From magical girls to mecha battles, the world of Japanese animation is rich, vibrant, and bursting with its own unique culture.
Anime has developed a whole lexicon of specialized words and phrases over the decades, with many terms gaining popularity and use even outside of Japan. For newcomers, this can make diving into anime feel a bit like learning a foreign language.
But fear not – this guide will cover all the basics you need to know to navigate the lingo of anime fandom.
Common Anime Genre Terminology
Many anime terms refer to genres or subgenres of shows. Here are some of the major category names you’ll encounter:
Anime and manga are aimed primarily at a young teen male target audience. Shounen series tend to focus on action, adventure, sports, and competitions. Some classic examples are Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and One Piece.
Anime and manga aimed at a female audience, dealing with romantic relationships and emotions. Often translated as “young girl.” Popular shoujo series include Sailor Moon, Fruits Basket, and Ouran High School Host Club.
A genre featuring giant robots controlled by human pilots. Mecha anime showcases flashy robot battles and complex machinery. Well-known mecha series include Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam, and Code Geass.
Meaning “another world,” isekai anime revolves around a character who is transported from their everyday life on Earth to a fantasy or sci-fi setting. Examples are Sword Art Online, Re:Zero, and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime.
Character Role Terms
Anime characters often fit into archetypal roles. Here are some you’ll see pop up frequently:
A character who is in a higher grade level than another character, is often one the lower grade character looks up to. Can be translated as “upperclassman” or “senior.”
The opposite of senpai – refers to an underclassman or junior. The kouhai respects and admires the senpai.
A character who switches between acting cold/hostile and warm/loving. The classic “it’s not like I like you or anything!” anime character.
A character who seems sweet and gentle initially but becomes obsessive and violent when in love. Prone to jealousy and manipulation.
A very shy, quiet character who has trouble expressing their feelings directly. They open up more once you get to know them.
Narrative and Storytelling Terms
Beyond genres and characters, anime has its storytelling quirks. Here are some narrative techniques and themes that come up a lot:
Episodes that don’t advance the main plot or are anime-original. Used to pad out seasons while the manga source material gets ahead.
Scenes specifically aimed at titillating or exciting the audience, not advancing the plot. Common forms are gratuitous panty shots, bouncing breasts, or bathing scenes.
Slice of Life
A narrative focuses on everyday lives, friendships, and ordinary events. Less action, more chatting over coffee. Popular examples are K-On and Non Non Biyori.
Meaning “healing,” this genre aims to have a soothing, calming effect on the audience. Often meditative and atmospheric. Yuru Camp and Laid-Back Camp exemplify iyashikei.
Unique Anime Concepts
Beyond borrowing terms from Japanese, anime has also spawned concepts and tropes rarely found elsewhere:
Refers to an “eighth-grade syndrome” – teens who act like they have special powers or live in a fantasy world.
Tsukkomi and Boke
A comedic duo with Tsukkomi as the straight man and boke as the silly jokester. Think Abbott and Costello.
Short for Comic Market, refers to the world’s largest gathering for self-published anime/manga fans to buy amateur works.
Other Unique Terms
Some other miscellaneous terms you’ll find in anime include kawaii (cute), moe (feelings toward cuteness), and hikikomori (acute social withdrawal).
Resources for Learning More
While this guide covers the basics, there’s always more to learn when it comes to anime lingo. Here are some great resources if you want to go deeper:
- Anime News Network’s Encyclopedia – definitions for thousands of anime terms
- TVTropes – anime trope index with examples
- Anime! Anime! Podcast – episodes explaining anime terms and concepts
- Anime forums like Reddit – ask questions and discuss shows with fellow fans
The world of anime fandom has developed its own thriving culture over the decades. Part of the fun is learning the terms, tropes, and quirks that make it unique. With this starter guide to common anime terminology, you’ll be well on your way to understanding the lingo and engaging with other passionate fans around the world. Soon you’ll be slinging terms like moe and mecha with the best of ‘em!
FAQs – Anime Terminology
What are doujinshi, yaoi, and yuri?
Doujinshi refers to self-published works by amateur artists or fans, often based on existing anime or manga. Yaoi is a genre of anime or manga that focuses on romantic or sexual relationships between male characters, typically created by and for female fans. Yuri, on the other hand, is a genre that focuses on romantic or sexual relationships between female characters.
What is an OVA (Original Video Animation)?
An OVA, or Original Video Animation, refers to anime that is released directly to home video or the internet, rather than being broadcast on television. OVAs are typically higher in quality and are often used to continue or expand upon the story of an existing anime series or manga.
What is cosplay?
Cosplay is the act of dressing up as a character from anime, manga, video games, or other forms of media. Cosplayers often spend a great deal of time and effort creating their costumes and strive to accurately portray their chosen character through their appearance and behavior.
What is a magical girl?
A magical girl is a genre of anime and manga that features young girls who possess magical powers and use them to fight against evil forces. This genre often incorporates elements of fantasy, adventure, and romance.
What is fan service?
Fan service refers to the inclusion of content or scenes in anime and manga that are intended to please fans, particularly by providing sexual or suggestive content. Fan service is often used to attract and cater to a specific audience, but it can also be seen as gratuitous or unnecessary depending on the context.
What is a weeaboo?
A weeaboo is a term that originated on the internet and is sometimes used to refer to individuals who are excessively obsessed with Japanese culture, particularly anime, and manga. It is often considered a derogatory term and is used to describe someone who has a superficial or exaggerated interest in Japan and may not fully understand or appreciate its culture.
What is kawaii?
Kawaii is a Japanese word that translates to “cute” or “adorable” in English. It refers to a particular style or aesthetic that is characterized by a charming, innocent, and childlike appearance. In popular culture, kawaii can be seen in various forms such as cute cartoon characters, colorful and playful designs, and cute fashion styles. It has gained significant popularity globally and is often associated with Japan’s “kawaii culture.”