Animation is a diverse and versatile category of content. Characters, settings, and situations that would be impossible with a live action format are brought to life for audiences. It is no surprise then that this genre has attracted a broad variety of fans and spawned numerous subgenres from pre-school focused cartoons to action series to edgy adult comedies. Those producing and curating animated content for audiences, whether a generalist like Cartoon Network or a specialist such as Crunchyroll, can navigate this seemingly boundless category using Demand data as an empirical guide.
1. Animated content is a major player in the battle for global audiences’ attention, making up 3 of the top 10 subgenres.
2. Animated comedy and anime are opportunity subgenres within animation and either could feasibly produce the next big animated hit.
3. Domestic demand for Japanese anime may serve as a leading indicator for global popularity in key international markets such as the US, Brazil, and France.
4. Animated comedy is a powerful subscriber retainer. Fans tend to stay within the subgenre and have a wide spread of taste preferences, making this subgenre fit for generalists.
5. When evaluating animated comedy scripts or acquisition targets, prioritize creative elements that are either safe bets or opportunity differentiators. Combining these can be a winning strategy.
How does animated content stack up in the battle for audience attention?
Competitors looking to attract audiences cannot afford to overlook animation. In the last year, its subgenres collectively accounted for 12.9% of global demand.
The three key animated subgenres, children’s animation, adult animated comedy, and anime, are among the most in-demand globally in the past year. All three are among the top 10 subgenres overall, indicating that each category in its own right can attract an impressive share of global attention.
Key Market Specific Nuances in Demand
Beyond understanding the popularity of animation subgenres around the world, producers, distributors, and programmers all need to understand how the average title performs in their market to size up opportunity.
As seen in the chart below, we find that the top subgenre opportunities in animation globally are in animated comedy and anime. Across regions, these subgenres produce shows that attract more attention than the average animated series.
Animated children’s content has the largest number of titles and is oversaturated, thus its average title trails other types of animated content in every region. While the strategic value of kid’s content cannot be overlooked, creating an attention grabbing hit in this space will be an even bigger challenge compared to other animated subgenres.
Anime is sometimes thought of as a niche genre while animated comedy is considered more mainstream, with tentpole series such as The Simpsons. However, the above result indicates that both can produce equally popular content.
However, key regional differences exist.
On a per capita basis, the average demand for animated series in the US & Canada is well above that for other regions for all types of animated content, making this largest opportunity region for animated content. The average series demand of anime and animated comedy are about equal in this region.
There are several other interesting regional variations in demand for animated content:
- Latin America is the only region where anime series have higher average demand than animated comedies.
- European audiences show a strong preference for animated comedies relative to other forms of animated content.
Global Opportunities for Anime Content
Market level insights into the travelability of anime from Japan can serve as an indicator for acquisition and distribution decisions.
The markets hungriest for Japanese anime are the US, the Philippines, Brazil, and France.
The travelability metric allows us to pinpoint opportunity markets across the globe and show market specific demand for content relative to a market of origin.
- US audiences actually express more enthusiasm for Japanese anime than do audiences in Japan.
- In Asia, the Philippines is the hottest export market for Japanese anime, second only to the US globally.
- In Latin America, Brazil may be driving the broader regional popularity of anime that we identified earlier.
- In Europe, France is the country with the highest demand for Japanese anime. This is a bright spot in a region where anime content in general has not found the same popularity as other parts of the world.
Home Field Advantage: Anime Leading Indicators from Japan
Diving further into market differences, we break down the top Japanese anime titles in the highest opportunity markets. These reveal how Asian markets are trendsetters and early indicators - there is a lag before their preferences reach the rest of the world.
Dragon Ball Super exemplifies how titles peak in Japan before other markets due to a lag time in dubbing and distribution to international markets. It is the 6th most in-demand anime series globally in the past year and number 2 in many of the top markets, but only the 38th most in-demand series in Japan. However in 2017, the year of this series premiere, it was the 14th most in-demand show overall in Japan and the 39th most in-demand show in the US. Using history as a reference makes Detective Conan and Haikyu!! attractive targets. They both rank within the top 20 anime titles in Japan during the last twelve months but have yet to catch on to the same extent in international markets.
Trends & the Anime Streaming Wars
Crunchyroll is the OTT platform with the largest anime catalog, which is based in the US but serves the international anime audience. Like Funimation, it offers audiences outside of Japan simulcasting for new episodes as soon as an hour after broadcast in Japan. Simulcasting allows super fans to adopt trending content in Japan faster and reduces the demand lag by speeding up international availability.
Understanding the way anime travels, Crunchyroll could choose when and for which markets to prioritize marketing their titles. This could also be key to content allocation; older anime that are far past their top dates in Japan are likely better suited for HBOMax, potentially serving as gateway content to the genre for yet-to-be converted fans. As anime titles age and become more broadly popular internationally they could be a better fit for generalist platforms compared to Crunchyroll whose competitive advantage lies in having early access for superfans. Crunchyroll may play a key role in adding these international anime hits before Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.
Finally, Crunchyroll is separating itself from other niche services like Funimation, with originals. They are also likely to benefit here from their insights into successes across the world.
Viewing Habits of Animation Fans Differ Dramatically
Anime and animated comedies may seem like they attract the same “geeky” audiences, but they do not. These distinct audiences have different taste preferences beyond animation. Therefore the value of these subgenre’s titles for subscriber acquisition and retention differ.
Cartoon Network has pioneered segmenting programming in this way, separating their kids content from adult oriented shows on [adult swim] and anime in their Toonami programming block. Bringing together content across animated subgenres serves more to expand the base of fans by appealing to and attracting multiple audiences rather than satisfying a single shared audience. Our data supports their decision-making: there is low affinity between animated genres. Viewers are more likely to watch other non-animated content than to switch between animated subgenres. 
Animated Comedy: The Underrated Force of Retention
Animated comedy content has high affinity with itself, meaning its fans tend to prefer content within the genre. Accumulating animated comedies will keep these audiences happy and coming back for more.
Adding animated comedy titles also serves as a subscriber retainer for generalist platforms because their audiences have diverse taste preferences ranging from action and adventure shows to variety titles to several drama subgenres including legal, procedural, apocalyptic, and fantasy dramas. A platform like HBO Max with access to [adult swim] assets from Cartoon Network and a wide library of content could really see these retention benefits. The platform already invested heavily for the rights to South Park. Perhaps looking to replicate this value, Comedy Central is planning on increasing its adult animation content fivefold over the next two years.
Understanding the DNA of Highly In-Demand Animated Comedies
Animated comedies are valuable assets for retention, and uniquely positioned to make use of creative settings and characters.
For producers and distributors looking to greenlight or acquire animated comedies it may be difficult to decide between the absurd choices. Situations that would be impossible or outlandish at best in a live action genre can and do succeed in an animated comedy. Look no further than the premise of BoJack Horseman.
Given that animated comedy audiences are loyal fans, as shown above, they tend to enjoy similar themes, concepts, characters, and settings (i.e. genes). These genes do not become worn out across fans. We have named these the “safe bets” because they are frequent, popular, and central to the sub-genre.
As producers and distributors consider new titles, they could choose to take a greater risk and invest in more high-yield, but less tried and true genes known as “bold differentiators.” These may also be useful for writers and producers of current shows looking to reinvigorate a show by introducing a new element.
On the other hand, the two can be used in conjunction to deliver an innovative show that also offers audiences the familiarity of elements they tend to love. Solar Opposites, the recent animated comedy from Hulu which has been successful, is an illustrative example. Its premise -“A family of aliens from a better world must take refuge in middle America. They disagree on whether this is awful or awesome…" - could easily have been selected from the genes above. The bold differentiator settings ‘outer space’ and ‘suburb’ are combined with the character of ‘alien’. This apparent narrative incongruence is anchored by the common, safe-bet theme of ‘family dynamics’.
Below is a summary of the opportunity genes in animated comedy - both safe bets and differentiators.
Wholesome Staples. Concepts like ‘family dynamics’, settings like ‘home’, and characters like ‘friend’ are very common yet popular. These can serve to ground the zanier elements of animated comedies.
Action & Adventure related genes like ‘adventure’, ‘heroism’, and ‘discovery’ are less prevalent but still tested ingredients for success.
Science and Space elements are in-demand across the board for animated comedies, but have not yet become the most prevalent genes in this genre.
Food & Drink. ‘Restaurant’ and ‘bar’ are in-demand settings and ‘food/drink’ is a popular concept. All are undersupplied genes in animated comedies.
Coming of Age. The demand for ‘young boy’, teenager’, and ‘growing up’ indicate potential success for a coming of age animated comedy.
Romantic Comedy. ‘Love’, ‘sex’, and ‘marriage’ point to opportunities for a romantic animated comedy - particularly if an ex-girlfriend is a featured character. Shows with an ex-girlfriend character significantly over-index in demand and yet are uncommon.
In conclusion, the landscape of animated content is vast and while there are many targeted opportunities here, the expansiveness of the genre makes it a challenge to navigate. We hope that this has shown some of the potential opportunities in this space and provided a sense of direction moving forward.
 Animated Subgenres Affinity:
The above table shows that the affinity between animated subgenres is well below the average subgenre affinity in each case.
For more on how we compute and utilize affinity please see our in depth explanation here.