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What's behind the growing popularity of Japanese comics and animations in U.S.


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Over the last few years, Japanese animation and comic books have seen an explosion of popularity in the United States. From Netflix adaptations to Macy's Thanksgiving Day floats to a win at this year's Oscars, the genre has seen an increasing amount of visibility in American culture. Ali Rogin is back with a look inside the world of anime and manga.

Man: My spirit trembles, my heart is ablaze.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): It's an art form that's having a moment.

Man: Come on within me, come to my aid.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Anime, Japanese animation and manga Japanese comics Ale Guevara is one of many who discovered the genre during the pandemic.

Ale Guevara: I couldn't go to college. I couldn't find a job, so I was in a pretty dark time.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Stuck at home with little to do. Guevara's cousins recommended they watch One Piece, animated pirate adventure show based on a manga of the same name.

Ale Guevara: Since were uncertain about how long were going to stay home, they were like, One Piece is long. It's so entertaining. Even though they never told me it was like a thousand episodes, One Piece fans kind of do that. They trick you into watching it.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): The volume and variety of content, from fantasy and horror to romance and dramas, is part of the appeal.

Ale Guevara: Anime takes you to like, a whole other level. It shows you, like, how artistic people can be, how like, different people grew up, or like how different the world looks through, like, animation.

Shannon DeVito, Barnes & Noble, Inc: We couldn't fill the stores fast enough.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Barnes and Noble senior director of books Shannon DeVito.

Shannon DeVito: The readers in the space are so voracious. It's a good thing that the series are so long and so beautifully drawn, because not only do they look for 10 other series to read, once they finish one, they go back and reread.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Manga sales in the US quadrupled from 2019 to 2022, with a peak of 28.4 million copies sold. It is now the fourth largest fiction category overall in the United States, behind romance, thrillers, and fantasy.

Shannon DeVito: It's one of our top ten subjects any day. During the pandemic, it was in our top five pretty consistently.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): The boom has been helped along by a number of other factors, new apps with low subscription fees that allow American readers to access unlimited content without long waits for translated copies, and new interest among American audiences as streaming platforms like Netflix introduce viewers to more foreign movies and TV shows.

In 2022, anime film, "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero," debuted at number one at the box office in the U.S. and grossed nearly $87 million worldwide. And in 2023, "Everything Everywhere All at Once," an action comedy inspired by anime won best picture at the Oscars.

But it's not a totally new phenomenon. We went to anime convention in Virginia to see what's behind the loyal fandom.

Ali Rogin: There are more than 100 gatherings just like this one all over the country every year, and it's a chance for anime and manga fans to get together and celebrate this art form.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): This annual convention has been going on since 1999. For many, it's about more than entertainment.

Janelle Kruza: As someone who is on the is a bit on the spectrum, this is kind of where I kind of developed and learned how to really talk to people, go out and talk to people and really develop more of my social skills.

Noelani Roberts: Having us all here as a family really brings us closer together.

Ali Rogin: Noelani Roberts and her brother Kahlel started watching anime in their early teens. Then their mother became interested.

Michelle Murray-Roberts: My kids were like, mommy, come and see this show. You got to check it out. And I sat down, started watching the anime shows with them. Next thing you know, I got hooked.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Like many at the convention, they came in cosplay, the term for dressing up as characters from a favorite series.

Michelle Murray-Roberts: I started out as a closet cosplaying, and I started just embracing it and started telling people, this is what I do.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): From intricate costumes to everyday clothes. It's a genre that attracts a range of people and personalities.

Mirelle: If you asked an average person on the street what anime fan looks like, they would probably say someone cringe, someone who maybe didn't take care of themselves and just sits in their room all day. People who love anime can be anyone as long as they have, you know, an active imagination.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): That sense of imagination is part of why today's public pop culture is full of references to anime, from Grammy award winning rapper Megan Thee Stallion to sneaker collaborations.

Man: What this shoe means to me is your response to adversity. Respond cool, calm, and collective.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Even actor and director Jordan Peele's blockbuster film "Nope" references a 1988 anime film, Akira.

Gita Jackson, Co-founder, Aftermath: The mainstreaming has happened slowly but surely, but I think especially within the black community and the hip hop community.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Journalist Gita Jackson says anime and manga appeal specifically to a generation that loves antihero.

Gita Jackson: They don't want to hear that the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. They want to hear that it's kind of hard to be an adult, but that everyone has to deal with these difficult emotions. That kind of heightened reality, just in general appeals to young people.

Man: I will become the God of this new world.

Ale Guevara: Anime doesn't just show you things he innocently watches. Anime actually shows you dark things or like sad things and like, it makes you feel things more deeply.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Another part of the appeal is the art.

Kahlel Roberts: Honestly, I just really love seeing like, artists rendition of different things and seeing the worlds that they could create. It kind of lets me, like, get lost in their creation.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Unlike western comics, where artists and writers typically work in collaboration, manga, even ones that run for decades, like the gory hit Berserk, is often the work of a single creator's unique perspective.

Gita Jackson: Some of these things that I've read, like the deluxe editions of Berserk, you can really see how he just takes every single item and illustrates every single leaf and every single droplet of blood as different characters get their heads exploded. There's a lot of imagination in it, and that will always impress me.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): And it inspires many fans to produce their own art.

David Loeman, Artist: Me and my sister, we'd watch a lot of shows together. So that kind of got the artistic sparks flowing and inspired a lot of the work that I do.

Ali Rogin: David Loeman is an illustrator, one of dozens of artists selling their work at the anime convention.

David Loeman: Everybody has their own unique relationship with the characters. They mean something different to everybody who watches the show. So when they see their favorite characters on the wall again, it has that moment of sparking joy, that moment of enthusiasm they see themselves in the artwork.

Ali Rogin: Sales have dipped from the pandemic's record high, but Shannon DeVito says the genre is here to stay.

Shannon DeVito: It is not an outsider subject anymore. Readers have definitely stayed and continued to buy content in a way that shows that they're staying power.

Ale Guevara: Before, I used to make fun of people who actually like anime, and now it's like, you know, anime, you're cool. You're my best friend now.

Ali Rogin (voice-over): Gaining viewers and readers one character at a time. For PBS News Weekend, I'm Ali Rogin.

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