Gen Z Made K-pop, Anime Cool in Mainstream

Read what Gen Z has to say about its rising popularity and how they’ve contributed to its growth.

Gen Z Made K-pop, Anime Cool in Mainstream (Jon Kopaloff/WireImage via Getty Images)

Jackson Heights; New YorkAnime, Koren dramas and K-pop were niche media that a select few liked in the 2000s and even early 2010s. Although they were popular in Asia, they had not broken into the American mainstream market. 

Today, it’s a different story. East Asian media is widely popular, especially among Gen Z.

In 2020, South Korean boy band BTS, became the “first Group to rule Artist 100, Hot 100 & Billboard 200 Charts at the Same Time.” A Parrot Analytic report, a data science company that analyzes content consumption, found that the popular shonen anime, “Attack on Titan,” “beat out hit shows like Marvel’s WandaVision to be the most in-demand show during the week of January 31, 2021.”

Matt Popovich via Unsplash

Erick Chavez was 11 when his older cousin brought home a weird-looking comic book known as manga. It was translated from Japanese and was read from back-to-front. What started as a simple read-through ended with Chavez discovering his love of anime. Now, 12 years later, he still watches anime fondly, with his favorite being “Naruto,” because he easily relates to the character.

“He reminds me a lot about myself,” said the now 23-year-old. “He’s a loner, he’s not well-liked. Up to the point where he does things to become well respected in his community … I like the themes that they touch on, it’s based on collaboration and understanding.” 

Jeremy Bezanger via Unsplash

Red Jacome, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, watched action anime like “Pokemon” and “Dragon Ball Z” with his brother, Jefferson.

“He’d be watching anime and I would watch along,” said Jacome. They eventually branched out and found more genres they liked. “I just searched up anime on Netflix and didn’t know what to expect. I’d just sort of find a show and watch it.” 

Jacome was easily able to find anime they would like and were not limited to only scheduled TV blocks on Cartoon Network.

Sites like Crunchyroll, an American distributing and streaming company, stream anime an hour after its release in Japan. Popular streaming websites like Hulu and Netflix have a large anime library. In December 2018, Hulu streamed nearly 400 anime titles. Now there are a variety of genres — like horror, action, a slice of life — to choose from when it comes to watching anime. 

“I remember when animes first came out here, it took about a week to get the dub. We also had to download and torrent them,” said Chavez. “It’s a great thing that all these things coalesced together, it gives people a chance to watch something that’s high quality and it’s a big content of things you can go from.” 

At 12, Kevin Hu’s older sister exposed him to K-pop, and his love for the genre began.

“The beat[s] [were] catchy and the music videos were more attention-grabbing to my taste. … Even though I’m not of [Korean] descent or culture, I gravitate more towards that,” he said. 

Hu, now 23, added that due to increased popularity, it is easier to stream music. 

“For example, on YouTube, you can watch videos around the world. Unlike millennials, they didn’t really have much access to different kinds of media from different parts of the world,” he said.

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