Anime is vehemently loved all over the world. Many people log on to their devices to stream episodes, play anime-based games, or read manga every day. These 2D Japanese animations have created one of the biggest fandoms in the online world.

Anime is enjoyed by many people, including people with autism. In fact, many people on the spectrum love anime much more than they do live-action films or even other cartoons. What is the reason behind this appeal that anime has for people with autism? What is it that anime provides that other forms of entertainment don’t? We have researched and read the answers given by anime fans with autism to find the reasons behind the appeal of this genre.

An Escape from Reality

Anime is a wide term used to refer to Japanese hand-drawn or computer-animated cartoons. The word “cartoons” might be misleading in this case because anime is not made for only children. Most anime have intricate plots and thoughtful character development which people of all ages enjoy. Not only that, but many anime are also aimed at mature audiences.

The one thing that is found commonly in almost all anime productions is that they are based in their own fantasy worlds. These worlds are thoughtfully created and the things that take place in those worlds abide by their own laws. They are far from reality.

The beauty of anime is that while the storylines are strongly based in fantasy, they manage to capture the most beautiful elements of humanity: friendship, hard work, ambition, loyalty, love, and the list goes on. This mix of fantasy and relatable human traits create a beautiful combination which invites you to indulge yourself in it.

Sadly, our world includes both the good and the bad elements of humanity. Many people born with autism face a lot of difficulty in life. Some who are born in families that understand what being on the spectrum entails are usually able to get a supportive environment, which helps them nourish their strengths and manage their weaknesses.

However, there are several who don’t have this understanding from their families. Many people with autism face a lot of unwarranted prejudice and struggle to fit in society. Even if the family is caring and loving as they should be, the people around them are not always so accepting. Life is much more difficult for people on the autism spectrum than it is for the neurotypicals.

This is why having a world where characters are much more accepting of traits they find unconventional can be refreshing.

Friendship Without Social Barriers

Social Barriers

Anime stories present a beautiful idea of friendship. The characters have bonds based on loyalty, camaraderie, and friendship. They go on adventures together, and their bond deepens over shared interests and grows over unique ones. These friends make sacrifices for each other and always have each other’s backs.

For a person on the spectrum, it might be difficult to build real-life relationships. Creating a relationship with another person, especially in adulthood, is so much more complicated than it is shown in fiction. The anxiety of the first few meetings and overcoming that consistent anxiety over several interactions can be unnerving for even a socially anxious neurotypical. This anxiety is elevated for most, if not all, people on the autism spectrum.

Social anxiety can get better with therapy, but it takes a lot of time and practice – not to mention how expensive therapy is in most countries. Plus, even therapy doesn’t change societal norms surrounding friendship.

These factors can make people with autism feel lonely and isolated. In anime, they can find the things they are missing in real life. In the anime world, characters who behave like them and act like them find healthy friendships with caring people. They face troubles with other characters too and overcome them with the help of their friends. Being part of a world where relationships like this exist can be helpful and encouraging.

A lot of anime also revolves around “misfit” high-school teenagers. These characters face regular teenage problems: bullying, the pressure of studying, and the struggle of fitting in. However, they always persevere with the help of their friends. Teenage is already a confusing time, even more so with autism. Seeing someone facing similar problems as you and watching them come out stronger on the other side can be therapeutic and reassuring to people on the autism spectrum.

Loud and Obvious Social Cues

Social Cues

One of the biggest problems that most people with autism have is reading social situations. Neurotypical humans communicate in many ways, not just by tongue. Language is only one aspect of social communication. People express their feelings through social cues. Some are obvious, while others more subtle.

For example, if you’re talking to someone and something you say makes them upset, they might not say it outright but show it through facial expressions like wincing or looking hurt.

Some social cues are even more subtle and difficult to read. If someone is uninterested in listening to what you’re talking about, they might show it by backing away a little, having a tired body language, or showing disinterest by dismissing what you’re saying.

While reading these cues might be a difficult task for some neurotypical people, it is much more difficult for people with autism. When they cannot read these subtle social cues, interactions with other people get confusing.

In anime, on the other hand, emotions are loud and dramatic. If a character is happy, the emotion is broadcasted clear as day. If the character is sad, tears stream down their face with very obviously downturned facial expressions. Symbols and icons are also used on the faces of the characters to emphasize their emotions.

Another thing about anime that appeals to people with autism is that conversation between characters is clear. There is nothing that you would have to read between the lines. Every desire, emotion, and expression are made absolutely obvious.

Having emotions laid out loud and clear in such a way makes it easy for people with autism to detect them. They don’t have to guess or figure out what a person is feeling, which makes anime comfortable to keep up with as compared to live-action media.

A Community for a Very Specific Interest

Another thing that anime offers is a community based around an interest. There are troves of websites and forums where anime lovers can talk about their favorite shows, create fanart, write fanfics, and basically discuss it to their heart’s content with other people who share the enthusiasm.

People with autism naturally gravitate toward very specific interests and explore that niche passionately. Naturally, being humans, we like to share our interests with the people around us especially if that thing matters so much to us. Since autistic people are usually attracted toward very specific topics, most of the time those interests are not shared by other people. Eventually, it leads autistic people to feeling isolated when they can’t find a community that resonates with them.

Anime offers that community and sense of belonging that they might be lacking in real life. You can go online any time and find millions of people who accept your obsession and actually welcome it. A place like this can become a social safe space for people with autism and can help them build meaningful relationships with other people without social barriers. It can also help them explore their interests further and create something meaningful out of it.

This is one of the reasons that modern psychologists insist on allowing people on the spectrum to indulge in their activity of interest. Many parents and caretakers often try to force them away from it because they see it as an unhealthy obsession. However, that does nothing but damage. People on the spectrum, especially children who are still learning, should be encouraged to follow whatever they are interested in. This way, they can be shown a direction so they can pursue that interest to a more positive end.

Playing to the Strengths – Repetitive Tropes, Memory and Pattern Recognition

Anime characters also display repetitive tropes. The characters like similar things. For example, they like eating and dislike studying. These tropes are generally very common in a lot of anime characters. This repetition of traits can be calming for a person with anxiety. It gives them a feeling of familiarity which is destressing.

These characters also represent emotions in repetitive styles. There is a standardized way in which the characters express happiness, sadness, nervousness, excitement and embarrassment. Repetitive movements and actions eliminate the stress of having to stay alert all the time. This is the same phenomenon by which people say that re-watching old movies helps them relax more than watching something new. You feel relaxed with familiar things.

Anime also plays to the strengths of people with autism. Long anime sagas have many characters with vast storylines which can be difficult for neurotypical people to keep up with. However, as people with autism usually have great memory and pattern recognition skills, they can keep up with the stories more comfortably. While this may not be the case for all people on the spectrum – because every individual is different and their experiences are unique – it is the case for most.

Due to our lack of knowledge and understanding about autism, most of our systems are not friendly for people on the spectrum. Take, for example, our education system. The way we teach, the way we assess knowledge, the way we train children to process information – none of that is suitable for the learning of a child with autism. Moreover, the norms that we have for social interaction are uncomfortable to follow for autistic people. Living in a world which isn’t designed for you but having something that is so well-suited to your strengths is a welcoming thing.

The Introvert-Friendly Environment of Japanese Culture

While anime plots are not solely based in Japan, they do usually feature the cultural values of Japan. Japanese culture is significantly more introvert-friendly than many other cultures in the world. In America and many other countries, being outgoing is appreciated. For the longest time, many people viewed introversion as “shyness” or a flaw that needed to be fixed. Social anxiety is also very often considered synonymous with introversion.

Japan, however, promotes introversion. There are more rules for social interactions, and everything is generally more formal. Respect is a valued element in Japan, so people are careful not to bother others unnecessarily.

While it may seem that a society with more rules of social interaction would be more difficult for people with autism to feel comfortable in, it is actually the opposite. Having rules of social interactions gives people a roadmap to follow, which leads to less uncertainty and anxiety.

Autism and Anime – What Does It Teach Us?

From the above discussion, it is evidently clear that the reason why anime appeals to people with autism so much is that it caters to their strengths. It is created in a way that is easy for them to understand and enjoy. Plus, the desire to belong to a community comes from our core as humans and anime, in a way, gives that community to people who have difficulty finding it elsewhere.

We, as a neurotypical society, are often focused on changing the differences that autism entails to make ourselves more comfortable. By doing so, we have created a world which accepts only a small wavelength of people and excludes the rest. When working with someone on the spectrum, we should try to mold the world’s ways to suit them instead of forcing them to mold their identities to fit the world. By doing so, we will be creating a better world for everyone.