Tony Weaver Jr. believes — really, fully believes — in the power of storytelling.
It’s at the center of everything he does, from his production company to his manga series, The Uncommons, to his work in schools around the country. For Weaver, stories are their own kind of superpower.
“Everything that I do is rooted in the power of stories and the belief that I have that stories can really change the world for the better,” Weaver told In The Know.
It’s been like that since Weaver was a kid, long before he had the influence or resources to share his work. His mom was a math teacher, and his dad was a newspaper delivery man. From his childhood home in Atlanta, he watched every day as that power revealed itself.
“I grew up in a place where stories were really important, and I grew up in a place where education was really important,” Weaver explained. “So, as a result, they inadvertently created this environment where I was always exploring all of these different worlds.”
But as Weaver got older and started writing his own stories — namely ones influenced by the manga, anime and graphic novels he loved — he realized just how difficult it was to break into the space. Black creators were, and still are, largely underrepresented in the genre.
“I wanted the freedom to tell stories that I thought mattered,” Weaver said. “And I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me in the stories that I grew up watching.”
Weaver’s emergence as an artist coincided directly with his desire to change the kind of stories told through manga and anime — and, just as crucially, who’s doing the telling. The Uncommons, which follows a West African girl with the power to see energies and visions, is a story explicitly about the power of being different.
“To defeat the king who sees us as commoners … all we have to do is be uncommon,” an early passage from the series reads. “By focusing on what makes us powerful, we’ll find solutions all our own.”
And then there’s Weaver’s TikTok page. Describing himself as the app’s “CEO of The Sacred Texts,” the creator has developed into an authority on all things anime. His videos jump seamlessly between news, humor and sharp cultural analysis. One day, he’s giving spoken word birthday wishes to voice actor Zeno Robinson, and the next, he’s explaining how the late actor Sidney Poitier broke down racial barriers in anime.
Weaver’s work has impacted countless young people. The Uncommons has now reached over a million readers, and his production group, Weird Enough, has brought creative educational programs into dozens of schools nationwide.
Yet, in some ways, he sees even greater potential on TikTok. It’s a place that, in Weaver’s words, has the ability to “define culture.” He points to the app’s influence on music as an example: These days, the line between TikTok Famous and Actual Famous is near-nonexistent.
“If you are able to make something pop on TikTok, it pops everywhere else,” Weaver said.
Weaver certainly has a knack for the content. His TikTok page now has nearly 600,000 followers, and he was recently named to the platform’s Black Trailblazers list. His focus, he told In The Know, isn’t just creating a space for anime fans to come together — it’s about making sure that space supports all kinds of anime fans.
He contrasts his goals with mainstream forums like anime conventions, which have a history of racist incidents and scandals that Weaver thinks have left many Black fans feeling unwelcome. In 2019, Black attendees made up just 2% of the crowd at major North American anime conventions.
“I think there would be a lot more Black people — a lot more people of color — in the nerd community if they felt safe in that fandom,” Weaver said. “But a lot of times, they don’t, because they go dressed up as a character who’s not canonically Black, and they get called variations of that character’s name with the n-word in it. They get shunned from groups. They don’t get the same support.”
It’s one of the major reasons Weaver tries to spotlight the relationship between Black culture and anime.
Take his viral TikTok on Poitier, for example. In the clip, Weaver explains how the performer, who was the first-ever Black American to win Best Actor at the Oscars, paved the way for Black representation in anime.
His hope is that, by educating more and more viewers about diverse stories, he can create a space where everyone feels welcome.
“You’ve gotta call out where things are going wrong in order to create a safe space where people are able to show up,” he added.
Still, Weaver notes that representation is just “level one” of a long, uphill campaign. He can use his videos to argue for diverse casting in franchise reboots, or to ruminate over which Black history figures deserve their own anime, but the next step has to come from the audience.
“Some people need the context to understand, ‘Hey, this is why a manga with a Black woman leading the story is important,’” Weaver said. “We can create the representation, but what’s important is that we have people show up and support it.”
Weaver’s ultimate goal is for that representation to spread beyond just fandom. He also aims to champion diverse creators, using his page to provide an in-depth look at the creative process.
When reflecting on his own career, he’s struck by how much he didn’t know. Now, he wants younger people to enter the industry with more knowledge, more confidence and greater access.
“For so many Black creators and other creators of color, it’s not that we don’t have the ideas,” Weaver said. “It’s that the institutions to get these ideas produced are so vast and confusing, that if we don’t have anybody holding our hand … a lot of times, those ideas just end up on the cutting room floor.”
For any writer looking to break into anime, comics or content creation in general, it’s hard to find a better mentor than Weaver. In addition to his writing and all his other projects, he’s worked as a voice actor and is in the process of turning his manga into a full anime series.
Soon, he’ll also be releasing his first full-length graphic novel, called Weirdo. The semi-autobiographical story is rooted in Weaver’s experience growing up as a “weird Black kid” obsessed with anime and nerd culture.
Parts of Weaver’s childhood were difficult, and, in the book, mental health is a major focus. Weaver knows there are countless other kids out there who are like he was — driven and creative but looking for a sense of belonging. As with everything he does, he hopes the book can make them feel seen.
“My thought process has always been, ‘How do I create a lane for myself that allows me to tell the stories that I want to tell?’” Weaver said. “And to create a path for other people to tell the stories they want to tell.”
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