Quick Start to Japanese

This page is here to give you a quick guide to some of the Japanese words that are common in various different animes and with regards to Manga and anime in general.

Common Words

Bishonen & Bishojo
Bishonen means 'beautiful boy' and similiarly, bishojo means 'beautiful girl'. This is used to indicate the male characters look fairly effeminate and highly stylised. Stories depend on whether they're bishonen or bishojo, but are normally slow, depressing, angst fests, so are definitely not to everyone's tastes.
Chibi
meaning 'child'. Normally used to indicate a character with a child's body proportions, ie a large head and much smaller body.
Dub
Dubbed audio. This is generally a bad thing (in English, at least). Occasionally you get a dub so bad that it turns a mediocre anime into a genuinely hilarious event (and not in a good way, either...).
Ecchi/Etchi
This indicates mild nudity or sexual themes. Think of a Carry On film and you've pretty much got it.
Hentai
This is the equivalent of hardcore pornography (usually with tentacles). This is generally what's referred to in media articles.
Manga
Literally, 'irresponsible pictures' and is the written or book form of anime, ie comics. Usually the manga is written first and if successful, made into an anime.
Mecha
this is a term used to describe shows with a high proportion of machines (normally large robots), or the machines themselves.
OAV/OVA
respectively, Original Animation Video and Original Video Animation, ie they're the same thing. This indicates an anime made for a direct-to-video release, rather than a TV series, or a cinematic showing.
Otaku
a derogatory Japanese word used to describe an obsessed fan of anything. Some people in the west use it without the attached stigma to describe a dedicated anime or manga fan.
SD
stands for 'Super Deformed' and has the same meaning as Chibi, but covers inanimate objects (as well as characters), primarily mecha. Anime with this is normally not very serious.
Shojo
This means 'girl' and is used to indicate anime or manga intended for girls - they're mainly based on character interactions and plot, rather than action.
Shonen
This means 'boy' and is used to indicate anime or manga for boys - mainly based on action.
Sub
Subtitled. Usually japanese audio with english subs. This captures the original feel of the anime best, and reading subs soon becomes second nature.

Generic Honorifics

Here are the most common honorifics and terms of address.

-sama

Very respectful ending. Not normally used with someone's names. Used to people of superior status, like your boss, or to your guests as a host. Envelopes should be addressed with "-sama". A shopkeeper might call a customer "o-kyaku-sama" (Respected Mr. Customer).

-sensei

A respectful term meaning "teacher", also used with physicians. Frequently used to refer to experts in a field or people in any respected occupation. Lawyers, master chefs, fashion designers, and even some manga artists are called "sensei". Sometimes used like an honorific with a name or title, as in "kouchou-sensei" (Mr. Principal, Sir).

-san

Usual term of respect. It can stand for Mr. and Ms., and is attached to either first or last names, and names of occupations like "o-mawari-san" (Mr. Policeman). You use it for strangers and people you don't know well, but are more or less the same social status. When in doubt, use "-san".
However, never use "-san" with your own name or your family members' names. Also, it shouldn't be used to refer to famous people, since a small degree of intimacy is implied.
High school girls are usually called "-san".

-sempai

Somebody in the same general social class, but socially superior to you. "Sempai" can also be used as an honorific.
Older students may be addressed respectfully as sempai, especially by girls.

-kun

Used by a socially superior male to a socially inferior male. Familiarly used among male students and boys who grew up together. Recently, some teachers call girl students and some bosses call office ladies with "-kun", but it's still considered a masculine suffix.
High school boys are called "-kun". Girls go from "-chan" to "-san" in high school, but boys go through a period of "-kun" in between.

-chan

Intimate form of address. Families that are close use it, and "-chan" is often used to, and by, very young children. Used with given names, abbreviations of given names, and nicknames, but not family names. Children who grow up together (like Madoka and Hikaru), may keep using "-chan" into adulthood. Note: to call a social superior "-chan" without reason is very insulting.

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Calling someone by a family name alone is being very familiar (or rough). Calling someone by given name alone is less rough, but more familiar. Using no honorific when one is expected can be an expression of contempt.