This is anime-zing: The rise of the otaku nerds

  1. This is anime-zing: The rise of the otaku nerds
  2. The rise of niche entertainment
  3. Rise of the Niche, teaser trailer: Data, set, go
  4. Revenge of the Niche part 2: Netflix streaming data 2012-2016

By: Ashley Rivas

Nerdz in their natural habitat

The Question

Is anime becoming more popular over the last 40 years, and if it is, what the heck is inspiring more and more nerds to jump on to the mechas?

I’m an anime nerd.  I own it loudly and proudly, blushing for my senpais and squealing when my ships are successful.  To me, this question seems purely rhetorical.  Life inside the anime community is an overwhelming, emotional, and sensory experience that only gets more insane ever year.  Sakura-Con, my local anime convention, is getting bigger (and more expensive) every year.  It feels like slipping onto Instagram or DeviantArt is an opportunity to expose myself to the love of a show that I’m completely unaware of, because I’ve got less time to binge watch and less time to keep up on the current trends.  So, since I lead a perfect, universal, representative, and ideal life, yes, anime is more popular now than it was.  Bam.  Answer.  Thanks for playing; I guess we’re done here.

Or are we?  Isn’t it more interesting to try and figure out why it’s more popular now?1 What makes these nerds tick, and what’s so hypnotizing about anime or the way it’s delivered?  Let’s fill in the gaps, and sift through the more intriguing (and horrifying) aspects of anime, anime nerds, and the context around them.

This is the basis of what will be multiple articles exploring the nature of the anime nerd.  I’m proposing to you, my lovelies, only with a Poke Ball instead of a ring.  This is our plan, our idea of exploration.  I’m mapping it out here so you know what to expect and how to expect it.  Anime is weird, and the fans are weirder, and we’re going to dive headfirst into that weirdness together.

The Context

Anime itself is an art form that embraces strangeness.  If I introduce a show with a harem presence in the era of Game of Thrones, it might get green lit.  If I include a lamia, a teenage harpy, and a Double-D centaur, now I’ve got an anime.  A scene of curry being cooked suddenly becomes a dramatic instance of ritualistic potato seppuku.  Even animation styles have changed to reflect the wild nature of certain shows, like in Gurren Lagaan or Kill la Kill. 

For our purposes, it hit puberty in the science fiction craze of the 70s, when popularity for the genre was inflamed by Star Wars in the west and classically ridiculous anime like Space Battleship Yamato in the east.  I’m going to Cliff Notes you here, because you have more anime to get started watching, but here’s quick timeline of some of the key anime or genre shifts from 1970 to 2014.



So now I’ve smacked you upside the head with a (criminally) quick overview of the last 40 years of anime history.  Now it’s time for the actual worshippers of this history: the nerds themselves.  These are not the basement dwellers that you’re probably used to when you hear the term “nerd”.  These are a different breed altogether.  Sure, they celebrate their fandoms in similar ways.  Conventions, binge watching, and excessive merchandise purchases are as much addictions for them as they are for the comic geek or the gamer.

The Approach

So, we have our starting point.  The beginning of our quest is clear, but we need weapons. We need sources.  Let’s skip the fantasy tropes and call in the magical girls, mechas, and over-powered warriors who never seem to die.  Our first pick: outlets for watching anime.

1. Subscriptions

CrunchyRoll memberships2, the increasing availability of various anime on Netflix, and websites that host hundreds of shows (and manga, which may be a different form of media but still falls into the anime culture umbrella) all bring mainstream and niche anime to more people today than decades ago, and tracking viewership gives us some understanding of how these nerds get access to their shows, and how little time we spend doing anything else.


subscriber chart


We’re specifically going to focus on three streaming sites: CrunchyRoll, Netflix, and Hulu.  CrunchyRoll subscriber increases, pictured very simplistically above, are a solid indicator that anime is being gobbled up by more people over the years.  Netflix and Hulu will be a more meticulous dissection, where we’ll look exactly at what anime has become available each year.  Both sites release lists of what shows are available in the upcoming year, and we’ll compile these to see if the genre availability or changes might have any impact on including a larger audience.  Does this kind of viewership or genre availability really indicate a heightened dedication from existing fans, or an increase to the anime fanbase population overall? Have faith that Netflix will help lead us to the answer, and to more documentaries I should watch instead of working.

2. Convention Attendance

We also get to look at the big and fantastic experience of conventions to analyze how they reflect bigger and louder groups of nerds congregating in their natural habitat.  Anime Expo, Fanime, Dragon Con, Sakura Con, and the attendance and programming changes over our set period of time can help determine the bigger picture.  Is con attendance growth similarly indicative of a wider acceptance of this culture?

3. Interviews with the Nerds Themselves

Our last source might be more helpful in answering that question.  The nerds themselves will come into play as we interview actual nerds and people outside the anime culture.  They’ll tell us their experiences, and let us know from the inside and outside if anime is more popular in their opinions.  My guess: they’ll all agree that anime is more popular, and that more and more people are getting interested in shows because the genre diversity and the increase in ways to watch has helped bring the nerdiness to more potential nerds.

The Big Picture

Nerds of any caliber suffer from the curse of elitism, the snobbery that the original pioneers of that nerdom ooze over any newcomer who threatens the sacred bond of self-imposed exclusion in the face of mainstreaming.  As a fan of more friends to weeaboo with, I can’t see any downside to anime becoming more popular, but we have to ask ourselves and the nerds if popularization of something so unique and sacred is truly a good thing.  Is it good for the fans?  Is it good for anime as a medium?  How the frack am I supposed to define good if not every nerd is going to agree on what good means?  We’ll push through the sources mentioned above to understand what exactly is happening to anime, and through some fan interviews and some evidence based hypothesizing (the best kind), we’ll peek into anime’s school uniformed future.  Continued growth could result in so many things, like easier access to more shows, or more well-funded/executed programming at conventions.  Or, on the burnt side of the coin, there could be over saturation of genres, and stress on studios resulting in a slower anime production or hastily shipped out, alien frames instead of quality.  Luckily for us, we have evidence on our side, and we’re going to use the heck out of it to figure out answers to these questions.  Given the spike in unique and incredibly entertaining anime in the last two years alone, I’m not worried; I’m excited.

I’ll bet you didn’t expect to see this kind of hefty existential analysis of a culture that worships a yellow, talking, electric mouse, huh?  They’re a complex group, and you’re going to both impressed and terrified of the inner workings of the anime nerds.  Brace yourself: weeaboos are coming.

What’s Next?

This is just the first piece of our big puzzle, and we’re going to tackle this in a series of articles.  The gritty details, the fine layers, and the cherries on top will get picked apart.  Luckily, you guys get to have a role in picking where we go next!  So here are some suggestions of the topics that will pull our idea together, and you can chime in on which you’d like to see first:

  • The availability of anime online, specifically through Netflix/Hulu/CrunchyRoll, and how this increase impacts the masses and the fans specifically
  • The growth of conventions, and what they mean for anime exposure
  • The adaptation of manga (visual novels) into corresponding anime
  • The views of the fans themselves, with multiple interviews

Or, are there other topics you’d like to see?  Are you a nerd, or an acquaintance of an anime nerd, and you want to know a little more about the culture itself?  That’s the best part, so let me know if you crazy kids want to see something in particular!  You have voices, USE THEM!  

1 Yes. Duh. ^

2 See here and here for those delicious numbers. ^

About The Author

I'm a big ol' nerd, and I want to effuse that nerdiness for the rest of my life. I spend as much time as I can drawing and playing video games, and I've taken that to the career level now since I'm back in school to be a game designer. I'm the mom to three puppies and a fat kitty, and the wife to a fellow nerd.

6 Comments on "This is anime-zing: The rise of the otaku nerds"

    • Ash

      I actually haven’t seen it, @pzed, but I’m familiar with it. It’s pretty popular as a charming early anime, and it did a lot to inspire Hayao Miyazaki with his later storytelling!

    • Patrick W. Zimmerman

      I’d agree with @rsharp that subscription numbers seems like the most manageable and straightforward way to do this.

      The oral history project would be fascinating and throw up some incredible detail. It would also be more of a slow burner and be something that should be done over the course of like a year to get enough interviews. If be happy to help with any interview methodology training or questions, @pokemama.

      • Ash

        @pzed and @rsharp Subscription numbers are definitely my main way to track this, it’s why I put subscriptions at my number 1 spot in my methods list. They’re not necessarily as exciting as something like interviews, but they give me something relatively easy to source and track, and they do provide a pretty definitive look at whether or not things are rising. Crunchyroll is preferred for me here since it’s anime exclusive, and Netflix/Hulu are more general, but if I can find show availability for Netflix/Hulu (a little tricky, but possible), that will help me assess the subscription rises in relation to their anime availability.

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