The US isn’t as large an anime market as Japan, but anime has left a mark on our pop culture. Here are 10 anime that had the most impact on America.
I’ll start with one of the most popular current anime. Why am I calling it one of the most influential in America? Because it is so popular. Bleach is a bridge between kiddie anime and more adult anime series. Along with other series, it is breaking the (still existing) idea that all anime is echii or hentai. Bleach is action packed ( a boon in America) and sprinkles just enough anime-centric elements that it won’t put off those new or hostile to anime. A lot of the Japanese folklore and myths that are in anime are down-right frightening to Americans. Popularity is an influence because it makes the genre feel safe. Bleach and other anime like it move the genre out of its niche and into the mainstream.
9) Astro Boy
This is one of the very first anime made. So of course it is also one of the most influential. There was even a CGI movie made here in the States. Astro Boy looks and feels like old school Mickey Mouse, and Mickey Mouse is as American as you can get. Astro Boy laid the foundation for anime and also shows there isn’t much of a gap between Japanese media and American media. Both complement each other and mix to create shows that are not labeled as anime. Anime would do better if it wasn’t labeled as a niche interest. Astro Boy laid that groundwork.
8 ) Dragonball
The series has gotten a lot of flak lately from current generations of anime watchers. They feel the show is just about “power levels” and getting stronger. They miss most influential point of the Dragonball series: it created its own unique world. Most of the time manga and anime take place in either the past, present, or future of our world. DB takes place in a world completely out of the imagination of a child. Goku also illustrated the values of friendship, forgiveness, and striving toward a goal. The DragonBall series was one of the anime (in addition to Sailor Moon, and Gundam Wing) that opened America to anime, much like Bleach is keeping it open. DB and DBZ were never as popular in the States as they were in Japan, and arguably the show did leave a negative impression of anime with some sections of America. On the whole, DragonBall and related anime continued the building process Astro Boy started.
7) Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell showed us that anime isn’t just for kids or teens. Its labyrinthine crime drama rivaled and surpassed the crime dramas that aired on primetime television. The characters were complex, sexual, violent, and believable despite being set in a futuristic world. Ghost in the Shell looked at the open question of human computer relationship and how technology can dehumanize. Ghost in the Shell influenced the Matrix series and other science fiction. It also was one of the first movies and series to cross over to the larger non-anime audience. Ghost showed Americans that anime had more diversity than action shows like DragonBall and children’s shows like Pokemon.
6) Princess Mononoke
It’s Walt Disney! It’s not anime. Hayao Miyazaki was many people’s first exposure to anime. Princess Mononoke told the story about what happens when the environment loses its mystique. Studio Ghibli long wowed American audiences at the big screen, but Princess Mononoke held a special draw…on dvd . It was the best selling anime for a time in 2001. The PG-13 rating surprised many people who weren’t exposed to anime. Other Miyazaki films like Spirited Away and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind also held American hearts. Although they still didn’t perform as well as they did in Japan. Roger Ebert and other film critics added Princess Mononoke to their short lists of favorite films.
5) Voltron: Defender of the Universe
I watched this cartoon as a kid; I even had the metal toys. Yeah, back in my day toys were made out of real metal. Voltron wasn’t considered anime at all. Voltron was on cable tv’s Saturday morning cartoon line ups. It was the precursor to the much more popular Pokemon. Interestingly, the show was actually an edited version of the Japanese anime Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairrugger XV. The plots were surmised and dialogue rewritten instead of translated. The more violent scenes were cleaned up for the Saturday morning audience. Voltron was the first exposure many young boys had to the mecha genre.
4) Neon Genesis Evangelion
Speaking of mecha, Evangelion was/is the series that defines the genre While Robotech and Voltron were American’s first exposure to mecha, Neon Genesis Evangelion IS what American’s think of when it comes to the genre. The fights of the Evas and Shinji’s conflict with his father and sexual tension with Rei and Asuka left a mark on the American anime audience. All other mecha that follow were immediately compared. EVA captures a love the Japanese have for the genre that American’s don’t match. We don’t have life sized mecha statues or theme parks….but we can imagine having our own.
3) Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop was the anime for anime haters. The show appealed to a wide audience with its believable adult characters, gangster feel, and excellent jazz score. It feels like a prime time drama with the strangely believable wild west sci-fi theme. Cowboy Bebop follows Spike, Jet, and a strange crew as they seek out food and bounties. Their past constantly returns to haunt them, however. Many people who refuse to watch anime and detest the genre love Cowboy Bebop. The adult themes and appeal establish the versatility of the genre to a closed audience. Cowboy Bebop is sophisticated gateway into anime and continues to stand as one of the best shows produced.
Many would argue with me for placing Naruto above Cowboy Bebop and other timeless anime, but Naruto is a gateway anime. It isn’t thought of as an anime, and that is its strength. Naruto dodges the still surviving negative aspects anime is thought to have (all anime is porn, for example). It also teaches children the value of friendship, determination and other qualities parents want their kids to have. Finally, it has just enough Japanese elements to introduce the culture, but they are not specific enough to alienate. Instead they come off as cool and different.
This is the most influential anime in America. Like Naruto, Pokemon isn’t even considered an anime. After hitting the US back in 1999, it is still as popular as ever. It features cute critters and teaches friendship and perseverance. Pokemon also inspires kids to draw their favorite critters or make up their own. Yes, Pokemon isn’t Cowboy Bebop or even a good show for adults, but it is a testament to how far anime has come in the US. Once a niche, anime is now part of pop culture and the American childhood.
Of course there are many others that could/should have made the list: Macross, Robotech, FLCL, Gundam, and more. However true or unfortunate it is, popularity is important to how strong an influence something has on society. The anime on this list have a wide range of appeal; whether or not the anime is considered good. Anime is as diverse as the people who watch it. Any anime that becomes so popular that it isn’t even considered anime benefits the entire media.