How To Know If Something Is Moé

How to Know if Something is Moé

The past decade or so has seen a major change in anime (and in turn manga and Japanese games as well). At the centre of this change is one word: "moé". If you are into anime at all, you have likely heard the term (and if you're on the internet, probably as a pejorative). But what exactly is moé?

Sadly, there is a lot of confusion around this question. Moé critics see moé as everything from a shift in art style to the championing of pseudo-pedophilia due to the over-sexualization of young looking girls in modern anime. However, when it comes down to it, the actual meaning of "moé" couldn't be more different.

Moé (萌え) in its most literal sense means "budding" as the word "moeru" (萌える) means "to bud or sprout" as in, say, a flower. Though it should be noted that, for our purposes, it also can carry the meaning of "burning" (燃え) due to a sort of pun as that word is also pronounced "moé".

However, moé, as it relates to anime isn't a reference to either flowers or fire. Rather it is used in regards to pre-adolescent girls (though it can be applied to boys as well) who are on the cusp of adulthood — "budding" if you will.

How to Know if Something is Moé

This is where the confusion surrounding moé comes in. How do you know which characters are moé and which aren't?

Simply put, "moé" is a subjective, not an objective, term. Moé is simply the feeling that you personally experience when you see these young characters — a "budding" (or "burning") feeling of love stemming from the need to protect and/or revel in the innocence of these children/child-like characters. Because of this, there is no such thing as a "moé character," just a character that elicits a moé reaction in you. Or as Patrick W. Galbraith, the man who wrote the book on moé (or at least a book on moé) told Kotaku:

Moé is situated in those [people] responding to a character. Nothing is moé in and of itself, because we cannot predict what will trigger the response in a person.

Of course, as moé culture has become popular — not to mention lucrative — more and more anime/manga/game companies have attempted to manufacture characters which elicit the "moé" response in their consumers.

How to Know if Something is Moé

By definition, the moé reaction is a pure, almost brotherly emotional response — with no erotic undertones. These days, however, there is no doubt that moé designs are combined with overt sexuality in many anime.

And for the staying power of moé, while perhaps not as prevalent as in recent years, large swaths of anime each season (not to mention Japanese games) still attempt to pander to the moé-loving demographic — a trend with no end in sight.

So love it or hate it, now you at least know to how tell if something is moé or not.


    How to know when to say moé;
    Are you white and non-Japanese? Then don't say moé ... or kawaii.

      Exactly, Unless you are a native-level speaker. It really bothers me how so many anime-geeks think they are Japanese...

      While I agree with Nutsack (there's a sentence I never thought I'd use) there's something to be said for borrowing foreign words when English simply doesn't have an equivalent word. Should we all stop using "Schadenfreude" just because it's a German word, even though English doesn't have a word to describe the joy someone feels at someone else's suffering?

      Likewise, what English word do we have for the warm fuzzy feelings we get when we see something adorable? We don't have one. Sure, we have words to describe the thing itself (cute, precious etc) but not for the feeling itself.

      So why not simply borrow another language's word? That's the orthodox (from the Greek word "orthódoxos", meaning "belief/opinion") thing for English to do. You might say it's English's "raison d'etre" (from the French phrase meaning "reason for being") ;)

    i've always felt the definition of moe to be the over-endearment of a certain fictional/anime/manga/geek culture where as the result, the purpose transforms into the adoration, and not the object itself. that, and those crazy cutesy versions of people.

    After watching an episode of Jonathon Ross' Japanorama, I was under the impression that 'moe' was the expression of deep satisfaction with being enamored with beautiful women. Otaku and characters in anime have often expressed 'moe' when they think about a sexy girl.

      Article would seem to indicate that they're either 'doing it wrong', or that they consider the girl sexy because they feel that brotherly emotional response to an adolescent girl. Purely subjective on my part, but it seems like Japan has more of an incest thing going on in its anime than western media does.

        Well I suppose it doesn't explain it, but it just doesn't look like incest/pedo to me.

        yeah still not seeing it.

    I think it's one of those terms like Irony, where the widespread usage of the term in a variety of meanings, has far surpassed the literal definition.

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