East Asian media is not the first or only form of foreign entertainment consumed by the United States population. The Latin American song, “Despacito”, become a prevalent song on the radio in 2017. Telenovelas can be watched on Spanish channels provided through cable, and British shows like Doctor Who are commonly watched throughout the states. All of these are still relevant forms of entertainment in today’s culture, but there is a significant presence of East Asian media, especially between Japan and Korea. Whether it be manga, Japanese illustrated books to Korean dramas that are known for their melodramatic and comedic acting, these Asian countries have been rising in popularity within the United States.
Anime is the first form of entertainment the United States grasped on to. It is Japanese animation, known for the large eyes, over exaggerated facial features as well as abnormal hairstyles and colors. Osamu Tezuka is given the title “father of anime” for his innovation in the artform. Throughout World War II, anime and the art style was used as propaganda, much like comics, musicals, and other media was used for propaganda in the U.S. After World War II, Tezuka was one of the primary artists to transform the norm and stories anime told. One of his stories, Astro Boy, will debut in the U.S. through NBC in 1963.
Once Astro Boy aired and gets a positive reaction from the U.S. a seal is broken and slowly, other animes are released to the public throughout the 1960s and 1970s. By 1980 there is a large boom in the anime consumption in the states. With a target to children, cable networks like Nickelodeon and Freeform, previously under the name, Christian Broadcasting Network Cable, would air animes with English dialogue over the original animation. The list of English versions of animes rise to a new high in the 80s and cable channels begin to rapidly put out more Japanese animation.
At this time, big titles are released into the U.S. that many still enjoy today like Dragon Ball, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and Voltron. Dragon Ball is still aired and widely watched today. Disney and Studio Ghibli, the creators of Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro join together in 1993 to allow Disney to get their own voice actors to recreate the titles under the Disney brand. Voltron has had many reintroductions to the U.S. audience, the newest being broadcasted by Netflix under the title Voltron: Legendary Defender.
By the 1990s, anime is a well known phenomena by the United States. The amount of companies embracing anime rises the normalizing of the artform. Disney releases big titles like Sailor Moon in 1995 and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Nickelodeon introduced Pokémon in 1998, a beloved franchise with the trading cards, video games, and toys.
In 2001, Cartoon Network began to dabble with the anime market by introducing Cowboy Bebop, an action anime in Adult Swim, which runs from 9PM to 4AM. It has a positive response, bringing adult targeted anime into the U.S. as well. Due to the prevalence of anime, the Funimation Channel is created to air more popular Japanese titles like Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club, Kodocha, and One Piece; all of these titles targeting teenagers and adults. Today many networks, like Disney, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon still integrate anime into their schedules.
Astro Boy was also the first manga that the United States public was introduced to. In 1965, western creators recreated an adaption of the Japanese illustrated novel, which was welcomed into the culture. By 1979, Marvel was publishing Shogun Warriors, which integrated manga characters from multiple mecha(robot) anime to the U.S. using western comics. All of these works were redrawn by western artists, but in 1979, Barefoot Gen, a story focused on the story of Hiroshima survivors was published in the U.S. with the original Japanese artwork.
Manga was a slow build up, in the 1980s, a few popular Japanese titles were being translated to English, but nothing exponential. The mangas were gaining more attention and by the 1990s more serie-based mangas were released and followed by U.S. consumers. Titles like Sailor Moon, Magic Knight Rayearth and Ice Blade were translated to English in this time and are still well known today!
More hits from Japan are brought to the U.S. in 2002, but instead of printing the books like all other standard Western books, companies began to print mangas that were traditional-styled manga books, which are smaller and have the reader flip right to left. It was an economic success, and more people had access to manga as retailers like Barnes and Nobles began to integrate manga sections. During 2002, titles that are must-reads for anyone getting into manga today were being published like One Piece, Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, Naruto. Manga is still a widely prominent force in the United States, from small book shops to big retail stores, manga can be found.
Anime and manga both grew a presence in the United States, and rose to the top in the public eye in the 1990s. With a niche interest and taste for Japanese media, many conventions and meetings began to take form within the country. To be able to meet creators and publishers, buy artwork and merchandise, and meet people with similar interests drew large crowds to celebrate their interests.
Quite a few big conventions that were started years ago are still widely known today! Anime Expo, originating in Los Angeles, began in 1992, and in 2018, their attendance was 360,000 people. In Washing DC, Otakon began in 1994, and while not as large as Anime Expo, 29,292 people attended the convention in 2018! There is no denying that anime and manga are a large force that has a firm grasp on many western consumer hearts.
Apart from Japanese cartoons and visual novels, Japanese artists have also captured the interest of the West. The biggest names in the 1980s of Japanese musicians was the Yellow Magic Orchestra, which are known for their innovation with synthetic noises within music. They held concerts in the United States from the 80s up to 2011. Yellow Magic Orchestra was even working and innovating the hip hop scene in the states, collaborating with big stars like Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and Michael Jackson in the early 2000s. This collaboration of the Yellow Magic Orchestra with western artists is the foundation that allows other artists to succeed in the U.S. in future years.
Japan and Korea also have musicians called ‘idols’ that are typically younger artists that are considered talented in many artistic fields. Training to better their singing or rapping and dancing, these artists are typically start training from a young age to make it into these groups. The concept of an idol group took form in the late 1960s in Japan and 1996 in Korea. The sounds used in the music are heavily influenced by Western music, which may explain the appeal to the music.
In 2010, Morning Musume had their first concert in the U.S. The Japanese girl group had bubbly concepts paired with EDM music. They recently just performed at Anime NYC Convention in 2018. Perfume, another girl group was brought to the U.S. continually performing from 2013 to 2016. By far the most well known Japanese band today is Babymetal, with their fusion of heavy metal with light and bubbly sounds of Japanese pop music. It was an internet phenomena, westerners watching the foreign concept in awe or amusement. They debuted in the U.S. in 2015, and are still performing in the country today.
Vocaloid is a whole other musical outlet of its own. The program was released in Japan, a voice synthesizer program that allowed people to make songs of their own. Some people would use a similar sounding voice in each song, and create a person to sing the songs. Like Gorillaz in the states, Vocaloid artists began to produce personas portrayed through custom animation. Hatsune Miku is the biggest figure from this program. In 2009 she began to grow presence in the U.S. and by 2010 Hatsune Miku had her first ‘concert’ in San Francisco, where the music played with her on screen to sing to the audience. Soon after in 2011, her North American music debut was with “World is Mine” which ranked 7 on itunes the week it was released.
The company that created Vocaloid saw the North American population turn their heads towards the product, and decided to produce an English voice synthesizer, but in comparison to the Japanese synthesizer it failed. U.S. consumers still respond more to Japanese artists work and make up nearly half the foreign sales.
Compared to JPOP, Korean pop has a larger following by far. The Korean Wave in the 1990s began a rapid spread of Korean culture and media to foreign countries, leading to a fast paced transition of western audiences to peak interest in Korean artists. In 2013, President Barack Obama spoke about Gangnam Style and its impact in the United States. It was spread throughout the internet, people laughing at Psy’s bizzare persona, the foreign concept of a Gangnam personality, the catchy songs, and the iconic dance to go with the chorus.
Of course, Gangnam Style is not the first Korean song to hit the U.S. population. In 2003, the Korean Music Festival began in the U.S. bringing Korean artists to the states. Holding multiple acts, it enabled the public to hear the various sounds of Korean music and see the grand choreography. The concert still brings acts to the U.S. today, and in 2018 there were around 16 acts. The first Korean idol group to perform in the states was in 2010, Wonder Girls. Wonder Girls was managed under JYP Entertainment, a leading idol production company that has a big influence on KPOP today.
Suddenly by 2011, there was a rapid incline in the amount of Korean artists coming to the states. Multiple well known groups that are given the name of “original” KPOP groups are seen in this line up; Shinee, Girls Generation, Super Junior, and VIXX, to name a few. By this time, the presence of Korean music only has an upward projection. As of right now, 2017 has the largest amount of concerts put on; BTS, Hyuna, Got7, Astro, Red Velvet, EXO, K.A.R.D, Monsta X, Seventeen, SF9, NCT, and many more talented people have made a presence in the U.S. and are continuing to build up their international presence.
Like manga and anime, Korean music is a niche interest as well. To bring together KPOP fans, a convention was formed in 2012, named KCON. It was originally a one day event in Irvine California, but by 2015 it was expanded to a Los Angeles and NYC 5 day event. With panels, concerts, and other Korean music fans around, the convention has had large success. KCON was listed in the top 20 music festival in 2015. In 2017 over 128,000 people celebrated in KCON NYC and LA combined. The numbers grew in 2018, attendance rising to 147,000.
Music is not the only form of entertainment that the United States has followed closely from Korea. Korean dramas are widely loved and praised today, with its melodramatic lovers to comedic tales. In 2014 Korea Creative Content Agency reported around 18 million Americans were using DramaFever, an internet streaming site, to watch Kdramas. Statics show that it is widely females from the age 16, making up 38.5% to 30 year olds that make up 73.5% of the viewers. The most common outlet to watch Kdramas has been reported as DramaFever, which was recently purchased by Warner Bros, a U.S. based company! There were even attempts by ABC to adapt a Korean drama, My Love From Another, into a western drama. This ultimately failed, but it shows the impact the dramas had in the U.S. at this time.
While the timeline does not account for every piece of work or artist to be brought and appreciated by the U.S. public, it is a brief version for us to look at the growth of an empire. Japanese animation and manga is widely cherished today; going to college there is a good chance your campus holds an anime club, or at the very least a Japanese culture club. There is an appreciation for the unique artwork that Japanese artists put into the animation that is vastly different from western cartoons. The worlds are sometimes foreign from western tropes and cliches, which draw audiences to marvel over the work.
Japanese music, while inspired widely by western influence, is an individual sound. The palette to listen to words unfamiliar to one is an acquired taste, but many enjoy the experience. Korean artists are often applauded for the visuals, the staging, and the intricate choreography. There is no denying that in today’s world, kpop is one of the most universal art forms today. BTS, a Korean boy group consistently charting in the U.S., reaching an all time high fan base internationally, and have received praise by the South Korean president, have recently participated in a United Nations conference. Whether you like it or not, Kpop is important to a large amount of the youth today and it only seems to continue to grow.
For some it may be a matter of embracing a foreign culture, to feel more sophisticated and knowledgeable. To others, the Asian media provides a new outlook on life. Korean dramas tell new stories that Western dramas can’t reach. There is a large population of ethnic East Asians, but there is a large amount of non-Asian people that are drawn to this media. It is essentially the society’s choice to deem these two countries cultures interesting, something to celebrate. The growth and acceptance of international media is even easier due to the internet, the more people interact and discover foreign media, the more accepted it will be.
If Japan and Korea can pique the interest of U.S. consumers, why can’t other countries? It’s possible that one day Bollywood will be celebrated and consumed by westerners. There are many box office hits of Indian films throughout the U.S. already. Or perhaps Philippine music will grow a presence, a former colony of the United States, they have many western influences within their culture that could draw interest. Regardless of what comes next, there is no doubt that Japan and Korea have grown the strongest Asian media producers of the early 21st century.