Anime is pretty mainstream nowadays, if not, it's definitely on the cusp of becoming mainstream just like comics are now. Most people know what anime is to some degree without resorting to Oh that's just cartoon porn! and in most cases have enjoyed an anime or two like Attack on Titan or Death note. When I was younger this was definitely not the case. It was labeled cartoon porn, I didn't openly talk about it unless in my friend group and it wasn't so wildly available as it is now (I'm from Ireland so keep that in mind) so I'm gonna share my tale of how I got into anime and how hard it genuinely was to get into this niche and hopefully if you're from Ireland or anywhere were anime is not inherently huge e.g Japan or America (I heard anime is huuuuuge in France and Germany so you can add those there too).
I've always liked Anime for whatever reason I was drawn to it even before I knew it was 'anime'. Around the time I was 10-11 which was 2005-6 a few friends of mine and me started going to an internet cafe to browse the web. This is where I saw mainstream anime for the first time, I knew of Dragonball beforehand but this is where I saw countless profiles on social media accounts role-playing as characters from Naruo, Bleach, FullMetal Alchemist and so on. This was pretty mindblowing, all these cool looking characters with blood, swords, demons and a range of other things I wasn't getting from kid shows my age. I started looking at random episodes of Naruto on youtube in 10-minute chunks (it was a wild time back in the early days of Youtube), trying to piece together these worlds I was getting into at this stage as a young kid I had no idea what torrents were or illegal streaming sites all I knew was what youtube gave me (Shout out if you remember Dattebayo Subs).
At this point, I couldn't get enough. I was seeing toys and video games for these shows on youtube and for hours I'd comb through it all just soaking it in, looking from the outside wishing I could get my hand on Naruto Ultimate Ninja 3 or .Hack on ps2 and whenever we did get these games they were always butchered because the shows hadn't caught up in our region. I always hated seeing 'European Version' on copies of Naruto games, I remember in Naruto Uzumaki Chronicles Naruto himself could use rasengan, but in Europe the show hadn't got that far so it was renamed 'Power Strike'. I would constantly search toy stores and the like for paraphernalia relating to these things but to no avail, until one day when me and my Mam where walking through town, we stumbled upon a Comic Book shop called Forbidden Planet.
Among the Star Wars toys and Hellboy figures, I found a rack of toys, that made me stupidly happy. It was a rack of Naruto Toys, I think my Mam knew how much of a big deal this was to me probably from the amazement on my face alone because she ended up buying me a Naruto and Zabuza figure. They also had a ginormous collection of manga, not just a few volumes of random manga strewn about the comic aisle at a bookstore, they had a real collection that made it possible to read these mystical tombs (or at least that's how they seemed to be in my head at the time). I look back on those days fondly now, we live in such an embarrassment of riches as anime fans now, it's still not perfect, but having an app on your phone that gives high quality professionally subbed anime hours after it aired in japan?! I'd have laughed at you if you told me that as a kid. If you got to the end of this, first of all, thank you! I didn't think it'd be this long and if you have a similar story please do share, I'd love to read it :)