Why Anime Art Styles Change

Why Anime Art Styles Change
Screenshot: <a href="https://twitter.com/datenaoto2012/status/1146371265583652864">datenaoto2012</a>

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.

ImageIchi Up” loading=”lazy” > Screenshot: Ichi Up

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.


  • I really miss the 80’s/90’s style anime look, it had a lot more style, dynamism and individuality. There are some good looking anime in modern times too, but since anime hit the mainstream it’s been coalescing into one giant moeblob of identical looking characters as studios pander to a broader audience.

  • I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if women had been made to look…..”softer” to pander to the new wave of fans.

  • 80’s/90’s will forever be my anime era. For the last 20 years I’ve only watched Monster, Samurai Champloo, all the Studio Ghibli efforts, anything Satoshi Kon released & the Dragon Ball movies. I also watched the first few season of Naruto & got turned off by all the filler then pretty much avoided everything else since.

    • Naruto is really a poor representative of most anime and perhaps one of the worst cases of filler use. There’s tons of great stuff that you are missing because of it.

      • I’m sure there is great stuff out there, but Naruto was the rage back when I was in high school and unfortunately it has put me off trying anything new ever since. Also the crazy amount of content out there like TV shows, streaming content, video games, music, books & movies already make up most of my free time. So when I get recommended a show or anime and find out I have to watch 50+ episodes just to catch up, I honestly can’t be bothered sitting through all those hours.

  • I kind of always have disagreed with the premise. While there are, undeniably, trends in character design, particular styles belong to different studios or individuals. For example, take the 90’s you have in that same decade stuff by CLAMP, Akira Toriyama, Rumiko Takahashi, Keiji Gotoh, Kenichi Sonoda, Tsukasa Kotobuki, Katsuhiro Otomo, Leiji Matsumoto, Akemi Takeda, and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. While you find certain common features (that are explained mostly by the time’s fashion and animation techniques) every one of those styles is wildly different and it always baffles me when an iconic character from one of those designers is treated as the “face” of the decade’s anime design.

    If there’s something I lament of the present day is that things are more done by committee so comparatively, very few character designers get the notoriety and level of recognition of the ones I mentioned above. Even so, you can still see myriads of different styles.

  • Is it just me or are the “00 and “10” images basically identical apart from slightly different colouring and shading?

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