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What is Anime? And is it Safe for Kids?

Words by
Morgan Wilcock

APR 09, 2024

What is Anime? And is it Safe for Kids?

The term “anime” is used in the West to refer to a style of animation popularized in Japan. But the meaning of the word in Japanese is simply to describe all animation and is a shortening of the word “animation.”

When you hear anime, you may think of a specific style of animation: big eyes, vibrant color, intense detail, and unique character design. With how entrenched the anime art style is in animation all over the world nowadays, it’s difficult to point to distinctions between Japanese and Western animation.

Anime girl waving

The most major distinction between Japanese animation and western animation is the main story structure. Eastern stories typically don’t center around a main character who must conquer evil alone. They usually focus on an entire group of people who are working together for the betterment of society at large, not just themselves. 

This collectivist mindset is present in many anime and is a direct reflection of Japanese culture of honoring more than oneself. Anime also typically doesn’t center around a villain who is pure evil, but an antagonist who was simply misled. And in some stories, a villain isn’t even present, and the story focuses on character arcs instead. 

The world of anime also tends to feel more realistic than worlds built in American animation. 

A recent surge of demand for anime has brought it into public focus: in fact, demand increased 118% from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to the summer of 2022. The evolution of anime has taken place over the course of decades, but there are a few reasons why it has recently increased in popularity. 

First, the availability of anime TV shows in the 90s brought shows like Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon to American audiences. 

Later, massive anime studios began to branch out of typical anime genres into romance, science fiction, fantasy, and comedy, which by extension increased its familiarity to western audiences.

anime girl putting peace hand over winking eye

The advent of social media and online forums where anime lovers could connect brought together a community that was perceived in the early 2000s as “nerdy” or fringe. Members of this community were called “otaku.” However, as elements and aesthetics of anime began to make their way into American media, anime itself became more widely received. 

Nowadays, with streaming apps like Crunchyroll and Netflix, anime is much more accessible to western audiences. More recently, shows like Jujutsu Kaisen, Attack on Titan, and One Piece, which you may have heard your kids talking about, have been particularly action-packed and engaging, which draws in more audiences.

Where Did Anime Come From?

The history of anime stretches back almost a century. The first confirmed anime film was made in 1917, only a four-minute-long preview into the style that would take the world by storm. 

In 1956, serial comic book-style stories in the anime style, called manga, came to the fore in Japan. Manga was then adapted into action-packed cartoon adventures that kids and adults fell in love with. This process is not unlike the comic book to movie adaptations of Marvel in America. 

Is Anime Safe for Kids?

It’s important to note that although anime shows look kid-friendly, they are not always safe for kids. Like adult animation TV shows like Rick and Morty, Archer, and Sausage Party, just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for kids.

mom and daughter smiling hold up a remote with an anime background

Many anime engage with adult themes like intense and graphic violence, explicit sex and nudity, and gore. Some anime series may seem harmless in concept, such as “Slice of Life” anime, which doesn’t focus on action, adventure, or violence and instead on domesticity and romance. 

But even these often depict women and young girls as over-sexualized and hopelessly romantic. It may be difficult to find a female anime character who does not, at some point, wear a revealing outfit. 

Anime for Kids

Of course, while anime often participates in harmful stereotypes and adult themes, there are safe anime for kids to watch. Avatar: The Last Airbender on Nickelodeon is a good example. Sailor Moon is considered by many to be suitable for elementary-age kids, though parents are encouraged to do research and determine for themselves what shows they are comfortable with. 

The anime film studio, Studio Ghibli has produced many kid-friendly movies, among them Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro. These movies are coming-of-age, happy stories for the whole family.

Learning About Safe Media

In our ever-changing technological world, parenting is an increasingly difficult task. We can sometimes feel overwhelmed about how to help our kids consume safe media. Just talking with our kids about what makes good and safe media is a great place to start. 

Safe tech is also helpful in teaching children media literacy. When kids have access to safe devices, we can better assess their risk of stumbling into inappropriate content.

What do you think? Do you and your family watch anime? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!

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