Cartoons are back in style — and brands want to cash on the craze surrounding one style of animation: Japanese anime.
Anime has grown extremely popular among Gen Z youth globally. According to CBR, a recent keyword analysis on WordFinder found that Gen Z has the highest percentage of anime fans, with over 69% stating that they watch anime content, compared to 57% of millennials and 40% of Gen X.
Streaming services have begun to seize on anime’s popularity by licensing and creating original anime series and even showcasing the genre through dedicated hubs on their platforms.
In July, Hulu launched a hub dedicated to anime and adult-animated content titled Animayhem, where it showcases over 200 anime series. Meanwhile, Netflix has spent several years developing content in the genre, featuring global hits such as Hunter x Hunter, Demon Slayer and Death Note.
As popularity continues to grow, so has investment. In August, Netflix debuted One Piece, a live-action series based on the popular anime manga, or comic, of the same name. Less than one week into its release, the series broke Netflix’s record as the No. 1 ranked TV series in 84 countries, beating popular series Wednesday and Stranger Things.
Now, as anime becomes a mainstay of American pop culture, brands including Duolingo, Enthusiast Gaming, the NBA and Nissan are seizing on its popularity to reach U.S. consumers.
Brands hop on the great wave
As One Piece fans watched and raved about the Netflix series, gaming developer Enthusiast Gaming released a battle royale style map on Fortnite in September depicting two factions from the show: the Straw Hat Pirates and the Marines.
Prior to that, in May, language learning app Duolingo partnered with anime streaming service Crunchyroll to launch immersive Japanese language lessons featuring phrases from popular anime shows, such as Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. The campaign, which added 46 new phrases and 37 new skills to the course, came as Japanese ranked as the No. 3 most requested language for Americans aged 13 and 22 on the app. It also featured anime-style mascots in the Duolingo app and discount codes for Crunchyroll subscriptions.
According to Michaela Kron, U.S. marketing lead at Duolingo, interest in Japanese language learning and anime can be attributed to the rise of blockbuster anime movies, shows, video games, cosplay, travel and even trade shows in the U.S.
“Often when you're consuming entertainment that is not [primarily] in English, there's a bit of a disconnect there. I think you can have a greater appreciation if you have some knowledge of the language in the content that you're consuming,” she said.
The growing global popularity of anime contributed to the success of Duolingo’s campaign, which garnered more than 39 million impressions on social media, making it one of its most successful campaigns to date.
“You're seeing that in other areas now, too, like Korean entertainment really taking off in the U.S. as well,” Kron continued, noting that young audiences in particular are consuming more global content. Globally, 86% of Japanese learners on Duolingo are under 30, and 70% are between 13 and 22, according to internal data.
Meanwhile, in July, the NBA rolled out a merchandise collaboration with the superhero manga and anime show My Hero Academia. Debuted at NBA Con, it featured characters from the show on merchandise for nine NBA teams: the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers.
And in February, Nissan promoted the new Ariya electric vehicle with a four-hour-long Lofi girl playlist on YouTube — playlists people typically listen to while studying or working — that depicts Japanese anime illustrations.
The campaign was an effort to tap into a meditative moment to “build a world inspired by Japanese Anime,” a Nissan spokesperson told Campaign US, adding that entering the Lofi and anime communities was “a creative risk” and “no detail was too small in the creation of this ad.”
“Before we could enter the crosshairs of brutally honest YouTube commenters, we needed to ensure that we could successfully embody the Lofi style while highlighting the Japanese-Futuristic elements that inspired Nissan’s new EV,” they said.
The four-hour ad has accumulated more than 1.1 million hours of watch time on YouTube, and subscribers on Nissan’s channel have increased by at least 27,000. It has also been added to 35,000 YouTube playlists and drove a 75% lift in product search for the Ariya between February 1 and March 8, compared to the month prior.
Anime’s celebrity status
The recent slate of successful anime-style brand campaigns indicates a recognition among marketers that anime is no longer a niche genre, but a widespread community with global appeal, said Markus Gerdemann, SVP of global creative marketing at Crunchyroll.
“Anime is now an established part of pop culture,” he said, adding that celebrities now take inspiration from the art form. “[For a time] it wasn't always attributed to anime, but that [is not the case] now.”
“The unique thing about this community is that they are so excited to share their fandom and their passion for the medium with others and bring others into it,” he continued. “It creates a lot of curiosity.”
It’s true that more influential figures are raising their anime flags. In fact, some of the biggest celebrities have tipped their hats to anime both on their own and in brand collaborations.
Take rapper and music artist Megan thee Stallion. Since her rise to fame, Stallion, whose real name is Megan Pete, has spoken openly about being an anime fan, stating in interviews that she loves shows including Demon Slayer and Black Clover. In 2020, she collaborated with Crunchyroll on an anime-style clothing collection inspired by her song “Savage.”
Other celebrities have also used anime to express themselves — be it in fashion or art. In April, Doja Cat appeared to battle herself in an ad for Skechers Uno sneakers. In the spot, her two opposing identities practice martial arts drawn from anime fight scenes as each donned sneakers inspired by the alter egos.
And in September, professional tennis player Coco Gauff spoke to the New York Times about how My Hero Academia is her favorite anime show during the U.S. Open.
Brands recognize the passion and cultural relevance around anime across audiences — not to mention the fierce loyalty of its fans.
“As anime references and memes show up more prevalently in Western culture via TikTok and other social media, brands have come to understand that anime is a great way to reach younger generations,” the Nissan spokesperson said.
Anime goes global
As anime racks up fans in the U.S., its cultural influence is also growing around the globe.
Gerdemann said besides the U.S., some of Crunchyroll’s fastest-growing markets include Brazil, France, Germany and Mexico, and there are over 800 million people globally that have expressed interest in anime content.
Anime also continues to have a growing theatrical presence. Anime movie Suzume, for instance, debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in February — the first time in 20 years that the animation style showed up at the festival.
New season releases are also getting bigger, with demand for dubbing anime content into new languages growing, Gerdemann added. For example, Crunchyroll is currently in the process of dubbing shows into Hindi.
Finally, in-person events with anime at the center continue to grow around the world. In Brazil, which has the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan, São Paulo hosts the largest Comic Con experience globally. Crunchyroll hosted the Anime Awards last year in Tokyo with plans to return again this year. Anime NYC will take place in November.
“There is a lot of interest in anime out there, but we only reach them as long as we stay true to our core audience,” Gerdemann said. “There's still a lot of room to convert.”