hantaimemes

Why Hentai Memes Are Taking Over the Normie Internet

‘Hentai is like the background static of all social media — and the memes are like a secret handshake for perverts’

“There are two kinds of people on the internet,” says Johnny, 20, an EDM enthusiast and self-described weeaboo. “People who watch hentai, and people who lie about it.”

From his bedroom in Miami, Johnny (a pseudonym) is showing me his favorite anime memes. They reveal a deep knowledge of the genre, from the classics (Cowboy Bebop, Gundam Wing and Neon Genesis Evangelion) to the obscure (Yuri on Ice and Rilakkuma and Kaoru). Buried in his phone, however, is a collection of memes he doesn’t share with anyone. They feature anime women with huge breasts, usually coated in various bodily fluids, and a few human bodies with animal-like features such as tails and hooves. Before you ask: Yes, there’s plenty of probing, penetrating tentacles, too.

But this collection, curated from the subreddits Cropped Hentai Memes and Hentai Memes, isn’t designed to titillate. (I mean, yeah, sorta; there’s all sorts of nudity and sex.) But generally, these memes are hilarious ways to poke fun at the art of hentai and those who love it enough to meme it. Along the way, a community has formed around them.

Might be too good to be true from CroppedHentaiMemes

We all probably know this situation from CroppedHentaiMemes

It’s annoying to be asked 218511 times from CroppedHentaiMemes

lifes tough for a weeb from CroppedHentaiMemes

For the uninitiated, hentai is pornography in Japanese manga and anime. In Japanese, hentai — or hentai seiyoku — refers specifically to a kind of “perverted” sexual desire, or a bizarre sexual act or position. In contemporary culture, hentai carries a bit of stigma. Many examples depict hardcore sex featuring young-looking characters, and a fair amount of hentai is set in high schools. Rape and bestiality scenes are popular. In extreme cases, hentai can depict sexual acts between children and teenagers; this is known as loli.

Despite — or maybe because of — its seedy reputation, hentai isn’t only one of the most popular genres of anime: It’s also one of the most popular forms of online content, period. In fact, its digital fandom goes back decades. Because the consumption and distribution of anime in the West has largely been driven by online fandoms, anime frames were used in the earliest forms of memes, like rage comics and “demotivational” posters. 4chan, the anarchic web forum that established much of our modern internet language and culture, even began as an anime hub.

“Hentai is like the background static of all social media,” says Ryan Broderick, a senior technology reporter at BuzzFeed News (and my former colleague). Broderick has a newsletter called “Garbage Day” that features some of the most disgusting examples of anime-adjacent culture. He believes hentai memes evolved from 4chan and other once-obscure message boards that were popular with not just weeaboos and otakus but teens who simply wanted to gross one another out. “Places like Reddit or 4chan end up as races to the bottom culturally,” he explains. “You want to one-up one another. So if people start making memes out of frames from anime, it doesn’t take long for someone to sneak a hentai frame into a meme. Then there’s this excited feeling of I see what you did there, and it just becomes its own form of meme.”

this belongs here from CroppedHentaiMemes

It’s all in the service of making hentai more publicly acceptable. “There’s an excitement of recognition,” Broderick says. “Like a secret handshake for perverts.” (Indeed, “perverts” is how the 47,000 members of r/HentaiMemes all ironically refer to themselves.)

You gotta find it yourself from hentaimemes

Relatable from hentaimemes

Johnny is adamant that his love of hentai memes is purely ironic. “They’re just really weird,” he explains. “It’s fun to see normies get uncomfortable.” To that end, he and his online friends will often swoop into innocuous threads on Twitter and Facebook to post hentai memes.

Why the crusade? He admits his use of hentai memes is a middle finger to what he calls the “endless boring politics” and the online culture wars we’re all-too-familiar with today. “I don’t really give a shit about Trump, or all the shit that politicians are doing,” he tells me. “Hentai memes are just a stupid way to have fun and see how, just as you think you’ve seen the worst thing possible online, you can find something that’s even worse.”

For Dominic Ashby, 32, who runs the blog Cinema Anime, hentai memes represent an aspect of internet culture that — due to its explicit and bizarre material — has largely been left untouched by the mainstream. “There was a time when memes just referred to lolcats or references to Anchorman,” Ashby tells me. “But as social media has grown and the internet has expanded, you can see how niche pop culture, especially nerd-culture stuff, has entered the mainstream.”

Ashby cites the “Is This a Pigeon” meme, or “confused anime guy and his butterfly,” which is from the 1991 anime movie Taiyou no Yuusha Fighbird. “In many ways, it was the first time that an obscure anime became so well-known — which scared some anime fans,” he says. “For a long time, anime belonged to them, and no one else except anime fans knew about it.”

Which is why the hentai meme community remains exclusive and proud. To be taken seriously here, you must know the reference numbers of classic hentai manga and grasp the inside jokes and references.

low quality meme from CroppedHentaiMemes

“I’m sure there are a lot of people who find hentai primarily sexual and have sexual fantasies about it,” Ashby says. “But for communities on Reddit, Tumblr and other places, hentai memes actually represent a place away from the public eye. [Hentai memers] know that because of how disgusting so many images and movies are, it’s unlikely to be adopted by Netflix or Hulu anytime soon.”