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Glossary of terms used in Anime and Manga and frequently asked questions

Glossary of terms used in Anime and Manga and frequently asked questions

 The first few times you see an anime or read a manga you will surely encounter a lot of words or terms that are rather strange or almost incomprehensible. When dealing with different cultures, one of the biggest obstacles is precisely the language, in this case Japanese.

I too would have appreciated a hand in understanding or learning some of these terms, which are often difficult to memorize or understand, especially for us Italians.

I'll explain some of the main concepts or the most common terms:

The honorifics and their use

Just like in our language, Japanese also makes extensive use of courtesy forms , only it uses a very different system than many other languages. Instead of hanging a noun that defines the next name and qualifies it (such as Mr / Mrs), the Japanese prefers to use suffixes that vary according to the relationship between the people who are interacting.

Since we are talking not only about language but also about real Japanese culture, anime and manga are very much affected by this influence and some translators prefer to leave the suffixes unchanged even when localizing. The same thing also happens in the case of some video games, but there are conflicting opinions regarding these decisions, considering that it is all in all a Japanese use that lends itself rather badly to a translation into other languages.

We list the most important and most used ones below to give you an overview of what they mean and in what context they are used:

San - さ ん

Let's start with a bang with San, one of the most common honorifics, which derives from Sama, which we will see shortly. It has many uses, but you must remember that it is used by people of all ages in formal and non-formal contexts, so it has a rather general use. You can also find it used with company names, animals and non-animated objects, in short, it can be used for really everything!

Sama - 様

A bit like San, but definitely formal and used to address when referring to people of higher rank such as the emperor or simply someone who holds a higher position in society.

In anime and manga there are characters who refer to themselves using Sama, which is absolutely not recommended to do in reality! But since we are still talking about fiction, everything is legitimate, and you will often meet extremely arrogant characters who will use forms of Sama to self-refer.

Chan - ち ゃ ん

Arguably one of the most overused terms, Chan takes on different meanings based on context and fits every gender, although it generally tends to be used by women. Again, it depends on who is talking, for example, a guy can refer to his girlfriend with the -chan or if she is a longtime friend. It has very playful connotations when used between males, but can be offensive when used with male strangers!

In other cases it is simply a diminutive, which could be compared to small in our language.

Kun - 君

Another fairly frequent suffix, it is generally used among male friends as a form of respect, but also by an older person to a younger one. It is also sometimes used in more formal settings, such as at work.

Shi - 氏

Quite formal and rarely used in anime, it indicates an extremely formal context and is usually used to address unknown people. There is no shortage of particular cases such as Steins' Daru; Gate who uses it to address Kurisu, being a true “gentleman”.

The Japanese greetings

It's okay to know a few Japanese words to train your ear, but that's just the bare minimum.

I present below a list with some frequent terms regarding greetings:

  • Ohayou : Good morning
  • Konnichiwa:  translatable as hello too or hi
  • Konbanwa:  Good evening
  • Oyasumi:  Good night
  • Mata ne:  See you / Goodbye
  • Tadaima:  I'm home!
  • Okaeri:  Welcome back, to be used in response to tadaima

In addition to the greetings there would be the world to talk about, but I will do it later given the amount of content covered. I want to specify that learning Japanese with anime and manga is a utopia, since many terms and words used in this article will never replace the healthy study of the actual language.

Mangaka and translation notes

One of the most common mistakes is using the term Mangaka as a synonym for Manga. Pay attention, the Mangaka are the authors of the Manga , which are the finished product and do not have synonyms of common use (if not Japanese comics), as opposed to Mangaka which can be replaced by an author, in this case always referring to manga.

The translation notes are indeed the annotations present in the pages of the translated manga that bear explanations on the translation or some concepts that the reader could hardly understand without prior knowledge. For example, a joke about some Japanese pop star is unlikely to be understood by an Italian reader, which is why it is a good practice to put notes somewhere on the page explaining who you are talking about. The same goes for references to other series usually.

Adapting manga is not at all easy and for this reason you may also come across official translations that are not exactly optimal or rather unhappy. The same can also happen with the subtitles of the Souls, which are often too approximate and "free". Further differences between anime and manga are quite obvious!

Kawaii, Chibi, Moe: one step at a time

Among the other words in which you can run into (we must add) you will surely find terms like Kawaii and Chibi , which refer to extremely abused concepts in this type of media. We assume that they are terms that are not invented and present in Japanese, so you might as well hear them elsewhere.

Kawaii is a term that literally means anything that is cute and is mostly used by girls. On the contrary, the term Chibi refers to a type of super deformed style with which some characters are represented, who usually tend to overreact to some events.

On the contrary, the term Moe refers to that sense of innocence and naivety given off by a person, often female. This sense triggers a kind of feeling of protection towards the character in question.

What are otaku?

So, this term is rather difficult to explain on a practical level since it is now often misinterpreted and used to indicate anything else. Originally, the term otaku means someone obsessed with a particular hobby , whatever it is. Therefore, the meaning of anime / manga is missing, which took over later to address the fanatics or die-hard fans of both. The term therefore has a strongly negative meaning and practically of social rejection.

Nowadays, in the West the word otaku is used generically as a synonym for nerd but for Japanese stuff, thus assuming a neutral connotation and less negative than the past or the Japanese one. Even being called nerd is actually not a good thing, but in recent times the use of these words has evolved, which instead are used improperly to indicate fans of certain products.

In summary, otaku would be the "maniacs" of something , usually anime or manga or Japanese culture in general. Usually in Italy it is used to indicate normal fans, but the etymology of the word says the exact opposite.

The difference between Weeb and Otaku

Another term often used online is weeb , which indicates all non-Japanese fans of anime / manga or Japanese pop culture in its entirety. It is very important to specify that they are non-Japanese people and therefore gaijin, that is foreigners, since the real difference with otaku lies in the fact that the so-called weebs believe they know Japanese culture on the basis of anime and manga or even video games, thus having a totally distorted view of reality.

In summary, the difference between the two categories lies first of all in ethnicity and secondly in basic beliefs, although otaku still tend to have a distorted view of culture, whether they are Japanese or not.

… Which are different from the Hikikomori!

This Japanese term refers to people who have renounced social life for isolation. This problem is quite serious on a social level, which is why the term is also finding a certain diffusion in countries like Italy. To be honest, this phenomenon was initially born in Japan for various socio-cultural factors , but has also taken hold elsewhere.

Perhaps, it would be better to say that the phenomenon has always existed but only now has it received such attention that it has a specific term. However, this term is erroneously associated with the anime / manga universe, even if some works speak of this delicate social theme.

What are lolicons?

This term is quite controversial on a cultural level, especially for us Westerners. At the etymological level, the term comes from Lolita complex , a term deriving from the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nakobov , which describes the sexual attraction of this man towards a twelve-year-old girl.

This term therefore indicates the type of people who fall into this category but also works that portray female figures who seem to be between 8 and 13 years old on average . In fact, the word lolicon describes the phenomenon / sensation rather than the individual, but it has also taken on this secondary meaning over time.

The stereotypes present in anime and manga are wasted, as the average cast of a harem / slice of life work almost always contains a girl who carries these childish traits.

Volumes or Tankobons?

Unlike the imported versions, manga in Japan do not come out directly in volumes! In fact, the new chapters of a series are published in special magazines and after a certain number they are serialized in the form of Tankobons, i.e. paper volumes. In Italy, of course, this concept does not exist, so you only need the term to understand what we are talking about and not so much for real practical utility.


Another extremely recurring term since the birth of anime, indicates that type of content capable of clearly satisfying fans . It is used today to refer to more sexually explicit content, such as some equivocal close-up or characters in particularly suggestive poses. This word is also very present in gaming, especially when referring to DLCs or additions introduced with new editions.

What are waifu

Waifu is a fictional female character that a fan considers to be "his wife" or his soul mate. We can say that a large part of the fanservice is focused on the presence of such characters that serve to attract especially male fans. There is also the masculine equivalent, that is husbando , and here too we are faced with crippled English words.


Perhaps outside of Japan this word has little meaning, but it is used very frequently online to refer to those works created by fans, which are often also for sale! The largest comic fair in the world, that is, the Comiket (Comic Market) is about doujinshi! Due to its immense popularity it is often represented in many series, such as Steins; Gate or Wotakoi, where the fair is mentioned.

The doujinshi market is very important and popular in Japan , although people often associate sexually explicit content with this word. The main reason lies in the fact that many works are often hentai or ecchi, greatly attracting the attention of the mischievous, who automatically attach this negative meaning.

Gore / Splatter: what does it mean?

The gore or splatter souls have quite gory elements such as the mutilation or exposure of organs and blood. We are therefore talking about extremely crude works and not suitable for all audiences, which is why they are not suitable for all palates. Berserk which is quite famous has a strong gore component as you can see well literally everywhere in the work!

Other examples like Elfen Lied and Higurashi give a pretty good idea of ​​what to expect.

Why do the characters almost always have western traits?

Almost all anime and manga have characters with western traits, so without almond eyes if you prefer to put it this way. The answer behind this rather obvious question is to be found at the end of World War II, with Japan on its knees and a nation to be revived. Japanese craft companies began mass-producing toys with strongly Caucasian features to meet the demand of American children, who obviously would have preferred to play with something that represented them rather than a very anonymous kokeshi (Japanese dolls to understand).

In addition to this, we remember the strong influence of Disney at the time , which dictated its golden standards and therefore dictated the aesthetic rules. Not surprisingly, Osamu Tezaka , the creator of Astro Boy, adopted a style strongly based on that of Disney, which was then imitated in the following years and interpreted as a real standard in the industry.

In other words, the Japanese do not draw characters with Western traits out of envy or to imitate us, but simply because following the Second World War a series of choices have been made that have led to consider as natural some more generic characters and not necessarily Asian .

So why do they have big eyes?

Ok, okay, let's go back in part to the earlier discussion on Westerners. In this case the answer is not 100% right, as there are several hypotheses about it. I'm talking about the most probable and also what are the most logical reasons behind the eyes in my opinion.

We already know the first explanation and it concerns Disney, so many artists of the time were inspired by the traits of Walt Disney characters to draw their characters. And so far nothing strange, all in line with what we have told you before. But is it really that simple? Well, not at all, there are other theories that offer equally sensible answers.

In fact, according to some (such as Schodt ), starting from about the middle of the nineteenth century, the Japanese began to withdraw in a different way, almost tending towards the West. Not surprisingly, there are still testimonies that portray female figures with features similar to those of Europe. In my opinion this explanation makes sense enough even if perhaps the speech is simpler than expected.

In fact, it is also true that unlike other cultures, the Japanese tend to show their emotions less and try to understand the intentions of the interlocutor by looking more at the eyes. For this reason, larger eyes are associated with greater empathy. Honestly, this thesis seems very reasonable to me, in addition to the fact that larger eye sizes attract the attention of viewers / readers more!

Most of the emotions in anime and manga are shown thanks to the play of eye light, another reason why the eyes are so expressive compared to other parts of the body.

Why do the characters bleed from the nose?

One of the most foolish and obvious gags in the world of anime and manga is that of nosebleeds (epistaxis). When a male character sees a girl in provocative poses or similar situations, he begins to bleed from his nose, to a greater or lesser extent, but have you ever wondered why? No, the explanation is obviously not scientific , let alone.

According to a Japanese rumor that when a man gets aroused, his blood pressure increases and then starts to lose rivers of nosebleeds or just a few droplets, in less severe cases. In short, instead of having erections or ejaculations they simply lose a nosebleed!

The first example is given to us by Yasuji Tanioka, who in 1970 in his work Yasuji no Mettameta Gaki Dou Kouza created this use, which was later replicated due to its humor.

A slaughterhouse of genres for all tastes

The discourse on genders is really too long, but you just need to know that in Japan they are characterized according to the target, for example by age or gender. There are also a myriad of sub-genres, which is why I refer you to reading my other article on the genres and sub-genres of anime and manga .

Akihabara - the promised land of the Otaku

We are talking about a fairly famous district of Tokyo, often mentioned or represented in anime and manga. It is no coincidence that this neighborhood has become a real place of worship for foreigners! In practice, the neighborhood is famous for its massive presence of electronics, video game, anime, manga and adult items. The full name is in fact Akihabara Electric Town , often abbreviated to Akiba for convenience.


Indeed Japan does not tend to be obsessive when it comes to religion, but it is fair to understand what Shinto is at least. Originally born in Japan, it represents a polytheistic religion strongly focused on rituals and not so much on doctrine, as the main monotheistic religions. It follows that it has a more practical and less "theoretical" character, in the sense that beliefs are weighed less than respect for typical traditions and rituals. Also for this reason there are no sacred texts, since it is something transmitted orally, as if it were a real popular culture.

The deities of Shinto are called Kami , and they are sacred spirits that can take different forms related to concepts that represent the various aspects of life or the natural elements. The altars are the places where these deities are prayed, through dances, festivals and rituals aimed at celebrating them. There are so many works in which you will see celebrations of this type or quite clear references to local festivals.

In this regard you may have seen the priests of these altars or the apprentices ( Miko ), engaged in performing certain ritual functions.

What does cosplay mean?

Cosplay refers to wearing various clothes or accessories that represent a specific fictional character, in this case deriving from anime or manga. The term derives from English and not from Japanese , to be precise from the terms costume and play united in a single word. It is often mistakenly believed that cosplay necessarily implies Japan, but that's not true at all.

The cosplayers are people who delight in this hobby (also expensive I might add), both amateur and professional. Yes, there is also a more "competitive" area of ​​this reality, which involves the creation of increasingly better costumes or accessories to best represent a character.

Why are manga read from right to left?

Because in Japan it is customary to read from right to left, so manga are read the same way. Even during the localization process, this scheme is preserved to avoid losing the original spirit but above all the order of some drawings. In some cases the reading order is changed, causing many problems due to the presence of some tables explicitly designed for Japan.

For example, in the English version of Blade of the Immortal , it was decided to readjust the work to follow the Western reading order. The problem was that due to the particular setting of the work it was necessary to rewrite some tables which led to a slowdown in the output.

Types of -dere, what are they?

This term refers to the stereotyped characters of some characters, which can be traced back roughly to specific categories. This classification is often mentioned in Japanese culture, which is why I also talk to you about these rather "particular" terms.


Good inside, bad outside, more or less. They are those characters who appear grumpy or violent, but who underneath care. Often and willingly these characters experience a strong inner conflict and have problems expressing their true emotions. Let's say that this stereotype is quite recurrent in co-star female characters, such as Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion.


Another fairly recurrent stereotype derives from the union of Danmaru (being silent) and Deredere. They are therefore the classic solitary types who prefer silence and reflection over direct confrontation and chats. This stereotype is also quite common, in both males and females. Normally, these are socially incapable characters but able to open up to the right people and able to "wake up" in the most hostile situations.

An example is Izumu Sakura from Nichijou , the very shy teacher who often makes diction errors.


The most dangerous trait: The Yandere characters disguise an obsessive and murderous instinct behind the facade of an angel. If I had to find a more or less close psychological term, I would say that they are extremely jealous and deviant figures, capable of doing anything.

It is important to reiterate that these characters are always extremely kind at the beginning, and then progressively degenerate. A fairly well known example is Mirai Nikki's Yuno.


The stereotype of the arrogant and superb character , who looks at everyone from top to bottom. The term derives from the fusion of kuuru and deredere. They are very controlled and generally cold but they never cease to amaze on occasions where they can show off their most "affectionate" side. Often these characters are confused with tsundere, but let's say that in this case the focus is on being cool.

Gatsu da Berserk is a clear example of kuudere, as it fully represents the spectrum of this personality type.

Anime music video (AMV)

Always inherent in the anime world, it concerns those music videos that feature scenes from anime. They represent one of the most prolific fan productions and are literally available everywhere on YouTube.

Do you want an immediate example? What do you think were those videos that were shot years ago of Linkin Park and Dragon Ball?

Original anime video (OAV)

Term that refers to anime intended exclusively for the home video market and not for television or cinema. Normally longer series will have many OAVs that you will have to put up with in some cases. But there are also those cases where an entire series is composed of OAVs, such as The Legend of Galactic Heroes.

Original net anime (ONA)

A work intended to be broadcast on the Internet and therefore online and not through other channels. A recent example is Devilman Crybaby , a Netflix exclusive anime.

Scanlation (scan + translation)

With Scanlation we indicate the scan, any modification and finally the translation of the manga. Of course the "scans" still represent an illegal form of use of the content, but often it remains the only way to enjoy certain works.

Raw (manga)

This term refers to untranslated manga pages (therefore in Japanese). In other words, it is possible to read manga online in the original language, a practice often recommended as we foreigners are interested in translated!

Fandub and Fansub

As the name suggests we are in the field of fan-made material. For Fandub we mean the amateur dubbing of fans, while for Fansub we talk about subtitles always produced by fans and therefore not by professionals. Unfortunately, the fansub will often be more necessary than expected, but the same cannot be said for the fandub!

Eyecatch (anime)

One of the most important components of an anime, in my opinion. It is an illustration that marks the beginning or the end of the commercial breaks present during the airing of an anime. The Gundam series is a fairly famous example of the use of beautiful eyecatches.

Zettai Ryouki

Term literally translatable as "Absolute Territory", referring to the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime that uses the concept of AT Field. It refers to the exposed thigh part of a girl who wears a miniskirt and thigh-high socks. There are different degrees of skin exposure if we can say so, where A represents the ideal combination.

This term is also part of the universal logic of Moe, go to understand these Japanese ...

Too many explanations? We have only just begun!

While I'm not a huge fan of specific terms to describe everything, Japanese certainly has a myriad of words to describe a lot of things. The world of anime and manga makes extensive use of it, sometimes exaggerating, at least in the eyes of us foreigners!

Certainly the discovery of some stereotypes or commonplaces does not stop there, I hope to be able to cover many other curiosities in the next articles. On the other hand, it is useless to delude yourself and believe you know every facet of this fascinating world, which is why you will often have to do some research on your own.