A robotic cat that can travel through time and can pull anything basically anything he needs out of his pouch. (If you're wondering why he has no ears, it's because mice thought they were cheese and ate them while he was asleep. That's also why Doraemon is deathly afraid of mice). Doraemon was born in 1969 and quickly earned a place in Japanese households. The franchise has continued to flourish, and the most recent Doraemon movie helped push the robot cat ahead of Godzilla for the most watched character in Toho movie history. Needless to say, you will inevitably run into this friendly Japanese icon during your travels.
No superhero captures both the tragedy of war-torn Japan and the hopefulness of the postwar era like Anpanman. Inspired by memories of starvation while a child trying to survive during World War II, Anpanman's creator Takashi Yanase wanted to create a superhero with a simple but important purpose: end hunger and fight disease. Anpanman is a superhero whose head is made of Anpan, or bread filled with bean paste. His fellow heroes include Currypanman (curry bread) and Melonpan girl (Melon bread), and collectively, they fight Baikinman (baikin means germ). Anpanman has been a hero for Japanese children and adults alike since 1973, and you will come across many museums (like the giant Anpanman Museum in Kochi City pictured below), stores, and merchandise dedicated to this important cultural icon.
8) Golgo 13
9) Kenshiro (Hokuto no Ken--Fist of the North Star)
And last but not least...
Perhaps the single most important cartoon character for the average Japanese household, she may be the least recognizable to most travelers because she looks just like any cartoon depiction of a middle-aged Japanese woman. But that was always the point with Sazae-san--she and her family are supposed to represent all Japanese families and the comedy comes from the ups-and-downs to which almost anyone in the country could relate. The Sazae-san comic was born in the immediate aftermath of WWII in 1946, but it was the cartoon that began airing in 1969 that captivated the nation. Sazae-san is the longest running cartoon series of all time, and you can still watch it on the weekends if you pop on the TV when you're here in Japan.