Japanese emoticon styles explained

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Despite the Internet being something that unites people around the world and is arguably driving the emergence of a global culture, local culture still plays an important role in the world of emoticons. We think that's a good thing.

Asians, in particular Japanese, have developed their own style of emoticons. Emoticons are used extensively across Asia in all sorts of applications but especially mobile phone where they are much more popular than Europe.

We did a little research to understand more about the different styles of Japanese emoticons and at the same time untangled the knots we get ourselves into when we try and understand what words like 'anime', 'manga', 'kaomoji' and 'kaoani' actually mean. We've got it clear now...

The English Speaking Myth: Anime is Manga

Manga and anime are two Japanese words that get associated with Asian emoticons a lot. It gets really confusing. So here we try to put it straight. We found out that the misconception is that in English speaking countries the word 'manga' refers to Japanese animation (anime). This is in part owing to the name and logo of the Manga Entertainment distribution company, who have brought many anime productions to western audiences. But it's not true...

Manga actually means 'comics' in Japanese. Manga are read by nearly all social classes and age groups. Themes include sports, romance, historical drama, comedy, soap operas, fantasy, mystery, sexuality and horror. We'll let wikipedia tell you the rest of the story if you're interested.

Anime is Japanese for animation. Popular magna often get adapted into anime once a market has been established. Anime includes TV shows and movies created in a cartoon format. The image below is a typical Japanese anime scene from the popular series Cowboy Bebop.

We concluded, there is a style of Japanese emoticon that is referred to as an anime emoticon or manga emoticon - which type would depend on where the inspiration for the emoticon design came from. The original inspiration was probably manga. Here are some examples of manga emoticons:

shuichi        Hisoka

Kaoani emoticons

Kaoani is a particular style of Japanese emoticon. Kaoani comes from the Japanese 'kao' (face) and 'ani' (animation) They are little animated emoticons that bounce up and down to look like they are floating. Originally from Japan, they are now used extensively across Asia. These animated emoticons are also known as anime emoticons, puffs and anime blobs. Below is a kaoani icon of a cheerleader rice ball:

Cheer leader

We listed some Japanese emoticon websites in our top 25 emoticon websites review. The best has to be Anikoas but we must tell you about Purple Toad which we just discovered. It only has one page of puffs but they're so funny we couldn't resist linking! The pig in mud is brilliant...

Piggy splash

As 'Emoticon Critics' we reviewed all the Japanese emoticons on the web and created a collection of our favourite Japanese emoticons.

Kaomoji emoticons

Another style of Japanese emoticon is kaomoji, also known as 'kirbies'. These emoticons are designed so that you don't have to tilt your head to read them because they're viewed from left to right. It certainly makes more sense to us than the western style you'll see on our text emoticon style page, which requires a head tilt. This is a great site to understand more about kaomoji emoticons.

An example of a kaomoji emoticon is (*_*), where the asterisks indicate the eyes, the central character, usually an underscore is the mouth and the parentheses (or brackets) are the outline of the face. Here are a few examples we found:

d^_^b Listening to music
(`_^) Wink
(<_>) Sad
(^_^) Smiley
(^o^) Singing or laughing
(;_;) Crying
(@_@) Confused

You can find a few more funny kaomoji examples such as smoking a cigarette on this blog and if you want to see even more take a look at MaestroSync which is the website of a 15 year old South African who has blogged about kaomoji.

Emoji emoticons

Emoji are characters invented by NTT DoCoMo for people to use in text messages on their mobile phones. Literally translated, 'emoji' means 'picture character'. The Japanese are passionate about using emoticons on phones.

That's it. Explained. We hope this is as clear as, well, mud!

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