Bilibili is China’s biggest anime streaming site, as well as one of the country’s biggest video-sharing sites. The Shanghai-based company markets itself as the online home for fans of ACG: Anime, comics and gaming.

Often known simply as the B-site by fans, Bilibili is now a Nasdaq-listed media juggernaut. But when it first started out in 2009, it was a scrappy little place for millennials and Gen Z to watch Japanese anime (mostly illegal and unlicensed).

But what sets Bilibili apart from other video sites is its signature style of viewer comments, called bullet comments.

What are bullet comments? They are basically one-line comments contributed by viewers that float directly above the video you’re watching. It’s like they’re screaming for your attention.

It’s hard to keep track of what’s happening… or even watch the videos. (Picture: Bilibili)

Bullet comments can either be in real-time, or comments left by previous viewers pegged to specific moments of a video. In short, it’s like Twitch’s chat but superimposed directly upon the footage itself.

Similar to Twitch, people go to Bilibili for the community as much as the videos themselves. It gives Bilibili an edge because users say they feel like they’re watching their favorite shows with friends.

(Yes, bullet comments can seem pretty distracting… or maybe even borderline unhinged at times. But you do have the option to disable them.)

While Bilibili is often credited for popularizing bullet comments, it was Japanese video site Niconico which pioneered this format. It wasn’t even the first Chinese site to do it: Bilibili founder Xu Yi was a fan of an earlier site called Acfun, nicknamed A-site. But Xu thought he could make a site better than Acfun and, ta-da, Bilibili was born.

As of March 2018, Bilibili has 76 million monthly active users (with 2.5 million paying for their subscription), a professional esports club and a convention which fans paid up to US$200 per ticket to attend.

Bilibili’s frontman is a TV meme and its frontwomen two blue-haired schoolgirls inspired by Japanese icon Hatsune Miku. (Picture: Bilibili)

As Bilibili grows bigger and bigger, it’s increasingly finding itself under government scrutiny. Unlicensed or borderline pornographic content caused the site to be publicly criticised by state media. In July, the app was even taken down by the government temporarily.

Bililbili in turn has been working to legitimize and rebrand itself as a serious content provider, rather than some free-for-all video-sharing site. It’s been getting the exclusive streaming licenses for many big-name Japanese anime. But it’s expanding beyond anime too, partnering up with Discovery to put more documentaries on the site. It’s also venturing into game publishing, launching its first games on Steam in 2018.