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Do You Understand the Symbolism in Anime and Manga?

If you are new to anime or manga, it might seem like creators are obsessed with bloody noses. And in fact, blood seems to squirt from everywhere in the anime and manga worlds. This is not because creators are bloodthirsty or gruesome. There is actually symbolism behind it.

This post will discuss the bloody nose later on. But first, it is more important to discuss the fact that symbolism is built into Japanese art. Given that both anime and manga have Japanese origins, it would be reasonable for them to be stuffed with symbolism as well. Guess what? They are.

A Focus on the Face

One of the things that makes anime and manga unique is its emphasis on character faces, according to the people behind the Umai anime clothing brand. Incidentally, one of Umai’s owners produces all the original anime artwork utilized by their clothing line.

Getting back to the main point, facial expressions are extremely important in anime and manga. Often times, the viewer’s attention is so focused on a character’s face that other action is easily ignored. Creators understand this, so they use a variety of symbols and background changes to keep viewers attuned to what is happening.

Background Changes

A background change can denote action. For example, a character surrounded by what appears to be streaks of light moving from the center of the image to the outside edge is a common manga tool to denote speed. Speed, as in the character is moving very quickly.

Sometimes a background will abruptly change from something familiar to something abstract. Stylized laughing heads might denote that something humorous has happened or that the character believes everyone is laughing at him. A flower background could denote peace and happiness. Switching to a solid background of bright red could denote that a character is angry.

Common Facial Symbols

While symbolism in backgrounds does exist, most of anime and manga’s more defined symbols appear in conjunction with the face. Again, both art forms focus heavily on facial expressions. Here are some of the more common facial symbols and what they mean:

  • Laser Eyes – What appear to be lasers emanating from a character’s eyes symbolize animosity. You might see two characters simultaneously displaying this symbol. That means they do not like one other much.
  • Sweat Bead – A bead of sweat appearing on the forehead or just under the hairline generally denotes shame or embarrassment.
  • Red Cruciform – A red cruciform appearing on a character’s head, usually just above the eye, denotes anger. The symbol looks like four bent lines that create what appear to be an intersection.
  • Nose and Mouth Bubbles – A nose bubble is something Japanese animators and manga artists use to denote sleep. A mouth bubble, sometimes known as a ghost balloon, emanates from a character’s mouth. It denotes injury, horror, or shock. Sometimes it even denotes impending death.

There are other symbols this post does not have space to discuss. Still, we cannot let you go without talking about the ever-popular nosebleed. In anime and manga, bloody noses are a symbol of sexual arousal. Remember that the two art forms focus on facial expressions. At some point, creators decided that the best way to denote sexual arousal using the face was to somehow portray a rise in blood pressure. They settled on the nosebleed to do the trick.

Anime and manga are filled with symbolism. To the uninitiated, the symbols pass by without any acknowledgment. But to those who know what they mean, the symbols really add to the story.

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