What is Hentai?

The Meaning of Hentai

Hentai is a Japanese word that is popularly used to label a genre of anime that are pornographic or explicit in nature. The word hentai roughly translates to “pervert” and when used in a literary context or in conversation pertains to sexual deviance or perverted sexual desires. Its original definition was not erotic in nature but instead meant a metamorphosis or transformation, which is perhaps where they derived its perverse connotation. Its use as an umbrella term to classify a body of work (be it an anime, manga or erotic game) is mainly done outside of Japan. International companies market Japanese works that have graphic sexual scenes under this label. It is also widely understood to encompass works which depict bizarre or abnormal sexual acts between humans or between humans and unusual creatures.

Origin of Hentai Anime

Hentai works have a long and colorful history. Erotic literature and graphical manga that tell of perverse sexuality have been around for a very long time. A notable example of this would be an excerpt from the three-volume shunga erotica of the shougun period called Kinoe no Komatsu. One story tells of a fisherman’s wife who is sexually pleasured by a couple of octopus. This is perhaps the earliest known predecessor of anime hentai that feature tentacle porn.

Hentai works gained international recognition post-World War II. Japanese erotic cartoons or anime pornography was introduced to the English-speaking world during the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. It only became widely known around the mid 1980’s wherein a series of hentai anime found their place in American markets.

Kinds of Anime Hentai

Hentai can be broken down into several other subgenres according to the gender of the protagonists and/or their age. Each work caters to different demographics.

1.    Bara or Men’s Love
This subgenre depicts sexual romance or stories between two men that is marketed towards gay men. Not to be confused with Yaoi (Boy’s Love), characters in Bara anime hentai are depicted either as very masculine, muscular or burly or with realistic male bodies. The storyline of Bara anime hentai are usually very mature. Drawn from real world experiences and grounded reality, they typically center on the reception of modern Japan towards homosexuals and homosexual relationships.

2.    Boy’s Love (Yaoi / shōnen-ai)
Yaoi anime hentai features sexual or romantic relationships between two men. This genre is drastically different from Bara because these works are usually marketed towards women, young girls in particular. Characters in Yaoi anime have designated seme (top) and uke (bottom) roles. Seme characters are more dominant, being the top, and are usually portrayed as stereotypically handsome, chiseled and decidedly more masculine men than the uke. Uke characters are softer and more feminine boys to conform to their receptive roles. Rape is a commonly occurring theme in Yaoi hentai anime. Very few female characters are present if at all but most of the time it features a wide cast of pretty boys.

3.    Girl’s Love (Yuri/shōjo-ai)
This subgenre of hentai anime features lesbian sexual romances or storylines between two female characters. Yuri elements are featured as side elements of bigger anime works but it wasn’t until the 1970’s that Yuri romances took center stage. It is a common belief that most girls go through a lesbian phase as part of growing up so most Yuri works tell of coming of age stories but it isn’t always the case. The 1990’s saw Yuri stories verge away from tragic portrayals to positive light. This is largely due in part to the Sailor Moon franchise.

4.    Lolicon
Lolicon is a portmanteau of Lolita complex. It is a hentai subgenre which depicts sexual attraction towards prepubescent girls. Female characters in Lolicon anime hentai are portrayed as childlike with young, underdeveloped bodies and with immature mannerisms or worldviews. The girls are drawn to look erotically cute and to engage in sexual intercourse with obsessed middle-aged men. Fans claim to be drawn towards the youthful and cute image of the female characters as opposed to their actual age. Nonetheless it has received a large amount of flack and controversy throughout the years.

5.    Shotacon
Shotacon is the male equivalent of Lolicon. This subgenre of anime hentai depicts sexual acts and/or erotic obsession of middle-aged men with prepubescent boys or between young boys. Other times boys are portrayed to look younger than they are and/or exhibit youthful mannerisms. Boku no Pico is widely considered the first of its kind.

Anime hentai don’t always center on heterosexual or homosexual sex but also feature other sexual proclivities and fetishes as well like incest, adultery, hermaphrodite/transsexual sex, BDSM, torture, watersports and tentacle erotica among other things. Fantasy elements may also be present apart from school life and may sometimes include sexual beings or creatures with phallic appendages. Hentai anime also take on varied tones ranging from the lighthearted and comedic to the chilling or poignant.

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