Emotional Iconography

What does it mean when an anime or manga character gets a bloody nose, or grows a giant sweatdrop next to her face? All these are uniquely Japanese symbols used in anime and manga, intended to communicate a particular emotion.

Embarassment Blushing is a common way of showing embarassment or romantic feelings in any culture. In anime and manga, however, various forms of blushes are used liberally to signify almost every grade of feeling. A slight embarassment might be indicated by tiny red lines across the cheeks, a more deeply felt embarassment might provoke a thick red line across the nose and cheeks, and something really embarassing might cause one's whole face to go red!

Yukino blushes just a little bit.    Yukino blushes a lot.

"Blushing" in blue still carries the connotation of embarassment; however, this usually indicates embarassment mixed with anger. It seems to indicate that the person is almost frozen with embarassment! This is frequently accompanied by evil-looking eyes, and perhaps a sweatdrop or an anger vein.

Yukino is angry and mortified.

In other situations, sweatdrops might form beside a character's head. These sweatdrops also indicate embarassment, the severity of which is determined by the size of the sweatdrop and, sometimes, the number of sweatdrops. This generally indicates a less severe sort of embarassment than the blue blush and a less romantic type of embarassment than the red blush.

Misty is extremely embarassed.


When a character gets extremely mad at something, a stylized vein might appear on their forehead or fist. These "anger veins" can be used liberally, though not necessarily realistically. Curtis Hoffman writes that "...this gets carried to extremes, as in the manga where an identical vein pops up three different places on the back of a guy's hand."

Yukino looks very scary.

A bloody nose doesn't mean that a character is actually injured - rather, it means that he (the afflicted character is seldom a she) is thinking lustful thoughts and/or looking at a beautiful woman. But what does the bloody nose have to do with lust? Gilles Portras, author of The Anime Companion, wondered the same thing: "So I asked a few Japanese and got a variety of pseudoscientific, and occasionally embarassed, explanations about humidity and blood pressure. But the best response I got was from one fellow who simply recounted that when he was a child he was told by his mother that if he stared at a pretty woman he would get a bloody nose."

Takeo envisions two of his friends doing whatever he wishes.

When anime and manga characters cry, they -cry- . One form of crying comes in "tear lines," where two wavy lines are drawn from each eye to the bottom of the face and filled with white to indicate that the character is crying. A more exaggerated form of crying takes the tear lines off the two-dimensional space of the face and arcs it out into the sky, making it seem as if the character is crying whole waterfalls. These forms of crying are not generally serious; in serious, dramatic situations, the crying is much more subdued.

Tear lines are used frequently...    ...and tear waterfalls show even more misery...    ...but extremely emotional moments don't need waterfalls.


Tezuka Osamu, the father of anime and manga, drew the eyes of his characters large so that they could express more emotion; to this day, the eyes are the most expressive parts of an anime character. The eyes of someone good and innocent are large and childlike, while someone who is more conniving and sneaky will have smaller eyes. Evil characters have the smallest eyes of all. When an anime character is expressing emotion, the eyes can do several different things to reflect their mood.

Nuriko is quite innocent...    Yui is less innocent...    ...and Soi is not very innocent at all.

A normal anime character can get "evil eyes" when thinking evil thoughts or reacting angrily to a situation. The evil eyes are often accompanied by a blue blush, an anger vein or a sweatdrop, depending more specifically on the case. Happy eyes, however, are much more common. The anime character's eyes turn into two thick half-circles, giving him or her an extremely cute, delighted look. Both male and female characters can have that form of "happy eyes"; peculiar to females are the starry-eyes. Females with otherwise normal eyes will suddenly have their pupils grow to huge sizes, and stars and dozens of little white spots will appear. This signifies extreme happiness, and is also a parody of eyes in some shoujo manga and anime, where the eyes of all the girls are drawn like that, all the time!

Ash's mother is very proud of him!   Misty looks very happy and cute.


Super-deformation, when a character is drawn "deformed," with much less detail and much more cuteness, has no real catch-all meaning. It might be done to make the characters seem cute, or to indicate that they're not being serious. It might be used when they're embarassed, or when they're happy. If one had to assign a specific meaning to super-deformation, one could say that it means the characters are being playful and not all that serious, but it is impossible to pin it down completely.

Super-deformed Yukino enjoys herself.
-Liana Sharer Click to learn more about Liana


Gilles Poitras, The Anime Companion, Stone Bridge Press, Berkley, CA 1999

Curtis H. Hoffmann, Cheats, Cliches, Cartoons, Anime, 1995

Kareshi Kanojyo no Jijyo
Fushigi Yuugi
Mahou Tsukai Tai!

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The University of Michigan Japanese Animation Group
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