Check out Shannon Cottrell's timeline “Britney Watch Out, Naruto Dominates.”
It's not that Naruto hadn't made Yahoo's top searches of the year before, but when we saw the anime series sandwiched in between Britney Spears and American Idol, we couldn't help but notice the rank of the anime/manga franchise (which, we should mention, a certain West Coast Sound reporter does occasionally watch). Naruto has been a runaway success this decade. If search engine results aren't enough proof of that, then check out any anime convention, where legions come dressed as characters from the fantasy ninja saga, or head out to your local mall, where you're likely to find teenagers mixing keychains and patches of the character for which the series is named with the ubiquitous band t-shirts and jeans.
Naruto, a hero's journey sort of tale about a young ninja with a fox demon living inside of him, is an international hit, but what makes it particularly interesting is the grassroots nature of the series' popularity in the U.S. In many ways, the rise of Naruto is similar to career patterns of so many musicians. The manga launched in Japan in the late-1990s, with the anime following early this decade. It would take a few years for the title to receive a proper U.S. release, but like the indie band with only 500 copies of a debut album, people have a way of finding out about these things, be it through an import shop or a well-connected friend.
“Naruto always had an existing group of core fans anxiously awaiting all U.S. releases of the manga,” explains Moneka Hewlett, Sr. Director of Sales, Publishing & Home Entertainment for VIZ Media, who distributes both the manga and the anime domestically. VIZ began serializing the manga in its monthly anthology, Shonen Jump, in 2003. Shortly thereafter, it published the first volume of the stand-alone manga. Interest gradually grew and then, when VIZ released the anime, Cartoon Network picked up on it in 2005. Consider this the big push, like a song getting picked up by pop radio or a video going viral. Afterwards, there was no stopping Naruto. Volume 11 of the manga became the highest ranked manga/graphic novel on USA Today's Best Seller chart ever in 2006. The anime was reaching more than a million households.
“Growth in the market during that time appeared to be driven primarily by TV,” says Brian Ige, Director of Sales, Home Entertainment at VIZ. “Of course the built in manga audience was a huge contributing factor as well.”
Today, Naruto is a regular feature on the New York Times Best Seller List, usually with multiple volumes appearing in the manga charts. Naruto Shippuden, a continuation of the saga set a few years after the original anime, just began airing on Disney XD. Judging from Yahoo's year-end results, interest doesn't seem to be waning either.