Manga and Anime Culture in Japan: It’s Everywhere!

Updated on June 8, 2020
CYong74 profile image

A Japanophile who has survived 15 solo trips to Japan. His visits focus on discovering the country’s lesser-known attractions.

A look at the pervasiveness of manga and anime culture in Japan.
A look at the pervasiveness of manga and anime culture in Japan.

A while back, I wrote a list of tips for mastering the Japanese language. In it, I suggested reading Japanese manga and watching Japanese anime as a quick way of learning informal Japanese.

The tip did not go down well with some readers. Uniformly, those who disagreed insisted there are far more educational things to read or watch. Some also pointed out that many Japanese people actually dislike manga and anime, or are oblivious to both.

With all due respect to these critics, I feel they miss the point. I suggested manga and anime because there are so many titles to pick from and because both art forms are inseparable from modern Japanese life and pop culture. Just as manga and anime often draw inspiration from Japanese daily life and beliefs, many Japanese organizations rely on them to communicate or sell. Some cities even use anime to educate, to honor the achievements of residents, or to promote tourism.

The following are some of my own “manga and anime culture encounters” in Japan during my latest trip there. From these, I believe you can see that while the Japanese might not universally be fond of both media forms, many are at least familiar and comfortable with them. Some might even see them as inseparable aspects of everyday life, or as representative cultural icons.

What is Manga? What is Anime?

Manga (漫画) is the Japanese noun for “comics.” Today, it refers to such visual stories drawn and told in a distinctively Japanese style.

Anime (アニメ) is the transliteration and condensation of the English word “animation.” Nowadays, it doesn’t only refer to animated programs created in Japan. The term is also an umbrella name for any animation bearing a distinctively Japanese art and story style

Kansenjya welcomes you to Fukuoka!
Kansenjya welcomes you to Fukuoka!

1. Welcome to Fukuoka!

Let’s start with something simple. I encountered this robotic mascot on arrival at Fukuoka’s Hakata Station. If you are unfamiliar, this is Kansenjya, the official mascot of Japan Rail West. (The Shinkansen service for JR West terminates at Hakata Station.) From the looks of him, he is capable of transforming into a bullet train too, namely, JR West’s 500 V8 model. Lastly, transforming or intelligent robots, as is well-known, are staples in Japanese anime. One could almost consider them as icons of the art form.

For a major railway operator to opt for an anime-ish mascot, does it not tell a lot about the popularity of Japanese anime culture? How well-loved it is too? For a tourist like me, this mascot is entertaining and quirky. It is also so symbolic of modern Japanese entertainment.

Black Jack part-times as an Osaka metro staff?
Black Jack part-times as an Osaka metro staff?

2. Message From Osaka Metro

I headed south to Fukuoka from Osaka and during the rush to catch my bullet train ride, I jogged past this billboard. Do you recognize the characters shown? Or have you at least seen some of them before?

All are creations of Osamu Tezuka, widely considered internationally as the Godfather of Japanese manga. That’s Black Jack off right, with his signature half-covered face. In the middle is, of course, Professor Ochanomizu, with his, signature … huge nose.

To go into details, Osamu’s works are so beloved in Japan, they are nowadays regarded as cultural icons of the Showa Era. In fact, at a certain Tokyo train station, you would constantly be reminded of Tezuka’s popularity. The JR Takadanobaba Station uses the opening theme from the anime adaptation of Astro Boy as a departure chime for the Yamanote Line.

Like the design decision for Kansenjya, does this not hint at manga and anime culture being inseparable from Japanese daily life? I’m sure if you travel all over Japan hunting for them, you’d find many more such anime “cameos.” Needless to say, for any fan, seeing just one is already a great treat.

Kinniku means muscle in Japanese, and this dude is definitely full of them!
Kinniku means muscle in Japanese, and this dude is definitely full of them!

3. The Ultimate Muscle Man

Ah, Kinnikuman, the adorable, bumbling superhero wrestler from 80s manga and anime. I photographed him at Spa World Osaka and truth be told, seeing all those muscles made me more than a little shy to undress when using the onsen pools later!

Jokes aside, Spa World Osaka hosting a mini Kinninikuman exhibition in its lobby is a celebration of local talent. The creators of the manga, Takashi Shimada and Yoshinori Nakai, were both born in Kansai’s most vibrant city. Throughout Japan, many cities and towns also honor their most successful manga and anime talents this way. Read on to discover how else Japan celebrates its best artistes.

Yokai-ish delights on sale at the Adachi Museum of Art.
Yokai-ish delights on sale at the Adachi Museum of Art.

4. Yikes! Yokai Are All Over!

Yokai, or Japanese supernatural spirits, occupy a strange position in traditional and modern Japanese culture.

They are seen as terrifying, but often, they are also beloved, to the extent many are nowadays used as tourism or retail mascots. Much of this curious phenomenon is thanks to the enduring popularity of GeGeGe no Kitarō, a Yokai manga created in 1960 by Shigeru Mizuki. In remote Shimane, a prefecture famous for supernatural and religious associations, GeGeGe no Kitarō souvenirs are even widely sold. Were you to visit Shigeru’s hometown of Sakaiminato, you’d also find Yokai lampposts, art sculptures, and Yokai trains.

A familiar face endorses a popular snack.
A familiar face endorses a popular snack.

5. I’m From the Future, and I Love Japanese Snacks!

Speaking of souvenirs, Doraemon’s distinctive face and color grace all kinds of packaging too. Apart from product endorsement, the quirky robotic cat from the future will also be one of the ambassadors of Tokyo Olympics 2021. Other ambassadors include the above-mentioned Astro Boy, Son Goku of Dragonball fame, Naruto, Sailor Moon, and Luffy from One Piece.

In other words, all are manga and anime characters. For the Japanese government to pick these characters as cultural ambassadors for Tokyo Olympics 2021, is it not proof of how proud Japan is of its manga and anime culture?

Jiji and other popular Studio Ghibli characters can be seen all over Japan.
Jiji and other popular Studio Ghibli characters can be seen all over Japan.

6. I Can Talk, but I’ll Pretend I Can’t

This one requires little introduction if you’re familiar with Hayao Miyazaki's movies. For near 30 years, the whimsical stories of the master animator have taken the world by storm. Within Japan, you also don’t need to travel to a Studio Ghibli outlet or theme park to encounter his characters.

Like the above picture, many Japanese shops use Studio Ghibli characters as window displays or as welcome mascots. While shopping in malls, chances are, you’d hear soundtracks from his movies too – I myself have heard these compositions while walking past a car park, while in a bookstore, and while in an elevator. Miyazaki’s artistic presence and his contribution to Japanese anime culture is truly everywhere in the country.

These legendary warlords are depicted by real-life humans. But the style is undeniably anime in origin.
These legendary warlords are depicted by real-life humans. But the style is undeniably anime in origin.

7. Sengoku Warlords in Anime Style

It’s hard to say what popularized historical Japanese warlords internationally. Was it bestselling video games like Sengoku Basara and Onimusha? Or was it the numerous Sengoku manga and anime series produced over the years?

Or did all three mediums benefit from each other, having enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for years?

I found myself pondering these questions after seeing the above pop-up display at Nagoya Castle Park. In more ways than one, the sighting made my visit much more enjoyable too. It also affirmed my belief that manga and anime culture are integral engines of the Japanese tourism industry.

Pi, pi pi, pika pika pi!
Pi, pi pi, pika pika pi!

8. Pika Pika Pika!

Time for an appearance by a world-class superstar! Pikachu himself! This banner highlights the route to Pokemon Center Yokohama, but truth is, you will find it hard to avoid sightings of the adorable one when in Japan. He’s on posters, confectionery, toys, clothes … The little rascal is positively everywhere!

On bad days, I feel exactly this way too.
On bad days, I feel exactly this way too.

9. Pika Pikaaaaaa …

Like Black Jack (see above), Pikachu busies himself with various side hustles too. Here’s, he’s part-timing as a model for an art exhibition.

I didn’t expect to see Hokuto no Ken’s Kenshiro next to Sensō-ji Temple.
I didn’t expect to see Hokuto no Ken’s Kenshiro next to Sensō-ji Temple.

10. We Love Asakusa. You Love Us as Heroes

Here’s a question. Who do you think is the target audience of this mural in Tokyo’s Asakusa District?

Foreigners familiar with these classic anime characters? Or Japanese adults with fond memories of the hours before a TV, cheering for these heroes as they battle for love and justice?

I think it’s more of the latter. To repeat what I wrote above, not all Japanese adults would still be reading manga or watching anime, but a good many would have childhoods inseparable from the valiant stories depicted. A good many Japanese dads and moms would also grin at the sight of this mural, while their children wonder who the stylized heroes are.

Detective Conan. Currently, still Japan’s most popular genius detective.
Detective Conan. Currently, still Japan’s most popular genius detective.

11. The World’s Smartest Boy Detective

So far, I’ve avoided mention of famous Otaku i.e. geek haunts like Akihabara. Coming to the end of this write-up, I guess it’s only appropriate of me to include at least one mention. Allow me to say, one hour in any of these Otaku strongholds will give you a crystal clear idea of how popular manga and anime are within Japan. How thriving related industries are too.

And even if you’re not a fan, you might still find something to swoon over at these geek haunts. The figurines sold are all so beautiful. So realistic!

The sentries of manga and anime culture in Japan.
The sentries of manga and anime culture in Japan.

12. Mecha Guardians

To end, a montage of two mecha guardians in Tokyo. The retro one is in the Odaiba Entertainment district. The modern one is at Haneda International Airport. When visiting Japan, know that such sentries will constantly be watching over you.

© 2019 ScribblingGeek


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 months ago from Singapore

      Hey Chris, thanks for commenting. I hope you get to go to JP soon and experience Anime at every corner. Not exaggerating, but it's hard to go about any major city without seeing Anime posters, products, confectionery, everywhere.

    • Chris Martine profile image

      Chris Martine 

      3 months ago

      Great write-up! I hope to visit Japan soon and see these icons for myself. About watching animes to pick up on the language, I agree that it's not enough learning material. But you do tend to pick up some useful phrases especially if you've been watching anime for a long time. I watch anime mostly for entertainment and for picking up cultural hints about this fascinating country.

    • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR


      12 months ago from Singapore

      Hey Mary, Liz, thanks for reading! I hope the pictures, esp dazed Pikachu, entertained you.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      12 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I enjoyed reading this article. It's a world I seldom visit but your description drew me in.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      12 months ago from UK

      This is a thorough and interesting article. You have found an impressive collection of illustrations.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)