This is the figurine of Kirua Zoldik, a character from hunterxhunter. Funko Pop! figurines of anime and manga character are a symbol of how Japanese pop culture permeates the 21st century popular culture scene. This is symptomatic of the globalisation of pop culture and the creation of a multipolar global culture.

As someone who grew up in the 21st century, anime has been part of my media consumption for all of my life. As a child, I did not think of shows like Pokemon or Naruto as anime or Japanese animation, they were just part of my every day. Today, I still watch anime, I receive anime figurines as birthday presents and I appreciate the codes and cultural imprint of Japanese animation.

My experience and the anime figurine exemplify perfectly how Japanese pop culture permeates the global pop culture of the 21st century and contributes to our everyday cultural life (Tsutsui, 2010). This object is a product of many Japanese pop influences. The character is from the anime and manga hunterxhunter, but the design of Funko Pop! figurines also emanates the kawaii design of Hello Kitty, with a large head, black eyes and no mouth.

This type of cultural interconnections is symptomatic of the development of a global pop culture. In the 21st century, popular culture is an unavoidable part of everyday life and it can be defined as commercial culture, mass produced and mass consumed, designed to appeal to mainstream tastes and encompassing a wide range of forms and media (Tsutsui, 2010, p.4). Global popular culture refers to entertainment that transcends culture, language, geography, gender and race in its international diffusion (Tsutsui, 2010, p.2). The development of the latter ties in with the revolution in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), which drastically changed the way we consume entertainment. In this post, I will outline the influence of Japanese pop culture in the 21st century, how it relates to debates around globalisation and signals the development of a multipolar global culture. I will also shed light on the fascinating phenomenon of global fandoms and the power they wield as cultural communities that transcend national boundaries.

japanese pop culture in the 21st century

The globalisation of Japanese pop culture is not a recent phenomenon and started in the second half of the 20th century. Steady flows of Japanese pop like Astro Boy, Hello Kitty, PacMan or Super Mario video games helped Japan rise as a global youth entertainment supplier (Tsutsui, 2010, p.14). In 1990, a survey revealed that Nintendo’s Mario was more recognisable to American children than Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse (Tsutsui, 2010, p.17).

In this century, Japanese pop culture became normalised around the globe and its popularity grew to unprecedented levels. For example, Netflix reports that over 120 million households have chosen to watch at least one anime title — more than double the number of households in 2018 and is investing significant amounts into producing anime (Milligan, 2021). Other key examples include the release of Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki, which had a huge success in North America and grossed more than the movie Titanic at the time (Timetoast). Moreover, the anime Demon Slayer The Movie became one of the highest grossing film of 2020.

Japan’s Impact On Pop Culture Is Bigger Than Ever by TODAY

For a deeper discussion of Japanese pop culture and the reasons behind its global appeal, see Tsutsui (2010).

globalisation, cultural hybridisation and a multipolar global pop culture

The spread of Japanese popular culture is interesting in discussing the complex process of globalisation. It is a truism of the 21st century that we live in a highly globalised world – a historical moment characterised by the “relentless global flow of capital, commodities, and communication across increasingly porous territorial boundaries” (Tsutsui, 2010, p.3). This phenomenon is tied to the technological revolution, which led to new media  playing a formidable role in furthering the globalisation process. While this allowed global diffusion of information influencing cultures and societies to result in what has been referred as ‘globalised culture’ (Malla, 2021, p.74), globalisation has also been understood in terms of McLuhan’s global village, predicting that the spread of Western culture would lead to the demise of other cultures in the form of cultural imperialism.

Globalisation vs localism. From Terminal Section Europeene.

Although Western cultural products’ presence all over the world is hard to deny (Tomlinson in Malla, 2021), some authors argue that rather than cultural imperialism, cultural hybridisation has taken place in local cultures. Iwabuchi (in Malla, 2021, p.79) explains that in the cultural hybridisation phenomena, globalised cultural products are localised to conform to local tastes of the targeted cultural community. As Tsutsui (2010) outlines, localisation practices help ensure cultural products’ popularity abroad. For example, the first animes broadcasted on TV channels in the US, such as Sailor Moon, were heavily edited to fit Western values. For example, strong female protagonist and homosexual relationships were partly edited out (Noh, 2016). Localisation practices also influence how Western cultural goods are received in Japan. Tsutsui (2010, p.8) gives many examples of this, from women’s fashion combining traditional kimonos and short flapper skirts, to changing baseball vocabulary.

Cultural imperialism is still discussed actively, for example, Salsabila (2021) argues that while Netflix brands itself as a global platform, it still takes advantages of its American cultural power. However, it is clear that Japan was not simply Westernised but rather was an active participant in a complex transnational circulation of popular culture forms (Tsutsui, 2010, p.9). As the first non-Western nation to emerge as a major and consistent contributor to global popular culture trends, Japan dispelled the notion that globalisation was a process monopolised by American and European archetypes (Tsutsui, 2010, p.17). Hence, this also signals the development of a 21st century multipolar global popular culture, rich in cultural interconnections, that includes more than western media and representation. As Cicccheli et al. (2021) explain, global pop culture has long been dominated by the United States, Japan, and Europe. Recently, however, new players have emerged, with South Korea in particular, a country whose productions are fashioning a more multipolar world.

global fandoms

ICTs allowed the development of a global popular culture but importantly they empowered the development of global fandoms and communities, which are a central characteristic of the global pop culture of the 21st century.

The anime fandom was crucial to the international success of Japanese animation (Leonard, 2005; Noh, 2016; Tsutsui, 2010) as fan organisations were heavily involved in the introduction and popularisation of Japanese forms, especially anime and manga, in the US and around the world (Tsutsui, 2010). Without any official support from the Japanese industry, anime fandoms became the primary vehicle of translation and cross-cultural communication, via unauthorised fan subbing and translation (Noh, 2016). International audiences taking the distribution of Japanese entertainment in their own hands was also a reaction to the localisation practices of US media channels censoring part of the anime they would broadcast, as with Sailor Moon. Unsatisfied with these changes in narrative, fandoms distributed the original versions of many anime shows, movies and manga. This stemmed not only from the desire for “free” content, but also from a code of conduct that members of the fandom developed for themselves (Noh, 2016, p.29). While this fan distribution system still exist, the current popularity of Japanese pop made it less necessary.

Authors like Noh (2016) find this code of conduct among fandoms to signal the development of global cultural communities. She argues that through having common source materials and social practices, international fandoms create a cohesive cultural body, transcending national boundaries. “Through their fan culture, they create a community that spans national boundaries and affects cultural identity through their linguistic practices and desire to participate and engage with a global community ” (Noh, 2016, p.35).

Cool Japan. From The Globalisation of Japanese Pop Culture.

This is the level of intercultural exchange that characterises globalisation in the 21st century. This century saw the development of a multipolar global culture. And beyond this, ICTs allowed the development of close-knit global communities, capable to shape people’s identities and bring them together beyond the boundaries of the nation state.


Name: Anime Figurine of Kirua Zoldik

3D Model

Creator: Leia Bonjean

Date: 25-01-2022

Place: Maastricht

Themes: Entertainment

Captured with CANON camera on a tripod, four lights, lazy Susan, lightbox, grey card

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on Windows 10


Physical Object

Size: 12 x 5 x 5 cm

Weight: 150 g

Material: Plastic


Cicchelli, V. (2021). An Alternative Globalisation of Pop Culture. In V., Cicchelli and S., Octobre (Eds), The Sociology of Hallyu Pop Culture Surfing the Korean Wave (p.75-110). Palgrave McMillan.

Leonard, S. (2005). Progress against the law Anime and fandom, with the key to the globalization of culture. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 8(3), 281-305.

Malla, M. W. (2021). Reflections on Critique of ‘Media’ In the Globalisation Debate. Journal of Media and Communication Studies, 1(1), 74-85.

Milligan, M. (2021). Netflix Japan Doubles Down on Anime Content. Animation Magazine. Retrieved from:

Noh, S. (2016). Subversion and Reification of Cultural Identity in Global Fandom. Global Fandoms, 17(1), 25-37.

Salsabila, K. (2021). Netflix: Cultural Diversity or Cultural Imperialism. Journal of Transnational American Studies, 8(1), 15-27.

The Significant Dates of Anime. Timetoast. Retrieved March 22 2021 from 

Tsutsui, W. (2010). Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization. Key Issues in Asian Studies, n°6. Association for Asian Studies, Inc