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For the Ōta-ku ward, see Ōta, Tokyo.

The Akihabara neighborhood of Tokyo is a popular gathering site for otaku.

Otaku (おたく / オタク?) (oh-tah-kooh) is a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime, manga, or video games.


Otaku is derived from a Japanese term for another's house or family (お宅, otaku) which is also used as an honorific second-person pronoun. The modern slang form, which is distinguished from the older usage by being written only in hiragana (おたく) or katakana (オタク or, less frequently, ヲタク), or rarely in rōmaji, appeared in the 1980s. In the anime Macross, first aired in 1982, the term was used by Lynn Minmay as an honorific term.[1][2] It appears to have been coined by the humorist and essayist Akio Nakamori in his 1983 series An Investigation of "Otaku" (『おたく』の研究 "Otaku" no Kenkyū?), printed in the lolicon magazine Manga Burikko. Animators like Haruhiko Mikimoto and Shōji Kawamori used the term among themselves as an honorific second-person pronoun since the late 1970s.[2]

Another source for the term comes from the works of science fiction author Motoko Arai. In his book Wrong about Japan, Peter Carey interviews the novelist, artist and Gundam chronicler Yuka Minakawa. She reveals that Arai used the word in her novels as a second-person pronoun, and the readers adopted the term for themselves.

In Japan

In modern Japanese slang, the term otaku refers to a fan of any particular theme, topic, or hobby. Common uses are anime otaku (a fan of anime), cosplay otaku and manga otaku (a fan of Japanese comic books), pasokon otaku (personal computer geeks), gēmu otaku (playing video games), and wota (pronounced 'ota', previously referred to as "idol otaku") that are extreme fans of idols, heavily promoted singing girls. There are also tetsudō otaku or denshamania (railfans) or gunji otaku (military geeks).

While these are the most common uses, the word can be applied to anything (music otaku, martial arts otaku, cooking otaku, etc).

The loan-words maniakku or mania (from the English "maniac" and "mania") are sometimes used in relation to specialist hobbies and interests. They can indicate someone with otaku leanings. For example, Gundam Mania would describe a person who is very interested in the anime series Gundam). They can also describe the focus of such interests (a maniakku gēmu would be a particularly underground or eccentric game appealing primarily to otaku). The nuance of maniakku in Japanese is softer and less likely to cause offense than otaku.

Some of Japan's otaku use the term to describe themselves and their friends semi-humorously, accepting their position as fans, and some even use the term proudly, attempting to reclaim it from its negative connotations. In general colloquial usage however, most Japanese would consider it undesirable to be described in a serious fashion as "otaku"; many even consider it to be a genuine insult.

An interesting modern look into the otaku culture has surfaced with an allegedly true story surfacing on the largest internet bulletin board 2channel: "Densha Otoko" or "Train Man", a love story about a geek and a beautiful woman who meet on a train. The story has enjoyed a compilation in novel form, several comic book adaptations, a movie released in June 2005, a theme song Love Parade for this movie by a popular Japanese band named Orange Range and a television series that aired on Fuji TV from June to September 2005. The drama has become another hot topic in Japan, and the novel, film and television series give a closer look into the otaku culture. In Japan its popularity and positive portrayal of the main character has helped to reduce negative stereotypes about otaku, and increase the acceptability of some otaku hobbies.

The former Prime Minister of Japan, Taro Aso also claimed himself to be an otaku, using this subculture to promote Japan in foreign affairs.[3]

A subset of otaku are the Akiba-kei, men who spend a lot of time in Akihabara in Tokyo and who are mainly obsessive about anime, idols and games. Sometimes the term is used to describe something pertaining to the subculture that surrounds anime, idols and games in Japan. This subculture places an emphasis on certain services (see fanservice) and has its own system for judgment of anime, dating simulations and/or role-playing games and some manga (often dōjinshi) based upon the level of fanservice in the work. Another popular criterion — how ideal the female protagonist of the show is — is often characterized by a level of stylized cuteness and child-like behavior (see moe). In addition, this subculture places great emphasis on knowledge of individual key animators and directors and of minute details within works. The international subculture is influenced by the Japanese one, but differs in many areas often based upon region. (See also: Superflat, Hiroki Azuma.)

On the matter, in recent years "idol otaku" are naming themselves simply as Wota (ヲタ?) as a way to differentiate from traditional otaku. The word was derived by dropping the last mora, leaving ota (オタ?) and then replacing o (?) with the identically sounding character wo (?), leaving the pronunciation unchanged.[4]

In Japan, anime is not as widely accepted and mainstream as manga. Because of this the otaku subculture has much influence over the mainstream anime industry in Japan. The area where otaku have the most influence in manga tends to be with dōjinshi. Manga published in the United States are more influenced by their respective otaku subculture than they are in Japan. This is because most people who read manga have some ties to the subculture in the US, whereas in Japan manga reading is more widespread.[citation needed]

When otaku are studied, female otaku are largely ignored.[5] Reki-jo are female otaku interested in Japanese history.

In English

The term is a loanword from the Japanese language. In English, it is usually used to refer to an obsessive fan of anime/manga and/or Japanese culture generally, and to a lesser extent Japanese video games.

The term serves as a label similar to Trekkie or fanboy/fangirl. However, use of the label can be a source of contention among some anime fans, particularly those who are aware of the negative connotations the term has in Japan. Unpleasant stereotypes about otaku prevail in worldwide fan communities, and some anime fans express concern about the effect these more extreme fans can have on the reputation of their hobby (not unlike sentiments in the comic book and science fiction fandoms).[6]

Whilst a person who may be socially awkward but who is also intelligent and may be fairly "normal" aside from their interest in certain typically 'geekish' pursuits (video games, comic books, computers, etc.), otaku is closer in connotation to the English nerd, but the closest English-language analogue to otaku is probably the British English term anorak. Both of these English-language terms have more emphatically negative connotations of poor social skills and obsessive interest in a topic that seems strange, niche or boring to others.

While otaku in English-speaking contexts is generally understood to mean geek or even fan, this usage is not widely known in Japan and hence casual use of the term may confuse or offend native Japanese speakers if used towards them, and self-identification as an otaku may seem strange.

To indicate that one is talking about the Japanese definition rather than the English loanword, the spelling wotaku (ヲタク) is sometimes used. On Japanese forums such as 2channel, however, otaku (オタク) and wotaku (ヲタク) are used interchangeably, depending on the mood and personal style of the poster.

The term was popularized by William Gibson's 1996 novel Idoru, which has several references to otaku.

The otaku, the passionate obsessive, the information age's embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects, seems a natural crossover figure in today's interface of British and Japanese cultures. I see it in the eyes of the Portobello dealers, and in the eyes of the Japanese collectors: a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime. Understanding otaku -hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.[7]
— Spook Country, April 2001 edition of The Observer


In Japan there has been some negativity towards otaku and otaku culture. One example is Tsutomu Miyazaki, who became known as "The Otaku Murderer" in 1989. His bizarre murders fueled a moral panic against otaku. However, Japanese journalist Akihiro Otani suspected that the crimes were committed by a figure moe zoku, the amount and degree of social hostility against otaku seemed to increase noticeably for a while, as suggested by increased targeting of otaku by law enforcement as being possible suspects for sex crimes, as well as by calls from many persons in local governments for stricter laws controlling the depiction of eroticism in materials which catered to otaku, for example, in erotic manga and in erotic videogames. Nobuto Hosaka criticised a lot of the hype.


Named after the label otaku, "Otakon" (short for "otaku convention") is a convention known for focusing on anime, manga, East Asian culture, and its fandom. The second largest convention of this type in the US and the largest on the east coast, it began in State College, Pennsylvania, in 1994 and has been held in Baltimore, Maryland since 1999. In 2008, Otakon was the largest convention of its kind in the US. Konami, the company which created the Metal Gear video game series, was given permission by Otakorp, Inc. to use the word "Otacon" (the adopted codename of scientist and self-professed otaku Hal Emmerich) in any title of the series.[8]

In popular culture

As otaku make up a good portion of the creative forces behind anime and manga, it is only natural that several works of manga and anime on otaku culture have appeared, often as a light-hearted pastiche. Some of the more famous works include:

  • Akihabara@DEEP: Page, Box, Akira, Taiko, Daruma, and Izumu are six otaku, each with his/her own troubles, who seek relief through a website called "Yui's Lifeguard." When site owner Yui dies of a mysterious death, the six, who are each experts in their own fields, gather to form "Akihabara@DEEP", a "troubleshooter" group that vows to protect Akihabara and solve the problems of its inhabitants.
  • Battle Programmer Shirase: This story revolves around a "freelance programmer" named Akira Shirase. He's a very talented, yet mysterious computer programmer. Because of his incredible abilities, he's contacted by several individuals to do all sorts of strange computer-related hacking/security jobs. He's a very quiet guy who lives alone in a small apartment near his niece's house. Akira has a love for AV Idol magazines and semi-outdated computer hardware, and purchases both at shops in Akihabara. He is considered an otaku by many, but praised and accepted because of his programming/hacking skills.
  • Chaos;Head: Originally a visual novel then anime, it chronicles the life of Takumi Nishijō, who is an anime and game otaku, unknowingly walks into the scene of a gruesome murder on his way home. More mysterious events starts happening afterwards as more gruesome murders occur in the area. Takumi struggles to cope with reality and the delusions he experiences as he tries to avoid getting caught by the perpetrator behind the chain of murders.
  • Comic Party: Originally a series of dating sims which was then adapted into various anime and manga series, Comic Party follows a rejected art student as he is enthusiastically thrust into the dōjinshi scene by a crazed otaku friend. He then creates several of his own dōjinshi works while interacting with other artists and dealing with his girlfriend who is at first less than enthusiastic about his new passion.
  • Densha Otoko: Densha Otoko (電車男, literally "Train Man") is the allegedly true story of a Japanese geek in his early 20s who saves a beautiful woman ("office lady"), code-named Hermès by the geek in his online chats, from a drunken groper on a train, and then chronicles his subsequent dates with the woman and requests for help on the Japanese mega-BBS 2channel (in the TV series referred to and remodeled into the semi-fictitious "Aladdin Channel"). Mark McLelland regards Densha Otoko as 'rehabilitating' the otaku personality through his cuteness and ineptness in his relationship.[9]
  • Genshiken: A manga, later adapted into an anime series, which follows a "catch-all" otaku university club and the various activities they undertake. Much of the story is told from the perspectives of two characters: a freshman who grows into his otaku identity; and the "normal" girlfriend of another member, who disapproves of the passions of her attractive otaku boyfriend.
  • Hot Gimmick: Subaru is an avid fan of Gundam and gets made fun of for being an otaku on a number of occasions by Akane, who later develops a crush on him despite his love for Gundam and reading manga all day.
  • Inubaka: Introduced in Volume 2, the character Hiroshi Akiba is "a teen idol otaku turned dog otaku." At the beginning of the graphic novel, the interior of his apartment is shown as being covered with posters, cutouts, and miniature figurines of his favorite idols. However, after he purchases Zidaine, his french bulldog, he becomes obsessed with dogs in the same way.
  • I, Otaku: Struggle in Akihabara: A manga about a closet otaku, and a shop owner trying to get him to come out about his addiction to Anime.
  • Lucky Star: The main character, Konata Izumi is a very avid fan of anime, manga, gaming and cosplaying. Throughout the show there would be puns or jokes about other anime and other otaku hobbies. Lucky Star also shows a lot about the life of the everyday otaku in Japan.
  • MegaTokyo: A webcomic by Fred Gallagher featuring an American otaku, Piro, and his friend Largo, along with female characters Erika and Kimiko who are seiyū for Japanese dating sim games. This comic features a cast of many other characters including magical girls and ninjas.
  • Metal Gear Solid: One of the main characters of the series, Dr. Hal Emmerich, is a self-proclaimed otaku and receives his nickname, Otacon, from the otaku convention Otakon. He created Metal Gear REX because of the giant robots commonly found in anime.
  • Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu: The main character, Nogizaka Haruka, is an anime and manga otaku, a fact which she tries to keep a secret from the rest of the school.
  • No More Heroes: A video game by Suda 51 that stars an otaku named Travis Touchdown who wins a beam katana in an online auction and decides to become the highest rank assassin in the United States.
  • Otaku no Musume-san: The main character Morisaki Kouta who is an otaku living in the residence of Higansou apartment. When suddenly a 9 year-old girl approaches him and claimed to be his daughter.
  • Otaku no Video: A pair of films that follow a young college student as he is introduced into the world of the otaku by a high school friend and soon spends the next several years trying to become the greatest otaku, the Otaking. The work also serves as a semi-autobiographical account of the formation of Gainax, and is inter-cut with several live-action mock interviews with several different types of otaku.
  • Sundome: A manga about a club for otaku trying to save their virginities, despite the efforts of two females that have taken an interest in them and their club.
  • Welcome to the N.H.K.: A novel that was adapted into a manga and later an anime series, Welcome to the NHK! is a black comedy that follows a delusional hikikomori, a girl that wishes to help him, and an otaku neighbor who is also an old high school friend (of convenience). The series lampoons many otaku themes such as lolicon, moe, and dojin soft.

See also


  1. May 2006 issue of EX Taishuu magazine
  2. 2.0 2.1 オタク市場の研究(Otaku Shijou no Kenkyuu), 野村總合研究所(Nomura Research Institude), ISBN 978-986-124-768-7
  3. Otaku uses manga and anime to improve Foreign Affairs
  4. Eric Prideaux. Wota lota love. Out on the town with grown men who adore girl idols. The Japan Times, 16 January 2005.
  5. Aoyama, Tomoko (April 2009). "Eureka Discovers Culture Girls, Fujoshi, and BL: Essay Review of Three Issues of the Japanese Literary magazine, Yuriika (Eureka)". Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific 20. 
  6. Eric Prideaux. Girl geeks find manga haven. The Guardian, 1 June 2008.
  7. "Modern boys and mobile girls". The Observer. 2001-04-01. 
  8. "Otakon clock to come with select MGS titles". GameSpot. 2006-01-20. 

External links