The Significance of Hair Color in Japanese Manga



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Anyone who has seen manga (漫画) and anime (アニメ) knows that these forms of storytelling do not leave a lot to the imagination. But there are layers of symbolism at work that can escape notice unless you know what to look for. Let’s take an easy one; hair color.

The hair color of a character signifies aspects of their nature and reflects their role in a story. This is anime, so we are definitely not confined to the natural spectrum of colors. Instead, we get into a lot of punk rock colors like pink, green, and blue. While we’re at it, let’s learn how to say each color in Japanese.

–Black (黒 kuro)
When most of the characters in a story have colorful hair, black hair usually suggests that a character is insignificant, ordinary, or traditional. This is not surprising considering every Japanese person, in the real world, is born with jet black hair.

–Brown (茶色 chairo)
Since many Japanese people nowadays dye their hair brown, brown is almost the default hair color for normal characters in manga and anime.

–Blonde (金髪 kinpatsu) / yellow(黄色 kiiro)
Blonde or yellow hair is used for a range of very specific character types. These include white Westerners, a prince or princess, a rich person, or a juvenile delinquent. I guess, for Japanese, being blonde means you’re either really good or really bad (but definitely different).

–White (白 shiro)
White hair is used for an old person, a mysterious person, or a character with special/magical abilities. That is kind of an easy one, right?

–Pink (ピンク pinku)
Pink hair is usually reserved for girls. These girls are either the main character of the story or the love interest of a main character. In either case, the color suggests a kind of innocence, or connotes a child-like personality.

–Blue (青 ao)
Characters with blue hair range from quiet and calm to cold and calculating. These correspond to still waters and freezing temperatures respectively.

–Red (赤 aka)
Red, a deep vivid red, signifies a character who plays a passionate or aggressive role in the story.

–Orange (オレンジ orenji)
Characters with orange hair are full of energy. They are often self-centered troublemakers. Orange might be read as an alloyed variation on the passions of a character with red hair.

–Green (緑 midori)
Green is often applied to so-called 萌えキャラ moe chara. This is a character created to seduce the reader. This one may require a little further explanation.

萌え moe is a slang word which refers to a deep attachment or attraction that a real person may develop for a fictional character in anime, manga, or video game.

The term 萌え moe can be grafted on to another word that describes a personality or a physical trait. For example, you combine めがねっ子 meganekko (eyeglass girl) and 萌え moe together, and you get a word, めがねっ子萌えmeganekko moe (eyeglass-girl moe). This word describes a person who is attracted to fictional characters wearing eyeglasses. Is it a little weird for readers and gamers to fall in love with characters who have specific traits? Maybe! For now, let’s just stick with colors!

Want to learn more than just Japanese colors? Start learning Japanese here