Brief Visual Anime History

Anime as we know it has been around in Japan since the Edo period…ok at least it draws it’s roots to that period. Ukiyo-e were woodblock prints. Ever heard of Katsushika Hokusai? His work is ukiyo-e.

You can see many of the elements anime will draw from: the simplified yet expressive faces, the vibrant colors, and crisp line work.
The oldest anime from 1917. It looks a lot like an ukiyo-e.

Anime also was heavily influenced by Walt Disney. Many of the earliest animated films look like they came from Disney’s archives. Anime’s early years was spent, much like Disney’s, making propaganda shorts during World War II.

Osamu Tezuka grew up as one of Walt Disney’s most fanatical fans. Tezuka is considered the father of anime and manga. His most famous work is Tetsuwan Atomu ( better known as Astro Boy ). Tezuka’s work opened the flood gates and anime took off.

By 1970, mecha and its giant robots begins to take over.  However, it wasn’t until 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam that mecha entered into a form that is familiar.

The 1980s is considered by many to be the golden age of anime. The anime market exploded with hit series  like Macross and Dragon Ball. Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series remains one of the most popular anime of all time. Akira is also released in this decade, cementing anime as a medium for mature story telling.

In 1995, Sailor Moon enters the scene.

The year 1999 marked an explosion of anime in the US. Both Pokemon and Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke released. Pokemon isn’t even viewed as anime by most people; a hallmark of anime’s successful foray into the US and other markets.

In the 2000’s anime features continuations of series like Gundam and hits like Fullmetal Alchemist, Naruto, and Bleach.



  • Livia Monet and one of her former PhD students both give fascinating classes on contemporary Japanese lit at the University of Montreal. Check out the works in the recommended reading in their syllabus. It was a great introduction to Japanese shousetsu, or short fiction for me.

    I agree with the Tezuka comment. I also sort of feel the same way about Miyazaki. We get it, he’s a genius. So is Makoto Shinkai. My friends all love his films and hate me for making them cry by watching them!

    Loving these articles, man.

    • In my research, I find it interesting how certain aspects of Japanese pop culture are studied and others are not. Evangelion, for example, has many articles surrounding its messages and symbolism. Yet, contemporary American otaku culture has almost no research being done on it.

      Looking over these old posts, I think I need to rewrite them with proper research and APA citation. These posts came before I started our current, more academic research format. The history of anime, in particular, needs a good 1,500- 2000 word article.

      • Man, apply for the Monbunkagakusho. The government of Japan will pay you to rewrite them and give you a master’s degree for it lol.

        Seriously, there’s a researcher in you!

        There’s a new master’s program at U of M on video game analysis that’s really taking off. There’s a global shortage of profs that can teach otaku culture, and so believe it or not the placement rate among PhD graduates is 100%!

        With the quality of your writing, honestly I think you should do your master’s in Japan. You’ll love it!

      • Thanks for the leads, Ali! I finished my first masters in library and information science back in December. Now I need to gain some work experience, but I am considering a second masters eventually. I have East Asian studies (Japan) in my interest list.

  • Funny how I never thought about history of anime despite my love for it.
    Thank you for the interesting post 🙂

    • I don’t know of any anime historians, but I’m sure somewhere there is one. The genre has more nuance in its past than most of us probably know.

      I also wrote a bit more in depth anime history article.

  • For my senior English class, I had to write a 10 page report on whatever topic I wanted. It started out as a report on Osamu Tezuka, but basically wound up as a report similar in content to this, but stretched over 10 pages :D.

    • Osamu Tezuka is one of the most influential people in anime, but I think he receives a bit too much attention. He helped lay the groundwork, but there are a lot of other authors and studios, like Miyazaki, who have as much influence on the genre.

      Anime and animation in general should see more attention in schools.

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