Anime and manga as a hobby are both easy to pick up and hard to get further into.
A lot of the anime jargon used in discussion is from Japanese words and aren’t seen outside of anime communities, so how do I get in the loop?
You probably know your “nani”s and all that stuff you non-baka. so we’re going deeper. You tend to pick up on that memetic stuff on your own anyway, not to mention it’s not that useful on the daily.
this list will tell you the important otaku terms, and Japanese phrases that you’ll be seeing anime fans use online, in a mix of definitions and online slang in anime discussion.
Whether you’re new to anime or you know your stuff, this list is for you. It’s a longer read than usual, so feel free to bookmark this page and read it at your own pace.
Many of these terms have useful resources, interesting facts and history, covering everything from simple stuff to less common words that might set you down a new rabbit hole. I think you’ll get a lot out of it!
Term for voice actors/actresses in anime. When referring to the Japanese voices in English speaking circles, seiyuu is used over the more general words voice actor or VA.
There are also some other differences, like how seiyuu’s roles are considered almost sacred and even over many decades, the same seiyuu will be attached to the same characters.
A fairly interchangeable term for manga artist/author. Often known for working fast with harsh deadlines, unless you’re Kentaro Miura.
The best insight into the fascinating work lives of mangaka is the documentary series Manben, created by Naoki Urasawa, mangaka of Monster and 20th Century Boys.
Urasawa and his team set up cameras to document the drawing and creative process of different mangaka, talking about techniques and interviewing them about their process. It’s a great watch, I highly recommend it!
This one is Mipon’s specialty!
Anime pilgrimages are when you visit the real-life locations featured in anime. Unlike western animation, much of anime is set in real world cities and towns in Japan and show specific landmarks, streets, train stations, and other locations.
Anime fans in Japan and from around the world find these locations and make the pilgrimage to where anime meets the real world.
Short-length modern Japanese pulp fiction with an anime twist. Starting in the mid-2000s with hit light novels like Boogiepop and Others and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, light novels began as a way to sell niche and out of the ordinary stories to a less traditional audience.
The light novel of today is more of a mainstream thing, having really taken off with Sword Art Online. Since then, light novels have also gotten more and more anime adaptations, rivaling even manga adaptations.
Derived from the word “moeru” or “to burn”, moe refers not necessarily to a character, but to the feeling the viewer gets when seeing such a character, the cuteness that lights your heart on fire with a desire to protect or cherish something cute.
If you reeeally want to deep dive into the nuance and history of moe in anime culture, I suggest picking up Patrick W. Galbraith’s The Moe Manifesto: An Insider’s Look at the Worlds of Manga, Anime, and Gaming.
“Wife” with a Japanese pronunciation, this word began as a way to call a character your wife, implying some special romantic connection to that one character.
That said, as the years went by, it’s gone on to mean something closer to “best girl” used liberally to say you like one of the girls. Nowadays, it’s also often used for multiple characters across different shows, again, like how people use “best girl”.
That said, long time otaku will stand up and fight you in the name of monogamy, justice, and the name of the lord if you say you have more than one waifu, so tread carefully. Bonus track: Raichu Fandisc – Raichu is My Wife
Is Mai Sakurajima the most gorgeous waifu? Let me know in the comments below, who is your waifu?
“Husband” with a Japanese pronunciation. Not much to be said for this one, it’s just waifu for male characters. Sounds funny.
A genre term for homoerotic stories, girls in yuri and dudes in yaoi. Also called girl’s love or boy’s love respectively, and commonly shortened to BL for the latter.
These can be genres in the same way comedy and action are genres, but can also be the entire crux of a story and be its sole reason for existence, common in doujinshi.
Fanmade and self-published short manga sold at events like Comiket. A lot of it’s porn manga, but a lot of it isn’t. There are also non-narrative doujinshi like small art books and animation compilations published by famous artists in the industry. It’s a very big and important part of anime culture in Japan that’s pretty much non-existent in the west.
For more info on doujinshi and Japan’s biggest anime event Comiket, check out Mipon’s article all about it.
A word that’s taken on slightly different connotations in anime than elsewhere, blown up in use because of characters like Astolfo from Fate Apocrypha or Hideri Kanzaki from Blend S.
It’s when a character looks like or dresses like the opposite gender, usually with the idea that you don’t know, hence the word “trap”. It’s used most commonly with guys dressed like girls, and “reverse trap” is used for the opposite.
An important one! A word referring to some degree of obsession or single-mindedness in something. It has a negative connotation and is generally for nerdier things.
While English speakers usually use otaku as an anime-specific phrase, you can also be an idol otaku or train otaku.
Otaku also holds a sort of prideful badge of honor type of connotation in the west, much like what “nerd” has become. However, the otaku phenomenon of social recluses and outcasts has historically been a subject of social concern and fear for many years in Japan.
In a country where the nail sticking out gets hammered down, otaku are often seen as counterproductive to social good. A huge turning point for this was in 1988 with a series of serial kidnappings and murders by Tsutomu Miyazaki, who went down in history as “The Otaku Murderer”, as news media attributed his crimes to his neglected upbringing and acting out of violent fantasy he saw in anime and movies.
This poor outlook on otaku continued for decades until the 2005 romcom movie Densha Otoko about a nerdy guy became a hit in Japan and ended up massively improving public perception.
In modern day Japan, the word otaku is still associated with social ills far beyond what “nerd” meant a few decades ago in the west, and is both a controversial term, as well as something taken pride in by otaku who understand what it is and live that life. It’s a word that can be used somewhat lightly, as well as a word with some deeper negative connotations.
A mostly derogatory word used by western anime fans to describe people who are deluded by anime and end up acting in an embarrassing way, often used to make fun of people who act like they know all about Japan when they really don’t.
Recently though, its definition has softened up a bit, and is often used to refer to one’s self as an anime fan in a sort of self deprecating way. Personally I’m not too big a fan of this one, I think it’s pretty weak to tint the things you like with irony because of your insecurities, but it’s definitely something that means different things to different people.
A word to refer to units of Japanese TV broadcasting in three month chunks.
Sort of like when we refer to a season of a TV series, this is a very literal and consistent version of that, a literal exact fourth of a year. For anime, a 12 episode series is one cour, a 24 episode series is two cour, and so on.
Meaning young boy, the shonen anime and manga genre targets a teen male audience. The weekly manga magazine, Shonen Jump is of course the leader in shounen series, having produced countless classics since its first issue in 1968.
Other magazines also contribute to the broad and expansive shonen genre, like Monthly Shonen Ace or Weekly Shonen Champion. Anime and manga is often targeted at teen males, and with so much of it falling in that target audience, it pretty much loses all meaning as a definitive genre.
While shonen in the west generally refers to the most popular of the genre, the action series that get adapted, dubbed and aired outside of Japan, it’s also important to consider shonen as a huge all encompassing label.
It might not seem all that useful to use it that way, but that’s its real definition.
Basically refers to a spinoff work, or other kinds of side stories.
For western fans, translation is a big part of the hobby. When anime comes unsubtitled, or when manga is untranslated, this is often called raw.
Filler and non-canon
Manga adaptations into anime notoriously run into the issue where the studio runs out of manga source material to adapt, and has to create anime original content with varying levels of involvement from the original mangaka.
When the mangaka is left out of the equation, or the final manga version ends up different, this ends up devaluing the anime as non-canon or filler heavy. One of the most famous examples of this was with Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 vs. its remake in 2009 that followed the finished manga.
Anime, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, is known for being full of character archetypes. Characters are marketed as falling into certain categories and fans identify as fans of certain kinds of characters. Here’s a list of some of the most common ones.
Full of energy and upbeat. A positive outlook on life, and prime protagonist material for shonen and kids shows. Some famous genki characters are Son Goku, Asta, Noa Izumi, and like every pink Precure.
A common character type in anime, popularized by characters like Taiga Aisaka, Kirino Kosaka, Makise Kurisu, and Rin Tohsaka.
It has a strong romance element, made up of “tsun tsun” when a character acts coldly and standoffish and “dere dere” where a character is lovey dovey, implying that a tsundere character flip flops between the two sides of her personality.
A cool headed character often seen with an emotionless blank expression and deadpan voice. Not as focused on the dere aspect as some of the other character types. Some famous kuuderes are Yuki Nagato, Rei Ayanami, and Chino Kafuu.
Then sadistic girl in love, obsessed with the MC. The stereotypical image of a yandere character usually involves a threat of physical harm.
It can also have a strong jealousy aspect to it. Some famous yanderes are Yuno Gasai (responsible for the yandere face, yes, that one), Hitagi Senjougahara, and Katsura Kotonoha.
Associated with the older side of the shoujo genre, this character type is the rich haughty girl, often drawn with drill curls in her hair. This type of character can range from comcially exaggerated to just a refined personality.
The ojou voice and laugh is the most important part of the character. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here’s a whole youtube channel dedicated to it. Ohoho! Some famous ojou characters are Luviagelita Edelfelt and Marie Antoinette.
Short for chuunibyou or middle school second year syndrome, it’s both an anime character trope, as well as a real life derogatory term for embarassing behavior of Japanese teenagers who try to act like edgy or bombastic anime/fantasy characters.
Some famous chuunis are Rikka Takanashi and Megumin.
There’s no definitive word for this character, at least among western fans, though they’re sometimes loosely grouped as ahoge characters, defined by the ahoge or “idiot hair” trope of antenna hair sticking up from their heads, signifying that they’re dumb and unkempt.
Some famous idiots in anime are Aqua, Yoshiko Hanabatake, and Tomo Takino.
Anime production terms
A big step you can take in better appreciating any kind of art is learning how the sausage is made! You’ll see these words pop up in social media discussion about specific animators or impressive scenes in anime, so why not brush up on some key terms?
While sakuga is more of a catch all general term for drawn pictures in Japan, the word has taken on a whole new meaning for English speaking anime fans.
For us, sakuga is used more to refer to highly produced or skilled moments of animation.
Since anime tends to allocate talent, time, and budget into bursts of incredible animation instead of spreading it thin over an entire episode, these incredible cuts of animation are what sakuga fans study and obsess over, recognizing unnamed animatiors behind certain scenes and creating a community that identifies and databases the talent of the anime industry.
Some good resources for learning about sakuga are sakugabooru.com for a huge database, Youtube sakuga MADs for all sorts of subjects and animators, as well as the many sakuga twitters out there to learn at your own pace.
Japanese word for key animation drawings.
These drawings are the main poses of a moving animation, drawn before Douga (below) to capture the idea of the movement before adding more drawings to make it fluid.
Genga animators are generally more skilled than their Douga counterparts, and traditionally would have trained as a Douga-san for a while beforehand.
However, in the current anime industry, good talent is spread thin over 40+ shows per season and animators tend to be thrust into this position early, which has been stated by veterans to be a growing problem.
The inbetween drawings placed between the key animation gengas to complete a fluid animation.
Douga animators are generally beginning work in the industry, but there are also long-time animators who stay in this position.
Douga is increasingly often outsourced to cheaper overseas studios, or to other subcontracted studios in Japan.
Despite how it sounds, this is often a “position” in the anime industry reserved only for the best. Proven veterans not tied to one studio, the big guns, are sometimes called in to handle special animation cuts or entire scenes suited to their style and area of specialization.
So, how was it? Even if you knew the words themselves, especially the more basic ones, I hope the extended background info on some of these were useful or interesting to you.
Anime is worth discussing in depth, and knowing the terms and what goes into them is an important part of that! Keep digging for info, expand your anime jargon, and you’ll get even more enjoyment out of your anime experience, dear reader!
Any important words I missed? Let me know in the comments below.