and complex psychology of the characters and the elaborate plots are also what made the genre so popular among anime lovers.

Some anime are completely original, while others are derived from manga or video games. All this contributes to create a very rich culture which fuels a passionate community.

A short history of anime

Anime has existed in Japan for over a century. It came to the Western world through the United States, in the 60’s, with Speed Racer, a great success with children. However, for a long time Westerners thought of them as a pastime for the young.

However, in the 90s, Studio Ghibli achieved a series of worldwide successes, proving to Westerners that anime could reconcile all generations, around the poetic productions, rather for adults, of director Hayao Miyazaki. The filmmaker is renowned for the complexity of his tales for adults and children, the beauty of his drawings, but also for the richness of the music that complements these exceptional productions.

At the same time, during the 1990s and 2000s, a whole generation of children grew up watching Pokemon and DragonBall Z, broadcast on television in a large part of the Western world. Now in their 20s and 30s, they often kept their taste for anime, moving on to more “adult” titles.

Entertainment for children or real art for adults?

In the United States and in Europe, anime series were originally marketed and designed for children; however, for the last twenty years things have changed. In Japan, indeed, anime is aimed at people of all ages and has always been. Anime can be categorized into dozens or even hundreds of genres and sub-genres, addressing a very wide range of audiences.

This user of the r/anime thread on Reddit made a reading chart of 100 anime, which allows to understand in a part the variety of the genre.

The industry players

The complexity of the content created is reflected in the cost of the process: it takes approximately $100,000 to $300,000 to produce a single episode. This is explained in the first place by the number of actors in the production process. The business model is quite similar to that of movies or TV series, with some specificities.


Production companies are an interface that allows actors to communicate. They pay the upfront costs of the studios for production, of the TV stations for broadcasting, and of the distributors for marketing. Companies like Aniplex have started to vertically integrate by creating their own animation studios and distribution subsidiaries.


Distributors acquire the rights to distribute and market the artwork for a defined period of time, in a specific territory. Now, major anime streaming services such as Crunchyroll, Funimation and Netflix are full-fledged distributors, and many production companies enter into agreements directly with them without any other intermediary.

Television networks

Japanese television networks are an essential part of the anime value chain. Not only do they serve as distribution channels, but many of them also participate in production committees, which help find sponsors and advertisers to partially finance their creations. In Japan, the domestic TV market segment is about twice as large as the domestic streaming market, which may seem surprising, as in the rest of the world, the exact opposite is true. It is likely that this gap will close in the coming years, probably reversing the trend at some point.

Animation studios

Without the work of animation studios, anime simply could not exist.  The studios are in charge of designing and creating the content. To achieve this, they need to hire a substantial amount of staff.

  • A director who oversees the entire operation
    Character designers 
    Episode directors who create the storyboard for an episode and supervise its production
  • Teams specialized in layout
  • Specialists of animation itself
  • A compositing team that takes care of importing all the images on a computer, colorizing them, adding computer graphics and special effects
  • A team specialized in post-production
  • Actors who provide their voices and emotions to bring the characters to life

Manga publishing houses

The use of already popular source material, such as manga, is one of the keys to the success of a series. As a consequence, manga publishers are a natural part of the creation process for numerous anime. However, unlike the Western comic book market (where publishers own at least part of the intellectual property rights) in Japan, it is often the mangaka who retains ownership of the copyright,  for commercial, legal and cultural reasons specific to Japan.

A significant and fast-paced market

It is a fast-growing market, which generates a significant income. For example, in the United States, with a $22.8 billion business in 2021, and a growth rate of more than 7% per year, it could reach $48.8 billion in 2030.

Anime market forecast, based on 2021 and the first half of 2022 sales figures, and growth of 7.2% per year – growth between 2020 and 2021

(source: precedence research).

All these actors are deeply affected when anime is pirated; the size and diversity of the industry means that numerous jobs are threatened when these actors are not paid as they should be, as their works are stolen and illegally distributed. Besides, due to the strong growth of the market, these negative effects will only increase if nothing is done to protect this market.

Meet us at the very beginning of August, to learn about the consequences of anime piracy, and how to fight against this menace. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have an anime series or movie to protect; we are Canadian leaders in this market, and have more than a decade of experience in anime protection.