There’s a lot of misconceptions surrounding the term ‘loli’. We see this character trope all the time in anime and manga, but since it can overlap with other character types, it can be quite hard to identify. It’s also pretty common to misunderstand what the term actually means. Here we explain how to spot a loli, and who are the best lolis in the land.
The word ‘loli’ is a little ambiguous. Mostly, it describes a girl who is older (say, 21), but looks very young and has a youthful, vibrant personality. Of course, they can also be shy and awkward, but the main part here is being old, acting young. Or, being old, but having a very cute personality. Lolis and their male equivalent, loli-shota, are seen as endearing and extremely cute. If an anime holds no other trope, the one it will keep is the loli character. The saying goes: ‘every tough guy needs a loli’ because it’s a very popular contrast to have a big, tough character paired with a small, cute one. They’re treated as the baby of the cast and are often teased or overprotected.
A great example of a loli would be Mitsukuni Haninozuka (Honey-senpai) from Ouran High School Host Club. In the very first episode, club leader Tamaki points his finger at Honey-senpai, denoting him as a ‘loli-shota’, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s an 18 year-old martial arts prodigy, yet he looks, sounds and acts like an elementary schooler. He’s hardcore into bunnies, cake, and cute things, and is constantly in the company of his ‘tough guy’ friend. Yet in their little host club cocoon, he’s actually pretty popular with the ladies, who dote on him and feed him cookies to his heart’s content. The creators deliberately went for an exaggerated cast of trope-tastic characters, and Honey-senpai is just a prime example. In the west, Honey-senpai still proves to be one of the most popular lolis, years after the release of the anime.
If we’re comparing two characters from the same anime, we could use Inu X Boku Secret Service. The protagonist Ririchiyo is fifteen. She’s moody, yes, but has a very child-like body and demeanour. She’s coddled by other characters and is self-conscious about seeming like a spoilt child. Compare her with her classmate Karuta. Karuta carries herself as any fifteen year-old would, and has a developed body type. When we look at these two, it’s clear that Ririchiyo is the loli. And, if you saw any fight scene in this show, Karuta could even be classed as a tough guy. Their friendship totally makes sense.
Now that we have lolis out of the way, why the confusion? Many people think about the looking young, acting young part, but completely miss out the is older part. If there’s a teenage girl, she can’t really be a loli unless she looks or acts cute and youthful. If the character is seven, we can’t very well call her a loli simply for acting her age. It would be like calling Souta from InuYasha a loli-shota because he’s cute, even though he’s a perfectly normal elementary schooler.
It’s hard to say why the trope is so popular. It could be just an endearing novelty to have a cute, childish character running around amidst ordinary adults. People who watch a lot of the ‘moe’ type shows will find something accessible and relatable in a loli, since a lot of the genki (energetic) girls in moe anime could be called lolis themselves. Controversy has surrounded these characters since the concept was born – after all, they are adults who act like little kids. But in general, it’s all just innocent, cute fun.
If you’re looking for a show with a good loli, you could check out the ones mentioned above. Or, try Gakkou Gurashi (loli: Yuki Takeya), Gosick (loli: Victorique) or Toradora (loli: Taiga Aisaka). Go out there and discover the cuteness.