A while back I wrote about some of the more popular tropes used in manga (and anime too!). A single post really doesn’t do the topic justice, though, given the huge number of manga tropes out there. The tropes I covered previously were also limited to the straightforward, clear-cut variety: nosebleeds indicate sexual arousal, snot bubbles equate to deep sleep, popping veins signal rage, and so on.

So in today’s post, I’ll be revisiting manga tropes, with an emphasis on the tropes that are, shall we say, a bit fuzzier around the edges.

Trope #6 Shock lines

I mentioned shock lines only very briefly in my last post about manga tropes, so let’s start by taking another look at it.

Shock lines are vertical lines that, most commonly, cover the top half of a character’s face. Sometimes these lines cover just one eye, and occasionally appear even in the background. They’ve also got this bluish tint, although you usually don’t get to see this since most manga is in black and white.

shock lines_shock_collage

Shock lines, of course, indicate shock – both the emotional sort as well as the physical, as demonstrated by Edward Elric having his new automail attached. Shock lines turn up in all sorts of other situations too, though. Just take a look at the following image, for example: there’s pure, unadulterated fear; hopeless despair; and even sheepish embarrassment.

shock lines_various_collage

Trope #7 Hurtful words

In the world of manga, sharp, hurtful words can literally cut you like a knife. You’ll usually see this trope in the form of an arrow that stabs someone right through the heart. So much for sticks and stones, right?

hurtful words_stab_collage

Manga artists have really had a field day with this one, and I’ve seen lots of variations of this particular trope. Hurtful words can take the form of a rock that appears out of nowhere and falls on someone’s head, for example… or, like the poor guy in the image below, each insult manifests as a bodily blow.

hurtful words_variant

Trope #8 Giving up the ghost

Giving up the ghost means exactly that: someone is so close to death that his spirit has started to leave his body. It’s really common to see the bruised and bloodied loser of a fight giving up the ghost, although the cause could be anything from overwork to hypothermia. Also, as you’ll see in the following image, someone’s soul can be as detailed, or not, as the mangaka wants it to be.

giving up the ghost_dying_collage

The thing to note about this trope is that the person giving up the ghost is not dead. Not yet, at least – so sometimes you’ll see a character grab hold of the soul to prevent it from going into the light, as it were. In any case, by the next scene, the dying person is usually back to normal. Some manga artists take advantage of the temporariness of this trope to use it in a more figurative sense as well, like dying from disappointment.

giving up the ghost_disappointment_collage

Trope #9 Hitodama

Speaking of ghosts and spirits, manga artists rely on hitodama to indicate the presence of something… otherworldly. These floating balls of fire are, strictly speaking, actual human souls that have separated from the body, but manga artists just use them for anything supernatural. The demon wolves Hakubi and Madarao, for example, always seem to have one or two hitodama hanging around.


Hitodama aren’t just for ghosts and ghouls, though. They’re sometimes also used to play up how creepily ghost-like or witch-like someone is, which I guess isn’t too far a stretch from its original meaning. But I’m not really sure why they appear when someone is just feeling depressed or sad, like in the following image:


Trope #10 Tears

Now manga-style tears are pretty unambiguous and unmistakeable, but they appear so frequently I just have to mention them as well. When a manga character cries, these really huge pools of tears form in his eyes, or the tears stream down his face like a waterfall. Or, if a character is especially unhappy, he might even cry tears of blood.

streaming tears_collage

The neat thing about manga-style tears is that they are actually possible in real life. I kid you not. You just have to be, you know, in outer space or something.

So, what’s your take on these ambiguous manga tropes? In what other situations have you seen them being used? And did you already know about the crying in space thing? Let us know in the comments!

All manga examples, once again, shamelessly lifted off manga aggregation sites.

  • Kima

    Omg the crying video XD That is epic. I found lots of D.Gray-man and Fullmetal Alchemist :D ohhh, so that’s what the hitodama are… thanks for the info!

  • HongVan

    I love this series (*´▽`*) . I hope you write next tropes soon. And thank for the link to previous tropes as well (*^▽^*).

  • Hamyo

    I think shock lines is the very common manga tropes from all of the tropes in that list. XD


    Thanks Fiona. // For a future article maybe Japanese onomatopoeia for animal sounds? Nyao-kay?

  • Capitán Marginal

    Super amazing post Fiona! Thanks! My take is that manga language depicts the phisiology of trance states –it could be argued that is because japanese are –or at least were– more closest to the body than westerners. I have pendent writing an entry about it when I start my blog. Hope you don’t mind if I do a little plagiarism from here (linked to it included). Super cool!

  • Joel Alexander

    “Shock lines” with a blueish tint are depression lines. =P

  • orangedude

    Am I the only one that wants to cry in space now?

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    One theory I’ve read is that the someone is so shocked he/she can’t breathe and so turns blue from lack of oxygen. This explanation doesn’t really work for the other situations where “shock lines” are used as well though… anyway if you’ve got an idea of how/why lines+blue=depression I’d love to hear it! :D

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    OooHhhh now that’s an idea!

  • Philipp Brendel

    Great series, very entertaining! One thing I would like to know more about is the meaning of different eye styles – for example, what does it mean when the pupil is narrowed to a slit? Suspicion?

  • Karl Andersson

    I really enjoyed these 2 posts – I only knew some of the tropes, others I had just recognized without knowing their meaning. Well researched and good examples – you should tour conventions with this! :)

  • Dattebaru Baru

    I am going to space to try this

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    Aw you’re too kind!

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    Ah looks like this there’s already a handy-dandy guide for this! Check this out: