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How to get into Idolmaster, 15 years later

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Bandai Namco’s Idolmaster series is celebrating its 15th anniversary, and as the grandfather of idol anime, it can be really daunting to get into.

The series started off as an arcade game that was later ported to Xbox 360. Since that game’s release on July 26, 2005, the series has spun into a massive multimedia project with anime, CDs, concerts, a plethora of games, and even a Korean drama.

The games are centered around being the producer for a talent agency. You have tons of idols working under you, and you need to manage them to their strengths, turning them into successes. Imagine being the manager for Japanese pop group AKB48 — that’s a simple way of thinking about the Idolmaster series. Gameplay typically involves leveling up and evolving your idols while playing songs with rhythm-based gameplay like Dance Dance Revolution, but there are also games that are closer to visual novel.

Why do people love Idolmaster?

Despite never really coming to the West in a proper release — outside of an outrageously priced mobile game that has since vanished off of the App Store — the Idolmaster fanbase is dedicated. The franchise is split into several main series, and since there are so many characters, fans are bound to find one that they really identify with.

An Idolmaster Cinderella Girls: Starlight Stage Discord admin, username rain, favors Anastasia. “I was drawn to her soft voice and gentle, kind personality the most as I was watching the Cinderella Girls anime. She’s also a strong-willed girl who’s able to get along easily with others, despite some of her language difficulties that stem from being half-Japanese, half-Russian and growing up in Russia. I feel that anyone who’s ever moved to a new place or immigrated to another country as a child can kinda identify with that aspect of her,” rain said in a Discord interview with Polygon.

When you have hundreds of unique characters with relatable backstories and enjoyable personalities, it’s hard to not immediately latch on to a favorite. The dedication of an Idolmaster fan is unrivaled.

Anastasia, the half-Russian and half-Japanese Idolmaster girl of rain’s affection
Image: Bandai Namco

The bulk of Idolmaster content exists within mobile games. Though there are anime series and live concerts, the mobile games are updated several times a week to keep players engaged. However, since most of these games require either a Japanese App Store account or emulation, it can seem daunting to get involved. All of the games are available both on Android and iOS devices.

“At this point, it doesn’t seem like there’s much interest on Bandai Namco’s part in bringing the existing Idolmaster series outside of Asia. But throughout the years, there have been many fan endeavors that made it much easier for English-speaking audiences to get into the series,” said rain. There are multiple subreddits and Twitter accounts for the games that keep up-to-date with new features and translations.

Find the Idolmaster series that’s right for you

To make the task of acclimating a little less scary, we’ve broken down the main series. (There are a few more than this, but these are the ones that are consistently updated.)

All-Stars

The cast of The Idolmaster sit on a tree observing beautiful lights

The original cast of Idolmaster
Image: A-1 Pictures/Crunchyroll

This is the original group of girls from the arcade game. Over years, a handful of more girls were added to the group, but these are seen as the original cast that started it all. These are girls from the 765 Production talent agency.

Because this is the legacy group, it’s a good place to start. You can also watch all of the original anime on Crunchyroll.

Million Live

Dozens of small idol girls pose together for a huge group shot

The Million Live girls, including the girls from All-Stars
Image: Bandai Namco

Bandai Namco released a mobile game called The Idolmaster: Million Live! that added 39 more girls to 765 Production. These girls expand on the already beloved original series and provide a way for new content to get released with both the All-Stars girls and some fresher faces.

The original mobile game is shut down, but you can still play the rhythm mobile game, The Idolmaster Million Live!: Theater Days. There’s also a Million Live anime planned for the future.

Cinderella Girls

Anime girls in matching dresses take a photo with their stern-faced producer

A small collection of the characters in Cinderella Girls, as seen in the anime
Image: A-1 Pictures/Crunchyroll

A new set of over 160 girls were added to the Idolmaster universe under the name Cinderella Girls. These idols are all from a variety of different talent agencies, depending on which piece of media you’re consuming, but they’re mostly associated with 346 Production. With a staggeringly gigantic ensemble of characters, Cinderella Girls focuses on the idea that anyone can be an idol, even a dominatrix or a homeless Santa Claus-wannabe.

For those interested in Cinderella Girls, you can watch both the main anime and the spin-off shorts on Crunchyroll. You can also play one of the two mobile games, The Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls and The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls: Starlight Stage. The original Cinderella Girls game is playable on browsers.

Side M

A bunch of male anime characters in matching outfits pose at the edge of a stage

An assortment of male idols from the Side M anime
Image: A-1 Pictures/Crunchyroll

As the only series to feature male idols, Side M focuses on the idea of changing careers to be an idol. The members are put into idol groups with other idols with similar themes. For example, the dudes from S.E.M were previously teachers of different subjects. The five teen boys from High x Joker worked in a band before debuting as idols. These idols are part of 315 Production.

For those who want to look more into the male idols, there’s an anime to watch on Crunchyroll. There’s also two mobile games: The Idolmaster: SideM and The Idolmaster SideM: Live on Stage!. The Idolmaster: SideM is actually playable on your browser.

Shiny Colors

A group of girls in white and blue dresses pose on a stage

Some of the girls from the The Idolmaster: Shiny Colors
Image: Bandai Namco

The most recent series to release, Shiny Colors, focuses on putting the girls into specific music groups, like Side M does. This is the newest series to be added, which means it doesn’t have tons of content existing for it already. The Shiny Colors girls belong to 283 Production.

The Idolmaster: Shiny Colors is a mobile game, but it’s also playable on your browser.

While sifting through the different series, you’re bound to find a character you’ll get attached to, as Idolmaster has something to offer for all types of anime fans. And if you’re brand new, you’ve now got 15 years to sift through. The new Idolmaster website that randomly assigns you 10 idols from the franchise should help you get started.

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