Anime’s Western Influences, From Film Noir to Star Wars

Western culture has embraced and celebrated the achievements of anime and manga for decades. It's influenced popular films like The Matrix and Inception along with cartoons like Steven Universe and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Though arts and culture from the eastern hemisphere of the planet have long inspired those in the western hemisphere, the cycle of influence actually goes both ways.

Anime especially has plenty of western influences from the early days of American cinema to the long legacy of European theater. Here are some notable examples of Western pop culture inspiring essential manga and anime.

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American Films and Television

The anime classic Cowboy Bebop is heavily influenced by film genres like noir, westerns and martial arts films. Cowboy Bebop's series title gives away its western genre influence along with the main characters being self-reliant, gun-toting drifters with moral codes a la Italian director Sergio Leone's The Man With No Name films. The music in the show is a callback to jazz music that was a key part of the noir genre during its heyday in the 1940s. Even the fighting style of protagonist Spike Spiegel is directly inspired by Bruce Lee's martial art films that were made in America.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure author Hirohiko Araki was inspired to create the first part of the series titled Phantom Blood based off the popular action movies of the 1980s starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Hence why the characters in that setting are large and muscular. Beyond that, many members of the Joestar family are American or European.

Another anime with American influences is Baccano!  The series director Takahiro Omori has actually cited the American TV show Lost as an influence on the show's storytelling structure. Art director Akira Ito himself cited famous mobster movies from the 1970s such as The Godfather and The Sting when designing the settings.

American Music

Surprisingly, there is a lot of manga and anime inspired by music from American and European culture. But it's JoJo's Bizarre Adventure that might take the cake with paying homage to popular music from North America and Europe. The biggest reference is naming the series antagonist Dio Brando after famous heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio, and the last name as a likely nod to Marlon Brando.

Cowboy Bebop also pays homage to American music with art direction inspired by 1960s music and American counterculture of the time. And there are even episode names that reference classic rock-and-roll songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Sympathy for the Devil."

Star Wars

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No modern American franchise is as popular as Star Wars, but George Lucas's space opera phenomenon influenced tons of creators outside the United States. Manga and anime were no different in borrowing from the lore of Star Wars to create their own. There are a few anime worthy of being called Japan's version of Star Wars, including Galaxy Express 999, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam. 

Even Cowboy Bebop has some similarities as a series that follows a group of characters who journey through hardship into ultimate triumph. What's also noteworthy is that in making Star Wars, Lucas was inspired by the films of the legendary Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa's samurai movie characters laid the foundation for Lucas to create the iconic Jedi order, creating a special cycle of creative inspiration and evolution that's only possible with cultural exchange.


Although many would call the great filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki Japan's equivalent to Walt Disney, that title originally belonged to Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka. Looking at Astro Boy and learning about his origin as an android creation being given human emotions and it's hard not to compare him to Pinocchio, one of Disney's most beloved films. Growing up during the early days of Disney animated films Tezuka was an avid fan and reportedly watched Bambi more than 80 times. Disney's art would inspire his own manga when creating characters with the similar appearance of big eyes and simplified style.

While Disney was a huge influence on Tezuka, his work notoriously inspired a classic Disney film to the point of plagiarism. His 1950s manga that became a short-lived anime, Kimba the White Lion, is extremely similar to Disney's 1994 mega-hit The Lion King. Whether they were partially inspired or purely ripped him off, it showed the Disney company may have been just as influenced by Tezuka as he was by them.

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