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Anime Overperforms - An Analysis of Netflix's 2023 Viewership Data

by Miles Thomas Atherton,

Image created by Miles Atherton

Since the advent of streaming, it's been notoriously difficult to gauge how popular a specific anime is with international audiences, both for publishers looking to make informed decisions for a market that generates most of its revenue outside of its native Japan or for fans curious to see if their favorite title drew enough attention to merit another season. Sorting Crunchyroll by "Most Popular" or browsing Netflix and Hulu's Top 10 lists provide little in the way of actionable data, and staples of Hollywood executives like Nielsen and Comscore neglect many seasonal anime.

Last December, Netflix began to share more concrete metrics about their titles for the first half of the year and promised to continue to do so on a six-month stagger. As someone who has had an anime database of one kind or another open on my laptop for the last decade between roles at Crunchyroll, Anime Ltd., and White Box Entertainment, I was delighted to share my perspective on what these data implied about the world of anime for Anime News Network in January, and today, I'll be delving into the recently-released numbers covering July through December 2023.

While the data provided by Netflix are a massive improvement for developing an understanding of the worldwide anime ecosystem – the streaming giant is one of the leading platforms for anime consumption in many countries, including the top choice in the lucrative U.S. market according to an August 2023 survey from The Vox Media Insights and Research team – it's far from perfect.

The data is aggregated such that it's challenging to make apples-to-apples comparisons between titles, parse audience overlap, understand disparities in geographic availability, explore the audience demographics, or dig into engagement on a per-episode basis – something easily found on the Wikipedia page of any primetime sitcom made in the last 80 years. Besides this, it's worth noting that, of the 200+ new TV anime and two dozen films produced each year, Netflix licenses or produces just 5-10% of these in an exclusive capacity. As such, consider this more of a representation of what 100M+ anime viewers are watching on this particular platform than what engagement looks like in the anime world at large.


Anime consumption is up significantly on Netflix over the first half of 2023 for a total of 3.5 billion hours, or 3.92% of all Netflix viewership. That's 14% more anime watched than in the first half of the year, during which time the streaming giant saw a slight decrease in overall engagement on the platform. To put it into perspective, if we apply it against the metric that "half of all Netflix accounts watch an amount of anime" as we used last time, the typical anime-watcher consumed an additional 3 hours of anime from July to December. That's the equivalent of three extra weeks of viewership for the typical Netflix anime fan!

Image via Chart created by Miles Atherton (Click here to enlarge)

This begs the question: Why is anime engagement on the rise during a period where overall Netflix viewership is down? I found four likely answers suggested from the data.

1. The first half of 2023 was an anime drought on Netflix

As you may have noticed in the infographic above, the second half of new releases brought in 20% of anime consumption, compared to 80% for catalog titles. This is nearly identical to the trend on Netflix as a whole, but anime was underwater by this metric from January to June, during which time, new releases accounted for just 6% of all anime hours viewed.

Historically, Netflix has had a somewhat mixed performance in the world of anime, largely owing to their limited exposure. Outside of children's programming, there are more new Japanese anime a year than animated television programs in the rest of the world combined – more than 200 annually! – but with only a handful of Netflix Originals each year that would qualify under the geographic appellation implied by the word "anime," it'd be easy for Netflix to have an "off" period. Even in a situation where the Netflix team had clairvoyance as to every anime's quality ahead of time, the occasional drought is a near guarantee, simply due to the outsized impact a single title failing to connect with an audience can have on such a small slate.

Image via Chart created by Miles Atherton (Click here to enlarge)

With nearly double the number of Netflix Originals in the first six months of 2023 and bigger titles across the board, Netflix was finally giving anime fans an excuse to tune in. On a "views" basis, calculated by Netflix as total hours viewed divided by total hours of content available, the top 10 list of successful IPs is brimming with Netflix Original anime; only Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaibaand Jujutsu Kaisen fall outside of that category.

We'll be discussing additional elements that I believe contributed to the success of titles like My Happy Marriage, Baki, and Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead in a later section, but it's clear at first blush that the 2023 slate of original anime were clumped at the back half of the year. While having a regular cadence of equally important must-watch new releases for every demographic and psychographic is the ideal strategy for a company like Netflix, especially during an era when a large cohort of consumers are swapping between streaming services two or three at a time, Netflix seems to to be more-or-less immune to that behavior due to their perceived role as the "essential" subscription. The impact of a fallow six months for new anime releases impacts them much less than their peers, and as we can see, the fans are subscribed and ready to watch once there are exciting new titles to enjoy.

2. The One Piece live-action drove significant interest in the anime

One Piece's live-action adaptation premiered during this period to critical and fan acclaim and, on the metric of total hours watched divided by hours of content available (Netflix's primary metric of success based on the ordering of their data), it was the platform's #1 show of the second half of 2023. Blowing past expectations, One Piece was only second to The Night Agent across all of 2023 using this measurement. With this came elevated interest in One Piece as a franchise, and nowhere is that more obvious than on Netflix itself.

The One Piece anime more than doubled in hours viewed compared to the first half of the year, an increase unmatched by any other without an availability change. This helped One Piece soar ahead of Pokémon and the combined Naruto/Naruto Shippūden in terms of total hours viewed to become the most-consumed anime franchise of the year on Netflix.

Image via Chart created by Miles Atherton (Click here to enlarge)

On total hours viewed basis, One Piece had more than double the second-place franchise, Baki, which received a new season of content during this period. You'll see here that, besides newly-released titles and One Piece, the average anime franchise decreased in viewership for the second half of 2023, similar to the behavior seen across the rest of the Netflix catalog. It's clear to me that the strength of the Strawhats and an improved lineup of new releases that anime were the key factors for anime's growth on Netflix during this period.

A quick note on Hunter x Hunter (2011) – the viewership also saw a significant spike during this period, contrary to the trends seen in franchises as big as Pokémon and Naruto. This is for two main reasons, as far as I could tell. The title was threatened for removal from the U.S. and Canada at the end of August. While Netflix was able to negotiate with North American licensor Viz Media to renew the license, the news of its imminent departure seems to have been a motivating factor for many fans. Additionally, Nippon TV had been slowly rolling out additional seasons to over 100 additional territories on Netflix starting in late 2022 and had added the "sixth season" of the iconic Shonen Jump series during the second half of 2023. The increased availability likely had a meaningful role in Hunter x Hunter's impressive 110% period-over-period growth as well.

3. Netflix's anime audience in Asia over-performs

When discussing the success of the One Piece live-action on an earnings report, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said, "It's so rare for an English show to be that popular in Japan and Korea, Brazil, and in the U.S. at the same time."

The universal appeal of One Piece is spectacular, but that doesn't mean that there are certain audiences with which it over-performs. For example, One Piece spent much less time in the Top 10 of the United States or Canada than in Latin America and Asia. In the same way, anime is disproportionately popular in those same territories, displaying similar behavior on Netflix.

Image via Chart created by Miles Atherton (Click here to enlarge)

Breaking out the top 10 anime in the most granular form allowed by the data, one can better understand what I mean by this. If you look at the top 10, you'll see quite a few titles you might better remember as Crunchyroll exclusives if you live outside of Asia. The most recent seasons of Demon Slayer did eventually end up on Netflix in more territories (as did Jujutsu Kaisen's first season and film). Still, for the most critical time for an anime's popularity and interest – its simulcast window – these titles were exclusive to just a few countries, including Japan, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

Combined, these countries only represent an estimated 8.5% of Netflix's subscriber base—approximately 22 million users as of December 2023—yet these fans watched enough of Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen to represent viewer numbers above the heavily promoted and star-studded worldwide exclusive Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.

I'm liable to treat the total hours viewed over hours available metric (misleadingly referred to as “views” by Netflix) as a floor of unique viewers since, from years of study and 15 years of collected piracy data, I know that the median viewer of an anime is unlikely to complete a title. Given this, and ignoring VPN behavior since it's unclear to what extent that's factored in here, that means that at least 7.4M households in the above Asian countries watched Jujutsu Kaisen's second season. That's right: Approximately 33% of Netflix subscribers who could watch Jujutsu Kaisen Season 2 on Netflix did so. For context, this is a viewership rate similar to that of major hits like Stranger Things in the United States, by my best estimates.

4. The success of My Happy Marriage should be a blueprint for the future of Netflix's anime efforts

If you were to take a look at the list of anime that Netflix has branded a "Netflix Original", you would be forgiven if you were under the impression that anime is a medium aimed squarely at young men.

According to surveys and other research from my anime-focused consulting firm, White Box Entertainment, the Netflix Original anime of the last few years that have performed the best, such as Baki, Record of Ragnarok, KENGAN ASHURA, and The Seven Deadly Sins, are also among the most male-centric anime of the same period. By that, I mean they have incredibly high male-to-female ratios compared to the average series or film.

Popular media (and likely in no small part of the more male-dominated online anime community) perceives anime fans as overwhelmingly male. However, particularly when considering anime as a worldwide phenomenon, it's hard to find a significant gender gap in terms of the raw number of viewers.

So why hasn't Netflix dedicated more of its original anime lineup to series and films with female, femme, and non-binary audiences in mind? I speculate that, with how relatively few anime titles Netflix releases each year, they want each one to serve the broadest audience, and have seen data that women of all ages engage with these shonen titles – series obstinately aimed at young men in Japan – at similar rates as their listed target audience.

However, that's not true for all female anime fans, as seen here with the success of My Happy Marriage. If the weekly Netflix Top 10 lists are any indication, there's a massive audience across the globe, especially in Latin America and Asia, who are starved for romance anime told from a woman's point of view.

Titles aimed at female audiences have some interesting trends in the anime arena. They are rewatched more frequently than any other kind of anime, which, for a streaming platform like Netflix, plays a significant role in minimizing churn.

Another compelling reason why I believe My Happy Marriage was so successful was because it was the first anime to be released worldwide on the platform with a simulcast model. While Netflix has done this for talk shows, anime exclusively released in Asia, and a few other shows, typically, the streamer prefers the "binge" model they popularized, where entire seasons are dumped all at once.

While I do not doubt that this release model has its benefits in terms of getting consumers to complete TV shows at a higher rate in addition to other boons only understood by the linear algebra that convinced Netflix to pursue this model, anime fans have been vocal about their displeasure with the binge strategy. For most Netflix Original anime, the domestic broadcast still occurs every week, with international fans doomed to miss the conversation when the series is unceremoniously dropped in full months later. As I've discussed at Anime Trending, anime fans are disproportionately loud on social media about their favorite series. Online engagement is deeply entrenched in anime's culture overseas, where the Internet was the sole means of both access and engagement for most of the anime's history. With a binge model, Netflix titles were losing the biggest opportunity to wield a superpower unique to anime in most of the world.

Image via Chart created by Miles Atherton (Click here to enlarge)

My Happy Marriage's success highlights the power of weekly releases for anime. Where most titles on Netflix see a massive dip from week one to two of release, My Happy Marriage went the opposite direction. Indeed, My Happy Marriage spent eight weeks on the Top 10 list for non-English TV shows - two weeks longer than Baki Hanma Season 2, a title that both had more overall viewers and that tried to emulate a slower cadence by splitting its season across two release dates a month apart.

However, this data does present a slight complication. As you can see in the chart above, a single "bad" episode, as marked by IMDb user ratings, can significantly impact a title's success. After gaining viewership from word-of-mouth for the first half of the series, the title suddenly dropped off the weekly Netflix Top 10 lists as its episode rating tanked. With anime production being a notoriously challenging process, there is something to be said of Netflix's hesitation to the model when a binge-watch would've made an individual episode less impactful within the course of a longer viewing session.

This year's Delicious in Dungeon is one of my favorite titles of the year. While I am personally glad to have a new episode every Thursday, the title was not able to maintain even 1M hours watched per hour of content available each week since its third episode, scoring markedly below My Happy Marriage and Zom 100's performance nearly a year ago. It remains to be seen if Netflix will continue to pursue this model. Still, the incredible online fandom built up around Delicious in Dungeon is outsized compared to its Netflix viewership, which will only help its long-term success on the platform. I wouldn't be surprised to see in the next batch of Netflix data that the title gained something of a long-term following that may simply not feel the need to watch it week-to-week, even if that's the very thing that built their fandom in the first place.

Overall, these data show positive signs for Netflix as a steward for anime. With the incredible performances from live-action adaptations like One Piece and Yū Yū Hakusho, it should be clear to the Netflix team that the unique stories told in anime hold incredible potential, and perhaps the improved performance of the medium on their platform will encourage them to ramp up their production and promotion of burgeoning series in the year ahead. Either way, I hope this analysis helped you understand the mess of a spreadsheet Netflix provided, and please look forward to doing this all again in six months!

Miles Thomas Atherton is the CEO and founder of White Box Entertainment, a consulting firm focused on the promotion of anime in the English-speaking world. He was previously the Chief Marketing Officer of Anime Ltd., a boutique anime distributor in Europe. Before that, he spent nearly a decade at Crunchyroll across a half dozen roles, ending his tenure as the Director of Social Media, Editorial, and Curation.

You can reach him at [email protected].

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