Anime began at the start of the 20th century, when Japanese filmmakers experimented with theanimation techniques also pioneered in France, Germany, the United States, and Russia. The oldest known anime in existence first screened in 1917 – a two-minute clip of a samurai trying to test a new sword on his target, only to suffer defeat. Early pioneers included Shimokawa Oten, Jun'ichi Kouchi, and Seitarō Kitayama.
By the 1930s animation became an alternative format of storytelling to the live-action industry in Japan. But it suffered competition from foreign producers and many animators, such as Noburō Ōfuji and Yasuji Murata still worked in cheaper cutout not cel animation, although with masterful results. Other creators, such as Kenzō Masaoka and Mitsuyo Seo, nonetheless made great strides in animation technique, especially with increasing help from a government using animation in education and propaganda. The first talkie anime was Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka, produced by Masaoka in 1933. The first feature length animated film was Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors directed by Seo in 1945 with sponsorship by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
The success of The Walt Disney Company's 1937 feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs influenced Japanese animators. In the 1960s, manga artist and animator Osamu Tezuka adapted and simplified many Disney animation-techniques to reduce costs and to limit the number of frames in productions. He intended this as a temporary measure to allow him to produce material on a tight schedule with inexperienced animation-staff.
The 1970s saw a surge of growth in the popularity of manga – many of them later animated. The work of Osamu Tezuka drew particular attention: he has been called a "legend" and the "god of manga". His work – and that of other pioneers in the field – inspired characteristics and genres that remain fundamental elements of anime today. The giant robot genre (known as "Mecha" outside Japan), for instance, took shape under Tezuka, developed into the Super Robot genre under Go Nagai and others, and was revolutionized at the end of the decade by Yoshiyuki Tomino who developed the Real Robot genre. Robot anime like the Gundam and The Super Dimension Fortress Macross series became instant classics in the 1980s, and the robot genre of anime is still one of the most common in Japan and worldwide today. In the 1980s, anime became more accepted in the mainstream in Japan (although less than manga), and experienced a boom in production. Following a few successful adaptations of anime in overseas markets in the 1980s, anime gained increased acceptance in those markets in the 1990s and even more at the turn of the 21st century.