17 Things You Need To Know About Otaku Culture In Japan

Today, we have various genres of anime that cater to many types of people worldwide. Here are 17 things you need to know about the World of Otaku in Japan.

April 9, 2020

The term “Otaku” originated from a Japanese word for another person’s house or family (お宅 or オタク). Otaku is most commonly used to describe anime and manga fans – but it can also be used for other hobbies such as games, trains, or robots. In the past, people used to think that otaku is a derogatory term because the first thing that comes to mind is a geeky unhealthy man with an obsession with 2D girls and anime figures.

Several Otakus holding body pillows of their waifu (favorite female characters)
Stereotypical Image of Otaku in the past

Since the love for anime has reached far and wide, that stereotype has long died. The term otaku has become far less negative, and more and more people start calling themselves otaku to show their love for anime. In some places, obsessive anime fans are called “weeaboo,” but the big difference is that weeaboos are usually fans of an idea of Japan, which in most cases, has come to their understanding of Japan from anime, which might be a little far off from reality.

Here, we’ll be focusing on anime otaku culture. It is essential to know the anime genres as well as the common fandoms (“fans” plus “kingdom,” which refers to people who collectively like the same thing.) Let’s get started!


1. Isekai (異世界)

Isekai (異世界) means “parallel universe” or “fantasy world,” and it’s one of the most popular categories of anime today. A protagonist somehow ends up in a parallel universe where he struggles to figure out how the new world works. Isekai can be categorized into several sub-genres. For example, Sword Art Online is a typical Isekai anime but is also a Harem, Kirito surrounded by various female characters. Other titles that can be considered Isekai are; Rising of The Shield Hero, Re: Zero, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime and No Game No Life.

Image from the anime "Sword Art Online"
Sword Art Online, Source: gojinshi.com

2. Shounen (少年)

A lot of Isekai shows can also crossover to action anime. The most popular genre of anime is Shounen, which usually comes from Shounen manga (Young boy’s comics). However, it is certainly not limited to young audiences. The best example of Shounen manga comes from Shounen Jump. It is the single most selling manga magazine published weekly with one chapter of a dozen on-going mangas. Many, if not most, that get published in Shounen Jump pretty much gets an anime adaptation due to the popularity of the magazine. One Piece, Gintama, Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer), My Hero Academia all got published in Shounen Jump and now have a huge following.

Image from the anime "Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer)"
Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer), Source: sgcafe.com

3. Seinen (青年)

The older brother of Shounen manga is Seinen manga, such as the manga Inuyashiki. Inuyashiki had an anime adaptation in 2017. Most Seinen anime are very dark and deal with themes with a lot of gore, violence, or disturbing plot lines. Titles such as Tokyo Ghoul are also in this category. Seinen manga/anime is meant for adults, unlike Shounen manga, which focuses on more light-hearted adventures and friendship.

Image from the anime "Inuyashiki"
Inuyashiki, Source: rightstufanime.com

4. Shojo-manga (少女漫画)

Some fans love romance stories, which are labeled as Shojo-manga (Girl’s comics), but a lot of guys also enjoy it too. Some examples of Shojo anime are Kimi ni Todoke, Your Lie in April, and Fruits Basket. The protagonist is usually female, and the main focus of the storyline is the development of her relationships.

Image from the anime "Fruits Basket"
Fruits Basket, Source: dangonews.com

5. Yaoi (ヤオイ)

Another genre that usually caters to females is Yaoi (Boy’s Love) which focuses on two male characters who develop a romantic relationship. Fans are called Fujoshi (losely translated to; impure or filthy girl). Most series are homoerotic but anime usually cuts off the love scenes. Ten Count, Sekaiichi Hatsukoi and Banana Fish are some examples for this genre. Yuri is the term for lesbian anime but so far there aren’t many that have become too popular yet. Citrus is an example of Yuri anime.

Image from the anime "Ten Count"
Ten Count, Source: reademption-lit.blogspot.com  

6. Reverse Harem (リバースハーレム)

The other type of otaku is Reverse Harem. Like it says in the name, reverse harem anime usually has one female character who is surrounded by potential love interests. Most of these titles come from dating-sim games that are popular due to the art style and voice actors. Popular titles that can be included in this category are; Uta no Prince-sama, Norn 9, and Hakuouki. 

Image from the anime "Norn 9"
Norn 9, Source: https://www.otomate.jp

7. Harem (ハーレム)

Speaking of Harem, the harem anime is of course where the reverse version originated from. Harem anime has one male protagonist who is surrounded by plenty of attractive females who at some point has a crush on the main guy. Some titles leave it vague so the fans can choose who to root for. Sometimes they go for the main heroine but have some cute scenes with the other girls. Titles that can go into this genre are; Sword Art Online, Arifureta, and 5-tobun no Hanayome. 

Image from the anime "5-tobun no Hanayome"
5-tobun no Hanayome, Source: digistatement.com

8. Idol (アイドル)

Another popular genre of anime and manga is the Idol anime. The main characters are pop idols, which can be both male and female, but rarely together. The biggest girl group franchise in the idol anime category is undoubtedly Love Live! And iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls. You can see characters from this series crossing over phone games, arcade games, and even train skins. This genre has a very loyal following. For the all-guy groups, we have the undying Uta no Prince-sama, which introduces new groups of guys every season with fresh seiyuu (voice actors), as well as the up and rising IDOLiSH7. This genre sells out concerts, voice actors events, and soundtracks like crazy.

Image from the anime "iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls"
iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls, Source: recommendmeanime.com

9. Gundam, Mecha (ガンダム、メカ)

Lastly, we have Gundam fans. Gundam or Mecha anime and manga definitely crossover other genres depending on the setting and plotline where the Gundams are. But what makes them Mecha is the presence of giant robots and a lot of fantastic fight scenes. People love this genre for robot designs and spacecrafts. Some Gundam fans enjoy building their own PlaMo, which came from the words “Plastic Models.”

Image from the anime "Gundam Seed"
Gundam SEED, Source: https://nijimen.net/

There are several conventions in Japan that are centered around this hobby. This is the best place to find model kits and exhibition displays. Some hobbyists rent out booths to display their work since most PlaMo can be customized. Some artists paint their PlaMo after building it, and the love they put into this craft is quite admirable.

10. Doujinshi (同人誌)

Otaku love events. Anime Cons are where the industries announce their new anime releases and show off their future projects. The main difference of anime cons in the West and the East is that in America and Canada, the Artist Alley*, Cosplay, and panels are the most significant part of the event. Meanwhile, in Japan, fan art for sale is very unusual in conventions, and Japanese cons focus more on the official merchandise and announcements.

The only fan-made goods that flourish in Japan are the Doujinshi or fan-made comics. They usually come in a larger but thinner format. This is where the artists have the freedom to use the characters in their own stories – typically focused on sexual content. Huge conventions for doujinshi and fanart illustrations in Japan are called Komiket and Komitia. It is a mix of original work and fan comics. 


Now the story is not complete without talking about Akihabara. Akihabara is famous for being the main hub of otaku. You can find arcades, shops focusing just anime goods, manga, DVDs, figures, PlaMo, dolls, and of course the famous Maid Cafes. Events happen in Akihabara very often and seasonally themed cafes that celebrate the launch of new games or anime. Let’s go through each of the subcultures that go under this umbrella.

Photo Source: tokyo-cheapo.com

Cityscape of Akihabara Crossing at night
Akihabara Crossing at Night

11. Arcades

First off, when you have the chance to visit Akihabara, you will notice that Sega 04 arcade is right in front of the station. There are 5 Sega arcades in Akihabara overall. The latest fifth building was just opened in late 2019. They feature a lot of crane games, fighting games, music games, shooting games, dancing games, and some Segas even have a VR floor. Asides from Sega, Taito Station, is one of the most well-known building due to its iconic symbol with the space invader aliens.

Other commendable arcades are Adores, Hey!, and Leisure Land. Adores have mostly UFO catchers, Hey! has a good collection of fighting games, and Leisure Land has a massive selection of crane games. If you are looking for a retro arcade, there is none other than Super Potato, where you can also find games and consoles no longer in circulation. Great for collectors and for people who want to delve into nostalgia. It is also important to mention that on the top floors of Don Quixote, they have a smaller Leisure Land franchise, which is known for having the easier crane games.   

Two men playing an arcade game "Tekken"
Two men playing Tekken in arcade

12. UFO Catchers

Unlike in the West, UFO catchers in Japan are set up like a puzzle. It’s not so much about getting the crane on top of the toy and just grabbing it. In Japan, arcades place their collectibles in a way that it would take at least 5-10 moves to slowly inch the boxes into the gaps. The most common set up is a box on top of two sticks. You use the crane to move the box horizontally so it can fall between the two parallel sticks. Most of the machines are programmed to give you a strong grip, in the beginning, so you can move the box close enough to think that you are one move away.

However, the machines will start to give you a weak grip, which will just nudge the box slightly. In theory, if the prize is rare or in demand, the number of weak grips are often set higher. If you spend enough money, the machine will eventually give you a strong move enough just to pick up the item. Say 3,000 to 5,000 yen. The most popular items that UFO catcher use as prizes are the anime figures. These figures will never be on sale anywhere else, so the only way to obtain them is through the crane games. There are also plushies, posters, and sometimes snacks.   

Image of an UFO Catcher in Japan
UFO Catcher

13. Second-Hand Stores

Hot tip! If you are desperate to get a certain figure from the UFO catchers that you just can’t win or are already out of circulation, there is a good chance that you will find it at second-hand stores. Stores like Radio Kaikan, Lashing Bang, Mandarake, AmiAmi, 

Mulan, just to name a few, are a huge part of Akihabara. These places buy and sell goods. It is excellent for traders because if you get doubles, you can trade it in for cash. Some people do this for a living where they win a lot of prizes from the crane games and sell them in the shops for money. And for people who are hunting for collectibles, you can probably score a lot of rare items there but for possibly a much higher price depending on rarity and popularity.

14. Gachapon

Another reason why these second-hand shops are flourishing is because of Gachapon. Gachapon is the “capsule toy” machine. You put in 200 to 400 yen for a random toy in a capsule. There are several designs that you can get, but it is concealed in a plastic ball. The possible designs are posted in front of the machine. This works so well because it is fairly cheap compared to figures, and the thrill of gambling to get the character you want keeps people addicted to it.

It is very common to have multiples of the same character since the popular ones are often smaller in number. So when you get doubles, you can trade with other fans online or simply sell it for cheaper in the second-hand shops. This system is not limited to gachapon but also trading cards and trading figurines. 

Gachapon of the anime Fruits Basket
Gachapon of the anime Fruits Basket

15. Trading

Trading is a big part of the otaku community in Japan. There are a lot of event-exclusive items that are raffle based. Some people grab a hand full of goods from the store and just wait in front of the shop for people who want to trade. They hold their items in front of them to see if anyone wants the character they got. This happens often and is also a great way to meet friends who are in the same fandom. Also trading cards and up selling rare cards for different arcade games are quite common.

Person holding trading cards of the game Fate Grand Order (FGO)
Trading cards of the game Fate Grand Order (FGO)

16. Cosplay

Cosplay is also an integral part of the otaku community, but the social norms in Japan are very different from the West. In Japan, people are not allowed to cosplay outside of events, especially if they are recognizable characters. Companies ask cosplayers to refrain from dressing up as their characters because they might misrepresent the image of the anime or game. Just imagine if a guy dressed as Naruto gets arrested in public. The memes will blow up the internet.

Also, in Japan, when you are at a cosplay event, people usually ask for formal permission before taking pictures. Professional photographers and cosplayers first exchange business cards before taking photographs. It is a common courtesy here. There are professional cosplayers who are practically treated like supermodels. But there are also casual cosplayers who just like to dress up and take photos for themselves. In this case, they have spaces for rent in Akihabara for photoshoots.

There are staged rooms for rent with different themes. Some jails, castles, hospitals, and other places you can’t easily do a photoshoot at. Cosplayers rent these places out with their photographers, and they have to dress up and set up at the location. There are also live events where stage actors and actresses perform while they lip-sync to the original voices of the characters. 

People cosplayed as characters of One Piece
People Cosplayed as characters from One Piece

17. Maid Cafes

Maid Cafes have become essential to Akihabara culture. These days they have a lot of themed cafes such as cosplay cafes, muscle cafes, gaming cafes, and of course, cats, owls, and hedgehog cafes. There are over a hundred maid cafes in Akihabara alone.

Some regulars are given titles, depending on the cafe. If you go there, often you can level up in rank. Your titles change from just “Master” to titles like “Glorious Master,” and for masters or mistresses who have visited 5,000 times, you get the highest level of master. In “@Home Cafe,” they hold a special event just for you on your five thousandth visit, and you will officially be crowned “The Myth.” The ranks, titles, and promos differ for each cafe. As you level up, you get rank-exclusive menus, discounts as well as new games you can play with the maids.

Maids from Maid Dreaming' in Akihabara
Maids from Maid Dreamin’, Source: https://maidreamin.com

To some people, the maid cafes are a strange concept, and some people find it sexist. Well, if you want to keep it fair, there are also butler cafes that are very successful in Ikebukuro City. Ikebukuro City is the Akihabara of fujoshi and butler cafe lovers. That is a whole different world.

Swallowtail Butler Cafe, http://www.butlers-cafe.jp


That is it for the basics of the Otaku World in Japan! Of course, we could go more in-depth for each topic and each fandom. Whatever it is you are into, there is bound to be a place for you in Japan as much as the internet 🙂


Words to Remember:

Waifu = Originated from the word “wife” meaning one’s favorite female character in a series.
Husbando = “husband” is also used but less commonly heard.
Fandom = Term that came from “fans” plus “kingdom”, which pertains to people who collectively like the same thing. 
Artist Alley = A large section of western conventions where fanart and non-licensed goods are sold.

Caryn Carmona

Caryn Carmona is a freelance artist. She has been doing independent work for 12 years and has lived in the Philippines, Canada, America and Japan. She delves in art and anime related events such as conventions and meets. You can find her raiding artist alleys and Akihabara most of the time. Her art and adventures can be found at bachoochi.com. Her love for dogs and media knows no bounds.

More articles by Caryn Carmona

Related Articles


avatar for Christian DakinChristian Dakin

Christian Dakin is an editor, designer, and video game director currently based out of Tokyo, Japan. Origin...

avatar for Yasu MatsunoYasu Matsuno

Founder of Japan Insider. Japanese-born entrepreneur. Spent his life around the globe, including To...

avatar for Kevin MurasakiKevin Murasaki

Kevin Murasaki grew up moving back and forth between Chicago and Yokohama, Japan. Known as a "hafu", Kevi...

avatar for Mark KennedyMark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy is a native of Chicago who has spent more than 20 years living, studying, and working in Jap...