This is part of a series that draws on ethnographic fieldwork with anime fans. The series creates a framework for exploring the relationship between narrative, performance, and identity. I explore a theory of narrative identity in which individuals incorporate elements from stories into their lives. I document how anime fans use anime-specific narrative resources such as archetypes, icons, and language to shape their personal identity narratives and perform those identities to both anime fans and non-anime fans.

Check out the rest of the series.


“Anime” literally means animation from Japan. In popular circles, however, and especially among fans, anime is characterized by a specific visual style. Merriam-Webster defines anime as “a style of animation originating in Japan that is characterized by stark colorful graphics depicting vibrant characters in action-filled plots often with fantastic or futuristic themes”(2005). While it is true that anime is as varied as any art form, anime fans, critics and the general population identifies anime with some common visual tropes such as large eyes with richly colored corneas, multi-colored hair, stark animation, exaggerated style, and dramatic camera angles.

Frequently, visual cues take root in Japanese comics, Manga. Often, manga series will spawn anime spinoffs or remakes. Many of the terms used to describe anime also have their roots in manga such as sojo (anime or manga for girls), shonen (anime or manga for boys up to 18), seinen (anime or manga for young adults), and seijin or hentai (anime or manga with adult, often graphic themes). Certain reoccurring anime themes also owe their existence to manga. The “giant robot” genre, “real robot”, and retelling of Japanese folklore were all made popular by the “god of manga,” Osamu Tezuka. Manga series are also known for their very long runs and extensively complex storylines. This has been adapted to anime in series like Gundam and Pokémon with universes more complex than almost anything found in Western literature.

Anime fandom became more prominent in Japan during the 1970s. The Japanese film market began to shrink because of television competition, which led to experimentation and the adaptation of manga styles. This created many of the current features of anime and gave rise to a couple key genres such as Mech and Space Operas. A subculture in Japan formed around magazines. This group called was called otaku which generally means someone obsessed with something, usually games, anime or manga.

Astro Boy (1963) was the first television-produced anime series, and the first anime to be widely distributed overseas (Clements 2006). Through the 1970s and 1980s the worldwide export of anime grew beginning what has been called the “golden age of anime” and the “second golden age” of Japanese cinema (Kehr 2002).

In America, anime fandom began growing 1980s, taking cues from the otaku of Japan. These small groups would gather to watch pirated episodes on VHS tapes. The imports of anime and manga were difficult because of price and translation issues. After the computer revolution in the 1990s, an undercurrent of anime culture began to grow in the United States, fueled by increasing interest in goods from Japan. The internet opened the door for anime fans to connect with other fans and share their media.

At the same time, main-stream television began replaying dubbed anime such as Gundam, Pokémon and Sailor Moon. Several networks reformatted their late-night programming around anime. Soon after, anime began to hit the mainstream market as “Japanimation,” graphic novels started to climb in the bookseller charts, many stores adding a dedicated manga section by the early 2000s.

By 2010, anime style had taken a powerful place in influencing popular culture. Many American films and television shows borrow hallmark anime style techniques, clothing and fashion has assimilated an anime look, and graphic novels in manga form have become bestsellers for children”™s and young adult fiction.

Even with this growing popularity, the kind of fanatical devotion many “true” anime fans exhibit has not been adopted by the mainstream. This will be discussed in detail later. Therefore, many anime fans sit just outside the cultural norm here in the United States. Many consider themselves a counterculture or a subculture, holding meetings to watch and discuss anime, dressing in anime character costumes, and interacting intensely with other fans through the World Wide Web.

The 2000s also gave rise to satires and non-Japanese competition (such as Transformers Galaxy Force and Avatar: The Last Airbender) that borrow anime aesthetics which become popular, showing the wide acknowledgement of anime. Anime has become such an important aspect of Japan”™s financial health that, in 2008, the Japanese government created the position of Anime Ambassador and appointed Doraemon as the first Anime Ambassador to promote anime worldwide in diplomacy (Doraemon Swon in as Anime Ambassador 2008).

In the next post, I will introduce Fan Studies and Anime Studies before we dive into our analytical framework for narrative identity.

Follow me

Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
Follow me

Latest posts by Chris Michaels (see all)