Japanese animation (or anime for short) has been around for almost four generations with the very first one created in the early 20th century (1917 to be exact). Throughout the years, Japanese animation has come from a long journey through time. From being small cartoons that are only for Japanese people to being loved by millions (if not billions) of people from around the globe. Anime has become a huge hit for Japanese and foreigners, and have the potential to become bigger in the future. While yes, anime has been an extremely popular pop culture in Japan, many people beg to question: for non-Japanese newcomers, can anime be a gateway to learn about Japanese culture?
My answer: Yes, to an extent.
Why people like anime?
There are main reasons as to why people are interested in anime. The most common reason is that anime displays somewhat serious storylines compared to western animation. Don't get me wrong. The western animation does handle serious topics that everyday people struggle against, and they do impact in a positive way if done correctly. However, with anime, it's more common and a little bit more relatable to the audience. For example, there are tons of anime series that deals with the main character (or any character in particular) having to deal with bullying, family problems, and overall being a loner compared to the peers because they had different interests or backgrounds or society's social status.
With that in mind, some people sensed that connection to what they saw in anime and what they are dealing with in their personal lives. It's what makes them engage in the series a lot more than Western animation.
Another top reason is learning a different language and culture. While Japanese is arguably one of the hardest languages in the world and the culture can be super complicated and intimidating for the average foreigner, anime does help them make learning about a new language and/or culture more exciting and interesting. The myth of "Non-Japanese people cannot learn Japanese in anime" had been completely false because Japanese schoolkids learn the language by watching their favorite series.
Is there a similarity between anime and Japanese culture?
While watching anime does have great benefits, it also has its drawbacks. There are times that anime had made wrong statements about the actual culture etiquette that Japanese people cannot do in real life. For example, in many anime series, the characters would interact in the rooftops from time to time. In reality, it's actually forbidden to go on the rooftops. Also, the Japanese language seems to be more casual in anime than it is in real life, mostly filled with slangs. So, there can be times that Japanese people would be weirded out when you try your Japanese from anime. For Japanese people, it's disrespectful and rude to show a "too-friendly" approach to them unexpectedly.
Also, anime does show unsettling and controversial moments that would make the average viewer feel super uncomfortable. With anime series such as Kodomo no Jikan, Elfied Lied, and Corpse Party (best not Google it...), it shows disturbing content such as blood, gore, any kind of torture, romantic relationships with huge age-gaps, etc.). Japanese anime does have its fair share of controversies that made the episodes either be heavily censored or outright banned for viewers to see. Even though people can probably see it online...
Can you learn about Japan if you watch anime?
Overall, can newbies start learning about Japan through anime? Yes, of course, however, they cannot limit themselves to learning Japanese on anime alone. It can only be used to be a gateway to other things about the culture in general. So binge-watch the entire series in one night, even though I don't know how anyone can binge-watch an entire season in one night alone...