While anime popularity certainly owes a lot of its initial rise to the 1980s – and even earlier in some instances thanks to the likes of Tetsujin 88, or Gigantor – the 1990s are when it hit its full stride. Like it or not, it largely comes down to a popular daily programming block on Cartoon Network called Toonami. This was not the first taste of anime in the United States by any means; Sci-Fi channel had been playing dubs of the likes of Akira and Project A-Ko for several years, and the 80s were full of imported shows, but Toonami was the first laser-focused package of anime shows that were regularly available and widely advertised.
Relatively kid friendly shows (after some editing, naturally) such as Dragon Ball, Gundam Wing, and Sailor Moon became staples of the “after school” routine for many American children during the late 1990s thanks to Toonami, and the burgeoning availability of the internet allowed anyone jumping on the bandwagon to research and find out plenty about the rest of the anime spectrum for themselves. Many anime die-hards who may have been interested in the genre before hand like to discredit Toonami or possibly even thumb their noses at those who enjoyed it, but it is undeniable how crucial it was in getting far more eyes on the art form than ever before outside of Japan.
The popularity of the anime series featured on Cartoon Network is no surprise; they were already massive hits in Japan. They have a proven longevity that has given them a lasting lineage of fans, and the franchises continue to live on. The immense growth of the internet and now streaming services such as Netflix and Crunchy Roll now mean those that hopped on board the Toonami train can continue to invest and grow their love of anime, and that’s nothing but a good thing in the long run.