Anime’s popularity increased in India by a whopping 560%: but what caused it?

Road to Godhood - Anime's Popularity Increased in India

If one had to define India, Incredible is the fitting word for a nation so big and kind. A diverse crowd as vibrant as the rainbow, it is no wonder anime saw a popularity increase in India, when both are a mix of compassion and love. But why is a popularity boost in India such a shocking feat? Isn’t it another South-Asian paradise? It should be very normal for India to have anime, considering it is so near to Japan.

However, things are quite different. Although, near the land of the rising sun, it took tremendous effort for anime to hit its mark in India. But when it did, it skyrocketed to unseen heights. But how did it happen? From literally scraps to gold mines, what enabled this progress? That’s what my Team and I are bringing to you. An in-depth analysis of what, why, and how it happened. Buckle up, because it is going to be a long read.

 

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Who bought Anime in India?

Phase I

If you could make a guess about when anime started in India, how far back would you go? Ah no, it did not start with Dragon Ball. It goes way back to when Globalization happened and India started circulating cable TV in the late 1992s. In the beginning, there were only Star channels, and anime found its way into their catalog of shows. Along with shows like Small Wonder, the original TMNT, and Batman, it aired Robotech. But it did not stop there, slowly and gradually Star TV added more shows. These were Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, Transformers, and Force Five.

Robotech that aired in Phase I of Anime in India
Robotech that aired in Phase I of Anime in India | Courtesy of IMDb

However, the time of anime ended in Star channels as they went for localization. Taking the mantle, Cartoon Network entered the scene in 1995 with Speed Racer and Ninja Robots. CN focused extensively on the Hanna Barbara Catalog to fill its time slots. This sums up the two parts of Phase I of anime entering the entertainment scene in India. Following next is near-perfect execution where most of our childhood memories lie. Time for the true anime to shine through the audience.

Phase II

In 1997, entered the face of anime in India, AXN. It was glorious how they decided to showcase anime. It had a mixed but action-packed line-up for audiences of all age groups. It had a dedicated slot for kids that showed anime that went beyond the usual conventional comedy and safe violence. Late at night, it would show shows that brought out the darker side of anime to mature audiences.

  • Shows like Ninku, You’re Under Arrest, Curious Play was what made a difference between anime and cartoons.
  • While shows like  3×3 Eyes, Akai Hayate, The Art of fighting, and Madox-01 made older audiences addicted to animation that did not cower to be explicit.
Madox-01 that aired in Phase I of Anime in India
Madox-01 that aired in Phase I of Anime in India | Courtesy of AIC

If the catalog wasn’t enough to hook people in, there were multiple other ways AXN spread the true experience of anime and its culture.

  • It never changed the names of the characters of the show. This was something that frequently happened to break the ice between foreign viewers and anime.
  • The opening and ending credits were kept the way it was. Viewers were isekaid into a new world of Music, something they had never experienced before. This was an amazing play on their part, since anime shows come with banger songs making Indian audiences immediately hooked.
  • The shows were aired uncensored. This made older audiences delve into something they would never see being enacted in live actions.

However, uncensored shows came with its consequences. Many parents were unhappy with the content their children were being exposed to, leading to a gradual decrease of anime in the slots of AXN’s schedule. After 4 Years, it completely vanished.

After the death of AXN, came tumbling in Toonami’s Cartoon Network in the early 21st century. With shows like Dragon Ball Z and Card Captor Sakura, it was insanely successful. Unfortunately, this advent of anime was directed towards profits rather than the enjoyment of its audiences.

  • DBZ was aired haphazardly, while Card Captor was fully aired, it was changed at multiple places, altering the names and story.
  • The next sequence of shows was catered to make profits through merchandise marketing. Yes, Pokémon and Beyblade were mostly aired to make profits out of Indian kids by bringing them to a new world, that is popularly known now as Gacha. No wonder, BGMI and Valorant got so popular here.

Phase III

Phase III began on July 13th, 2004 with the dawn of Animax into the entertainment scene. It was India’s first 24-hour Anime Channel. It couldn’t replicate the execution AXN had raised the standards for, nonetheless, it brought in way more than India had at that time. An equivalent exchange maybe?

K project: The return of Kings that aired in Animax
K project: The return of Kings that aired in Animax | Courtesy of GoHands

It did not air uncensored versions of the shows and replaced the original opening and endings with the newly dubbed ones. But in exchange, Indians received a whole lot of shows, covering all the genres. It shifted from dubbed anime to subbed anime over time. This marked its downfall. As its TRP fell down the charts with children not understanding what they were watching, classic kid behavior. It ceased airing on April 18th, 2017.

This, however, did not mean the end of anime in India, after all, that is what this entire article is about. Anime slowly rose from the dead and captured our hearts, once again, reigniting the flame of passion.

What led to the popularity increase in India?

There are two factors for its success. One, localization kick-started its career in India again. Shows were made accessible as they were dubbed in local languages such as Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, etc. Shows like Doraemon, Shin-chan, Perman, and Ninja Hattori have become an essential part of our childhood, mainly because of how easily Indians could understand what was happening. The shows were also altered in the sense that many explicit scenes were removed. This helped in reassuring parents.

Second, lockdown did not just kick-start the process, it gave it a nitrox boost. The unprecedented level of increase that anime witnessed in its popularity is all due to the free time Indians were blessed with during the Lockdown. The pandemic left everyone sheltered in their homes. In times of extreme anxiety and depression, anime became a beacon of hope and light to many.

Lockdown’s Effect

The pandemic was an experience of a lifetime with a lot of things mixed in from tragedy to digitalization. One thing that was uniform across the board was the abundance of time.

  • Plenty of time on our hands but not enough to keep ourselves amused with. While TV series and movies have always been a thing of delight for the Indian youth, anime was still pretty much a territory unexplored. This changed during lockdown.
  • While TV series and movies couldn’t follow the usual process of filming, the anime industry was easily able to adapt to this situation better. The Anime Industry experienced a loss of 3.5% during 2020 when the first lockdown was imposed. There’s a marginal difference when we compare it to the film industry. In different countries, the loss incurred by the film industry ranged from anywhere between 20%-70%.

What were fans looking for in 2020?

Rengoku from Demon Slayer
Rengoku from Demon Slayer | Courtesy of Ufotable

In the absence of new shows and movies, the Indian audience turned to anime. The release dates of popular shows like Jujutsu Kaisen and Tokyo Revengers coincided with the first and second lockdowns in India.

  • Additionally, the hype of Demon Slayer was still fresh as a result of the release of the first season in 2019. These popular anime didn’t fail to gauge the attention of the news fans as well as the pre-existing fans.
  • The fact that they were only a season long at the time shot up their watchability.
  • Most of the gateway anime including Naruto and Attack on Titan required some sort of commitment in terms of time. With the lockdown, there was no time restraint.
  • The Indian youth indulged in anime marathons and binge sessions. The most searched keywords during 2020 were Naruto, One Piece, and Kimetsu no Yaiba along with pirated sites such as Kissanime.

Whereas in 2021 during the second lockdown, fans were more curious about Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, and Tokyo Revengers. Anime-related searches also saw an exponential increase from 2020 onwards. Whereas before 2020, the curve was more steady.

Accessibility and Availability of Anime

India has become a significant part of the global market of anime. At present, streaming platforms are going out of their way to make famous anime titles accessible in India. And not just the subbed versions but Indian languages are also getting special dubs. Crunchyroll hired Indian actors Tiger Shroff and Rashmika Mandana as their brand ambassadors. While all of this is impressive, these are just some recent developments.

  • During lockdown, a lot of fans had to resort to pirated means to watch famous anime titles. Starting on an unethical note, the surge in the viewership didn’t go unnoticed by the leading streaming platforms.
  • Netflix had a huge catalog of anime available including Studio Ghibli movies, Naruto, Demon Slayer, My Hero Academia, and much more. The streaming platform took it a step further by collaborating with famous YouTubers targeting different age groups.

 

  • Asking YouTubers like Dhruv Rathee, Tanmay Bhatt, and Triggered Insaan to review Death Note and Naruto. This helped in popularizing anime to a wide range of potential anime lovers.

With this Netflix India didn’t limit itself to just making anime accessible but also popularizing it using social media platforms.

The Discourse around anime on Social Media Platforms

The accessibility and availability wasn’t the only factor that led to a boom in the viewership of anime in India. The anime fans started getting creative with their hobbies during lockdown. Molding their love for anime in the form of content creation. Using social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Clubhouse, Discord, and YouTube. The type of content varied from cosplaying to anime reviews.

  • One of the leading ani-tubers in India at present, Anime Cloud also started his channel shortly after the second lockdown. In his first video on the channel, Badal shared how his channel aims to spread anime to a widespread audience in India.
  • In a conversation with some Indian cosplayers, we found out how even though they had been cosplaying for quite some time before the lockdown, the lockdown gave them some time to work on their craft and get creative with it.
  • The introduction of Instagram Reels in 2020 was a great way to diversify anime-related content. Normal cosplay posts took the form of transition reels, lip-syncing famous anime audios, and cosplay make-up.
Cosplayer's Meet in Kohima, Nagaland
Cosplayer’s Meet in Kohima, Nagaland | Courtesy of Nagaland Anime Junkies

While some fans were more focused on content creation through Instagram and YouTube, others indulged in anime discussions on Club House and Discord. Fans from all over India used these platforms to become a part of the Indian anime community.

Anime in India – Current Stage

Anime, once considered a niche interest, has now become a mainstream phenomenon, thanks to the easy access to anime content due to the rise in streaming platform consumers. While anime has always been a part of Indian households with many of the 90’s kids remembering the TV channel Animax being a part of their daily routine, the gradual death of Animax resulted in the downfall of anime, which is why we can consider the streaming platforms as a renaissance of anime culture in India.

Surge in OTT platforms during Covid-lockdown

Indian Subscription Statistics
Indian Subscription Statistics | Courtesy of Ampere Markets – Operators

While initially, the Over-the-top platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and of course Crunchyroll did not see any growth in India as much as Television did, the 2020 lockdown proved to be a profitable phase for them as they saw a surge in their subscribers by nearly 40%. If the initial burst was not enough for them, they saw a gradual rise of popularity in their anime slots that surpassed 500% landmark.

OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ Hotstar have played a pivotal role in bringing anime to a broader audience. Many of these streaming channels commenced to stream anime to cater to the niche of anime lovers as early as 2017. Netflix even raised the bar high for other streaming channels by producing Castlevania in 2017, which has been the highest-rated Netflix original anime on MyAnimeList.

Localization of content

While anime has been a long part of Indian TV runs with shows like Doraemon, Crayon Shin Chan, and Ninja Hattori, most Indian anime audiences would not consider it to be “ The Anime”, as these anime are targeted more towards the audience as young as 6.

 

Anime localization has a long history in Indian media as many of us Indians grew up watching Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! in the “Hindi Dubbed” version.

  • However, this trend has reappeared since the surge of exotic content in Indian households, as in order to cater to the diverse Indian audience, many OTT platforms are investing in localizing anime content.
  • This includes translating subtitles, dubbing in regional languages, and even culturally adapting certain elements of the shows.
  • Crunchyroll is leading in this phenomenon by offering mainstream anime such as Naruto, Demon Slayer, and Vinland Saga (Yes! Vinland Saga! Can you believe it?) in Hindi dubbed versions.

While this thing is debatable, as many people are against anime getting localized in India it will reduce the significance of Japanese influence on anime and will make it more cringe.

Easy piracy

While the popularity of anime on OTT platforms is on the rise, the lack of strict anti-piracy laws has posed a significant threat to the growth of this industry.

  • It’s not uncommon for newly released anime shows on OTT platforms to quickly find their way onto various pirated websites and Telegram channels.
  • Websites like 9anime, Zoro, Kissanime (Now disabled), and Gogoanime provide free anime streaming services without any hassle of logging in or any cost of subscribing.
  • While this is more than convenient for anime viewers, it is important to consider that streaming platforms, production houses, and anime artists lose a significant amount of money to such piracy.

Such means have hindered the anime community from growing to what it could have been. The boost it has received has been hindered to an extent, yet, its popularity is increasing with each day, with streaming platform-specific shows like Pantheon, nudging the audience to buy subscription packs to get the premium experience of that show.

Physical Manifestation of the Love for Anime

Anime in India has become a T-shirt image over the last few years due to a cultural influx of foreign and aggressive symbols into the Indian clothing subculture. It means that what we consume as clothing on a regular basis is made available and attractive through the presentation of various images on them, much of which has been anime lately due to its significance in popular culture.

  • Shows like One Piece, Naruto, Berserk, Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, Bleach, etc. are popularly made available through such clothing tickets.
  • Moreover, the influx of anime merchandise in the form of figurines, costumes, etc has been a common sighting sought by popular demand.
  • Anime merchandise has been an element of introducing and infusing the general public with a foreign culture that is symbolic of their traditions, beliefs, and faith.
  • Such symbols have subsequently and consequentially influenced our food practices as well. This form of localization of the globalized product has led to a booming increase in the anime subculture in India as a whole.

The market is ever-growing in demand. With Indian start-ups focusing on Anime Merchandise such as ComicSense, Xenpachi, and many more, anime has been reaching deep into the country. Such reach has bolstered many to join the trend of watching anime to feel included. With how effective the Bandwagon theory has been in regard to anime, India will soon have exclusive physical stores from both big and small names alike.

To sum it all up

In the pool of entertainment, anime has become just another form of media. The Lockdown boom has affected everything about the anime community from the availability to how anime is perceived in India. Having a conversation about anime or being a part of a club has never been easier. There’s no doubt that anime has become mainstream in India. To the point where everything anime-related has become easily accessible, although the quality of the products is mostly a hit or a miss.

The success of the anime industry is a brilliant case study for any marketing amateur. Its history teaches what makes or breaks a newly implanted idea on foreign soil. And it does not stop at that, it is also inspiration in general. To continue to persevere despite everything against its growth is simply quite motivating. Not only is its content a source of happiness for anyone who watches it, the anime community has grown into a place of comfort and safety for many. A shared experience that brings millions together is what Anime in India is.


Authors: Rishiraj Saikia, Neha Kesarwani, Kanishma Ray, Laveena Joshi, Portia Adhikari, and Mayukh Dutta.

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