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Before Anime was Mainstream: Reflections on Anime in the Early & Mid 2000s

Updated on March 4, 2018
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Alexis is a special education teacher and a Jacklyn of all trades. She enjoys traveling, writing, and playing the violin.

Before Anime was Mainstream: A Reflection

The other week I went to Barnes and Noble with two friends. We’re all in our late 20s and very avid readers. As we were browsing, we each went off on our own. As I made my rounds, I came across the comic book section where one friend was browsing. Looking over several book cases of manga, I commented how popular manga has become. Adding to that, I asked her “Can you imagine what it would’ve been like for us in high school to have had all this manga to choose from?”

She turned her eyes towards another row and shook her head, commenting how popular it has gotten in the ten years since we graduated high school. How things have changed since the early/middle 00s!


Background: Before 2000

There’s a funny story behind the first anime I watched. When I was 6, my parents bought my a VHS tape called “Scamper the Penguin’. I took it to my teacher when we were talking about penguins and asked if it would be ok to watch in class. She agreed and my whole class watched it. Only later did I realize it was actually an anime movie.

Being a stereotypical 90s kid, I watched my fair share of cartoons. Some of the shows I watched throughout my elementary and middle school years were anime, such as Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Digimon and Dragonballz. I only really got into Pokemon and Digimon, though Dragonballz would go on to be a personal favorite years later. At the time I was more interested in other things and didn’t think much of the Japanese cartoons I occasionally watched.

Thinking back, I remember sitting in math class and talking to a friend who drew Dragonballz a lot. I even got a ‘How to draw Dragonballz’ book and he helped me develop better art skills. Toonami began airing in 2000 and I remember watching a few shows, notably “Dragonballz: Dead Zone” when I was sick. Nothing really grabbed me though as I had several other interests that outweighed it such as reading, music (chorus, piano), theater, art, church and volunteer work.


The Great Anime & Manga Leap

There are several important things that happened in the early 2000s that changed the face of anime and manga in the United States;

Adult Swim

It began airing anime in September 2001 and continues to do so today. Some notable titles from the early 2000s are;

  • Cowboy Bepop (2001)
  • Outlaw Star (2002)
  • The Big O (2003)
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2004)
  • Inuyasha (2002)
  • Mobile Suit Gundam (2002)
  • Tench Mayo! (2002)
  • Trigun (2003)
  • Wolfs Rain (2004)
  • Yu Yu Hakusho (2002)


It started in the late 90s and gained a lot of momentum in the early 2000s. It did get cancelled between 2009-2011, but was brought back in 2012. It didn’t just have anime, but it had pretty stellar line-ups. Some of the anime shown from 2000-2008 include;

  • Tench Muyo (Universe, Tokyo)-2000
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (2000)
  • Zoids: New Century (2001)
  • The Big O (2001)
  • Hamtaro (2002)
  • Rurouni Kenshin (2003)
  • .hack//sign (2003)
  • Naruto (2005)
  • The Prince of Tennis (2006)

Anime Companies

This could be its own article, but several companies were founded or gained momentum in releasing anime and manga stateside. Several have since gone out of business, but it’s worth noting some big ones at this time;

Viz Media (1986-Present)

Tokyo Pop (1997-2008, 2011-Present)

Geneon Entertainment (1993-2003/2007)

ADV Films (1992-2009, 2013-Present)

Funimation (1994-Present)


Throughout my middle school years, I played video games, though I mostly stuck with nintendo titles. It was during my freshman year that I became closer friends with the two girls mentioned above. They were heavily into anime and video games. If you ask a lot of people about anime growing up in the 90s, they’ll report they had fansubs or just a few episodes of a series because anime VHS tapes were ridiculously expensive.

The pickings were slim prior to the early 2000s, but then this thing called “Adult Swim” began airing on Cartoon Network. I still remember being up late 2-3 night at 11pm and seeing the beginning of Yu-Yu-Hakusho and Cowboy Bepop. Being a 13 year old kid, I was told those shows were too mature for me and only for adults. I laugh at it now, considering Yu-Yu-Hakusho is one of my favorite series’.

This was a godsend for high school girls who loved manga in 2005!
This was a godsend for high school girls who loved manga in 2005! | Source

High School-the Early/Mid 2000s

It was during the ‘great leap’ in the United States that manga began to have its own nook in places like Barnes and Noble. I remember when Shonen Jump (US) came out in 2003 (ceased 2012), though I did not sample a copy until later. I enjoyed American comics and my two best friends were doing their best to introduce me to older anime that they had on VHS such as Bubblegum Crisis, Tench Muyo and Princess Mononoke. Something clicked and I began to enjoy it more, especially as my friend circle in high school grew and many of my new friends were into anime, manga and video games.

It was around this time I got my first job, at a newspaper. With my money, I began to invest in manga (splitting spendings with college savings. I also discovered Shojo Beat (2005-2007) and began reading it. Some of the notable titles I became a fan of were;

  • Marmalade Boy
  • Mars
  • Nana
  • Fruits Basket
  • Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X
  • Fullmetal Alchemist
  • Anything by Clamp
  • Bleach

One nice advantage of my job was that I had the ability to take work home with me. Some nights I would lug home boxes of envelopes to stuff and stamp after school for the next couple of days (so trusting of a 16 year old!) I would do this in order to watch anime on Toonami or anime DVDs friends had leant me. A few friends had multiple high paying jobs meaning they had entire boxsets! So watching the entire Trigun, Boogiepop Phantom, Deathnote and Card Captor Sakura series did happen.

The rise of the internet during this time meant that access to anime and manga, many of which were unlicensed. My junior and senior year free time was spent exchanging anime and manga with friends at school, with weekends being a mix of the two. My manga collection, through gifts, bookstore visits and the likes, increased dramatically (we’re talking over 200 volumes folks!) It has since been largely sold to pay for college, but it was quite the sight back in the day!

Going online and talking to strangers also gained momentum with me with the rise of the internet. I remember joining anime forums and even creating a few fansites or blogs with the coding abilities I’d gained in class. They were carefree times. I never went to any real conventions, but I did scour flea markets for goodies, the mall and joined a few anime websites. Those were the days.



Naturally once college hit academics became a priority, thus my interest waned, with renewed interest piquing time to time. Once I began working, anime and manga became a fun thing I did with certain friends or on weekends when I had no work demands. Even today, friends and I will plan ‘anime’ days where we watch anime most of the afternoon whilst catching up every few months.

The early and mid 2000s became a defining period for me. I made friends because of anime and manga that I still have to this day. Many of the series I watched I still go back and watch to this day. Am I still a fan? Yes, but to a much lesser extent. I have plenty of other hobbies and a career that have made it take, rightfully so, a backseat.

When I go through stores nowadays and see just how many series' there are and how accessible they are I'm flabbergasted. There were times as a teenager that I wanted to buy something but there simply wasn't anything to choose from. Now, even with the money, I wouldn't know where to start if I wanted to pick up a series. I'm also too cheap and opt to go to the local bookstore for a cheap series or better yet the library.

It's amazing to see how many streaming services offer anime. I can go on Netflix and watch Inuyasha, a series I recorded every night to watch in the morning for over a year. I can save hundreds of dollars in streaming a show or if I want, libraries now carry a diversity of anime series'. It's certainly a good time to be an anime fan, but I wouldn't have traded the earlier days in the late 1990s and early 2000s for anything.

© 2018 Alexis


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