Growing up in the 2000s, a handful of anime series proved to be popular enough to withstand the test of time. Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Ball Z... and Inuyasha. While many don't believe Inuyasha holds up to the popularity of these anime, it is undeniable that the fantasy adventure occupied a huge space in the fandom. The adventures of Kagome in fantasy feudal Japan occupied the imaginations of many a young anime fan.
Ten years ago, the final episode of Inuyasha: Final Act aired, thus bringing the saga to a close. Whenever any anime ends, its legacy becomes more solidified. Time is a true testament to the survival of an anime. Some series, even great ones, fade from memory due to a weak legacy. However, Inuyasha leaves a legacy that only a few anime can aspire to.
What is Inuyasha?
For the uninformed, Inuyasha started as a manga written and illustrated by the great Rumiko Takahashi, one of the greatest manga artists ever. Before Inuyasha, Takahashi was famous for creating Ranma 1/2 and Urusei Yatsura. These iconic series in and of themselves defined eras of the manga industry with their beautiful art and biting humor, all brought together by genuinely engaging love stories.
Inuyasha, in many ways, refined all these elements by reducing the absurd humor and focusing more on the adventure the characters embarked on. The story of Inuyasha focuses on a teenage girl named Kagome who falls through an enchanted well on her family's property. She ends up traveling through time to feudal Japan, a world filled with magic and demons.
Kagome accidentally frees the half-demon Inuyasha, who was pinned to a tree by Kagome's previous incarnation, Kikyo, after Inuyasha attempted to steal the Shikkon Jewel, a magical item that Inuyasha believes can turn him into a full demon. But Kagome, when trying to protect the Shikkon Jewel from a minor demon, accidentally shatters the gem. From there, the series focuses on Kagome and Inuyasha collecting the shards of the jewel while encountering new friends and adversaries along the way.
What is the Appeal?
As mentioned before, Takahashi focused more on adventure than comedy when creating Inuyasha. This adventuring aspect proved to be Inuyasha's greatest mainstream draw. Action and fantasy anime fans watched for the adventure. Romance fans watched for the earnestly written love stories between characters.
But all of these aspects existed in other anime, too. Anime such as Fushigi Yugi had long before combined fantasy adventure with romance. The thing is Inuyasha just did it better, balancing and integrating both elements in a perfect blend.
The other advantage that Inuyasha had over other anime was its massive cast of characters, all of whom had entire arcs devoted to their interpersonal conflicts. While many at the time had issues with the nigh-indestructible villain of the series, Naraku, many smaller antagonists proved popular enough to become part of the regular cast. Most notable among them? Sesshomaru, Inuyasha's elder brother, and Koga, a hot-heated wolf demon tribe leader.
However, the villains of a series are fairly unimportant if the audience doesn't care what happens to the heroes. Inuyasha's core cast of characters are very human and lovable, with goals and agendas all their own. But while many fans adore the lecherous monk Miroku or the demon-slaying, cat-riding Sango (and some people like Shippo, I guess), the core appeal of the series is the dynamic between Kagome and Inuyasha.
Inuyasha is a Tsundere
The phrase "tsundere" gets thrown around a lot as an anime archetype. A tsundere is, in essence, a character who transitions from "tsuntsun," or overtly aggressive, to "deredere," or incredibly sweet. While it is a stock character, many of anime's most iconic characters are tsundere. Most notably, Asuka Langley Sohryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Though most tsundere are not as well written as one of anime's best characters ever.
Rumiko Takahashi in particular specializes in tsundere, but a reoccurring problem through her work is balancing out that sweetness with aggressiveness. Akane and Ranma from Ranma 1/2, for example, are both tsundere, but sometimes things get too physical. Both Akane and Ranma are martial artists who frequently get into absurd conflicts, but there is something problematic about framing a couple who semi-frequently hit one another as "romantic." This is even worse in Urusei Yatsura, where Lum can be downright abusive.
This is never a problem with Inuyasha and Kagome. While Kagome can be assertive, she isn't as tsundere as Inuyasha. The difference is, aside from Kagome having the ability to flatten Inuyasha by activating a cursed necklace (activated when Akane says "Sit, boy!"), the two characters are never physically violent. Their personalities clash, but, as the two get to know one another, they develop an intense romantic attraction to one another.
It's this love story, despite all the love triangle shenanigans that occur, that centers Inuyasha. It contains all the great comedic elements of a Takahashi romance without the problematic elements. It's Takahashi's formula distilled perfectly.
But an important aspect of Inuyasha's legacy is its exposure over the years. While many anime might be popular among anime fans, exposure remains one of the big reasons why a series becomes popular in the mainstream. Manga and anime were once a very niche market. Many people either couldn't purchase manga or didn't know where to watch anime. Streaming services like Crunchyroll or Funimation couldn't offer legal anime streaming like they do now.
Anime became popular thanks to it airing on television. Fortunately, Inuyasha had a prolonged life on Adult Swim. It aired on the programming block even when other anime were taken off the air.
The series ran on reruns long after the show finished airing in Japan due to its episode count. There remained a great deal of content to keep circulating on networks. Because of its prolonged state of exposure, it became a staple of the anime fan diet over the course of years -- even long after its initial popularity.
Because of this, it remained in the public consciousness for so long that it became a fixture. Its legacy was secured by how long it was on air. The fact it was good only further cemented this.