What do all those Japanese words mean? What are all
those fans of Japanese animation talking about? If you are new to
this then it’s likely you are confused but here is a list of words that
will enhance your understanding. Some of these are quite common but
others are not quite so common. We hope it helps if you are having
trouble understanding certain words and terms.
Manhwa – A term for Korean comics. Manhwa (sometimes spelled 'Manwa',
'Manhua' or 'Mahnwa') is an occasionally used term, as Korean comics are
similar in style to Japanese manga and are usually called manga as well.
AMV - Stands for 'Anime Music Video', an unofficial music video to a popular song created by budding video editors from clips of anime films and series. AMV creators use the song and anime without permission but it is generally turned a blind eye to. There are often AMV competitions at conventions, and AMV creators take them very seriously.
Arigato Gozaimasu – 'Thank you' in Japanese, people often use the less formal 'Arigato' instead. Pronounced 'A-ree-gah-toe goz-eye-mass'
Baka – The Japanese word for 'stupid', 'idiot' or 'fool'. Pronounced ‘bah-kah’ and often heard in Ranma ½.
Bento – A cold lunchbox featured in many anime and manga. Basically a wooden or plastic box that has several compartments to hold different foods and usually contains sushi and vegetables. Pronounced ‘ben-tow’.
Bishojo – A word that means 'beautiful girl'. Bishojo is not as common a term as Bishonen (see below), but is generally used to refer to elegant, thin, long-haired young women. Pronounced 'bish-oh-joe'
Bishonen – A word that means 'beautiful young man' or 'beautiful boy'. Bishonen is often used to describe beautiful, slightly effeminate men, particularly those that are tall, thin, long-haired, strong and mysterious. Bishonen is sometimes used to refer to art that focuses strongly on this style of character, and bishonen art is common in 'Shojo' manga and anime (see below). Sometimes shortened to 'Bishy' in fan circles, and normally pronounced 'bish-oh-nen'
Bushido – 'The Way of the Warrior'. Bushido is the traditional code of honour that Japanese warriors adhered to, and it set down a strict set of rules for them to follow. Similar in many ways to the code of Chivalry followed by European Knights, pronounced 'bush-ee-doh'
Chibi – This is a drawing style where anime/manga characters are shrunk into a small, cute, child-like form. This drawing style is sometimes called ‘super-deformed’ in the west and is pronounced ‘chee-be’.
Cosplay – Dressing up as anime and manga characters. Cosplay competitions held at conventions allow fans (known as 'cosplayers') dress up as their favourite characters, pose for pictures and win prizes. Hardcore fans can treat cosplay very seriously, sometimes spending months making their costumes. In Japan Cosplay Cafés - where the staff (and occasionally the visitors) dress up as anime and manga characters - are quite popular too, and many merchandise companies have twigged that making replica costumes and accessories for cosplayers is a useful source of extra income. Pronounced 'coz-play'
Digisubs - A rarely used term for Fansubs (see below) made on digital media such as DVD or MPEG and AVI computer video formats. The picture quality of these is much greater than traditional fansubs (which were generally distributed on VHS) and they can also be copied numerous times without losing quality, or distributed online for free. The term digisub is rarely used now, with 'fansub' generally being used to describe all fan-translated anime regardless of the format. Whereas fansub creators (otherwise known as fansubbers) could control the distribution of fansubs on video they can't with digisubs and they often continue to be shared even after the properly licensed anime becomes available.
Doujinshi – A self produced manga created and released by fans and jobbing manga-ka. Often these are based on an existing series and often they are pornographic. The quality of the art and the perversity of the content vary greatly, but it is worth noting that some well known Manga-ka and artists draw and release doujinshi between their main series - Yoshitoshi ABe's Haibane Renmei started life as a doujinshi and Excel Saga creator Koshi Rikdo has done several pornographic Love Hina ones. Pronounced ‘doo-jin-she’.
Ecchi – A word sometimes used to describe pornographic anime and manga. The word Ecchi is more commonly used to describe anime or manga with milder sexual themes, bawdy comedies and series that have large amounts of fan service (see below). Pronounced ‘eh-chee’.
Fan Service - A term used for moments in anime or manga where a character flashes a bit of flesh or underwear to titillate the viewer. This can be anything from full frontal nudity to a character in their swimming costume, and is often something as tame as a quick flash of their pants. Compromising situations are often crowbarred into anime and manga simply for this purpose, which is why walking in on female characters when they are bathing is such a common occurrence...
Fansub – This is an anime subtitle track produced by fans and added to anime not yet translated into the fansub creators' (also called 'fansubbers') home language. The quality of fansubs can vary depending on the translating ability of the fansubber and also on whether they do a literal translation or their own script. Fansubs used to be distributed on VHS and VCD for the cost of the Cassette or CD. Although unlicensed by the animation studio, fansubs generally escaped prosecution for piracy as many fansubbers translate series unlicensed in their home country and stop distributing their versions when the rights are bought properly. However, this is becoming more difficult to control with the advent of digital media (see 'Digisubs' above), and studios have started to clamp down on fansub groups, particularly those who illegally distribute licensed series and films.
Gashapon – 'Capsule' toys that are sold in Japan. The capsules – small plastic containers usually about two or three inches (4-6cm) in diameter – are bought from machines similar to gumball machines and contain collectable pre-painted toys and figures. Basically a bit like Kinder Surprise eggs but containing stuff that is actually worth owning. Although Gashapon capsules mostly contain anime and manga merchandise, there are also highly detailed replica vehicles, animals, plants and just about anything else you can think of available. Very collectible amongst fans and pronounced ‘gah-sha-pohn’.
Hai - 'Yes' in Japanese. Pronounced in the same way as the English word 'High'
Hentai – Japanese word for 'pervert' or 'perverted'. In the west it is used a generic term to describe pornographic anime and manga. Pronounced ‘hen-tie’.
Hiragana - One of the three common Japanese alphabets (see also Kanji and Katakana). Hiragana is made up of 48 symbols that represent syllables, and was developed by the Japanese to supplement Kanji (see below) because of the differences in Chinese and Japanese grammar and pronunciation. Unlike Kanji Hiragana is not that hard to learn, but unfortunately you need to learn Kanji to use it properly. Pronounced 'Heer-ah-gah-nah'.
Iie - 'No' in Japanese. Pronounced 'Ee-ay'
Kanji – One of the three common Japanese alphabets (see also Katakana and Hiragana). Kanji is a set of ideographic symbols (symbols that represent ideas) developed in China, and is extremely difficult to learn. This is mostly because there are well over a thousand Kanji symbols in everyday use in Japan, plus around another thousand that are used more occasionally! Not only this but the context they are used in can change the pronunciation of each symbol quite considerably. Pronounced ‘cahn-jee’.
Katakana – One of the three common Japanese alphabets (see also Kanji and Hiragana). Katakana is made up of 48 symbols that represent syllables, and is mostly used for phonetically spelling words and names imported from foreign languages, such as Takushi (Taxi). Again, Katakana is not that hard to learn and can be pretty useful. Pronounced ‘kah-tah-kah-nah’.
Kawaii – The Japanese word for cute. Pronounced ‘ka-why-ee’.
Kendo – Traditional Japanese sword-fighting. Kendo is still taught in Japanese schools and it is a national sport, with tournaments and training halls all over Japan. In Kendo tournaments and practice fighters wear heavy protective gear and fight with wooden swords called 'bokkun'. In a similar way to fencing, points are awarded for clean hits to the head, chest and wrists, but only if a connection is made with the top third of the sword and the correct area is called as the strike is made. Three points are required to win a bout. Pronounced 'ken-dow'
Kitsune - A Japanese fox. Common in folklore where they are often depicted as mischievous tricksters who can perform illusions, Kitsune turn up frequently in fantasy anime and manga. Mitsune Konno in Love Hina is nicknamed Kitsune because of her half closed eyes - which resemble those of a fox. Pronounced 'kit-su-nay'
Konban-wa – 'Good evening' in Japanese. Pronounced 'Kon-ban-wa'
Konnichi-wa – A Japanese greeting used in the afternoon, generally
means 'hello' or 'good day' and is pronounced 'ko-nee-chee-wa'
Manga-ka – Japanese word meaning manga creator.
Used to describe anyone who draws comics in Japan. Pronounced ‘mahn-ga
Ohaiyo Gozaimasu – 'Good morning' in Japanese, people often use the less formal 'Ohaiyo' instead, pronounced 'Oh-hiy-oh goz-eye-mass'
Okonomiyaki – A Japanese dish that is cabbage batter wrapped around any kind of food, usually meat and vegetables. Basically a mix between an omelette and a pancake, Okonimiyaki is cooked on a Teppen grill (see below) and often served with mayonnaise, a special Okonimiyaki sauce and pickled ginger. Again, this is often seen in Ranma ½ but does appear in other anime and manga and is sometimes referred to as Japanese Pizza. Pronounced ‘oh-ko-no-mee-yah-kee’.
Omake – A Japanese word used to describe things that don't really fit into categories. Often used to describe hidden DVD extras, random sketches or bizarre extras that appear in manga and anime. Pronounced 'oh-mah-kay'
Otaku – A Japanese term used to describe hardcore fans which is often used to describe hardcore fans of sci-fi, computer games, anime and manga. Although used with pride by many western fans to describe themselves, the term carries as negative a connotation in Japan as 'Trekkie' or 'geek' does here. Pronounced ‘oh-tah-koo’.
OVA – Stands for ‘Original Video Animation’. In Japan a lot of anime is created purely for the VHS and DVD formats and will not be broadcast on TV or in cinemas, this allows the creators to have more flexibility than television will allow but without the financial risk of a cinema feature. Many of these series or one-off specials are available here (e.g. Samurai X). Sometimes the abbreviation can appear as OAV (Original Animation Videos) but it means the same thing.
OWA - Stands for 'Original Web Animation'. OWA is an occasionally used term for the few anime shorts and bonuses released directly to the internet, often for promotional purposes.
Pachinko - An immensely popular game in Japan which is effectively a vertical bagatelle table crossed with a slot machine. To play you must purchase small ball bearings which you pour into the machine, and which then fall through a playing surface studded with pegs. Most balls fall through and into the machines pot, but occasionally a couple will fall into winning pockets, activating a fruit machine style panel which spins to reveal three symbols, if these match you win. The prize is a load more Pachinko balls which can be exchanged for goods or money, or fed back through the machine. Pachinko is the most popular form of gambling in Japan and is played in loud and garish Pachinko Parlours by both people of both sexes. Pronounced 'Pah-chin-ko'.
Pocky – A popular brand of Japanese snacks which consist of thin biscuit sticks that have been dipped into chocolate or a variety of flavoured mousses. Pocky is named after the noise the sticks make when they break, it has become very popular amongst anime and manga fans in the UK and several companies have started to import it. In Japan there are several flavours and varieties available, as well as imitators and a savoury version called Pretz. Pronounced 'pok-ee'
Ronin – A 'masterless' samurai. Samurai whose lord was defeated or whose family were shamed and lost their standing could either commit suicide or abandon the code of Bushido (see above) and become ronin. Many ronin simply acted as mercenaries and would work for whoever paid them, some became outlaws and criminals and some tried to follow their code of honour. Ronin are romanticised in films like Seven Samurai, but the term is commonly used nowadays to refer to students who are studying to retake failed exams. Pronounced 'row-nin'
Ramen - A Chinese noodle dish which consists of a big bowl of watery but flavoursome soup containing noodles, vegetables and occasionally meat. Other common ingredients include seaweed, egg, tofu and Japanese fishcake. Pronounced 'rah-men'
Sake – The traditional alcoholic drink of Japan, sake is a strong wine made from rice and is available in many different regional varieties with varying strengths, flavours and quality. Sake can be served hot or cold and can be clear or cloudy. Pronounced 'sah-kay'
Sakura – Japanese word for cherry blossom. The blossoming of cherry trees is a really important thing in Japan and there is a lot of symbolism attached to them (falling cherry blossoms are often used to represent loss). It is also a popular girls name. Pronounced 'sah-ku-rah'
Sama – A word used after a persons name to show extreme respect, for example 'Miyazaki-sama'. Generally only used to those with a far higher social standing than the speaker.
Samurai – A member of a noble Japanese family. Samurai had the highest social standing amongst a lord's subjects and held positions of power and influence during Japan's lengthy feudal period. Samurai were expected to follow the code of Bushido (see above), serve their lord unquestioningly and were also expected to be well versed in arts and literature. Effectively samurai were the Japanese equivalent of European Knights, and family and lineage was extremely important to them. Pronounced 'sam-yoo-riy'
San – A word used after a persons name to show respect, for example 'Daniel-san' or 'Miyazaki-san'. San is the equivalent of the 'Mr', 'Mrs', 'Miss' or 'Ms', and is generally used between equals. In Japanese calling someone by their name alone is considered overly-familiar and is only really done by very close friends and family.
Sayonara – Japanese for 'goodbye', pronounced 'siy-oh-nah-rah'
Seiyuu – An anime voice actor/actress. Pronounced ‘say-yoo’.
Sensei – Japanese word for teacher or instructor. Sensei can be used on its own or after the teacher's name, for example 'Miyazaki-sensei'. Pronounced 'sehn-say'
Shinto - The native religion of Japan. Although containing aspects of Buddhism it is a mostly Shamanistic faith which has no religious text and is focused on the worship of ancestors and nature. An uncomplicated faith which has a symbiotic relationship with Buddhism in Japan, which sees the two religions worshipped side by side with tolerance - something which seems a bit unusual by the standards of most other religions. Pronounced 'Shin-tow'
Shojo – Means 'Girl'. Used as a generic term for
anime and manga aimed at
young females. Pronounced ‘sho-jo’.
Shonen – Means 'young boy' or 'boy'. Used as a generic term
for anime and manga aimed at young males. Pronounced ‘sho-nehn’.
Tankoban – A Japanese manga graphic novel, usually pocket sized. Most recent western manga releases (such as those from Tokyopop and VIZ Media) are in the Tankoban format. Pronounced ‘tan-koh-bahn’.
Tanuki – A creature native to Japan that is similar in appearance to a raccoon, and are sometimes referred to in anime and manga as 'raccoon dogs'. In Japanese folklore Tanuki are believed to have shape shifting abilities, something which is often represented in anime and manga. Pronounced ‘tah-noo-kee’.
Teppen - A Teppen is a large hot plate used in cooking, and is used as a generic term for cuisine cooked on hot plates. The whole counter in Okonomiyaki restaurants are usually Teppen plates and the food is cooked on them right in front of you (or you cook it yourself). Pronounced 'Teh-pen'.
Tomodachi - 'Friend' in Japanese, for example 'Watashi no tomodachi' means 'my friend'. Pronounced 'tom-oh-da-chee'.
Yanki - a Japanese term generally used to describe female delinquents and gang members. Derived from the word 'yankee' due to the American fashions the delinquents have adopted. Pronounced 'yan-kee'.
Yaoi – A pornographic manga or anime containing a same sex love story
between two men. Pronounced ‘yah-oh-ee’.
If there are any terms we have not included and you think that they should
be then please e-mail us at
firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.