In Japanese Pop Music, the Idol Singer industry makes big money. Idol singers are a huge force in advertising, appearing in 85% of Japanese commercials alone and crosspromoting the products of the company along with their own face and singing abilities. In addition, because idols have a dedicated fan base, companies can produce a lot of income through selling merchandise. It's a win-win situation. And now the anime industry has realized how much of a marketing powerhouse it is, so much that idol singers have now become their own genre in entertainment.
Back then, it was common for actors or singers to release music as their characters from movies they starred in as a musical tie-in. Up-and-coming Idol Singers often used anime or movies as a vehicle to launch their music career, with Creamy Mami, the Magic Angel the first of its kind to do so. Voice actors of anime often released Image Songs on character CDs. But with the rapid growth in the number of Idol Singer groups debuting during the late 2000s and The New '10s, known in Japan as the "Warring Period of Idols" (Aidoru Sengoku-jidai), the anime and video game industry naturally caught onto this phenomenon. They began creating multiple Idol Singer-related Cash Cow Franchises, taking full advantage of the fact that most popular voice actors can already sing and that idol fans are the second biggest category of Otaku after anime.
Enter the Idol Genre, multimedia franchises featuring Idol Singers and performers, where music and performance is integral to the entertainment of the story. Not only that, but the characters also have real-time activities and music is now Defictionalized. Songs are not only released under the characters' names, but the characters are also marketed as idols in real-life contexts, topping music and Blu-ray charts and competing against real-life Idol Singers. Actors perform in musical festivals and concerts as their characters in real life, drawing in large audiences. These series are also very likely to have 2.5D stage plays, and fans attend these performances like they would an idol concert, penlights, uchiwa signs, and everything.
Idol Genre series tend to focus on attractive people of the same gender competing in the cut-throat entertainment industry, thrust into team-building and heated rivalries on who will become the top star (which draws similarities to Gaming and Sports Anime & Manga). Common episode plots involve the characters partaking in other idol-related activities such as acting or modeling, where they may have to work with their rivals; training to perform a new move; struggling to write lyrics for their next song; or even being concerned about scandals.
The Idol Singer culture is mostly an Asian phenomenon, though there are Western examples that fit the bill (such as Disney Channel and other kids' series). A series is only part of the Idol Genre if it fits the following:
- It is a Cash-Cow Franchise specifically built around a main cast of fictional (or fictional interpretations of) Idol Singers or other related performers (i.e. through Rhythm Game tie-ins)
- It also advertises the characters' music and image in a Real Life context (i.e. Character Blogs, actors performing as their characters in concerts, endorsing real-life products)
- The target audience is predominantly children or Otaku (especially idol Otaku).
- The plot usually follows conventional Music Stories. Becoming the best in their category is often the main characters' goal, and the story at most follows their journey to the top, much like how real-life idols are marketed (i.e. through a Tournament Arc).
Idol genre series mostly got defined during the late 2000s and early 2010s, when the Warring Period of Idols began in Japan, but there are several series focused on a main cast of Idol Singers that may be grandfathered in. Note that if a series focuses on one particular character, or it doesn't fit any of the criteria, the entry is best listed under Idol Singer or Music Stories. Reality shows are never this, because the genre focuses on fictional idols, or fictional interpretations of idols.
The following are works or characters that are not part of or predate the genre, but have been influential in defining the genre
- Hello! Project, the collective group for all Idol Singers under Up-Front Promotion (who famously produced Morning Musume, Japan's top Girl Group in the early 2000s), was heavily involved in children's anime series on TV Tokyo in the late 2000s, right when the Warring Period of Idols was taking off. Aside from Kirarin☆Revolution and Spellbound! Magical Princess Lil'Pri, they also had their idols perform music and act in live-action segments for anime such as Shugo Chara! and Inazuma Eleven.
- Shugo Chara!: Hello! Project trainees portrayed Amu's four transformations in the live-action segments along with releasing music as those characters. Shugo Chara! Egg comes to mind.
- Inazuma Eleven: Sayaka Kitahara, an idol trainee, had previously portrayed her character from Kirarin☆Revolution both in voice and real life, did the same for Aoi Sorano.
- While the Macross series makes use of Idol Singer characters, it is primarily a mecha and space opera. However, it has influenced the presence of Idol Singer characters in anime. One example is Macross Frontier introducing Idol Singer characters Sheryl Nome and Ranka Lee, whose character songs were promoted and hyped as if they were real-life singers. The series also jump-started the careers of singer May'n and voice actress Megumi Nakajima, both of whom would portray the characters in real life when performing in Macross Frontier-related concerts and television spots.
- The freedom of producing music for Vocaloid characters, the Crypton models being the most popular has allowed them to be treated as idols in real life, most notably Hatsune Miku. There have been rhythm games based off of her, and she's made multiple crossovers and endorsements in media, one most infamously remembered as her shampoo commercial with, of all people, Scarlett Johansson. Miku herself was one of the first fictional idols who really became popular in mainstream. The Tsukiuta series was started as "Vocaloid Producers x Seiyuu".
- KARA was the most popular Korean Pop Music Girl Group in Japan next to Girls' Generation during the second Hallyu wave in 2011, coinciding with the Warring Period of Idols. Japan tried to build a franchise around them, including giving them an anime series. Though KARA faded into obscurity, it is of note that their popularity in Japan has caused their company, DSP Media, to produce a "sister" group: enter Puretty, who would later co-headline Pretty Rhythm: Dear My Future (the second season to the Idol Singer Cash-Cow Franchise Pretty Series) as fictional versions of themselves.
- AKB49 – Renai Kinshi Jourei
- Back Street Girls features three Yakuza forced to undergo a sex-change and become idols.
- BanG Dream!: A multimedia franchise focused on female Rock Bands.
- B-Project, which has had a 2.5D adaptation.
- Dream Festival!
- from ARGONAVIS: A multimedia franchise and formerly a Spear Counterpart of BanG Dream! focuses on male Rock Bands.
- High School Star Musical is about students in a musical theatre school, but it is marketed this way, and their songs and costumes are more like idols than musicals, other than those from the Show Within a Show performances. It has had a 2.5D stage adaptation series.
- Idol Densetsu Eriko features idols competing against one another, and the characters also perform the opening and ending theme songs, credited by their character names.
- IDOL × IDOL STORY!: From the author of New Game!, this manga gives the idol genre a Reality TV spin. It focuses on sixteen idols who are sequestered on a cruise ship and filmed while the producers whittle their numbers down to the top five. Mimi Nagisa, a washed-up and nearly over the hill (at the ripe old age of 22) former idol is dragged out of retirement by a younger idol she inspired, and the series does not shy away from the fact that some people just aren't cut out for stardom.
- Kirarin☆Revolution: Kirari Tsukishima, the main character, was played by then-Morning Musume member Koharu Kusumi, who released music under her name and portrayed her in concerts and on Oha Suta. This format became so popular that it was adopted for the other main characters in the second season, Stage 3. Hello! Project trainees You Kikkawa and Sayaka Kitahara were cast as two original characters, who would team up with Kirari and release music as a group, while Ships was recast with younger actors to release music, perform, and appear on television as the characters. Several rhythm games for the Nintendo DS and arcade games were also released.
- Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch: The seven mermaids can transform into Idol Singers, with the main three girls each releasing their own CDs in real life. Rhythm games have also been released.
- Love Live!: Love Live is one of the genre codifiers and made idols popular in mainstream anime media. The main gimmick is that the girls are "school idols" (not to be confused with School Idol), who are not professional idols but rather average high school girls who produce all of the music, costumes and performances on their own.
- Love Live!: Follows the school idol group µ's as they search for a way to save their school from closing down.
- Love Live!: Manga version.
- Love Live! Sunshine!!: Follows a new school idol group, Aqours, as they search for the radiance that they saw from their inspiration, µ's.
- Love Live! Sunshine!!: Manga version.
- Love Live School Idol Festival ALLSTARS and Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club: Follows yet another school idol club from Odaiba who primarily focus on solo performances.
- Love Live! Superstar!!: Follows a team of five 1st year school idols enrolled in a re-opened high school.
- 2022's Love Live! The School Idol Musical was the series' first stage adaptation. Rather than being an "anime-style" 2.5D production, it featured new characters with more naturalistic looks.
- Love Live!: Follows the school idol group µ's as they search for a way to save their school from closing down.
- Lovedol: Lovely Idol
- Luminous Witches
- Pretty Series: Originally an arcade game, the Pretty series focuses on a group of idols competing to be the top Prism Star, combining fashion, song, and dance with figure skating.
- Pretty Rhythm Aurora Dream
- Pretty Rhythm: Dear My Future: The direct sequel to ''Aurora Dream taking place 3 years after it.
- Pretty Rhythm: Rainbow Live
- King of Prism: A spin-off of Rainbow Live, the story follows the male Prism Star group, Over the Rainbow, as well as a slew of new Edel Rose freshmen (later debuting as Septentrion) competing in the Prism King Cup Tournament. The popularity of the series has led to cheer screenings becoming well-known outside of kids' anime and a rhythm game. KinPri has had a 2.5D stage adaptation.
- Kiratto Pri☆Chan
- Waccha PriMagi!
- Pretty Rhythm Aurora Dream
- Selection Project: Revolves around nine girls who must compete against one another in the titular reality TV idol show in order to become the top idol by the end of it.
- Shounen Hollywood
- Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight: While there are character songs attached to the series, it's a musical about actors in a Takarazuka Revue-esque setting rather than a Music Story about idols. Part of the confusion comes from real-life idols frequently collaborating with musical theater for projects. The stage plays were part of the franchise from the beginning.
- Spellbound! Magical Princess Lil'Pri: After Kirarin☆Revolution became popular, Hello! Project adopted a similar format with Lilpri's anime adaptation, where members of the idol group S/mileage (before they were known as Angerme) portrayed the characters in the series and also in real life, releasing music as their characters and performing as them in concerts.
- Wake Up, Girls!
- Zombie Land Saga is an Affectionate Parody of the genre. It centers around seven girls who form a regional idol group to revitalize the Japanese prefecture of Saga... with the one small problem being that they're zombies, which they need to keep secret from the public.
- Disney Channel has produced similar Western equivalents based on their Teen Idols:
- Idol x Warrior Miracle Tunes!: Miracle Tunes stars the idol group Miracle2, who moonlight as Magical Girl Warriors called Miracle Tunes. Their music releases, released under their characters' names, coincide with their journey of becoming top idols in the story, and the actresses also perform as their characters in music festivals. A rhythm game was released for the Nintendo 3DS.
- Nickelodeon attempted an Idol Genre series with Make It Pop, heavily influenced by Idol Singers in Korean Pop Music.
- The IDOLM@STER.KR: A live-action spin-off of The iDOLM@STER, the series follows Real Girls Project, with a musical tie-in that eventually released music independent from the show.
- Secret Girls, a web drama made in collaboration with Ciao Comics (Shogakukan) and Fuji TV, stars five middle school girls who lead a double life as members of the Idol Singer Girl Group of the same name. They released music under the name and also performed in music festivals as their characters during the show's run.
- Aikatsu Planet!, the first of the Aikatsu franchise to attempt a hybrid live-action/3D approach.
- Hypnosis Mic: The concept focuses more on rap battles and not Japanese Pop Music, but the marketing format is the same: attractive people competing against rivals on who is the best performer in music. Aniplex has also referred to this series as a "rap idol series." The project has had games and 2.5D stage plays.
- Marginal #4 started with music, and has had games and one stage play in 2022, featuring two members of the real-life idol unit Madkid (The Rising of the Shield Hero opening).
- Nanabun no nijyuuni: 22/7 (pronounced "nanabun no nijyuuni") is a multimedia project in collaboration with Yasushi Akimoto, Aniplex, and Sony Music Records featuring newcomer voice actresses who sing and perform as a fictional idol group of the same name. While the group has already released a couple of singles and videos, an anime series featuring the first generation was announced in 2017 and later aired in 2020.
- Spice Girls: In the 90s, the Spice Girls were so popular that a franchise was built around them. They got a movie based on their stage personas called Spice World and a rhythm game for the PlayStation.
- The franchise's first series,Tsukiuta, has characters who are personifications of months, and it featured both male and female idols from the beginning.
- In addition to Tsukiuta's Six Gravity, Procellarum, Fluna, and Seleas, the franchise has expanded to include idols based on the elements (Solids for fire, Quell for water, Growth for earth, SOARA for air), and gemstones (the Vazzrock series).
- The stage plays of the franchise are also an important innovation in the genre. They were one of the first to show their idols starring in complex fantasy Alternate Universe Show Within a Show stage plays, and one of the first to de-fictionalize these stage plays into real performances. As of 2023, they have had over 35 stage plays.
- Ensemble Stars!, which has had a long and successful series of 2.5D stage plays, including the Gekidan Shining series, featuring the characters performing in Show Within a Show stories similar to what Tsukipro has done. The cast features multiple Tsukipro graduates.
- I-Chu, which has also had stage plays.
- The iDOLM@STER: The iDOLM@STER franchise is one of the oldest examples that has primarily influenced the genre as a whole. The original game itself allowed the player (called a "producer") to pick songs, wardrobe, and help the characters grow as performers. The first idol group featured in the series, 765 All Stars, continues to hold concerts and release music.
- Lapis Re:LiGHTs is a multi-media franchise with a mobile game, manga, and an anime. It is significant for combining a standard Wizarding School plot where the characters fight monsters with spells and live performances both.
- Show by Rock!! and its anime
- Tokyo 7th Sisters
- Uta No Prince-sama: Featuring idol groups STARISH, Quartet Night, and HEAVENS, the franchise started out as a Dating Sim, but the popularity of the series has caused Broccoli to focus on the idol performance aspect of it more. The series was one of the first idol-related franchises to really get popular and helped define the Idol Genre, and their music consistently tops the music charts with every release. The series' stage plays have only been of the Show Within a Show variety, with the idols fully in character as another story.
Works commonly mistaken for the Idol Genre:
- Full Moon: Mitsuki is able to transform into Idol Singer Full Moon. However, the idol subplot is only secondary to the main story, which is more of a drama as it heavily focuses on Mitsuki and the Shinigami's relationships with life and death. On the other hand, the anime tries to make it an idol genre series with the amount of Filler (due to Overtaking the Manga) and even has Mitsuki's voice actress perform the opening theme songs. (However, Mitsuki's actress isn't credited as the character and the show was only used as a vehicle to promote her band.)
- Kaleido Star: The main cast consists of circus idol performers, but the characters are not treated as a real band in real-world context, nor have they released music.
- Nana: The story deals with the rock band Black Stones ("Blast" for short) trying to break out in the music industry and their rivalry with Trapnest. However, the music aspect is only a subplot to the main story, which is a Shoujo drama focused on the two Nanas' relationships and personal struggles. Despite that there have been albums and music released under Black Stones and Trapnest's names, they were never marketed in the same vein as Idol Genre series and do not cater to the idol Otaku demographic — Nana's main fan base mostly consists of people who don't regularly watch anime.
- Perfect Blue: Perfect Blue is a psychological animated film where Mima faces the fallout of qutting her Idol Singer career. While the film explores the dark side of being an Idol Singer, it does not establish nor market Mima as an idol in real life and also does not fall under the consumer demographic for Idol Genre shows.
- Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a rhythm game spin-off of the original Persona 4 series with a story about rescuing an idol group through dance and prominently featuring Rise Kujikawa, the series' resident Idol Singer character. Along with Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight the characters are not marketed as idols other than Rise, and the main games themselves are more of an action-adventure JRPG.