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What counts as anime?

This is a topic that often confuses people both new and old to the medium:

Where exactly is the line drawn between cartoons and anime? 

This article will investigate common misconceptions and hope to provide an informative definition of what anime is. At the very least, you should have a more informed viewpoint when you debate yourself.

Section 1: “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck – it’s a duck!”

First let’s look at anime from a purely aesthetic point of view, which is usually the first target of debates. Below is an image of three shows – the show on the right, most readers will recognise as “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (alternatively called The legend of Aang in some regions). To the left is “Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt”


Having a standard anime look & feel means many viewers assume Avatar is an anime – and there’s some fact behind that – the show was animated in South Korea by DR Movie, but it was produced in America for American viewers. The sequel, Legend of Korra had some episodes animated by Studio Perriot who are based in Japan. However, looking deeper into the issue, DR Movies’ videography contains titles such as Batman and the Hulk which most viewers wouldn’t initially consider anime. Several other titles we would consider anime from their production country and style are actually outsourced to South Korea and China. Because of its style and prominence, the debate of whether Avatar is an anime or not is the one of most contested topics in the ‘anime’ definition.

Panty and Stocking on the other hand was produced in Japan and was also animated there – everything characteristic about anime – apart from the animation style which is more like that of Western shows. Even so,  there are few claims against its status as an ‘anime’. The design of anime isn’t a rule – as we’ll see in the next section – the Japanese consider much more than same-styled faces to be anime.

Section 2: What is the definition for the word ‘anime’ ?

Pronunciation: /ˈanɪmeɪ/    /ˈanɪmə/
A style of Japanese film and television animation, typically aimed at adults as well as children.
extract from the Oxford Dictionary.
It’s suitably vague. But let’s look at the origin of the word. Before anime, the term “japanimation” was used in the West to describe the new wave of media arriving on their shores (1980’s). The integration of Japan’s title into the description of the medium is yet another source of the confusion. The change of term is vague and over a long period, but “anime” quickly took precedence after large fan uptake. Some believe it could be due to the politically incorrect mispronunciation of jap-animation instead of japan-imation.
The Japanese definition of the term is much broader. Simply put, it’s animation – Eastern cartoons, Western cartoon, stop motion, 3d computer graphics. Anything.
Two well known animes?

Of course, I am equally insulted to catalogue minions in the same bracket as the shows that are commonly understood to be anime. That dissonance is because the Western term isn’t a direct translation and individuals have put their own biases on the term, leaving it in an undefined limbo. If we are to take the Oxford definition, the term is simply referring to the style – However, as shown in the first section of this article, this is often not the case.

Section 3: The historical origins of anime

 The birth of modern manga is tied closely with Western animation. Several of the ancestors of manga – most notably Osamu Tezuka, the “Godfather of Anime” have mentioned repeatedly being heavily influenced by the famous Disney Studios that was immensely popular both in the West and at home via occasional translated imports.


The "large eyes" trope of anime was a direct result of inspiration from Disney's works.

Several products of this relationship appeared in the form of foreign adaptions like the Bambi and Pinocchio manga and downright plagiarism in the Lion King feature film. Indeed, the most broadly appealing anime – those produced by Studio Ghibli – still have heavy connections with the Disney corporation.

In these early years, anime wasn’t that much different to shows in the West, however anime began to change in the late 1950’s when the art style of Tezuka started to be challenged by a type of manga known as Gekiga. This style focussed on more gritty cinematic scenes and targeted a more mature audience than before. These comics had blood, violence and dealt with themes of a more serious nature. This is arguably where ‘anime’ broke away from what was being produced abroad.


However, the market evolved in later years and so did the styles and themes within the pages. Now anime and manga spread over a vast array of genres and topics, and Western studios consider adults a legitimate market – meaning that the original distinction that set it apart became blurred.

Section 4: Conclusion

The problem of defining the word anime is that the absoluteness it once had is now lost. Titles span over several countries, styles are copied and traditional scenarios are mimicked. Basing your definition on the source country, the animation studio, the style or the contents alone isn’t reliable, it’s a combination. Most often, working from style is safe enough, as does the Oxford dictionary, but there are a multitude of arguments someone else might crop up. Alternatively, third party sites such as aniDB are quite reliable for the modern meaning of the word

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Labels: Anime/Manga

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