For many anime fans, “tsundere” has become one of the cliches of the genre. We see it all over the place in anime and manga.
Some people will call just about any female character tsundere, especially if they act crabby or mean around the protagonist. But are these characters really tsundere? What does the concept actually mean?
How is tsundere used in anime, and is it overused? What are some genuine examples of truly tsundere characters?
Let’s take a look at the tsundere.
Tsundere Basics: Meaning and Origin
The Japanese word tsundere is a combination of two adjectives — tsun-tsun, meaning aloof or cold; and dere-dere, meaning lovestruck, sweet, or infatuated.
From this definition, we get the basic idea that a tsundere person is one who alternates between harsh and caring. Either condition has the potential to exist at any given time, but both should be there. If a person is always harsh, that’s not tsundere.
The concept is older than anime — much older, in fact. Some sources point to Katherine from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew as an example. However, TVTropes also mentions Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing as better examples.
Note, by the way, that Benedick here shows that a tsundere doesn’t have to be female. We’ll examine another example later.
In any case, manga and anime writers have been creating tsundere characters for a long time. However, it’s generally thought that the term came into existence in 2002 or so. (Previous examples were retroactively added.)
How and Why Does Tsundere Show Up in Anime?
For the most part, tsundere behavior is typically exaggerated for comic effect. And yet, anime fans seem to like tsundere characters. Anime creators know this, which is one reason why it keeps showing up — we asked for it.
Since audiences tend to like characters who feel relatable and realistic, one might assume that there must be something realistic and true-to-life about the tsundere.
The tsundere is most frequently a romantic comedy character, where the contrasting traits of hotheaded and sweetness can lead to obvious comedic situations and confusing love complications. But the tsundere can also show up in slice-of-life, shonen action, and even hardcore seinen series.
The best way to explain tsundere is to give a few examples.
Classic Tsundere Examples
Oni alien invader Lum is the primary romantic heroine of Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura (1981). Takahashi excels at creating romantic tsundere characters, and Lum was one of her first.
In the series, Lum is madly in love, and she’s generally sweet (dere-dere) towards her “darling” Ataru. However, she gets jealous and possessive easily. And Ataru is dumb enough to try to cheat on the sexy alien girl with electric powers.
Lum ends up zapping him a lot (while still calling him “Darling”). However, being an early, prototypical dere-dere version of the tsundere, she doesn’t hide her emotions nearly as much as some later tsundere girls.
Fiery redhead mecha pilot Asuka Langley Soryu is a good example of an extremely tsun-tsun tsundere.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) started out as a satirical deconstruction of a lot of anime themes, including the tsundere schoolgirl. As such, her angry outbursts and over-the-top harsh attitude demonstrate just how inappropriate and counterproductive such behavior would normally be, especially in this situation.
Of course, Asuka does show her softer side from time to time. And she does flirt with Shinji. Eventually it’s revealed that she does have her reasons for being a mixed-up teen.
Kagome and Inuyasha
The two main characters from Inuyasha (2000) are both fine examples of Takahashi’s brilliant use of romantic comedy tsundere. In this series, both sides of the equation are tsundere; and they both tend to bring out the angry sides of each other.
Grumpy and sullen Inuyasha is more tsun-tsun, although he does care a great deal about Kagome.
Indeed, the desire to protect Kagome is how he is able to control the Tessaiga sword in the first place. And Kagome has been his inspiration to keep fighting on more than one occasion. (Although, in true tsundere fashion, he has a hard time admitting his feelings.)
Kagome is more of a dere-dere; generally cheerful and caring. But she’s also strong-willed and stubborn. And while she does care for Inuyasha, the dog half-demon can irritate, annoy, and anger her. Her short-tempered retaliation is the command “osuwari!” (“Sit, boy!”)
Somehow these two manage to become parents in the sequel series, Yashahime (2020).
In the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006), the eccentric and hyperactive leader of the SOS Brigade starts out as an aloof, jerkish, and surly girl. It’s only through Kyon that we find out that Haruhi’s actually bored with normal stuff, and searching for something fun. (Her definition of fun involves aliens and other mysterious things.)
Thankfully, Kyon is able to help Haruhi take that angry, bossy tsun-tsun energy and channel it into creating and leading her own club. She’s still easily annoyed, but at least she now has Kyon and the rest of the brigade to boss around. Of course, it helps that Haruhi may have the power to subconsciously warp reality to meet her expectations.
Kyon also seems to bring her softer side out, although it’s buried deep under a ton of tsun-tsun.
Taiga Aisaka from Toradora! (2008) is small, but fierce, which is how she got the nickname “Palmtop Tiger.”
She’s definitely a tsun-tsun, as she shows her harsh and tough side to everyone at school. The story explains her behavior as a side effect of her crummy family life. But in any case, she only shows any warmth to those she really cares about, such as Ryuuji.
And even with Ryuuji, her relationship evolves slowly. Both of them take time to realize that they have feelings for each other.
These are just a few examples of the tsundere character. Obviously, there are many more than that, but these seemed like well-known, recognizable, and accurate representatives of the concept. If I missed your favorite, let us know in the comments.
I hope this helps you better understand the tsundere.