In anime, the housekeeper is a young, attractive woman with a frilled band in her hair, and wears a maid outfit of variable taste. Usually this runs more towards the "cute" end of the spectrum, although in seinen, the main difference is how much shorter and more outlandish the skirt will be.
In general this type of character is used as a form of Fanservice, but usually not in the "sexy" sense as French Maid is. Rather this character tends to appeal to "moe", and is connected to the fantasy of a (theoretically) submissive young woman who obediently cleans your room, cooks your meals, and tends to your every need; Because of this, it can appeal to young girls as well as men.
In a romantic series, a maid (or domestic service in general) is used as a socially acceptable excuse to put a young, romantically available female lead under the same roof as one or more (potentially wealthy and handsome, if not particularly socially adjusted) male characters. (Bonus if they are classmates with their new servant.) It also inherently opens up issues of class or gender power disparity, as whoever hired her obviously has the income to spare money employing another person full-time, and has great leverage over their employee.
Meido in comedies frequently subvert expectations by being very (violently) dedicated to their jobs and (willfully) oblivious to whomever they look after. Others will have crushes on their bosses, whom they usually call goshujin-sama (master) or ojou-sama (mistress).
In extreme cases, a meido, or, in the case of a larger contingent of maids, the head maid, will be the de facto head of the household, while her hypothetical employer is treated either as too delicate to handle the actual management of whatever Fiction 500 financial empire earns them the money to hire the maids, or as too lazy and incompetent to be trusted with that power, themselves. Especially in the latter case, they may behave more like strict (and disappointed) parents than employees. Expect these employers to have nothing better to do than to indulge in their childish whims. If actual children, the head maid may well behave like a stalker or abductor, purposefully sheltering their ward from anything that may take them away or "taint" them.
If the hypothetical head of the household is actual royalty or a head of state, the head maid might just be the Prime Minister, Interior Minister, Chief of Police, War Minister, and more all rolled into one.
Sometimes a female character will inexplicably wear an outfit which vaguely resembles a maid outfit. The chance of this increases dramatically if she is shown doing any housework. Also, more and more often, the maid is also a Robot Girl. (See Robot Maid)
If the meido in question happens to be an Action Girl as well, she gets instantly promoted to Ninja Maid.
Maids are a quick and semi-plausible excuse to introduce a character into a household, domestic experience notwithstanding. If a young heroine (lacking a college education) is suddenly destitute, then obtaining work as a domestic servant is historically the common solution.
Meido are of particular interest, insofar as they and nurses are among the very few Moe items that attract both Japanese and Westerners.
Compare to French Maid, the Hotter and Sexier origin of this trope. See also Maid RPG, which is a game built around this type of Maid. Guaranteed to occur in a Maid Cafe.
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Anime and Manga
Elenore Baker from Madlax is a prime example of this. As well being Margaret's maid she acts as her personal assistant, body guard and all around companion. Her professionalism tends to lead people that she is "cold" or "mechanical or a robot" when the oppossite is true. It is also because of that professionalism that she can't truely express how she feels for her master Margaret, so she does so in her work.
Subverted in Full Moon o Sagashite. The Kouyama's house maid dresses modestly more like your typical maid, is quite round and plain-looking. She looks and sounds about... middle-aged?
Parodied in Haré+Guu with Bell, Weda's creepy lesbian maid.
Speaking of creepy lesbian maids, Kannazuki no Miko's resident maid had a crush on Chikane.
Pani Poni Dash!'s Media is a prime example of this, seen wearing an maid outfit in just about every one of her appearances during the series.
One of the Happy Lesson teachers usually wears a maid-like outfit at home, and naturally does much of the domestic chores.
Kamen no Maid Guy subverts, parodies and basically dials the concept of "maid" up to 11. As the title says, Kogarashi is a Maid Guy — a crossdressing heroic sociopath. The series also includes Shizuku and Tsurara, who are Ninja Maids.
The more straight version of this trope, Fubiki, who only subverts this in two ways: first, she has a tendency to beat Kogarashi with a giant spiked club when he misbehaves; second, she sometimes goes overboard with her maid duties, even becoming embarrassed when the other cast members catch her in normal clothes.
After a (relatively) humorous breakdown, Motoko in Love Hina tries her hand at being domestic, including full maid regalia. In the manga she stole it from Kitsune, in the anime Haruka apparently had a maid outfit lying around.
Ken Akamatsu then went on to make the girls of his next series Mahou Sensei Negima! wear maid outfits for sometimes no reason at all; primarily with the, as is common, Robot Girl Chachamaru (the rest of the cast once broke into her wardrobe).
For Chachamaru there's justification, she isEvangeline'sservant. The other girls, well the excuse was that they'd just taken a bath and wanted clean clothes (they were in Evangeline's resort at the time).
During the Tournament Arc, Setsuna and Asuna get pressganged into wearing maid outfits to appeal to the crowd, mainly because they don't really have any pulls (like "last years champion", etc.)
Then later, while half the cast was Trapped in Another World, she dressed up several of the remaining classmates because she was bored. Evangeline seems to just have a thing for the Maid/Gothloli look.
Mahoromatic features a Robot Girl battle android who has one year remaining to live, and choses to spend it as the maid of her late Commander's son.
Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora deconstructs this. Setsuna is essentially Kyoshiro's maid, taking care of everything he needs, but while he's simply using her status as an Absolute Angel to destroy the others and then her, Setsuna is hopelessly in love with him, trying her hardest to make everything nice for him in the hopes that maybe he'll show her some affection. Yet when he falls for Kuu instead (despite her being an Absolute Angel as well), she vows to continue helping him find her, even if she won't be repaid for it.
Roberta of Black Lagoon is currently employed as a maid but occasionally has need of her other skillset as an ex-Cuban-trained assassin par excellance. Her equipment is of both worlds and includes such interesting combination items as a shotgun-umbrella, incendiary grenade-bustle, and an armored portmanteau with integrated machinegun. However, she's not a very good maid.
Fabiola Iglesias is an actual housemaid working for the same family, serving directly under Roberta. A younger, more comic-relief character, she is still very good with blades and martial arts, although she admits her gun skills need work. While Fabiola also mentions that she is the only one of the Lovelace maids being trained by Roberta for combat, Revy still wonders if the entire Lovelace Plantation was a Bad Assmaid force that could storm the Iranian embassy if they wanted to. (All portents point to "Yes.")
Ayanokouji Yaito of Rockman.EXE has, in the anime, a personal army of twenty-odd maids in full French maid regalia, all attractive and with varying hairstyles. In any later episode featuring her, the viewer is usually treated to a montage of various maids about the town doing whatever task she's set them.
Kasumi from Ranma ˝ wears a maid-like apron at all times, and is generally sweet, domestic, and clueless.
Akane once disguised herself as a French maid (with bonnet and everything) to infiltrate the house of Picolet Chardin, who had taken female Ranma to make her his bride. Then Soun disguised himself the same way.
In Gravion, the entire staff of Klein Sandman's castle other than his Battle Butler is composed of maids. Servant maids, Guard maids, commando maids, hacker maids, mechanic maids, and even one member of the central Super Robot team. Who of course turns out to be a Robot Maid
The whole point of He Is My Master is to put two teenage girls (and later three) into fetish maid outfits◊. At first reluctant, they end up warming to the idea, and by the end of the series actually enjoy it.
Saki also fills this quotient for Wataru (though without the respectful title). Chiharu is a secret maid.
Isumi and Nagi try to project the impression on occasion. Since they're both Ojous, they fail at varying degrees.
Izumi dresses as one (short skirt variation) as punishment by her father. All the other maids (and pseudo-maids) use the long skirt variation.
Pai in G-On Riders wears maid outfit after her Heel-Face Turn and causes some utterly funny scenes forgetting to change and going to school.
Fumi Himeno in Mai-HiME fits this trope to a T, in addition to being a Ninja Maid. Mai-Otome is built on this trope, with an on-camera lecture devoted entirely to "the correct way to greet your master".
In Maid-Sama!, the eponymous Student Council President Misaki works at a Maid Cafe to help support her single mother and younger sister. The job makes her a bit uncomfortable, between her dislike of men and her fears that her schoolmates will not take her seriously as president if they find out, but she stays on because the pay is good and her manager is very understanding and willing to accommodate her.
Kuroha in Rental Magica often acts like a maid in their headquarters, primarily shown serving tea. Later on she also dresses as one, mainly for fun.
Maura from Claudine works as a maid in the main character's family home.
Sara Uchida from Kasei Yakyoku, who is a maidservant in Akiko's family house, who is in a love triangle that involves her, Akiko and Takao.
Sakuyo and Kikuyo from Girls und Panzer "Little Army" work for the Nishizumi family, cleaning, cooking, talking with Miho about her problems, and overseeingmock tank battles. It's implied that Sakuyo is a former student of Miho's mother.
Minako from Oniisama e..., a maidservent in the Ichinomiya summer home. And she is the only person who is allowed to enter Fukiko's Room Full of Crazy (she goes to the room just to clean said room) and she gets fired from her job by telling Nanako about Fukiko's room before going getting into further details (it has memorabilia of her first meeting with Takehiko.)
Bleach: A Flashback arc reveals that the Ishida family had a maid called Kanae Katagiri. She was brought into the family when she and Ryuuken Ishida were very young children to be his personal servant and bodyguard. She is unshakably loyal to him, has only his best interests at heart, and is both his first choice as a battle partner and a confidante. Oh, and she's fanservice, too: there's definitely Unresolved Sexual Tension between them. She ends up as Ryuuken's wife and the mother of his son, Uryuu, before being killed six years before the first manga chapter... the savvy will notice that this is the same date as the death of Ichigo's mother, Masaki, and, no, that's not a coincidence. Plot-Triggering Death indeed.
Light Novel:Maoyuu Maou Yuusha has a maid serving Maou, titled head maid, who wants to perfect meidodo(Way of the Maid), who thinks fighting for one's master to even leading an army to victory is a must for a maid. She's one of the demon from the library clan, and probably has read too much manga.
Erica and Liliana of Campione! both have personal maids, Arianna and Karen respectively, who are a year younger than them. They are both receiving tutelage as witches in return for their services. Arianna has severalfaults as a maid, but Erica likes her regardless. Karen by contrast is skilled both at her job and at manipulating Liliana due to the latter's lack of social skills; Karen also acts as a "spy", sending blackmail material to Erica.
Nene in Touka Gettan. There's a bunch of other Meido shown, but none of them are named.
Roll from the Mega Man series is a housekeeping robot and generally has cleaning-themed attacks when playable, although none of her outfits are particularly French (her Mega Man 8 clothes come close, though).
One random NPC in The World Ends with You in more-or-less Present Day Shibuya, Japan wonders to himself if a girl he saw dressed up as a Maid was working at a Cosplay bar. This leads to him wondering if there are any maids who dress that way to actually clean houses. (You can buy the outfit in question after beating the game.)
Lynette from Soul Calibur III is dressed like this, but sells clothing at various stores instead of cleaning houses.
Sakuya is actually the last of a once per game tradition, starting with the third game. The first was Ruukoto, a nuclear-powered robot maid only seen in Reimu's ending. Next is Mugetsu, who's not a maid (actually a god of a dream-world), but dresses the part anyway. Then is Yumeko, who's basically blonde Sakuya without timehax (and she uses swords instead of knives).
Konpaku Youmu is formally a gardener of Hakugyokurou, but she's also its only staff. She cooks, cleans, babysits (her mistress Yuyuko is something of a Cloudcuckoolander), does household shopping, acts as security ...
Persephone is a rather infamous Cute Monster Girl appearing in the DS Castlevanias. Described in the bestiary as "a demonic maid in the employ of an earthly baron", Persephone resembles a traditionally-uniformed, frilly-capped little lady that will politely bow down before you and then will attacke you with some kung fu moves.
A sidequest in Tales of Symphonia has Colette acting as a maid at Meltokio Castle, complete with the archetypal outfit.
In Sister Princess, the family is taken care of by "oyaji", who is actually a fetching young lady. She acts as the butler, the chauffeur, the cook...basically, any off-screen job involved in the upkeep of Promise Island. (In the animated adaptation, "oyaji" is now a middle aged man in similar roles.)
Takeuchi's uniform looks like a maid outfit in Canvas 2, but she insists it's just a waitress outfit.
Jean Armstrong's cafe has the waitresses wear maid outfits. Maggey spends her entire jail term in hers and during her very brief stint as a waitress Maya wears one. Unfortunately her smaller...assets are not enough to move waitress fetishist Victor Kudo enough to make him testify. Mia is very annoyed to find she's only been channeled to give Maya a larger bust.
Pictured above is Hisui of Tsukihimehas a crush on Shiki, more or less obvious depending on what path is chosen. She is also hugely dedicated and caring towards him. Her twin sister Kohaku is one as well, and she is seemingly very devoted to her job, not to mention having a scary obsession with...guess who...Shiki. They become Ninja Maids in Melty Blood, supposedly because of the Reality Warper effect of the Big Bad. In the goofier parts of the game Kohaku even build multiple Robot Maid versions of Hisui. Mech-Hisui also makes an appearance in Battle Moon Wars, a fan-made Nasuverse crossover game. While Hisui wears a typical maid outfit, however, Kohaku wears the more traditional outfit of a Japanese maid.
Pokemon FireRedmod Moemon features a maid as the protagonist. She flies instead of runs when she uses the running shoes.
Soviet (and Imperial Russian) school uniform for girls looks exactly like a stereotypical maid outfit.
Just for Pun example: there's a phonographical Japanese joke of "meido no miyage", which could mean either "maid's gift" or "gift from the underworld". Most notably, this pun crops up in the opening of the Haruhi-chan anime.