If you’ve spent any amount of time online, especially on Reddit or Twitter, you’ve probably come across the terms “weeaboo” or “weeb.” Usually, they’re being thrown with blistering scorn at Twitter or Facebook users posting photos of their anime figure collection.
Weeaboo may sound like some exotic strain of Asian worm, but it actually has a long history and baggage that weighs more than an FA-78 Full Armor Gundam, which first appeared in volume one of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, which was later adapted… Sorry, I blacked out there for a second. Let’s get back on track here.
What does Weeaboo actually mean?
Basically, a weeaboo is a specific variety of nerd who is overly devoted to Japanese pop culture. Their life is pretty much sustained on a diet of anime, manga, and video games, which can be a bit off-putting to others, to say the least.
You know the type — foreigners who are so deep down the rabbit hole that they want to become Japanese. They can be seen using Japanese words incorrectly, dressing up like anime characters, and worshipping Japan without knowing anything about it outside what they’ve seen in anime.
In short, they’re annoying.
Weeaboo Part One: Origins
Back in the ’80s and ‘90s anime like Akira and Bubblegum Crisis started to creep into the West via fan-made bootleg VHS tapes that people would trade around.
This underground tape trading resulted in some pretty hardcore fans. When titles like Dragonball, Sailor Moon, and Pokémon were translated and aired on TV in Western countries in the mid-‘90s, a new class of fans that had grown up with anime since childhood was born.
As the internet gradually became a daily part of people’s lives, anime spread across the digital highway to an even broader audience.
Thanks to fansubs and translations, now available for free from countless sites of dubious legality, anime fans could watch hundreds of titles on demand without the restrictions of domestic television.
By the early 2000s, Japanese pop culture was firmly established as a hot item.
A wild weeaboo appears
At this point, the term “wapanese,” a combination of the words white and Japanese, began to appear on internet message boards to describe these overly-enthusiastic individuals. It highlighted the fact that the vast majority of these devotees were white with an unhealthy obsession with Japan.
Wapanese […] highlighted the fact that the vast majority of these devotees were white with an unhealthy obsession with Japan.
So where does “weeaboo” come in? Well after “wapanese” was registered as hate speech, the moderators of 4chan needed to replace it with something else.
They decided on “weeaboo,” a nonsense word taken from the webcomic The Perry Bible Fellowship. Thus, the term was born and spread from there to the rest of the internet.
While the anime boom has lost the mainstream power it had in the ’90s and early 2000s, a legion of loyal fans lurking in the deep pits of Reddit hell remains.
Weeaboos in the modern age
Your stereotypical weeaboo is a young, white male with poor hygiene, a massive anime figurine collection, and questionable social skills.
However, there is an increasing number of women and people of color joining the weeb ranks. Otome games and Boy’s Love manga are largely targeted at women, and the success of these franchises speaks to their growing audience.
A lot of them congregate on anonymous internet sites and social media services like Twitter, Discord, and Crunchyroll forums.
You can usually tell a weeb by their inability to talk about anything that isn’t anime or video game-related for more than five minutes. If they’re using an anime girl as their profile picture, you’re definitely dealing with a triple rare major weeb.
Why would anyone want to become a weeaboo?
You’re probably asking yourself why anyone would want to become a weeaboo. Well, it’s a bit complicated.
Think about sports fans, and I don’t mean people who just like sports. I mean people who worship their favorite sports teams. The ones who paint their faces with the teams’ colors on game day and riot when they lose.
In many ways, the behavior of sports fans isn’t so different from someone who watches the new episodes of My Hero Academia the second they’re released. What sets them apart, of course, is the nature of their obsession.
It’s really nobody else’s business if anime fans want to walk around dressed as a cat in a maid outfit.
While watching sports is a socially acceptable pastime, sleeping with a body pillow of your favorite anime character definitely looks strange to others. It doesn’t help that anime, manga, and video games exist purely in the realm of fantasy, which makes weebs seem out of touch with reality.
Although I do suspect American basketball player LeBron James is secretly a Super Saiyan.
Those things don’t make anime fandom any less valid, though. It’s really nobody else’s business if anime fans want to walk around dressed as a cat in a maid outfit. I’ve known plenty of annoying sports fans and weeaboos alike.
Weeaboo may never become a word that doesn’t feel insulting to hardcore anime fans, but some wear the term with pride. As time goes on, the insult loses its sting and becomes more of an unlockable achievement rather than a scarlet letter.
I have a dream that weebs and non-weebs can someday live together in harmony. In the words of a wise cat known as Meowth, “Maybe if we started looking at what’s the same instead of always looking at what’s different…well who knows?”