Any anime fan will know that anime is full of tropes and stereotypes, and many anime seem to follow the same kind of pattern, with a similar cast of characters. But the undeniable truth is that there are certain tried and tested formulas that just work! Perhaps fans get a sense of comfort from recognising the characters and plot format? So learning about them is definitely a good move for any aspiring manga or anime artist.
Some of these tropes are definitely cliché, and depending on your tastes, you might want to avoid using them in your work. But it still helps to be aware of them! It can be fun to subvert your audience’s expectations by using something similar to these tropes, and then switching it up with an unexpected plot twist!
Let’s take a look at some common anime and manga tropes!
The “I’m Late!” Toast
Any anime fan must have seen the “I’m late” toast at some point! This trope is often used early in a series, to establish our main character as a “relatable” hero, who isn’t great at timekeeping. It’s a super handy device to use, because simply seeing them running down the road with a slice of toast hanging out of their mouth tells the whole story for us. We can guess that they slept in, and left the house in a rush!
This trope works particularly well in Japan, as Japanese breakfasts are traditionally a full meal, complete with rice and side dishes. This means that just grabbing a slice of toast works even better as a hyperbole in the setting of Japanese society.
The Childhood Promise
What is it with anime characters and their super selective memories!? They clearly remember making a promise to, or having a special connection to someone in their childhood… but who was that special someone? Often our character has a mental blank when it comes to the friend’s name. We get frequent flashbacks to childhood scenes, where the mystery friend’s face is often hidden, but it is often quite clear to the audience who that person is meant to be. The author often tries to turn these expectations on their head by introducing another character as a likely contender mid-series. This is a well-used, but fun plot device, as it keeps the audience guessing and rooting for the character they think is the “childhood friend”. The series will often culminate with the characters realising their childhood connection.
Remember, in Japan a common way to “secure the deal” on promises is a mini handshake using just your little fingers. Known as “yubikiri” in Japanese, the pinky promise is seen often in anime!
The Glasses Transformation
Peter Parker eat your heart out! Glasses are frequently used as a transformative tool in anime. We often see a “megane” character taking off their glasses to become instantly attractive, or sometimes a popular kid putting glasses on when they get home where they’re living a secret nerd life. In extreme “glasses transformation” cases, other characters will not recognise the character with/without their glasses on.
In Japan, contact lenses are extremely popular, and many people (particularly young women) will avoid wearing glasses for fashion reasons. Perhaps the connotations glasses have in anime have fed into this idea that glasses are “for nerds”.
The Beach Episode
An excuse to see all the characters in their swimwear..?! Of course not, there was absolutely a legitimate reason for the whole cast of characters to skip off to the beach on vacation! Maybe their aunt had a beach house, or a supporting character won some tickets in a contest – whatever the reason, you’ll often see the whole cast of characters set off to the beach for some fun in the sun.
Not only is there a lot of nostalgia surrounding summer holidays, which can strike a chord with the audience and make for some fun storylines, it’s no secret that swimsuits sell! Having an “official” swimsuit version of your characters to make into merchandise and figures is always handy.
Some anime series will even make an OVA specifically for the beach episode!
The “Onsen” hot spring Episode
Perhaps slightly less common than the beach trip above, the hot spring trip is a great chance for a change of scene and outfit. The “yukata” style robes that are often worn around the resort are very popular among fans, and will often allow us to see a different side of the characters. It’s also often used as an excuse for some shenanigans, with characters accidentally entering the wrong bath room, or running into their crush wearing only their towel. Like “The Beach Episode” we often see some fanservice shots here.
If you’re going to feature onsen scenes in your work, it will really pay to do your research! Looking up onsen tours on Youtube is a good place to start. Hot springs are a super popular setting, and a really fun one to use, but make sure you are meticulous with your observation, because it will be very obvious to Japanese fans if something is out of place!
Many visitors to Japan are surprised to see that Japanese firework displays are held in the summer, rather than the winter. Large, official firework displays are often held on summer evenings, and people will dress in summer “yukata” and attend the display, which is often accompanied by food and drink stands, and other entertainment. Going to see fireworks with friends is another story that will evoke a warm sense of nostalgia in many viewers, and it’s a super popular setting in anime. There’s a certain romance to the warm summer night and sky lit up with fireworks, that makes it great for “confession” scenes.
Large official firework displays aside, Japanese fireworks tend to be much less dramatic. To avoid disturbing the neighbourhood, fireworks sold in stores tend to be quieter and focus on smaller, handheld sparklers. A popular type of firework in Japan is a “senkou hanabi” – a very small string type firework. When the end is lit, it sparkles gently, and a droplet forms on the end. Hold the firework totally still to keep the droplet from falling, and the firework going out. Watch out for these fireworks in anime – you’ll see them both in fun, group scenes and more quiet intimate scenes. The way the character’s face is illuminated makes for a very aesthetically pleasing scene!
“Fancy Seeing You Here!”
Anime and manga has a certain way of making sure all of the right characters are in the right place at the right time, and is often not very subtle in carrying it out. Fans are definitely willing to suspend their disbelief here, so there’s no problem with having characters pop up out of nowhere in unexpected situations! The main character and their love interest finally get the chance to spend a weekend away? Turns out the rival love interest found out about the trip and decided to tag along! One of the cast can’t make it on vacation with all of the rest? It’s ok! Turns out their summer work internship is on the resort where everyone’s staying! This is also often used as a plot device to find out something a character is trying to hide about themselves (like a hidden hobby or part time job).
Hope you enjoyed this collection of anime tropes and stereotypes, and maybe learnt something about the backgrounds of each of the tropes too! Remember, it’s useful to know about these clichés, so you can use them in your work, or turn them on their head for dramatic or comedic effect!