Major Anime Distributors

The biggest (and best) names in selling anime

Ever since anime began appearing outside of Japan, it's been presented to English-speaking audiences courtesy of a small but every-shifting roster of companies. Here's a rundown of some of the biggest names in anime, past and present, current and defunct, with example titles from each as well. All companies are presented in alphabetical order.

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A.D. Vision (Defunct) (Evangelion)

Neon Genesis Evangelion. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

One of the very first licensors of anime for the North American English-language market, founded in 1992 and best known for bringing Neon Genesis Evangelion to the U.S. market in 1997. At one point they were one of the biggest outfits of its kind in the English-speaking market, licensing not only anime but soundtracks, manga, toys, and even produced a localized version of the Japanese anime magazine Newtype. After a number of problematic business deals, ADV went bankrupt and closed its doors in September 2009, but a fair number of its titles were transferred to a successor, Sentai Filmworks (also profiled here).

ADV site [placeholder]

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AnimEigo (Yawara!)

Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

AnimEigo was another of the very first North American anime licensors. Co-founded by software engineer Robert Woodhead (he who created the Wizardry game series), they licensed a number of key titles: Bubblegum Crisis, the original OVA series of Vampire Princess Miyu, the outlandish Urusei Yatsura, and many others. Among their more ambitious licensing efforts was Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl, which they were able to get off the ground through a proto-KickStarter-style fundraiser. They eventually concentrated on live-action Japanese samurai and action movies rather than anime, with a good many of their former titles lapsing out of print.

AnimEigo site

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Aniplex (Durarara!!)

Durarara!!. © Ryohgo Narita/ASCII MEDIA WORKS/Ikebukuro Dollars, MBS

A major anime producer and distributor in Japan, Aniplex originally took to licensing its work through third parties--e.g., Fullmetal Alchemist, distributed through FUNimation. They still do this, but have since begun directly releasing certain editions of their titles in boutique fan-oriented editions, such as a Blu-ray Disc set for Durarara!!.

Aniplex USA site

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Bandai Entertainment (Reorganized) (Cowboy Bebop)

Cowboy Bebop. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

One of Japan’s biggest names in anime has, for a long time, had its own Western distribution arm as well, licensing and distributing titles like and , as well as the entire Gundam franchise. More recently they have planned to license their titles through third parties rather than sell them directly in markets outside of Japan.

Bandai Visual site

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Central Park Media (Defunct) (Grave of the Fireflies)

Grave of the Fireflies. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A Manhattan-based distributor (hence the name) which carried a number of key anime titles in its catalog: Revolutionary Girl Utena, Grave of the Fireflies and Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend. The company was shuttered in 2009, with many of its titles since re-acquired by other distributors.

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Discotek Media (Project A-ko)

Project A-ko. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A tiny label that started as a distributor for Hong Kong and Asian cinema, Discotek Media started adding anime titles—both feature films and TV shows—with special attention paid towards productions that might otherwise never have a chance of being released through a larger, more commercially-oriented distributor. Among their releases: Fist of the North Star, Lupin III, Unico, Little Nemo, Galaxy Express 999, Project A-ko, Crying Freeman, and many others.

Discotek Media site

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FUNimation (Fullmetal Alchemist)

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Part Four. © Hiromu Arakawa/FA Project, MBS. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The single largest and most powerful anime distributor in North America rose to prominence thanks to its licensing of the indomitable DragonBall Z saga. Since then they have expanded enormously and distributed a great many other major anime releases: Black Butler,Claymore, Darker than Black, Eden of the East, Hetalia, Ouran , High School Club Princess Jellyfish, [C] – Control, Steins;Gate, Soul Eater and countless others. The company has also branched out into offering streaming versions of its titles via its own portal as well as Hulu, NetFlix and YouTube.

FUNimation Entertainment site

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Geneon (Defunct / reorganized) (Black Lagoon)

Black Lagoon. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Geneon, founded by Japanese electronics outfit Pioneer, was originally called “Pioneer LDC” and used to market many of that company’s LaserDisc titles, including anime products. Their LaserDisc issues of anime in the U.S. were notable for being bilingual. The U.S. distribution arm of Geneon was shuttered in 2007 pending a distribution deal of its titles with A.D. Vision, but that deal was never completed. Many of Geneon’s titles have since been re-offered through FUNimation, pending Geneon’s reorganization as a subsidiary of Universal Pictures Japan. Among their major titles were (and are) the Tenchi Muyo! franchise, AKIRA, Hellsing, Black Lagoon, Paranoia Agent, and Ergo Proxy.

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Harmony Gold (Robotech)

Robotech. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Harmony Gold is best known for being the English-language licensor for a single, major anime property: Robotech, originally Macross. They continue to hold the rights for Robotech, which they distribute domestically and continue to plan additional properties for.

Harmony Gold website

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Honneamise (Defunct) (Royal Space Force: Wings of Honnêamise)

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A sublabel of Bandai Visual USA, which specializes in boutique editions of anime titles for discerning fans. They provided fans with the first Blu-ray issue of , and deluxe reissues of titles like Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade or the Patlabor theatrical films. Unfortunately, the prices were more in line with Japanese fans’ expectations (a single movie could run for as much as $60-70), and so the label now concentrates on the Japanese market, although some of their releases there have English subtitles. Many of their editions are well worth obtaining if the money’s to be had, such as their Blu-ray release of Royal Space Force: Wings of Honnêamise—the namesake title for the label.

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Madman Entertainment

An Australian video distributor whose catalog overlaps a great deal with FUNimation’s, Madman is worth mentioning here thanks to their having licensed some titles which regrettably still haven’t shown up in the U.S., such as Dennō Coil.

Madman Entertainment website

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Manga (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Despite taking their name from the Japanese word for “comics,” Manga Video produces anime for the U.S. and U.K. markets, with a few strategic titles (such as the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex franchise) instead of a whole panoply of titles. They have since become a sublabel of video distributor Anchor Bay / Starz.

Manga Entertainment website

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Media Blasters / AnimeWorks (Rurouni Kenshin)

Rurouni Kenshin. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Strictly speaking, Media Blasters is the umbrella for a number of different sublabels that distribute SF, fantasy, horror and erotica titles. AnimeWorks, as the name implies, is their anime imprint, and among the titles carried through AnimeWorks are Rurouni Kenshin, Berserk, Blade of the Immortal, Twelve Kingdoms, Queen’s Blade, and many others.

Media Blasters website

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NIS America (Zakuro)

Zakuro. © Lily Hoshino/GENTOSHA COMICS,Zakuro project. Image courtesy NIS America.

Normally best known for being a Japanese game software distributor—they brought the Disgaea series to American shores—NIS America has branched out into anime distribution as well. Their strategy is to pick fan-favorite titles, publish them in upscale box-set editions with lavish extras, and eschew English dubbing for the sake of keeping costs down. Among their releases: Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Arakawa under the Bridge, Katanagatari, kimi ni todoke -From Me to You- and many more.

NIS America website

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Nozomi Entertainment (Revolutionary Girl Utena)

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Student Council Saga. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

The Right Stuf International rose to fame as a mail-order anime distributor, with a phone-book-sized catalog that carried just about every anime-related product known to mankind. This they still do, and their regular sales and promotions make it more than worth it to order from them. On top of that, they’ve also Revolutionary Girl Utena, The Dirty Pair, and Boogiepop Phantom.

Nozomi Entertainment website (part of The Right Stuf International's own site)

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Section23 Films / Sentai Filmworks (K-On!)

K-ON!. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

After the demise of A.D. Vision, a number of the titles held by that company were transferred to a new outfit, Section23 Films. Their Sentai Filmworks division distributed them, and many other new acquisitions, in North America, and continues to do so both on DBD and BD, and via The Anime Network. Their current roster of titles include Guin Saga, Mardock Scramble, The World God Only Knows, Eyeshield 21, the remastered/reissued Grave of the Fireflies, Broken Blade, No. 6, K-On!, and more.

Sentai Filmworks site

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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (Blood +)

Blood +. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

While not normally known for being an anime distributor—at least not in North America—the occasional anime title comes out in English under Sony’s auspices. Paprika, Blood+ and Legend of the Millennium Dragon are good examples.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment website

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Tokyopop (Defunct) (Vampire Princess Miyu)

Vampire Princess Miyu (TV). Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Normally known for being a manga distributor, Tokyopop dabbled in anime distribution as well, releasing a few titles that have since either been re-distributed by other parties(Initial D) or which have regrettably vanished altogether (the Vampire Princess Miyu TV series).

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Urban Vision (Defunct) (Vampire Hunter D)

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A small but logistically-important anime distributor, since its titles included the Vampire Hunter D OAV and theatrical film, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Unfortunately, the company appears to be defunct, as its titles are no longer being shipped to distributors.

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VIZ (Naruto)

Naruto Shippuden The Movie: Bonds. © 2002 MASASHI KISHIMOTO / 2007 Shippuden © NMP 2008. Image courtesy VIZ Media.

An early entrant into the North American anime and manga market, VIZ is custodian to a roster of key properties that are well-known even outside of anime fandom: Naruto, Bleach, Death Note, Tiger & Bunny, and a smattering of other titles with similar appeal (e.g., Nura: Rise of the Youkai Clan, Blue Exorcist).

VIZ website (anime subsection)

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Walt Disney Studios (Studio Ghibli)

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

The Mouse House might not seem a likely choice for being a major anime distributor, but they earn a place on this list thanks to their distribution deal with Studio Ghibli. The vast majority of the Ghibli catalog is being released in English thanks to the efforts of Disney and PIXAR honcho John Lasseter, a longtime fan of the Ghibli stable. An earlier attempt to distribute Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in English in the 1980s, through another studio, ended badly: the film was shorn of 20 minutes and the Ghibli crew were gunshy of trying to market their films in the West for almost two decades. To that end, all of Disney's Ghibli releases are uncut.