The year 2023 was a special one for Virtual YouTubers, in all the right and wrong ways. On one hand, we've seen several smaller players either leave the scene or implode due to management issues; on the other hand, VTubers are being recognized left and right.
The ups and downs of the VTuber scene this year serve as a lesson that entertaining people is a serious business, with investments on talent and technology accelerating to higher levels. On the other hand, new technologies are giving more access to independent creators to do more than just the basics.
We have seen the increased awareness of VTubers to the mainstream public, but it's also important to take note of the well-being of each VTuber, whether if they are managed by an agency or moving independently. Indeed, 2023 proved to be a challenging year for everyone.
VTuber NewsDrop is making an annual tradition of reaching out to the people who talk about VTubers. Returning and new personalities, each of them well regarded by their respective audiences, accepted our invitation to participate in what will become a yearly tradition.
Get ready to open your perspectives—because we enjoyed learning each of their points of view in this series.
To gather an overall outlook of VTubing for this year, as well as to forecast what's to come in the year moving forward, we asked 24 VTuber-adjacent personalities three questions:
- What do you think is the biggest VTuber news of 2023, and why?
- From a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), how would you rate VTubing in 2023?
- What is your outlook on the VTubing scene in 2024?
Around half of the invited personalities on the list have replied to us with their responses. This first part of our year-end double-feature will show their answers to the first two questions. Please note that most answers were cut for brevity.
- VTubing will continue to flourish, as VTubers get more recognition, agencies are set up, and more VTubers debut.
- Innovation in VTubing will be made possible through evolving technology and out-of-the-box thinking. VTubing could have more real-life presence in 2024.
- News outlets and commentators have been busy sifting through lots of news which happened this year. With the sheer number of news happening, people can no longer ignore the impact VTubers have in the content creation space.
- Depending on your perspective, 2023 in VTubing could be an all-time high or an all-time low.
- Agencies like idol and VShojo gathered good impressions from the audience despite major setbacks, but no agency was left unscathed after having major incidents.
Ironmouse's Accolades And Increasing Mainstream Recognition
Most of the participants celebrate the win of VShojo's Ironmouse at The Game Awards as Content Creator of the Year. The award-winning, record-breaking VTuber with an inspiring story has been broadcasting to her 1.8 million Twitch followers.
This is a testament of how VTubers are now in the same pedestal as other content creators. "[The Game Awards] has been an ongoing tradition for several years now (since 2014), and the fact that they not only included a VTuber in the content creator section, but she actually won just goes to show how much of an influence VTubers have on the content creation industry," VTuber Mari Yume told NewsDrop.
Interviewer JohnLovesAnime, who hosts his Otaku Talks show, has high hopes for more VTuber recognitions. "Her winning this award & on the VTuber Awards hosted by Filian really gave the community hope, and that win too showed how far they have come into the content creation space ever since the VTuber boom in 2020 or even those before that in the Japanese & utaite side; giving others a sense that there will be more VTuber representations in future awards shows, which I hope we will see!"
The head of the fan news website hololive Today, even though he is dedicated to hololive, surprisingly said this: "Not only did it solidify the popularity of VTuber content creators in the entertainment scene, but it is also telling of Ironmouse's hard work, dedication, and impact on the community."
Ironmouse is also The VTuber Awards' awardee for the following categories: VTuber of the Year, Miss VTuber and Best Streamed Event for her subathon.
While more regional in nature, the unprecedented recognition of virtual avatar using Japanese utaite group Strawberry Prince on the Japanese program Kouhaku Uta Gassen and their NHK special showed the ever continued presence of male VTubers in the market, as well as the increased importance of women as consumers of the medium.
Their 2023 tour marked the largest concert mobilization in a country known for their concerts for the first half of the year. Their success was echoed across the strait as fellow male group PLAVE continued to make appearances on mainstream Korean television through their music performances.
State of Agency VTubing
The year 2023 definitely challenged how we perceive agency VTubing—starting with the bad news, from terminations by major agencies such as NIJISANJI (Zaion LanZa) and idol (Riro Ron) as well as major departures at HOLOSTARS English (Noir Vesper and Magni Dezmond), to the crises faced by smaller players such as AkioAIR, WACTOR and Project F.
Let's also not forget the exit of pioneer VShojo members Silvervale, Vei and Nyatasha Nyanners, as well as the indefinite hiatus of Amemiya Nazuna. These headlines, however, reflect the world of VTubing in 2023: the VTuber space has never been more competitive than it was this year.
In general, more and more corporations are moving towards entering the space, something popular interviewer Domo Arigathanks noted. "Competitiveness in the space can only be a good thing for the livelihood of talents as well as getting VTubers out to the public eye. Even companies that are developing in the west like V4Mirai release a [full] wave on top of their two talents they warmed up with."
VTuber commentator Depressed Nousagi also adds, “Small corpo VTubers have definitely been more recognized and rose to prominence though, ending an era that was what seemed like a monopoly by the Big Three agencies.”
At this point, it's easy to compare agency VTubing to the indie circuit. "2023 turned out to be 2022 on steroids. Loads more Indies have broken out, racking in success after success in the second half of the year, while agency after agency either has hit major road bumps or outright came tumbling down," FalseEyeD, one of the biggest names in VTuber news, told NewsDrop. "The tried-and-true path of striving to be part of an agency is no longer the dream for many Indie VTubers."
This competitiveness has led to a rise in ingenuity and creativity within the space. This is something Evanit0 mentions he most looks forward to in 2024: "I do believe that will continue to happen because other creators in space have been doing bigger and bigger things that the rest of the world just won't be able to ignore much longer."
Not all agencies had a bad close this year—the debut of VShojo's Henya the Genius, Kuro Kurenai and Matara Kan, as well as the inclusion of General GEEGA into the roster, proved a worthy gamble for them. Kuro Kurenai represents the first male hire for the company, showing a foray into a new and increasingly important segment of the VTuber fan base.
"[Henya's] debut came after what I would consider a period of time where VShojo as a company wasn't viewed as having the brightest of futures after losing a few notable talents earlier in the year," VTuber and video editor Keniisu said. "[Henya, Kuro and Matara Kan] brought a sizable audience under the fold of VShojo and bolstered their public perception in a way that I think is rather notable."
Despite removing Riro Ron from its roster, idol Virtual Talents holds fair, Scottish creator Penumbral says. "In a year where we've seen a lot of drama around VTuber agencies and so many stories about agencies taking advantage of their talents behind the scenes, idol showed that you can see incredible success while still being open and transparent with the community, even about things like their finances and contracts which are usually kept pretty hush hush.
NewsDrop was privileged to talk to idol CEO Aviel Basin about the agency's transparency and stability as it disclosed its revenue share to the public.
State of VTuber News
The large amount of news in the VTubing scene was unexpected. Penumbral reacts: "We've had a ton of news this year, both good and bad, so it's really hard to pick just one as the 'biggest'—especially since VTubing is so widespread nowadays with so many different niches that what might be huge news to one area of the community might not even be known by another—not even counting the language barriers between different countries VTubing scenes."
"In the past, VTubing was niche enough that you might be able to point to a specific event and reasonably say that it was the most impactful moment of the year, but given the sustained increase in the number of VTubers, agencies, events, awards, and innovations, it is no longer possible to keep up with all the news in the VTuber space," the host of VTuber Talk, codenamed J, shared with us.
"Even dedicated VTuber news outlets are forced to pick and choose their coverage and headlines. Similarly, just because an announcement got high engagement numbers on social media does not necessarily make it the biggest news, at least in my opinion."
This proves that VTubing—and the news about it—can no longer be ignored. "[...] it is the manifestation of the sustained growth of VTubing itself, the continuous headlines reminding us and those outside of the VTubing sphere that VTubing is no longer niche, and it is not going anywhere."
Evan observed the community in general. "Too many bad things unfortunately did happen that sort of spoiled it for me and I wasn't necessarily a fan of how the community reacted to a lot of things. Everyone just seemed like they were out to rip out each other's throats."
Hannah Lee of NanteJapan was blunter: "[...] it has become more and more apparent that the fan base is slowly becoming increasingly toxic and out of control.
"My own personal take is that several talents have deemed it too toxic to continue and have chosen to rebrand instead of continuing onwards. Without this being fixed, it may be hard to achieve mainstream recognition as marketing agencies overall are extremely allergic to any sort of controversy."
When we asked Mari and Nousagi to rate this year in VTubing, they decided to leave it unrated, as this depends on whom you talk to. "Regardless of where you look, the year seemed to have as many good things happening as there were bad things," Nousagi figured.
VTuber Talk's J said it best: "If you only read algorithmically suggested posts on social media, you probably think the VTuber world is filled with nothing but drama and will rate the year low, but if you read posts in your 'Following' tab and tune into streams, you'll (hopefully) see that things are actually going quite well and that, for the most part, people are indeed kind."
Going Beyond VTubing: Reinvention and Innovation
This year also saw a continued integration of VTubing into other forms of collaborations beyond the screen. These include on-ground events, major music deals, and formats which were previously not considered but still surprised many.
"I think having Corporate VTube Twins is honestly refreshing for the community," Evan, also a notable figure in the VTuber meta, spoke of hololive English Advent's FuwaMoco duo. "While it might not necessarily be a new thing in the space, seeing it on the scale of hololive honestly and hopefully inspires more duos!"
NIJISANJI EN's Vox Akuma surprised everyone by expanding his lore into a full-length film, The Demon Hungers. Kindred from many countries went ahead and hosted watch parties on release day.
Tea-sipping owl Mr. Underhill applauds the film: "Seeing a story play out to that level of polish, artistry, and detail was something we've never really seen in this space. I'm very hopeful that other VTubers will follow suit and get really creative with lore & storytelling!"
Hololive's Hoshimachi Suisei made history as the first VTuber to be featured on the coveted The First Take channel. Another hololive star, Mori Calliope, made waves after collaborating with hit manga series One Piece. Strawberry Prince and ROF-MAO were among the top five anime albums for the year according to Oricon, with Suisei a close 7th place. NIJISANJI was able to launch a number of new variety shows, including one featuring EN talents. Outside of hololive and NIJISANJI, PRISM Project's Shiki Miyoshino has been signed to Sony Music Labels, the first PRISM agent to do so.
Indeed, VTubers especially in the corporate end are gradually being given opportunities to show their talent furthermore.
"I think for me what stands out is seeing corporate VTubers collaborate more with really popular brands," translator and VTuber enthusiast Kim Morrissy observed. "To me, that shows that VTubers are integrating more with popular culture instead of just being a niche internet hobby."
These achievements speak volumes over time, according to Taledo, one of the rising voices in the VTuber meta. "Although many notions were created of the VTuber Bubble 'bursting', VTubing has continued to remain a strong entertainment industry.
"Agencies big and small have made numerous strides in their content and projects, and Independent VTubers are, y’know, making it happen. [...] There’s been a rise of small VTuber agencies, the development of new content metas, and newfound celebratory events. An award show solely for VTubing is crazy, dawg!"
"We’ve seen a lot of success from VTubers across all categories and I feel like the image being casted that might’ve been 'weird' or intimidating to some has warmed up to a lot of people!," Domo adds.
With the aggressive competition this year, Mari further observes that further innovation and reinvention is necessary to keep a VTuber's fanbase entertained and retain them in the process. "This isn't a career path for everyone and the novelty of 'being a VTuber and getting tons of people wanting to watch you do anime things' has passed and now people want a connection and to be entertained."
Alongside popular creators, we also reached out to people from various countries such as South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan to speak about their perspectives in VTubing this year.
East Asia (Korea, Japan and Thailand)
BJ Choi represents VROZ (Virtual Reality Open magaZine), a South Korean website dedicated to delivering news about virtual reality and VTubers in the metaverse era. As the general manager and a reporter for VROZ, BJ keeps abreast of the latest VTuber news in South Korea which has a sizeable viewing audience.
"Considering that we are based in South Korea, it is undoubtedly true that the biggest VTuber news for us (and many of you out there) was the shutdown of Twitch in the region. Also, the rise of Korean VTubers in the global market, such as ISEGYE IDOL, PLAVE and StelLive were also remarkable for us.
"Lastly, hololive production's Korean market advance in bigger scale (including Motoaki 'YAGOO' Tanigo, CEO of COVER's visit to Korea and Tokoyami Towa & Usada Pekora Live Concert in Korea) was big news for many VTuber fandom around the world."
It is worthy to note that VROZ started as a website which posts updates on hololive for the Korean audience. The interview they had with YAGOO, plus their video updates further affirm their reputation as a leading VTuber news outlet in the country.
Bluesura is a keen observer of overseas VTuber culture from a Japanese point of view. He is an active participant to Project Virtual History, a presenter for several webinars including a recent "VTuber Trends in Asia" culture course hosted by MoguLive.
Carrying on from his recent presentation, two things in VTubing this year caught his attention. "[...] if evaluated objectively, it would be the rise of Korean VTubers. The reason is that they are starting to make an impact not just in Korea, but in other countries as well. ISEGYE IDOL surpassed VShojo in the breakdown of watch time by agency.
"In addition, this year there was an outdoor live performance by a different world idol. I saw it myself, and the passion of the local fans was amazing. PLAVE is increasing its presence through music, and YAGOO is following this information. However, the end of Twitch KR has also been significant news that might put a damper on the hype."
Outside of Japan and Korea, Sura-san also mentioned the increasing presence of Algorhythm Project, one of the biggest groups in Thailand.
Dacapo, a VTuber under Algorhythm Project (ARP), received mainstream attention following his performance at an offline concert in Thailand. From a mini concert at the Cosplay Art Festival last July, ARP moved forward and held its successful major concert, AlgorArcana, before the year ends.
If there's one major supporter of Malaysian VTubing, it's got to be Alia Nabalu. Lore-wise, Alia—a descendant of the guardian of Mount Kinabalu—got lured into VTubing after helping a lost VTuber fan in a forest. Since then, Alia commits to support the Malaysian VTubing scene (MYVT) by promoting the latest updates straight from the local VTubers themselves.
Among all the news in VTubing in the Southeast Asian country, Alia vividly remembers the second Malaysian VTuber showcase at this year's AniManGaki. "It displays the incredible talents on Malaysian VTubers and I'm really proud of their achievement."
Solely curated by PSY8, this year's edition featued 100 Malaysian VTubers.
Aside from operating pop culture website Nawala Karsa and its social arm DotPlus—one of NewsDrop's partners in the highly-saturated Indonesian VTuber scene (according to the VTuber.asia database)—Syahrian Naufal Alfarizy also handles local VTuber player Nakama Virtual.
Kobo Kanaeru, now the most-subscribed Indonesian VTuber, came to mind when we asked about the biggest news in VTubing in Indonesia. "I believe, in terms of news, the most unexpected news came (once again) from hololive Indonesia. As everyone knows, Kobo Kanaeru is a great VTuber personality, her 'little-brat-small-kiddo' personality always makes unexpected moves.
"One of them is when hololive announced that they're going to release Kobo's latest song under holo-N (which is a joint label between Universal Music Japan and hololive Production). That's a huge surprise for us in Nawala Karsa and DotPlus."
Rafael Regis, who is also an active Project Virtual History participant, is an industrial engineer, and an Asian pop culture researcher. A VTuber led him to study the scene, a subject of his masteral study in culture.
VShojo's Ironmouse also came to the top of Rafael's mind when he was sharing the success VTubing had this year. "Absolutely Ironmouse, her recent victory on Content Creator of the Year Award allowed VTuber content creators to bypass the bubble of ACG consumers and be discovered by a lot of common consumers.
"I observed that the Brazilian cyberspace where a lot of the biggest YouTubers were Ironmouse’s friends and introduced her and VTubing to a lot of people. Literally Ironmouse causes the beginning for a true normalization of VTubing."
On top of his response, the Hispanic VTubing scene survived a major setback after WACTOR made an unacceptable move of doxxing one of its talents to the public, among other things.
The 20 personalities we invited for this piece rated VTubing this year an average of 7 out of 10. Khyo comments: "Well, the year has been all over the place. So many ups and downs, graduations, terminations, countless wonderful debuts and new people being introduced to us.
We’ve had concerts, live events and so much more good things have happened that it’s hard to say the year was all bad."
The next part of this double-feature will be a forecast for VTubing in 2024.
If you have any comments, suggestions and reactions to this piece, please let us know by tagging us on Twitter/X.
—with Editorial Assistance from Hannah Lee