5 Shows With Black Anime Characters To Watch with Kids

For decades, Black fans have had a love-hate relationship with anime—loving it but rarely seeing themselves featured positively. These shows include positive representations for a win-win.

Back view of mother and daughter sitting on couch watching anime cartoon Yasuke
Photo: Stocksy/Netflix

In recent years, anime has seen a renaissance—many new online shows include positive or improved, but not perfect, representations of Black and brown characters. A huge and passionate anime fanbase online, along with Youtube anime content providers of color including Anime Tea and many others, have ushered in a new era of anime.

For a long time, representations of Black characters in anime were based on racially insensitive stereotypes. Some say this is because Japan, where anime primarily originates from, is a homogenous country and many anime creators were introduced to cartoon images of Black characters through racist depictions from the 1940s and 50s in manga, cartoons, and TV shows.

Today, with an influx of new anime creators and revised imagery, Black children, tweens, and teens who love anime, have options like never before.

What is anime?

Anime refers to animation or visual entertainment mainly originating from Japan. Some anime storylines are inspired by manga and graphic novels. Anime storylines typically involve Asian, white, and racially ambiguous characters along with non-human creatures. But some online content providers say that the next generation of anime has a broader definition that is synonymous with hip-hop and an Afro-futuristic vibe.

That said, many nostalgic anime experts and fans consider the 1980s to be a "golden" age of anime and are fiercely protective of popular classic anime programs and non-kid-friendly content and video games like Afro Samurai which includes the voice of actor Samuel Jackson. With that said, the majority of the old-school, visual, video-based entertainment had hugely problematic storylines, characters that were objectified due to gender and many even relied on drawing styles depicting African-American characters in problematic ways with characters like the old-school character Mr. Popo in Dragonball Z. (The latest iteration of that character is now known as Blue Popo.)

Whether you're new to anime or you are a long-time anime fan and watched the once-really-hard-to-find videos from the '90s or '00s, today's modern anime includes positive characters of color. It has seen a resurgence through Black-owned animation studios like D'Art Studio Shtajio in Japan and American indie publishing house and visual content creator Black Sands Entertainment in the United States.

Now as a parent or caregiver, it is sometimes hard to know what kind of anime is appropriate for children, depending on their age group. Additionally, maybe back in the day, you may have dismissed culturally-insensitive images and storylines when you watched your favorite anime, but today—as a parent—you want better for your child.

What are the different kinds of anime?

Understanding anime can be confusing, and the one rule about anime is that rules and standards have started rapidly evolving. Typically, most recent anime content will have English-language subtitles or dubbed English dubbed voices.

There are at least six main forms of anime with many more sub-genres: The first kind of anime is known as Kodomomuke, usually geared toward younger viewers with messages like understanding the rules, making the right life choices, fighting bad guys, and adhering to correct societal protocols. Sometimes, this genre of anime will predictably include slapstick moments with funny and silly characters.

If there is any violence or there are battle scenes, they will be less realistic and the characters will not die or be seriously hurt. This kind of anime includes both people and creatures but usually doesn't address any specific racial, cultural, or ethnic identity. You probably already know about shows like Pokemon or Yo-kai Watch.

Most Shonen anime features a young male protagonist (think Naruto or One Piece.) Most of the male protagonists have special powers, long journeys, and sad backstories with a missing, or deceased, parent or childhood caregiver. This anime form emphasizes fighting and good versus evil.

Seinen anime has both young male and adult male viewers and the content can include violent, sexual, and psychologically intense dialogue and scenes (think One Punch Man or Tokyo Ghoul.)

Another form of anime is Shoujo which focuses on interpersonal relationships with one or more young, female protagonist characters. Like the shonen anime, there could be a mix of dramatic, adventure, action, comedy, and similar coming-of-age storylines. One subgenre includes the magical or futuristic form of anime where a female protagonist is given a mission on another planet or dimension. The female protagonist has special or super powers and lives in a sci-fi futuristic world.

Joseihas one or more female protagonists with both female and male viewers. This genre of anime skews towards Rated R or MA territory, may be sexual, and also includes sexually violent content with a mix of everyday life—lots of unrequited longing, heavy dramatic scenes, and more. Some of these female and male characters will engage in epic violent battles with foes if necessary. But the female characters usually spend time trying to figure out romantic and sexual relationships and the complexities of life. Again, there are sub-genres, including protagonists trying to accomplish a mission while exploring a backdrop of futuristic and sci-fi locations.

A sixth form of anime is arthouse anime. This kind of anime may include artsy, quirky, and experimental movies mainly for adults— although there are notable exceptions like the universal film My Neighbor Totoro. The film explores themes including animism, rural living, and the magical adventures of a child and a creature named Totoro. Art house anime is often independently produced and may be more introspective, artistic, and experimental. Sometimes there may be a decidedly slower pace and not as much dialogue or even a discernible plot.

These 5 anime cartoons can help Black families get started:

Pokemon Master Journeys on Netflix

For preschool to elementary school-aged children

Pokemon Legends is probably the most obvious place to start for younger viewers who are interested in anime. The Pokemon world includes various generations of Pokemon trainers and Pokemon creatures.

Depending on who you talk to, one of the main trainer characters Ash Ketchum is either 100% ethnically Japanese or East Asian, biracial, Asian, or white. Pokemon supporting characters also include Iris and Leona who have darker skin. These characters are trainers. They battle with and mentor others, including Ash.

It's a learning opportunity for parents to start talking about colorism with their children at a young age! Now, a few may try to argue that the Pokemon universe of trainers and creatures is akin to a universe of perpetual servitude, but let's just keep it moving…


Glitch Techs on Netflix

For elementary school-aged children

This is a solid anime-inspired show about superheroes that fight against bad-guy glitches. This program is appropriate for elementary school-aged children and older. It is produced in the United States, so some may consider it more of a cartoon than anime but the show is clearly influenced by anime.

Carole & Tuesday

Carole & Tuesday on Netflix

For teens

This program is for the mature middle-school student up to high school-aged teens, and may not be for everyone.

The series starts out with two main characters, both age 17, who have left home to pursue their musical dreams in the futuristic Alba City universe, which resembles Hollywood in some ways. Carole is a Black main character who is complicated and layered. It deals with heavy topics like sexual harassment and contains strong language and profanity in both the show's dialogue and the song lyrics.

There are several different LGBTQIA+ characters and at one point Tuesday considers Carole to be a love interest who seems to want to be only friends.

The series contains mentions of mental health issues, substance use, characters who experience the illness and death of parents and guardians, along with a limited amount of violence. This quirky series has a lot of heart and focuses on empowerment.

Parents should note that some viewers were unhappy with the show's portrayals of Skip and members of the LGBTQIA+ community outside of Carole and Tuesday. Others feel the show offers a range of characters and personalities.

Hunter X Hunter on Netflix

Rated TV-14: Mature tweens to high school-aged teens

This anime series features some blink-and-you'll-miss-it scenes from Canary Hunter, a side butler/driver/assistant character that is also a trained assassin. Canary is a wise, go-to character who doesn't suffer fools gladly. (Note: Most fans prefer the 2011-to-present representation of Canary's natural hairstyle vs. the 1990s animated version of the character.)


Yasuke on Netflix

Rated MA: For older high school-aged teens to adults

This show is a historical saga about the Black Samurai. Prescreen this show (rated MA for mature audiences.) to determine if it is appropriate for your child due to the violence, intense content, and storylines, as well as mild profanity and language.

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