To say there are a lot of anime characters out there would be an understatement. Each passing year welcomes new characters to the medium, and those hundreds of heroes join an ever-expanding line-up of protagonists. Japan is good at a great many things, but it excels in the creation of noteworthy heroes. Oh, and that skill extends well beyond the country's thriving anime industry.
When it comes to storytelling, Japan has creators who can - and have - put those in Hollywood to shame. For every pop culture icon there is in the west, Japan can match it with a creation of its own. So, it's about time fans from Japan opened up about their country's greatest character icons.
Not long ago, a popular Japanese website polled users and had them single out the country's top characters of all-time. The results are now in, and characters from anime and video games clearly dominate the list. You can check out the poll's full results below and see how many of them you know!
Did you favorite Japanese character or franchise make our list? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @MeganPetersCB to talk all things comics, k-pop, and anime!
She may punish you in the name of the moon, but that’s alright. When you are as big as Sailor Moon, anything goes. The pigtailed hero made her debut back in 1991 with a titular manga, and Sailor Moon ensured the magical girl genre would never be the same. To date, the manga has sold more than 35 million copies and has spawned off merchandise and several successful anime ventures. So, it isn’t hard to see why Sailor Moon has landed on this list.
There are monsters and then there is the King of the Monsters. You may think you are scary, but you’re place on the food chain will plummet once Godzilla shows up. The kaiju is one of the most popular monsters out there, and his history is a heralded one. Inspired by the fallout of World War II and its assaults, Godzilla was made to warn the world against nuclear warfare, but the creature has since taken on different connotations. With almost 30 films to its name, Godzilla has become a pop culture heavy-hitter, and you do not want to mess with its Atomic Breath.
If you say the word Gundam, fans will think of any number of titles. The huge mecha franchise has more toys than you can count, but its healthy anime and manga outings have loyal fans too. For the most part, Gundam will make fans think of its massive mobile suits, and there are plenty to choose from. The series debuted way back in April 1979 under the guidance of Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise. The team created a truly epic sci-fi adventure for the ages, and Gundam continues to dominate pop culture nearly 40 years after its creation.
You cannot think about anime without think of Studio Ghibli. The animation group is not the only one in Japan worth noting, but it has become a staple name in the industry. The company is responsible for the heralded work of Hayao Miyazaki, but one of its characters became more popular than anyone expected. My Neighbor Totoro’s debut in April 1988 introduced the world to the adorable creature Totoro. The rabbit-like beast is an adorable forest spirit, and Totoro continues to push out plenty of enviable merchandise to this day.
There are few characters in the world who can match the might of Son Goku. Not only is the character insanely strong, but his reputation spans across the globe. The hero made his debut in the 1980s when Akira Toriyama published the first chapter of Dragon Ball. All these years later, Goku remains a true pop culture icon as he helped make anime a truly global medium during the 1990s. Wherever anime lovers are, you can be sure some of Goku’s fans will be there too.
Hello Kitty isn’t an anime star by nature, but her fictional look and cutesy backstory make her an undeniable icon. Created in 1974, Hello Kitty was made public by the company Sanrio and taken to fans in the U.S. two years later. The adorable character has become a money-making fiend for Sanrio as Hello Kitty makes more than $7 billion a year alone. Sanrio’s lineup of characters has grown since Hello Kitty debuted, but no one can beat this cuddly kitty when it comes to popularity.
You may not have heard of Anpanman, but there are few people in Japan who are unaware of the character. The superhero is a fan-favorite one abroad as he debuted back in 1973. Anpanman got his start in a picture book before an anime brought the superhero to life. These days, Anpanman is considered to be one of Japan’s most popular children's shows of all-time, and you can get merchandise of its titular lead at every corner store.
There are very few video game heroes who can stand up to Mario. Sure, the Italian plumber may not be the strongest guy, but his clout can knock down even the weightiest fighters. The character’s history dates back to 1981 after Shigeru Miyamoto created Mario. Over the years, Nintendo has capitalized on the Mushroom Kingdom citizen as Mario became the company’s mascot. With over 200 video games under his belt to date, Mario has become the world’s most famous plumber and a true gaming icon.
Pokemon fans may want to catch them all, but there is one critter out there they’d all die to befriend. Pikachu is the most recognizable Pokemon out there, and the character’s distinctive look is as cute as it is profitable. Pikachu debuted in the first Pokemon video games and shot to international fame when the titles were localized around the world. After its 1996 debut, Pikachu became known as the de facto mascot of Pokemon, and Nintendo adopted the cute character as one of its company representatives as well.
When it comes to Japanese icons, there is no one bigger than Doraemon. The character dates back to 1969, and the robotic cat has continued to grow in popularity. Doraemon may not be well-known to older audiences abroad, but he is a household name to everyone in Japan and Asia as a whole. The character was selected as Japan’s first anime ambassador a decade ago, signaling Doraemon’s massive popularity both domestically and abroad. With a successful manga and anime under its belt, the character has become synonymous with Japanese pop culture to the delight of fans around the world.