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Anime FAQ for Parents

What is Anime? Should my kids watch it?

I have been approached by some parents on occasion with a fairly complicated question:

My kids are into anime and/or manga. What is it and what do I need to know so I can monitor what my kids are watching?”

The answer is complicated, and when I present it, it invariably provokes a lot of follow-up questions, so I'm going to present this as a sort of FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions. Hopefully this will clear up some of that confusion, and help parents make better decisions about their kids' viewing material.

NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY : By “Kids” and “Children” I mean any person legally considered a minor in the United States – under the age of 18. This isn't meant to condescend to people in this age group – this article is meant for parents, including parents of children with disabilities, who are generally unfamiliar with anime. Consequently, I'm going to generalize a lot.

Anime is, in short, Japanese animation in general. Manga is similarly Japanese “sequential art” (comics and graphic novels) in general. It is a medium in the same way comic books, movies and television are a medium – a wide variety of stories can be told in anime and manga, from science fiction films which discuss the depth what it means to be human (like Blade Runner in film and Ghost in the Shell in anime) to light and fluffy romantic comedies (most of Richard Gere's films and lots of anime aimed for girls), to risque sex comedies ( Porky's and American Pie in film, and the so-called “Harem” comedy genre), to truly bizarre art films (An Andalusian Dog in film, and Cat Soup in anime). You may have even seen some anime before and not known about it.

No, I haven't.”

 If you watched this growing up, you watched anime
If you watched this growing up, you watched anime

Have you seen Speed Racer or Astro Boy? How about Robotech, or Star Blazers? Maybe something by Hayao Miyazaki, like My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, or Howl's Moving Castle? If you've seen two of those, you'll be able to tell how different two different anime works can be from each other.

Anime, unlike American animation, is also made for all age groups. Some shows, like Doraemon and Pokemon are aimed for younger children, particularly those in grade school. Others, like Bleach, Dragon Ball Z, Naruto and Death Note for boys and Sailor Moon, Fruits Basket, Fushigi Yugi and Vampire Knight for girls, are aimed for kids in middle and high school, and are referred to as “Shonen” and “Shojo” series (respectively). Finally, for people for college and older, there are seinen anime and manga for men, like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Blade of the Immortal, and Black Lagoon. For women there is Josei anime and manga, like X/1999 , Paradise Kiss , Honey & Clover , and other series. These divisions are based solely on the demographics the series are marketed for, not who always watches it. Shonen series can just be popular among girls as boys. There are male viewers who enjoy shojo and josei series. If your child likes a series outside of their "demographic", don't worry about it too much. It just means their tastes are different.

However, just because a series is aimed for older audiences doesn't mean that it necessarily contains nudity or graphic violence. Kingyo Used Books is a seinen manga about a used book store. There isn't any nudity, there isn't any violence. There isn't even any Clerks level caustic language about customers. It's a seinen series because it plays off a nostalgia that audiences of shojo and shonen series wouldn't necessarily have experienced before. So, before we start getting to what anime is, and what you think your kids should watch, the first question you, as a parent, need to ask is, “What sort of movies, television and books do I think my children can handle?”

My kids can handle most PG movies, and TV, but I don't think they're ready for anything with blood or suggestive content.”

 Perfect for kindergarteners
Perfect for kindergarteners

Then outside of Pokemon (which is about as suspenseful as early Disney features) and My Neighbor Totoro (which is even less suspenseful and has no conflict to speak of), anime isn't for your kids.

Most anime viewers in the US are middle school age or older, and usually learn about it through word of mouth from their peers or by finding manga in the library. (Exception – kids whose parents are anime fans. However, kids whose parents are anime fans likely aren't going to be reading this – unless they're looking for a way to explain anime to other parents who aren't fans.) Consequently, most anime released in the US is aimed to appeal to viewers from middle-school age to adulthood, and not much anime is released in North America for young children.

Oh, and what about those Pokemon Cards?”

Basically, it's a game meant to promote the other parts of the franchise – the TV show and the video games. The video games promote the TV show and the cards, and so on. It's a lot like what Transformers and G.I. Joe did in the 80s, except Pokemon is a little less violent – rarely are characters are even implied to be in deadly peril.

My kids can handle Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Army of Darkness, or CSI.”

If you can handle some bloody violence, you should be set
If you can handle some bloody violence, you should be set

Excellent. Your kids may be able to handle Shonen anime. Shonen anime usually involves a few mature themes, some suggestive themes, and comically absurd violence without gore. Basically, Shonen anime is the Japanese version of superhero comics. However, unlike DC or Marvel Comics, where everyone is in their respective big universes, Shonen series can have settings as wide ranging as One Piece (where the main characters are pirates in a planet-sized archipelago), Bleach (where the main characters fight supernatural enemies in sword duels in a semi-afterlife), and Death Note (a super-sleuth matches wits with a vigilante with a magic notebook which lets him kill whoever he wants by writing their name in it), all having nothing to do with each other whatsoever.

My kids can handle Aliens, Terminator II, Saving Private Ryan, or The Dark Knight”

This'll take a little more maturity to understand
This'll take a little more maturity to understand

Your children should be able to handle some seinen series, particularly giant robot series like Neon Genesis Evangelion , Armored Trooper Votoms , Akira, X/1999 or Ghost in the Shell . These series often have graphic violence, some gore, nudity, and some mature themes, like the horrors of war, depression, or even an analogy of finding ones identity and coming into adulthood as represented by the violent development of psychic powers.

There are plenty of other series besides these that are fine, like the first season of Full Metal Panic! and Code Geass which your kids should be able to handle. Other shows might not work as well – Black Lagoon is a series about gangsters and pirates in the modern South Pacific, in addition to graphic violence and suggestive content it has plot lines ranging from a former communist revolutionary still trying to come to grips with the post Soviet-block world, to two murderous twin children turned assassins (with the lead trying to find out if the characters are irredeemable monsters or whether they can be “saved”), to some of the characters trying to hold on to, or regain, their sense of Humanity. These are very mature themes. If your kids can handle them, then more power to them, if not, stay away.

My kid can handle and understand Saw.”

Then you have absolutely nothing to worry about, from a violence standpoint

Wait, what about that Shojo and Josei stuff?”

 Can your kids handle the concept of a non-platonic relationship between men? Great, now, can  you?
Can your kids handle the concept of a non-platonic relationship between men? Great, now, can you?

Well, that's a little different. Most shojo and josei series focus, more or less, on interpersonal relationships. There might be some female nudity, but for most female audiences that's nothing to worry about, as readers and viewers are literally not seeing anything that they haven't seen every day. Here the questions are a little different.

  1. For Shojo: Can your child recognize that these relationships are idealized relationships based the norms of another culture? Can your child recognize that these situations don't necessarily represent anything they'd encounter in “American” daily life?

    If so, then you have nothing to worry about with Shojo.

  2. For Josei: In addition to the last questions - how do you feel about homosexuality? Is your child able to understand the concept of homosexual relationships? If so, how do they feel about them?

    The most common genre of josei manga to be brought to the United States are series related to romantic relationships between men, called “Yaoi.” The female counterpart is known as “Yuri.” In some series the characters aren't closeted, and their sexuality isn't a plot issue (outside of romantic relationships). In other series, the characters are in the closet, and society treats people who are gay or lesbian is explored in the story's plot. Still, the series are about people of the same gender in romantic relationships, and if alternative sexualities are a problem for you, or your kids, then josei is not for your family. If they can handle that, and you can handle them being exposed to those concepts, then they can handle josei.

    Where can I find out more about Anime and Manga?”

Well, first off, if there's a specific series you're looking for, a good place to check is often Wikipedia. Wikipedia will often to more into detail about a series plot then other sites will. Anime News Network's encyclopedia also has some information about series, though their content advisories are vague at best.

Ultimately, there is no substitute to watching a series for yourself, either on your own or with your child and making the judgment call as to whether your kid can handle the series subject matter.

Where can I get Anime and Manga?”

Most retailers like Best Buy and Borders have recently scaled back their stock of anime. Consequently, some of the best places to get anime on DVD or Blu-Ray are through online retailers like Amazon.com and RightStuf.com. Your local county library system probably have some anime, though it will generally be with the general collection, so you may have to look by title instead of by genre. Additionally, more and more anime has been made available on line for streaming, legally. Good places to look are Hulu.com, Crunchyroll.com, AnimeNewsNetwork.com/video, and funimation.com/video

Most book stores however are still carrying a wide selection of all sorts of manga, so you should be able to walk in and browse titles on the shelves. This won't tell you the intricacies of the plot, but it should give you some content information. Libraries usually carry manga as well, and a librarian should be happy to help you find what you're looking for.

I don't have the time to read or watch anime or manga with my kids? I need info on making a snap judgement.”

Well, some anime will have an age rating somewhere on the cover. RightStuf.com will also provide some age rating guidelines. However, may not have content descriptors. Still, in a pinch, this should suffice.

Will going to an anime convention like Kumoricon in Portland or Otakon in Baltimore help me learn more?”

Absolutely. However, keep in mind that you are jumping into the deep end of the pool. Most programming at anime conventions is aimed for people who are fans of anime – enough that even if they wouldn't call themselves “die-hard” fans, they know what they like. However, anime fans tend to be welcoming to newcomers and happy to see people express an interest in the hobby, even if they can be extremely enthusiastic about it (sort of like asking a room full of English majors to recommend a book after saying that you know nothing about literature and want to know more).

Do you have a book to recommend on the topic?

Most books on anime are written for fans, but Anime Essentials by Gilles Poitras is a decent, if dated, primer on the topic. Manga: The Complete Guide by Jason Thompson, is also a good primer on manga and a reference guide on various manga series. The list of series is a little out of date, but that's to be expected considering that new series are published every year. The Rough Guide to Anime by Simon Richmond has a brief history of anime, as well as some information on important series, and why they're important, and where to go if you want to know more. I've given my thoughts on the book here. The Anime Encyclopedia by Johnathan Clements and Helen McCarthy covers the same ground as Thompson's book, but for anime. It's about 5 years out of date (the most recent edition stops at 2006, before series like Death Note, Black Lagoon, or Gurren Lagann aired), but it still covers over 50 years of films and television series. If this feels overwhelming, don't worry – it's a big topic, with lots to learn about. 

 
Alexander Case (Count_Zero) writes about science fiction for Bureau42.com when he isn't writing stuff here, and he can also be found on Twitter (@Count_ZeroOR) 
Lurkeroon March 21, 2011 at 1:35 p.m.
This is certainly a well written and interesting piece. 
 
It's difficult to teach someone to be a good parent. It seems like one of things that should come naturally to someone that is responsible and really cares about the well being of their child. I don't remember how I was feeling at the time, but I started watching anime at age 4 when DBZ came on weekday mornings before school. From there it was just a natural progression.
metalsnakezeroon March 21, 2011 at 2:36 p.m.
Interesting points to look at when one is concern of their kids but want to allow them to do stuff that is usually outside their age range.
ZombiePieon March 21, 2011 at 2:39 p.m.
Not all anime is appropriate for children? WHAT YOU SAY?!?!?!

 WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S NOT FOR KIDS?!?!?!?!?!
 WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S NOT FOR KIDS?!?!?!?!?!
eldiaxon March 21, 2011 at 2:44 p.m.
Extremely well written article! I am going to bookmark this so I can link it to people who need explaining what anime is.
gla55jAwon March 21, 2011 at 2:53 p.m.
@zombiepie:  He's like "They have NO idea!"
sotyfan16on March 21, 2011 at 3:08 p.m.
Good job, Count_Zero! This article was sorely needed. Not really sure why you threw in The Dark Knight (PG-13) with R rated movies that are a lot more hard-boiled. I'm also curious as to why Eva and GitS would be considered less fucked up than Black Lagoon. For seinen material my suggestions would be swapped as action is a lot easier to understand and digest than psychological concepts.
Droon March 21, 2011 at 3:15 p.m.
@zombiepie: How long have you been sitting on that picture?
Count_Zeroon March 21, 2011 at 3:47 p.m.
@sotyfan16: You're kind of right there. Now that I think about it, the placement was somewhat arbitrary base on which ones I'd seen more recently. As far as The Dark Knight goes, it's a PG-13, but it's a hard PG-13. Add a few swear words in (someone referring to the Joker as a fucking psycho) and you could make it to R without any problems.
sora_thekey moderator on March 21, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.
@Count_Zero: Whoa! I love this article. IT is probably the best Guide so far! Taking into consideration that a lot of underage "kids" use the Whiskey Media Sites it is important for parents to understand stuff like this. Great job!
Dream moderator on March 21, 2011 at 5:28 p.m.
@zombiepie:  Well, well. I wondered when anyone was gonna notice the Animation Age Ghetto page I set up a while back (especially with the pic). XD
 
As for anime you could have your kids watch:
-Kiki's Delivery Service (Perfect for kids and adults)
-Ponyo (Bored me, but the kids are saps for it considering it's currently the highest grossing Ghibli film in the states.)
-Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland  (Watched it as a kid. Has scary moments compliments of the Nightmare King towards the second half of the movie. But shouldn't be too overwhelming for kids to handle. It's set up kind of like a Disney movie.)
-Angelic Layer (tourney anime like Yu-gi-oh and Pokemon yet has a developing story and isn't used to promote a product)
-Card Captor Sakura (The anime is infamous for its ship teasing of same-sex and age gap relationships. But the relationships are kept innocent enough and the violence is rather tame as Sakura is only capturing the beings that represent the powers of the Clow Cards.)
-Full Moon wo Sagashite (Has its intense moments, but the anime can serve as an inspirational story as it deals with a 12-year old granted the opportunity to be a successful teen idol with the help of a pair of shinigami despite her dealing with throat cancer that slowly becomes terminal.)
-Kamichu (Fun little fantasy slice-of-life set in the 1980s focused on a trio of middle schoolers with one of them being a god. Could be mistaken for a Ghibli movie as it would be possible to get younger viewers interested in the hijinks triggered by Yurie's powers.)
-Princess Tutu (Does get quite dark towards the end of the series thanks to its exploration of the darker side of fairy tales. But Ahiru's quest to gather the pieces of Mythos' heart does provide its light-hearted moments and the darker content is mostly discussed without getting too graphic.)
-Taisho Baseball Girls (Have any girls interested in wanting to play baseball against the boys? This series presents it in 1920s Japan and is mostly tame in its handling of the era's gender roles.)
-Oban Star-Racers- (A collaboration between France and Japan, so it is technically anime. :P )
-Natsume's Book of Friends and Mokke- (Both titles are fairly tame in their handling of the everyday interactions that their protagonists have with spirits with the occasional intense moments.)
-My Neighbors the Yamadas (Has a couple suggestive scenes meant as humor for parents, but the content is mostly tame and is another worthwhile film for the whole family to see.)
-Kobato- Another CLAMP title that is perfect for young girls to see thanks to the naivete of Kobato as she regularly helps people with their problems to collect more "candy" for her jar.
 
You think of two? I just thought of 13 that would be appropriate for younger viewers.
ZombiePieon March 21, 2011 at 9:08 p.m.
@Dream:  Oh hell yeah that's great stuff. It was either that or part of the Uncyclopedia article for anime (which I'm partially responsible for) I could have quoted or used.
AURON570on March 21, 2011 at 9:48 p.m.
awesome article
psicomaniaticaon March 21, 2011 at 11:08 p.m.
Fantastic article, now that I read the article I notice that when I was like 5 I started with shojo (Sailor Moon) then Dragon Ball but then the tv came up with Ranma and Ghost sweeper Mikami haha absolutely not for children but I could handle it pretty well, my sister and dad used to watch anime with me so I think my parents didnt have any problem with what I watched, now I can explain to them the different types of anime & manga (excluding Yaoi).
 
In Mexico children from the 90's grew up with Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball, they are so popular that small children (age 4) watched it, I dont think they could understand it well but parents were even more hooked than their children, as it's an animation they thought of it just as a cartoon for children, so they were ok. 
Now I think parents are more aware of the genres which is good!!!!! I hope when I have children they could enjoy anime as me!!! 
EganTheVile1on March 22, 2011 at 2:19 a.m.
This is probably an overdue subject on this site and should be pinned to the main page at all times at the top of the beginners guides. It is a complicated subject, especially by cultural standards, Voltron is OK across the board, but American parents who pick up a GoLion DVD because they see the Voltron character on the DVD box cover might be a little shocked by the content, 
(For a perfect example go to Hulu.com and watch the first episode of Voltron "Space Explorers Captured" then go to Crunchyroll.com and watch the original GoLion version "Escape from Slave Castle" for all their similarities these episodes are worlds apart.
Scribblyon March 22, 2011 at 8:54 a.m.
Great article, I'm sure it can be really hard for people who don't understand anime to get anything about what their children are into, hope this helps people :)
ShadowKnight508 moderator on March 22, 2011 at 9:13 a.m.
Great article, Count_Zero. This is a great article and perhaps I should show this to my parents (who are against letting my little sister watch anime at the moment).
Little_Socrateson March 22, 2011 at 11:07 a.m.
Absolutely well-written, though I do agree with user @Dream that there's plenty of anime for younger viewers out there, especially when we consider some of the darker Disney productions.
AgentJon March 22, 2011 at 1:11 p.m.
Wish this existed a decade ago when I tried to explain Outlaw Star to my mother.  Thanks for putting this together.
Sombreon March 22, 2011 at 1:28 p.m.
I rarely read AV articles, but this was excellent!
matti00on March 22, 2011 at 3:29 p.m.

There are male viewers who enjoy shojo and josei series. 

Tell it to my girlfriend.

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