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Why you keep seeing famous anime in your favorite games

Gaming’s biggest brands are leaning into their fans’ interests

Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

Eren Yeager looks a little off in these new promotional materials.

That’s because it’s not really him. It’s another character, in Yeager’s outfit, part of a collaboration between Attack on Titan and the multiplayer horror-game Dead by Daylight. And Yeager and the rest of his friends are hardly the only anime content coming to popular games stateside.

Tuesday, Fortnite announced a new Anime Legends pack bringing a set of skins to the game. Apex Legends is also getting an anime-esque Gaiden Event. All three announcements came in one day. It’s part of a larger trend in which western video game makers are leaning hard into their fans’ interest in anime.

All three live-service games are adding anime-inspired content to their games in different ways this summer. Dead by Daylight developer Behaviour Interactive is reimagining its characters in Attack on Titan’s most popular roles. Apex Legends’ Gaiden Event will bring more than 40 new cosmetic items to the game — four of them clearly inspired by popular anime series like One Piece, Naruto, My Hero Academia, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. And in Fortnite, Epic Games is going as far as to give the game’s Anime Legends Pack a physical release at select retailers, alongside generic anime-inspired skins.

It’s far from the first time a popular Western multiplayer game has seen anime tie-ins or anime-inspired events. Another huge brand, PUBG Mobile, recently collaborated with Neon Genesis Evangelion to bring that series’ characters — including its iconic mechs — to the battle royale. Hell, even Fortnite got a load of Naruto characters last month.

But three announcements for popular multiplayer games is notable since it signals consumer trends and preferences as developers understand them.

Why are there so many anime tie-ins?

Anime and manga have always played a large role in shaping the tastes of Western audiences. (Remember Cartoon Network’s Toonami in the late ’90s and early 2000s?) However, around the time of 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, interest in anime soared once again. Paperback sales of manga exploded during the quarantine times, and movies for anime series like Demon Slayer became a smash hit. Additionally, anime fandoms thrived across social media, where TikTok dances and other anime-inspired content regularly shaped popular trends from 2020 on.

The recent Apex Legends announcement also taps another growing trend: VTubers. As part of Apex Legends’ lates event, developers said three heroes would become available as VTuber avatars, so streamers can embody their favorite characters as their anime incarnations. That’s a meaningful acknowledgment from Respawn Entertainment, as VTubers like Ironmouse smash Twitch records and the general fandom around them grows worldwide.

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