The Most Famous Characters in 1990s Japanese Pop Culture

Over the decades, Japan has spawned some of the world’s most iconic fictional characters. After all, is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t know Godzilla, Mario, and Hello Kitty? And the 1990s saw several notable pop culture figures coming out of Japan that remain famous to this day. Here’s our pick of the top four.

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Goku

The manga and anime series Dragon Ball had already been a phenomenal success for ten years by the time it reached an overseas market in the 1990s. Foreign audiences then helped to catapult the franchise into an international success story. There have been Dragon Ball animated features, an American live-action movie, theme park attractions, and multiple video games, such as Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout and Dragon Ball Z. If you love playing video games set in Japan, there are plenty more to choose from. There are even casino slot games like the Japanese-themed Matsuri, which is available at an オンラインカジノ (online casino).

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One reason Dragon Ball became so popular was thanks to its adorable lead character Goku, the Super Saiyan. He grows up to become one of the earth’s greatest defenders, and he constantly strives to become as great a warrior as possible. Goku is based on a legendary figure from the 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West. With his striking tall hair and his trademark orange martial-arts suit, Goku remains one of the most recognizable characters from Japanese popular culture to this day.

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The Most Famous Characters in 1990s Japanese Pop Culture
Image by manseok Kim from Pixabay

Totoro

When a very cute furry grey creature called a Totoro appeared in the Studio Ghibli animated fantasy film My Neighbor Totoro, it won all viewers’ hearts. It also catapulted Studio Ghibli into international fame. Although the movie was released in 1988, the dubbed version was released at theaters in the US in 1993. Since then, the pointy-eared, long-whiskered, owl-and-rabbit-like forest spirit has amassed a cult following throughout the world. The movie’s plot involves two girls moving to the country to be close to their ill mother. It isn’t long before the girls are off on adventures with the spirits who live in the nearby forest.

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My Neighbor Totoro was number one on Time Out’s list of greatest animated films, compiled in 2009, and it has won many other awards and accolades. Today, Totoro is still one of the most enduring and endearing famous characters from Japanese pop culture.

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Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon began life in a series of shōjo manga comics. Since then, the young heroine has appeared in animated feature films and TV shows, a live-action television adaptation, and an extensive range of merchandise.

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When the Sailor Moon anime series was first released in English in 1995, the protagonist soon became an international phenomenon. Girls all over the world relate to the lazy schoolgirl Serena Tsukino who turns into Sailor Moon whenever the world needs her help. She leads her group of Sailor Soldiers to battle against evil and to prevent the solar system from being destroyed. Sailor Moon is such an incredibly famous Japanese pop culture icon; she has appeared in various video games and tabletop games. There have even been Sailor Moon theme park attractions at Japan’s Universal Studios, and a Sailor Moon ice skating show that featured Olympic figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva in the lead role.

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The Most Famous Characters in 1990s Japanese Pop Culture
Image by Vinson Tan ( 楊 祖 武 ) from Pixabay

Pikachu

Pokémon has come a long way since first appearing in the video game series of the 1990s. Since then, there have been dozens of Pokémon anime series and movies, a live-action film, manga comics, and a plethora of merchandise.

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Out of the various species of Pokémon, it is the Pikachu that has caught the public’s imagination the most. The yellow rodent-like creatures have powerful electrical abilities, and they are also very cute. Pikachu first appeared in the original Pokémon video game, Pokémon Red and Green. Its name is derived from combining two Japanese sounds: “pika” and “chu.” The former is the sound of an electric spark while the latter is the sound of a mouse. Over the years, Pikachu has appeared in various merchandise, including collectible Pikachu cards. Indeed, the cards have become so collectible that some are worth a lot of money. For instance, the 1998 limited edition run of the Pikachu Illustrator card was auctioned in 2016 for a whopping $55,000!

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Emma C
Freelance Writer