In a year in which Walt Disney struggled with expensive flops and audiences finally fell out of love with superhero movies, Japan scored a best-ever series of soft-power hits.

Little by little, the country is getting better at pitching its copious wares overseas, and 2023 proved that. From Super Mario’s domination at the theater to Netflix adaptation of best-selling manga "One Piece," it was a year when audiences demonstrated their increasing fondness for the soft-power superpower.

With "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," Nintendo’s tie-up with "Minions" creator Illumination Entertainment, the Kyoto-based video game maker scored the second-highest grossing movie of the year worldwide, beaten only by Warner Bros. Discovery’s "Barbie." Nintendo is the prime example of a Japanese company with a world-class library of intellectual properties that it has, until now, been content not to exploit. That’s starting to change: The "Mario" film ties in to Donkey Kong, the ape who’ll be at the center of the expanded area opening in Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan theme park early next year.