Why Anime Art Styles Change

A new decade has begun. The style of anime that we see over the next 10 years will be different from the last 10. This is natural. But are there reasons that we can pinpoint and break down? Turns out, there are.

Above are illustrations by artist Date Naoto demonstrating how anime-style art has evolved over the past decade. Date has done books on illustrations, which you can order here.

Without a doubt art changes. This is natural. But, the rate at which manga and art styles change can seem unnaturally quick, considering the long arc of history. The images below show how shojo manga art has evolved since the 1960s:

This meme-type image shows the general anime art progression since the 1980s:

Here is a famous image showing how Kyoto Animation’s style has evolved since 2003:


But besides the evolution of an artistic style, is there another reason particular looks dominate particular eras? According to illustration site Ichi Up, it’s a good idea to think of this phenomenon as a drawing pattern trend.

Once a style becomes popular, clients might request it, feeling that they are responding to the needs of consumers. Then, illustrators might feel the need to conform to the nouveau style in order not to look dated or old fashioned.

If a look becomes popular, appealing to that look is strategic: The artist shows they are fluent in the popular style and, thus, hopefully, they can get work. Being able to execute a particular style, Ichi Up explains, gives the artist another weapon in their arsenal.

Obviously, this isn’t true for every artist, but for many guns for hire, this is how they make their living. Talented artists are still able to put their own spin on the dominant designs of the day, bringing individuality to what can seem like conformity.

Once lots of artists begin working in a particular style, said style comes to define that period until the next cutting-edge style comes along and becomes popular. Artists switch to the new style, starting the cycle all over again.


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