Lolis in Anime

Lolis in Anime

An Introduction to Lolis

On May 11, 2020, I vowed to write my “Loli Thesis” once I was caught up on all my anime reviews. I’ve just scrolled through my list, and it looks like everything I’ve watched has been reviewed at this point. So today is the day I make good on my promise and finally write about lolis in anime.

If you’ve watched anime or read manga or light novels, you’ve likely come across a character whom many viewers or readers would refer to as a loli. This character is going to be a young girl, or in the case of a “legal loli,” a girl who appears young, but is actually at or above the legal age of adulthood.

As I’ll explain more later on, a legal loli is a misnomer, not something that actually exists.

Illya von Einzbern and Miyu Edelfelt from the anime series Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya
Illya von Einzbern and Miyu Edelfelt from Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya

But, why do lolis matter? Why am I writing about young, female characters in anime? Because lolis are one of the most divisive aspects of anime — probably more so than the inclusion of ecchi elements, which I’ve previously written about as well.

There are two main camps when it comes to the topic of lolis. There are those who like them and there are those who do not. However, it’s probably more apt to say that there are those who love them and there are those who hate them.

From Lolita to Loli

What many people may not realize is that loli isn’t even really a Japanese term. If it was, then I wouldn’t be using “lolis” as the plural, I would simply be using “loli.” The term actually comes from the word, or rather name, Lolita, which in turn comes from a 1955 American novel by the same name.

That’s right, you can thank America for lolis in anime.

Lolita is a story about a professor who becomes sexually obsessed and involved with his 12-year-old stepdaughter. The girl’s name is Dolores, and the nickname she’s given by her stepfather is Lolita.

Sagiri Izumi from the anime series Eromanga Sensei
Sagiri Izumi from Eromanga Sensei

So the term loli is actually just a shortened version of the nickname Lolita and is used to describe characters who are similar to Lolita in the novel. We then also get the term lolicon, which refers to someone who is attracted to a character that would fall under the loli label.

When a character is referred to as a loli, what we’re really saying is that they’re Lolitaesque; they have the traits of Lolita.

I’ll also mention that there’s a male version of a loli known as a shōta. Unlike loli, the term shōta does have it’s origins in Japanese culture. Shōta is simply a shortened version of the name Shōtarō, the protagonist of the 1956 manga “Tetsujin 28-gō.” There’s also the term shōtacon, which refers to someone who is attracted to a character under the shōta label.

What is a Loli?

With all that history out of the way, it’s time to answer the main question when it comes to lolis: What counts as a loli?

There are a few different answers to this question depending on who you ask. Some people would say that any female character in anime who’s under the age of 18 counts as a loli. Others say that it refers to a more specific age range. And then there’s the answer I’ll be backing, which is a bit more complicated.

The true definition of a loli is a young (prepubescent) girl who’s either sexually promiscuous or viewed as such.

By using this definition, we can already see that a so-called “legal loli” is a misnomer. Since loli refers to girls who have not gone through puberty yet, you’re unlikely to have one over the age of 18. A woman who is of legal age but looks like a loli character is just petite, not a loli.

Hina Kawamoto from the anime series March comes in like a lion
Hina Kawamoto from March comes in like a lion

The second part of that definition is how we can start narrowing down what a loli truly is. There needs to be an aspect of sexual promiscuity, either real or imposed upon the character.

An example of a young, female character who would not be considered a loli is Hina from March comes in like a lion. She’s 14 years old, which puts her in the required age range, but she lacks any of the sexually promiscuous traits. She’s not doing anything lewd and nobody is imagining that she does.

A true depiction of a loli would be any of the three main girls from Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya. I think Illya, Chloe, and Miyu are all supposed to be 12 years old, but despite this, they’re depicted in more sexually explicit ways and even do sexually suggestive things.

So basically, a loli is a very specific character archetype — much like a tsundere. And yes, you can combine archetypes to have a tsundere loli.

In Defense of Lolis in Anime

Everything up to this point has been based on sources, history, and facts. But now it’s time to get into the opinion portion of the discussion. Is it okay to include lolis in anime?

The people who are against the loli archetype will say that lolis should not be included in anime because it promotes the sexualization of children. And although I don’t agree with that, I’ll admit that it’s a fair point to bring up because it’s a serious subject and that argument should be considered.

However, the way I see it, the inclusion of loli characters doesn’t promote the exploitation of minors any more than violence in games and movies promotes violence against real people. And despite what some (generally older) people will say, there’s no evidence to back that up.

Nadeko Sengoku from the anime series Nisemonogatari
Nadeko Sengoku from Nisemonogatari

Next, we also have to remember that loli characters are both drawings and fictional representations. Just because someone likes a loli character does not mean they’re attracted to real children. There’s a difference between the concept of something and the real thing.

If you still don’t understand my point, let’s use sheep as an example. If you were to present me with an anime-style drawing of a sheep, I would probably think it’s cute. But I don’t think real sheep are cute. I think they’re gross and weird and I don’t want them near me.

So in summary, I don’t mind loli characters. I don’t care if they’re “legal lolis,” 500-year-old vampire lolis, or legit 12-year-old lolis. Just be prepared to be called a lolicon.

I’d also like to mention that the only true loli in the Monogatari series is Nadeko. Despite Mayoi, Shinobu, and Yotsugi being dubbed the “loli trio,” they don’t possess the sexual promiscuity aspect as Nadeko does. Shinobu is never sexualized as a child, even when naked. And Mayoi and Yotsugi’s harassment is simply used to joke that Koyomi is a lolicon.


What are your thoughts on loli characters in anime? And more importantly, who’s your favorite loli? Let me know in the comments. I’m not sure who my favorite loli would be. Nadeko is definitely high-tier, but Illya’s up there too. There are also probably a lot I’m forgetting about.

If you enjoyed this discussion, remember to click the like button down below. Also, follow me over on Twitter @DoubleSama so you don’t miss out on any future content.

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