Related: Is the term Otaku derogatory?

I have been reading The Moe Manifesto lately, and noticed in a lot of the interviews, the term otaku was never really used in a derogatory form.

One of the interviews in particular mentioned something about otaku only becoming a derogatory term after some serial killer, which was found vaguely related to the anime culture, killed a bunch of children. However I could not find any credible online sources to confirm this.

This does however raise my question, when did otaku become a derogatory term?


Actually now that i started to look into it a bit it seems it has always been a derogatory term at least in Japan, but the situation seems to improve nowdays - Proxy

During the interview with Otsuka Eiji

patrick w galbraith
how should we define otaku?

Otsuka Eiji
To tell the truth, I dont really know. The word otaku was first used by writer Nakimori Akio in manga Burikko, back in 1983 when I was in my twenties and working as the magazines editor. It was the first time the term was publicly used to refer to enthusiastic manga and anime fans...

patrick w galbraith
Why do you think Nakamori chose this particular word to refer to Japanese fans?

Otsuka Eiji
The term otaku is a second person pronoun equivalent to you. It was used among scifi fans in the 1970s. By the 1980s the market for manga and anime had expanded and it supported a wide variety of specialty magazine, which provided space for new artist to work in niches.

  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsutomu_Miyazaki This is the killer mentioned in you question, but based on this quote "Another critic, Fumiya Ichihashi, suspected the released information was playing up to public stereotypes and fears about otaku" it seems even then otaku was already a "stained" word. But besides that i do not know much how was the word perceived back in those days. Actually now that i started to look into it a bit it seems it has always been a derogatory term at least in Japan, but the situation seems to improve nowdays
    – Proxy
    Apr 19, 2018 at 8:08
  • @Proxy The same interview also mentioned the origin, and how the initial usage was not derogatory. I'll see if I can quote that tonight when I get back to the book
    – Dimitri mx
    Apr 19, 2018 at 9:25
  • 1
    Maybe try asking on Skeptics
    – Hakase
    Apr 19, 2018 at 10:43
  • I'd say that historically, otaku was always derogatory and only recently when anime culture started to get critical mass in western countries did that change. But then fans started calling themselves weeaboos instead, which is self-deprecating term. Sep 3, 2018 at 17:17

2 Answers 2


According to the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article (emphasis mine):

Otaku (おたく/オタク) is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, particularly in anime and manga. Its contemporary use originated with Akio Nakamori's 1983 essay in Manga Burikko.[1][2] Otaku may be used as a pejorative; its negativity stems from a stereotypical view of otaku and the media's reporting on Tsutomu Miyazaki, "The Otaku Murderer", in 1989. According to studies published in 2013, the term has become less negative, and an increasing number of people now self-identify as otaku,[3] both in Japan and elsewhere.

The first two sources are references to Nakamori's essay, where source 2 is a translated rendition of that essay.

Wikipedia goes on to mention that two animators, Haruhiko Mikimoto and Shōji Kawamori, had used the term お宅 (おたく|otaku) as a formal, second person pronoun ("you"), which allegedly "some fans used... past the point in their relationships where others would have moved on to a less formal style."

The jisho.org entry explains:



  1. you (referring to someone of equal status with whom one is not especially close)​

    Honorific or respectful (sonkeigo)

This awkward use of the pronoun led to Nakamori choosing it to refer to anime fans, seemingly to characterize their social awkwardness (Though Wikipedia cites the Chinese edition of a book called Otaku Shijou no Kenkyuu, this appears to be backed up by Nakamori's second essay on otaku, from what I can understand of it).

So what does this mean? Was the term otaku derogatory from the start? It seems like it was. According to Lawrence Eng, who completed a PhD dissertation on the topic of otaku culture (emphasis mine):

In 1983, the first published report appeared on the usage of "otaku" amongst fans. Akio Nakamori wrote a series of articles called "Otaku no Kenkyu" (Studies of Otaku) in Manga Burikko. He called those hard core fans who called each other "otaku" the "otaku-zoku" ("zoku" meaning tribe). His was perhaps the first article stereotyping otaku as being anti-social, unkempt, and unpopular. I've heard that the column was short-lived, and it didn't have a large impact on otaku culture (who pretty much ignored or was already used to such unfair stereotyping and discrimination).

Following the coining of the phrase, the so-called Otaku Murderer came into the public mind, which certainly didn't do the otaku crowd any favors, as you have already mentioned.

So back to that third source cited by the Wikipedia article. In 2013, in a study of 137,734 people, 42.2% answered that they think they are in some part "otaku," and the other 57.8% said they did not. The article continues by breaking down the results by age range (teens, twenties, thirties, and so on):

  • 10代:62.0%
  • 20代:55.6%
  • 30代:46.4%
  • 40代:44.8%
  • 50代:36.7%
  • 60代:26.9%
  • 70代:23.1%
  • 80代:23.3%

From this data, we can guess that somewhere during the '80s and the '90s (when people who are in their 50s and 40s now were in their 20s, and had grown up with anime and manga), the term otaku became more popular, and that trend has increased such that a majority of today's (Japanese) teenagers would consider themselves in some part otaku, and thus it would appear that the term is no longer considered quite as derogatory as it once may have been. The article also offers three examples of answers given by people who responded that they identify as otaku, which may shed some light on the reasons behind the mentality shift (translations mine, take them with a grain of salt):

  • 「サッカーオタク。熱中できる趣味というより、熱中できる気力があるの良いこと」

    "[I'm a] soccer otaku. Rather than being about an enjoyable hobby, it's having the energy to be passionate about something"

  • 「好きなゲームの話題だと、何時間でも話してしまいそう」

    "If there's a game you like, you'd probably end up talking about it for hours"

  • 「海外ドラマ&その声優オタクでっすw」

    "im an otaku for foreign dramas and their voice actors lol"

This is just my speculation, but it's almost as if the term otaku has become diversified from its original connotation of an obsessiveness over anime and manga specifically. In other words, nowadays one can be an otaku for just about anything, which may be the reason for which it's become more of a popular term.

Conclusion (TL;DR)

The term otaku seems to have initially been coined to characterize certain negative stereotypes about anime and manga super fans, but over time has become more accepted—to the point that a majority of Japanese teens would say they identify as being, in some part, otaku.

  • 2
    I ended up doing a lot more research for this answer than I intended to at first. Thanks for the great question! (also the 2013 article describing the results of the survey was way easier to understand than Nakamori's slang-ridden essays. yikes!) Oct 14, 2018 at 6:31

There is no specific "time" as to when it became a derogatory word. However, the term "otaku", has always been offensive when it comes to the Japanese culture, according to the research I conducted about it.

Here's another meaning of it:

The term "otaku" seems to have been introduced to anime fans in the US and other countries via Studio Gainax's "Otaku no Video 1985," a self-parody film. Otaku, meaning probably "venerable house," refers to someone who has a devotion to a subject or hobby (not necessarily anime) to the point of not leaving home. For instance, an otaku fan of a particular movie star could quite possibly know all of the films s/he has been in, their birth date, time of birth, shoe size, favorite toothpaste, etc. Generally speaking, calling someone an otaku in Japan is an insult, implying that their social skills have atrophied or never even developed, due to their manic involvement in their chosen fandom.

However, the term isn't as dire overseas because we interpret it differently as something similar to a "fan".

When dealing with Japanese people, however, it may be best to keep in mind the modern Japanese image of an otaku -- Someone who only leaves their home to eat or shop, if at all, with an overwhelming and unhealthy obsession about something. It can as easily refer to a stalker or sociopath as it can to a harmless anime buff.

-Urban Dictionary

  • 1
    I don't think I can agree with your first paragraph. Considering The term otaku is a second person pronoun equivalent to you. It was used among scifi fans in the 1970s.. Maybe if you could include some more of this 'research' you did instead of just mentioning it :)
    – Dimitri mx
    Apr 22, 2018 at 11:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .