I can kind of handwave or fanwank the origin of things like the exasperated faceplant or the vein popping out when a character is comedic-angry, and even the trope of Japanese flag fans coming out when people want to cheer on their comrades, but how did the sweatdrop come to characterize the feeling of sort of embarrassed contrition?

An image showing the sweatdrop in Fullmetal Alchemist

I can't come up with anything logical just based on speculation. Is this an outgrowth of the manzai tradition, with the tsukkomi and boke characters?

  • 2
    Since many people (such as me) may not be familiarized with terms/concepts like the ones you refer on your second paragraph, I edited it to include links that can contextualize the reader.
    – JNat
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 17:19
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    This is just speculation, but it probably developed from drawing one larger drop to save time (as a small sweat drops near the eye was commonly used) in manga (like in the old Tezuka, or Doraemon works). The big, cartoony drop might have been popularized relatively recently (within last 20-30 years?).
    – кяαzєя
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 18:25
  • Anime tends to exaggerate situations by using symbols so I think it's something like that.
    – xjshiya
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 3:46

2 Answers 2


There doesn't seem to be any "official" announcement for that, but I think it's safe to say that since Manga and Anime make heavy use of symbols to re-create a concept or a situation, the sweatdrop functions the same way. In other words sweatdrop (see image below) is a reference to the fact that when people feel uneasy or feel similar emotions, they usually get sweaty. You don't get that sweaty in real life, but again, they're symbols.

More symbols that might prove this point:

  • The cruciform popping veins are a clear reference to the veins that pop out and can be seen pulsating when you're nervous or you're about to lose it.

enter image description here Source

  • The red cheeks when you're embarrassed (blood flowing), the red nose when you're drunk (yes, nose has that tendency sometimes when you get drunk).

  • The saliva drop when you're hungry. Your mouth does get watery in that situation, because it anticipates the food you're about to eat. Mastication is the first stage of digestion.

  • The eyes shaped like >.< that indicate nervousness or excitement. (I bet everybody can picture this face expression).

And so on. There is more (as a start) on the Wikipedia page for Manga Iconography.


I always like to know WHEN and WHERE something originated before answering how.

That said, I asked this very same question in the late 90's and was told that it came from older video games with characters that were so small in size that they couldn't do any facial expressions with them.

It sounded reasonable to me, because I can't think of any animes in the 80's using this trope, but doing a little bit of backtracking I can't find any early video games using sweat drops either.

I do know the September 1995 Sailormoon RPG has it, but that's too now compared to manga and anime examples.

The oldest anime example I now know of is (yet again) Sailormoon, right off the bat from the first episode, March 1992.

The oldest manga example is Sailor V, right from the start again, thus making this trope start back at at least August 1991.

However, the vein popping trope, also present in Sailor V 2nd volume is older, being at least as old as Super Mario World which was released in November 1990.

So there might be even older examples than this. If anyone can state older examples, please do so.

  • @Folatt If you'd like, you can flag this post using the "flag" link and ask a moderator to merge your accounts. This will allow you to edit your posts without your edits having to go through review (among other benefits).
    – senshin
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 1:01

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