Streaming services have made it unnecessary to actually buy physical copies of anime you want to watch, but there’s no guarantee that the show you love will always be there.

Once the license agreement between the studio and the IP owner has run its course, the show will be gone until someone licenses it again. If you have one show you know you want to have at hand no matter what, then it’s time to start shopping for physical media. The world of physical anime media might be a little confusing for newcomers, but in this article I’ll straighten out the most important issues.

anime dvd rack

Prepare to Pay

Streaming services are so cheap that one might expect the physical copies of an anime to be equally affordable. Unfortunately this is not the case. Anime can be pretty expensive, especially considering that anime series are released in multiple volumes. The fact of the matter is that you’re probably going to pay through the nose when building your collection. That’s why it’s important to be sure that you really want to keep a particular show forever.

Wait for the Boxset

You probably already know what a “boxset” is, but just in case you don’t, it’s a collection of all volumes in a series or season. While you have to wait a while for the boxset to become available, it’s almost always worth it. Boxsets of anime series tend to have the best design, with covers that all go together. They often come with a cardboard sleeve to keep all the discs in one place, and look great on the shelf. Boxsets also tend to come with more extras and might even include merchandise like posters or figures.

If you are collecting long-running anime such as Naruto on disc, you can still wait for each season to be collected in a set. The main reason to wait for a boxset is, of course, cost. It’s almost always cheaper to buy the set as a whole rather than buying each disc by itself as they are released.

Be Prepared to Wait

Patience is key for the physical media collector when it comes to anime. While studios can now get subs and dubs out on streaming services in what seems like no time, producing a DVD or Bluray takes time. The footage and audio is often remastered using some of the money made from selling the show for broadcast and streaming. Extras have to be edited and compiled. Package design has to happen and these days they might even remaster the animation itself! These are all reasons to desire the disc-based copy of the show, but it also means you have to be patient and wait for the edition you really want.

Madoka Magica bluray

The Trouble With Bootlegs

Let’s get this issue well and truly settled – don’t buy bootlegs. There has always been a thriving market of bootleg anime media. Usually these come from territories like China. Often they can actually have pretty decent quality, but most of the time you’ll get a product that might look OK on the outside but actually have multiple quality problems. There won’t be dub track on it and the English subtitles are usually unintelligible. So unless you are fluent in Japanese and don’t need subs, you might as well throw your money in the toilet.

Apart from these practical restrictions on content, you shouldn’t buy bootlegs because it’s morally indefensible. Remember, bootlegs and fansubs are two very different things. The moral argument for fansubs has been made elsewhere but, generally, fansubs benefit studios rather than hurting them. Bootlegs always hurt the bottom line of the studio that made the content. You are putting money into the pockets of a third party who provided you with a shoddy product for your efforts. The creators don’t see a cent and you might not get anything new from them if they don’t sell enough copies.

No matter which way you slice it, everyone but the bootlegger loses out in this deal.

Know Your Region Codes

Digital media such as DVD or Blu Ray are region-coded in order to control licensing and global sales. Players sold in your region will only play discs from that same region. Basically, if you import a disc that does not match your player’s region it won’t work. Oh no!

Well, there are a couple of ways around this. The most obvious is to simply buy discs for your region when possible. However, you can also import a player for the region you need, although that’s an expensive choice. Some players can be hacked to play all regions. Just Google the model name and the terms “region hack” or something similar.

If it’s possible, it will be listed somewhere. Some places will also sell region-free players, but that’s not the best option if you already own a perfectly good player. So try looking for an unlock hack first. Luckily, sellers such as Amazon will clearly warn you if the disc you are looking at is different from the region you are in.

Avoid VHS

Some classic shows have not come to either DVD or Blu Ray, which means it can be tempting to buy a VHS set from Ebay or other similar sites. Unless you are already a VHS collector and know exactly what you are in for, it’s not worth it. Even new, sealed VHS sets will have degraded by now. VHS tape lifespan varies according to the quality and type of the tape, but based on what I’ve found on the net it seems you can expect a 20% degradation when the tapes are between 10 and 25 years old. That’s exactly the time frame for many older shows that have not made it to digital yet.

Apart from this, have you watched a VHS tape recently? Even when pristine, the image quality sucks, and VHS machines are a pain to operate and maintain. Hooking them up to an HD TV comes with its own set of troubles too.

In this case I would actually recommend looking for a fansub that’s been carefully transferred from tape and perhaps enhanced a little bit by the fan community.

Anime Laserdisc


You may or may not remember LaserDisc, but it was an analog optical disc format invented way back in 1958. It never really took off, despite offering better visual quality than VHS. In North America in particular LaserDisc failed hard, but in Japan it was very popular, which is why you’ll find plenty of anime LaserDisc titles on Ebay and other such sites.

If you can find a player in good working order and the disc has been taken care of, this is actually a viable way to get some old and rare titles. Just check carefully when it comes to language support. If you don’t understand Japanese you might be out of luck when it comes to import titles without English dubs.

There is another reason to collect LaserDisc. The actual disc jackets are elaborate and beautiful, which makes them worth owning just as objects. LaserDisc anime from Japan also makes for a better source for fansubbing than old VHS does.

Taking Care

That should be all you need to know when it comes to buying physical anime media without getting burned. Despite streaming being all the rage, there’s nothing quite like seeing a shelf of beautiful boxsets. Hey, when the zombie apocalypse comes you’ll still have something to watch!

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