Idol Anime Subgenre
While the Western world has no specific term for its range of celebrities, Japan has idols – young superstars that are just as at home on stage singing as they are acting or hosting television shows. Idols are more manufactured than your standard celebrity, focusing on leading admirable lives, showing off personality charms and being a role model as much as singing or dancing.
So it’s fitting that idol anime focuses on the lives of these idols, from their origins to how they are discovered, to their struggles up the idol ladder to their grasp at fame. Series can vary in their focus, and it’s not unusual to see pop characters make up bright and light-hearted music-focused series while others take to shows about the gritty side of the entertainment business. Of course, idols and idol groups can be all-female or all-male but never a mix of both.
Music. You can’t be an idol without a song or two, and even if music isn’t a heavy focus of the series, you can bet you’ll get dedicated scenes where every bit of animation and talent goes into making songs look great. And if the series is all about the idol journey, you can bet on a song and dance every few episodes.
Hopes and dreams. The road to becoming an idol is only for those willing to struggle enough to reach the top. To face each day with unwavering determination is just one of the qualities needed to become an idol, and characters who aim for the top will have it in spades. The whole series itself can also be a tale of constantly chasing your dreams.
It’s a small harsh world. Behind the dazzling lives of Japanese pop stars lies the cut-throat career of teens manufactured to meet the market’s current swing. With so many idols competing for the country’s attention, young guys and girls must put in the hours to come out on top, even though it’s never guaranteed. Idol anime sometimes tackles the harsher truths behind the stage where hopes and dreams only take characters so far.
Too many cooks. Idol groups today are a far cry from the idols of decades ago. As the years roll on, more and more guys and girls team up to make idol groups, showcasing the various charms of different personalities while coming together for songs. Chances are that if you’re watching a recent idol anime, it has almost too many characters to keep track of.
Slice of life. Light-hearted idol series are less about struggles and more about how awesome it is to be loved and admired. And also how cool singing and dancing is. Idol anime often follows its characters as they go through their slightly bigger-than-life but regular daily routine.
Music. Not exactly a genre, but idol series inevitably focus on music. It can be the focal point of the show or somewhere in the background, but once music comes up you can expect it to be a huge effort.
Drama. With the hopes and dreams of young teenagers meeting the reality of the adult entertainment business, tears are sure to come. It’s not just the competition against countless others; it’s the hard routines, the unforgiving diets, and the balance of life and work. Darker idol series revel in drama.
Yuri. With anime full to the top with girls, there’s bound to be a touch of yuri. While idol series tend to tease the possibility of romantic interest between idols, you’ll find many fanworks that take it further.
Here's our top 10 'Best Idol Anime Recommendations'
1. The IDOLM@STER – 756 Productions might be a small-time studio but its latest batch of idols will shoot the company right into stardom. With 13 girls all doing their best to become the next biggest idol, each girl must overcome what’s holding them back or risk losing sight of their dreams. A slice of life idol series that weaves character drama with a lighthearted story of success.
2. Love Live! School Idol Project – Otonokizaka High School plans to close in three years due to low student enrollment, leaving its current students worried about their future. To promote the school and prevent its closure, nine girls team up to become an overnight sensation. An upbeat series with some drama and solid waifu moments.
3. Aikatsu! – Starlight Academy is a private school where young ladies are taught how to be idols. Drawn to the school by its current top idol, Aoi and Ichigo eagerly jump into their training, but when training involves climbing mountains, chopping trees and co-ordinating cards, they realise they’re in for something unique. A lengthy idol series with plenty of quirky antics and fashionable appeal.
4. Perfect Blue – When Mima Kirigoe graduates from being an idol, the last thing she expects is a wave of hate and her top fan becoming an obsessive stalker. As she struggles to break free of her former career, a spate of murders cause her to retreat from life and reality. A psychological horror movie that takes idol obsessiveness to the extreme.
5. AKB0048 – Entertainment bans have been put in place across the galaxy in an effort to control the people. But as Earth’s population has spread to the stars, so has its idols. Girls across the galaxies audition to be the next reincarnation of AKB48 idols while they fight against oppressive government schemes. A modern anime for fans of Macross and real-life idols.
6. PriPara – In the world of PriPara (Prism Paradise), girls from across the country are given the chance to shine on stage. Young Laala dreams of making her dreams come true on that stage, but all idol activities are forbidden by her school. When she stumbles across a lost PriTicket, Laala finally has a chance to audition and set her idol dreams into motion. The latest installment of the Pretty Rhythm series with a magical girl atmosphere and cute outfits to boot.
7. Macross Frontier – After humanity launched into space to save their future, a new generation have settled into life aboard the Macross Frontier. But they’re not safe from what they flee from. As talented pilot Alto springs into action to defend the generation ship, his romantic life is tangled up with two idols. An interesting series that mixes mecha, action, romance and idol shenanigans.
8. UtaPri: Prince of Songs – With dreams of becoming a songwriter firmly in her heart, Haruka enrolls in a prestigious school that produces top idols. But her path to working for an agency is blocked by hordes of talented people who are already leagues ahead of her. With her songwriting goals ahead of her, Haruka charges towards the future… with six men following her every step. A colourful romcom idol anime with lots of boys.
9. Locodol – Idols aren’t just about being famous and singing a lot – something that Nanako finds out when her uncle recruits her to be a “locodol”. As the face of their small town, Nanako and her partner Yukari must do their best to promote the place and reach out to its residence. An easygoing series with cute antics and mascots.
10. Wake Up, Girls! – Earthquake-struck Sendai’s Green Leaves Entertainment is falling on hard times, and their last-ditch effort is to assemble and promote an idol group. After gathering seven average girls, the group struggles to gain recognition in the industry. A series that captures the hardships of being a female idol group.