Hello, Yatta-Tachi readers. My name is Matt and I’m a dad with four children, ages 7, 5, and twin 2-year-olds. Parenting is one of the most difficult and rewarding jobs I’ve had in my life. It can swing wildly from the lows of projectile feces to the highs moments when your children accomplish something grand. I started watching anime and reading manga in college, about 16 years ago. As an adult with a full-time job as an engineer and the second one as a dad, I try to find ways to incorporate my love of anime into my parenting. The first way? Apart from calling my one daughter Pen-Pen, ala Evangelion’s penguin, that comes in the form of introducing my children to anime.
This then raises the question, though, of how? How do you introduce your children to anime? Let me start with this up front – all children are different so what worked for me may not work for you. That said, I think these items are worth considering when introducing any child to anime.
Consider Starting with the Familiar
There is some anime that are culturally ubiquitous; all children will at some point know something about these shows. This includes shows like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Yokai Watch. Every kid on Earth has seen some episode of Pokemon. Yu-Gi-Oh, Digimon, Beyblade, and Yokai Watch have all aired on major children’s television channels and continue to gain popularity. I’ve seen Yokai Watch about my children’s elementary school and especially in my house (there may or may not be 3 plush Jibanyans floating around my home). And why wouldn’t it be? Yokai Watch is approachable, cute, silly, and contains deep Japanese cultural roots allowing for easier introduction later in other shows or movies. The familiar can be a great place to start.
Consider What Your Child Already Likes
When introducing your children to anime, another place to start is going to what your children already like. Take time to consider the shows, books, or games your kids are already playing. Are there common themes you are noticing? Are there common characters that really seem to catch your children’s eyes?
Keep that in mind when trying to introduce your children to new shows. For example, do your children enjoy shows about kids working with silly gadgets like Phineas and Ferb? Maybe you can introduce them to Doraemon, which has similar elements. Do your children like Disney movies? You could try Ponyo, which is an interesting retelling of The Little Mermaid. Do your kids like dinosaur movies like Ice Age or Land Before Time? How about Omae Umasou da na Movie which is about dinosaurs with unlikely friendships. Do your kids really like kitties? You can introduce them to accessible, short form kitty themed shows like Chi’s Sweet Home or Bananya. Your kids really like bananas? Show them Bananya. No, really, you should be showing your kids Bananya. It’s great and my kids loved it. But, I digress.
Consider What is Age Appropriate
My four children are elementary school aged and younger. They range from my oldest who’s almost 8 to my youngest which are twin 2-year-olds turning 3 in July. At those ages, I have to be aware of what I am introducing to them. While some shows may be inappropriate for my younger children, it may be perfectly fine to show your 12-year-old. Perhaps there is language I do not want my children to hear, read, or repeat! What I show my kids may not be the same as what you may show an older child.
When it is possible, I like to watch at least a few episodes of a new series I’m considering showing my children first, to ensure the content will be appropriate and also see if there are Japanese cultural items which may be confusing to them. I will give a few examples. I tried introducing my children to the adorable and silly short form series Poyopoyo. The problem? Eventually, the series includes on-screen images of cats having sex which would be inappropriate for my younger children. It also includes occasional swearing and sight gags such as cakes shaped like breasts. Another series I’ve watched with my children is Shonen Ashibe GO! GO! Goma-chan. Shonen Ashibe is specifically aimed at children, so does not seem inappropriate.
However, there are scenes that are culturally confusing to my American children. In one episode the characters visit a bathhouse. There is nothing wrong with it, but it required me to explain to my children what this was to help them understand what was happening on the screen.
Consider Dubbed or Subbed
You need to remember to consider whether or not your children can read when planning anime viewing with your children. If your kids can and can do so at a quick pace, that may open the doors to a wider variety of shows. If they cannot, then dubbed anime may be the best way to go. Yes, I know, anime fans are always at war with sub versus dub, but when planning out anime viewing for your children you have to consider them first. A show that is dialogue driven entirely in Japanese is going to be difficult for children who cannot read. Just think about how much enjoyment they will get out of a show without being able to read.
Also know that if your children cannot read, you will be watching said show with them and reading all the dialogue out loud. This can be super fun, or super annoying depending on the show. For Bananya, that was a lot of fun for me and the kids as the only dialogue is the narrator. For other shows, it can be more of a challenge.
This is the most important thing to consider, having fun! The entire point of introducing your children to anime or manga is not to get them to follow you and do exactly what you do, it’s to introduce them to a medium that you enjoy. The point is to entertain your children so that they feel the same level of joy you feel watching anime. There are few things better than sitting around with my kids, having all four of them gather on my lap to watch a new episode of Bananya or watching them rapt at attention while you introduce them to My Neighbor Totoro for the first time. Seeing their enjoyment is priceless and nothing beats that feeling of seeing your children enjoying themselves.
In the end, if you want to introduce your children to anime or manga, you need to know your children. Do not focus on what other people (even me) are pushing for your kids to watch. Consider their likes, dislikes, and personalities. My kids love kitties, so they have a blast with Bananya, Chi’s Sweet Home, and Nyanbo. Maybe you have a child who’s fallen in love with Harry Potter, so Little Witch Academia is right up their alley! You know your own kid. Have fun with it and focus on their enjoyment because when you do, they’ll have fun too.
Where you can find the shows mentioned:
Doraemon, Pokemon, and Yokai Watch are currently airing in the United States on Disney XD.
Little Witch Academia and Little Witch Academia: Mahoujikake no Parade (The Enchanted Parade) can be streamed legally on Netflix.