If you love cartoons and anime, you’ll love scrolling through our list of 18 popular Japanese cartoon characters.
Lots of these cartoon characters also have accompanying merchandise too!
Whether it’s Pikachu, Hello Kitty, or Mario, there are lots of different characters to explore and some are more famous than others.
Without further ado, let’s explore the most popular Japanese cartoon characters of all time.
Table of Contents
1 – Mario
We just had to start with Mario – who doesn’t love this iconic Japanese character?
Even those who’ve never played the game will still recognize this world-famous cartoon character. The great thing is, he’s still going strong!
Though Mario is actually an Italian plumber, his mustache makes him look somewhat Mexican.
However, he was created by Shigeru Miyamoto, a game designer from Japan.
Whenever you visit Japan and go to Tokyo, ensure you try out the MariCar tour – in this tour, you put on a costume of a Mario character and drive your Street Kart around Tokyo’s streets!
Can You Still Do It Today? Mario Kart in Japan
Anyone who’s owned a Nintendo has probably played this iconic game.
Its merchandise is pretty popular too. You’ll find blankets, action figures, and all sorts both in Japan and around the world.
2 – Afro Ken
After Mario, the next most popular cartoon character is Afro Ken.
This cute dog comes with a rainbow afro.
He’s always happy, honest, and innocent.
Though this character doesn’t speak, he is very communicative with his facial expressions. He loves all things fluffy too!
3 – Totoro
Another favorite is Totoro.
This cute cartoon character is both interesting and cute.
This Japanese cartoon character is furry, cute, and silent.
It came out in the 1980s and merchandise is still available.
4 – Kureyon Shin Chan
This is a popular Japanese cartoon character in Japan and over the world.
Shin Shan is still popular and is famous for being a mischievous character who’s always getting himself into trouble.
It’s a hilarious anime that both kids and adults enjoy.
5 – Hello Kitty
This world-famous cartoon character has existed for over 50 years and is still popular now.
It was designed by Yuko Shimizu for the company Sanrio during the 1970s. Hello Kitty also goes by the name Kiti Howaito.
The character is a kind-hearted, happy-go-lucky girl who is certainly the cutest kawaii character. You’ll find merchandise available throughout the world.
6 – Jiji
If you like Hello Kitty, you’ll probably also like this next cat character, Jiji who is a black car character that featured in the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service.
This movie came out towards the end of the 1980s and is still really entertaining. You can get some cute merchandise too.
7 – Anpanman
Unlike most of the others in this list so far, Anpanman is pretty unheard of outside of Japan.
Inside the country, however, he’s a really popular cartoon character among kids.
Anpanman is based on the sweet treat Anpan. Anpan is a bun filled with Anko – a Japanese red bean paste.
Anpanman’s head is filled with these buns!
He featured in a series called Soreike! Anpanman. This anime has over one thousand episodes.
There is lots of Anpanman merchandise too.
8 – Doraemon
Doraemon is a favorite amongst the kids as far as Japanese cartoon characters go.
Millions enjoy watching the anime or reading the manga.
There are even games featuring Doraemon online as well as lots of soft toy merchandise.
9 – Astro Boy
Astro Boy is otherwise known as Atom in Japanese.
He was designed by Osamu Tezuka and was first introduced in 1951 in the manga called Captain Atom.
The character also appeared in animes and feature films as well as live-action TV shows and video games.
10 – Pikachu
Pikachu is perhaps the most recognized cartoon character from the Pokémon franchise.
It was designed by Ken Sugimori and Atsuko Nishida.
The popular cartoon character first appeared in the Pokémon video games Pokémon Red and Green in 1996.
These were released as Pokémon Red and Blue in 1998 outside Japan.
The character is a mouse-like character with a yellow appearance and electrical abilities.
He’s a huge part of the Pokémon franchise and is the most recognizable and well-known Pokémon species.
All in all, this cartoon character is thought of as a Japanese icon as far as pop culture goes.
11 – Sazae-san
This character is a 24-year-old from Fukuoka.
She marries Masuo, another character in the manga and anime. In the manga, she is 27 years old.
The manga series was written and illustrated by Machiko Hasegawa and first appeared in 1946.
The topics dealt with contemporary situations and everyday life in Tokyo. The series ended in 1974 when its creator retired.
There was a TV adaptation anime that aired for the first time in 1969.
This series is the longest-running animated TV series according to the Guinness World Records.
This character has been adapted to songs, theatrical plays, and even a radio show.
12 – Maruko Sakura – Chibi Maruko-chan
This Japanese cartoon character is an elementary schoolgirl who lives with her parents, older sister, and grandparents.
The character gets into all sorts of predicaments but typically finds her way out of them with a little ingenuity and her grandfather’s help.
The series was illustrated and written by Momoko Sakura.
The first story was published in 1986 in Ribon, a shojo manga magazine.
It was also adapted into an anime series that aired originally on Fuji Television during the early 1990s.
13 – Son Goku
Son Goku is the main character in a manga series called Dragon Ball.
This was created by Akira Toriyama and it was based on a main character from the 16th-century classic Chinese novel called Journey to the West.
It’s also been influenced by martial arts films from Hong Kong – think Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.
The character first appeared towards the end of 1984 in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump.
As a Character – Goku is an eccentric boy with a monkey’s tail. He has superhuman strength and practices martial arts.
14 – Lupin III
Lupin the Third is a manga series that was illustrated and written by Monkey Punch.
The character is based on Maurice Leblanc’s novel series and is the grandson of Arsène Lupin himself.
The character Lupin III appeared for the first time in 1967 in Weekly Manga Action.
It went on to spawn a franchise that included lots of manga, two film pilots, six anime series, and a spin-off TV show.
There were also video games, musicals, and music CDs.
15 – Arale-Chan
Dr. Slump Arale-chan is an anime adaptation to the Dr. Slump manga that rand for five years during the 1980s.
Arale is the main protagonist and is an android that was created by Senbei Norimaki.
As a character, she’s energetic and innocent, and has superhuman strength but no common sense.
Arale wears glasses and can remove her head.
16 – Rilakkuma
As far as popular Japanese cartoon characters go, Rilakkuma is relatively new.
This fictional character was launched in 2003 after being created by Aki Kondo for the company San-X.
After the character was launched, there was lots of merchandise produced.
Rilakkuma is featured in comics, picture books, and even a stop-motion animation series called Rilakkuma and Kaoru.
17 – Amuro Rei (Gundam)
This fictional character was first introduced in 1979 in the anime Mobile Suit Gundam.
The character is a mechanic by trade and he becomes a pilot of the RX-78-2 Gundam to protect himself from Zeon forces.
The character’s father is Tem Ray, who is the leader of Project V for the Earth Federation.
He is 15 years old and lives in a space colony that has yet to be touched by the ongoing war.
18 – Nekobasu
Nekobasu, also known as Catbus, is a character from the My Neighbour Totoro film.
The character is a cat with twelve legs and a hollow body. He works as a bus and has fur seats.
The character has become so popular that there has been a spinoff film and toys made.
It’s believed that this character is based on the ancient urban legend of bakeneko, which tells of cats that grow so old that they learn how to shape-shift.
So, there you have it, eighteen of the most popular Japanese cartoon characters.
It’s safe to say that Japan’s reputation for cartoon characters is certainly worth exploring – and it’s worth checking out any of these that aren’t familiar too.
Though many of these characters have become popular all over the world, some have stayed in Japan.
Now you know about them, why not try to find them in manga and anime – you might just find a new character to fall in love with!