The MYTH Of Anime Characters Looking “White”, And Why You Believe It’s True

The MYTH Of Anime Characters Looking "White", And Why You Believe It's True

There’s been an ongoing debate about anime characters looking white. And why people believe it’s true.

A Japanese person would probably laugh in your face if you told them this.

All it takes is 1 Google search to see this “debate” has been going on since 2010 (probably longer):

kotaku anime characters white

In Kotaku’s article: “why do Japanese characters look white?”, the writer: Brian Ashcroft starts off with:

“This is a common question Westerners have. Japanese characters in anime, manga and video games, they say, “look” Caucasian.”

The words “westerners” is an important fact to keep in mind.

He then goes on to say:

“In a post titled “Why do the Japanese Draw Themselves as White?”, blogger Julian Abagond argues that the Japanese do not draw themselves as white. Rather, Westerners think that they do.”

Source: Kotaku Article

I don’t know who Julian Abagond is… Or Brian Ashcroft either. But I do know this: Julian Abagond is right.

The Japanese don’t intentionally draw their anime characters to make them look “white”. That’s a matter of perspective.

But in reality it’s more than just perspective.

Stereotypes in our society run deeper than we realize.

And because of these racial stereotypes, it’s easy to believe if an anime characters skin colour or design isn’t “stereotypically” Asian, than it must be “white” by default.

Which by the way, is a load of BS in most cases.


Believing anime characters look white is a myth

And there’s a GOOD reason why that’s the case. So take a seat, kick back and relax as I make my point loud and clear like a Police siren. 😉


This Is Why You Believe Anime Characters Look White:


1. Because you’re BIASED

If it wasn’t already obvious that you’re biased, I can prove you wrong. And this is in spite of your race, background or “skin” colour.

Here’s an image of Barack Obama, the previous US president.

Barack Obama US president (1)

You might be asking – how is this relevant?

Barack Obama is mixed race.

His mother is white and his father is black.  Nothing ground-breaking or surprising about that, right?

And yet: even though Barack Obama is mixed race, he’s perceived as a “black” president.

Why? The reason is simple:

  • Stereotypically, it’s easier to “judge” Barack Obama as a black person. Because of his skin colour.
  • Because of these stereotypical biases, you automatically assume Barack Obama is black when in fact he’s mixed race.
  • There’s a psychological term called “herd” mentality. If everyone else believes it, you’re most likely to agree. Even if those beliefs are flawed.

Bias isn’t about logic or being rational. Bias is exactly what it sounds like: you believe something because it’s comfortable.

But that doesn’t make what you believe right.

That’s the flaw of the human ego.


2. Because anime characters have light complexions

viktor wink yuri on ice

You know what’s interesting about this belief? Only anime fans in the west believe it’s true.

Indians, Africans, Philippines, and many other countries don’t share this belief. Especially not in the way westerners do, to the point of being biased.

Only westerners feel this strongly about it.

Going back to that Kotaku Article for a second, here’s another interesting point that was made:

“If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed.”

Meaning: if it isn’t obvious that an anime character is Japanese (eye structure, etc) than most fans will assume the character must be white. By virtue of bias.

And by the way: I completely get it.

There are times where I’ve assumed an anime character is black when in fact they weren’t.

Bias is a real thing, and without self-awareness, no one can escape it.


3. Because it strokes your own ego

anime girl gif

Like I said before – I completely understand it. I’ve assumed anime characters were “black” when they weren’t.

Believing an anime character is the same as you helps you relate, connect, and even feel good about yourself.

If it makes you look good, then of course you’re gonna believe it because why wouldn’t you?

But the reality is:

  • Unless the anime character is British, American, European, and their character is “based” off that, they’re not white.
  • And the same is true for any race, background or culture. No matter what lies you want to make yourself believe.

The ego is fragile. Sometimes it’s our enemy. Other times it’s our best friend. And when “bias” stands in the way, the ego is always there to welcome you with open arms.

But that doesn’t change the objective truth.

Related: 11 Of My Favorite Anime Characters Who Relate To My Personality


Why “anime characters look white” is a MYTH:


1. Japanese anime artists/people believe they’re Japanese, NOT white

When Akira Toriyama created Goku… the last thing he thought was: “does Goku look white” or “does Bulma look American”.

The same is true for almost 100% of anime characters who are drawn and designed in unique ways.

The artists are simply trying to create something different, unique and “out of this world”. That’s why so many anime characters literally look like they’re from another planet.

Each character has so many unique features, skin colour included, that it’s silly to even believe certain things because a lot of it is realistically impossible.

That doesn’t mean some Japanese Artists don’t draw white characters intentionally. But it does mean what we believe and what they know are 2 different things.

If you walked up to a Japanese person in the streets of Tokyo, claiming anime characters are “white”, they’d slap themselves. Because they don’t have the same biases as westerners do.

Or the same biases as “anyone” outside Japan. Full stop.


Saying anime characters look “white” is like saying The Simpsons look American

simpsons characters

When all is said and done… it all comes down to stereotypical biases society has spoon fed us. Nothing more.

Unless it’s intentional, and an anime character has been designed to look a certain way, it’s more a bias than it is a fact.

If you want to disagree or bring a better argument, share it in the comments.

Recommended: An Open Letter To The Anime Industry About PIRACY

21 thoughts on “The MYTH Of Anime Characters Looking “White”, And Why You Believe It’s True

  1. Chadd says:

    I was just wondering a simple question like why are the skin tones of anime characters obviously white instead of a more tanned skin tone, and now the internet is making me feel like there’s something wrong with me. Why does it always have to involve some nonsense about someone being insensitive on the subject when its more than obviously not that big of a deal. I just want to know why, not that I should consider thinking about things in other peoples perspectives and not being so inconsiderate. I think anyone would agree with me that when they see an anime character, they’re not going to think they’re American or European, but they are going to wonder why the characters are predominantly white. But who knows, maybe I’m just being insensitive and should consider peoples feelings more.

    • Theo J Ellis says:

      While I appreciate the thoughtful comment, they’re not “obviously white” and most people actually don’t believe they look American or European. Unless the anime character is designed that way.

      You’re right in saying it’s “not a big deal” as people make it.

      I do see your point about “why are skin tones of anime characters not tanned”. If you mean why don’t they have Japanese skin tones, I’d like to say it’s a design/coloring issue, but there may be something beyond that which us “outside” fans don’t know about. There’s a clear bias to lighter skin tones though, especially in Asia.

      And even though I haven’t said it in this article, a LOT of Asians worship “European” features.

  2. Mark Borok says:

    They look “white” because Osamu Tezuka was inspired by Disney, and other Japanese artists followed his lead. In traditional Japanese art, everyone is unmistakably Asian. Note also that in a lot of anime / manga the characters’ pupils are squished ovals – just like Mickey Mouse’s eyes.

  3. CutTheFu*ckery says:

    Lol listen dawg you don’t gotta go the extra mile just to pretend, everyone knows that a vast amount of anime characters more like white people than any other race. It’s not a bad thing, and what’s bad is to act like it is. Let’s just get over it, and move forward. Lol the objective outweighs the desperate subjective. Anyone getting butthurt at white people or multi racial people or people from mixed societies is the ignorant one, because they fail to acknowledge that a vast majority of anime watchers come from mixed cultures and not Japan. I really thinks it’s hysterical when people go the extra mile to try to say that a character that looks like a white person doesn’t look like a white person because it was made by a Japanese person like grow up lmao.

    • Theo J Ellis says:

      I’m not sure if that’s aimed at me personally, otherwise I’m dumbfounded. There’s no pretense or “pretending” here.

      I’m simply stating it as it is. Though I certainly hear your point.

  4. Christopher Dittmar says:

    I agree with this for the most part, and to be fair, the whole question is false to begin with since the notion that skin color is a basis for race is rather arbitrary to begin with. Granted, I feel like on rare occasions this is valid even when it’s not deliberate. For example, in Code Geass, the Britannians and Japanese look the same, whether the two grouos look “White” or “Japanese”.


  5. Bryce says:

    I agree 100%. Its hilarious when they look at a cast of characters from an anime and pick out the blonde hair blue eyed Japanese girl and go “she can’t be japanese, japanese people dont look like that. why are they drawing Japanese characters to look white?” while completly ignoring the purple haired yellow eyed girl(because last time i checked white people, or any race for that matter, do not have purple hair and yellow eyes). It NEVER crosses their mind that maybe just maybe the characters are designed that way for non-racial stylistic and artistic reasons. No, according to them it HAS to be because the Japanese hate their own race and secretly worship white people.

    Its also funny that they have no problem with a medium that has giant lasers, gravity defying hair, magic girls, man eating giants, virtual worlds, swords the size of trucks, and breasts twice as big as a womans head. Heck they are okay with a purple haired yellow eyed Japanese girl. But a blonde hair blue eyed one? That just TOO absurd.

    • Brandon Shorter says:

      Lol.. it intentional bias , Americans who usually (Or western ) Most of the fictions deals with with Europeans going into fantasy worlds with real world ethnicity and what not . and there all stylzed realistically . Take example of Star wars like it a galaxy far far away but all the human look like real world ethnicity Luke is clearly white Lando is clearly black .

      Anime throws a monkey wrench in that where on the average there light skin but there clearly not based on a Real ethnicity . If we made them brown we’d have the same thing just people would assume there black lol. even though nothing about them looks African American other than the fact there brown skin .

      And really the assumption on white Lol.. White as in white american make no sense

      Give me any anime character I can think of like 5 different ethnic groups they could fit into

      There was a character called Nagha the serpent who had purple hair green eyes and pale scale ,Tall drink of water with big boobs and a dark sorcerers outfit

      She could be White
      She could be Asian (Thai Chinese Japanese )
      She could be a Mixed Black and White person with Pale Skin
      She could just be a Light Skin African American who had Light Skin parents but who father and mother was not white
      She could be Latino
      She could be Middle Eastern

      If we ignore the rarity of a woman as tall as the original characters and ignore the hair color Fictional natural purple hair , she still would occupy multiple ethnicity , Not just American White lol…. even taking into account her facial features .

      So yeah the bias is real . We assume if it Light skin = White American or White Northern European

  6. Darius says:

    I’m sure this is an old article. But I was recently thinking about this question. I get what you are saying, and I understand that people tend project their own race onto fictional characters. But when it comes to anime, I think white people have a point. Many anime characters have blue/green eyes, which is primarily a European (white) characteristic. Regardless of who you are, an anime character with blonde hair and blue eyes is going to look objectively white. Like Naruto.

    • Theo J Ellis says:

      I can see your point and there’s no doubting the European features, but that’s the “bias” I speak of. The article itself was published in 2018.

    • Calereason says:

      I agree, it makes a lot of sense. He’s right in that we all have biases and how strong they are. Despite that necessary truth to acknowledge, some of these characters have been design in a way that more accurately represents European or white people than Japanese. Blond hair and big blue/green eyes. Nothing about that sentences usually
      Describes Japanese (not that there are not several other ways you can make them look white), that being said if the Creator says they are Japanese, than they are in fact Japanese. the characters often look white because they wanted them to have those features. If the character has puffy hair, brown skin, and big lips, almost anyone would assume they are of African descent regardless of personal biases.

  7. kofybean says:

    This is bs. If bias is the answer then why don’t Black people see anime characters as black?

    • Theo J Ellis says:

      Maybe because anime characters DON’T look black in general?

      Kind of obvious.

      • James says:

        but they also don’t look like a lot of races in general… but the skin color, probably the most prominent defining feature, looks more like a white person than any other race. Right?

  8. James says:

    It’s an interesting topic. Our interpretation of anything is based on our perception, which is built up throughout our lifetimes. Therefore, as noted above, if you grew up mainly around white people you’re predisposed to see fair skin as white in the absence of other defining features. If you grew up in Japan, you’d naturally interpret it as someone of Japanese origin. This isn’t so much intentionally discriminatory as a function of how we are able to process the massive amount of sensory information we are exposed to every moment.

    What’s interesting about anime, particularly modern anime, is that it is a low detail image, to an extent, with very few racial or other markers to challenge this subconscious interpretation. The movement towards more cute (‘moe’) style images has emphasised Classical Japanese beauty standards (like light skin) and universal markers of cuteness (things like large eyes etc) which has made this increasingly the case.

    Of course, it is worth noting that some characters in anime are white and, depending on the art direction, this may, or may not, be indicated in how they are drawn.

    I guess the take away is that if you’re really interested in the race of an anime character you may want to look for cues other than the visual as the art style doesn’t always lend itself to visual differentiation.

    • Theo J Ellis says:

      Well said, James. You’ve pretty much summed it up perfectly.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation. There’s plenty for others to take away from it!

  9. Tom says:

    Obama was perceived as Black because that’s what he identified himself as.

    • Theo J Ellis says:

      That’s a good point. But there was a lot more to it than that from a societal point of view.

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