It’s a common sentiment that those outside the anime community see the entire medium as made for kids. I think it’s quite possible that this attitude is shifting alongside anime becoming more mainstream, but it’s not like there’s no truth to the idea. Animation has traditionally been seen as a medium made for children, with the sole exception of comedies. This perception has influenced anime, particularly in the West where the medium is much less popular.
The common reaction to this idea is to dispute it, and that’s the correct decision. It’s obvious that not all anime is aimed at kids, and it’s probably better not to let that idea stick around. Shows like Rakugo, Monogatari, and Shirobako shouldn’t be written off as merely “made for kids”.
But I have an issue with the way people make this argument. It’s one thing to say that anime is made for all sorts of age groups, as it obviously is. It’s another thing entirely to belittle kids’ anime in the process, and that’s something that I see all too often. Rather than simply saying “all anime isn’t made for kids”, people take it too far and say things like “anime isn’t childish” or “I don’t watch kids’ stuff”.
It shouldn’t be hard to see the problem with that attitude. Much like the memetic phrase “I like mature anime for mature people like me”, it shows a sort of performative maturity in an attempt to distance the speaker from younger people. You can compare it to elementary schoolers who, in an attempt to seem mature, mock those who like Pokemon because it’s made for kids. This is pretty clearly not a very mature thing to do, and it’s not something you should be doing when correcting the misconception that anime is for children.
The other issue with this approach, aside from the performative maturity, is that kids’ anime can actually be quite good. Even those who don’t act like this often ignore anime they see as aimed at children, and I think that’s a mistake. I’m not about to say that all kids’ anime is fantastic, but I do have a few arguments in favor of it that I think are worth listening to.
First of all, it’s worth noting that a lot of anime the community watches is already aimed at children, even if that’s rarely acknowledged. While I’d hesitate to say that shounen and shoujo anime are always aimed at children, especially since they often get late timeslots, this is not always the case. One Piece, My Hero Academia, Dragon Ball, and many others air at times that make it clear that children are a decent chunk of the audience. Teens may also make up a big part of these shows’ target demographics, but they’re definitely made so that kids can read and watch them as well.
Secondly, kids’ anime tends to be long. Because they generally need to sell toys which take time to manufacture, they almost all last at least 2 cours, and a year or more is totally normal for these shows. This has its upsides and downsides of course, but if utilized well it can be a massive boon to a show. I’m of the opinion that length is often a beneficial thing to anime, as it gives the viewer more time to get acquainted with the cast, making emotional moments that much stronger.
Length can have downsides, as it can lead to things getting too repetitive or too inconsistent, but I really do think that it’s easiest to get invested in longer shows. They have to be well made of course, or they won’t work, but that’s pretty true for shorter shows as well so I don’t think it’s a problem unique to long stuff. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the highest rated show on MyAnimeList, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, is 64 episodes long.
Ultimately though, my interest in kids’ anime comes down to one key trait that’s significantly harder to find in shows aimed at adults: a meaningful attempt at optimism and fun.
Some might assume kids’ anime never gets dark, but I wouldn’t say that. Kids’ anime can have people die, it can have serious threats to the characters, and it can have things that are meant to be somewhat scary. However, unlike shows aimed at adults, kids’ anime rarely basks in its darkness. Dark and scary things have their place, and media should be free to engage with those subjects, but pointless pessimism and edgy posturing are just annoying. I’d much rather watch a work which engages with the world’s problems but doesn’t use them as an excuse to write the whole thing off, something I see frequently in adult-oriented anime.
As an example of all these positive traits, I’d like to look towards three kids’ anime that I’ve been watching recently: KiraKira Precure, Pokemon Sun & Moon, and Cardcaptor Sakura.
From what I’ve seen of the franchise as a whole, which admittedly isn’t too much, Precure is just an all-around solid series of anime. The quality between them varies, but they’re always sure to maintain a fun tone and optimistic outlook even when they get dark. The beloved Heartcatch Precure features the death of sympathetic characters, the loss of those you care about, the very real feelings of inadequacy that we all experience, and many other mature themes. In an adult-oriented show, these might take up the entire runtime, never giving the viewer any good examples of why it’s worth fighting on in spite of the world’s problems. As a show aimed at kids, Precure doesn’t have that issue.
This remains true of this year’s installment in the franchise. The show has tackled self-hatred, the death of loved ones, loneliness, and even gay relationships to some extent, something that’s unfortunately uncommon in anime as a whole. It always brings these things up in ways that are emotionally impactful and it’s clear that negativity is a part of the world, but it doesn’t consume the world.
Of course, having an optimistic tone with some dark elements wouldn’t mean anything if the show itself was garbage. Fortunately, it isn’t. While it lacks the cool fisticuffs of previous Precure entries, Kirakira Precure is a fun show with plenty to love. Its main cast is pretty interesting and honestly a lot less formulaic than you would expect. This prevents the generally episodic format from getting boring, as the character-focused stretches between plot arcs always have something new to offer.
The show looks great a lot of the time as well. Its background art and character designs fit the themes of sweets and community’s power, and some of the fight scenes are pretty well animated. Not to mention the fantastic transformation sequences. Seriously, this show has some of my favorite transformations in anime. It helps that the magical girl outfits are pretty good in the first place, but I never feel like I should just skip or look away from the transformations despite their appearance in almost every episode, which is a real accomplishment. Kirakira Precure is just a great show to watch if you want a fun magical girl show that knows what to do with its characters.
Pokemon Sun & Moon is a very different type of show, different from Precure and different from previous entries in the series. The Sun & Moon anime has followed the approach of its games, and with the lack of gym badges, the old adventuring format has given way to a show that can easily be called a slice-of-life anime.
Don’t get me wrong, this is still Pokemon, but it’s quite a bit different. It’s a little sillier, a little more cartoony, and a little more open to experimentation. This can easily be seen in the character designs. While some have criticized them for looking different, the new designs enable fantastic animation that’s also incredibly consistent. The show has more sakugabooru entries than it has episodes, which is quite a positive sign for a long-running show that’s already got more than 50 episodes released.
Pokemon doesn’t really get into dark material the way Precure does. It’s mostly just a happy show with lots of comedy, though there are a few darker moments here and there, and one episode stands out as one of the saddest in the whole franchise. Really though, that isn’t what Pokemon has to offer. In fact, it doesn’t even have a lot to offer to those who loved X & Y for its battle shounen elements. This is a show that’s going to be liked by slice-of-life fans who watched Pokemon as a kid, but for that niche, it’s absolutely incredible. Sometimes, being fun is enough to make a show worth it. I’m quick to praise shows like Symphogear and Girls und Panzer for being fun despite their relative lack of thematic depth, and Pokemon is the same. If you’re looking for a nice, long show with a fun cast of characters and great animation, then Pokemon Sun & Moon is a show for you.
And last, but not certainly not least, I’d like to take a look at Cardcaptor Sakura. I watched this show for the first time quite recently, and it immediately became one of my favorites. There’s a ton of things worth praising in it. The art and animation are absurdly consistent for a 70 episode series, and when you factor in the outstanding color work you get one of the best-looking anime made in the entirety of the cel era. The voice acting still stands above most kids’ anime and a lot of late-night anime as well. As in the past examples, its long length makes it easier to get invested in the characters and world, and that certainly pays off when it matters.
But above all else, the best aspect of the show is its warmth. It’s not a show where bad things never happen, but it’s a show that truly cares about its characters. People don’t die in the show, but that’s not because it would be too dark for kids. It’s because the show itself values all of its characters so highly. People in the show are often working towards different aims, and there are certainly antagonists, but we never meet any outright villains.
Cardcaptor Sakura is a show that treats gay relationships positively, in a 90s kids’ show. I’m not gonna deny that it might have a bit too much of an affinity for large age gap romances, but this is a show that’s just so kind and warm that I can forgive it for a lot of its smaller flaws. I just want to see Sakura and the rest of the cast happy, and the show gives me that. I doubt I need to do much to convince you that Cardcaptor Sakura is a good anime, but please watch it if it sounds anywhere near your kind of show.
Unless you’re the kind of person who needs every show you watch to be as dark as Berserk, then you’ll find a show you can like in the catalog of kids’ anime. I’m not saying that you’ll like every kids’ show: many are bad, perhaps at a higher rate than shows aimed at other demographics, and personal taste is as big an influence as ever. But it really doesn’t hurt to actually give these shows a shot. If you just try and look at kids’ shows without condescension, you might find a favorite. I’m happy I made that shift, and I hope others can too.