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Anime is surging in popularity. Could it steer streamers toward international content during the Hollywood strikes?

A hand holding a streaming remote is surrounded by televisions and anime visual elements.

Illustration by Dave Cole / Getty / The Current

The streaming space is stirring up some “animayhem.”

Japanese animation, known as anime, has grown so popular in recent years that Hulu now has a hub dedicated to it and other adult animated content. The streamer launched the new hub, called Animayhem, earlier this month to showcase over 200 anime series on the platform.

“Over the past decade, anime has become one of the prime axes around which competition over viewers has been fought,” Aurélie Petit and Marc Steinberg wrote in a report published last year for The Platform Lab, a research group based out of Canada’s Concordia University.

According to the report, the anime market was valued at $24 billion worldwide in 2021, half of which came from outside Japan. It has “dedicated and engaged fan bases” but also “travels well” globally because of the subtitled and dubbed content, the report’s authors wrote.

This has made it an essential genre for streaming services to tap as the industry has ballooned in recent years. Now anime could play an even bigger role in streamers’ content offerings amid the current Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes. The longer the strikes last, the more that original productions could be impacted, leaving streamers to rely more on library and international content — like anime.

“Netflix and Amazon in particular, long dependent on global licensing agreements, will continue to offer new television shows and films during the strikes, using their ties to international production environments,” Steinberg, a film studies professor at Concordia University and director of The Platform Lab, told The Current.

He adds: “About 200 anime series are produced yearly, a really high number and one that will allow particularly Netflix to keep offering viewers new content.”

It’s impossible to talk about anime and streaming without mentioning Crunchyroll, though. The Sony-owned platform dedicated specifically to anime content has been at the forefront of anime’s growing popularity. The service, which boasts 100 million registered users and 11 million paid subscribers, isn’t even available in Japan, reflecting anime’s strength in other markets.

“We’re seeing the global interest and excitement for anime grow every year in pretty much all markets,” Crunchyroll Chief Financial Officer Travis Page told The Current. “There has been an audience for anime for a long time and Crunchyroll — and more broadly, streaming — has made it easier than ever for fans to enjoy content at the speed of Japan.”

Anime’s popularity could just keep growing

Today, anime could even be “worth more outside of Japan than inside,” Omdia Senior Analyst James McWhirter told Bloomberg. He added that the “growth will continue.”

“Before [streaming], children’s shows like Dragonball or Pokémon were available on broadcast television; more niche and edgier shows were not,” Steinberg says. “During the 2000s, these would be accessed via piracy networks. Now streaming provides more convenient and easier access to a wide variety of anime.”

Crunchyroll President Rahul Purini told Bloomberg in a recent interview that he expects 200 million anime fans to watch on official websites, rather than through piracy forums, by 2025.

Among U.S. audiences, demand for anime content was at 5.4 percent as of March this year, according to Parrot Analytics, a data firm that measures audience demand, meaning the overall interest in content. That’s an increase from 3.8 percent in March 2021. The most in-demand anime series worldwide from June to July this year were One Piece and Attack on Titan.

Netflix has 125 anime TV shows and over 50 movies, according to Reelgood, a streaming search engine. The company confirmed that Hulu offers over 200 anime shows. But they’re not the biggest supplier of streaming anime content. Crunchyroll has over 1,300 anime series, according to Page.

The larger streaming industry’s embrace of anime could be Crunchyroll’s gain.

“We are happy to see the overall anime ecosystem grow and are glad to see other streaming services taking note of just how powerful and fun anime can be,” Page says. “We also believe that fans who want to go deeper will eventually find themselves at Crunchyroll because we have a depth of catalog unlike any other service available — not to mention we also offer theatrical, events and experiential, gaming, e-commerce, and more.”

On a roll

Sony bought Crunchyroll from WarnerMedia in 2020. The Platform Lab report noted that the acquisition emphasized “the strategic consolidation of the global anime streaming market by Sony, and the understanding of anime distribution as a driving force in terms of revenue.”

That bet could be paying off; in a recent note, Goldman Sachs Analyst Minami Munakata projected that Crunchyroll would account for 36 percent of Sony Pictures’ profit in the next five years, according to Bloomberg.

In the short term, Crunchyroll has its eyes on India as a market with great potential; Page says the local team was there to reintroduce the service to the region last week.

“Crunchyroll has both powered and grown alongside the global love of anime,” he says. “We’re also very proud to be working alongside our partners to grow the anime community across regions.”