In the world of TV animation, many a cartoon barely makes it past it's second season. We've seen countless projects with big potential die over the years while pony has been over here truckin' along. It's a competitive field filled with entertainment options, and very few survive. Even some of the most popular shows out there don't have the humongous fandom backing pony ended up with.
Lets not forget that pony exclusively airs on a relatively uncommon channel to top it off. Juggernauts like Cartoon Network and Disney have a lot more power in the TV world, and still see their shows not pick up any kind of steam with exponentially more eyeballs watching.
So, what sets Friendship is Magic apart? Why has it been so successful where others failed? Time to dive in! Editorial below!
Equestria Is an Awesome World
From the earliest days of season one, we have had an incredible, equine dominated world to explore. Equestria is one giant mishmash of greek mythology, high fantasy, real life, and even a bit of Steampunk. From the gigantic cloud palaces of Cloudsdale to the parody towns like Manehattan, there really is just an endless supply of interesting locations to explore. It's both relatable in a way that makes it easy to get into, and foreign enough to stay mysterious enough to keep coming back.
Things like the need for weather ponies to control the seasons, three races with completely different major strengths butting heads, and godlike princesses manipulating the heavens, are all writing prompts that would promote incredibly interesting stories on their own. Adding the need for a majority of the residents of said world to manipulate objects with hooves brings us to the next topic...
The Pony Model is Super Appealing and Easy to Draw!
Lauren Faust absolutely nailed it when designing these cartoon horses. The giant, expressive eyes combined with chubby bellies, round flanks, and cute overall proportions make them some of the most appealing animal based character models out there. The faces give them the ability to produce a wide range of human emotions while adding an extra layer via ears flopping around and flowy tails.
Thanks to these features, they quickly became the go-to choice for anyone at all interested in the show to use as image macros on the internet. A tidal wave of pony-based memes slammed just about every forum, blog, comment section, and community out there. It's not as rampant today, but in its first few years, you really couldn't go anywhere without at least seeing someone with a giant anime-eyed horse avatar.
It also exploded in the world of geeky art. While many other aspects of the fandom have slowed down over the years, this one is still going astonishingly strong. Ponies are super easy to draw on a basic level, making the barrier of entry small, but they also have a ton of potential for professional artists to roll in and take them further.
While not always the most loved if that poll on the side bar is any indication, even the darker, "watch it for the plot" side of brony dominates, with many sites getting completely flooded and spreading it even further. To this day, it's still in the top 4 most popular cartoons for people looking for the weirder things on the internet.
The "Original Character"
OC ponies had a somewhat rocky start due to the fear of MLP heading the direction of the sonic fandom. Even to this day, we see a lot of negative feedback when the two crossover in a way that isn't really well done. Luckily we have an incredibly awesome armada of older and more experienced artists to avoid the MSPAINT flood that prevails in any search of "Sonic OC". You can see the difference pretty clearly just googling it:
Because of this, they quickly became widely accepted, and while we were sitting around waiting for more things to do with canon ponies, we had a massive boon of ask tumblr blogs, fanfiction, and fan-animations creating characters on par with even official ones. I know quite a few people that only stick around for Fallout Equestria related things, or are only involved in the "OC" community auctioning off their designs and drawing for people.
With pony creator programs making it easy to build a base (and hopefully commission one of the numerous awesome artists to make it look good!), a huge amount of people involved in the "Brony" world eventually adopted their personal OCs. It adds another layer of attachment that other fandoms don't have.
Incredibly relatable characters
The debate of "best pony" has always been a fundamental part of being involved in Friendship is Magic. We have seven mane characters, each with completely different personality types relatable to different people. Those coming in with a love for adorable quiet girls instantly fell for Fluttershy. The geeks like myself felt one with introvert Twilight Sparkle and her need for books over parties. Add on the massive storylines we built behind background and one-shot or incidental ponies, and there really is an equine for everyone.
And on a slightly stranger side, the Japanese "Waifu" phenomenon popped up in a good amount of the more active online fandom areas, with people fiercely defending their favorites, be they pony or humanized. As silly as this concept may be, anything that forms an extra layer of attachment to an intellectual property is good if you want it to last. For a more mainstream gaming example, a lot of people joke around that Overwatch is just Team Fortress 2 with Waifus, and in some ways it really does mine that viral marketing even better because of the strong female characters.
It doesn't really matter what side you land on. None of us would be here without the next point:
Youtube and ease of access
Hasbro is new to the modern day media game, and didn't have any of the protections in place that companies like Disney or Cartoon Network had. While we have seen an increase in take-downs over the last few years of both streams and some fan content, the early days were largely un-policed. You could hop right on over to Youtube and watch all of season one for almost a year. There was no barrier to entry at all. Even now, they don't really go after many of the Saturday stream events. I think only two of 20 or so have been shut down.
The world is changing, and more and more people are dropping cable. A lot of kids out there are literally growing up on just Youtube videos for their day-to-day watchings. Pony has a MASSIVE presence over there with them. Many aren't even aware sites like EQD exist!
When something gets lucky and hits the Youtube algorithm lottery, it is spread absolutely everywhere, and pony does it all the time. It's constantly in recommended videos and autoplays. This is excellent news for the show.
Remember, Hasbro's #1 goal here is to sell toys. Advertising revenue from the show itself isn't the focus. While they do accidentally drop a ContentID bomb every once in a while, pony is still widely available just about everywhere. With the call to release the 4th Equestria Girls movie on Netflix first over Discovery Family, it's pretty obvious that they are more than alright with Friendship is Magic being an internet thing.
I've already touched on this one a few times in the last five points, but it's by far the most important. There are loads of super successful cartoons out there, but only a handful have ever done what pony does. Our fandom is right up there with juggernauts like Pokemon for activity, and probably surpasses it in many areas.
Thousands of fan works are created every week even 6 years later. Writers are actively producing entire novel-length pony epics over on our specialized fanfiction website. Video editors are busting out PMVs to pretty much every major song out there watched by millions. Animators are creating entire episodes. Artists are taking the already adorable pony model and making it even better. The list goes on.
Pony wouldn't be anywhere near as successful without the swarms of you creating things. I love Rick and Morty, but outside of the seasons there isn't a whole lot to do with it. Friendship is Magic on the other hand has conventions all over the world during any time of the year, and enough content to keep everyone entertained daily. This is why we are still around, and why a site like EQD can even exist. I like to hope we helped spur it, but the reality is, the fandom's creatives are the real heroes. Any other show would kill for this kind of exposure.
There are so many reasons why this show is as successful and long lasting as it is. Not many series hit the number of seasons we are at right now. Season 7 is all but guaranteed with DHX still plugging away over there in Canada, and Hasbro doesn't seem to be showing any signs of slowing down.
I might do a part two of this, as already I'm thinking of more things I wanted to talk about here. Feel free to drop any ideas in the comments! Why do you think pony is so successful?