Is Anime A Cartoon?

Do you remember the first time you were introduced to animation? Today’s kids might prefer SpongeBob SquarePants among other animations. How about you, what were your favourite animated shows as a kid? There’s a common misconception that all motion picture that is drawn and animated is a cartoon, but that’s not the case. Animation has taken on many different forms and evolved to include countless styles and techniques. One of the most popular of these styles is the Japanese-originated subgroup of animation called ‘anime’. A lot of people consider anime to be another form of cartoon. Some even display sarcastic attitudes towards those who watch them saying that they are being childish.

But is anime a cartoon? Technically, no. Although both are caricatures that are animated, there are some substantial differences between the two. For starters, there’s a unique look and feel of the anime art style as it has a more limited-animation style of showing movement, as well as visually distinctive features for characters.

Anime films were initially intended primarily for the Japanese market and as such, employed several cultural references that were unique to the Japanese. But today, it has gained much popularity across the globe as it covers a wide range of genres and topics that are based on both fictional and non-fictional material. Like anything else that is popular in today’s society, anime has stirred up endless debates; is it a cartoon, is it better than standard American cartoon, and so on. It has also been met with scepticism by those who are not into it. Stay with me as I take you through what you need to know about one of Japan’s greatest contributions so you can make informed decisions about anime.

Is Anime a Cartoon?

Virtually everyone loves animated films and most assume that they are all cartoons, but nothing could be further from the truth. As I had mentioned earlier, the world of animation has evolved to include several different styles. Among the most popular of these styles are standard American cartoon and Japanese anime.

The word anime is simply an abbreviation of animation. It is often used by people outside of Japan to refer to any animated movie/show or carton series originating from Japan. But in Japan, it refers to all animation. For example, a Japanese will categorize Disney’s Frozen and Sailor Moon as both being anime while others think they are two different films from separate genres. The use of these two words interchangeably, when they really shouldn’t be, has brought about a lot of confusion. Today I’m going to talk about something that many have been debating for a while, “Is anime a cartoon?” Well, some people just assume it is because they were exposed to cartoons first and, therefore, consider anything that is drawn and animated a cartoon. On the other end of the spectrum are diehard fans who find the comparison of anime with cartoons offensive. Others are simply new to the culture and do not know what is what. Needless to say, there are different arguments and thoughts on the matter

Anime and cartoon might appear similar on the surface, considering they are both animations, but they are quite different.

Differences in Origin

While both have become famous all around the world, cartoons originated from America while anime originated from Japan. Following the huge success of western cartoons, Japanese artists were inspired to create their own animation work. They breathed their personal style into the work, giving anime a traditional Japanese style. As a result, a lot of Japanese culture is seen in anime that cartoons don’t have, including the food, architecture, behaviour of the characters, clothing, and so on. Despite being created in America, cartoons lack the cultural thumbprint that anime has.

Anime was initially made primarily for the people in Japan and as such, enacted in the Japanese language. But given its worldwide popularity, it is now available in two formats: subbed and dubbed. The former means the film is available to watch with the original Japanese audio but with subtitles of whatever language you’re watching in placed over the footage while the latter features an English-speaking (any other language different from that of the original Japanese) cast of voice-over actors working from a translated script.

That being said, the cultural and language differences can make it difficult to translate anime for the western audience. You’ll likely find a scene in anime that’s hard to understand or seems weird.

Differences in Visual Characteristics

Anime characters have more noticeable features that differentiate them from cartons such as big and colourful eyes, elongated limbs, detailed eyelashes, and so on. Cartoon, on the other hand, look more real although some add an exaggerated or deformed touch to their characters to give a comical essence to it.

Another of Anime’s exaggerated elements occurs in the expressions used. Cartoons usually act out their emotions with their whole body while anime characters are much calmer and tend to show their emotions through their facial expressions.

Differences in Content

Cartoons tend to be more fictional and revolve around humorous concepts while anime is usually based on real-life experiences with more complex plot lines.

Target Audience

While people of all ages can enjoy animation, cartoons are especially designed for kids. Anime, on the other hand, tends to be targeted towards different demographics. It features various genres such as kodomo (for children), shounen (for boys), and shoujo (for girls). There are also content targeting adult audiences such as mecha, sienen, josei, harem, etc, that explore more serious topics like homosexuality.

Is Anime Better Than American Cartoon?

I wouldn’t say better as everyone has their own taste, but it’s different in a good way. Anime is unlike American cartoon with differences showing up in artwork, storytelling, content, and even culture as you’ve seen in the above text. While most cartoons are aimed at making you laugh, anime storylines go deeper to make characters more relatable. These stories are not only interesting and engaging but some will evoke all kinds of feelings, leaving you an emotional wreck.

Anime was inspired by American cartoons. The first Japanese animators had a very tight budget and as a result, had to use some tricks to simplify cartoon animation style. And that is how anime-style came to be. But what’s most striking today is how anime’s impact is becoming a full circle, so much so that even America cartoons are inspired by it. There’s a new wave of live-action English-language versions of anime-style animations, and I personally have fallen in love with them.

Is Watching Anime Dangerous?

Like any other digital media content, watching anime can become addictive. Anime addiction may not be as major as drug or gambling addiction but it can still affect one negatively. Those who binge-watch for long hours every day will start to ignore work, school, household chores, or other real-life priorities. Plus, sitting all day and even night watching anime can affect your social life, quality of sleep, and overall health.

Secondly, since anime is so broad-reaching in its content, it is made for all age demographics. While there are titles suitable for the entire family, some are specifically made for teens or adults. Such content may include scenes with physical violence, sexual violence, nudity, homosexuality, and so on. Young children are generally more vulnerable to such content as they may introduce unhealthy feelings and concepts in their young minds. It negatively alters their viewpoints and mentality.

The next danger of watching anime is escapism and fanaticism. This is when the mind refuses to leave the 2D world and viewers intertwine it with the real world to make what they consider an ideal world. Our social life is at stake when reality and fantasy get mingled.

There are many more dangers associated with watching anime, but ultimately, it all comes down to how the viewer processes or utilises what they obtain after watching the said anime shows.

So How Can We Keep Our Children Safe?

With many anime shows now streaming online, it can get difficult to control what your child watches, but not impossible. Start by learning control measures of these online platforms. For example, you can restrict your child to only watching content uploaded on YouTube Kids and not on the regular YouTube platform. If they watch anime on Netflix, setup a Kids account instead of sharing your regular account with them. Another control measure would be to put password-protected locks on TV channels with adult content.

That being said, kids are so smart nowadays and can learn how to go over the control measures you have put in place. The good news is anime distributors are conscious of these issues and will generally include parental guidelines rating to show who the intended audience of the anime show is. So, always check the rating of a show before letting your child watch it. You can also read reviews and recommendations to see what previous watchers have to say about a particular show before letting your kids watch it.

While you may try so hard to screen anime shows in your household, keep in mind that your child might watch it somewhere else like at a friend’s house. For this reason, it’s very important to have an open and honest discussion with your child so they trust you enough to share what they see outside of your home.


About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.