Big in Japan

How Anime Has Helped Japanese Music Go Global

Header image credit: ©︎HK/AOT

Anime isn’t just a style of animation—it’s a rich and exciting world of storytelling. A futuristic city where humans clash with titans, the adventures of a teen wizard … anime can mean action, fantasy, supernatural, comedy, or romance, but it’s far more sophisticated than Saturday morning cartoons.

Anime fans know that music plays a major role in heightening the drama. While the vast sonic landscape of anime music is no secret in Japan, it’s now traveling faster than ever to millions of new fans globally—and as streaming numbers prove, they’re just as obsessed. As a result, the adults and teens who love anime are now discovering more about Japanese music and culture as a whole.

Today, J-Pop (Japanese pop) and J-Rock (Japanese rock) are now popular genres around the world. Thanks to the international explosion of anime, a song like “Red Swan,” the sweeping opening theme of Attack on Titan season three, finds an audience far beyond Japan. The cinematic rock ballad was created by composer, pianist, and rock drummer YOSHIKI, leader of the world-famous rock band X Japan, and HYDE, vocalist of legendary rockers L’Arc~en~Ciel.

“When I first heard that the producer and director of Attack on Titan might be interested in having me as a composer for the opening theme song, I said ‘Whoa, this is such an honor,’” YOSHIKI told us. “It’s one of my favorite series.”

Guren No Yumiya” by Linked Horizon, the opening theme for Attack on Titan season one, has collected 13 million global streams on Spotify—so this new collaboration between two of Japan’s biggest rock stars is just another way that Japanese music is crossing over and making major waves. Hear more from YOSHIKI about how “Red Swan” came together in the video below.

Spotify’s recent Global Cultures initiative speaks to the importance and responsibility of sharing diverse genres across the globe, including Japanese music.

“The music streaming era only came over to Japan recently, mainly because physical sales are still strong here,” explains Noriko Ashizawa, Senior Editor, Shows & Editorial in Japan. “However, more and more Japanese artists are finding a lot of potential listeners of their music outside of the country—where physical sales aren’t as popular anymore—on Spotify. Anime is one of the most effective channels to attract global listeners to Japanese music. We’ve started creating a variety of Anime playlists dedicated to each popular series such as Attack on Titan and JOJOs Bizarre Adventure to help promote J-Tracks and spread them around the globe, similar to the recent rise of Latinx music and K-Pop.”

With the help of Global Cultures, we can spread the word on anime fan favorites like TK from Ling tosite sigure’s “unravel,” the opening theme song for “Tokyo Ghoul” season one. In just nine months, the song has been streamed more than 11.6 million times on Spotify. And as proof of anime music’s crazy-quick expansion, its number of monthly listeners in the U.S. is even bigger than in Japan.

Similarly, the rock band FLOWwhose high-octane sound blends elements of punk, ska, and pop-rock, is also on fire. The band’s top 10 Spotify songs—all anime related—have already reached over 25 million streams. (And their catalogue only became available in Japan this past July.)

Whether you’re a die-hard otaku (a young obsessed fan) or a total newbie to anime, there’s plenty of Japanese music to discover on Spotify. Get a taste with the mega-popular “Red Swan” right here.