In this article:
- Anime hairstyles have a reputation for being unrealistic due to their unnatural colors and physics-defying structure.
- While anime hairstyles may look weird to viewers who aren’t familiar with anime, they serve as an effective visual shorthand that communicates what kind of personality a character has.
- Anime hairstyles are not restricted to anime shows — plenty of games and Western animated shows take inspiration from anime and the hairstyles featured in them.
Tropes are everywhere.
No matter how much people like to say that they prefer their shows and movies to be one-of-a-kind gems, there is no single piece of media that doesn’t have some trope in it. Whether it’s playing a trope straight, subverting a trope, or actively trying to exclude it, tropes remain a guiding influence in how a piece of media was developed.
Among the most recognizable tropes of the 21st century are the so-called anime hairstyles.
Anime hairstyles are famous for their physics-defying size and shape as well as their unnatural colors. It looks weird to many new viewers, but anyone who sticks around to watch a few shows quickly realizes that these anime hairstyles aren’t just stylistic choices.
They’re narrative techniques that help shows communicate a character’s temperament, personality, and, in some cases, values. If you’re having a hard time appreciating the quirks of anime hairstyles, here’s a quick guide to the meanings of anime’s most prominent visual shorthands.
1. Protagonist Hair
This one is such a meme that anime fan communities make a game of spotting the protagonist in a frame.
Protagonist hair or main character hair is used to set focal characters apart from background characters. Anime shows that start with a protagonist walking in a crowd or in a commute do so to give us a glimpse into a character’s daily life while making sure that they’re easy to follow between cuts.
A good example of this is the scene in New Game! (2016), an anime about a young woman joining a game development company, where protagonist Aoba Suzukaze commutes to Eagle Jump’s headquarters.
Another one of the anime hairstyles shown in this scene is the girlish twin pigtails trope. Aoba’s hair is cut in a style that’s meant to tell audiences that she is super young. The only other cast member to wear their hair in twin pigtails is close to Aoba in age.
2. Fun-Loving Blonde
Blonde anime hairstyles are the easiest to adjust to for new anime viewers because of how close they are to Western tropes about blonde hair.
Blonde anime hairstyles can indicate a number of things about a character. They can either mean that a female character is a sophisticated, high-maintenance Regina George type or a fun-loving, girl next door. If she’s paired with a dark-haired protagonist, you can be almost certain that she’s going to be the latter.
If it’s a guy, he’ll either be a loudmouthed, energetic person or a shy but kind-hearted one.
Marin Kitagawa, the gyaru protagonist of My Dress Up Darling, has strawberry blonde hair. She’s confident and outgoing with an outspoken personality that she uses to scare away suitors who don’t appreciate her geeky interests.
True to trope, the show pairs her with Gojo, a shy dark-haired guy.
3. Melancholic Blue Hair
Like the blonde hair trope, this anime hairstyle has a number of variations depending on the gender of the character who has it. When added to female characters, blue anime hairstyles indicate someone is shy and socially awkward.
On male characters, blue hair means they have a “cool” personality in the sense that they’re either laidback or cold towards others.
It can also indicate rationality and calmness. Think “cool-headed” versus “hot-headed.” It’s basically an inversion of the redhead hothead trope.
Tetsuya Kuroko from Kuroko no Basket (2012) is the laidback iteration of the blue hair trope. Rem from Re:Zero (2012) falls under the shy blue-haired girl trope.
In shows where characters are known to have superpowers, blue hair indicates elemental power over water, ice, or both.
A great example of this is seen in siblings Ayato Kamisato and Ayaka Kamisato from the video game Genshin Impact. Ayato can control water and is famous for his cunning while Ayaka controls ice and is ladylike but incredibly shy.
4. Dead Mom Braid
None of these anime hairstyles will ever be as famous as the dead mom hairstyle. The style got its name because of how often moms who are dead or end up dying later in an anime have this exact hairstyle.
As with other tropes, it has some variations. Some dead anime moms may have hair that matches their protagonist child, but what doesn’t change is the side braid that curls around their cheeks.
The hairstyle has been in anime shows for decades but was only widely identified as a trope after Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (2009), a show about two brothers uncovering the secrets of alchemy, has its events kick off due to the death of the protagonists’ mother.
5. Airhead Ahoge
Ever noticed how often anime characters have a single lock of hair sticking out of their heads? Sometimes it’s just one straight spike, other times it’s a curl, but either way, it’s an airhead’s “ahoge.”
“Ahoge” literally means “idiot hair” in Japanese. The character used to write ahoge can be broken down into “aho” meaning stupid or idiot and “ge” meaning hair.
Of course, not every character who has an ahoge is depicted as an airhead, but many of them are. FMAB‘s Edward Elric has an ahoge and he fits the loud, airheaded blonde stereotype. It might seem like a cruel trope, but an ahoge on a character is also meant to show that they’re sincere.
6. Childish Odango Buns
Similar to the ahoge, odango buns are used on characters who are young or innocent. It’s primarily a female trope, though, since odango buns are made by looping long hair around itself.
The most famous pair of odango buns in anime history are the ones worn by Usagi Tsukino, the protagonist of the equally iconic 90s anime, Sailor Moon.
In recent years, the odango has been updated to blend with another anime trope: Neko mimi. Neko mimi or cat ears are just that, cat ears on an anime girl. Neko mimi-style odango are conically shaped to give them a pointy appearance reminiscent of cat ears.
Genshin Impact‘s Keqing ironically has this despite her reputation for being a serious workaholic.
7. Elegant Hime Haircut
Another classic anime hairdo is the hime hairstyle. This hairstyle is primarily paired with straight, long black hair. As far as anime hairstyles go, this is the most normal looking since it’s just black hair with straight cut bangs and short side bangs.
“Hime” means princess in Japanese so a character wearing hime hair is someone who embodies the Japanese feminine ideal. Anime characters who have this hair will be soft-spoken, hardworking, intelligent, ladylike, and elegant.
It’s also the oldest trope on this list. Hime hair is an iteration of the Heian era taregami, long straight hair worn by noblewomen of the period. Updated versions of hime hair keep the bangs and length but put the back of the hair in a bun or ponytail.
An example of the former is Yor Forger from Spy x Family (2022) while for the latter, there’s Kaguya from Kaguya-sama: Love Is War(2019).
8. A Young Lady’s Ojou Curls
Ojou curls and hime hair are two anime hairstyles that tell audiences a female character has a high social status. “Ojou” means young lady so women who have this hairstyle will either be similar to their hime hair counterparts or they’re the Regina Georges of their shows.
So why the difference? While hime hair reflects Japanese feminine ideals, ojou hair symbolizes Victorian ideals of being a noblewoman through the Japanese perspective.
The ojou hair is a glimpse into how Japanese culture perceives women who belong to Western high society which is why it’s often worn by characters who are heavily inspired by Victorian era ladies.
Hayate the Combat Butler (2007)’s Athena Tennousu is wears blonde ojou curls with a black gothic lolita dress but is Japanese in her show while Black Butler (2014)’s Elizabeth Midford is literally a Victorian England lady.
9. Pink-Haired Sweetheart
Pink anime hairstyles are tough. While they’re most often used for characters who are sweet and kind, they’re also worn by characters who are lowkey sarcastic or are secretly malicious. Generally, pink hair means that a character has a romantic personality.
One of the earliest appearances of this trope is in Revolutionary Girl Utena (1999) where the titular Utena has pink hair and a fairytale idealism to go with it. A more recent one is Kaguya-Sama‘s Chika who is sweet but enjoys teasing other characters.
Meanwhile, Mirai Nikki (2011)’s Yuno Gasai is a psychopathic yandere obsessed with the main a=male character.
10. Self-Insert Dark-Haired Protagonist
The era of dark-haired male anime characters being psychopaths with a god complex (looking at you, Light Yagami and Lelouch) is on the wane.
In the past few years, dark-haired men in anime shows and games are more mellow and hero-like because they’re designed for viewers to project themselves onto.
Some black-haired protagonists, like My Dress Up Darling‘s Gojo and Persona 5‘s Joker, will have more established traits that give them a separate identity from the viewer, but others are practically blank slates. This is exceedingly common in the isekai genre.
In shoujo and shounen anime shows, though, dark-haired protagonists are still the cool guys of their shows. Just look at Millionaire Detective (2020)’s Daisuke Kambe.
11. Ice Cold Platinum Blonde
Not to be confused with the characters who have hair in a warmer shade of blonde. While blonde anime hairstyles mean girls can be catty, the platinum blonde/white-haired ones are either cold or crazy. There’s rarely an in-between.
Additionally, they are either geniuses, skilled fighters, or both.
Hunter x Hunter (1999)’s Killua Zoldyck has a cold personality, is a genius, and is a skilled fighter.
For a female example, there’s Kirari Momobami from Kakegurui (2017) who is cold, crazy, and a genius. While Inuyasha from InuYasha (2000) is not a genius, cold, or crazy, he is a fantastic fighter.
However, Inuyasha’s brother, Sesshomaru fits the bill perfectly. Speaking of Sesshomaru, that brings us to the last entry on this list.
12. Long-Haired Pretty Boy
Female gaze, anyone?
Some guys may not like seeing feminine or androgynous looking men in fiction, but if there’s one thing shoujo anime shows have proven, it’s that women love men who are prettier than them.
Anime men with long hair are often portrayed as sophisticated and gentlemanly. Like anime women with hime hair, they may have a high social status or are in some way superior to other male characters.
Bishounen hair can be as long as Sesshomaru’s or stop at or around the shoulders the way Sebastian Michaelis’ and Howl’s do.