Finding your tastes in anime is an evolutionary process that develops over the course of many years and is the culmination of everything you’ve watched, the opinions of the people around you, and the general cultural zeitgeist. As an anime fan for almost 20 years, I’ve gone through this process and I’ve seen others make their way through it. For some, it is a quick adaptation, progressing through the levels of anime exposure and developing personalized tastes at a rapid pace. For others, it’s a much slower burn, sometimes coupled with sudden growth into the next level. And for many, the fan evolution stops at a certain point, or peters out altogether.
First, some clarification.
I want to make it clear that progressing through the evolutionary process for anime tastes isn’t indicative of being a better anime fan. There’s no elitism in your anime taste. I suggest it is simply a path that naturally happens the deeper a person dives into the medium. There are many people that hover in the first few levels, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We all have a limited amount of time and attention that we can spend on any given hobby. Those that put more time into anime may occasionally get more out of it, but that doesn’t mean that those who put less effort into finding anime series aren’t getting what they want or are any less a fan.
Additionally, moving through the levels and developing a personalized anime taste doesn’t indicate a higher level of understanding, at least from a critical point of view. Someone at a lower level is equally capable of producing profound thoughts on an anime series as anyone at a higher level. The only thing that progressing through the process is guaranteed to generate is better knowledge of the anime production industry, if only out of necessity.
I’ve been using the term “levels” a lot, so what do I mean by it? When developing personalized anime tastes, I feel that there are six distinct “aha” moments that happen in an anime fan’s progression, and I’m calling these “levels”. Levels are generalized realizations about anime and its creation which serve as the impetus for fans searching out, and finding new works to enjoy.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Level 0: “Let’s watch all the anime!”
The first realization is that anime exists and that it is somehow different from other media. You might think of this as a no-brainer (how else would you be reading this?), but it is a very pivotal time. Before this realization, there was only animation – it didn’t matter where it came from, and sometimes what it is about. But to reach Level 0, one has to know that anime comes from a distinct place, with distinct values, and specific methods of telling stories. Additionally, to reach Level 0, one has to know that they prefer those methods over any other counterparts.
What follows after that is usually a “feeding frenzy”, where the fan, now knowing that anime is anime, seeks out everything they can and consumes it all. They’re excited that they’ve found something they like and are happy to dive into the deep end. However, their taste may not be so well developed that they can only seek out the things they enjoy and are left to sort out what the love and what they don’t afterwards.
As I mentioned before, this is a very critical time for an anime fan, as reaching Level 0 can burn many people out due to a variety of factors. Arguably, the main burnout factor is overstimulation, especially in the modern day, where near limitless anime is easily within reach. At the time of writing this article, there are currently 10 different anime series airing on Toonami, the proverbial gateway into anime fandom, every Saturday.
Beyond Toonami comes the massive online libraries of myriad video streaming sites. Crunchyroll, quite possibly the largest and most well-known of these sites, has over 50 series currently being simulcast, meaning newly released anime from just this season alone. And this is without the staggering options of already completed series that the site possesses. It’s very easy to see how overwhelming all the anime options can be, and that is only looking at two specific examples.
The Tastemakers for Level 0s
So how does someone at Level 0 sort out what to watch and what not to? I believe there are three main paths that a Level 0 can take. The first of which is recommendations by friends. Coming into anime fandom as a novice, many check out new series and revisit old ones on the referral of someone they know and trust, most of the time that is close friends who are more experienced.
On a broader scale, the second influence comes directly from social media. Twitter, YouTube personalities, and sites like Reddit can guide Level 0s to the most popular anime at the moment. Essentially in these two situations, the Level 0 allows others to be their tastemaker, at least for a while. The third route a Level 0 can take is what I like to call the “shotgun method,” in which the fan consumes anything and everything available and sees what sticks.
No matter the method of choosing an anime series to watch, there is one thing that remains true about a Level 0 – they are not actively selecting anime based on any specific criteria, only they know they like anime and that they want to watch more.
Onward and Outward
So far, I’ve only covered anime fans that are just beginning their journey. Next time, I’ll be diving headfirst into where the majority of anime fans lie. As I said previously, there are six levels to anime fandom, so which level do you think you’re on? You’ll have to read the next article to find out!