Top 10 Most Influential Anime in America

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.


10) Bleach

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

VoltronI 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.

2) Naruto

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.

1) Pokemon

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.

Other mentions

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.

37 thoughts on “Top 10 Most Influential Anime in America”

    1. The series only saw half of its total episodes broadcasted in the US. That doesn’t exactly make it influential, considering it wasn’t popular enough to be fully dubbed and aired. The broadcast was also limited to LA and some Dish subscribers.

  1. I think Sailor Moon should have been on here. Alot of kids I know are familiar with the name ‘Sailor Moon’ and talk about it alot, even if they have no actual idea what it is or what anime is.

    1. You make a very good point. We are working on a new series that looks at influential anime in more depth. Sailor Moon is on our list.

    1. One Piece is popular in many circles, but it doesn’t strike me as broadly popular. Many of the anime fans in my area only heard about it recently despite its age, for example. We all have our favorites. I did not include some of mine in the list because they are far from being influential.

      1. for me the only anime i watch currently is naruto shippuden and one piece because i watched it younger as a kid growing up and they have a similar feel for me is why i consider them hit anime because im not a big fan of the stuff but they appeal either way. also anybody know anime much like the 2?

      2. Everyone has their favorites! Soul Eater has similar whimsy to One Piece. You may want to check it out.

  2. No mention of “Space Battleship Yamato”? What about “Speed Racer”? Maybe “8th Man” or “The Amazing 3”. Those anime really paved the way I think. And really, no “TriGun”?

    1. I considered Speed Racer. However, I didn’t think it matched the popularity of the anime I have on the list. The trick is how these anime are considered anime or, at least, considered Japanese. My criteria is based on how “anime” the series is considered. Naruto and Pokémon are not as “anime” in people’s minds as Bleach. Pokémon and Naruto stand as children’s shows more than what people consider anime. The fact they are not considered in the category of anime and are culturally accepted is what makes them influential. Speed Racer was considered Japanese far more than, say, Pokémon.

  3. You included Voltron and Evangelion but not Gundam? I personally don’t like the newer episodes of Gundam, but in terms of overall importance, it was just as big as pokemon worldwide

    1. I certainly agree that Gundam is huge, especially in Japan. However, I wouldn’t consider it as huge in the United States compared to Pokemon. You can’t find as many video games and other merchandise for Gundam as you can for Pokemon. Pokemon has dominated store shelves in the US for far longer than Gundam.

    1. Digimon is popular, but I don’t think it was as influential as Pokemon and the other anime I listed. Pokemon is ubiquitous. That isn’t to say Digimon doesn’t have some influence.

  4. I have to pretty much agree with this article. At times people let their own personal opinions get in the way of facts. You for the most part avoided that. I grew up on Robotech and Voltron. Of all the more recent Anime, Naruto struck a chord with me as well as DBZ slight edge to Naruto just my opinion. My only gripe with DBZ it started to get a little off the wall with the present, future and past. You list it as a strength to me it was a weakness and i lost interest. DBZ has to be one of the more influential as it reintroduced and re- popularized Anime into the American culture. Of all Robotech has to be my personal favorite. Though you are correct that it probably just missed mainstream. It fell just short of mainstream status, sort of somewhere between cult and mainstream success. However it is popular enough that a live action movie maybe made, which i hear they finally have a director for.

    1. I tried to keep the article based upon how many people view it as anime versus a regular cartoon or show. Sometimes it is just a matter of timing. A Robotech movie might prove interesting if it is handled well.

      I am not much of a fan of DBZ. The series has too many fillers and other problems for my taste. If it was condensed to a fraction of the number of episodes it has (even less then Dragon Ball Kai) then it would have good story pacing.

  5. i remember my first episode of cowboy bebop like it was armstrong landing on the moon. it was arresting. i was floored. how could they make you forget you were watching a cartoon, i wondered. i hated it at first. it was too strong and weird, but like all great relationships, it grew on me, and now…well, enough said.

    1. A good story is one that hooks you and refuses to let you go. Cowboy Bebop is one of those stories. Anime, or cartoons as we Americans view it, is a medium that we pigeon-hole into kids shows. Cowboy Bebop and others then come along and show us that it is just another medium for storytelling. Bebop feels more like a movie or a prime time series than the usual anime cartoon.

  6. I love princess mononoke! and naruto and bleach and omg! I love almost all those anime you mentioned. And also I agree with you.

    1. I am also a Miyazaki fan. Many Hollywood movies have been quietly influenced by him and other anime series like Ghost in the Shell.

  7. Localization [aka white washing] is why everyone “loves” Cardcaptor, or thinks 4kids/NAMBLA can do no wrong. Again, if your answer localization… Then under the rules of localization, who’s name and culture is normal? So do you praise everthing that happend in the past as normal and ok? Or were those people wrong, and they didn’t know it. So to say: Remember the good old days when everyone outside America was “them there foreigners”… Well, those weren’t the good old days for everyone.

    1. I think you misunderstand my point a little. Localization is just a way to ease an audience into something that is different or unusual for them. Sometimes jokes and other things cannot be understood because they are specific to a particular culture. It is by no means right or wrong culturally speaking.

      Localization was a necessary step in the progression of anime in America. Now that shows like Pokemon, Naruto, and Bleach are not even considered anime, localization isn’t necessary. Japanese names are now familiar.

      While it is unfortunate we couldn’t just accept the names and other cultural elements immediately, what matters is now we (for the most part) can. It just takes time for cultures to become accepted by another. No culture is superior or more normal.

  8. Or maybe Chris, it shows that they can’t even work with the Japanese people that made it. Or that they don’t support them in anyway. This is why Macross is in licensing hell. Oh that’s right, you don’t care about the studio that made it. Thankfuly, you’re only talking about yourself. But it must be nice for you to able to tell people who’s name and culture is normal, and who has to be renamed. The Japanese could accept that their was a world outside Japan [Max,Roy,etc.], to bad the felling isn’t the same.

    1. Well, copyrights would prevent American studios from producing the sequels unless permission was granted. So some fault does lie with the original studios.

      American culture is unfortunately insular. That’s why it was originally normal to rename characters. Luckily that has changed. Anime like Bleach, Naruto, and others have helped Americans become more comfortable with Japanese names. Macross and other 80s and 90s anime had to suffer name changes and other problems before anime could be more readily accepted. The same was true for video games from Japan. It is just part of the process of localization. It takes time for things to change.

  9. Yeah, but Robotech and Voltron sequels are made in the USA. How is that a gateway to Japanese anime? I mean, Macross is in licensing hell because of Robotech / Harmony Gold. It’s not like their fans support Big West / Shoji Kawamori in any way. And any ways, don’t these type of shows promote changing japanese names for being too foreign. None of that is good thing.

    1. The fact their sequels were made in the United States shows how anime has increased in popularity. It is also a sign of how the American audience is uneducated about anime. I doubt most know or care about what studio creates what anime.

      Changing names was common. It takes time for anything foreign to make progress in a society. Now we see far fewer name changes in new anime releases. I find it charming when they keep the “Engrish” spellings for names like Kirara and Horo. Everything has to progress in steps.

    1. You are never too old to enjoy something. If you like Pokemon just keep watching it and ignore what people think : ). People think it is odd for adults to watch cartoons anyway; although, they are better than most of the programming adults are supposed to watch.

  10. I think you’re probably right in putting Naruto and Pokemon at number one. I guess if there are three generations of anime consumers in the country – those who started watching in the 80s-early 90s, those who started watching in the 90s, and those who started in the last decade, it’s the last two groups that are largest, and their first anime obsessions were most likely Pokemon and Naruto.

    Oh, and I wanted to add that I also had the metal Voltron toys. Very heavy for kids toys – and surprisingly fragile (or was I just that harsh on my toys?).

    1. A lot of anime fans have problems considering Pokemon and Naruto as some of the most influential in the US. They like to think FLCL is or some other “obscure” anime. The most influential anime are not considered anime.

      I had 2 sets of Voltron toys and destroyed both. They did last much longer than the later plastic versions. If they were still made today, likely they would be pulled from the market for some type of “health hazard.” 😀

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