Anime has become immensely popular around the world in recent decades, capturing the imaginations of millions of fans. Given China’s massive population and growing influence on global culture, an important question arises – does China have its own anime industry? The short answer is yes, China does produce anime, but the industry faces some unique challenges.
The History of Chinese Anime
Animation in China dates back to the 1920s, not long after the artform was pioneered in Japan. The first Chinese animated film is credited to the Wan brothers, who produced the black and white short films Uproar in the Studio and Princess Iron Fan in the 1920s. However, the animation industry in China did not fully take off until the 1960s and 1970s.
In the early decades under Communist rule, China’s animation was focused on propaganda. The government sponsored the Shanghai Animation Film Studio, which created films meant to educate the masses and promote Communist values. In the late 1970s, market reforms led to a shift, with animated works made more for entertainment. Feature films like Havoc in Heaven based on Chinese folklore found success during this period.
The 1990s and 2000s saw huge growth in the Chinese animation industry. Homegrown animated series like Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf found eager audiences. The global anime craze also began to influence Chinese animators. Works clearly inspired by Japanese anime and manga began to emerge from Chinese studios.
Anime-Influenced Chinese Animations
Here are some examples of Chinese animations that take cues from the anime aesthetic and style:
- The King’s Avatar – This popular esports-themed series features beautiful characters and kinetic action scenes clearly influenced by anime.
- Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation – Based on a fantasy web novel, this donghua (Chinese anime) has an anime art style and shonen-ai themes.
- Scissor Seven – An action comedy about a hapless contract killer with powerful hair. The visual gags and character designs exhibit anime’s influence.
- Heaven Official’s Blessing – Another donghua adapted from a web novel that features vibrant colors and magical elements common in anime.
- Battle Through the Heavens – A young man’s quest to become an alchemist and martial arts master in a fantasy world. The premise has echoes of Naruto and other battle shonen anime.
Some studios that produce anime-influenced content in China include Haoliners Animation League, bilibili, and Tencent Video.
Differences Between Chinese and Japanese Animation
While Chinese animations have certainly been inspired by anime, there are some key differences that set them apart:
- Art styles – Chinese animation tends to use brighter colors compared to the more subdued palettes of anime. Character designs also exhibit differences like rounder faces.
- Themes – Chinese works more often reference local mythology, history, and literature compared to Japanese source material.
- Censorship – Sex, violence, and politically sensitive content are more heavily censored in Chinese animations.
- Production values – Some Chinese animations are produced on smaller budgets and don’t exhibit the same polish as top tier anime from famous Japanese studios.
However, these differences have narrowed in recent years as Chinese studios aim for anime-quality standards and expand the genres and styles they work in.
Popularity of Anime in China
Japanese anime has always had a strong following in China, though it has waxed and waned over the decades due to political tensions between the countries. Classics from the 1970s like Astro Boy and Mazinger Z made a strong impression. In the 1990s and 2000s, groundbreaking anime like Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, Naruto, and Attack on Titan built up immense recognition and fandoms.
Today, anime remains very popular among Chinese youth. Leading video platforms like Bilibili stream anime episodes shortly after they air in Japan. Themed anime merchandise and conventions are also common. A 2019 survey found that about 76% of Chinese respondents reported watching anime.
This enthusiasm is not without controversy. At various points, the Chinese government has sought to reduce foreign “harmful influences” like anime through edicts and censorship. But ultimately anime’s popularity has proven too huge to stamp out.
|Top Anime in China
|Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon
|Naruto, Bleach, One Piece
|Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online
|Demon Slayer, My Hero Academia
Challenges for Chinese Anime
Despite all the progress, Chinese anime continues to face challenges on its path to matching Japan’s success.
The Chinese government’s restrictions on content in animation limits artistic freedom and the range of stories that can be told. Controversial social issues and topics disfavored by the Communist Party are off the table. Gratuitous violence and sexuality are also heavily censored.
Smaller Talent Pool
China lacks the dense infrastructure of anime talent built up in Japan over decades. The number of animators, directors, voice actors, and other specialists is still playing catch up.
Less Financial Investment
Anime is a very capital-intensive industry, requiring millions invested over years to develop hit franchises. Many Chinese animation studios are still building up the financial resources to produce anime at the highest quality levels.
Stigma Against Animation
Lingering cultural stigma against animation as mere child’s entertainment has slowed the growth of the industry and talent pool in China.
Despite the challenges, many analysts see a bright future for Chinese anime. Here are some positive trends:
- Booming tech investment – Chinese tech giants like Tencent and Bilibili are pouring money into anime production.
- Wider acceptance – As Gen Z embraces anime, the stigma is rapidly declining.
- Global markets – Streaming makes it easier than ever to distribute Chinese anime worldwide.
- Government support – Recognizing economic potential, local governments are supporting animation studios.
With these tailwinds, China’s anime industry could potentially reach parity with Japan’s within a decade or two.
- China does have its own growing domestic anime industry, though it remains overshadowed by Japan.
- Chinese anime draws clear inspiration from Japanese anime but has some distinctive differences.
- Anime remains hugely popular in China though subject to occasional government censorship.
- The future looks bright for Chinese anime to catch up and find global success.
The animation industries in Japan and China will likely enjoy friendly rivalry and inspire each other to keep innovating in the years to come. More choices will benefit fans all over the world who love the anime artform.