- Life & Culture
Otaku Culture in Japan | Japanese Anime, Manga, Idols & Video Games
Japanese culture is objectively one of the most vast and interesting in the world. The people, religion, social conventions, sports, food, drinks, theatre and… Otaku? Yes, Otaku.
Otaku culture, not only in Japan, but overseas is one of the most popular ‘pop’ cultures to reside in the country – obviously including the likes of Kawaii culture. If you’re not familiar with the likes of Otaku culture, you may alternatively be acquainted with manga, anime and video games that contribute to Otaku.
We have put together a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the passionate world of Otaku culture: including how to spot one, the vocabulary and the most popular anime and mangas.
Let’s start by looking at just what exactly “Otaku culture” is.
What is Otaku Culture?
Otaku culture is simply a subgenre of Japanese pop culture where specifically, people in foreign countries have an interest/passion for certain Japanese things such as video games, anime, manga and idols.
This word is used to identify members of this subculture. These fans could also be considered obsessive in their lifestyle and interests and are normally teenagers or in their early 20s.
There are many different types of Otaku, not just restricted to anime, manga, video games and idols. Each subculture can be shown with the suffix Otaku, e.g. someone interested in manga would be classed as a Manga Otaku.
How to Spot an Otaku?
While Otakus don’t always share the same fashion sense, it’s relatively easy to spot an Otaku out in public. However, there is a stark contrast between what was classed as an Otaku and what an Otaku has more recently evolved into.
First of all, let’s discuss the ‘old school’ Otaku.
Old School Otaku
The old school Otaku was, in short, someone who was deemed to be absorbed in the virtual world. Coined by the media as an ‘unattractive’ male, they would typically have long hair, glasses, a tucked in shirt, jeans, sneakers and a rucksack.
The ideology behind these stereotypes was that Otakus were deemed as too socially awkward and reclusive to have a love life. This would then feed their interest in Japanese culture, especially female anime/manga characters – being the woman of their dreams or ‘waifus’.
New School Otaku
In contrast to old school Otaku, new school Otaku are not limited to just men – women are just as involved. Their fashion sense has also changed quite drastically, being inspired by popular fictional characters.
Everything from their shoes to their spiky hair screams Otaku! They can also be spotted in cosplay, not only inspired by their favourite characters but imitating them (rather successfully).
New school Otaku could also be dressed ‘normally’, and you would never know. But they still have an avid interest in Japanese pop culture and would identify as an Otaku nonetheless.
What Types of Otaku are There?
There are various different types of Otaku, not just limited to fictional interests such as anime, manga and video games. These can span to areas such as technology, fashion and even railways.
When most people first think of Otaku, they think of anime. And rightly so, anime is one of the most popular subgenres of Otaku. People that are overtly passionate about anime are classified as Anime Otaku.
These fans keep up-to-date on the latest anime, whether in general or just their favourite(s). Japanese anime often have cult followings, with people taking part in Comic Con and cosplay – dressing up as their favourite fictional characters.
If you are planning to become an Anime Otaku, it’s clear you need to know your Pokémon from your Studio Ghibli.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with manga; manga are comic books or graphic novels originating from Japan. Some people read manga as they would a comic book, while some revel in weekly manga magazines such as Weekly Shōnen Jump and CoroCoro Comic.
As well as anime, manga is one of the most popular types of Otaku. These fans are called Manga Otaku.
There are in fact five types of manga: Shonen, Shojo, Seinen, josei, and Kodomomuke. These are not types in the sense of genres such as action and comedy, but actually just labels to indicate which audience the manga is intended for.
Video Games Otaku
Those who are particularly interested in Japanese video games are called Video Games Otaku.
And if you’re any sort of gamer in the slightest, you’ll know that video games can be broken down into two categories; PvE and PvP. This simply means player versus enemy (single player) or player versus player (online multiplayer).
While video games are an international phenomenon, Japan is arguably the home of some of the most revolutionary and impactful series of all time. Titles such as Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Dark Souls, Dragon Quest and more recently Persona and Sekiro have truly helped shape the dynamic landscape of video games.
In more recent years, e-sports (or electronic sports) has become extremely popular, making an appearance in Video Games Otaku culture. Games such as Pokemon with the Pokemon World Championships, and Super Smash Bros with EVO (Evolution Championship Series amongst others are popular esports games to take the stage.
It would be rude to talk about Otaku without idols. Idols are pop singer girl groups who form a slice of Otaku culture, Idols Otaku. There are numerous famous pop groups in Japan, BiSH, AKB48 and Nogizaka46, to name a few.
An idol Otaku will buy CDs and frequently attend their events. AKB48 and Nogizaka 46 also offer the opportunity to shake hands with your favourite members at “handshake events”. Yes, that’s a real thing.
While from the outside, it may seem like Otaku is just made up of “geeky” aspects such as anime, manga and video games – the reality is much different. Otaku is almost a blanket term for having an especially passionate interest in Japanese pop culture.
The exact subgenre of that culture is to be decided by, well, you. Otaku culture can span across technology with the internet, mobile IT equipment, PC and more. While it can also cover other cultural fragments such as travel, fashion and even railway.
- Travel Otaku
- PC Otaku
- Automobile Otaku
- Mobile IT Equipment Otaku
- Audio Visual Equipment Otaku
- Camera/Photography Otaku
- Fashion Otaku
- Railway Otaku
- Internet/Cyber Otaku
- Tech Geek Otaku
The Word ‘Otaku’
The term ‘Otaku’ is a Japanese word for another person’s house or family (お宅, otaku). It could also be used as a second-person pronoun, in which the translation was then “you”.
However, the modern slang form of this word didn’t arrive until the 1980s, when the humorist and essayist Akio Nakamori used the term ‘Otaku’ as a way to describe unpleasant fans in caricature.
The confusion of what context in which to use this word was then understandably in discourse. Nakaromi then decided to label the word to describe ‘fans’.
There are, however, other claims of origin, such as the science fiction author Motoko Arai, who used the term in her works which her fans later adopted for themselves.
The term ‘Otaku’ was then in later years thrust into the spotlight. In 1989, Tsutomu Miyazaki, “The Otaku Murderer” put Otaku in all the headlines, for all the wrong reasons. Later that year, Bessatsu Takarajima, a contemporary knowledge magazine, dedicated its 104th issue to the subject, Otaku no Hon (the book of Otaku).
Learning Japanese can seem quite a virtuous task, even if you are a natural linguist. But as with all things, learning is easier if you have a genuine interest in the subject.
Otaku culture, while being a rather controversial subject (especially in Japan), yields the benefit of aiding you with your learning of Japanese.
Here are the phrases you absolutely NEED to know if you’re interested in being an Otaku, or just have an interest in Japanese culture.
A fictional character for which an Otaku develops feelings for, referring to almost as a ‘wife’
A senior who acts as a mentor to an underclassman, or kohai. Senpai can be used more broadly to mean ‘teacher’ or ‘master’
Translated to “person born before another” meaning ‘teacher’, ‘master’ or ‘professional’
Translated to “junior” but can just mean someone with less experience than you
Uniform for Japanese high school and middle school students
Small and cute
An erotic subgenre of Japanese genres of anime and manga, can also mean ‘metamorphosis’ or ‘transformation’
Romantic love between two women
Romantic love between two men
Cute, innocent looking female anime characters who are (or look) young
Can be used to refer to your “older sister” or just a girl/woman who is a bit older than you
Can be used to refer to your “older brother” or just a boy/man who is a bit older than you
Very good looking male – both fictional and real
Bishoujo / Bijin
Very good looking female – both fictional and real
Anime or manga characters that wear glasses, usually quite attractive
Persons who create manga (the authors)
Voice actors who voice anime characters
Baka / aho
Stupid / idiot
This list of Otaku vocabulary is by no means exhaustive. As you explore your interest more, there will be a number of phrases that pop up that you might not quite understand.
Just Google them for context, and carry on with your anime, manga, or video game!
Otaku vs Weeaboo: The Differences Between Otaku and Weeaboo
If you’re either of these, or have an interest in Japanese culture, you have most likely heard of at least one of these phrases. As they’re quite similar terms, the meanings can often overlap, and the lines can blur slightly.
However, there is one crucial difference between Otakus and Weeaboos. While both have an interest in Japanese pop culture, Weeaboo, in contrast to Otaku, is classed as an ‘unhealthy obsession’.
This obsession is often without understanding or respect for the Japanese people and culture they so fondly associate. Weeaboo can also be shortened to “weeb”, which is also just as common as its longer counterpart.
The main takeaway from the Otaku vs Weeabo debate is that “weeaboo” or “weeb” are terms that are generally quite negative. While Otaku is a quite affectionate term, expressing a passion for Japanese culture; being video games, manga, anime or idols.
Everything Otaku You Need to Know
Otaku can be anywhere and everywhere, especially in Japan. So if you’re an Otaku or are interested in learning more about Otaku culture, these are things you need to know.
Akihabara is the epicentre of everything Otaku. It’s a neighbourhood in Tokyo that specialises in gadgets and video games.
One side of Akihabara is overflowing with Otaku culture; maid cafes, arcade centres, shops – affectionately named as the “Electric Town”. Akihabara is famously known for its explosion of pop culture; bright colours, iconic symbols and cosplay. You can find everything from manga and anime to video games and cosplay.
In fact, the group AKB48 is actually an abbreviation of Akihabara, a heartfelt tribute to the place the group was formed.
Another selling point of Akihabara is their maid cafes. However, these are no ordinary cafes, oh no. All the waitresses that work for maid cafes are dressed as French maids, in which the aim is to help Otaku to live their fantasies. Not to mention, from the second you step foot in a maid cafe, you are treated like a king or queen respectively.
Dancing, karaoke, performance all for the low price of a meal. There is also a similar concept but where the men dress up as servants in ‘butler cafes’.
Otome Road, Ikebukuro
Another popular destination for Otaku is Otome Road (maiden road) in Ikebukuro. While this is a place to indulge in everything manga and anime, it is predominantly female-orientated.
Of course, Otome Road is not an actual street. It’s a name given to an area of Ikebukuro that is heavily centred around anime and manga culture.
Sunshine City has been a hot location for otaku since the 80s. In this area, you can browse and buy a huge variety of manga and anime goods, as well as lots of cosplay products.
You are also likely to see lots of people dressing in cosplay. Various companies organise cosplay events around Otome Road. If you’re in the, area you can join in, or maybe just get a photo with your favourite character.
Visiting the Pokemon centre is a dream come true for many Pokemon fans. There are various Pokemon centres in Japan, all offering special Pokemon goods that can only be found here.
As well as this, there are various other attractions that Pokemon fans go mad for. Including a Pokemon cafe with a character themed menu.
If you’re an avid Pokemon fan, be careful when visiting the Pokemon centre, you may not be able to resist buying all of the tantalizing merchandise.
If you like shopping for anime and manga goods, you’ll love Nakano Broadway. This shopping centre in Tokyo is famous for goods aimed at Otaku hobbyists.
In 1980 a small used manga store called Mandarake opened in the shopping centre. Following its success, lots more similar shops began to spring up in the shopping centre. Nakano Broadway soon became a hotspot for Otaku related goods, and it still is today. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re into otaku and you’re in the area.
If you’re familiar with one thing in Japanese culture, it’s probably cosplay (costume play).
Cosplayers dress up as their favourite fictional characters. Anime, cartoons, video games and manga are amongst popular genres of media where cosplayers draw inspiration from.
As well as dressing up like their favourite characters, cosplayers also make efforts to become that character. By perfecting catchphrases, poses and other character traits, they aim to simulate that character as much as possible, so it seems like they are actually there.
It’s not just fun for some people. Professional cosplayers can make a lot of money. They spend weeks, sometimes even months, perfecting their costumes and are often hired for events or paid to teach people how to make their own costumes. As well as this, some make money from selling their own cosplay clothing lines.
Although cosplay is not a completely Japanese phenomenon (it actually started at sci-fi conventions in New York), it gained huge popularity in Japan in the 90s and has become almost synonymous with Japanese culture.
Trading card games, also known as collectable card games, are games where players collect and trade cards to build strategic “decks” to battle other players with.
Notable trading games include Magic The Gathering, Pokemon and YU-Gi-OH!
Trading games are very popular. Players essentially build a deck of cards to try and beat other players’ decks. They are called trading games because people will often trade cards with each other in order to build their decks.
It’s not just a hobby though. There are professional players and international trading card game tournaments held every year. The winner of the Magic The Gathering World Championship, for example, wins $70,000. That’s a lot of money for a card game!
Gachapon machines are coin operated toy dispensers. They can be found throughout Japan and the rest of the world.
The popular machines dispense small collectable toys at random. Unlike the cheap toy dispensers you find in supermarkets, gachapon toys are limited edition, relatively high quality and designed around your favourite areas of pop culture.
Whatever you’re into, there is probably a gachapon machine to match your taste. From miniature household objects to cute anime characters, almost anything can come out of one of these machines.
The surprise nature of not knowing what you will get, combined with the chance you will get something valuable, makes these machines very popular.
You’ve probably encountered UFO catchers before. Also known as crane games, these almost impossible-to-win games feature a machine filled with items like toys or electronics and a claw that extends down to grab the items. They’re very popular in Japan.
If you’ve ever played them before, you’ll know how hard it is to win. The claw is weak and has little grip, and just seems to slide off of the items, even if you’re 100% accurate.
You’ll need to take a counterintuitive approach to win. Instead of trying to grab and pick up the item, you will usually need to spend a few tries rolling, dragging and edging your desired item towards the exit of the machine before finally dropping it in.
The tricky nature of these machines is similar to fairground games. Although they look easy on the outside, you’ll need a solid strategy and maybe even some insider knowledge to win.
Arcades are very much a thing of the past in most countries around the world. However, in Japan, the arcade scene is very much alive and kicking. You can find them, everywhere from big cities to small towns.
It’s not unusual to see office workers in suits standing next to high school students playing the same games. The most popular arcade games are prize games like UFO catchers, followed by medal games (coin pushers).
Popular Anime, Manga and Video Games in Japan
Below are some of the most popular anime, manga and video games in Japan. If you’re wanting to dip your toes in the world of Otaku culture, you should try out some of this entertainment.
First published in 1952, AstroBoy is a manga, later turned into an anime about a world where humans and robots live together. The main character, AstroBoy, is a powerful robot with the ability to feel human emotions. He uses his powers to fight crime. AstroBoy is one of the most successful anime and manga franchises of all time.
With its first edition released in 1969, Doraemon is another popular manga series later adapted into an anime. The series tells the story of a blue robot cat that travelled back in time to guide a young schoolboy through the challenges of life. It was a massive hit in Asian countries, becoming one of the best selling mangas of all time.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of dragon ball. First published in 1984, the story follows the main character Goku and his friends as they learn martial arts, search for dragon balls and fight evil. This worldwide hit started as a manga but has since been made into many anime series as well as a live action movie.
First published in 2003, Death Note is another immensely popular manga that has been adapted into an anime and a live action film. The story follows the main character Light Yagami a teen genius who finds a supernatural notebook. Anyone whose name is written in the notebook dies.
Attack on Titan
Printed first in 2009, this manga turned anime tells the story of a world in which humans live in cities surrounded by massive walls to protect them from man-eating giants known as titans.
With a manga released in 2001, Fullmetal Alchemist is another hugely successful series that has been adapted into anime series and films. It’s a story of two brothers who are trying to find the philosopher’s stone. They need to find the stone to restore their bodies, which were damaged after a failed attempt to bring back their mother from the dead.
You may have heard of the “Naruto run”?. The Naruto manga was first released in 1999. It is a story of Naruto Uzumaki, a young ninja who has dreams of being the leader of his village. After the success of the manga, it has been adapted into many animations, including multiple anime series and many movies (live action and animated).
First published in 1997, One Piece is about a boy whose body gained rubber-like properties after he unintentionally ate a devil fruit. He and his band of pirates are searching the world for a treasure known as one piece in order to become the next king of the pirates.
You must have heard of this one. Pokemon started as a video game centered around creatures called Pokemon (pocket monsters) and trainers who train their Pokemon to battle each other. After gaining incredible popularity and expanding into tv shows, movies, trading card games, theme parks and more, it has become the highest grossing media franchise of all time.
Consider Otaku Culture in Japan Explained
Now you’re all up-to-date on the intricate world of Otaku, you can go and share your passion with the world. And remember, don’t be a Weeaboo!
Any more questions about Otaku culture in Japan? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.