The astonishing success of Demon Slayer


The coronavirus pandemic may have caused many industries to press pause on operations, but the anime industry continued to make huge strides in 2020 with Deamon slayer.

The first season of the anime series Demon Slayer exploded onto screens in 2019 and blew up in popularity, appealing to audiences from around the world. The following year, the sequel movie Demon Slayer Movie: Mugen Train was slated for theatrical release across the globe.  

Although it could not be shown in several countries due to the pandemic, it still achieved massive success and became Japan’s highest grossing film, beating out big names like Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name and Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. Considering that the plot is not that unique compared to other action anime series, what is it about Demon Slayer that sets it apart from others? Is it due to the timing of the pandemic, or is there something special about this particular film?

The story of Demon Slayer

The anime series is adapted from the manga, which has sold over 120 million copies. It is set in Taisho-era Japan and contains supernatural elements, just like many other popular action anime. The storyline follows Tanjiro, a young boy who returns to his home one day to find his entire family murdered, except his younger sister Nezuko, who has been turned into a demon. 

Tanjiro and Nezuko venture out to find a cure for her demon curse and become involved in the Demon Slayer Corps; a group of warriors who have been waging war against demons for centuries. Tanjiro spends months training to become a demon slayer in order to get revenge against the demons who killed his family and turned his sister into one of them. Throughout the series, he learns to use his powers and battle demons, along with his comrades Zenitsu and Inosuke, both of whom provide a lot of comic relief to the anime and aide Tanjiro in his battles. 

A popular story – and it shows

The series’ popularity is immense – its franchise generated sales of $2.6 billion USD and elementary students in Japan ranked the protagonist as their #1 most admired person in a survey, even over their own parents. The franchise also benefited from a bombardment of merchandise available for purchase, including chopsticks, replica swords and even themed canned coffee. 

As e-commerce became particularly popular this year, fans from around the world could get their hands on Demon Slayer merchandise and have it delivered directly to their homes. When the series was airing, audiences praised the animation studio, Ufotable, for delivering such beautiful animated styles. Ufotable is notable for producing the Fate series and its gorgeous, eye-catching animation. The animation style is clean and perfectly blends intense action sequences with cool moves from the Demon Slayer Corps and demons themselves. 

Forming a bond

The central reason why Demon Slayer is so popular is because the plot is compelling to people of all ages; from pre-teens to the elderly, it resonates with everyone. The lengths that Tanjiro goes to in order to protect and save Nezuko is truly heartwarming. Even though Tanjiro despises demons, he cannot let go of his love for his sister. Nezuko herself is fighting on the side of the humans, showing that a single identity does not tie people together.  

Audience members have stated that their familial bond inspired them to treasure their own relationships with their families. It facilitated a greater desire for connection between family members and allowed people from different generations to interact, even in the workplace. The themes of grief and loss were also effectively conveyed to audiences. Tanjiro’s burden is relatable to all kinds of audiences. Furthermore, as a trio, Tanjiro, Zenitsu and Inosuke have their fair share of hilarious moments that are refreshing especially after intense battles. Their dynamic is hilarious to watch on screen and even their interactions with Nezuko and the rest of the Demon Slayer Corps are entertaining. Every scene in Demon Slayer is exciting and it’s easy to binge-watch the whole series in one go.  

Success in a pandemic

Critics have speculated that the Demon Slayer movie was released at the right time – at the height of the pandemic amongst an aura of uncertainty. Firstly, it barely had any competitors, since so many theatrical releases were cancelled or postponed; it became one of the most talked-about films as there was little else to talk about.  

The movie was released whilst COVID cases were spiking in Japan, yet it did not stop people from going to the cinema. New restrictions and measures in place meant that cinemas could screen the movie as many as a dozen times per day due to its popularity. 

Interestingly, Tanjiro’s resilience to kill demons and save his sister resonated with audiences particularly during this tumultuous time, when audiences are facing the pandemic and battling its negative effects in their own ways.  

There is no doubt that Demon Slayer has captivated hearts around the world and it is definitely one of the most popular recent anime series to air. The manga may have wrapped up its final volume, but the anime adaptation still has a long way to go. The touching scenes from the movie will give way to even more heart-wrenching scenes in future seasons as the audience continues to follow Tanjiro and Nezuko’s journey, along with the rest of the Demon Slayer Corps.