Who Watches Late Night Anime in Japan?

by Justin Sevakis,

Ashley asks:

Who does late-night anime in Japan target, age-wise? Lately it seems like when I talk about the intended audience for a late-night anime with my friends, a lot of them who only experience anime through a Western lens (i.e., only on Funimation, Crunchyroll, Adult Swim, etc.) have this perception that the age of the main characters correlates to the intended audience; in other words, that a show with a teenage main character (like say, The Asterisk War) is meant for teenagers. But, as shown in your in previous Answerman about anime and high school settings, that might be more of a cultural factor that any real indication of who the show is targeting.

The vast majority of anime is now being aired in the late-night hours. It used to be that the anime shown late at night was aimed at an older crowd, but now with Shonen Jump adaptations and borderline mainstream shows like One Punch Man showing up there, we can safely say that it's literally everything. Anybody could be watching late-night anime. Almost nobody is actually awake when new episodes air, of course, but nearly everybody has a DVR or a DVD/Blu-ray set-top recorder. (People actually bought those in Japan.) And if you look around what's being scheduled, you can see that there are surprisingly few patterns to what kind of shows are being programmed when.

Overall Anime/manga demographics are notoriously hard to pin down. While the magazines that many manga and light novels are originally serialized in are named after hoary old demographic categories (shonen = boy, shoujo = girl, seinen = adult men, josei = adult women, "young" presumes late high school/early college), those categories are sometimes meaningless. Some shonen shows are actually AIMED at women, and do quite well with them. Some shows aimed at younger audiences unexpectedly find themselves beloved by adults. Generally, there's something for every age group (although there tends to be a steep drop-off in otaku-ness in people's early- to mid-20s).

Unlike much of Western media, you cannot tell who the target audience is by the protagonist. Lots of shows trying to target one gender are about a character of the opposite sex... and they're only sexy sometimes! And while many anime are both aimed at teens and young adults, and feature a cast of that age, many seinen and even hentai shows also cast young adults. It really offers no clue at all.

Increasingly, new anime series cast a wide net -- and intentionally so. There's no sense in only appealing to a small group when you could possibly appeal to every anime fan. A good half of new anime coming out I would consider to be "gender neutral" on their face: maybe a show will have shoujo elements but also some female fan service. Maybe a show will go dark in a way adults will enjoy, but still have a spunky young protagonist. It's getting hard to tell who many series are for, because many of them are just for the "general otaku market".

There are ways to monetize nearly every age of fan. Pre-teens and teens will buy lower-priced merchandise like posters, keychains, cell phone danglies, and maybe a T-shirt. Teens and young adults will buy CDs, higher-end collectables and figures, model kits, and once in a while, a DVD. And of course, the all-important employed adult otaku are the ones who buy the super-expensive discs whenever they can, in addition to everything else.

There are still some hard and fast demographic lines that don't get crossed very much. Boob and harem shows are obviously mostly popular with guys, and the older skewing ones are the ones that get a little graphic. Shoujo and josei series, by and large, don't travel very far into male fandom (or if they do, nobody's telling). And of course, yaoi is basically Kryptonite to most straight guys.

But by and large, the majority of new shows are just aimed generally at otaku. And within that group, the more people that the show can appeal to, the better.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap. Please note that he does not take question submissions via Twitter.

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