"Absolute Territory" (zettai ryouiki in Japanese) describes the area of uncovered thigh between the skirt and the stockings that's apparently a total magnet for Male Gaze.
Zettai Ryouiki is made up of three components: socks, skin, and skirt.* The golden ratio for the ultimate zettai ryouiki is 4:1:2.5 (length of skirt : zettai ryouiki : length of socks above knee) and the acceptable margin for error is ±25%. As per usual for fandom who obsess about costumes, this can be considered a moe attribute and thus, appear prominently in character designs and schoolgirl outfits, despite the fact that it kind of defeats the point of a uniform.
Since a Zettai Ryouiki is defined by the length of the stockings or socks, some people have categorized it into grades depending on the length of the socks. This ranking system goes from Grade F to Grade Anote Some even include a Grade S (Grade A + Tsundere + Twin Tails), which started as an In-Joke based on Rin Tohsaka of Fate/stay night. However, only Grades A and B are considered true Zettai Ryouiki.
As a relatively new phenomenon, the symbolism of Zettai Ryouiki only recently began to crystallize. Since it is, by nature, a sensual costume that symbolizes budding, innocent sexuality, a trait common for The Ingenue who is already aware of her attractiveness but not (yet) cynical enough to put it to use (which is why many a Tsundere wears Zettai Ryouiki). Of course, as with any symbols, Genre Savvy characters can invoke it on purpose even if far from the described archetype themselves.
It has gained popularity around the world, especially in Japan, where it is a very popular fashion item with girls and young women, so the occurrence of Zettai Ryouiki can be regarded as Truth in Television.
An Action Girl may trade the skirt for hotpants but if it doesn't include thigh-highs and visible skin, it's not Zettai Ryouiki. This trope not only covers socks, but Thigh-High Boots as well.
See also Joshikousei (a school uniform this trope is often combined with), Stocking Filler (for stockings without the skirts), Mini Dress Of Power, Who Wears Short Shorts?, and She's Got Legs. The core reason for this may also be tied to the Theiss Titillation Theory. Compare with Opera Gloves and Detached Sleeves, which are the equivalents for arms. Contrast Proper Tights with a Skirt.
As the length of this page proves, Zettai Ryouiki is Serious Business.
Examples should be limited to Rank A and B. Use the page image to identify them.
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This is quite common in Ecchi/Hentai anime, manga, dōjinshi and video games.
Aria H. Kanzaki from Hidan No Aria, yet anotherTwin Tails wearing Tsundere voiced by Rie Kugimiya, who happens to be one of her schools elite S Rank students. Her zettai ryouiki are known to magically shift between A and B whenever she reveals the dual thigh holsters that she somehow keeps hidden under her skirt.
Nunnally gets to use a B Grade Ryouiki in the Knightmare of Nunnally manga, as it's included in the Ashford Academy's middle school uniform. Same goes to Alpha Bitch Ekaterina, her Girl Posse, and Nunners's best friendAlice.
Anya gets to use a Grade A while in her Knight of Rounds uniform.
The technical term for the near-impenetrable shield with which the Shinkirou is equipped is the Absolute Defensive Territory (Zettai Shugo Ryouiki). Don't tell me, especially given the amount of real Ryouiki in this series, that that's not tongue-in-cheek par extraordinaire on the part of the writers.
The comedy manga compilation Knight Volume 2 has a story ("Decide for Yourself" by Hina Mido) where C.C. actually launches into a rant about Zettai Ryouiki when Lelouch dismisses her question of "thigh-high versus knee socks" with "doesn't matter to me". Sadly this gets Lost in Translation, but anyone familiar with the concept can tell the original intent of the rant.
C.C.: What did you just say!? Are you stupid? This is for a school uniform! I'm talking about a mini-skirt! The knee-length socks which show our shiny knees, or thigh highs that highlight the area between the edge of our skirt and our thighs! If you don't have a hard time choosing between these socks, you don't know anything about school uniforms.
Touka, the daughter of the Tennouji Family (from Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu 2nd season), has a Grade A Zettai Ryouiki, aside from twin tails and tsundere spoiled brat personality, making it a Grade S.
Love interest Rion Akagami wears this in Cage of Eden, even when they're stuck on a tropical island inhabited by hordes of prehistoric animals.
Featured in the opening. The B-Side of the Lucky Star opening song single, "Kaeshite! Knee Socks", is pretty much entirely about thigh-highs. Naturally, Konata's father mentions it in one of the series' many Seinfeldian Conversations.
Ayano Minegishi has this as part of her school uniform.
Mazinger Z: Sayaka Yumi tended to wear short skirts whether she was wearing her school uniform or casual clothes. And later in the series she wore a very short white-red skirt and knee-length, white boots. In the manga versions more female characters wore attires or uniforms that showed their tights, such like the Gamia or Minerva-X in Shin Mazinger Zero.
Chiaki Minami,(occasionally worn by Kana at home) also the standard uniform in her school in Minami-ke.
Nanoha and Fate's basic Barrier Jackets in the third season seem to have been designed with this in mind.
Fate's Barrier Jacket in the first two seasons, as well, and Nanoha's normal outfits (non-Barrier Jacket, non-school uniform) from those seasons. And the Lieze twins (very perfect "A" Grade). And Vita's normal non-combat outfit (only "B"-Grade, which is sad because she meets both of the added requirements for a Grade S). And Teana's Barrier Jacket and military uniform. Yeah, this show runs on Fanservice, alright.
Young Nanoha sported these in the OP of the first series.
Alice in ARIA since its part of her school uniform, making her of the very few main characters who wears something else aside from her undine outfit. In one anime episode, Aika wears the variety with shorts.
Seemingly part of the school outfit on School Days. It's also humorously refered to, as an army of school girls in short skirts activate Zettai Ryouiki by putting on knee socks in an attempt to draw more people to their classroom for the School Festival. This instance is doubly notable as the last comedic occurrence in the anime before things go straight to hell.
It's also part of the school outfit in the one Margaret attends in Madlax.
And Kagura Tennouzou's school in Speed Grapher. IIRC, Kagura also uses Zettai Ryouki when she dones a very Stripperiffic outfit as the Divine Goddess.
Yui and Haruna's school in Corrector Yui also has it as a part of its standard outfit. Yui's elemental suit makes the skirt, or even panties, pretty much pointless while initiating, also.
Mahou Sensei Negima!. Considering that Ken Akamatsu has written about moe on his blog, this is certainly intentional, and shows up quite often, on Yue Ayase, Evangeline, Chachamaru (After her Mid-Season Upgrade, she seems to have the stocking component built into her synthetic skin, Ako, Natsumi and Akira in the Magic World, Nodoka, the other girls from Yue's magic academy, Asuna (Grade S, even)◊, Anya (also Grade S), Chisame and Makie, Yuna, Takane D. Goodman, Setsuna (on rare occasions), Ku Fei... even Negi joins in for a moment during a crossdressingInstant Cosplay Surprise during the school festival (as if the fox girl outfit wasn't enough).
Yuuki Cross, and several of the female characters in Vampire Knight wear these.
Flay Allster and Miriallia Haww in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, since this is a part of their military cadet uniform. When Lunamaria "Luna" Hawke became a redcoat in ZAFT and asked for a customized uniform with a pink miniskirt, she also added long black socks to it.
Yami manages to pull one off here as wellnote The costume is a homage to Eve from Black Cat, whom Yami is an Expy of. It ranks as a Grade A.
The three heroines of Ultimate Girls.
Part of the standard uniform for most schools in Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora, and since the appropriately-named Academia (the series' setting) is a scholastic city (everything is, or is related to or servicing, a school), that means just about every girl in the city falls into this trope. By law.
Frequently, Nico Robin of One Piece, if thigh-high boots count.
Yoko from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann goes the hotpants route (which Kamina gets a good long look at). She later switches out the socks for boots of about the same length. She's has a Grade A but is missing the Girlish Pigtails required to qualify as Grade S.
Rosario + Vampire: Kokoa Shuzen, Mizore Shirayuki, and Yukari Sendo. With the hair, and the attitude Kokoa bumps up to Grade S! However with Mizore, they actually make it an obvious part of her Moe factor, when attempting to seduce Tsukune during moments with his Harem.
Runo in Bakugan: New Vestroia is Grade S. (In Bakugan Battle Brawlers, she was a thoroughly unremarkable C-Grade, though she already had the other two parts of the S requirements). Sadly, she and the other two main girls from Battle Brawlersare pretty much gone by the second episode.
Mira returns in Mechtanium Surge with a new grade A outfit.
Utau has a Grade A in her black uniform. Add her signature twin tails and her tsundere attitude, and Utau Hoshina is officially a Grade S! Not to mention her Lunatic Charm costume, as well as Dark Jewel and Seraphic Charm. And Seraphic Charm's supposed to be angelic.
Several of Amu's casual outfits have Grade A as well. ◊
And Amulet Spade, which, instead of a skirt, has short shorts and adds garter belts.
Amulet Diamond had a Grade A and Amu wears pigtails while transformed, although she is usually not tsundere.
Chocola and Vanilla from Sugar Sugar Rune both have Zettai Ryouiki, Chocola with a Grade A and Vanilla with a Grade D. How much you wanna bet that 90% of the time Pierre stares at Chocola's legs instead of her face?
Kusakabe Maron, from Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, definitely counts. As a matter of fact, it seems this is part of the uniform.
There's a ton in Black★Rock Shooter. It would seem that the girls' outfits are designed the way they are so that it would be easier for them to move. Maid Gunner◊ has thigh highs that would have made her a Grade B, but her skirt is too long for her to qualify. It only counts for Zettai Ryouiki when her skirt flies up to, not a panty shot, but high enough that the tops of her thigh highs are visible.
Several characters in Freezing have some form of Zettai Ryouiki, as it seems to be a part of the standard Pandora outfit (even for battle!). The female lead is one of the few that do not, though she certainly attracts attention in other ways. (Underneath it she does have them.) Ganessa Roland is an unequivocal Grade S, however.
The gym uniform, a swimsuit with stockings◊, gives all the girls a clear grade A. More like skintight leg-warmers, though; the girls' ankles are also clearly visible. If only they didn't have shoes, they would be able to get the rare Zettai Ryouiki-Foot Focus double-dip.
Houki also has it as a part of her uniform.
Mio Isurugi from MM has Grade A and a tsundere personality, but no twin tails.
Although their outfits change almost every episode in Hime Chen Otogi Chikku Idol Lilpri, Natsuki/Princess Kaguya's standard princess outfit when using the Princess Fairytale card is grade A Zettai Ryouiki (borderline S). Surprising because she's technically wearing a kimono. She also has grade A with thigh-high boots when she's untransformed but then she's somewhere around the age of eight...
Emi Kisaki from Kurogane No Linebarrel. Her black uniform sports long socks that almost touch her little skirt. She is a grade A.
Haqua du Lot Herminium from The World God Only Knows is a grade A bordering on S due to her tsundere personality, but lacking the twintails.
Taiwan from Axis Powers Hetalia wears a Grade A in Hetaween 2011, while cosplayed as the virtual idol Silverlight. May have bordered on Grade S if you see that she's wearing Girlish Pigtails (which she doesn't, normally) and if you count her interactions with her brothers as her being Tsundere.
The female uniform in the High School AU video game, Gakuen Hetalia seems to include a Grade C which Hungary, Liechtenstein, and Seychelles all sport.
Maya Kumashiro from Occult Academy is a perfect example of the tsundere and zettai ryouiki as well.
SF-A2 miki sports a Grade C thanks to her striped socks.
And then Vocaloid3 pretty much cranks it up to twenty-two. Of the eleven that have been confirmed (not including the Gumi and VY 1 upgrades), five and one-half fit this trope: SeeU, Ring Suzune, Aoki Lapis, Akikoroid-chan, and Cul, plus IA, who has a one-leg version (hence the one-half). That's not even counting the Vocaloidols, of which at least several are going to follow suit.
Tissue-Hime, a Japanese bassist well known for his crossplay outfits of various female anime characters, often sports Zettai Ryouiki of various grades in his videos. An example can be seen here.
Uruha, the lead guitarist of Visual Kei band The GazettE has sported this more than once, though with booty shorts rather than skirts.
Sever, the lead singer of the band Sumo Cyco, has Grade B in their music video for Interceptor.
The◊ female◊ protagonist◊ from Pokémon Conquest (it's more noticable on the "gender select" screen when starting a new game). Not always visible though, as in some images, her appearance below the skirt is cut off.
Yukari Takeba goes the socks-and-skirt route, and it's actually quite surprising that she never panty-shots throughout the entire game considering the length (or lack thereof) of her skirt.
The female main character of Persona 3 Portable personalizes her maid outfit with lacy black thigh highs. The hem of the dress is a tad too long, but the skirt often sways around while she's fighting to show off the skin, so it's an A-. Her normal outfit is also Grade C.
Rise Kujikawa falls this trope perfectly as she really is wearing thigh high socks along with her school uniform. Not to mention her Moe personality and pigtails.
The Shadow Hearts series is fond of this. The prequel has Koudelka, the first game has sweet innocent Alice, and the third game has Elegant Gothic Lolitavampire Hildegard, all with very high stockings. German soldier Karin in the second game achieves the same effect with thigh-high boots.
Refia in Final Fantasy III for DS gets some killer Zettai Ryouiki if you change her job to Scholar. This also makes her a Meganekko.
The same goes for Scholar Artifact armor from Final Fantasy XI, when worn by any female player character or NPC. People take the job to level 60 for no other reason than to equip SCH AF. About half of the armor in the game spontaneously develops Zettai Ryouiki when equipped on a female PC. Also of note is the Novennial Dress, which even gives Tarutaru Zettai Ryouiki.
Marche from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has a shorts version of this at Grade B (and is male). Ritz may also qualify. She appears to have Grade A (and is a tsundere), but in much of the official art, the area between her socks and her skirt is whiter than her arms and face, suggesting she might also be wearing tights. On the other hand, much is made of her pale skin in the game and her natural hair color is white, suggesting that she might be an albino, so perhaps that actually is her skin tone and the greater amount of color elsewhere is also not natural.
Female human mages in Lineage II start with this, and most of their clothing options up to 20 in level are these.
A good number of the skirt-wearing female soldiers in Valkyria Chronicles qualify. The most noticable are Alicia, Rosie, and Isara. Alicia is at the very least Grade S, what with her twin tails and initial Tsundere attitude (much more so in the anime adaptation).
This is somewhat standard for Star Ocean heroines.
Rena and Sophia both wear short skirts with long stockings.
Millie wears a slightly longer skirt than is standard for this trope, while Reimi wears an outfit that gives the illusion of a skirt.
Nel Zelpher, the deadly serious ninja-wizard from Star Ocean Till The End Of Time, happens to have a very short, tight-fitting skirt to go with her very tall, yet equally tight boots. That bit of thigh between them is all the skin she shows though, since she's otherwise very modestly and functionally dressed... which arguably makes it that much hotter.
Albel Nox from the same Star Ocean is an odd male variant. He wears a wrap skirt with waist high side slits and thigh high stockings. Fayt even calls him out on it to which Albel curtly informs him that real men wear skirts. Then again, you don't mess with a girly, skirt wearing man voiced by Crispin Freeman.
Luca and Cloche both have this in their default costumes, Luca is a Grade A, while Cloche averages to a Grade A (her skin tight boots are staggered in length, part extends under her skirt, part is Grade A and part is Grade B). Luca's school uniform has a grade A and maybe even S depending on the scenario.
Jacqli's maid outfit is another Grade A.
Many of the girls' costumes in Cross Edge have this, including Mikoto's default outfit and her Nurse Uniform. By extension, Aurica's Luca costume and Misha's Cloche costume give them the same grades as mentioned above.
The redesigned Harley Quinn in Batman Arkham Asylum is a rare Western example of a high-end Grade A, if not Grade S.
.hack//LINK redesigns for Atoli and Tabbi retain their Grade A, while adding it to Subaru◊ and BlackRose◊.
The Wood Elf Wardancers in the recent video game rendition of Blood Bowl achieve this look when they reach a high enough level (or receive the best boots in the real-time Blitz Mode). Though odds are that most people's attention will be on the massive mohawk they have, rather than their thighs.
Guild Wars contains a suprising ammount of Zettai Ryouiki for a Western game, in all kinds of forms: standard, hotpants, shorts, thigh-high boots... Unsuprisingly, most of the armor combinations that allow for Zettai Ryouiki belong to the Mesmer class; the best examples are the "Elite Canthan" and "Elite Kurzick" armor outfits obtainable in the Factions campaign.
The NPC character Evennia, leader of the Shining Blade, wears type A.
Many of the Stripperiffic outfits available for female elementalists feature type B and C.
Female Assassin armor has Canthan and Elite Luxon for grade B. Elite Luxon is a version with shorts.
Seth Balmore of Lost Odyssey has this, though often it's difficult to see due to camera angles.
Almost every female in the No More Heroes series has Grade A/B Zettai Ryouiki. The obvious exception is Speed Buster... thankfully.
In No More Heroes 2, you fight a gothic lolita named Margaret who has this. Bonus in that she has the twintails as well, though she does lack the tsundere attitude... probably. It's even mentioned in her song:
Thigh-high socks and my absolute territory Go on and drool the Otaku cannot resist
Downright commonplace in the Rune Factory series, with Melody, Major Lynette, Cecilia, Yue, Colette, Carmen, Pia, and Daria wearing Grade B, and Alicia (on one side), Ganesha, the Irises, and Kuruna sporting Grade A.
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin has Tasha in a shorts/boots example.
Killer7's Ayane's Blackburn, a parody of Japanese schoolgirls, sports this look.
The miniskirt + long boots is a standard part of the uniform worn by the Pegasus Knight / Falcoknight / Dragon Knight ladies in the saga. Even The Lad-ette Vaida uses it, and she's FAR from Moe Moe. Not only them, either. Some troubadours (mounted healers) also use it, like Clarine from FE 6 and L'Arachel from FE 8.
Not any female mounted unit: Natasha from FE 8 (if promoted into Valkyrie), Priscilla from FE 7 and Cecilia from FE 6 don't wear ZR. Priss's boots are too short, Cecilia's skirt is too long and the cut on it isn't high enough, and Natasha's cleric robe is excessively long as well.
One non-mounted example (at least, pre-promotion) is Princess Eirika from FE 8. Actually, here's another: Mia pre-promotion in FE 9/10 (after promoting to upper tier, the skirt becomes too long). Also Lachesis from FE 4, the inspiration for Eirika's design.
For another non-mounted example: Louise from FE 7, who is actually Clarine's mother.
Lyre, one of the Laguz from "Radiant Dawn", wears shorts and thigh-high stockings.
As does Ilyana at 2nd and 3rd tier... and Heather at 3rd tier... and Nepheenee... and the aforementioned Mia... and Mist at third tier... Ironically, in this game, the pegasus riders don't qualify because they're wearing tights under their skirts (though they still have the thigh-high boots).
Feena Fam Earthlight seems to have a penchant for thigh-highs stockings. She wears them under her princess gown, which unfortunately is floor length, with her school uniform (at least when she's not Off Model), and as part of her work uniform at Trattoria Samon (which also holds true for Natsuke, Mia, and Mai).
Fiacca also has A-Rank Zettai Ryouiki as part of her Stripperific battle costume.
In the anime version of The iDOLM@STER, several of the stage outfits have it too and Kotori sports this in her work outfit.
In the dress-up gameJojo's Fashion Show, you get bonus points for having boots with skirts to achieve type B.
A particular song from Beatmania IIDX 19 called "突撃！ガラスのニーソ姫！" (Totsugeki! Garasuno niiso hime!, direct English translation: "Attack! Knee Socks Princess of the Glass") has got some Grade B Zettai Ryouiki in the anime video.
Phantasy Star IV: Rika is perhaps one of the great-grandmothers of this trope: she wears a black leotard (and heavy-class armor), but she wears thigh-high boots that are pretty standard from the front, but from the back, they just barely reach the hemline of her cape, making her a Class S (but only from one side).
In the music video of the song 'Frantic' in EZ 2 DJ, the orange-haired girl wears pink thigh-highs. Here's the music video: 
Rin Tohsaka in Fate/stay night. Let's see... 57 cm stockings: check. Double pigtail: check. Tsundere: check◊. Yes, Rin Tohsaka is Grade S! Rider does not have a grade as high as Rin's, but she certainly qualifies too.
The Siestas have an interesting version of this, as although their boots reach up to their thighs, and they do wear mini-skirts, said skirts are split open in the front (they wear leotard-type things underneath), effectively ruining the look.
Ange pretty much screams Grade S: Pigtails, short skirt, and optimal thigh exposure, though she's much more of a Kuudere than a tsundere.
Tanaka You in Ever17 has this when dressed in her LeMU uniform.
Nayuki, Kaori and Shiori in Kanon. Makoto successfully attains Grade S ZR. At least a couple times.
Tamaki Kousaka, Sasara Kusugawa, and the Himeyuri twins in To Heart 2, all have Grade A.
Also from the same series, the Angel Mort outfit seems designed with Zettai Ryouiki in mind.
Rena's outfit is a twist — she wears the thigh socks but her skirt is very long, which would normally disqualify her. However, sometimes she has "Zettai Ryouiki Flashes" where her thighs are visible through the skirt's long side slit, as is clearly visible in this image.
Every single girl in Shuffle, at some point or other. Mostly in their school outfits.
Ameri in Tayutama is a definite Grade S in her school uniform.
Trucy Wright had a grade C that showed very little skin (due to her large skirt) in Apollo Justice, however during the next year she became taller and therefore, in Dual Destinies, she is showing more skin than before (although she is still a grade C because her boots are the same).