The Meaning of Senpai: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of senpai? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word senpai, including its definition, usage, word origin, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word senpai mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, Dictionary, and Japan Powered, the word senpai is a Japanese word that refers to an upperclassman who takes on the role of mentor, senior, or elder for an underclassman, or kohai. The senpai-kohai system is most often used in English in reference to anime and manga dynamics between characters. This is one of many honorifics that a person in Japanese society can take on. Senpai is sometimes spelled as sempai.

This term is similar to the Japanese sensei, which is a teacher or instructor, usually in Japanese martial arts. Sensei has been used in English since 1968, and is more along the lines of the words master and teacher. Senpai (先輩) is a slightly lower rank than someone who is sensei. Below senpai is kōhai (後輩), who is a junior or protege. This Japanese honorific can be used attached to someone’s name or surname, much like -san, -chan, -sama, or -kun, and shows a reverence for the person. Employees would be considered kohai and their boss would be considered senpai, for example, or a tutor would be senpai and a student would be considered the social status of kouhai. Usually. One can assume that superiors, someone in a higher grade, an eldest son or a senior employee are senpai, while a lower person would be considered kohai. This is a part of the civil code of Neo-confucianism in Japanese history and is a reflection of the social hierarchy and traditional family system present in daily life.

The word senpai is not only a word in the Japanese language, but has become a popular meme in recent years. According to Urban Dictionary and Know Your Meme, “I hope senpai will notice me” is often found in anime shows and manga books, as well as on the blogging site Tumblr. This phrase suggests unrequited love or admiration. People often superimpose cherry blossoms on images where the caption is “notice me senpai” to suggest romance, and they will also feature anime-style facial expressions. 

These phrases have a specific submissive flavor to them. This phrase usually appears in a speaker’s desire for a mentor or someone from a higher grade level to admire them or fall in love with them. This is a very common storyline in romance anime and manga. In these stories, a character will pine after a senpai who does not show any signs of wanting to get to know the character, or they actively avoid the character. The phrase captures a teen otaku’s struggles with relationships and their social awkwardness. Many young teens relate to these struggles of awakening sexuality and the struggle of growing into your adult responsibilities. This is a reason why many teens get involved with watching anime and manga and becoming a part of otaku culture. Young teens are able to find a community of like-minded people online who may feel the same social distance with their peers. However, they all find a community in a love for anime and manga.

While the senpai concept has been mentioned on Tumblr for a long time, the specific phrases “notice me senpai” and “I hope senpai will notice me” first appeared on August 8, 2012. Then, the blog “Has Senpai Noticed Me Yet?” was launched. After that, other various Tumblr users began using the tags senpai, sempai, and “I hope senpai will notice me” to talk about celebrities that they had infatuations with.

What are characters who are considered senpai in anime?

Many different characters in different anime and manga are considered senpai. Below is a list of numerous different senpai characters in anime, from Honey’s Anime. If you are trying to familiarize yourself with senpai characters, watching the anime on this list is a great place to start!

  •  Morita Shinobu (Hachimitsu to Clover [Honey and Clover])
  •  Kunimitsu Tezuka (Prince of Tennis)
  •  Ayase Chihaya (Chihayafuru)
  •  Haninozuka Mitsukuni (Ouran High School Host Club)
  •  Sadao Maou (Hataraku Maou-sama!)
  •  Albarn Spirit (Soul Eater)
  •  Tomoe Mami (Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica [Puella Magi Madoka Magica])
  •  Genos (One Punch Man)
  •  Hatake Kakashi (Naruto Shippuden)
  •  Levi (Shingeki no Kyojin [Attack on Titan])

There are also numerous different senpai-kohai relationships found in the below list of anime and manga, from All The Tropes

  •  Yotsuba&!
  •  Super Dimension Fortress Macross
  •  Robotech
  •  Evangelion
  •  Ranma ½
  •  Mariasama ga Miteru
  •  Excel Saga
  •  Trigun
  •  Yu-Gi-Oh! R
  •  Digimon Adventure
  •  O2
  •  Dorohedoro
  •  Code Geass
  •  Haruhi Suzumiya
  •  Ai Yori Aoshi
  •  Naruto
  •  Bleach
  •  Yu Yu Hekusho
  •  Minami-Ke
  •  Azumanga Diaoh
  •  Strawberry Panic
  •  Mahou Sensei Negima
  •  Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S
  •  Vi Vid
  •  Prince of Tennis
  •  Rurouni Kenshin
  •  Katekyo Hitman Reborn
  •  Love Hina
  •  Ghost in The Shell
  •  Chobits
  •  Burn Up 
  •  Harukanaru Toki no Naka de
  •  K-On!
  •  Soul Eater
  •  Bakuman
  •  Mao-Otome
  •  WORKING!!
  •  Kochikame
  •  Durarara
  •  Hidamari Sketch
  •  Keroro Gunsou
  •  Shuffle
  •  Welcome to the NHK
  •  Puella Magi Madoka Magica
  •  Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai
  •  Planetes
  •  Axis Powers Hetalia
  •  Okusama wa Mahou Shoujo 
  •  The Tyrant Falls in Love

Overall, the word senpai is a Japanese honorific that refers to some senior or upperclassman. This is frequently seen in the senpai-kohai dynamic, in which one person is the student and one is the teacher. The phrase senpai is frequently seen in online fandom sites in the phrase “notice me senpai,” which has become a bit of a meme.

Sources:

  1. Top 10 Anime Senpai Characters List | Honey’s Anime 
  2. What Does ‘Senpai’ Mean? | Merriam-Webster 
  3. ATW: What Does senpai Mean? | Translations | Dictionary.com 
  4. What does “Please Notice Me, Senpai” Mean? | Japan Powered 
  5. Senpai | Urban Dictionary 
  6. I Hope Senpai Will Notice Me — Know Your Meme “I Hope Senpai Will Notice Me” | Know Your Meme 
  7. Sempai-Kohai | All The Tropes Wiki | Fandom