Virtual YouTubers, or “VTubers” for short, have been around for a good few years at this point, but 2020 saw them explode in popularity among the English-speaking audience for a few key reasons: firstly, the fact that everyone was stuck at home starving for entertainment to get them through the day, and secondly, one of the biggest VTuber talent agencies in the world decided to open an English-first branch. But where does a newcomer begin with this sprawling new form of entertainment?
As with any form of media, a lot of it is down to your own personal tastes — and as with any form of online media specifically, there are a huge variety of creators out there ranging from big names to little-known hobbyists. Today we’ll be focusing on the former aspect, as that’s the easiest entry point for newcomers — but as you become more familiar with the VTuber way of doing things, be sure to take some time to support smaller, enthusiast creators, too! We’ll give them some specific love another time.
What the heck is a VTuber anyway?
Simply put, a VTuber is the same as any other kind of online video presenter — be they a pre-recorded YouTuber or a live Twitch streamer — with one important difference: instead of showing their real face on camera, they are represented by an animated character. Different VTubers handle this side of things differently: some have fully articulated 3D models that allow for a full range of expressive body motions, while others make use of the “Live2D” technology we often see in today’s Asian and Asian-inspired video games and visual novels, allowing two-dimensional artwork to be rigged up in such a way that it can appear like an animated three-dimensional model.
Today’s concept of VTubers originated back in 2011, when a YouTuber named Ami Yamato decided that she would represent herself on “camera” as a computer-generated avatar rather than live video. Yamato decided early on that she would never actually call attention to this fact; indeed, on one memorable occasion she played a joke on her audience by promising to reveal her “real” face, only to… well, see for yourself.
Despite still being active on YouTube until relatively recently, Yamato remains largely unknown in the grand landscape of all things VTuber, sadly; for many people, their first contact with VTubers was also one of the most well-known names in the medium.
Kizuna Ai burst onto the scene in 2016 with zero explanation, immediately coined the term “virtual YouTuber”, from which we get today’s “VTuber” descriptor — and which Yamato never described herself as — and set about entertaining the world. While her videos and streams have always been primarily in Japanese, an enthusiast community of subtitlers quickly sprang up around her work, making it accessible to a worldwide audience.
Kizuna Ai was — and still is — enjoyable for a variety of reasons: her chaotic energy, her endearingly flawed personality (and deliberate jankiness in the presentation of her 3D model at times) and the fact that, at the time she launched, she felt like an exceedingly on-the-nose parody of what being a “YouTuber” really meant. And she has successfully crossed the divide between “Internet entertainer” and “real world entertainer” on several occasions; since her debut, she has hosted TV shows, released a variety of music singles, appeared in video games such as Taito’s Groove Coaster Wai Wai Party!!!! — and even acted as an ambassador for the Japan National Tourism Organisation.
Dog girl Korone is part of the huge VTuber agency known as Hololive, and debuted in April of 2019. She quickly captured the hearts of a worldwide audience thanks to her sweet personality, fondness for goofy humour and loyalty to the people important to her. Her streams and videos have primarily been gaming-related; she has a particular fondness for older games, particularly those with interesting or amusing flaws that are entertaining to explore on stream.
Like Kizuna Ai, Korone’s streams are primarily Japanese, but again there is an enthusiastic community of subtitlers on YouTube keen to make her work accessible to a wider audience. On top of that, Korone herself has recognised the importance of her worldwide audience, and in more recent months has even started doing “English-Only” streams, many of which have been joyfully chaotic in nature.
Coco is another member of Hololive who, although starting as a Japanese-only performer, has grown to enjoy a worldwide audience. She is proficient in English, and can be heard using American English pronunciation for some words, leading some to believe that she is either an English native speaker with Japanese as a second language, or simply someone who has developed a strong level of fluency in the English language.
Coco became popular for her regular Reddit meme reviews and her daily AsaCoco Live News show. Like Korone, she is very much aware of her English-speaking audience, and has put out a number of videos completely in English. She also swears like a sailor.
Calliope Mori — “Calli” for short — was the first of Hololive’s English branch to debut in September of 2020. She immediately impressed everyone with her musical talents — not to mention the formidable “gap moe” between her adorably awkward personality and the absolute fire she spits on the microphone.
Like most of Hololive, Calli plays a lot of games on stream, but is also fond or casual, chilled-out streams where she just chats with her audience in a virtual “wine party”. She also frequently collaborates with the other Hololive members, and her Japanese skills mean she has also done a great job in bridging the gap between the English-first audience and the existing Japanese fanbase of Hololive as a broader concept.
Gura is the runaway success story of Hololive’s English branch, boasting nearly two million YouTube subscribers at the time of writing and enjoying the position of one of YouTube’s top earners. She’s proven popular due to her cute character design, entertaining mannerisms and friendly nature as well as the highly varied videos and streams she has made since her debut.
While she’s run into a few copyright-related issues with music games, which appear to be a real passion of hers, she remains a constantly positive presence, and any one of her videos makes a fine way to lift your mood if you’re feeling a bit blue.
Kiara set herself apart as one of the most seemingly natural entertainers of Hololive’s English group when she debuted in September of 2020. Her shows are constantly filled with joyfully exuberant energy, and her willingness to burst into song at any opportunity has made her a popular presence on the VTuber circuit. She’s also one of the Hololive English members that has been the most open and honest with her fans on social media — even during times when she felt like she was struggling a bit.
Kiara is fluent in both English and Japanese, and makes a deliberate effort to make her streams all-inclusive. She also speaks German — it’s highly likely it’s her first language — but she tends to reserve that for special occasions.
In many ways providing the polar opposite experience to the noisy energy of Kiara’s streams and videos, Ninomae Ina’nis — “Ina” for short — makes a point of providing comfy, cosy streams for anyone to enjoy. While she does a fair amount of gaming on her channel, it’s clear that her real passion — and talent — is art. Many of her streams allow her audience to watch her whole process as she works on various drawings, and many viewers have found themselves inspired to pick up a pencil themselves after watching her at work.
Ina’s streams and videos are where you should go when you want to relax; she rarely raises her voice, and there’s a delightfully “warm” feeling surrounding everything she does. Just watch out for those tentacles.
Ame thoroughly baffled everyone with her hallucinogenic debut stream, but quickly established herself in subsequent shows as another rather “comfy” streamer who is thoroughly pleasant to hang out with. That is, until you sit her down in front of a multiplayer first-person shooter; then her “gamer” side really starts to show itself!
When she’s not yelling at online teammates, Ame frequently shows herself to be an intelligent, thoughtful sort of person, and is rather fond of setting her viewers “homework” to discuss in subsequent streams. In the past she’s hosted an interesting discussion on dreams, and over the holiday season in 2020, she hosted a number of “watchalong” parties for a variety of different movies.
Self-confessed “rambunctious pervert” Projekt Melody actually came to prominence as a computer-generated adult entertainer, but subsequently branched out into somewhat more wholesome streams and videos on both Twitch and YouTube and towards the end of 2020 became a founder member of the English-first VTuber agency VShojo.
Her formidable combination of Dad joke-tier humour and absolute filth has helped her build an enthusiastic fanbase, known as the Science Team, and she very much enjoys interacting with her community on media sharing sessions, meme reviews and collaborative discussions. Her personality on stream is quite often endearingly dozy, which sometimes makes one wonder if she might be enjoying a tipple or two while performing — but Melody herself simply attributes this to the fact that she eats a lot of magnets. She is a sophisticated AI, after all, so what good would a bottle of booze do her?
Another founding member of VShojo, Nyanners’ videos run the gamut from video games with her friends to reviews of her community’s toilets. She has a fondness for making seal noises, the phrase “pee pee poo poo” and videos about people who look like they work in accounting absolutely destroying various objects with bladed weapons.
Like her peers in VShojo, Nyanners primarily streams on Twitch, but she has a dedicated editor who puts together 10-minute highlight videos on YouTube. These are a good way to get to know what she’s all about if you’re not quite ready to jump into a 3-hour stream with this chaotic catgirl!
Ironmouse is another founding member of VShojo, and a VTuber who came to prominence for her energetic, entertaining streams, her distinctively squeaky voice and her willingness to be open and honest with her audience. While most VTubers tend to keep the lives of the real person behind them and the character separate, Ironmouse has occasionally spoken about her struggles with a real-life health condition — and how VTubing allows her to connect with her friends and the world despite being bedridden.
Ironmouse’s streams are pretty varied and include gaming, chatting with the audience, singing and voice acting. Like Nyanners, she has a highlights channel on YouTube that gives you a good opportunity to get to know her before sitting down for a whole stream.
Another founding member of VShojo, Silvervale has a lot in common with Projekt Melody in that she combines a distinctly wholesome, comfy atmosphere to her shows with a fondness for lewd jokes and sexual references. When working together with Melody and Ironmouse on their regular “LewdCast”, one often feels like Silvervale takes on the role of “group mum” — but she’s more than willing to let loose when the time is right, too.
While Silvervale’s primary output is gaming and chatting streams, she’s also a talented user of the popular MMD software; her YouTube channel features a variety of virtual music videos that she animated herself.
Froot, also known variously as Apricot the Lich, Bittersweet Apricot and BSApricot, is one of two VShojo founding members who had not debuted prior to the establishing of the agency; at the time of writing, the last remaining member, Hime Hajime, is yet to debut. Froot (as we’ll refer to her hereafter) is a softly-spoken, gentle sort of person who contrasts nicely with the high-energy, noisy nature of the other VShojo members, and her streams often involve enjoyably chilled-out activities such as drawing as well as the usual gaming and chatting.
She also specifically sets aside time during her streams for her viewers to go and make a cup of tea — perhaps because she’s also an avid tea drinker, too. Definitely a fine VTuber with whom to settle down for a nice cosy night in!
So there you have it: 13 great VTubers with a ton of past work to sink your teeth into, ideal for newcomers to get a feel for this exciting new medium of online entertainment.
Now it’s over to you, grizzled VTuber veterans — who are some other VTubers out there that you would love to see get some more love and attention? Let us know, as always, down in the comments!