FUNimation's Brand Manager shares how anime and manga affected her growing up, and what we can do to help it grow now that she's in the industry.

To kickoff 2017, it’s time to get a sense of what we can do to help the anime and manga industry succeed. While the signs have trended up for both anime and manga success in the West over the past few years, piracy still exists, titles you’d think would get licensed still are unlicensed, and companies continue to navigate uncharted territories in a streaming future. So the best question is: how can we help?

Well, let’s ask industry people!

From a long-time editor of a weekly Japanese magazine to a brand new shoujo and josei publisher, a few industry members took time to explain how fans can support the industry and help it continue to grow. So expect during the month of January you’ll get to find out why these people decided they wanted to work in the industry, and share what fans can to do to help them out.

This week, Jennifer Fu takes the time to explain how she joined the industry and how we can help it grow. Formerly an anime club member at MIT, she’s a brand Manager at FUNimation, and has overseen titles like Mamoru Hosoda’s Boy and The Beast and The Vision of Escaflowne.

Anime and manga have been a vital part of my life for a long time and helped me get through a lot of difficult times. I sometimes hear industry people say “it’s entertainment; it’s not like we’re curing cancer,” but I honestly feel that anime and manga save people’s lives.

As a kid, I was consuming stories with characters who were going through similar problems as me, in a way I felt was totally absent in Western entertainment. As a teenager, looking forward to new chapters or episodes was how I coped with the pressure of school workload and dealing with a strict Asian tiger mom. I’m trying not to sound overdramatic, but anime and manga really represented a type of hope that was absent in my life otherwise, and I wanted to give back to this medium and help bring it to other people who really need it.

On a personal front, I’ve wanted to work in anime since I was in middle school, but as I got older, it just seemed more and more impractical—the industry is too small, it’s not particularly lucrative or prestigious, it wouldn’t make my parents happy, etc—so I kind of pushed it to the side. However, going into 12th grade, as I was working on college applications, I really couldn’t see myself working as a programmer for the rest of my life. Life is short, you only live once, etc, and as I started thinking about my career in the scope of an entire lifetime, that crazy idea of pursuing my own happiness started to seem less impractical; working in something I was lukewarm about for 50 years was the real crazy idea. I switched gears into business and marketing (still fairly respectable to make my folks happy) with the secret idea of building up the knowledge and expertise to go into anime someday. I guess it worked out.

On the more aspirational front, I’ve always somewhat lamented the fact that as a Westerner, there’s so much about anime that we don’t get to be involved in—there’s no US Comiket, lives and events never reach our shores, merch is expensive to import, we (used to) never get anime as fast as Japan did, etc. My family’s from Taiwan and while it’s no Japan, the availability of anime events and products and otaku culture is far greater there than it is in the US due to a variety of factors. I want to build up this industry to be stronger, like East Asia, to get rid of that regret that Western fans have for not being born in Japan, and to make the Western audience more of a significant market that matters to anime committees and manga publishers. Obviously it will never be 100%, but I think we’ve made some enormous strides on this front—through a lot of the growth over the years, Japanese companies are considering events like Anime Expo vital in their promotion plans, simultaneous anime streaming has become a huge market, and more and more anime are being created with Western audiences in mind. These are all the result of a thriving market of Western fans who are becoming more numerous and more excited, and it’s amazing and humbling to think that I can be a small part of that, even just by planning some event or convincing fans to buy a movie ticket or a Blu-ray box set.

I think a lot of the answers that industry people will have to this question is to pirate less and consume more legally, which, while repetitive, makes a lot of sense—anime and manga are interesting industries in that piracy has been so intertwined with their domestic growth from the beginning, with an intensity that you don’t see with mainstream entertainment or video games.

That said, I think—or at least I hope—that the industry can eventually mature to the point that this becomes a non-issue. A lot of other experts can explain why piracy is harmful to the industry, but to spice things up a bit, I’m going to take a different approach–make the industry grow for YOU.

The example that I want to use for this is Yuri!!! on ICE. A great show with great talent, it’s a huge international hit that was very well-deserved, but in the West, there’s this idea in fandom that a show with those themes for that audience was a huge risk, betting on fans that the industry didn’t believe existed. In the US, that mentality might have some merit—sports anime and female-oriented anime, while obviously hugely popular any time you step into an anime convention, are not market no-brainers for the Western industry, but are actually generally considered risky due to low past performance. However, that’s absolutely not true in Japan—we’ve seen several years of amazing record-breaking Blu-ray and DVD sales for shows like Haikyuu!, Free! Uta no Prince-sama, and Osomatsu-san, clear female or sports winners that are rivaling or beating some international mainstream shows. Japanese fans proved there was a market for something like Yuri!!! on ICE long ago.

I want to see a Western anime industry where Western fans can be that influential—certainly, more anime is being made with Western anime fans in mind, but not to the extent or the diversity that really represents widespread Western viewership. Of course, the sales of shows like Yuri!!! on ICE relies a lot on a number of hardcore otaku and fujoshi who are willing to drop half a thousand dollars on a Blu-ray season, but I think that’s a lot to ask for a still-growing Western market. So what actually works?

There’s been this mentality among both fans and industry that supporting anime has to be extremely black and white, that you have to buy every anime you ever watch or you’re not making a difference. That’s alienated a lot of fans who feel like the industry is greedily demanding too much, or begging fans for money. Rather, I’d prefer to see an aggregate of fans support the industry, not out of guilt because the poor mangaka is starving or animators get paid nothing (although if that matters to you, go for it!), but because we just want to make the industry in our image. I want to impose my great taste in anime (it’s great, I swear… to me) onto everyone else to make sure there are tons of these dramatic tearjerkers or experimental psychological thrillers or male idol shows to go around, and I want to send a message to the creators that I love these shows. Force the industry to cater to your needs by taking small strides and be the change you want to see. It’s like voting; we think of it as being inconsequential, but if enough people believe their votes matter, then they really do gain that power.

If that anime you loved on an unofficial site really deserves a second season, consider checking out or re-watching on an official site—even your free, non-subscription views get reported back to the anime committee (and who knows, you may actually end up liking the experience of watching it legally!). If you don’t have a ton of money for anime boxsets, try to just save up for that one risky, experimental, traditionally difficult show that really needs the boost. If you buy a ton of fan merch (and lord knows I do), maybe pick up a couple pieces of cute official merch too. And if you do all of these things but can do more, just try something new out. You don’t even have to spend money—watch some ads or invest some of your time.

Every little bit helps, not just from the dollars you spend, but because it makes those products more available for other fans. But most importantly, tell your friends who care about the future of anime why they should support it, because it’s spreading that behavior that really matters most. While I’m probably never going to get my friends to import a full series of Japanese Blu-rays (well… it’s a work in progress), I have gotten them to go with me to the movie theater to watch theatrical anime with me, or to buy a set of LINE stickers—and that stuff adds up.