Basically in anime a “loli” is any cute girl under the age of 18. It seems like there are dozens of anime that sexualize lolis. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of anime where they don’t, but there seems to be more that do. Why?
Well, first “dozens” is an extreme underestimate. And the age should be considerably below 18 (I’d think that 13 would be pushing it for someone to be considered a loli.) There is tons of lolicon media out there, but I don’t think it represents a wide interest in Japanese society, just a niche market willing to spend lots of money on it. There are plenty of other niche anime/manga segments with different obsessions. And while there is definitely a large amount of media that sexualizes loli, there is probably more that features them in a (mostly) non-sexual way as Japanese society favors youth and innocence and cuteness in their girls and women.
I find the combination of the OP’s username and incredulousness regarding a sexual fetish quite amusing.
Yeah, I noticed that after posting.
I sometimes hear western anime fans go on about anime being popular mainstream entertainment among adults in Japan. It’s not.
By and large, adults in Japan, with jobs, homes, families and responsibilities, don’t watch anime. It’s very much a niche interest, and adults who are into it are not really viewed as emotionally mature or well-adjusted by the general public.
Sexualized anime is even more so.
Sexualized anime of minors (which is what ‘loli’ refers to in Japanese. It derives from Lolita, after all) is even further outside the norm, and would generally be considered evidence of an unhealthy, potentially dangerous, mind.
I suspect that’s also a simplification- 4 of the all time top 10 highest-grossing films in Japan, including the #1, are anime. That sounds pretty mainstream, especially as although I would guess that translates as many people watching the occasional anime rather than it being acceptable to be a huge fan.
“Anime” covers a huge range of material - everything from the most obscure niche sexual content to serious dramatic storytelling like Grave of the FireFlies or The Wind Rises. I suspect it’s popular in Japan in the same way that comic-book superheroes are in the US: most well-adjusted adults don’t have posters or stacks of comic books or DVDs in their home, but they enjoy the occasional major-studio feature-length film. As Filbert has pointed out, some of the highest-grossing films in Japan have been anime.
FWIW, the anime version of Heidi made such an impression that a lot of Japanese people travel to Switzerland to see the places the movie is based on:
I often check out the Find Your Love In Japan YouTube channel, in which the creator speaks about Japanese cultural issues and/or interviews random people on the streets of Japan for their perspective. By coincidence, today he posted this video: