Oh boy, this is going to be a rough one. So, as a self-proclaimed old weeb and someone who has definitely dabbled into one too many fanfictions about her favorite characters (and written some of her own cringe self-insert ones), I’m no stranger to a good waifu. You have one, I have several, it’s an entire thing that isn’t bad. Most of the time, anyways.
The nature of anime and manga means that you’re always going to have that one character that you stan to death. Maybe they are just a really cool character, and you want to be them. Or be with them. They are your ideal companion, the best boy/girl in the entire franchise. And thus, a waifu is born.
But can this culture of idolizing fictional animated individuals sometimes go off the deep end? I mean, there is something to be said about how visceral waifu wars can get. As silly as it sounds, I think there are a lot of nuances to be had when discussing the idol waifu culture and how it can lead to unhealthy habits for anime fans.
However, it’s a balancing act. I don’t believe waifu culture is itself to be some cursed entity. After all, I partake in it too. But there’s so much to consider here that it isn’t just as simple as saying ‘having waifu bad’. And I want to have a conversation about the potential waifu culture holds, both the good and the ugly. So, let’s dive right in!
A Brief History Of Waifus And Husbandos:
A waifu is a character that a male fan looks up to or is hopelessly in love with. Hence the whole ‘wants to marry them’ thing. According to Dictionary.com, the term waifu, alongside its male iteration husband, can be traced back to when the Otaku world was still in its infancy in the West. This was around 2006-2007 when YouTube was just getting started, and anime episodes were getting uploaded illegally to be enjoyed by enthusiasts.
No word captured how some felt about a particular character, so they borrowed from the English language and turned it into their own jargon. But the word has existed even before that in Japan, as early as the 80s. This was done to replace a pre-existing word called Kanai which meant ‘in the house’. Since women were entering the workforce during Japan’s economic bubble, it no longer sufficed and thus, waifu was born.
Of course, the word has evolved since then, becoming a staple of weeaboo lingo. Nowadays the term is used to refer to a female character that is particularly beloved by male fans. But there is just so much anime, with so many waifus that fandoms often result in full-blown wars about which waifu is better.
All in all, it’s just a fun activity for fans involved. But like everything, it has its shortcomings.
Waifu Culture: Wholesome Fetishization?
So, this isn’t a wild take. In the society we live in, it’s very easy to blur the lines between what is real and what isn’t. And that extends to our affections for things that don’t exist. Not to mention how that affection can quickly turn into an obsession.
There is something to be said when discussing how early anime employed a very patriarchal portrayal of women in their stories. You were either the innocent maiden, the sexy succubus, or the noble emotionless badass. And this was only if you were the main character and not a plot device. There just wasn’t a lot of space for multi-faceted femme characters.
And with characters as simple and docile as that, it was very easy to warp them into something that is highly unrealistic in real life. Women aren’t always going to be cutesy, ditzy anime girls to go ‘UwU’ over. Waifus back then were a caricature of the ‘perfect’ woman and that wasn’t a realization many were comprehending when fighting about waifus online.
Has Waifu Culture Gotten Better?
Oh, absolutely. Thanks to a surge in quality anime and manga, being written with a more balanced tone and with better characters, we have had waifu culture both expand in popularity and decrease in its intensity.
It’s the fact that now fans are not taking waifus too seriously that has taken away from some of the negative connotations of the weeb subsect. No longer is it a ‘boys only’ club. Female fans are actively taking part in the waifu/husbando culture, helping normalize it.
Waifus have transcended being perfect. I know full well that some of my sworn favorites happen to be murderers and definitely unhinged villains. But I’m not going out there and looking for a partner with the same qualities, because I am aware that’s a very, very toxic thing to do.
It’s that self-awareness, coupled with characters that don’t trope heavy anymore, that has made waifu culture both fun and non-taboo. You can have a single waifu, or even 10, as long as you remember that it is all lighthearted fun with no real stakes.