If you aren’t on a first-name basis with Ryan Kaji, the endlessly enthusiastic star of the Ryan’s World YouTube channel, then you’re either over the age of 7 or you don’t have children. Over the past six years, millions of parents and kids alike have become semipermanent residents of Ryan’s World, where every day is a blur of colorful animation, silly live-action sketches, DIY science experiments, and a lot of toys. The channel started in March 2015 when a then toddler-aged Ryan asked his parents, Shion and Loann Kaji, why he wasn’t on YouTube like the kids who seemed to live on the other side of his computer screen. They thought, “What the heck,” filmed a couple of iPhone videos of Ryan excitedly unboxing a new train set, and posted them online. Within a year, their channel was already one of YouTube’s most viewed.
Ryan, now 10 years old, has since become the King of Kidfluencers: He’s topped the list of the highest-paid YouTube stars for three years running. What started with Loann’s iPhone has turned into a 30-person production company called Sunlight Entertainment that helps write, film, and edit content for the family’s nine separate YouTube channels. Ryan has since scored his own line of toys and dozens of licensing deals for other merch; spinoff shows on both Nickelodeon and Amazon Kids; and a 42-foot-tall balloon of his Red Titan alter ego that happily floated over last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s Ryan’s World, all right: The rest of us just live in it.