The biggest sign that the virtual YouTuber ecosystem was leveling up in 2022 was the moment when a prominent creator stepped down.

Kizuna AI, a pioneer in this avatar-centric space, went on “indefinite hiatus” in February after five years of entertaining netizens as an online personality. The Japanese digital character’s departure marked an end of an era, but what made it all the more significant was how VTubing simply kept on growing even as a towering figure that helped build this world ceded the stage.

Once a corner of the internet for cozy content, YouTube challenges and the occasional song, virtual YouTubers now appear in nearly every form of modern media. Creators all over the globe have adopted anime-style avatars to create music, stream video games, become camgirls, just chat or, sometimes, a little of each.