Art is awesome. The popularity of features like Best Art Ever (This Week), websites like DeviantArt, and the incredible comics-related presence on Tumblr is proof positive of that. People -- comics fans and otherwise -- clearly love to see cool pictures. Obvious, right? But still true. Artists who've never seen a dime from major comics companies or animation studios can gain fame just by putting up a cool portrait. But there's one hitch: the vast majority of the pop-culture-inspired or original art we see online comes from American sources. What about, say, Japan? Enter PIXIV, a massive Japanese imageboard, and UDON Entertainment's PIXIV Almanac, a beautiful artbook with a nice selection of works from PIXIV.Note: Some links may lead to non-worksafe content. They don't at the time this post is going live, but things change on the internet. Click at your own risk.

A little background first, and then we'll get into the preview images. Earlier this year, PIXIV broke 4 million users and 24.5 million works after being open since late 2007. PIXIV has even launched a beta version of an English-language interface, though the majority of the works still have Japanese descriptions. "Sure," you're saying, "That's nice, but that's no indicator of quality." You're right, but that's pretty impressive growth, no matter how you slice it. There's got to be something there to draw in so many people in less than five years.

If I had to put some brainpower to it, I'd say that the in-depth tagging system is what makes PIXIV so attractive. If you're curious about Eiichiro Oda's hit manga One Piece, you can search for the title of the series in Japanese and come up with (at the moment) nearly 60,000 pieces of fanart. You can also search for One Piece, in English, and still come up with 36,000 pieces of art. If you want something more American in flavor, try searching for "Avengers." Do you prefer vintage works? Try this collection of fanart from Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma 1/2.

It's easy to find things on PIXIV. You can kill a lunch break thinking of series to look for and art to gawk over. But on top of that, PIXIV has a large social aspect. The person who created the image is always identified -- a feature Tumblr currently lacks, much to the chagrin of every single artist I know (and Best Art Ever editor Andy Khouri) -- in addition to other data like views and ratings. You can view other works by the artist and things that they've bookmarked. Think of it like trawling through liner notes for a CD, looking for musicians that your favorite musician likes so that you can discover the new hotness. It's a little different in execution, but that's one way that PIXIV works.

PIXIV, to make a long story shorter, is both a fanart delivery system and an artist delivery system. The creator or creators of the works we enjoy are becoming increasingly prominent in our conversations, rather than the works themselves taking the lead, and PIXIV makes it a point to keep the creator tied with his or her work. If someone draws a dope picture of Mega Man, you can see what else he's drawn ("Oh, he likes Lupin the Third, too!") and what he's into ("Wow, these pictures of Hatsune Miku are amazing!") and then fall down a very enjoyable rabbit hole of new art and new artists.

UDON's PIXIV Almanac, to bring it right back around, takes a ton of those images -- created by people from Japan, Korea, and around the world -- and collects them into a beautiful art book. I've had a chance to take a look between its pages, and even if you don't like everything, you're going to find a dozen images that'll knock your socks off. There's incredible linework, coloring, composition, and more to be found. It's not just a plain artbook, either. PIXIV Almanac provides some background info on Hatsune Miku, a virtual idol who has sold out real-life concerts, and info on every artist in the book, including their PIXIV ID so that you can easily find more of their work online. The book's as great as the actual website, just in a convenient form for you to draw inspiration from or show off to your friends. That's the main draw for artbooks for me: getting a fresh blast of inspiration to motivate me to do better at whatever I'm working on.

Below, we've got a 13-page preview of the PIXIV Almanac. I hope you enjoy it. You can find the book in better comic shops and bookstores everywhere, or you can check out UDON's handy links for ordering it online.