I've now watched quite a few anime and I'm still at a loss as to what the term moe represents. Is there an agreed upon definition for it? If a character is moe, what does that mean?
Here is an academic paper1 with an analysis of the concept of moe, including its history and origin, relationship to the socio-economics of Japan, previous academic studies of moe, otaku and fujoshi psychology, and a very in-depth analysis of what moe actually is.
A short table of contents of the topics covered:
- Japanese critical discourse
- Emergence of the moe form
- Otaku discussions of moe
- Moe desire and sexuality
- Moe in relation to 'reality'
- The female approach to moe
- Fujoshi exposing virtual potential in reality
To quote from its conclusion,
Both otaku and fujoshi describe moe fantasy as 'pure,' or set apart from reality, and it precisely because it is pure that it can give birth to such perverse and polymorphous possibilities. The moe character is a 'body without organs' and it engenders virtual possibilities without limits or control. Stated another way, moe describes affect, or an unstructured intensity in response to the virtual possibilities of fantasy characters. Whether it is the girl-child popular among men or the homosexual boys popular among women, these young characters are not part of the 'real' world and do not demand their partners be socially mature and responsible adults; with moe characters, men can experience love outside the confines of manhood (defined by work) and women love outside the confines of womanhood (defined by childbirth).
1 "Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan", by Patrick W. Galbraith. Published in the Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, article 5 of 2009; first published on 31 October 2009.
Coined in Japan in the late '90s, "Moe" (萌え, pronounced as "Mo-Eh", derived from a Japanese word that means "budding, to sprout/bloom") is an ill-defined otaku term that means, amongst other things, "cute", "huggable", or "endearing". While it's sometimes used to describe a series, it's more about a specific ideal or kind of character, similar to Kawaisa. When used as an interjection, figuratively, it's used to convey that "something blooms inside your heart".
Read more at tvtropes: Moe.
Here's a desctiption from Anime News Network
Moe is a Japanese term used in connection with manga or anime to describe something precious, usually (but not always) the ideal of youthful and innocent femininity. Written with the kanji for "to bud or sprout" (萌), the concept covers a range of ideal behaviour for youthful female characters in manga or anime. To be moe, a character can be eager or perky, not overly independent, and call forth a desire in the viewer to protect them and nurture them. The term is also used to describe any preciously cute item; there is an animal mascot character store in Tokyo called Moe.
There is a lot of debate over the crossover between moe fandom and lolicon. While the crossover exists among fans and products the two genres are not synonymous.
I think it's a good enough definition, but just for you to be able to consider, here are a few others:
Basically, all of those define moe in the same way, but with different words or phrases.