Idols have now become one of the icons of modern pop culture. They are groups of cute girls singing and dancing, and male artists delivering cool performances. Fans can enjoy not only their music and diverse activities but also their growth process; this is the essence of idol culture.
This unique culture of idols can be traced back to its establishment in the 1970s, and its history will be detailed later (knowing this will surely enhance the enjoyment of idol anime). Nowadays, idol anime has become one of the hottest genres, contributing significantly to the global popularity of anime.
Here, I will introduce the best idol anime, ranging from those enjoyable for idol beginners to titles for advanced anime viewers. While the focus tends to be on female idols, there are also anime that spotlight male idols. From cute girls to cool guys, these series offer a wide range of performances, allowing fans to enjoy the idols’ growth process and the diverse world they inhabit. So, let’s step into the world of idol anime, where the charm of idols, established as a unique culture, contributes significantly to the broad appeal of anime globally.
How Have Modern Idols Evolved Over Time?
Idols are a subtype of J-Pop, artists or groups that excite fans with performances centered around singing and dancing. Both men and women can be referred to as idols, but here, we will discuss female idol groups, the symbols of modern times. When it comes to the origin of idols, we think of idol singers and groups like Candies, Momoe Yamaguchi, and Pink Lady, who were active as early as the 1970s.
The image of the accessible idol of today was established by Onyanko Club, a groundbreaking idol group that debuted in 1985. Then, in the late 1990s, Morning Musume appeared on the scene. From the 2000s onwards, AKB48 groups have swept the world, with the Sakamichi groups like Nogizaka46 being derivatives of this trend.
Moreover, today, K-POP idols have emerged from South Korea, and even Virtual YouTubers (VTubers) are engaging in idol activities. These idols represent the evolution and diversification of idol culture, reflecting the changing times and broadening the concept of what an idol can be.
Japanese female idol groups have got more known and popular worldwide as one of Japanese pop cultures as well as anime a[…]
1. Love Live!
Love Live!—a name that resonates as the pinnacle of idol anime, a series that not only set the bar for idol anime but also pulled the entire modern anime scene forward from the 2010s. It’s not just a series; it’s a phenomenon! It has multiple series under its belt, each with distinct characters but united by a common thread—the high school idol groups aspiring for the same goal, the Love Live.
The first in line, Love Live! School Idol Project (ラブライブ!), aired for two seasons in 2013 and 2014, setting the stage with its unique charm. It was followed by Love Live! Sunshine!! (ラブライブ! サンシャイン!!) during 2016-2017, introducing a new wave of zest and vibrancy. The third iteration, Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club (ラブライブ!虹ヶ咲学園スクールアイドル同好会), had its TV series aired in 2020 and 2022, and a new series of theatrical anime is slated to kick off in 2024.
And oh! We have the fourth installation, Love Live! Superstar!! (ラブライブ!スーパースター!!), which started in 2021, went through its second phase in 2022, and is all set to air with its third phase in 2024. The uniqueness of the series also stems from the real-life locations it’s based on, sparking a flame in anime tourism, becoming a beloved destination for fans.
Each series under Love Live! not only brought fresh narratives but also contributed to shaping the idol anime genre, giving fans a colorful spectrum of characters, music, and stories, continuing to enchant the global audience with its lively spirit and profound impact on the anime culture.
Aired: 2013-2014(Love Live! School Idol Project)/2016-2017 (Love Live! Sunshine!!)/2020-2022 (Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club)/2021- (Love Live! Superstar!!)
Episodes: 26 (Love Live! School Idol Project)/26 (Love Live! Sunshine!!)/26 (Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club)/24+ (Love Live! Superstar!!)
2. The Idolmaster
The Idolmaster (THE IDOLM@STER), a remarkable idol anime series, premiered in 2011, is produced by A-1 Pictures. This idol-themed franchise originally started as simulation video game released in 2005. It illustrates the challenges and exhilaration of aspiring idols, offering a compelling glimpse into the idol industry. In 2014, a sequel anime film titledThe Idolmaster Movie: Beyond the Brilliant Future! (THE IDOLM@STER MOVIE 輝きの向こう側へ！) was released. Related to the series is Idolmaster: Xenoglossia (アイドルマスター XENOGLOSSIA) broadcasted in 2007. However, this installment took a slightly different route, transitioning into a robot anime genre.
The series unfolds the journey of 13 aspiring idols at 765 Production, portraying their endeavors to reach stardom. It deftly combines drama, music, and slice-of-life, exploring the hardships and triumphs they encounter, their evolving relationships, and the relentless pursuit of their dreams, all while delivering captivating musical performances, making it a must-watch for idol anime enthusiasts.
Besides the initial series in 2011, The Idolmaster has expanded into four additional brands, and due to its immense popularity, new installments continue to be released. The second series, The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls (アイドルマスター シンデレラガールズ), aired two seasons in 2015. The third series, The Idolmaster SideM (アイドルマスター SideM), focused on male idols, introducing a fresh perspective to the franchise. The fourth installment, The Idolmaster Million Live! (アイドルマスター ミリオンライブ!), was broadcasted in 2023, continuing the legacy of the series. Furthermore, the franchise is set to release the fifth title, The Idolmaster Shiny Colors (アイドルマスター シャイニーカラーズ), in 2024, anticipating more engaging content for the fans.
Aired: 2011 (The Idolmaster)/2015 (Cinderella Girls)/2017 (SideM)/2023 (Million Live!)/2024 (Shiny Colors)
Episodes: 25 (The Idolmaster)/26 (Cinderella Girls)/13 (SideM)/12 (Million Live!)/TBA (Shiny Colors)
Studio: A-1 Pictures (The Idolmaster, Cinderella Girls, SideM)/Shirogumi (Million Live!)/Polygon Pictures (Shiny Colors)
3. Oshi no Ko
Oshi no Ko (【推しの子】) certainly deserves a spot on the Best Idol Anime of All Time list. Sweeping the world in 2023, it might seem like just another idol anime at first glance, but it’s actually a well-structured mix of entertainment and suspense mystery. The iconic idol girl Ai Hoshino is at the core of the story, with the theme of idolhood being central as the narrative unfolds. Originally, it started as a popular manga series in 2020, created by Aka Akasaka with artwork by Mengo Yokoyari, boasting top popularity in the manga world. Finally, in 2023, the first animation was realized by the studio Doga Kobo, presenting an overwhelmingly high-quality production.
I’d like to avoid going too deep into the story content to prevent spoilers, but it can be said that this is a story revolving around the idol at the height of her popularity, Ai Hoshino. She makes the decision to have children, a taboo in the idol world. For several solid reasons, her daughter, Ruby, also aspires to become an idol. Ruby begins her idol activities with some girls, each with different backgrounds, which adds an intriguing layer to the story. And this is just one aspect of Oshi no Ko, so I strongly recommend watching it with your own eyes to fully appreciate it.
Studio: Doga Kobo
4. Zombie Land Saga
Defying the norms of idol anime, Zombie Land Saga (ゾンビランドサガ), brings a fresh, undead twist to the genre. Premiered in 2018, this unique series blends horror, comedy, and music, spawning not just captivating tunes but also a sequel, Zombie Land Saga Revenge (ゾンビランドサガ リベンジ) in 2021, reinforcing its imprint in the idol anime landscape. The immersive experience of this anime can be attributed to the studio Mappa, which is responsible for creating impactful action anime like Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man.
In an unconventional twist on the idol genre, Zombie Land Saga unfolds the story of seven girls, each from a different era, resurrected as zombies by the eccentric Kotaro Tatsumi, with the mission to save Saga Prefecture through music. The group, named Franchouchou, grapples with the complexities of their new undead lives while striving to ignite the idol scene. The diverse personalities, including the spirited Sakura Minamoto and the legendary idol Ai Mizuno, confront various amusing and challenging situations, adding depth and charm to this distinctive tale.
Aired: 2018 (Season 1)/2021 (Season 2)
Episodes: 12 (Season 1)/12 (Season 2)
Launching in 2014, PriPara (プリパラ) entices fans with its vibrant world of music, dance, and fashion. It is also an idol anime that is remarkably well received by some experts. Originating from the popular arcade game, this animated series underscores the essence of idol culture, featuring an abundance of catchy tunes and enthralling performances. PriPara consists of 140 episodes airing between 2014 and 2017, followed by the second series Idol Time PriPara (アイドルタイムプリパラ) was broadcast with 51 episodes from 2017 to 2018.
Embarking on a journey of stardom, the story unfolds around Laala Manaka, a lively middle schooler discovering the exciting world of PriPara, where aspiring idols compete, showcasing their talents. However, Laala’s school imposes a ban on PriPara activities, adding a layer of complexity to her burgeoning idol career. Despite the obstacles, Laala’s inherent zeal and newfound friends drive her to pursue her idol aspirations, exploring themes of friendship, determination, and the pursuit of dreams. The series blends music, dance, and drama, offering a delightful viewing experience. This anime is built on the concept of diversity, operating on the premise that anyone and everyone can become an idol.
Aired: 2014-2015 (Season 1)/2015-2016 (Season 2)/2016-2017 (Season 3)/2017-2018 (Idol Time PriPara)
Episodes: 38 (Season 1)/51 (Season 2)/51 (Season 3)/51 (Idol Time PriPara)
Studio: Tatsunoko Production, DongWoo A&E
6. BanG Dream!
BanG Dream! stands as a pivotal piece in the idol anime genre, depicting the journey of Kasumi Toyama as she discovers the exciting world of live music. Launched in 2017, the series traverses the boundless enthusiasm and challenges faced by aspiring musicians. There are three seasons in the anime series of BanG Dream! airing between 2017 and 2020. It embodies a multisensory experience, blending animated performances with live-action concerts, fostering an immersive environment. The TV anime series was followed by a 2022 anime movie titled BanG Dream! Poppin’Dream! (劇場版 BanG Dream! ぽっぴん’どりーむ！).
BanG Dream! unfolds the vibrant tale of Kasumi Toyama, whose life takes a thrilling turn when she stumbles upon the Star Beat, a captivating rhythm resonating from her heart. This encounter propels her to form a band, Poppin’Party, alongside four other musically inclined girls: Tae Hanazono, Rimi Ushigome, Saya Yamabuki, and Arisa Ichigaya. Together, they navigate the intricate terrains of music, overcoming diverse challenges, forging bonds, and unveiling their individualistic musical identities. The series encapsulates their transformative journey, portraying their relentless pursuit to reach the pinnacle of musical expression, harmonizing emotions, and melody in their meteoric rise in the world of live music.
BanG Dream! has spawned several spin-offs, enriching its universe. In 2022, BanG Dream! Morfonication was aired, consisting of two episodes focusing on the members of Morfonica, a girls’ band introduced in the main series. Following this, in 2023, BanG Dream! It’s MyGO!!!!! garnered acclaim with its 13-episode run, expanding the narrative and continuing to captivate fans with its engaging musical tales and spirited characters. Moreover, the universe is set to expand even more with the announcement of another spin-off, BanG Dream! Ave Mujica, promising to deliver more exhilarating stories and musical adventures, cementing the series’ place in the hearts of fans and ensuring its enduring appeal in the idol anime genre.
Aired: 2017 (Season 1)/2019 (Season 2)/2020 (Season 3)
Episodes: 13 (Season 1)/13 (Season 2)/13 (Season 3)
Studio: Issen, Xebec (Season 1)/Sanzigen (Season 2, 3)
7. Kiratto Pri Chan
Diving into the world of virtual idols and the sparkly world of Kiratto Pri Chan (キラッとプリ☆チャン), this is a tale about first-year middle school girls who pursue their dreams of becoming top Pri☆Chan Idols. Born as the third PriPara series following Pretty Rhythm and PriPara, Kiratto Pri☆Chan adds a modern twist by combining idols with the emerging world of video streaming. Simultaneously developed as an anime and arcade game, it became especially popular content among young girls. Mirai Momoyama and Emo Moegi, inspired by the popularity of Pri☆Chan, start their own channel to showcase their talents, diving into a world of fun, challenges, and camaraderie.
As for the plot, Mirai Momoyama and Emo Moegi, best friends since childhood, discover the world of Pri☆Chan after watching popular Pri☆Chan idols. The duo, along with their classmate Rinka Aoba, decide to start their own channel called Miracle☆Channel. As they create content, the trio faces various challenges and rivals but remains united by their passion for performance and their goal to become top Pri☆Chan idols. Throughout their journey, they not only learn about the idol industry but also discover the importance of friendship and perseverance.
Studio: Tatsunoko Production, DongWoo A&E
In the colorful world of idols, Aikatsu! (アイカツ!) made a splash in 2012, capturing hearts with its spirited animation and memorable music. There are 178 episodes in the Aikatsu! anime series airing between 2012 and 2016. Born from a partnership between Bandai and Sunrise, this multimedia sensation didn’t stop at the TV screen; it seamlessly transitioned into arcade card games, letting enthusiasts step into the glamorous shoes of their favorite idols. Aikatsu! was followed by sequels titled Aikatsu Stars! (2016-2018), Aikatsu Friends! (2018-2019) and Aikatsu on Parade! (2019-2020).
Centered around Starlight Academy, an elite institution molding future idols, the plot follows Ichigo Hoshimiya. Moved by the star power of idol Mizuki Kanzaki, Ichigo dives into the challenging yet enchanting realm of showbiz, forging bonds, facing hurdles, and unraveling the essence of true stardom.
Aired: 2012-2013 (Season 1)/2013-2014 (Season 2)/2014-2015 (Season 3)/2015-2016 (Season 4)
Episodes: 50 (Season 1)/51 (Season 2)/50 (Season 3)/26 (Season 4)
Studio: Sunrise, Telecom Animation Film, BN Pictures
Based on the concept of Japan’s real-life idol phenomenon AKB48, AKB0048 offers a twist: an interstellar setting. While it might be a lesser-known anime, it’s impossible not to mention it, given that it’s themed around the AKB48 group, which established the modern idol image. Premiering in 2012 and produced by Satelight, this sci-fi idol anime reflects themes of hope, determination, and the rebellious power of music. The second season AKB0048: Next Stage aired with another 13 episodes in 2013.
In a future where humanity has expanded into space, music becomes a forbidden pleasure on some planets. Yet, a group of passionate young idols, inspired by the legendary AKB48, forms AKB0048 to oppose these bans. Following girls like Nagisa and Chieri, the story dives deep into their trials, tribulations, and unyielding spirit to bring music back to the universe’s dark corners.
Aired: 2012 (Season 1)/2013 (Season 2)
Episodes: 13 (Season 1)/13 (Season 2)
Idolish7 (アイドリッシュセブン) is one of the most popular series focusing on male idols. Venturing into the bustling world of male idols, Idolish7 presents a refreshing perspective on the idol industry. Produced by Troyca and first aired in 2018, the series is based on a popular rhythm game released in 2015. Showcasing both the glamorous and challenging facets of stardom, it provides a glimpse into the cutthroat entertainment industry. The first season contains 17 episodes, and the second season Idolish7: Second Beat! is composed of 15 episodes. In addition, the third season Idolish7: Third Beat! was broadcast with 50 episodes from 2021 to 2023. An anime movie IDOLiSH 7 LIVE 4bit BEYOND THE PERiOD premiered in May 2023.
As for the plot, Tsumugi Takanashi, a novice manager at her father’s agency, is handed the responsibility of managing a new idol group. Named IDOLiSH7, the group comprises seven distinctly talented young men. As they journey together, facing various challenges, their stories intertwine, revealing their pasts, aspirations, and the fierce competition in the idol world. Through determination and teamwork, they aim to shine brightly on stage, hoping to touch the hearts of their fans.
Aired: 2018 (Season 1)/2020 (Season 2)/2021-2023 (Season 3)
Episodes: 17 (Season 1)/15 (Season 2)/30 (Season 3)
Have you noticed the charm of idol anime? In terms of depicting the growth of young people, it shares similarities with coming-of-age anime, and in terms of focusing on reality, it resonates with slice-of-life anime. Please enrich your anime life with them.
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