At what point did otaku culture get so big in the UK?


Thousand Master
Hi folks been a while! I have noticed that anime/manga has really risen in the UK, I have been out the loop for a while but recently I went to my local comic book store recently (had not been in YEARS) and was shocked,,., I walked in and was immediately hit by waifu figures haha they had massive shelves of manga with all sorts of genre! Like when I first went like 10 years ago they had one minor shelf of battle shonen manga and that was it, now it feels like there was as much otaku merch as Western! There was a dad with their kids looking for Demon Slayer volumes and I am just like wow.

Another anecdote, I went to see DB SUPER HERO last year in cinemas subbed and there were a bunch of kids at the screening! Not dubbed but subbed and they were just so excited throughout reacting to what was happening on screen and I was not annoyed but was wow this is awesome a bunch of kids watching DB in Japanese and enjoying it!

Speaking of theatrical anime back in 2019 FUNi and Manga made a big deal about Broly being the first anime film since Spirited Away to gross £1m, now in 2023 Broly the the SIXTH highest grossing anime film it out was grossed by 4 more film since then more recently by Suzume a non shonen film!

It's just insane to see how much otaku culture has grown like I can go to my local comic book store and pick the latest volume of My Dress Up Darling that is insane to me!
I hear you. I remember going to Forbidden Planet and buying the Naruto manga because that's all they had really that interested me. It was some tiny ass little section in the downstairs right at the back. Now? It takes up 3 whole sections. The figurines that are avaliable are crazy too. I had to get my figurines from expos (hell even Japan when I visited) if I didn't wanna pay crazy import fees back in the day. The me from 10 years ago would have been in bliss to have a selection like that to choose from. (I've stopped collecting due to space which is why I don't take advantage of how it is now)
I think with these streaming services booming and having anime openly avaliable on them, it no longer became niche. Before, if you wanted to consume anime/manga legally, it was difficult and really expensive and unless you were into the hobby and knew where to look, it wasn't easy to get into it. Also all these live action adaptations (although they are mostly of uh, questionable quality) have undeniably brought in a new audience too. Probably to check out the source material (because it's better lol)
In regards to manga, I am so pleased to see all these different series getting licenses too, not just the ones from Shounen Jump. The selection avaliable now is great. I wish I had the space to buy more!
Wow that's nice to hear Forbidden Planet and others have upped their manga and anime stock. I recently went into Foyles but it seemed like they'd cut down on their manga stock considerably if anything.

I haven't been to FP in yonks, although to give them credit they've been pushing a respectable (for the times) amount of manga, anime and merch as far back as my first experiences going there in the 90s, that's a big part of what got me into it. The amount of manga was tiny back then though and I had bought almost every anime VHS they probably sold, even the rubbish ones. But I recently unearthed some cool Evangelion figures I had got from back then though and felt grateful for the chance to be exposed to all that stuff as a kid. But then, Eva was even on Sci Fi channel at some point back then wasn't it, so in a way anime was kind of both more main stream and more niche? All the stuff on Cartoon Network and Saturday morning TV, and then there was even stuff like Daft Punk music videos made by Japanese anime studios. It was all over the place now I think about it, I definitely didn't have any friends I could proudly share it all with (and in fact, I'd desperately hide it from them, sadly) but anime could find you.

Now it's kind of different though, does anime still need to find people or is it just a thing every kid knows now. I suppose anime has just become a staple of modern internet youth culture? When I worked at a cafe for a while a couple years back everyone there (all teens to mid 20s) watched anime on netflix, that kind of surprised me. This increasing absorption of anime into our regular culture has been under way for years I suppose.

But, and here's the real old fogey part of my pointless post, the thing that saddens me is that it hasn't ushered in the anime promised land. We've got streaming access simultaneously to all the anime out there in existence, but that means nothing when you think most of it is crap anyway. Obviously I didn't have the access I have now back then and maybe Japanese audiences had to wade through seas of two bit Tenchi Muyo clones I'll never know the names of to get to the good stuff. But honestly this Isekai stuff needs to go the way of the dodo, and take Moe with it to hell and not make a show out of the trip down there! What I find most counterintuitive about modern life is the way this ultra fast paced wifi world we live in has led, somehow, to longer lasting creative trends that just won't go away (see Trap music for exhibit no.2).

I say all of this to essentially say, nothing at all. I just need my 11pm coffee and am cranky.
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My gut reaction was to think ‘Was there really any one point or was it not more likely a gradual buildup from various breakout successes over the years vs waning interest in other prolific pop culture standards’, but then again, yeah, if you wanted to point to a particular moment, maybe Netflix acquiring a significant anime catalogue would be it.

Having been around the stuff for long enough now, I feel slightly bemused by the fact that there are now shops in the high street dedicated to selling anime merchandise, as I think most of it just reminds me how much things have changed. Anything I’d likely buy physical goods for is now sufficiently outdated or otherwise unloved that it hardly seems worth my while to venture in past the 6 foot high statues of Demon Slayer Protagonist to look for it. Although if you know where to get a plush Noi from Dorohedoro, hook me up?

Despite saying that, I’m not actually bitter about this. If a new generation have found something to call their own, and don’t have to know a guy who knows a guy whose big cousin can smuggle them in bootleg pencil boards from Hong Kong, I duly raise a glass to them and wish them good luck.
Going to agree with Netflix being used by a huge amount of people its an easy way to advertise Anime

Crunchyroll over the last 7 years has continued pushing even more anime (though maybe not as easy after they got rid of the free account view-advertisement option)

And I'm going to say sites like TicTok and Insta who seem to push anime content on people who have never watched Anime stuff before

Also Twitter. Pretty sure its impossible to use that site without finding someone with an Anime pfp. Though if thats a benefit to Anime...

Anyway, does seem Anime has a far greater reach than it did 10 years ago. Still a greeky thing (similar to comic books) and I'd imagine you would get bullied if you go super weeb at school but this is the same as everything

Think the only way forward here is normalise hen7ie manda and doujins in local book stores 😹😹
Personally, I feel as though it's been all over the place since I came on board as a fan in the early 90s. Back then, there were far, far more comic stores in the average town and it felt as though most of them at least acknowledged manga or had a shelf of edgy Manga VHS tapes. Some took it more seriously - one shop I liked very much in the old days was called Neo Tokyo - and you could always find fellow fans skulking around in those stores any time you visited. Nowadays there are barely any comic shops within miles of where I live other than the big chains (a great loss!) but in exchange we can see cheap DB figurines and Pokemon balloons in the high street, which is an interesting demographic shift!

I definitely like the greater availability of merchandise when I take a trip into London because there's nothing like seeing figures and manga up close to find a new shiny thing to buy, but again, it's a bit of a mixed bag because most of it is just low quality knock-off nonsense that I could buy at a fraction of the price online (if I wanted knock-off merchandise, which I don't). FP has tons of figures now but while the Pop-up Parade ones are great, there's a lot of shelf space dedicated to Funko POPs. I don't like Funko POPs. So in some ways, it actually feels like there's less viable merchandise on offer than there was in the past - it's just moved into more prominent locations. Cons have the same problem, we have a lot more meets now but the number of interesting guests and unique content has nosedived. They're still great for young fans who can cosplay and enjoy the spectacle but nobody needs to see me in cosplay. MCM is a haven for knock-offs and the organisers don't care; it's a pale shadow of the big conventions on the continent which really make me feel like I'm getting my money's worth (even though attending them costs a lot more!)

Back in antiquity (the 90s) I could spend a day in London and easily justify the train fare by picking up CD OSTs in Tower Records (they sold Japanese imports), VHS tapes in Japan Centre (again, Japanese imports), import games in the once-brilliant Oxford Street CEX (which no longer specialises in that stuff), big magazines like Animerica, Newtype (JP) and Manga Mania/Max/Anime UK in Forbidden Planet, exclusive Manga Ent tie-in posters with new tapes at HMV/Virgin, dodgy untranslated VCDs (of shows which have still to date never made it west) in Chinatown, then rummage through bins of cut-price manga in Soho (that shop still exists). If I had the time I could jump on a train to Colindale and visit the massive Asahi bookshop there (billed as Europe's largest at the time, and also now sadly closed), along with the multitude of Asian thrift stores and food stalls in the same building which sold tons of interesting merchandise.

So I feel that otaku culture has always been very present in the big cities, with occasional booms in between long droughts. I remember during the 'Haruhi boom' Orbital Comics (RIP) opened a dedicated manga store in Seven Dials and at weekends lots of people would shop there in full cosplay, which was awesome to see. We're definitely in another huge boom now, coming off Demon Slayer's massive commercial push and some decent marketing decisions from the industry (e.g. simulpubs, Crunchyroll, Netflix, cinema releases), and it's fantastic to see anime spin-off games actually making it west nowadays; walking into a normal CEX and seeing them proudly displaying a Made In Abyss LE game box is weird!

I've always felt that anime became big online when the Pokemon generation started looking for similar content. It's always been highly-ranked amongst of the most-pirated content (sadly) since broadband first became a thing. I think recent mixed media projects really help a lot and also, the wider availability has pushed anime into demographics which were traditionally ignored (e.g. women with the Harlequin comics adaptations, ordinary adults with the brief Drops of God manga boom, tie-ins for mainstream games like Fortnite to make anime more accessible). My dad completely ignored my suggestions of checking out the Cowboy Bebop OST the first time around, but he found the much-panned Netflix adaptation on his own and ended up loving it so much that he bought the OST of that. My parents are currently watching Drops of God on AppleTV and my anime-hating elderly uncle is trying to work out how he can join in!

Wow that's a brilliant post, Rui! Definitely sums up some of what I was sort of feeling but not able to articulate. Man it also made me feel nostalgic, especially for that 90s boom I was just about old enough to feel at least the tail end of and be impacted by as a child who'd visit a lot of those shops you mentioned (the big up town shops, all the indie comic shops, the Colindale East Asia spot, even remember the dodgy anime stuff in Chinatown shops) but only with my parents in tow. I even feel nostalgic for that Haruhi boom, which at the time I felt somewhat unmoved by (because of my aversion to Moe, if Haruhi even is Moe) but it gave us Orbital Manga which was a really great and fun place to go visit on the weekend even as a lonely geezer and to feel all that concentrated passion for anime. I bought some absolute gems in that place too. Where as the boom we're in now doesn't seem to have any phsyical retail outlets I care for.
I'm not sure whether that's due to the woes of physical stores in general, or the wider appeal of anime leading to less specialised shops, or a mix both. It is fascinating to compare and contrast how the demographic has slowly enlarged and shifted and how that's effected the industry and culture around it.
As someone who lives in the US, I don't have the exposure to any of the UK anime culture in your local venues over there. But, I really do want to give a big shout-out to Anime Limited, as they were solely responsible for getting me interested in importing UK anime Blu-ray releases, because of the extremely nice Collector's and Ultimate Edition sets they put out - especially the ones with digipaks, which I love to have in a physical release but are almost non-existant in anime releases here in America. I started importing AL Collector box sets in 2014, and I now have over 5 full shelves of UK anime releases in my Blu-ray collection. So in that way I am at least able to contribute a little something to the UK anime culture, with all of my purchases from outside the UK, and I plan to continue to do so!
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the availability of products is merely a response to what was already happening, the supply only follows the demand, and now business has realised that demand is there and they will give us that supply

I lived in the rural area (Cornwall) and I was introduced to anime by my friends there, and my friends in the lake district, also very rural

Reason being, the internet

Free streaming on the internet, we can watch all day these weird japanese cartoons for weirdos like us

Everyone else watches other weird **** on regular old tv (it really is just as weird, except socially acceptable)

I don't think there was a single person in my school that didn't know what anime was, this is about 2005, there's not a whole lot of advertisement going on then

Now we are all grown up (physically) we have economic capital and they know there's a lot to be gained here. Nerds like to collect and spend our money on good collections

Ultimately the reason is the exact same reason it made its way international in the first place. The content is of high quality.
The boom definitely started in the 90s with the likes of Cartoon Network and Fox Kids bringing the likes of Pokemon and Dragon Ball to our screens. Anime and manga were of course available before then but you had to look high and low and definitely not in the major chain stores of the day, and what was available could be of dubious legality in multiple senses.
The rise of broadband Internet also helped us find out about new shows and made getting US licenced stuff imported much easier than ever (and again, the material of dubious legality).