As the dawn of the metaverse fast approaches, the lines between real life and virtual reality are becoming thinner by the second. When it comes to internet glory and popularity, “realness” is no longer a priority for avid fans and followers. From social media influencers to livestreamers, virtual avatars are taking the world by storm. Join us for a look into the rise of virtual YouTubers, whether you’re a confused parent who’s stumbled right into their videos, or you simply want to learn more about this new virtual space.
What is a VTuber?
VTuber is a shorter way of saying virtual YouTuber. VTubers use a computer-generated avatar in videos, rather than showing their face. They usually choose to remain anonymous, hiding their real identity behind their avatar. This nameless, faceless approach to video content gives anyone the chance to build an online platform and following, without having to ever reveal who they truly are.
You’ll find them:
- Telling stories (often called “Storytime” videos)
- Live streaming
- Playing video games
- Hosting interviews and Q&As
- Taking part in online challenges
- Creating their own pop songs
…just like any other YouTuber!
While the term started out as a way of referring to these virtual personalities on YouTube, the VTuber trend can now be found across the internet on many platforms, from TikTok to Twitch.
Where did the virtual YouTuber trend start?
Virtual characters had already been a part of media culture long before they became popular on YouTube. Computer-generated TV presenter Max Headroom debuted on British TV all the way back in 1985, and Japanese virtual idol Hatsune Miku has been performing as a projected hologram since 2007.
It could be argued that VTubers first landed on the scene in the early 2010s. In 2011, Ami Yamato, a Japanese vlogger based in London, England, started uploading videos using a virtual character instead of her own image. Even Barbie started her own virtual YouTube channel back in 2015, connecting with fans through hairstyle tutorials, interviews, and quizzes.
However, it wasn’t until the mid-2010s that the VTuber genre really became popular, with the appearance of a new Japanese avatar on the scene.
Who was the first VTuber?
While Ami Yamato was the first YouTuber to create vlog-style content on the platform, the term “virtual YouTuber” was truly coined and popularized by Kizuna Ai, a Japanese VTuber who debuted in 2016.
The popularity of Kizuna Ai’s anime avatar grew quickly in Japan, thanks to her upbeat, cute personality and regular uploads. The trend took off, soon becoming a part of Japanese popular culture, with VTubers springing up left, right, and center, and being featured in marketing campaigns, TV shows, and on billboards in Shibuya.
Who are the most popular VTubers?
While most of the popular VTubers are Japanese, interest in English-language creators is growing fast. In June 2022, Gawr Gura, an English-speaking virtual YouTuber, became the first VTuber to pass 4 million subscribers on the platform.
In terms of YouTube subscriber count, the most popular VTubers are:
|Virtual YouTuber name||Subscriber count*|
*compiled on June 30th, 2022.
Why are virtual YouTubers so popular?
The global pandemic in 2020 certainly helped elevate and popularize virtual characters, as more viewers tuned into gaming livestreams and watched more YouTube content than ever. While VTubers were already popular in Japan at the time, this peak connectivity helped to bring characters into the mainstream, and more VTubers began recording and streaming in English.
Virtual YouTubers also appeal to anime fans, who often have crossover hobbies that VTubers cover such as gaming and Japanese pop. These avatars break the boundary between the virtual world and the real one, so VTubers can be innovative and creative in the content they’re able to produce. Virtual avatars also come without any type of human “baggage”, meaning that when compared to other online communities, the VTuber space is often less drama-filled and more positive.
How do you become a VTuber?
Most popular VTubers are actually anime characters owned and produced by companies, or people who work through agencies for a company, rather than individual content creators going solo.
The number of virtual YouTubers is growing on a yearly basis, and virtual streamers are also becoming more popular as time goes by. Starting out as a VTuber, you’d have to develop your own avatar or invest in its creation, use a quality webcam, and spend money on software that helps track and capture your own movement and facial expressions to stream your character.
To make it in the world of VTubing, you’d need an original character teamed with a winning online personality, and an initial investment in the technology needed to be able to film or stream as your virtual avatar.
Are VTubers safe for kids to watch?
VTubers have gotten into their own share of hot water from time to time. Popular art streamer anny was banned from Twitch for a week for allegedly showing “explicit” content, and, bizarrely, VTuber Rushia was involved in online drama with angry fans regarding her relationship status.
But for younger audiences, it gets worse.
While the fact that the most popular VTubers are all female could be purely coincidental, you have to consider who it is that’s really watching this kind of content. A lot of VTubers use childlike, sweet images as their virtual avatar, speaking in a cutesy voice which could easily be mistaken for that of a kid.
Many VTubers are clearly depicted as minors, but they often allude to more adult themes in their content. Kizuna Ai’s thumbnails often feature hyper-sexualized illustrations, zooming in on her rear or chest, despite her clear schoolgirl age. And that’s just one creator.
Although many avatars might seem like they’re designed with kids in mind, it’s important to remember that not all viewers are children. Kids could easily be interacting with adults in the comments sections on livestreams, where they could also be exposed to inappropriate content, or be asked to reveal personal information.
The following tips can help limit your child’s exposure to inappropriate content on YouTube:
- Co-watching, where you invite them to show you the videos they’ve recently been getting into so you can watch together
- Using a YouTube monitoring or parental control tool which shows you the videos your child has been watching
- Switching off Autoplay so they won’t fall into the rabbit hole of suggested content
- Turning on Restricted Mode to filter out inappropriate content
As with anything on the internet, it’s important to have regular discussions with your child about the content they like consuming, and the type of videos they’re watching. This way, you can get more involved in your child’s hobbies and interests. Check in regularly with your kids, and, if necessary, delve deeper into certain videos if you have any cause for concern. By understanding the content they consume daily, you’ll be more in tune with them, and more prepared to set up positive, healthy habits for online video platforms.