Anime began at the start of the 20th century, when Japanese filmmakers experimented with the animation techniques also pioneered in France, Germany, the United States, and Russia. The oldest known anime in existence first screened in 1917 – a two-minute clip of a samurai trying to test a new sword on his target, only to suffer defeat.

Early pioneers included Shimokawa Oten, Jun'ichi Kouchi, and Seitarō Kitayama. By the 1930s animation became an alternative format of storytelling to the live-action industry in Japan. But it suffered competition from foreign producers and many animators, such as Noburō Ōfuji and Yasuji Murata still worked in cheaper cutout not cel animation, although with masterful results.

Other creators, such as Kenzō Masaoka and Mitsuyo Seo, nonetheless made great strides in animation technique, especially with increasing help from a government using animation in education and propaganda. The first talkie anime was Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka, produced by Masaoka in 1933. The first feature length animated film was Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors directed by Seo in 1945 with sponsorship by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The success of The Walt Disney Company's 1937 feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs influenced Japanese animators. In the 1960s, manga artist and animator Osamu Tezuka adapted and simplified many Disney animation-techniques to reduce costs and to limit the number of frames in productions. He intended this as a temporary measure to allow him to produce material on a tight schedule with inexperienced animation-staff.

The 1970s saw a surge of growth in the popularity of manga – many of them later animated. The work of Osamu Tezuka drew particular attention: he has been called a "legend" and the "god of manga". His work – and that of other pioneers in the field – inspired characteristics and genres that remain fundamental elements of anime today.

The giant robot genre (known as "Mecha" outside Japan), for instance, took shape under Tezuka, developed into the Super Robot genre under Go Nagai and others, and was revolutionized at the end of the decade by Yoshiyuki Tomino who developed the Real Robot genre.

Robot anime like the Gundam and The Super Dimension Fortress Macross series became instant classics in the 1980s, and the robot genre of anime is still one of the most common in Japan and worldwide today. In the 1980s, anime became more accepted in the mainstream in Japan (although less than manga), and experienced a boom in production.

Following a few successful adaptations of anime in overseas markets in the 1980s, anime gained increased acceptance in those markets in the 1990s and even more at the turn of the 21st century.

English-speakers occasionally refer to anime as "Japanimation", but this term has fallen into disuse. "Japanimation" saw the most usage during the 1970s and 1980s, but the term "anime" supplanted it in the mid-1990s as the material became more widely known in English-speaking countries. In general, the term now only appears in nostalgic contexts. Since "anime" does not identify the country of origin in Japanese usage, "Japanimation" is used to distinguish Japanese work from that of the rest of the world. In Japan, "manga" can refer to both animation and comics. Among English speakers, "manga" has the stricter meaning of "Japanese comics", in parallel to the usage of "anime" in and outside of Japan. The term "ani- manga" is used to describe comics produced from animation cels.

Visual characteristics
Many commentators refer to anime as an art form. As a visual medium, it can emphasize visual styles. The styles can vary from artist to artist or from studio to studio. Some titles make extensive use of common stylization: FLCL, for example, has a reputation for wild, exaggerated stylization. Other titles use different methods: Only YesterdayorJin-Roh take much more realistic approaches, featuring few stylistic exaggerations; Pokémon uses drawings which specifically do not distinguish the nationality of characters. While different titles and different artists have their own artistic styles, many stylistic elements have become so common that people who describe them as definitive of anime in general. However, this does not mean that all modern anime share one strict, common art-style. Many anime have a very different art style from what would commonly be called "anime style", yet fans still use the word "anime" to refer to these titles. Generally, the most common form of anime drawings include "exaggerated physical features such as large eyes, big hair and elongated limbs... and dramatically shaped speech bubbles, speed lines and onomatopoeic, exclamatory typography." The influences of Japanese calligraphy and Japanese painting also characterize linear qualities of the anime style. The round ink brush traditionally used for writing kanji and for painting, produces a stroke of widely varying thickness. Anime also tends to borrow many elements from manga, including text in the background and panellayouts. For example, an opening may employ manga panels to tell the story, or to dramatize a point for humorous effect. See for example the anime Kare Kano.

Character design
Proportions Body proportions emulated in anime come from proportions of the human body. The height of thhead is considered by the artist as the base unit of proportion. Head heights can vary as long as the remainder of the body remains proportional. Mostanime characters are about seven to eight heads tall, and extreme heights are set around nine heads tall. Variations to proportion can be modded by the artist. Super-deformed characters feature a non-proportionally small body compared to the head. Sometimes specific body parts, like legs, are shortened or elongated for added emphasis. Most super deformed characters are two to four headstall. Some anime works like Crayon Shin-chan completely disregard these proportions, such thatthey resemble Western cartoons. For exaggeration,certain body features are increased in proportion.

Eye styles
Many anime and manga characters feature large eyes. Osamu Tezuka, who is believed to have been the first to use this technique, was inspired by the exaggerated features of American cartoon characters such as Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, andDisney's Bambi. Tezuka found that large eyesstyle allowed his characters to show emotionsdistinctly. When Tezuka began drawing Ribbon no Kishi, the first manga specifically targeted at young girls, Tezuka further exaggerated the size of the characters' eyes. Indeed, through Ribbon no Kishi, Tezuka set a stylistic template that later shōjo artiststended to follow. Coloring is added to give eyes, particularly to the cornea, some depth. The depth is accomplished by applying variable color shading. Generally, a mixtureof a light shade, the tone color, and a dark shade is used.Cultural anthropologist Matt Thorn argues that Japanese animators and audiences donot perceive such stylized eyes as inherently more or less foreign.

However, not all anime have large eyes. Forexample, some of the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Toshiro Kawamoto are known for having realistically proportioned eyes, as well as realistic hair colors on their characters. In addition many other productions also have been known to use smaller eyes. This design tends to have more resemblance to traditional Japanese art. Some characters have even smaller eyes, where simple black dots are used. However, many western audiences associate anime with large detailed eye.

Facial expressions
Anime characters may employ a variety of predetermined facial expressions to denote moodsand thoughts These techniques are often different in form than their counterparts in western animation, and they include a fixed iconography that's used as shorthand for certain emotions and moods. There are a number of other stylistic elements thatare common to conventional anime as well but more often used in comedies. Characters that are shocked or surprised will perform a "face fault", in which they display an extremely exaggerated expression. Angry characters may exhibit a "vein" or "stress mark" effect, where lines representing bulging veins will appear on their forehead. Angry women willsometimes summon a mallet from nowhere andstrike another character with it, mainly for the sake of slapstick comedy. Male characters will develop a bloody nose around their female love interests (typically to indicate arousal, which is a play on an old wives' tale) Embarrassed or stressed characters either produce a massive sweat-drop (which has become one of the most widely recognized motifs of conventional anime) or produced a visibly red blush or set of parallel (sometimes squiggly) lines beneath the eyes, especially as a manifestation of repressed romantic feelings. Characters who want to childishly taunt someone may pull an akanbe face (by pulling an eyelid down with a finger to expose the red underside). Characters may also have large "X" eyes to show a knockout, or in some cases, even illness. This is typically used for comedic purposes. Vacant, non-reflecting eyes can be used to indicate a state of semi-consciousness.

Animation technique
Like all animation, the production processes of storyboarding, voice acting, character design, cel production and so on still apply. With improvements in computer technology, computer animation increased the efficiency of the whole production process. Anime is often considered a form of limited animation. That means that stylistically, even inbigger productions the conventions of limitedanimation are used to fool the eye into thinkingthere is more movement than there is.Many of the techniques used are comprised with cost-cutting measures while working under a set budget. Anime scenes place emphasis on achieving three-dimensional views. Backgrounds depict the scenes'atmosphere.For example, anime often puts emphasis on changing seasons, as can be seen in numerous anime, such as Tenchi Muyo!. Sometimes actual settings have been duplicated into an anime.The backgrounds for the Melancholy of HaruhiSuzumiya are based on various locations within the suburb of Nishinomiya, Hyogo, Japan. Camera angles, camera movement, and lighting playan important role in scenes. Directors often have thediscretion of determining viewing angles for scenes, particularly regarding backgrounds. In addition, camera angles show perspective. Directors canalso choose camera effects within cinematography,such as panning, zooming, facial closeup, and panoramic. The large majority of anime uses traditional animation, which better allows for division of labor,pose to pose approach and checking of drawings before they are shot–practices favored by theanime industry. Other mediums are mostly limited to independently made short films, examples of which are the silhouette and other cutout animation of Noburō Ōfuji, the stop motion puppet animation of Tadahito Mochinaga,Kihachirō Kawamoto and Tomoyasu Murata and the computer animation of Satoshi Tomioka (most famously Usavich).