Anime has a number of signature staples that set it apart from western animation. The way eyes are drawn, the way expressions are made, the way characters move and talk;  and like all forms of art, the typical anime looks has evolved over time. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and observe whats sets retro anime apart from modern anime.


When characters are mad, they gain a large, pulsing red vein and their face is colored piping red hot with smoke coming out of their head for good measure. To further emphasize their rage, sometimes their head’s size increases to a comical degree when they’re yelling. In current anime, when a character is angered, you’ll more likely see a small vein pop up on a corner of their face, maybe multiple if they’re really mad. Their brow will be furrowed and their face may be slightly darkened to emphasize how furious they are.


The sweat drop, an expression tied closely with anime, usually represents confusion or exasperation to emphasize just how done (or dumbfounded) a character is with the current situation. The sweat drop is usually large, appearing next to the character’s head. Their expression usually differs depending on the situation, but more often than not, the look on their face will be a cartoony, comical one. In current anime, sweat drops have been diminished to a more realistic size, usually taking up a small corner of a character’s face. Sometimes multiple will appear, depending on the situation. There are still some sweat drops out there that are fairly large, usually in gag anime, but often times the size isn’t quite as big as they used to be.


An expression that hasn’t changed much over time is when a character is happy or in love. Flowers surround them, their smile becomes unrealistically big, their eyes change shape and they may or may not have a blush sticker tacked on their cheeks. If that character’s is in love, even to this day, a character’s eyes change shape (they may increase in side, become heart-shaped, or crossed to indicated excitement) , they’ll emit a bright, red blush, and tiny hearts surround their body. The sillier the genre, the sillier the character’s expression will be.


Modern comedic anime have also taken it upon themselves to create more creative, silly faces. The kind you probably wouldn’t see in even the silliest comedies in older anime. While they’re still hilarious to see, these expressions tend to divert away from the shows typical style to emphasize just how out of place it looks for added comedic value. Just what kind of expression am I referring to, you ask? Here’s a good example:


How Genres Affect the Art Style

Speaking of genres, how cartoony a character’s expression will be really all depends on what genre the show is. If it’s a comedy or a series with a younger demographic in mind, then they’ll more than likely stick to the type of expressions anime is typically known for. If it’s a drama or a series with an older, more mature demographic in mind, then don’t expect to see any semblance of cartoony expressions.

Even within older anime that had a more serious tone, like Cowboy Bebop or Evangelion, silly cartoony expressions still popped up every now and again. That isn’t the case for anime that fall under that genre today. Shows like Terror in Resonance, 91 Days, and Psycho Pass all went through its entire run without its characters ever emoting in typical anime expression. Even more light hearted shows like Hyouka or Tales of Zestiria the X tend to stay away from typical anime expressions. While the characters do make some silly faces on occasion, for the most part, the expressions they make are fairly realistic.

The Shift in Art Style

The creator of Astro Boy, know as the “Father of Anime”, Osamu Tezuka cited Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop as his inspiration for his art style, hence the reason why anime characters often have large eyes. And while there are still anime shows out there that still adhere to this style (usually shows geared towards young girls), most anime have decreased the ratio between head and eye. Characters still have that distinct anime look to them, but the way their eyes are drawn aren’t quite as outrageous as they used to be. There are even some anime that stick to a more realistic style. As mentioned earlier, these type of anime are typically the ones that have a serious tone with an older audience in mind.


What Do All of These Changes Mean?

Anime is evolving to appeal to more demographics. Anime has always been a form of media that didn’t adhere to a single genre or a specific demographic, but its cartoony style certainly has turned away potential viewers in the past. The more realistic look that modern, adult-oriented anime has taken has led to a higher viewership even among non-anime fans. And while modern anime that have a younger audience in mind can still retain its previous viewers through persisting with the techniques of its predecessors, it can also gain new viewers by being not quite as obviously cartoony as the anime of old. This makes anime much more accessible for both current and new consumers.