Anime. Who would’ve thought it would have this much mainstream popularity in this day and age, compared to being the underground ‘members-only’ niche medium it once was over 20 years ago. With it among the mainstream ranks; this medium has brought about a new generation of anime fans, and while that’s a great thing to a large majority of the anime community, there’s been some talk about the next wave of anime series that will sustain its mainstream dominance. In fact, there’s even a term for it; and that term is The Big Three. For many fans they’re aware of who the ‘Big Three’ are; they are three of the most popular, longest-running anime titles of their genre, and in the world. Whenever someone mentions ‘The Big Three’, they’re talking about Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece.
In the 2000’s Shonen was all the rage, and in EVERY Shonen Jump magazine you’d see these three on the cover. Although Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakasho, and Rurouni Kenshin (which we like to call ‘The Gateway Three’, or ’90’s Big Three’) made their mark on anime’s rise to popularity, these three solidified themselves as mainstream mainstays due to their stories, their iconic characters, and also being the longest-running shows. During the early 2000’s anime wasn’t as widely accessible as it is now, so trying to get your hands on any type of merchandise of these three anime titles was easier said than done.
When Toonami came to town (we’re not even gonna mention the 4Kids One Piece dub even though the opening music slapped), the hype of seeing these shows along with new manga chapters in the weekly Shonen Jump magazines, was intensified. We all remember the ‘Naruto Takeover Marathon’ (Naruto Hundo) on Cartoon Network, as that’s how a majority of Naruto fans found the Orange ninja. From anime TV series, manga, video games, and movies; the ‘Big Three’ defined a generation of Shonen anime fans the world over. Even today the influence of the ‘Big Three’ is felt among the modern generation of anime fans, and contrary to popular belief, it has led to the rise of ‘The New Three’.
For many fans; the ‘Big Three’ brought them into the anime community in the first place, and even led them to other shows of that genre as well. It doesn’t have to be just Shonen anime, as there could be a ‘Big Three’ of a particular genre or decade; say in our case, the 90’s. We know what our ‘Big Three’ are (as we aforementioned above) when we were growing up, but for some anime fans, it could be the three anime titles that made them become fans in the first place during their childhood; like Pokemon, Digimon, and Yu-Gi-Oh. For Mecha fans it could be Gundam, Gurren Lagann, and Evangelion. For Gen Z’ers it could be Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia, and Demon Slayer.
The ‘Big Three’ is synonymous with the most popular, longest-running, and most iconic anime franchises. Like Michael Jackson (no, not the dude who looks like him in Demon Slayer in the “Smooth Criminal” outfit from the music video); there will never be another ‘Big Three’ as popular, iconic, or generational defining as Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece. If you think about it a lot of fans have those three to thank due to their success, as they have led to the rise in popularity of ‘The New Three’. Every genre has a ‘Big Three’, every decade has a ‘Big Three’, and most of all, every fan has a ‘Big Three’ that got them into anime. Who knows what the future holds for ‘The Next Three’, but for now, ‘The Big Three’ will go down in history as the ones who brought anime to mainstream.
Until next post, stay nerdy! 😉