With hit shows like Doraemon, Crayon Shin-Chan, Pokemon and Naruto, to name a few, anime—a Japanese form of animation—has been popular among Indian kids for quite some time now. While these shows first blew up on television, before being widely watched on streaming platforms like YouTube, anime is now seeing immense success across platforms, with Indian audiences, including kids and young adults, enjoying this unique style of Japanese animated storytelling.
A slice of Japan in India
Kids’ TV channel Cartoon Network saw an “overwhelming” response to the hit Dragon Ball Super, which was released in three languages—Hindi, Tamil and Telugu —in India last year. “Building on this momentum, Cartoon Network then introduced another anime favourite from Toei Animation in Japan—Digimon Adventure —in multiple regional languages,” says Uttam Pal Singh, head of Kids Cluster— South Asia, Warner Bros Discovery (Cartoon Network, POGO and Discovery Kids).
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“The response exceeds the channel’s expectations,” says Ronojoy Chakraborty, head—programming at SONY YAY!, a kids’ entertainment channel, which has recently launched Naruto, the first anime on the channel. “This genre is getting a lot of popularity in India, which is why Naruto is doing so well. It is in the top 5 on weekdays, which shows there is a lot of interest in anime in the country,” he adds.
Although we do not often see anime in Indian theatres, this segment is witnessing a positive response now. “Anime film series have been a huge success in many parts of the world and with this background in mind, we tried to explore a newer segment of audiences by bringing this genre of movies through our motion picture arm, PVR Pictures to India and open newer revenue generating avenues,” says PVR’s joint managing director Sanjeev Kumar Bijli. The movies that performed “exceedingly well” across India include Jujutsu Kaisen: Zero and One Piece Film: Red. “At the same time, films like 5 Centimeters per Second, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, The Garden of Words, The Place Promised in our Early Days, Weathering With You and Your Name performed well in south (Chennai and Bengaluru) as part of the Japan Film and Music Festival held in November last year,” he adds.
Popular anime-only streaming platform Crunchyroll is also witnessing a growth of anime fans in India. Take the case of Anime Awards, its annual celebration “honouring the creators, musicians, and performances across streaming and theatrical powering the global love of anime”. “We recently held global voting for our impressive slate of nominees and, while we can’t reveal the winners until March 4, India was among the top countries with the highest engagement,” says Crunchyroll’s chief operating officer Brady McCollum. “Because of the enthusiasm of the Indian anime community, we adjusted our local prices and offered our service in local currency to make anime more affordable for Indian anime fans,” he adds. While Crunchyroll has an ad-supported free subscription tier, for unlimited access, its premium subscription starts at Rs 79 per month in India.
Speaking on the anime series popular among the Indian audience, McCollum says, “We have found that fans in India are enjoying a variety of content across genres, including our localised Hindi dubs of the romantic comedy My Dress Up Darling and the critically acclaimed Ranking of Kings.”
The increasing popularity of Japanese anime is also evident from the rise in the footfall at comic-cons, which first started in India in 2011, says Aoi Ishimaru, director, arts and cultural exchange at Japan Foundation, New Delhi. “At the event held in December, there were people who did Japanese anime cosplays. PVR Pictures and Singapore-based distributor ODEX have been focusing on the distribution of Japanese anime films in India in recent years, and the number of such films being released in India is increasing,” she adds.
Reports also suggest the same. As per a last year’s study by JetSynthesys, a digital entertainment and technology company, 83% of Indians surveyed preferred anime over other animated content options. Naruto, Death Note and Attack on Titan were found to be the top three favourites.
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The regional language push
While relatable characters along with themes like adventure and friendship might have stirred the initial appeal of anime, multiple streaming platforms along with content in Indian languages have added to the delight of all otakus in India.
“Streaming and accessibility have caused a boom in anime interest. The barrier to entry to becoming an anime fan and discovering and enjoying anime is lower than ever,” says Crunchyroll’s McCollum.
Similarly, Ishimaru thinks that it is possible that Covid has played a role in steering the popularity of anime, as people millet more time at home indulging in new forms of entertainment and cultural exposure. “Many people in India got hooked on OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and that’s where many of them encountered anime. I have heard from some anime fans that there has been a steady influx of new fans after the pandemic,” she says.
Warner Bros Discovery’s Singh, too, thinks that over the “last two years, audiences had greater opportunity to explore content through various platforms, driving consumption across genres, including anime.” However, language plays a role here too.
“For long, anime consumption remained limited to specific platforms because of its availability in English or Japanese only,” he says, adding: “However, with the new audio options help to bridge the language gap and expand the viewership for the whole family, including kids, young adults and parents,” he adds.
Both Dragon Ball Super and Digimon Adventure are available in multiple Indian regional languages on Cartoon Network. “Through Cartoon Network, the growing local anime fanbase can now watch in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu—no longer just with English subtitles— enabling them to fully experience the magic of Japanese anime,” adds Singh of Warner Bros Discovery.
Not just that, but animation is now more accepted as a category itself. “That’s because many kids have grown up watching animation, and thus accept this genre as a form of entertainment. They don’t have any biases, and don’t see it as just cartoons or something meant only for kids,” opines Chakraborty of SONY YAY!. “Also, as viewers’ taste and sensibility develop over time and the market matures, you get to see viewers experimenting with all different genres of entertainment, with anime being one of them,” he says, adding that while anime had been popular in east Asia along with the west, it is increasingly gaining popularity and acceptance in India as well. “When we launched Naruto, we experienced that success because we understood that this is one genre that is accepted and expanding,” he adds.
Across age groups
While animation is thought to be more popular among kids and teens, the trend does not hold true for anime. “We can see that 16-24 is the age group that is consuming the most anime content,” says Bijli of PVR.
The experience is similar for SONY YAY!. Although a kids’ channel with a target audience of 2 to 14-year-olds, “Naruto has helped explore and expand the group to 13 to 30 years,” says Chakraborty. Also, it is more popular among the male audience. “However, it might be due to the fact that the viewership on our channel is a bit male-skewed,” he adds.
Regarding themes, Singh says, “We have observed that shonen anime, in particular, appeals to a wide Indian audience. It typically features friendship, action, comedy and science-fiction stories. Dragon Ball Super is a great example of this and is enjoyed by all age groups, especially young adults.”
An interesting trend observed globally is cross-generational affinity and enjoyment of this genre. “Fans who grew up watching series after school or on VHS tapes are now sharing that same love of anime with their children,” Crunchyroll’s McCollum says.
Rising interest in Japanese culture
But has this growing popularity of anime steered an interest in Japanese culture? The answer is, yes. “I think many people have become interested in Japanese culture, food, or lifestyle through anime. In urban areas like Delhi, the number of restaurants serving Japanese-style food has increased, and I often see youngsters enjoying their meals there,” Ishimaru of Japan Foundation says.
The JetSynthesys report on anime culture in India also found the same in which 50% of those surveyed said they wanted to have a better understanding of Japanese culture, food and language.
It only shows that anime’s popularity is here to stay in India. In fact, globally, the anime market size, which was valued at $28.61 billion in 2022 is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.8% from 2023 to 2030, as per Grand View Research.
Coming back to India, “We are going to see more anime on our channel, and on different channels. Animations will expand and will be accepted by audiences apart from kids. So it is a big growth area for the industry,” SONY YAY!’s Chakraborty adds.