Did you notice how Japan seems to have a penchant for cute things? A quick scan of their shows, idols, cartoons, and merchandise would reveal that this inclination towards cuteness is not restricted to a particular age group.
Kawaii anime are anime that are considered cute. They frequently use chibi characterizations and moe illustrations, although most of the story may also be done using typical anime art. Characters are lovable and innocent, and even their voice-actors are high-pitched and have soft enunciations.
Of course, that may sound like a rather broad term, and it can be hard to picture when it comes down to it. And so, in this article, we will take a deeper look at kawaii is in the first place, so that we can better understand what counts as kawaii anime.
We also show you several anime that are considered kawaii so read on!
What is Kawaii and Kawaii Anime?
To understand all the facets of Kawaii, we will consider three things:
- Kawaii’s etymology
- Kawaii’s history
- Kawaii’s popularity
Etymology of the word Kawaii
“Kawaii” is a Japanese word that directly translates to cute. It can also be translated as “acceptable for affection” and “easy to love.” In this sense, it is easy to presume the kind of things that are related to kawaii.
However, its root word is much more complex than that. “Kawaii” came from “kao hayushi,” which pertains to the feeling of embarrassment and shame that comes when someone makes you appear pathetic.
Yet as time passed, people started viewing softness as a trait to be admired, not something that is to be looked down upon. In the process, the things that used to make people appear pathetic, such as innocence and naivety, started becoming characterizations that were desired.
“Kawaii” is written using two Chinese ideograms: “ka” which means passable and “ai” which means love.
And so now, we have the word kawaii, which is also used to describe babies, doe eyes, and adorable animals. Even beyond these, kawaii is an over-arching term that extends to multiple facets of its culture. Think: toys, games, shows, clothing, theme parks, cafes, music, and even food!
History of Kawaii
Kawaii can be traced back to the 1970s, when young girls started deviating from the traditional vertical writing style of the Japanese. Now, at the time, their handwritings were mostly standardized, as the Japanese culture heavily values conformity. They only differed by the thickness of the lines.
It was then that a movement called marui-ji spread among teenage girls. They started writing their hiragana using mechanical pencils and they peppered their lines using hearts, stars, and doodles. Now, although this practice may be common today, it was unheard of back then.
By using what is known as “fluffy hiragana,” they used their writing as a way to express their individuality. Their letters were no longer pointed and stiff; instead, they were rounded and unique. To an extent, we can think of marui-ji as an influence for today’s emojis.
This eventually became so controversial that schools even banned students from writing in this manner! Still, the Japanese were already hooked on the idea. Hence, when Hello Kitty was released by Sanrio in the mid-70s, they held on to it with very right fists.
Hello Kitty first appears as merchandise in 1975. After it gained popularity, it was given a show in 1987. “Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater” was the first of many Hello Kitty animations.
Clothes, bags, pencil cases, cutlery, and random household items were suddenly invaded by this cute character. Until today, it is considered as one of the most kawaii characters in history. Companies saw the trend, and they began to capitalize on it by releasing other kawaii goods as well.
The Rise of Kawaii’s Popularity
Soon enough, girl’s manga magazines were releasing cute stickers to go along with their releases, and cute stationery became all the rage in Japan. By 1982, a new manga magazine was born: Olive by Heibon publishing.
Olive promoted dressing up in frills, lace, and florals, and its fans were all too happy to follow suit. It branded kawaii as something that was “by women, for women,” thereby cementing itself as a mainstay in kawaii culture for many years to come.
A good number of celebrities who subscribed to kawaii themes were also launched into stardom at the time. Until today, we see that cutesy characteristics are considered desirable for idols, as can be seen in this video of modern J-pop group, Iris:
Note the pastel colors, cutesy outfits, delicate movements, and sweet voices. Kawaii!
What are the Charactertizations of a Kawaii Anime?
Now that we understand the concept of kawaii, it may be easier to identify the characterizations of a kawaii anime. After all, we already have Hello Kitty, cute idol groups, and heart doodles as references. With this in mind, here are various characteristics that make up a kawaii anime:
1. A big head and tiny eyes
When we think of cute anime characters, we usually think of those that have big, wide, glittering eyes. Now, we’ll get to that later. For now, we will consider the cornerstone of kawaii illustrations, Hello Kitty, who had a very big head with disproportionate, tiny eyes.
Think about it: what makes Hello Kitty cute? If I may, I believe it has something to do with the fact that Hello Kitty’s overall proportions make her seem like a baby. Also, the fact that she’s portrayed as a kitty, not a cat, makes us subconsciously think of her as a tiny animal that needs to be taken care of.
Hence, we may encounter cute, animal characters with the same characterizations in kawaii anime. Other similar characters include Pikachu and Rilakumma.
2. Wide eyes
Wide eyes are already considered as penchant in anime drawings, but this element is very kawaii in its structure and use. Think of puppy doe eyes. Although anime eyes are not necessarily designed after those, they do manage to accomplish the same purpose: to captivate the audience.
Although most anime are already using wide eyes on their characters, kawaii anime, in particular, enhance this by frequently adding twinkling effects and by employing them to communicate innocent, heart-warming emotions.
With that said, here is an interesting video going into the history of how wide anime eyes came to be:
3. Light and neutral colors
More often than not, kawaii anime like to use light and neutral colors in order to project the schema of being cute and light-hearted. Lighting is also always bright, with almost no apparent shadows in the illustrations.
4. Loli-inspired outfits
This may sound a little controversial, but when it comes to anime, most kawaii characters are female, and almost all of them are decked out in frills, lace, and short skirts. These are known as loli-inspired outfits.
Strictly speaking, a loli comes from the book “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov. It basically refers to an underage girl.. However, these days, you are considered a loli for as long as you look like a minor.
Loli characters are very famous in anime, particularly among the male demographic. These ladies are marked by their youthful appearance and energy. Accordingly, they are thought of as kawaii. In line with this, young-looking outfits such as tutus and Victorian dresses are commonplace in kawaii anime.
5. A high-pitched and delicate voice
Most if not all of the female characters in a kawaii anime will have a high-pitched, modulated, and delicate voice. This is because this kind of intonation is perceived as childlike, thereby invoking the loveliness that kawaii elements seek to project.
6. Upbeat and positive personality
People normally find bubbliness cute, whereas sadness and negativity are thought of as dark and brooding. In short, not cute. Of course, it then follows that kawaii anime features a variety of characters that lean towards happiness and positivity.
Although they may have variations, most characters in kawaii anime maintain hopeful, bright, and upbeat personalities. Otherwise, they may no longer be thought of as kawaii.
7. Sparkle and doodle effects
True to its roots, kawaii anime is commonly marked by exaggerated effects such as sprinkles and sparkles, stickers, and doodles. Picture the things that girls frequently add to their scrapbooks and photobooth images.
In kawaii anime, these effects are not necessarily present in every scene. However, they do pop out every now and then, even during surprising occasions.
8. A feel good plot
Sebastian Masuda, also known as the godfather of kawaii, once said that kawaii is more than just physical cuteness; it is also about emotion. This means that kawaii has to trigger a sense of warmth or joy within you. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a shell.
For the most part, anime that makes you think that “this is so sweet” or “this is so cute” can be classified as kawaii anime.
In application, kawaii anime almost always has a feel-good plot that is sure to inspire viewers. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the story does not contain conflict or fight scenes. It just means that the overall arc of the story ultimately brings happiness to the watchers.
Anime that are considered Kawaii
Knowing the elements of a kawaii anime will make their identification infinitely easier. Now, we will look at several anime that are considered kawaii. For better comprehension, we will also consider what makes them kawaii.
1. Acchi Kocchi
Acchi Kocchi is an adorable anime about Tsumiki Minawa who fell in love with her best friend, Io Otonashi. As you can expect from these kinds of shows, it follows the narrative of the girl wrestling with her feeling, as she worries that her object of affection will not reciprocate her emotions.
Still, she has a supportive group of friends who think that they are just perfect for each other. The storyline alone is very kawaii. But to add to this, the characters are drawn as petite and cute, thereby adding to Acchi Kocchi’s legitimacy as a kawaii anime.
This anime would be categorized as a comedy, but it is full of cute elements that make it classify as a kawaii anime. For example, the main character, Hirasawa Yui, joins her school’s music club and learns to play guitar because she thought it was cute.
The art style is cute on its own, but add this to the music, and everything seems spectacular. The story is also light-hearted for the most part, and it is sure to make you laugh. If you would also observe the voices of the characters in this show, you will be able to identify that they are very kawaii.
Hanayamata follows the journey of five beautiful girls who spend their time learning and growing in the art of yosakoi, a form of Japanese dance. There are hardly any male characters, and for the most part, you will see how it’s a show that portrays cute girls doing cute, everyday things.
Its very style and storyline make it a kawaii anime. Beyond these, it is also surrounded with beautiful movement as it depicts the journey of ladies who learn to discover their shine and dazzle.
However, this is not to say that it is a shallow show. If you watch it, you will discover that it contains a substance that goes beyond its stereotypical elements. It is heartfelt and sincere in the message it tries to convey, and its beauty and loveliness is more than just skin-deep.
Just consider its trailer here and tell me if it isn’t kawaii:
4. Gakuen Babysitters
Gakuen Babysitters starts out with a tragedy, but the show will quickly turn into one of the cutest anime you have ever seen. Ryuuichi Kashima lost both his parents in a plane crash, so he had to take custody of his younger brother, Kotarou.
Due to his situation, he has to work as the babysitter of a bunch of toddlers in the school. This means that he has to take care of his young brother and his young friends. Now, the children alone are kawaii. But their misadventures and personalities make them even more so.
The show carries an innocence that is captivating, but it also deals with the relaity of pain and trauma. This dissonance is appropriately packaged in a manner that does not feel too heavy, which makes it light-hearted still.
You will also observe that the colors and lighting tend to lean on the lighter end, even when dealing with more serious themes. The show divulges the reality with kids as they are sometimes destructive and bratty, yet even then, they remain lovable and kawaii.
5. Tsuki ga Kirei
Tsuki ga Kirei is a melancholic, slice-of-life series that deals with themes that may seem weightier than the others on this list. However, this does not rob from the fact that the show follows a pair of young introverts who wrestle with the sincerity and innocence of a first love.
Not only are the relationships between the main characters kawaii; their interactions that are driven by their shyness are also very heartening. The overall theme is dreamy and it’s impossible to finish this show without feeling a semblance of warmth and butterflies. It is captivating, adorable, and well-developed.
Just watch this adorable trailer and get caught up in the kawaii: