When the first chapter of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba was published in February 2016, no one could have predicted that it would become the worldwide phenomenon that it is today. Even before the anime adaptation began airing in 2019, it was one of the most popular manga on the planet. Since then, the manga has gone on to sell more than 150 million copies of its 23 volumes and its first feature film became the highest-grossing anime movie of all time.
Despite a relatively short manga run that concluded in May 2020, the property has an unmissable presence on the convention circuit. The latest outing, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – To The Swordsmith Village, topped the Japanese box office when it premiered in early February 2023 despite being little more than a preview of the upcoming anime season.
What is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba?
Tanjiro Kamado’s idyllic life is ripped apart after a visit from a demon named Muzan, who kills his family and turns his sister Nezuko into a demon. To help restore her humanity, Tanjiro joins the Demon Slayer Corps alongside the wild Inosuke and the terrified Zenitsu, battling increasingly powerful demons along the way.
There is no doubt that the show is poised to be one of the biggest hits of the Spring 2023 season, but what is it about the world of Demon Slayer that has captured the world’s attention? While it is impossible to predict what will and won’t become popular, some things have helped the anime stand out in an increasingly competitive industry.
Stellar Animation and a distinctive style
It is impossible to discuss the Demon Slayer anime without touching on animation studio Ufotable’s excellent work bringing Koyoharu Gotouge’s manga to life. The source material is filled with chaotic battles between characters with extraordinary powers and the anime manages to capture that action remarkably well, particularly when it comes to depicting the signature Breathing Techniques of the members of the Demon Slayer Corps.
While most of the show is drawn in traditional animation style, the elemental attacks of the Breathing Techniques feel like they’ve been created using watercolors, making them visually striking in a way that caught many fans off-guard. These attacks pop off the page in the black-and-white manga, but they really come to life in the anime. Ufotable deserves a lot of credit for making the action scenes that drive Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the visual spectacle they always needed to be.
From the first time we see Tanjiro use his Water Breathing techniques through to the most recent high-energy battle in the Yoshiwara entertainment district, Demon Slayer’s visuals are always on point and ready to dazzle viewers. Even in the rare moments when the pacing suffers with long flashbacks and unnecessary backstories, it is still a delight to watch.
Balanced characters that are easy to cosplay
No matter how good the animation is, no anime is going to last long without characters that people connect with. The three main characters share the spotlight in equal measure and, importantly, contribute to most of the battles in their own way. Tanjiro’s unwavering determination to protect the last of his family, Inosuke’s wild nature and need to prove himself, and Zenitsu’s ability to overcome his crushing anxiety and fear all get moments to develop naturally through the run of the manga.
Mixed into the four-armed demons and elaborate designs of the Hashira are a collection of remarkably cosplay-friendly characters. Anyone who has visited an anime convention over the past several years can’t have missed the instantly identifiable robes of the core cast. With their brightly colored robes and kimono, Tanjiro, Nezuko, and Zenitsu’s designs are all easy to put together on a budget. Plus, they’re all comfortable to wear all day while walking around the convention floor.
Having recognizable yet accessible character designs keeps the show visible in the anime fandom and allows fans to connect and helps to build up anticipation for new content, particularly during long breaks between seasons and films. From social media posts to fanart to cosplay gatherings, you can’t escape Demon Slayer fans.
Exploring the Taisho era
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba takes place in a unique period of Japanese history. The Taisho Era, which lasted from 1912 to 1925, was a time of rapid change in the country. Cities became more densely populated and technology like cars, electricity, and radio became increasingly common. However, those living outside these cities continued to rely on walking as their main form of transportation and lighting powered by oil or wood.
This stark contrast allows the anime to exist in two different worlds at the same time. People in traditional robes will walk alongside someone in a Western-influenced suit without it seeming out of place. While Demon Slayer isn’t the first franchise to explore the dichotomy of the Taisho Era, it uses the different settings it offers to great effect, allowing Tanjiro to explore demon-infested mountains and a bright and colorful entertainment district from one episode to the next.
A cute mascot character at the heart of the story
The inciting incident of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is the moment Nezuko is turned into a demon, which sets Tanjiro off on his quest to reverse her condition. Their relationship remains the driving force until the closing chapter, with both coming to each other’s aid on multiple occasions. While there are still aspects of the “found family” dynamic that is common in Shonen anime, the beating heart of Demon Slayer is this sibling bond.
Nezuko’s dialogue is extremely limited in the show due to the bamboo muzzle she wears most of the time, so her actions have to do most of the talking for her. However, despite her adorable, childlike appearance, she is easily one of the most powerful characters in the show, often dispatching powerful demons with a single blow. The juxtaposition between a cute character design and the brutality of her attacks is what makes her the perfect mascot for the show.
Mascot characters are a tried-and-true way to market anime. From Pokémon’s Pikachu to Bleach’s Kon to One Piece’s Chopper, it is a strategy many shows have implemented, but Nezuko is more central to the plot than any of these characters. She is more than just the main character’s best friend or main cheerleader – she is the reason he started on this journey in the first place.
Alone, none of these things would make Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba as popular as it is. Together, though, they have created the perfect formula for it to dominate the box office and become one of the best-selling manga of all time. While the manga’s run has ended, anime fans can enjoy watching it roll out jaw-dropping action and dramatic moments for years to come.
Netflix picks up the Pluto anime - a stunning adaptation of the Naoki Urasawa modern manga classic.