So what exactly is a tsundere?
If you ever met a tsundere in real life, the conversation would go something like this:
"Hey you. No, not you, but since you are the person who responded, I guess I'll talk to you. It's not like there are other things I could be doing and it's not because I want to talk to you or anything, you just happen to be in front of me while I'm talking. I made some cookies. I was making them for myself, my friends, and anyone that isn't you, but I made too many. I would just throw them in a bin because it's not like I made them for you or anything. You are closer than any bins are though and I don't want to harm the environment so I guess I'll give them to you. It's not like I want you to take them or anything. No I didn't sustain this burn on my hand from baking these cookies, that burn came from playing with candles. It's not as though I like you or anything."
That is the tsundere. A cactus personality type, where the character is prickly on the outside but soft on the inside. Tsundere is a Japanese loan word where "tsun" means the harsh outer shell while "dere" is the softer inner fruit of the character. The idea is that the character secretly likes you but acts as though they don't, or alternatively acts harshly towards you but once you get close, you uncover their nicer side. The nicer side is usually super embarrassed and blushes a lot, saying lines like "it's not like I want to rip off your clothes and make furious, passionate love with you or anything". The character archetype is so common that the term has managed to spread outside of just the most insane anime fan who knows everything, given that I've seen it crop up in forums and videos that have nothing to do with anime by people who have only ever watched Akira and maybe a Ghibli movie or two.
Where did the term tsundere originate from?
Like many anime fan pieces of terminology, the root of tsundere lies in the bowls of dating sim lingo. On a Japanese forum for dating sims way back in 2002, fans were discussing the game Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, specifically the character of Ayu Daikuuji. One fan commented that they liked how they had to work past the "tsun tsun" harsh side before they could get to the "dere dere" softer side. Other forum members liked the turn of phrase and soon the phrase "tsundere" was being used across forums to describe girls in other dating sims with similar characteristics. That's not the only significant claim to fame for Kimi ga Nozomu Eien either. The game eventually spawned the spinoff Muv Luv, which in turn morphed into the mecha alien-fighting apocalypse Muv Luv Alternative, which Attack on Titan author Hajime Hasayama said was one of his biggest influences. So that one little dating sim, mostly forgotten amongst English-speaking anime fandom, can claim both tsundere and Attack on Titan as spawning from its influence. Quite the legacy it has left.
How did the tsundere boom make its way across the seas?
English speaking anime fandom soon caught the tsundere fever going around. While people who could speak Japanese were doing the diligent work of telling everyone who would listen about this new term anime fans in Japan were using, it didn't take long before the anime themselves started using the term (the earliest example I could come up with was Tsuyokiss, but I'm sure it appeared before then). Rin from Fate/stay night, Shana from Shakugan no Shana, even some of the discussion about Kaname Chidori from Full Metal Panic started including the term tsundere in English speaking fandom. As the term gained further acceptance and exposure, it started to be referenced in everything from video games (see Undertale), fan-fiction, and some very strange memes. Go google tsundere sharks on day and be amazed at what you find.
Here are some of the most popular derivatives of tsundere, aka "Gap Moe".
The term tsundere became so popular that soon fans started to use the formation of the term to describe other dating sim character archetypes (yes, we're still mostly in the region of dating sims here, where all anime girl trends are born). Almost all of them use the "dere" ending to describe the cute side you see, with something else put in front. In English, the term "gap moe" has been used as a catch-all term for this, signifying the nice surprise you get when a character who usually displays one emotion suddenly displays another, highly contrasting one. Examples of this include:
Yandere: Certainly the most famous derivative, where a character appears cute on one side only to reveal she's a crazy person who will slice your head off with the nearest axe if you get in between her and her "true love", which is where the "yan", or love sickness, part comes from.
Kuudere: A character who is usually all cool, or "kuu" (no really, that's what the Japanese call it), and composed, displaying little to no emotion, but then displays hints of their softer, more lovestruck side.
Dandere: A Japanese homophone that has two different meanings. The most popular definition of the term comes from the abbreviation of "danmari" - which means to be calm or quiet - and "dere". Then there is the more uncommon "dandy" + "dere" theory, since the Japanese have a weird love of this otherwise outdated English word. Anyway, the dandere usually refers to the shy one who will never speak up until you finally get her alone and talk to her, allowing her to spread her "dere" wings and soar into your arms.
Popular tsundere in anime to get you more acquainted with the anime term.
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The original...well actually no, since there are characters from Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo and Urusei Yatsura that would have a claim to be the original tsundere. But Asuka became the template from which all tsunderes were generated from afterwards. Something about fiery red-heads with twintails insulting the wimpy male character really took off after Evangelion hit the world.
Naru Narusegawa from Love Hina
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Tsundere pop up across genres, but for the bog-standard harem anime you are practically required to have one. You can probably trace this back, along with many modern harem anime tropes, to Love Hina. The main love interest Naru was textbook tsundere through and through. Embarrassed by shows of affection, responding to the main character appearing with violence and distaste although she secretly liked him. She was the one who helped codify that tsunderes were violent and hit the object of their affection. I suppose we should thank her for that?
Kyou Sohma from Fruits Basket
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Shame on anyone who would think tsundere are just ladies though. History has long since proven that women have their own love of the hothead, rash person who is secretly a big old softy inside. While not quite as frequent, reverse harems are chock full of tsundere of their own. The best example being the cat boy Kyou Souma from Fruits Basket. Never mind that Yuki was certainly a nicer guy, it was Kyou who you really wanted to give a big hug and tell him he's wonderful as he blushes and tells you to get off him.
Aisaka Taiga from Toradora
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The trend of tsundere blew up in harem anime throughout the late '90s and early '00s. But the face of the tsundere from 2005 onward became a voice actress Rie Kugimiya. Shana from Shakugan no Shana was the original but it became supplanted eventually by her role as Aisaka Taiga from Toradora.
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If you want the face of the tsundere within anime fandom today, it would probably be Rin from the Fate/stay night. She acts haughty and arrogant, using frequent put-downs in her conversations, but blushes frequently when someone acts with a friendly disposition towards her.
Makise Kurisu from Steins;Gate
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You know what's better than a regular old tsundere? A tsundere that's really goddamn smart! How about a scientist who skipped grades in school and publishes papers that affect research conducted in CERN that gained her international fame within academia before she had turned 24? That's pretty goddamn impressive, on top of the fact that she's cute and blushes when you tease her.
At some point the fans of anime who were going nuts over tsundere became writers for anime themselves. At which point they started deliberately inserting tsundere into their anime and calling the characters out on it in self-referential styles. Fandom language became codified by the anime themselves. For a classic example of this, see Makise Kurisu in Steins;Gate desperately refuting accusations that she's a tsundere. Which is classic tsundere action in itself, a catch 22 for poor Kurisu.
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Once creators started to become more comfortable with tsundere, they started combining character archetypes to create new and interesting formulas. The creator of the hit light novel My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute decided that the little sister character needed a revamp. Too long had they been shy, subservient and clingy. With Kirino he created a tsundere little sister. However this turned out to be like combining bleach and ammonia and created a character who is literally worse than smallpox.
Vegeta from Dragonball Z
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As the term tsundere evolved, fans started looking back at older anime and reclassifying certain characters as tsundere. I would never have considered Vegeta of all bloody people a tsundere, but in doing research for this article I came across numerous websites classing our Saiyan friend as one. When you think about it, he does have all the characteristics. Angry and arrogant, unwilling to react to kindness. He won't admit he likes someone when he clearly does, instead huffing and sulking in a way that's almost cute. It's unconventional, but by modern anime fan standards, Vegeta is 100% tsundere.
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Chiaki shows that while you might grow up to be a musical conducting prodigy, you might never entirely grow out of your tsundere tendencies. Chiaki likes Nodame, who is very open about her affection for him, but Chiaki can't fathom that he might feel equal affection for her back. Which is why he cooks for her, cleans her house, helps her play the piano, you get the drill. Just admit it Chiaki.
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There was a time when whacking your love interest with a folded up paper fan was a hallmark of abusive tsundere relationships. That has long since died down, but with the announcement of a new Full Metal Panic anime recently, perhaps it's time for Kaname Chidori to bring that fad back into vogue.
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It takes the mind of a genius to look at Germany and Italy's historical military relationship and come to the conclusion that Germany is just a big old tsundere. Why would the military powerhouse of tsundere continue siding with the weak and ineffectual Italy despite Germany having to bail out his pasta-loving neighbour so many times? Obviously he likes Italy but he's too embarrassed to admit it.
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Manga author Adachi has a neat trick in his works where he can have a lot be implied with a character simply remaining silent, or giving a single word response. By leaving the important parts unsaid, it manages to leave a bigger impact and makes you think more deeply about the characters. In Tsukishima Aoba's case, her unsaid parts are usually just her insulting your intelligence while secretly liking you. She's pretty textbook tsundere all right.
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Look man, let me lay it all out for you. Chitoge is the best Nisekoi girl. Forget all your other girls who couldn't personality their way out of a paper bag. Chitoge makes for an interesting character because it is not random circumstance that keeps the eternal lack of progression in Nisekoi in perpetuity. Rather because she's a tsundere, it's all trapped in her own head. She can't realise the truth in her mind and acts out in confusion. That's what makes her more compelling than any other Nisekoi girl.
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Eri Sawachika is totally the character Chitoge from Nisekoi was based on. They're both mixed race teenage girls with blonde hair. They're both tsunderes in highschool shounen romcoms who fall for the main character but can't admit it. They're both fiery characters who can never admit they're wrong. Only one of them injures themselves by falling over a pig called Napoleon though, which is why I slightly prefer Sawachika Eri.
Chika Ogiue from Genshiken OVA
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If there's something Genshiken taught us, it's that otaku have an almost inherent embarrassment existing within their psyche. Their natural nerd-dom has forced them into quiet self-doubt and difficulty facing the facts of reality. Even if that reality is that they really love shipping their classmates together but are too embarrassed to admit it. That's what allows Ogiue on this list. She's tsundere, but a far more broadly complicated tsundere than just her feelings for this one guy.
Tsugumi Aoba from Kannagi
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We're starting to mix our character tropes now with too-pure girl Aoba from Kannagi, the tsundere crossed with childhood friend. Unlike the unholy combination of little sister and tsundere that was Kirino Kousaka, mixing childhood friend with tsundere turned out pretty great with this highly endearing friend who just can't admit to her true feelings.
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The fiery redhead is a pretty common trend in tsunderes and the pilot of the Guren another classic example. What's amusing about Kallen is she acts the part of a sickly teenage girl when she's actually a hotheaded key component of the rebellion. But then she's a real tsundere under that too.
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One of the most indecisive tsunderes who spends forever getting all cute and grumpy whenever he's around one of these two girls he may or may not like. He's not just called princess for his dashing feminine good looks you know.
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Considering tsunderes are pent up balls of frustration who lash out whenever they find themselves incapable of expressing their feelings, perhaps it's not so great that an all-powerful yet unknowing god is a tsundere.
So why are there so many tsundere in anime?
The list goes on and on, male and female, young and old. Any harem or reverse harem anime that doesn't have a tsundere will get kicked back out of the editor's office and told they don't know what they're doing if they don't have a tsundere. Their popularity seemed to be at an extreme high point back during the late '00s when voice actress Rie Kugimiya voiced a succession of tsundere in a row with the aforementioned Taiga. At the time it seemed like it might be a fad, but here we are in 2016 and the tsundere is still going strong.
Why the near ubiquitous presence of the tsundere then? Normally with anime tropes, my default reaction is that it's a low effort way to be close to a member of the opposite sex. It's why younger sisters, childhood friends and yanderes are popular. But that can't be the case with the tsundere as they start out automatically hating you, or at least acting like they hate you. The anime shorts Comical Psychosomatic Medicine had an episode where they suggested the tsundere was appealing because otaku, being more recluse, have low opinions of themselves and psychologically they feel more trusting towards a character who tells them they're trash. I have a personal theory that it's appealing to think that all the pretty men and women who acted as though they didn't like us in the past did so because they were secretly madly in love with us.
The most believable explanation though is that it appeals to our idea of successfully beating a game. The tsundere in their natural state treats you like dirt. But once you display attractiveness through a series of dashing sweeps of the hair and acts of goodwill, their defenses will drop. You see them blush and try to act like they don't find you attractive, but they secretly do. It's the dating sim logic that you have broken down their walls with some well-placed kindness. You have won and as your reward you get the soft, wonderful "dere" side. The tsundere fans are the non-lazy fans. Those people who want their imoutos (little sisters) and childhood friends to win, forget those people. They are losers who can't be bothered to make the effort to get to know a new potential love interest and successfully woo them to your side. The tsundere lovers are the hard workers of society rather than the wide-eyed saps who love childhood friends.
Anime is home to an array of different character archetypes. If you enjoyed this article, you will surely find the following "dere" anime tropes just as useful!