Over the last decade, anime has grown from an unknown medium to an international phenomenon. It’s grown so much that even non-anime fans are able to recognize many of the iconic anime characters integral to the medium’s mainstream success. So, here are five anime characters that even non-fans would recognize.
Premiering in the late 90s, Pokémon has become increasingly popular not only in Japan but also abroad. The Pocket Monster series has gone from being a manga to an anime to a merchandising giant — and, recently, to an augmented reality game.
The tiny Pokémon has even made appearances on The Simpsons, in all five Super Smash Bros. games, and has a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. No matter where you live, you’re bound to come face-to-face with the cuteness that is Pikachu.
So, it isn’t a surprise that non-anime fans would recognize the series’ mascot, Pikachu. Its signature lightning-bolt tail and red cheeks are instantly recognizable even to those who haven’t watched the series or gotten addicted to Pokémon GO.
Dragon Ball aired its first episode in Japan nearly 30 years ago. Since then, the series has grown in popularity abroad, inspiring several memes and fantasy battles. The most popular fantasy matchup pits Goku against Superman, with many fans feeling that the powerful Saiyan would grind Superman (and all other superpowered characters) into dust.
On top of that, many celebrities have openly proclaimed their love for Dragon Ball, such as Donald Glover, former UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, and Black Panther‘s Michael B. Jordan. When you have such big celebrities as fans, it opens the door for fans of other mediums to learn about anime.
Dragon Ball, especially Goku and his Saiyan transformations, have become instantly recognizable to those that don’t watch anime. It also doesn’t hurt that Goku is the ambassador of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Many characters in Naruto have iconic outfits, but it’s the titular character Naruto Uzumaki‘s orange tracksuit and forehead protector that make him recognizable to non-anime fans. Back when it premiered in 2005, it became an instant hit with US audiences. No one could hide from the popular shounen series.
Even those who were not fans of anime couldn’t help but notice Naruto and his ninja squad. More than a decade later, the series is still popular due to internet memes, such as the Taylor Swift Naruto run. The character also made an appearance at the 2012 Paris Marathon. The CEO of CyberConnect2 (the company behind the .hack RPG series and Naruto fighting games) participated in the event dressed as Naruto. Believe it!
When the magical girl anime series Sailor Moon premiered back in the 90s, it broke many barriers. It was so ahead of its time that many of its LGBT-themed scenes were either cut or censored to avoid offending audiences.
Even so, the western adaptation introduced people outside of Japan to the beautiful world of anime. The series introduced a “normal” young girl who, after many trials and tribulations, has gone on to become a powerful warrior princess. In many ways, Sailor Moon was more relatable than any Disney princess at that time.
She was clumsy, a poor student, and a crybaby. But none of that stopped her from protecting her loved ones and her home. The lovable heroine has been referenced multiple times in popular culture. The Barenaked Ladies mention the show in their hit song “One Week” and she even appears in an episode of Steven Universe. It’s no wonder that the character and series are recognizable to non-fans.
While many people may not recall his name, they do recognize his signature move and white open-face helmet with the signature M on top. Speed Racer’s main character, Gō Mifune drives the Mach 5, a powerful race car designed by his father Pops Racer (Daisuke Mifune).
But, one of the most recognizable aspects of the series is the opening song. Performed by Danny Davis and The Nashville Brass, the song details how Speed (Gō Mifune) would drive in races against dangerous people and come out on top. At the end of the opening song, he would jump out of his Mach 5 and do his recognizable swoosh.
Speed Racer was one of the very first anime to receive an English adaptation — all the way back in 1967. Its racing scenes and colorful characters made it the most successful and well-known anime for decades by far. The Wachowskis even adapted the series into a feature film back in 2008. This ensured that even non-anime fans would recognize the demon on wheels.