the timeline for the life of anime
1 9 min 3 yrs

Just as Vash said in the anime Trigun– “If you only face forward, there is something you will miss seeing”, there’s truly a lot to miss as forward isn’t the only relative direction.

So why not rewind for a moment to reminisce the years when our favorite anime was going through a series of changes. These changes which began with trial and error at first made the animation industry so popular today, that it now has a worldwide fan base, the Otaku community. So, let’s trace back to the beginnings of Japanimation popularly known as anime.

Anime was born in 1917! And do you know what the first-ever anime was? It’s Katsudo Shashin! Let’s see how far the world of anime has come since 1917! To make an interesting comparison, the evolution of anime is divided into infancy, adolescence, and adulthood, personifying the life of anime as a human being.

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The Life Of Anime: The Infancy stage

timeline of the life of anime

The birth year of anime can be taken as 1917, the time when they were professionally being displayed in cinemas, and creators such as Oten Shimokawa and Seitarou Kitayama produced numerous works for the same. But sadly these works are no longer available as they were destroyed in the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. However, we certainly have Namakura Gatana by Kouchi which survived the disaster and lives as the oldest surviving anime.

Although there are claims regarding ‘Katsudo Shashin’ being the first anime ever produced, however the same is undated and no proof of such is available. Since it was the age of black and white silent picture cinema, one can deduce that the anime was vastly different from the anime you see today. As anime was just born (early stages of its being), so the methods used were not very sophisticated ones, like paper cut-outs, chalk drawings, or drawing directly on film. [Note: anime at this period were mostly short movie clips and not the long episode series seen today]

Evolution Of Anime And Manga

By the 1930s, the animation industry of Japan was well established. However, it faced greater foreign competition where cel animation was used which served a better technique than the Japanese cut-outs. Nonetheless, some animators changed their old techniques with the patronage of the government. Hence, Chikara To Onna, the first talkie film was released in 1933.

Also, if one doesn’t forget, the 1930s was the period when Japan was pursuing its great militaristic ambitions, so naturally, it reflected on the anime of that time too. Anime at that time were being used to commercialize and promote government propaganda. Hence, the controversial anime movie ‘Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors‘ came into being, sponsored by the Japanese Imperial Navy in 1944.

This period is to be considered the stage of infancy as a variety of changes came after the destruction of WWII in the Japanese animation industry (so taking that in the adolescence section).

The Adolescence stage Of Anime!

evolution of anime

After the major destruction caused by WWII and Japan being under the Allied occupation, the major aim at that time was inculcating the masses with morals and democracy, unlike earlier militaristic teachings. Hence they combined earlier 100 animators to form “Shin Nihon Dōgasha, or New Japan Animation Company ”, which unfortunately didn’t last long due to the independent ambitions of various artists.

Nonetheless, changes seeped into the history of anime when Okawa Hiroshi purchased the struggling Nichido animation studio in 1956 and renamed it to what’s now known as “Toei Animation”. Bewitched by the enchanting colors of Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, Okawa began his ambition for Toei to become the “Disney of the East”. Okawa produced the first color film in 1958 called “Hakujaden, The Tale of the White Serpent” which was a Chinese folktale orally told so far and released in The USA in 1961.

Also, during the 1960s when color TVs were in production, anime began broadcasting on TV and the first anime movie to be shown in Japan was ‘Three Tales’ and the anime series being ‘Otogi Manga Calendar’. However, the long-awaited boost in the anime production came with Osamu Tezuka when he simplified Disney’s animation techniques to become cost-friendly. Revered as the “God of manga”, Osamu’s Astro Boy was a major hit when it was televised into an anime series by Toei animation and introduced in the west.

timeline for the life of anime
Source: Thrillist

Astro Boy became the first exported animation series and hence came the age of Japanimation known as ‘anime’ to all. As the audiences grew, genres of anime stretched wider covering all the topics which fascinated the youth like mega-robots (mecha), scientific fiction (sci-fi), martial arts, magical girl, etc. Anime like Tetsujin 28-Go, Sally The Witch, Space-Battleship Yamato, Mobile Suit Gundam, and many more became the heartthrob of the audiences.

Overseas youth was getting heavily engrossed and awestruck with the Japanese anime industry when it came under the mainstream of Japan. However, the tide slowed down and faced a slump when the Japanese economy went through an economic bubble and crisis. As adulthood comes with problems and awakening, so, these problems and the industry’s response to the same has been taken in the adulthood stage. 

The Adulthood stage Of Anime! 

timeline of life of anime

Animators and manga artists refined their skills over years, thus reaching what’s called here –the adulthood stage. However, as mentioned above, Japan was facing various economic slowdowns during the Nixon shock, oil crisis leading to recessionary pressure on not only the economy but also the Japanese animation industry.

Many industries couldn’t cope up with the pressure and had to close down like Mushi production which filed for bankruptcy in 1973. The solution was to broaden the fanbase and introduce new genres. The magical girl genre was kept alive and the series that followed Sally The Witch were Cardcaptor Sakura, Pretty Cure which were instant hits.

Anime like Dragonball, Digimon, One Piece, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and the blockbuster such as Akira were like the tide that kept the anime industry moving. What’s more, to hook the younger females in watching anime, anime genres like shounen-ai and yaoi were added showing more acceptance towards the LGBT race. A mature tint was also to animation with the introduction of R-18 anime or hentai.

The culture of anime grew when the movies like ‘Spirited Away’ won awards like the Tokyo anime award and Oscar for the best-animated feature film. Thus anime watchers grew and still are growing all over the globe! It is also reported that the estimated revenue of the Japanese animation industry combined with domestic and overseas sales was 2.18 trillion yen in 2018.

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Anime is like gravity that pulls you towards what all it has to offer and once you find what you’ve been looking for, there’s no going back. With the communications and data transfers coming in the ease with the internet, watching anime isn’t a hassle anymore like before. Anime is available on famous streaming websites such as Netflix, Hulu, etc. Anime conventions held every year at different parts of the world act as the zones where otakus with their passions in anime, manga, games, cosplay meet, and also display their art.


timeline of the life of anime

As Osamu Tezuka said, “Manga is virtual. Manga is sentiment. Manga is resistance. Manga is bizarre. Manga is pathos. Manga is destruction. Manga is arrogance. Manga is love. Manga is kitsch. Manga is a sense of wonder. Manga is … there is no conclusion yet.” This same goes for anime too, the anime industry continues to grow and animators remain motivated to show their real masterpiece to the world. Everybody knows this- “the best is yet to come”, so let us wait for the best one to come as there’s no conclusion to anime yet.

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The author is currently pursuing post-graduation in East Asian Studies. She is highly enthusiastic in learning new languages and is interested in the culture and society of the East Asian region, particularly the socio-economic aspects and how it influences major policy decisions.

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