And kanji with manga
Saturday, March 3, 2018

oni 鬼

In Japanese, or, rather, in Japan's culture, an oni is a kind of "supernatural being," youkai 妖怪 often translated to English as "ogre" or "troll," although those are technically different things. Generally speaking, an oni in anime is a big, strong, scary, evil, rugged, powerful humanoid monster, who has one or two horns on its head, fangs, and the like, but designs may vary.

Oni Gouki from the anime Yuu Yuu Hakusho

Nowadays, oni are normally portrayed featuring colored skin, specially red and blue, just like the modern day ogre is usually green. In anime, oni characters can usually talk and have some sort of connection with the demon world, afterlife, hell, or something supernatural like that.

Apparently, the word oni would mean it's an invisible spirit, originally, but that's rarely the case in modern fiction.

Human-like Oni

Although oni originally refers to a monster-like creature, in anime it's often the case a more human-like character is classified as an oni. When this happen, the only consistent feature they get is one or two horns on top of their head and nothing else.

Backstory, alignment, etc. does not matter. Just the oni horns is enough to call a character an oni.

Lum, her brother, and her father. Oni characters from the anime Urusei Yatsura うる星やつら.

Oni Girls

Those big, evil, scary, oni have been moefied into cute girls in anime, as one would expect. So it's no wonder there are terms to refer to them, too, as the oni girls are legitimately one of the countless types of girls you can find in anime.

In English, sometimes the word "oni" alone refers to such oni girls. Like this: she's an "oni." In Japanese, the following terms are used to refer to them:
  • onimusume 鬼娘
  • onikko 鬼っ娘

The above may also be used toward male characters. On Pixiv, there's also a tag used more with child characters:
  • onikko 鬼っ子
    Oni child. A kid character who's an oni.
    (for example, the fire-breathing little brother of the oni girl.)

Such oni girls count as "monster girls," by the way, jingai-musume 人外娘.

Girls With Horns

Although oni girls usually do have horns, it'd be wrong to say a girl with horns is automatically an oni girl. That'd be like judging someone by their appearance. You can't say someone is American just because they're obese, in the same way, you can't say a character is an oni just because they have horns.

For example, demon characters usually have horns of one sort or another, but they're demons, not oni, even though both are kinds of supernatural beings. The horned dragons in Maidragon aren't oni either, they're dragons.

But the fact they do have horns doesn't change, so the following terms also exist:
  • tsuno
    (note: the word kaku 角, written with the same kanji, means "angle," and there's also kado 角, which means "corner," and is part of the name of an ultra shit anime you really don't want to ever watch in your life, because if you do, you'll regret wasting hours of your time in such an immense, never-stopping disaster.)
  • hayasu 生やす
    To make sprout. (plant, beard, but may be a horn too. Think FLCL.)
  • tsuno-musume 角娘
    tsunokko 角っ娘
    Horn-y girl. Girl with horns.

That said, a girl with horns is usually also an oni girl. For example, you could say Zero-Two from FranXX is just a girl with horns, and not an oni, since she's not a spirit in connection with the other side or something occult like that. But her code, 02, practically spells oni, so yeah, maybe she's an oni.

Another hint is that oni characters are usually associated with brutes, like cavemen, living the caves, of mountains, carrying bludgeoning weapons, wearing pelts, etc. This is a stereotype that serves as basis of many oni character designs. These features aren't necessary, but they're recurrent.


For reference, some oni illustrations.

Triangle Horns

Skin Horns


Red Oni, Blue Oni

Despite the fact you could make an oni any color if you wanted, the colors red and blue are specially common.

Blue oni and red oni from hell talking to Goku in the anime Dragon Ball Z.

This happens because of a blue oni red oni trope which can be seen across many Japanese anime and fiction, and comes from a certain popular Japanese's children's tale featuring a blue and a red oni. (here's the story translated if you want to read.)

Figurative Usage

Sometimes the word oni is used figuratively, or idiomatically, or in some way that doesn't literally refer to an actual oni. Here are some examples:

Merciless Person

Someone may get called an oni 鬼 for being "merciless," kichiku 鬼畜. For example, if they give too much work to someone, or give too many orders, or, well, really seem to have no mercy, they may be get called oni as you'd call someone a "fiend" or something of the sort.


In games of tag and hide-and-seek, the "it" may be called the oni in Japanese.

The term oni-gokko 鬼ごっこ even means "game of tag."

Weird Children

Sometimes, the term onigo 鬼子, or onikko 鬼っ子, may be used toward children. Here there's two different meanings.

First a child that's a "demon," that is, a child that's too misbehaved.

Second a child that doesn't resemble the parents. This has the implication that the child isn't actually a human child but some sort of spirit that took the shape of a baby or something. In the same vein, the term also applies to children born with teeth.

What's Gonna Happen?!?!

There's a Japanese idiom that contains the word oni 鬼 which's worth knowing about. It comes in two versions:
  1. oni ga deru ka ja ga deku ka 鬼が出るか蛇が出るか
  2. oni ga deru ka hotoke ga deru ka 鬼が出るか仏が出るか

In both cases, what's being literally said is if "an oni will come out" or will something else. What this idiom means in practice is that you don't know what will come out. "You don't know what's going to happen." And it's used in a situation where the outcome of something is unforeseeable.

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