How to Become an Anime Voice Actor

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Photo Source: “Cyberpunk Edgerunners” Courtesy Netflix

Do you dream of giving voice to fantastical animated worlds like those created by Hayao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai? Japan is licensing and distributing more and more anime TV shows and movies each year, which means more voiceover opportunities. While anime dubbing falls under the umbrella of VO acting, it has its own quirks and requires a particular set of skills.

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How to get into English dubbing for anime

Voice actor

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“There’s no one true path to an anime dubbing career,” says Colleen Clinkenbeard, senior producer at Crunchyroll and the voice of Monkey D. Luffy on Eiichirô Oda’s hit series “One Piece.” 

The traditional route for a professional VO actor is to land auditions with the help of their agent and/or industry connections. Though anime dubbing occupies a very specific niche, it involves the same type of training as other genres of voice acting. Here are some tips on breaking into the industry if you’re just starting out. 

Watch anime films and TV shows. “Anime dubbing is both more difficult and less appreciated than the greater voice acting industry,” Clinkenbeard says. “It requires a facility with cold reads, changing timing of reads to match mouth movement, and emotionally justifying pauses in a line where one would not normally pause. 

“I usually say that dubbing is left-brain acting, because there is a science and puzzle-solving quality to it that video-game or commercial voice acting don’t have,” she continues. “It can help to immerse yourself in anime TV shows and movies so that you can gain an understanding of timing and pauses and activate that left brain.

Read aloud. “Find a phrase and experiment with it until you have three or four ways you could legitimately read that line and have it work in the context of the dialogue,” Clinkenbeard advises. “It’s extremely valuable to be nimble while you’re acting, rather than only hearing a line one way in your head and being unable to change that intonation.”

Study recordings of your own voice. Here are a few aspects to pay particular attention to: 

  • Do you need to work on your diction?
  • Are you speaking too quickly?
  • Are you having trouble getting rid of an accent or speech impediment? 

“None of those things are insurmountable—you just need to be honest with yourself about what kind of work you need to focus on,” Clinkenbeard says.

Study up. Acting schools, workshops, and coaching sessions can all help you hone your craft. These institutions offer training specifically for anime: 

Network. Making connections with people who are already embedded in the industry can be a backdoor into finding gigs. Many prospective dubbers are anime fans trying to break into the field by immersing themselves in the culture, “meeting professionals at conventions, taking voice acting workshops with anime-dub industry folk, and sometimes creating fan dubs for practice,” Clinkenbeard says. “And then others come to it through the technical side—starting out as ADR engineers or writers and gradually making themselves available to directors who know them from those avenues of the industry.”

Anime conventions draw thousands of fans each year. For aspiring VO actors, they’re great places to pick the brains of professional dubbers and mingle with representatives from anime companies big and small.

Major events include Anime NYC, Sakura-Con in Seattle, Anime Expo in Los Angeles, and Anime Matsuri in Houston. That said, even smaller conventions provide plenty of networking opportunities.

What equipment do you need?

Microphone setup in studioShapikMedia/Shutterstock

You’ll need a demo reel to book auditions and land an agent, which means you’ll need to put together a personal recording studio. But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank right away. Here are a few basic pieces of equipment you’ll need to get started: 

  • A microphone
  • Recording software
  • Headphones
  • A computer

Clinkenbeard recommends reaching out to a professional who can make sure you “don’t end up spending more money fixing problems than you would if you did it right the first time.” Once you’re more established, you can open your wallet to build a full recording studio in your home.

“This is an expensive endeavor, but it makes it so that you are able to tell any studio you audition for that you are self-recording–capable,” Clinkenbeard says. “That can be a huge benefit if you’re working with a production that is not affiliated with any particular recording studio. You don’t need a ton of space to make this happen; my studio is my bedroom closet, and it works just fine.”

How to audition for anime dubbing gigs

Scene from 'Castlevania'“Castlevania” Premiere Pro/Netflix

Ideally, you’ll find a VO agent who can guide you through the process; but that’s not the only route you can take. Here are the first steps on your journey. 

Record a demo reel. Many voice acting classes and workshops provide sample scripts, which you can use as the basis for your very first demo reel. For a more direct (and free) option, choose three to four anime series and/or films that you feel passionate about and put your own spin on a selection of dialogue. The most important thing is that you show off your ability to create a character and adapt to the needs of the script. 

When assembling your clips into a reel, pay attention to the order in which they appear. 

  • High-profile work: Ideally, your demo reel will include selections from professional gigs. Start out with the brand or title that a casting director or agent is most likely to recognize. 
  • Your best work: This is where you’ll really drive home your talent. 
  • Your most unique work: This section should show casting directors and agents that you have a wide range. 

Find gigs. There’s no shortage of open calls for anime projects, and every job is an opportunity to add to your reel. Here’s how to prepare for a voiceover audition:

  • Study the script. Digging into what the writer is trying to convey beyond the words on the page will give you room to experiment with your delivery. 
  • Learn more about the project. Knowing the world of the show or film you’re going in for will help your audition choices align with the creative and casting teams’ vision. Watch previous episodes of a show, and research the creator’s other work.
  • Record a practice audition. The benefit of VO work is that it’s easy to study the sound of your voice before you ever walk into the room. Pay attention to your diction, speed, clarity, and character work. 
  • Mind what you drink. Alcohol and coffee are both dehydrating, which can negatively affect your throat and vocal cords. Stick to water or tea ahead of your audition. 
  • Breathe. You won’t be able to deliver a strong vocal performance if you haven’t mastered your breath. Make time for exercises in the days and hours leading up to your audition.

Find an agent. Clinkenbeard says that a good rep will “seek the jobs for you or filter auditions to you as they come in.” Landing an agent is a complex process that takes time, but here are a few steps you can take to make the process easier: 

  • Put together a list of potential reps. Websites like the Voice Over Resource Guide and Backstage’s Call Sheet can help you narrow down exactly what you’re looking for from an agent. 
  • Ask people in your network for referrals. An introduction from a friend or peer who works in voiceover is better than a cold call. 
  • Perfect your cover letter. Most submissions require sending a cover letter along with your demo reel. Keep it short and simple, highlighting what makes you unique and explaining why you’re passionate about anime voice acting in particular. 

Read the submission requirements. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, make sure that the agencies are currently accepting submissions and that you know exactly what they’re looking for. It’s also a good idea to take a look at their client rosters so you can bring something to the table that an agency might not already have in its arsenal.

How much do anime voice actors make?

Scene from 'Demon Slayer'“Demon Slayer” Courtesy KOYOHARU GOTOGE / SHUEISHA, ANIPLEX, UFOTABLE / VIA KYODO

According to ZipRecruiter, VO performers in the U.S. average just over $100K a year, but the numbers on opposite sides of that spectrum vary widely—between $11K and $160K. That number fluctuates from city to city, as well; voice actors who live in areas where the cost of living is high generally earn more. 

Because voice actors often work outside of a 9-to-5 schedule, you’ll most likely be paid by the hour, and that rate will depend on whether you’re a member of SAG-AFTRA. 

Voice actor Sara Secora (“Rumble Garanndoll,” “Log Horizon”) says that nonunion work for a studio generally pays $35–$75 an hour. According to the Coalition of Dubbing Actors, however, an average nonunion rate is $125 per hour. 

SAG-AFTRA introduced a modified dubbing agreement in 2021. On a union dubbing gig, voice actors earn a minimum of $95 per hour, with two hours guaranteed, plus 50% of their original compensation a residuals. Base pay will increase to $99 per hour starting July 1, 2024, and to $103 per hour starting July 1, 2025.

Famous anime voice actors

Christopher Sabat

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Here are five prominent dubbers doing standout work in the field.

Laura Bailey: The Behind the Voice Actor Awards named Bailey Voice Actress of the Year in 2017. She’s won BVA Awards for “Dragon Ball Z Kai,” “Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods,” “Soul Eater Not!” and “Hellsing Ultimate,” among others. She also performs in video games (“Spider-Man 2,” “The Last of Us: Part II”) and on Western animated series (“The Legend of Vox Machina,” “DuckTales”).

Johnny Yong Bosch: Bosch provided the voice for Kaneda in the 2001 dub of Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s iconic anime film “Akira.” He’s won nine BVA Awards for projects including “Code Geass: Akito the Exiled 3—The Brightness Falls,” “Digimon Adventure tri. Part 1: Reunion,” “Bleach,” and “Durarara!!x2.”

Colleen Clinkenbeard: In addition to her work on “One Piece,” Clinkenbeard has won 10 BVA Awards for the likes of “My Hero Academia,” “Fairy Tail,” “Wolf Children,” and “Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos.”

Wendee Lee: Lee, who got her start working on iconic 1980s anime series like “Robotech” and “Barefoot Gen,” has lent her voice to a slew of major shows and movies over the past three decades—from “Sailor Moon” to “Cowboy Bebop” to “Naruto.” She also famously did the English dub of Scorpina on “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” in the 1990s. Lee has won four BVA Awards for “The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan,” “Blue Exorcist,” “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney—Dual Destinies,” and “Fire Emblem: Awakening.”

Christopher Sabat: This prolific VO actor has won a whopping 17 BVA Awards for his work on the “Dragon Ball Z” franchise, “My Hero Academia,” and “High School DxD.” He’s also lent his voice to animes like “Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury,” “One Piece,” and “Black Clover,” as well as video games (the “Final Fantasy” franchise, “Borderlands 3”) and Western animated series (“The Legend of Vox Machina,” “The Cyanide & Happiness Show”).

Clinkenbeard says that something that all of these performers have in common is their professional attitude in the booth. “These are people who bring talent and interesting voices, yes; but they get invited back because they are easy to work with, eager to give the director what they’re looking for, and understand the mechanics of dubbing on a fundamental level.”

Which anime companies are based in North America?

Crunchyroll

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There are a slew of production outlets in the U.S. and Canada devoted to releasing and/or creating anime. Here are a few of the major ones: 

AnimEigo: This Wilmington, North Carolina–based company was one of the first to bring anime to North American viewers, including shows like “Bubblegum Crisis” and “Gunsmith Cats.” AnimEigo also distributes Japanese live-action films like “Lone Wolf and Cub” and “Zatoichi.”

Aniplex of America: A subsidiary of Aniplex, Inc., which is itself a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment Japan, this Santa Monica–based outfit launched in 2005. AoA typically releases titles from its parent company to Blu-ray and Crunchyroll. Aniplex has produced prominent series including “Fullmetal Alchemist,” “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” and “Gurren Lagann.”

Crunchyroll: This global powerhouse launched in 2006 as a video-upload streaming site, founded by four students at the University of California, Berkeley. These days, Crunchyroll streams more than 1,000 anime series and boasts around 13 million subscribers. The company partnered with Funimation in 2016, which was absorbed by Sony in 2022. In addition to streaming massively popular titles like “One Piece” and “Blue Exorcist,” Crunchyroll began producing original series in 2020, including “In/Spectre” and “Gibiate.”

Rooster Teeth: Famed for producing the 2003 web series “Red vs. Blue,” this Austin-based company creates Western-style anime series like “gen:LOCK” and “Camp Camp.” Most significantly, Rooster Teeth produces the hugely popular anime series “RWBY” in 2013. The company’s YouTube account has more than 45 million subscribers.

Sentai Filmworks: This company was established in 2008 by John Ledford, picking up the pieces from his previous outfit, A.D. Vision, which he co-founded with Matt Greenfield in 1992; AMC Networks acquired Sentai in 2022. Sentai focuses on dubbing Japanese anime and other films from the Asian market, including “Lupin the 3rd Part 6,” “Saiyuki Gaiden,” and “Akame ga Kill!”

VIZ Media: This San Francisco–based distributor and studio has been a giant in the manga and comic market since its founding in 1986. VIZ expanded to release iconic anime titles like “One-Punch Man,” “Sailor Moon,” “Naruto,” and numerous “Pokémon” films.

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