This site is primarily geared towards those who already have an interest in or love for Japanese entertainment. But I know that if you’re a new fan, it can be a daunting prospect to pick up some of the lingo. Thus, I present to you a handy cheat sheet of terminology you might come across on these pages. (Don’t worry; I won’t tell anyone you were looking stuff up.)

If you think I’m missing any helpful terminology, please let me know!

  • 18+ — A version of a piece of media that contains explicit sexual content. Also sometimes referred to as R-18.
  • 2D — Collective slang term for anything that is “not real” (i.e. that which is drawn or computer-generated) but which still carries some sort of meaning to its audience, be that emotional resonance, sexual attraction or a simple, honest feeling of pleasant warmth and friendship. Can be used to refer to anime, manga and video games.
  • 3D — Not 2D. The “real world”. Generally regarded as inferior to 2D.
  • Ahegao — A face made by someone in the throes of brain-melting orgasmic ecstasy, easily recognised by the lolling tongue and dribbling. Heart-shaped pupils optional. Not to be confused with ahoge.
  • Ahoge — A rogue lock of hair sticking up out of the head, often used to denote characters who are foolish or carefree. Do not confuse with ahegao.
  • All-ages — Typically used to refer to a release of a visual novel that cuts out explicit sexual activity — though note that even with the lack of this content, the story itself may still deal with strong adult themes and be inappropriate for children, despite the term “all-ages”.
  • Anime — In the West, a blanket term for Japanese animation. In some Japanese works, you may hear the word anime used to describe animation in general. Do not add an acute accent to the “e” unless you want to look like a douche.
Action RPG
  • ARPG — Action RPG. A role-playing game with real-time (as opposed to turn-based) combat, typically with no delineation between exploration and combat. Generally as dependent on player skill as character stats. Good examples include Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online, the Ys series and mobile title Dragalia Lost. Note that RPGs with MMO-style combat are not ARPGs; ARPGs typically have a one-to-one direct relationship between the buttons you press and the attacks the characters unleash, while MMO-style combat often has one button to trigger more elaborate, multi-hit skills.
  • Beat ‘Em Up — Also brawler, belt scroller or belt action. A game that focuses on hand-to-hand combat in a “one vs. many” context. Usually involves one or more players cooperating to work their way through various stages on their way to a final showdown against a tough enemy, but has expanded to encompass games such as the Senran Kagura and Warriors series over time, both of which also incorporate action RPG elements.
  • Bishoujo — “Pretty girl”. Usually used when describing games in which the main characters are, unsurprisingly, attractive girls.
  • Bishounen — “Beautiful boy”. The male equivalent of bishoujo. Typically form the main cast of otome games.
  • Byoukidere — A character who is kind, gentle and loving but suffering from a serious or terminal illness. From 病気 (びょうき, byouki, sick). Kana from Kana Little Sister.
  • CGDCT — Cute Girls Doing Cute Things. Typically used to describe creative works (usually anime or manga, but there are examples of games, too) where the main point is the characterisation and moe appeal of the central all-female cast rather than dramatic narrative.
  • Dandere — A character who is quiet and keeps to themselves, only opening up to characters they trust or love. From だんまり (danmari, silent).
  • Danmaku — “Bullet curtain”, also known as “bullet hell”. Subset of the shmup genre of video games in which the emphasis is less on the shooting and more on the dodging of intricately designed bullet patterns.
  • Dating sim — A video game based around relationship mechanics. Most accurately used to refer to games where the mechanics depict the growth of a relationship, typically through RPG-style stat-building, but is often also (mis)applied to relationship-centric visual novels.
  • -dere — A collection of character archetypes in which an important aspect of their personality is being デレデレ (deredere, lovey-dovey). See byoukidere, dandere, hajidere, himedere, hinedere, kamidere, kuudere, tsundere, yandere.
  • Doujin — Literally, a group of people who share an interest or passion. Typically used in a gaming context to describe the Japanese equivalent of the indie game development scene. More broadly used to describe anything created independently of publishers by both amateurs and professionals.
  • Doujinshi — Independently created Japanese comics, often based on existing material, whether or not the creators have permission to create derivative works. Not necessarily pornographic in nature, but the sheer amount of pornographic doujinshi out there means that the word tends to carry pornographic connotations.
  • Draw rate — A term typically used in relation to free-to-play mobile games to describe the percentage chance a player will draw a character, weapon, item etc. of a given rarity when participating in the gacha system.
  • DRPG — A role-playing game that focuses on exploration and game mechanics rather than narrative exposition, usually presented from a first-person perspective with grid-based movement. These games don’t necessarily lack narrative, but their core appeal is in exploration and character progression. Also known as dungeon crawlers or, specifically in the case of first-person grid-based titles, gridders. Examples include Demon GazeDungeon Travelers 2 and MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death.
  • Ecchi — Slang term for lewd conduct. Usually used to describe suggestive content in Japanese media that doesn’t quite cross the line into explicit material. Characters in skimpy, revealing outfits, provocative poses and/or implied sexual situations rather than explicit scenes. Contrast with hentai.
  • Enhanced retro — A term used to describe a modern game (or a modern port of a retro game) that makes use of an authentic-looking retro aesthetic while incorporating modern conveniences or programming techniques that would have been impossible on ’80s and ’90s hardware. Good examples include Sega’s Sega Ages collection for Nintendo Switch, and Inti Creates’ NES-style games such as Blaster Master Zero and Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.
  • Eroge — Abbreviation for “erotic game”, a term usually used to refer to dating sims or romance-themed visual novels featuring explicit, erotic content, though this is not the focus of the experience. Contrast with galge and nukige.
  • Fanservice — Two definitions: 1) Used to describe fan-baiting ecchi (or sometimes even hentai) content in anime, manga or video games, the theory being that if there’s the prospect of seeing a favourite character’s pantsu they’ll keep watching/reading/playing. 2) Content included in a creative work — usually as part of a series — to make fans of said series happy. Final Fantasy XIV is full of references to previous Final Fantasy games; this is fanservice by the second definition.
Fanservice (Type 1)
  • Fighting game — Contrast with beat ’em up. A competitive game based around hand-to-hand or weapons-based combat that usually unfolds as a one-on-one battle between two players. Some variants include tag-team combat (see SNK Heroines), where players can switch characters in mid-battle; or more than two players fighting at once, best seen in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series.
  • Futanari — Sometimes shortened to just “futa”. A pretty lady with a willy. Being a dude who is into this does not make you gay. Typically treated as something distinct from transgender or intersex people; a creation of pure fantasy confined to the 2D realm. Not to be confused with the word for “two people”, which is futari, just to put you on edge during Japanese classes.
  • Gacha — A mechanic, primarily used in mobile games, where an in-game currency (often one which can be purchased with real money) can be spent on random “draws” of game elements — usually, but not always, playable characters. Also used to describe games that centre around this mechanic.
  • Galge — Abbreviation for “gal game”, a term usually used to refer to dating sims or romance-themed visual novels with no explicit, erotic content. Contrast with eroge.
  • -ge — A suffix added to a word to indicate it is a game with that theme. Moege is a game with moe appeal. Eroge is a game with ero (erotic) content.
  • Gap moe — A character whose appeal comes from the “gap” between the front they put up to the world and the person they really are. Yumiko from Grisaia.
Gap moe
  • Hajidere — A character who gets extremely embarrassed or flustered when around the object of their affections. From 恥 (はじ, haji, embarrassment).
  • Hentai — Literally, “perversion”. Usually used to describe Japanese anime, manga or video games with explicit content where you get to see it going in and everything (albeit often behind mosaic censorship thanks to Japan’s backwards obscenity laws). Often abbreviated as “H” which, confusingly, is pronounced “etchi”.
  • Hime-sama — Literally, princess, but commonly used to describe a particular character type, sometimes using the word “himedere” to highlight the fact that the “princess” bit often covers up more genuine feelings. In contrast to the related oujo-sama trope, the hime-sama (or himedere) is typically more of a spoiled princess who acts immaturely, rather than someone who believes herself to be superior to everyone else. El from Dungeon Travelers 2.
  • Hinedere — A character who appears cold-hearted, aloof, arrogant and cynical, but who has a potentially loving, caring heart within given the right circumstances.
  • Hiragana — The smoothly curved, somewhat cursive Japanese script used to represent phonetic sounds of Japanese words. ひらがな
  • HNNNNG — Exclamation used to express pleasure — not necessarily sexual — at the cuteness of something. Can be optionally exchanged with Uguuuu~. Sometimes also used to imply having a heart attack. See Katawa Shoujo.
  • Husbando — Male character that an audience member (usually female) has a particular affinity for; typically goes beyond simple physical attraction to the character’s appearance and also relates to emotional resonance or empathy. Female equivalent is waifu.
  • JRPG — Short for “Japanese role-playing game”. Refers to video games, often (though not exclusively) on console platforms, of Eastern origin or developed in a style evocative of Eastern developers. Tend to be more story-centric, less customisable and more linear than their Western counterparts.
  • Kamidere — A character with a god complex. They’re arrogant and overconfident in everything they do, and really hate to be wrong. From 神 (かみ, kami, god)
  • Kanji — The use of Chinese characters in written Japanese to represent whole words or concepts, and the most complex part of Japanese script to learn. Unlike hiragana and katakana, kanji is not phonetic, so you have little choice other than to learn all the characters, their meanings and their pronunciations! 漢字
  • Katakana — The more angular Japanese script, usually used to phonetically write “loan words” from English or other languages, or to emphasise particular words in a similar way to how we use italic text. カタカナ
  • Kawaii — Japanese for “cute”. Do not confuse with kowaii.
  • Kinetic novel — A visual novel in which there is no player agency or interactivity at all; it’s simply a linear story to enjoy. See: Nekopara, Ne no Kami.
Kinetic novel
  • Kompu gacha A variation on gacha where a grand prize was offered for completing a “set” of rewards, often requiring significant expenditure due to draw rates. Once a popular monetisation method for mobile games (particularly those from GREE and DeNA), the practice was made illegal in Japan in 2012 as it was considered uncomfortably close to gambling by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency.
  • Kouhai — Opposite of senpai. The partner of “lower” status out of a pair of people; the one who is in a lower year at school, or in a lower position in the workplace. The relationship typically carries implications of “mentor” (senpai) and “mentee” (kouhai), but this is not always the case in practice!
  • Kowaii — Japanese for “scary” or “creepy”. Make sure you say the correct word when complimenting your favourite bishoujo.
  • Kuudere — A popular character trope, traditionally though not exclusively exhibited by female characters and sometimes by “class president” types, in which a romantic, loving aspect of their personality is hidden beneath a cool, calm and sometimes seemingly emotionless exterior.
  • Light novel — Popular literature; a Japanese evolution of pulp media, usually aimed at young adults. Typically no more than 40-50,000 words in length, illustrated and published rapidly. Often serialised. Many popular anime series are based on light novels.
  • Loli — Short for “Lolita”. Slang for a young-looking (though not necessarily underage) female character. One of the most frequent sources of misunderstandings between otaku and non-otaku, for reasons that are probably obvious.
  • Lolicon — Contraction of Lolita complex, and used to refer either to an individual (usually male) with an attraction to young-looking or particularly petite 2D girls, or media that depicts those same female characters in suggestive or erotic situations. Note that there is usually a distinction made between a lolicon and an actual paedophile; lolicon is generally played for laughs or used as a light-hearted insult, and exclusively refers to characters within the “2D” world of anime, manga and video games. Contrast with shotacon, the equivalent for an attraction to young-looking male characters.
  • Manga — Japanese comics. Read from right to left rather than left to right. Most Western manga will remind you to start at the other end if you try to read it like a Western book or comic.
  • Metroidvania — A grossly overused term to describe 2D side-scrolling platform games that unfold in an open world and feature heavy exploration elements as well as progression tied to the acquisition of various abilities. The term comes from the Metroid and Castlevania series, which are regarded to have invented and popularised the concept between them. See open-structure 2D platform game.
  • MMORPG — Short for “massively multiplayer online role-playing game”, a variant of the RPG genre in which many players all inhabit the same virtual world online. See: Final Fantasy XIV.
  • MMO-style combat — Used to describe role-playing games (both online and offline) that are not ARPGs, but in which combat occurs in quasi-real time in the game world rather than on a separate battle screen. Typically involve automatic basic attacks on a timer, a strong emphasis on positioning and dodging area-effect attacks, and special abilities that have “cooldown” times before they can be used again. Named for its resemblance to the combat mechanics that World of Warcraft popularised, which are now used in most modern MMORPGs. Good offline examples of these mechanics include the various installments of the Xenoblade Chronicles series.
  • Mobage — Generic term for free-to-play MMORPGs on iOS and Android devices, named after DeNA’s popular Japanese portal for mobile games. See: Granblue Fantasy, Fate/Grand Order.
  • Moe — An aesthetic, primarily for character design, intended to provoke feelings of intense affection or even love in the audience. Typified by (though not exclusive to) large-eyed, attractive female characters.
  • Moe anthropomorphism — The practice of turning things (often inanimate objects) that are emphatically not cute girls into cute girls. Good examples include mobile games Girls’ Frontline (gun girls), Azur Lane and Kancolle (ship girls) and the anime Kemono Friends (animal girls).
  • Mosaic censorship — Heavily pixelating something to obscure it while still leaving it vaguely recognisable. Most commonly seen in eroge and nukige as a means of bypassing Japan’s obscenity laws regarding the depiction of genitals; also sometimes played for laughs to imply something mundane (such as an incompetent character’s cooking) is so horrifying it can’t be shown to the audience.
  • Nakige — “Crying game”; an emotionally harrowing interactive experience. Usually a visual novel, but in contrast with its close cousin, the relentlessly tragic utsuge, nakige usually have a happy or otherwise positive outcome.
  • Netorare — Often abbreviated as NTR, netorare describes a story (usually pornographic in nature) in which a main character (typically a heroine) has sexual relations with someone other than their partner, the (usually male) protagonist, either with or without their knowledge — and we, the audience, get to see all this happening in excruciating detail. As fetish material, NTR is designed to deliberately evoke feelings of jealousy; since this is a negative emotion that a lot of people aren’t keen to seek out willingly, it is regarded as a somewhat controversial fetish and narrative subgenre.
  • Nukige — A game or visual novel in which the sexual content is the main appeal element. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a total absence of story, but what story a nukige does contain is usually more a means of getting from one sex scene to another than anything else. Contrast with eroge and galge.
  • Open-structure 2D platform game — A way to say “Metroidvania” without having to use that ridiculous word, as discussed on The MoeGamer Podcast.
  • Oppai — Large breasts.
  • Oppai loli — A loli with big tits, obviously.
  • Otaku — Someone who is very interested in and passionate about something. In the West, it is usually interpreted as a fan of Japanese popular media, but in Japan you can be an otaku of anything. Carries pejorative connotations in Japan, but has a more neutral meaning in the West. Closest British equivalent is probably “anorak”.
  • Otokonoko — A more socially acceptable means of saying trap, and typically the word you’ll hear in the original Japanese script to describe such a character. A play on two Japanese homophones: 男の子 and 男の娘, both pronounced otokonoko. The first means “boy” and the second means “male girl”. Used to describe men who cross-dress, but does not directly correspond with a particular sexuality or gender identity; in other words, otokonoko characters are not typically trans — they just like (or, through a convoluted series of circumstances, find themselves) dressing up as girls.
  • Otome — literally, “girl” or “maiden”. Usually used to describe video games, often dating sims or visual novels, written with a female audience in mind. The cast of an otome game, aside from the heroine, typically consists almost exclusively of bishounen.
  • Oujo-sama — A “princess-type” character who believes herself to be well and truly above pretty much everyone else in the world. Typically characterised by her distinctive “Ohohohohoho!” laugh.
  • owo — What’s this?
  • Pantsu — Underpants. (You could have probably worked that one out.) Can be used to refer to either male or female undergarments.
  • Permadeath — A game in which when a character dies, they are dead and gone. There are several variants on this; permadeath in a roguelike describes the genre’s practice of deleting your save file when you die, while permadeath in a game like Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series of SRPGs describes the fact that a dead character cannot be used again in that playthrough… but loading an earlier save or restarting the game will allow you to use them again.
  • Pettanko — A flat-chested woman. Sometimes a character who is really insecure about this fact, though not always. Often used to distinguish between older girls or women with small breasts and actual lolis.
  • Platform game — Also platformer. A game whose main focus is the precise navigation of a character around perilous environments filled with hazards. Has both 2D and 3D variants, with the former unfolding from a side-on perspective and the latter either using fixed camera angles or, more commonly, a dynamic third-person view that can be adjusted.
  • Retro game — Old games. Your definition will vary according to how much of an old fart you are. If you think Xbox 360/PS3/Wii games are “retro”, get off my lawn.
  • Roguelike — A game that is like the early ’80s dungeon crawler Rogue. If you are playing a turn-based role-playing game that is narrative-light but exploration- and combat-heavy, features abstract presentation, unfolds in a procedurally generated dungeon and which deletes your save game when you die, you are almost certainly playing a roguelike, though the term is often misused these days to describe any game with an element of procedural generation. See roguelite.
  • Roguelite — Term coined by Cellar Door Games in 2013 to describe their game Rogue Legacy, which incorporates elements of roguelikes without being a full-on clone of Rogue. Typically used to describe a game with procedurally generated levels and some form of permadeath, though roguelites tend to feature some form of persistent progression outside of each run, allowing you to start new runs from a higher base power level the longer you play the game.
  • RPG — Role-Playing Game. A game that places a strong emphasis on abstract mechanics to represent character growth — usually the acquisition of experience points to “level up” and grow in power. There are many different types of RPG out there; see ARPG, DRPG, MMORPG and SRPG for four distinct, recognisable subgenres. Different types of RPG may place greater or lesser importance on their narrative component, but there is usually a coherent story of some description to direct the experience.
  • Senpai — An element of Japanese social convention to describe someone who is an “upperclassman”; most commonly used to describe people in the years above you at school, but can also be used to refer to colleagues in the workplace who are in a slightly superior position. Getting one’s senpai to notice you is seen as a desirable thing to do in many circumstances. See kouhai.
  • Sensei — Teacher. Also doctor, just to confuse matters. And sometimes used as a term of respect when addressing a professional (often an artist) whose work you particularly admire.
  • Shimapan — Striped panties, usually with white and mint-green stripes. It is a bit of a visual meme in a lot of anime and video games that feature fanservice to have at least one female character wearing these and flashing them occasionally.
  • Shotacon — Contraction of Shōtarō complex, after the young male character Shōtarō from the anime and manga Tetsujin 28-go. Refers to an individual (usually female) with an attraction to young-looking 2D boys, and also to media wherein male characters who appear pre-pubescent or pubescent are presented in a suggestive or erotic manner. Contrast with lolicon, the equivalent for young or young-looking females, and note that like lolicon, there is usually a distinction made between shotacon and paedophilia, with the former usually being played for laughs or used as a light-hearted insult, and exclusively referring to characters within the 2D world of anime, manga and video games.
  • Shmup — Contraction of shoot ’em upa genre of video games in which the main focus or mechanic involves shooting things. Usually used to describe such examples of these games that play or are presented in two dimensions; first-person shooters like Call of Duty are not shmups, for example. Sometimes also called STG (for ShooTing Game).
  • Shoujo — Japanese for “little girl”, usually used with more wholesome implications than loli. Most commonly used in relation to manga to describe works aimed at a stereotypically young, female audience. Often relationship-centric. Mahou shoujo, conversely, means “magical girl” and is used to describe a specific genre of anime and manga in which pretty young girls have a superhero-style secret identity (usually with an elaborate transformation sequence involving brief nudity), typified by shows such as Sailor Moon.
  • Shounen — Regarded as the inverse of shoujo, sometimes used with manga to describe works aimed at a young, male audience. Often action-centric, and the main source of the common trope of characters having a “strong sense of justice”.
  • Skinship — Bonding through physical, skin-on-skin contact ranging from simple holding hands to more intimate arrangements. Often used to describe characters (sometimes of the same sex) getting naked with one another without explicitly sexual connotations, such as attending a public baths or hot springs together — though sometimes one thing leads to another, depending on the context!
Survival horror
  • SRPG — Strategic Role-Playing Game, sometimes also referred to as Simulation Role-Playing Game. A game that combines the abstract character growth of an RPG with the larger-scale tactical action of a strategy game. SRPGs typically involve less in the way of exploration as the focus is on the battles — though some titles like Shining Force feature conventional field exploration too. Battles usually unfold somewhat like a board game, with characters taking turns to move around on a grid-based map and make use of various special abilities to defeat their foes and complete objectives.
  • Survival horror — A computer or video game which is designed to be atmospheric and scary, usually with a mechanical focus on protecting a fragile main character and managing severely limited resources (such as ammunition or health restoration items) while uncovering a mysterious narrative. See Project Zero.
  • Trap (This word upsets people sometimes. Only use it among people who are thoroughly familiar with this definition! Use otokonoko for a less risky means of getting across the same meaning if you’re worried about offending.) A feminine-looking boy dressed up as a girl in such a manner for them to be indistinguishable from a “real” girl, thereby “trapping” the viewer into thinking “oh, that’s a cute girl” when actually they’re a boy. Like futanari, totally not gay, but a bit more gay than futanari is. Real-world people who describe themselves as a “trap” tend to distance themselves from LGBT issues; they often have no desire to transition and many are not gay, they just enjoy dressing up as a cute girl for fun or perhaps sexual gratification.
  • Tsundere — A popular character trope and the most well-known of the -deres. Usually exhibited by female characters, where they tend to appear abrasive and rather defensive (tsuntsun) in an attempt to hide a distinctly lovey-dovey nature that they’re often a bit embarrassed about (deredere). See: Noire.
  • Umu — Nonsensical utterance most commonly associated with Nero Claudius from the Fate franchise. Helpful video reference.
  • Utsuge — “Depression game”. A game — usually a visual novel — in which the main point is to tell a sad, tragic story and elicit an emotional response from the player. Probably the best-known example is the visual novel Kana Little Sister. Close cousin to nakige, with the main difference being that utsuge tend to have primarily tragic endings rather than a happy resolution.
  • uwu — Pwease be gentle, senpai.
  • Visual novel/VN — Computer or video game in which the primary activity the “player” engages in is reading, though they are sometimes given choices to make that determine the ending. (A visual novel without choices is called a kinetic novel.) The text they are reading consists of narration and dialogue, and is supported by images, music, sound, voice acting and sometimes animation.
  • Waifu — A female character with whom one resonates particularly strongly for one reason or another — with those reasons being more significant than “I find this girl attractive”. Having more than one waifu will ruin your laifu! If you are having difficulty picking one waifu with which to spend your laifu, I recommend the weekly Waifu Wednesday column for some suggestions. Male equivalent is husbando, though waifu is much more commonly heard.
  • Whaling — Spending money, usually to an excessive degree, on a free-to-play mobile game in an attempt to get a favourite character, usually during a limited-time event. From the less-than-respectful term developers of mobile and social games have used for “big spenders” since the earliest days of Zynga.
  • Yaeba — The cute snaggletooth fang seen in the corner of some characters’ mouths. Typically perceived as a sign of youthfulness — and became so fashionable around 2013 that some teenage girls would deliberately undergo dental procedures to recreate the visual trope in reality.
  • Yandere — A character trope, usually exhibited by female characters, in which the person in question is obsessed with the object of their affections to such a degree that they are willing to hurt people — including themselves and the one they love — in an attempt to express their feelings, or to overcome irrational jealousy.
  • Yaoi — Sometimes also referred to as “Boys’ Love” or just “BL”. Containing homoerotic male relationships. Usually used today to describe material written for a female audience but depicting homosexual male romances. Being a dude who is into this might mean you are a bit gay. Or perhaps you’re just a jolly nice, admirable and inclusive sort of person, in which case give yourself a big pat on the back.
  • Yuri — Containing lesbian themes. In Japan, it is used more broadly to describe any content with lesbian themes; in the West, it is most commonly (though not exclusively) applied to ecchi or hentai content. Good examples of yuri content including strong narrative and characterisation include Ne no Kami and Seven Days with the Ghost.

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The best of overlooked and underappreciated computer and video games, from yesterday and today

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