Anime isn't mainstream because, well, look at the anime being shown this season and only a few would actually be shown in USA due to political and social standards. Here we are used to LOLSORANDUMBXDD episodic cartoons targeted to children and teenagers while Nips make shit like moe, harem, shounen, etc. with either self-insert MCs or little girls that appeases the otaku culture over there. Most American "otaku" enjoy shounen also due to the expectations that everything will be like DBZ, Pokemon, Naruto, and in lesser cases, Bleach, Inuyasha, Death Note, and One Piece.
East Asian culture does not mesh well at all with Western culture. Works from East Asia that have mass appeal in the West, like video games, are either characteristically simple, or are specifically adapted to a Western audience (ex. Woolseyism).
To successfully import anime to the masses in the West, the show must lose its esoterically Japanese aspects, or lack those aspects initially. The former is actually pretty rare to gain mass appeal, but the watered-down image of Japanese culture is common in translated works like the CLANNAD and Lucky Star dubs. The latter stretches the spectrum, from shonen shows like Naruto and Bleach, to Pokemon, to Death Note, to SNK, to Cowboy Bebop; all these shows do not require a Japanese context to be appreciated.
The biggest exception would be Miyazaki films and other "artsy" anime. Individuals on /a/ may disagree with this, but I believe such films cross cultural barriers because they are well made, meaningful, and have a universal import. Spirited Away, for example, might feature heavy influence of Japanese culture in its setting and the characters, but the film develops the characters without a Japanese stereotype, as is very common in anime.
In short, the anime which is popular in the West is popular either due to the impressive quality of the work, or the generalization of the work.
TLDR It tends to either be shit which does not suit /a/'s taste, like DBZ, or stuff which /a/ does not consider to be "true", otaku-approved anime, like Miyazaki.
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