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My common sense says no. If someone took a piece of paper and a pencil and drew some very detailed pictures of 2D anime people. It feels insane that that would be enough to constitute felony possession.

This entire wikipedia list suggest otherwise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_status_of_cartoon_pornography_depicting_minors#18_USC_1466A where it looks like several individuals were convicted only on the possession of drawings.

Certainly, if an artist is using technology to image real minors into his artwork, then that would be a common sense violation of the law. But that doesn't appear to be the case.

Clearly there must be some line separating safe and illegal between the extreme examples.

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One relevant US law is Title 18 Chapter 110. Using real children in porn is against the law, as is most anything connected to it (permitting children to do it, distributing, buying...). Under the definitions (18 USC 2256(1)) “minor” means any person under the age of eighteen years. The possible hook for cartoons is via the definition of “child pornography” which is

any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where— ...

(B) such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or

(C) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

My guess is that hentai doesn't satisfy this definition, since I hear that the characters in a cartoon don't actually look like real people.

However: there are also general laws against obscenity in some jurisdictions, and in US v. Whorley, it was held that you can still be convicted of receiving obscene material (Japanese child porn cartoons) – SCOTUS refused to hear an appeal. Most cases that are prosecuted also involve real child porn, or plea bargaining. In light of Whorley, it hasn't been definitively determined that hentai is against the law, but the first step has been taken.

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This gives a nation by nation summary.

Laws in the US are ambiguous because they run into First Amendment rights. There are laws that make such images illegal (and the creation, possession and distribution criminal) if they are sexually explicit and obscene (which is a term defined by State law) OR represent sexual intercourse and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. There is a line - it is not clear.

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