Anime 101: A Primer for Librarians

Children's librarian Marissa Lieberman presents an introduction to Japanese animation (a.k.a. anime), with recommendations for running anime clubs, doing collection development, and picking out strong starter series.
Most librarians are familiar with manga and Japanese comics and probably have at least some titles in their collections. This article will instead focus on Japanese animation, better known as anime. The following is an introduction to the medium, with recommendations for running anime clubs, doing collection development, and picking out strong starter series.

The basics

AstroBoy1963Manga has a centuries-old history in Japan, with the term being coined in 1814; the history of anime is more modern. In the early to mid-20th century, Japanese media was filled with successful live-action films and few cartoons. This began to change in the post–World War II period, especially when Osamu Tezuka, referred to as the “god of manga,” became involved with animation. Astro Boy (1963) and Kimba the White Lion (1965) were landmark animated adaptations of his manga series that set the standard for the style associated with anime. The availability of television sets in Japan assisted with the rise in production and popularity of longer running series. Anime that revolutionized the medium in Japan peaked between the 1970s and 1990s, including Space Battleship Yamato (1974–75), Akira (1988), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995–96), and Ghost in the Shell (1995). In her book Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Japanese Animation, Susan J. Napier describes anime as a richly fascinating contemporary Japanese art form with distinctive narrative and visual aesthetic that both harks back to traditional Japanese culture and moves forward to the cutting edge of art and media.” It is no wonder, then, that anime has become so popular throughout the world. anime bookAs was the case with Tezuka’s series, manga continues to be the source material for a large portion of anime series. Librarians should be aware that while the adapted anime is many times identical in terms of character design, plot, and major story lines, they will often diverge—some series more than others—from the manga. Usually, this is because the anime is being produced at the same time the source material is being created. Also, while an anime series may not get renewed, the manga will usually continue long after the show has been cancelled. With anime becoming more mainstream internationally, especially in the United States, shows are being licensed and dubbed faster for domestic DVD/Blu-ray releases. Additionally, websites such as Crunchyroll allow viewers to legally stream shows subtitled in Japanese before they are licensed outside of Japan; paying customers can even simulcast them.


Anime clubs are a great way to bring anime fans together and are a good excuse to show off the library’s manga collection and increase the anime collection. Clubs can offer many activities, such as making anime-themed crafts and candy sushi, having trivia contests, sharing series recommendations, and, of course, screening films and TV series. Today, television shows are often binge-watched in a solitary manner. Screenings allow teens to watch in a group setting and provide a different environment than watching on their computers or phones. Here are a few things librarians should be aware of before screening anime:
  • “The one thing that you should keep in mind, whether you decide to use DVDs or online streaming websites, is who owns the license in the United States and if you need permission to view the anime that you want to show,” shares Lanora Melillo, head of children’s services at Scotch Plains (NJ) Public Library. “The other thing that you want to keep in mind are the ratings. Japanese ratings are extremely different than [American] ratings. For instance, many of the popular titles out there are rated T-14 or 16+. I would advise that you advertise what you are going to show, and depending on the community that you work for, you might want to show the rating of the anime as well,” she adds.FUNimation_Entertainment_Infobox
  • “You can easily get viewing permissions from many companies. When I first starting doing anime clubs, I would use Operation Anime, which was developed by Funimation. They would send free swag and anime; however, after the partnership with Swank Movie Pictures, Operation Anime was shut down,” Melillo continues. “You can still get viewing rights from Funimation, but they might direct you to Movie Licensing USA,” says Melillo
  • Crunchyroll has a wide variety of mainstream and under-the-radar anime subtitled in English, along with a growing selection of Japanese drama (J-drama) series. Libraries can sign up for their free outreach program. According to Crunchyroll’s website, interested institutions can "simply have at least two anime or drama showings with your library group during the quarter. After each screening, fill out the screening form on your user page."
  • Melillo says, “I have had great success with Viz in the past requesting viewing permission and their form is online now. They were very quick to respond, and I like that you can request specific episodes. So, if you are doing a mini-marathon then it is easy to get the permissions in one setting.”
  • Thomas Maluck, teen services librarian at Richland Public Library in Columbia, SC, advises, “Librarians should be aware that there are a multitude of anime streaming sites that are thinly veiled piracy sites violating all kinds of copyright laws, and just because your nicest anime club member swears by a certain site does not make it legitimate as a viewing source in the library.”

Collection connection

Does your library already circulate television series? If so, you already have policies in place to circulate lengthy series with multiple discs, and adding anime series is an extension of the service you are already providing to your patrons. The price of anime box sets seems to have decreased over the years, and there is more of a trend to keep series (especially those in the range of 12–26 episodes) together. Funimation, for example, offers Super Amazing Value Edition (S.A.V.E.) box sets of entire series for a list price of under $30. In addition to anime series, a great way to start a collection that can save money and space is to begin with stand-alone movies, such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away or Mad House’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Depending on how many titles you have and how your library organizes its media, you may want to create a separate, labeled section for anime.


Librarians should keep in mind that this list covers a variety of age demographics and is only a small sampling of the incredible and diverse anime out there. Ask your patrons what they are watching and what they would like to see in the collection or screened at the library. Movies spirited awayAkira: This cyberpunk classic is set in a postapocalyptic near future, a world filled with corruption, biker gangs, evil government officials, and children with psychic powers. Recommended for adults. (ASIN: B00ENNA62W) Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F: The Z warriors face off against Frieza after he is brought back to life. Recommended for teens. (ASIN: B014604V3Q) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: After finding a mysterious object in her chemistry lab, Makoto gains the power to leap through time. Recommended for teens. (ASIN: B001FXG1ZO) Spirited Away: In this Oscar-winning movie, Chihiro finds herself in the spirit world, where she gets a job working in a bathhouse, meets new friends. and must find the courage to make it back to the real world. One of many exceptional movies from director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Recommended for tweens and teens. (ASIN: B00005JLEU) Summer Wars: Kenji cracks a math code that puts reality in danger from the virtual reality world Oz. Recommended for teens. (ASIN: B00B1RB942) Tokyo Godfathers: After finding an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve, a teen runaway, a former drag queen, and a middle aged man—all of whom live together on the streets—search for the missing mother. Recommended for older teens and adults. (ASIN: B0001EFTVA) Wolf Children: The story of Ame and Yuki, two siblings who are half-wolf and half-human, and the human mother who raises them. Recommended for teens. (ASIN: B00ENNUC9Y) Series Attack on Titan: Giant creatures known as Titans infiltrate the walls of a once peaceful society, reviving an era of destruction. Recommended for older teens and adults. (Box Set, Part 1—ASIN: B00FXBL1IQ) Death Note: When a person’s name is written in the Death Note, they die. Having the power of a god slowly changes high school student Light Yagami, the current owner of this supernatural notebook. Recommended for older teens and adults. (Box Set, Part 1—ASIN: B00NH8OANK) narutoFullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Brothers Edward and Alphonse know all too well the consequences of alchemy and the risks associated with trying to bring the dead back to life. This reboot of the popular series more closely follows the manga. Recommended for teens. (Complete Collection, Part 1—ASIN: B0071LEO08) Mushi-shi: A beautiful, episodic series that follows Ginko, a mushi master, as he travels to places that have been affected by these primordial life forms. Recommended for teens. (Complete S.A.V.E. edition—ASIN: B005HVWWB2) Naruto: A mainstream hit that is still widely popular. Naruto, a ninja, dreams of becoming the leader of his village. Recommended for teens. (Uncut Season 1 Box Set, English only—ASIN: B002HW5G2Q) Ouran High School Host Club: Haruhi, a scholarship student at an elite private school who is mistaken for a boy, must work in the school’s host club to pay off a debt. Recommended for teens. (Complete Series—ASIN: B007NU53E8) Soul Eater: Maka and her scythe partner Soul Eater, students at Death Weapon Meister Academy, compete to be the first pair to absorb the souls of 99 evil humans and one witch. Recommended for teens.  (Complete Series—ASIN: B008YRL6V8) Streaming sailor moonChaika: The Coffin Princess: An action-packed fantasy that follows Chaika, a young girl with a coffin on her back who claims to be the daughter of the recently killed evil Emperor Gaz, and the Saboteur who vows to fight on her behalf. Recommended for teens. Sailor Moon Crystal: Sailor Moon and the Sailor Scouts fight for love and justice in the reboot of the classic series that more closely follows the original manga. Recommended for teens. School Live: A group of high school girls create the school living club and try to go on with their lives after a zombie attack that originates in their school destroys everything. Recommended for teens. RWBY: With magic, plenty of action sequences, and graphics that resemble a video game, this cartoon is sure to appeal to tween and teen anime fans. Time of Eve: In a future where androids are treated as appliances, Rikuo and Masaki discover a café where humans and androids socialize as equals. sword art onlineSword Art Online: Players are trapped in a massively multiplayer role-playing game set in the near future and must defeat the game in order to escape. Recommended for teens. Joker: Phantom thieves can make miracles happen, and unlike burglars, they use cool gadgets and always give advance notice for what treasures they plan to steal. This fun series is perfect for tween anime clubs.


Books   Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Japanese Animation, Updated Edition by Susan J. Napier (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005). Understanding Anime and Manga by Robin Brenner (Libraries Unlimited, 2007). Websites Anime News Network Crunchyroll Funimation Viz Media Marissa Lieberman is a children’s librarian at the East Orange Public Library, NJ. She has worked at multiple libraries in the Nassau County, NY library system before relocating to New Jersey. She reviews books for School Library Journal, VOYA, and No Flying, No Tights. She is a contributor at Cosplay, Comics and Geek Culture in Libraries and has presented at New York Comic Con and other professional development events
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

Ardith Ohka

This article was very helpful. Funimation has been incredibly helpful. I've never gotten a response from Viz when I've submitted the form for screening permission. Has anyone else experienced this?

Posted : Dec 09, 2015 12:04



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing