Behind the Scenes: Top 10 Japanese Animation Studios

  • Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks are company names that almost everyone knows. They are, in fact, animation studios that have brought us some well-known and well-loved animated productions that most of us grew up with and still continue to enjoy today. Since the early 1900s, cartoons have graced the world and been part of our lives; the more famous earlier works coming from Walt Disney himself before becoming one of the most influential companies in the world. Although these big names dominate the movie industry, there are also plenty of smaller animation studios from many different countries that provide cartoons for children, cartoons for adults, and feature films.

    To this day, animation studios continue growing, using cutting-edge technology to visualize amazing stories with superior visual effects. With the easy access to computers and animation software, it has become a competitive business. As well as the company giants that have come out of the United States, Japan is also known for producing massive amounts of cartoons – or “anime”, to be more specific – and all thanks to the animation studios that work hard to bring fans their favorite manga and novels to life. Here are some of the biggest animation studios that produced some of our favorite anime series and movies of all time. How many of them do you know?

    1. Manglobe

    Manglobe is probably one of the lesser known animation studios by name, but their anime is quite popular. They have produced some really great anime that you may remember from the 2000s such as Samurai Champloo, The World Only God Knows, Karneval, and their more recent anime adaptation, GANGSTA. They were also involved in the production of many more anime shows such as Eden of the East and Black Butler: Book of Circus. Manglobe is also the same studio that did the anime adaptation of Deadman Wonderland. Unfortunately, on September 29, 2015, the studio announced that they have filed for bankruptcy and have taken down their website.

    2. Studio Pierrot

    Studio Pierrot is an animation studio that was founded in 1979 with its headquarters in Mitaka, Tokyo. The name comes from the classic character “Pierrot”, which in Japanese means “clown” (coming from French). The company logo also has the black and white face of a clown on it. Studio Pierrot is a more well-known animation studio having produced worldwide hits such as Naruto, Bleach, Tokyo Ghoul, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Fushigi Yugi. Yu Yu Hakusho and Saiyuki won the Animage Grand Prix award.

    Unlike the less fortunate Manglobe, Studio Pierrot seems to have more projects constantly in the works and doesn’t appear to be in any immediate financial danger.

    Studio Pierrot website

    3. P.A. Works

    P.A. Works Corporation is an animation studio located in Nanto, Toyama, Japan. P.A. stands for Progressive Animation, and the company was founded by Kenji Horikawa in 2000. Aside from animated films, P.A. Works also develops animation for video games such as the Professor Layton series. In the past, P.A. Works only collaborated with other animation studios and it wasn’t until 2008 that they started fully producing anime series by themselves. They are known for the series True Tears, Hanasaku Iroha, Another, and Charlotte.

    P.A. Works website

    4. Studio Ghibli

    One of the more popular animation studios, Studio Ghibli is world-renowned for their animated films. Studio Ghibli is responsible for six out of the fifteen highest grossing anime films in Japan, with Spirited Away standing as number one. In 2003, Spirited Away won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Four other films have received nominations in the same category throughout the years. Aside from Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli produced many other famous movies such as Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro, which have found success both in Japan and internationally.

    Studio Ghibli website *Japanese only

    5. Production I.G

    Production I.G is known for numerous anime television series, OVAs, and theatrical films and is also involved in video game design, for example, the Playstation 2 game Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Blood: The Last Vampire. The letters I.G comes from the names of the company founders, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and Takayuki Goto. Production I.G is known prominently for producing the Ghost in the Shell anime series, Psycho-Pass, Guilty Crown, and Eden of the East. In 2013, Production I.G worked on the anime adaptation of the popular manga Attack on Titan.

    Production I.G website

    6. Bones Animation Studios

    Bones Animation Studio was founded in 1998 by three Sunrise members. Their early projects included a collaboration with Sunrise and a feature film that was based off the Cowboy Bebop series. In 2007, one of the co-founders, Hiroshi Osaka, sadly passed away after battling cancer. He was well-known for his work on the Gundam series. Bones has also produced series such as Wolf’s Rain, two Fullmetal Alchemist adaptations, Ouran High School Host Club, Darker than Black, Soul Eater, and Noragami.

    Bones Animation Studios *Japanese only

    7. Kyoto Animation

    Kyoto Animation is one of the more recent top-grossing animation studios that became famous after their major success with the Free! series. Kyoto Animation’s series are easily identified since most people can distinguish their art style easily from other series. Kyoto Animation is recognized for its high production value and for the sensitivity to the wonders of ordinary life. Kyoto Animation is responsible for the series like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, K-On, Kyoukai no Kanata and the highly acclaimed Free!

    Kyoto Animation website

    8. Sunrise Inc.

    Sunrise Inc. can be considered to be one of the biggest animation studios in Japan and is a subsidiary of Bandai Namco Holdings. Sunrise has grown so much that various sub-divisions called studios have been created. While other companies produced anime shows that were mainstream and focused on genres such as manga adaptations, sports, and children’s stories, Sunrise focused on producing robot anime, which is actually a lot harder to animate. Sunrise is known to be the studio behind Cyborg 009, the Gundam series, InuYasha, Gintama, Cowboy Bebop, and Code Geass.

    Sunrise Inc website

    9. Toei Animation

    Formerly known as Nihon Doga Eiga and Toei Doga, this is an animation company with Toei Company as its biggest shareholder. Over the years, the studio has created many series, movies, and adaptations that were and still are popular worldwide. Hayao Miyazaki and Leiji Matsumoto have worked with Toei in the past. Toei has produced some of the world’s most famous manga artists, one of whom is Eiichiro Oda, the author of One Piece, which is one of the most popular anime series in history. Toei has also produced series like GeGeGe no Kitaro, Sailor Moon, Slam Dunk, Yu-Gi-Oh, Digimon, and World Trigger.

    Toei Animation website *Japanese only

    10. Madhouse

    Madhouse was founded in 1972 and has created and helped to produce many shows. This animation studio is known for collaborating with talented manga artists such as Naoki Urusawa and Clamp. They have also collaborated with Square Enix for Last Order: Final Fantasy VII and Capcom for the Devil May Cry animated series as well as with Studio Ghibli. Satoshi Kon, who was a part of Madhouse, produced movies such as Perfect Blue and Paprika that later inspired Hollywood Movies Black Swan and Inception, respectively. Madhouse has produced anime such as Kiba, Chobits, Cardcaptor Sakura, Wolf Children, Death Parade, and One-Punch Man, earning their place as one of Japan’s top ten animation studios.

    Madhouse website

    Of course, aside from these ten, there are plenty more animation studios in Japan. Even though the anime industry is a tough one, animation studios still keep pushing themselves to produce series that people will truly enjoy, heavily affecting pop culture in Japan and beyond. If you are an anime fan and you are looking for a new anime to watch, try to see which studio produced your favorite ones and watch their other series, too. After all, the studios should get all the support they can get from their fans. Did your favorite animation studio make it onto the list? Are there any studios that you think should have made the list but didn’t?

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    Feature photo by Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash