Ah, the wonderful world of VTubers. Perhaps you’ve come across a clip of what seems like an anime girl with a strange knowledge of memes, or maybe someone you know has sent you a link to a three-hour stream entirely in Japanese.
These streamers may not be household names yet, but according to stats from User Local, there were over 16,000 VTubers as of October 2021, a huge jump from 1,000 in March 2018. Some have even used their success as a springboard to anime roles, collabs with real-life celebs, and deals with major music companies.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. If you’re not sure what VTubers are in the first place, this is the guide for you! Here, we’ll give you a rundown on what they are, what they do, some legendary early VTubers, and major groups, focusing on Japanese and English content. It may sound like a lot to jump into, but don’t worry – we’ll also give you some tips on how to get started with watching them!
What’s a VTuber?
Okay, seriously. What on earth are VTubers, and what do they do? Short for “Virtual YouTuber,” a VTuber is someone who posts videos and/or streams using a virtual avatar. These 2D and 3D avatars tend to look like anime characters, but what sets them apart is how they follow the VTubers’ real-life movements and expressions through software like Live2D combined with motion tracking technology.
This gives the people behind them the freedom to become whoever or whatever they choose, with no limits on age, gender, or species – which can make for some pretty wild backstories and lore! A NEET gamer vampire? Sounds reasonable. A phoenix running a fried chicken franchise? Yup, no jokes here. A sheep girl who’s the official anime ambassador for Netflix? Again, we’re not kidding!
We could go on and on, but you get the point. In any case, take a step down the VTuber rabbit hole and you’re bound to find something that appeals to you, as it’s thriving with content. Activities like gaming, singing, and chatting are a given for many VTubers, but you don’t have to look far for other talents like rapping, ASMR, and of course, meme reviewing.
Now that you have a general idea of what it’s all about, let’s take a look at a few early VTubers who made the industry what it is today.
☆ Kizuna AI
Even if you don’t know any VTubers by name, you’ve probably seen Kizuna AI and her adorable pink bow somewhere around the Internet. Bubbly and full of life, she debuted in 2016 as a self-proclaimed artificial intelligence (get it? “AI?”). Not only do many recognize her as the world’s first VTuber (as we know them today), but she’s also branched out to voice acting, commercial appearances, and more. Her activities even include collabs with Hatsune Miku and singing an anime theme song, which you can listen to right below!
On top of all that, she’s one of the most accessible Japanese VTubers out there, as her channel has many stand-alone videos that are subtitled in English. Although she went on an indefinite hiatus in February 2022, there are still projects to look forward to, including a Kizuna AI anime.
After her debut in 2017, Siro (pronounced “shiro”) quickly stole hearts with her adorable yet humorous dancing, gaming, drawing and more. Despite her official name being Cyber-girl Siro, she’s often likened to a beluga or dolphin because of the amazingly high-pitched voice she emits when excited. You’ll also discover a darker side that tends to take over when playing combat-focused games like PUBG: Battlegrounds. Not to mention, she happens to be great at English, which results in cute content like the video below!
☆ Kaguya Luna
Luna burst onto the scene in 2017 and quickly proceeded to entrance viewers with her boisterous charm and intense vulgarity… often at the same time. While her VTuber days are unofficially over, her channel is still a goldmine of chaotic humor. Most of it is subtitled, but trust us – either way, it’s a great way to fall further down the VTuber rabbit hole!
Kizuna AI, Siro-chan, and Kaguya Luna each have their own unique personas and content, but they’re all known as legends who had a huge impact on the industry. Another thing they have in common is that they debuted as individuals, despite going on to frequently collab with fellow VTubers. On the other hand, many recent high-profile VTubers began their careers with a group or agency, which is what we’ll be talking about next!
After VTubers exploded in popularity, agencies were formed to produce and support VTubers around the world. This means that there are now groups of professional VTubers creating content in not only Japanese, but also English, Indonesian, and more. Articles upon articles could be dedicated to all of these different groups (not to mention the hardworking indie VTubers out there!), but first we’ll start you off with three of the most accessible ones out there today.
With over 60 members spanning Japanese, English, and Indonesian branches, hololive is undoubtedly a major player in the world of VTubers. In fact, hololive English’s shark girl Gawr Gura holds the title of the most subscribed VTubers on YouTube, beating out the legendary Kizuna AI with almost four million subs as of June 2022. Also joining Gura in the top 10 are two more hololive English members: reaper/rapper Mori Calliope and detective Amelia Watson. Check them out with the rest of the English crew in their adorable cover of “Ochame Kinou.”
Of course, the Japanese side of hololive is going strong too. Get an idea of their antics at their official channel, which houses plenty of shorter English-subbed videos. The same goes for the agency’s male group, holostars!
After kicking off in 2018 as a Japanese group, Nijisanji made its mark on the international VTuber scene by debuting members who stream in English, Mandarin, Korean, and Indonesian. They now have over two hundred VTubers, who are also known as “Virtual Livers.”
As of June 2022, Nijisanji’s most subscribed Liver is Kuzuha (the aforementioned NEET gamer vampire!) with over one million subscribers. As well as frequent gaming streams featuring anything from Mario Kart to mahjong, you can find covers and even original songs.
Another standout is Hyakumantenbara Salome, who hit one million subscribers in less than two weeks after debuting. Despite her elaborate curls and gown, she’s actually a regular girl who aspires to become an “ojousama,” or a real lady.
It’s also easy to get into the English side of Nijisanji, thanks to the chaotic clips on their official channel. Just don’t blame us if you end up in a three-hour clip marathon!
Describing itself as a “talent-first VTuber company,” VShojo launched in November 2020 with seven English-speaking VTubers, which later grew to eight. Unlike Nijisanji and hololive, everyone in VShojo primarily streams on Twitch, where demon queen Ironmouse and succubus Veibae ranked in the 10 most watched female streamers as of October 2021. Here’s a heads up, though; while many VTubers aren’t exactly family-friendly, VShojo’s members are particularly unafraid to curse and discuss NSFW topics, so you may need to plug in your headphones before playing this clip!
Getting Started With VTubers
So. Many. VTubers. How does anyone know where to start?! We admit it can be daunting, but one way is to try surfing through profiles to find aesthetics or backstories that catch your eye. Click on the links to see official profiles for members in each of the following VTuber groups.
Recent VTubers tend to favor livestreaming, rather than videos of skits and structured activities, so jumping into an hours-long stream can feel like quite a commitment. Luckily, YouTube is overflowing with clips of VTubers and their most memeable moments. Fanmade clips and translations are embraced by the community, but first, here are some official sources to get you started.
After finding a VTuber you’re interested in, take a look at their Twitter as well. Many use it to post their streaming schedules and set specific hashtags you can include in Tweets about them, which might be used as material in a future stream. Plus, it’s an easy way to learn more about their personalities and humor, especially when they interact with fellow VTubers, as well as real-life people.
If you want to support a VTuber or their group beyond subscribing to their channel, it’s often possible to purchase memberships (YouTube) or subscriptions (Twitch), make donations through the chat, or buy official merchandise. Of course, simply watching their content and commenting is always welcome. However, make sure to read through the rules of the stream first and be considerate towards the VTuber and fellow viewers.
That’s it for now, but we hope this helps you to get started. And if you find yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole, we’re… not that sorry, actually. It may be chaotic, but it’s always an interesting place to be!
This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.