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‘Cartoons’ verus ‘anime’ - a look into Japanese words that have become part of American English

Updated on September 8, 2011

As any anime otaku (anime geek) will tell you, there is a very big difference between ‘cartoons’ and ‘anime’. To anyone who is not familiar with the differences, it boils down to just being a plain old cartoon. Right?

Right. Anime essentially is cartoons, but there is a difference. ‘Cartoons’ are animations created in America. ‘Anime’ is animations created in Japan. Unless you are an anime otaku, you may not know this distinguished difference.

There are many terms from Japan that have become a part of the American language. Sometimes a word may be changed to suit an easier pronunciation. Other times the meaning is slightly altered to fit a certain image.

A couple prime examples of words with altered pronunciations are the words ‘sake’ and ‘karaoke’. If you are like most of the American population, you may have read these words as ‘sah-kee’ and ‘kar-ee-oh-kee’. However, the original Japanese pronunciation is ‘sah-keh’ and ‘kah-rah-oh-keh’. It is unknown how these words were changed, but one can almost guarantee that if you asked a friend if they wanted to do some ‘kah-rah-oh-keh’, you would get a funny look.

The American otaku subculture has more of these words that may be less familiar to your average Joe. Consider the words ‘manga’, ‘cosplay’, ‘neko’, and even the word ‘otaku’ itself. ‘Manga’ are Japanese comic books (Bleach, D. Gray-Man, Skip Beat, and Fruits Basket to name a few), and the word is used to specifically differentiate the Japanese style from that of American comic books (Batman and Green Lantern anyone?). ‘Cosplay’ is dressing up as an anime character, but it is truly no different from dressing up for Halloween. ‘Neko’ in Japanese simply means ‘cat’, but it is more commonly used in English to refer to the catgirls and catboys that often appear in anime.

So why are these words used?

The reason is unknown. Perhaps it is to help identify anime fans over comic book fans. Maybe even to demonstrate preference of one over the other. But as the trends of Japan continue to influence and cross over into America, more words will become more common, no matter how they are used or pronounced.

A neko.
A neko. | Source
A Sora cosplay (Kingdom Hearts)
A Sora cosplay (Kingdom Hearts) | Source

Here is a list of words often used between the two countries (most are otaku terminology):

Word – American counterpart - Meaning

Anime – Cartoons – Cartoons from Japan.
Manga – Comic books – Comic books from Japan.
Cosplay – Costumes – Dressing up in costumes of anime characters.
Neko – Cat – Refers to catgirls and catboys (people with the ears and tails of cats).
Inu – Dog – Refers to doggirls and dogboys (people with the ears and tails of puppies).
Kitsune – Fox – Refers to foxgirls and foxboys (people with the ears and tails of foxes), and occasionally the messengers of the god Inari.
AMV – Anime Music Video – A music video featuring anime (usually fan made).
Shoujo – Girl’s comics – Comics aimed towards girls, usually about falling in love.
Shounen – Boy’s comics – Comics aimed towards boys, usually has a lot of action.
Shoujo ai – Light girlxgirl comics – Comics about relationships between females that do not contain explicit content.
Shounen ai – Light boyxboy comics – Comics about relationships between males that do not contain explicit content.
Yuri – Adult girlxgirl comics – Comics about relationships between females that does contain explicit content.
Yaoi – Adult boyxboy comics – comics about relationships between males that does contain explicit content.
Hentai – Adult comics – Basically anime porn.

Below is a link to more otaku terminology!


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    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks for all the useful terminology. Now the name Inuyasha makes a lot more sense. I have a Japanese dictionary, but I cannot always find out a character's name based on trying to break it down. Voted up!

    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 5 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      No problem! Thanks for reading!

      If you break down Inuyasha's name, it comes out somewhere between "dog demon" and "dog spirit". 'Yasha' comes from the word 'yaksha', which is a Buddhist word for guardian deities that are sometimes depicted as demonic warriors.

    • mayemerald profile image

      mayemerald 5 years ago

      nice hub :)

    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 5 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      Why thank you. Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      september girl 5 years ago

      Thanks for explaining the difference in the words meanings...from Japan to American English. I found this hub useful and interesting! I love the faces of anime characters. : )

    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 5 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      Haha, no probs! I love the faces on anime characters too. They are so expressive and a lot of fun! Thanks for reading~

    • Bubblegum Senpai profile image

      Bubblegum Senpai 5 years ago from Little Tokyo

      This reminds me of a hub I wrote on Otaku slang... Very Good. I've never heard the term Neko to describe Catgirls and Catboys... *ashamed* But I do sometimes call my cat "Coneko" just how some some guys call theirs "Kitty"

    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 5 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      Coneko? How cute~ I call my cat neko-kun on occasion, but then he just looks at me like I'm stupid. -.-;a

      Thanks for reading! I'll be sure to check your hub out~

    • profile image

      tonyskatehiphop 5 years ago

      Wow.. That's True..

      excuse me..Uh, I Wants To Publish My Manga Comic Here.. Maybe It's More Than 100 Page... Can I Upload It In The Hub?

    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 5 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      I don't see why not, but you would have to ask that question in the forums:

      If you are able to, lemme know! I'd be happy to read it. ^_^ Thanks for reading~

    • AnimeHime2011 profile image

      AnimeHime2011 5 years ago from Greensboro, North Carolina

      I love at how you had described things like this: I now use this to show/explain the difference between Anime and Cartoons to my non-anime watching friends/family. AMAZING HUB!

    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 5 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      Wow! Glad you found it useful! Thank you for reading!

    • WhatKaoriSays profile image

      WhatKaoriSays 5 years ago from England

      I was wondouring what Kitsune meant for quite a while now and I finally get it, my girlfriend would always call her self Kitsune as her IM name and now I feal so embarrsed =*-*= Great Hub btw :3

    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 5 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      Glad I could help! Thanks for reading~

    • profile image

      Rajdeep Sukhwal 5 years ago

      A very nice effort by amalgamating the two languages in such a useful & informant way.

    • Jeanie Kim profile image

      Jeanie Kim 4 years ago

      Wow, I know all of the Otaku Terminology listed, lol. I'm a nerd o.o;

    • harliquinn profile image

      harliquinn 4 years ago

      Wonderful hub. I love anime and comics and the two are pretty similar but are still different. I like that you explained the terms too. I think people use them without really knowing what they mean and that can be a very bad thing haha

    • writinglover profile image

      Jennifer 4 years ago from Lost...In Video Games

      I loved your hub! I actually did a project for a college class when I was sophomore that was on anime and some of my project involved the terminology you listed here (got a B+)! I'm a huge freak if you hadn't noticed! LOL! By the way, thanks for following me! I'm really flattered that you think my hubs are good (yes, I read your profile).

    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 4 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      Haha! Thanks for reading! I never got to do fun projects like that in high school, but I've always loved anime and the Japanese language.

    • profile image

      animearecartoons 3 years ago

      So much wrong with this article.

    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 3 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      Please do explain. I have been studying Japanese for six years, so I would greatly appreciate an explanation.

      Judging by your username, I feel like you might be mistaken about what this article was about. Anime are cartoons, but fans of anime have categorized it as its own style. This article was about terminology, not whether or not anime and cartoons are different.

    • profile image

      thrashedfingers 23 months ago

      It's an American tradition that started in the '80s that really should stop. We've been taking Japanese words 'manga' and 'anime' and making them country-of-origin-specific words. They aren't though. Japan says "manga" to refer to a comic, no matter where that comic was made. Japan shortened the word 'animation' by taking the last syllable out and saying "anime", which they use to refer to any animation no matter where it was made. It's convoluted to take these foreign words and make them country-of-origin-specific or style-specific when they were never meant to be. If we want to have a quick term to use to refer to drawn media specifically from Japan or of a style typical of Japan, it should be original. How about 'J-toons'?

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