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Useful Notes: Japanese Sibling Terminology
Where English makes no distinction between elder and younger siblings, Japanese has words that classify both gender and age (relative to the speaker) for a sibling. There are four basic terms:

otōto
younger brother
imōto
younger sister
ani
elder brother
ane
elder sister

They are normally found in conjunction with an honorific — -kun and -chan being among the most common for all four, although -san and even -sama are frequently used for respected older siblings, or when addressing other people's siblings. "Baby-talk" equivalents such as -tan, -tama and -chama are not unknown, either, but are usually limited to younger children and kawaiiko.

Additionally, ani and ane can take an honorific prefix, o-, which indicates even further respect. This is not mandatory, though. When speaking to your older brother, you would call him Niisan or Oniisan ; older sister would be Neesan or Oneesan; the younger ones you would normally address by name.

In addition to these four basic words, there are numerous variations due to regional differences in pronunciation and from slang usages. Just as an example, here are some of the alternative versions that one may encounter in fiction:

  • ani
  • anigimi/anegimi (very formal)
  • aniki (informal, "bro"; also slang indicating a fellow member of a street gang)
  • anego (informal, "sis"; may also used from a younger person towards an older female that they respect, in fiction usually the leader of a female delinquent group or yakuza member)
  • aniue ("brother" formal and archaic, only for older brothers)
  • aneue ("sister", like aniue above, only for older sisters)
  • niiya (regional variation)
  • oni (A homophone for the Japanese word for "ogre", but not often employed for a punning double meaning.)

Note that the terms for older and younger siblings are used differently. Younger siblings frequently address older ones by "title", but the reverse is far less common — older siblings tend to address younger ones by name.

It is also not uncommon for sibling terminology to be used for certain non-siblings. "Onii-san" and its variants are often used by children for older non-relatives (expect the kid Victim of the Week to address the hero this way throughout the episode, for example.) This one's hard for translators — you want to stay true to the original, but can't exactly have the kid call the hero "Big brother" despite the fact that they've clearly never met before.

See also Onee-sama. For similar usage in a nearby country, see Chinese Sibling Terminology.

Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Sister Princess — thirteen sisters, thirteen different ways to say "big brother". The English dub goes through outrageous contortions to come up with equally individualized equivalents for the Japanese terms and mostly succeeds, even if it does have to dip into a couple other languages to do it.
  • Chamo in Mahou Sensei Negima! addresses Negi as "aniki"; given the ermine's personality and habits, it's almost certainly intended as the gang slang as much as the literal meaning.
    • Chamo also uses a different version of "nee" depending on which girl he is addressing.
    • Negi also refers to his older cousin as "oneechan".
  • When they were both children, Seto Kaiba in Yu-Gi-Oh! took on the task of raising his younger brother, Mokuba. Mokuba has nothing but the utmost respect for his brother, and as a result uses nii-sama exclusively for him.
    • Normal Marik calls Ishizu "Nee-san", and Yami Marik calls her the extremely respectful "Aneue-sama" (curiously enough, while he's threatening to kill her).
      • Just 'cause he's a psycho bent on killing her doesn't mean he can't be polite about it. What a nice guy.
    • Shizuka uses "Onii-chan" on her older brother Katsuya Jounouchi.
  • In Genshiken, when the rest of the club follows Sasahara to the train station to pick up his High School-age sister, Madarame wonders aloud what she calls him- "I guess big brother (oniichama) is out, probably bro (aniki)". She calls him monkey. Despite the (necessarily) clumsy translation of the Japanese honorifics, that last part translates well.
  • Naruto — Konohamaru refers to the title character as "Naruto-niichan", giving an example of using older-sibling terminology towards an unrelated older kid one respects and admires. He also calls Naruto "boss".
    • Also Inari does the same thing.
    • Hinata calls her cousin Neji "Neji-nii-san", leading some onlookers to believe he is her older brother. Many fans interpret that as her considering him one.
    • In flashbacks, Sasuke always called Itachi "Nii-san", which got translated to "brother" in the dub. Once the truth about Itachi is revealed Sasuke pretty quickly goes back to calling him Nii-san.
    • Naruto always adds nee-chan to Shizune and Ayame despite not being related to either.
  • Being buddies rather than biological brothers, Simon naturally uses "aniki" to refer to Kamina on Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, though with the same amount of respect you'd expect from "onii-sama". The dub simply uses "bro."
  • Similarly, the student gang in episode 14 of A Certain Scientific Railgun call their tomboy leader "aneko".
  • Suzumiya Haruhi: Kyon's little sister is always referred to exclusively as "imōtochan", including in the credits and the title of her Image Song album. Kyon's friends have even called her "Imōto-san" on-screen; apparently, No Name Given is some kind of tradition in that family...
    • Kyon wishes his little sister would call him onii-san instead of using his nickname...
  • Sakura in Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor is called anego by her two henchmen/friends.
  • Skuld in Ah! My Goddess calls Belldandy oneesama, but not Urd. It's translated to "big sis" in the dub.
    • Belldandy refers to Urd as "Neesan".
  • Agumon calls Marcus aniki, dubbed to "boss." His actual younger sister calls him Masaru-niichan. Touma's younger sister, Relena, calls him oniisama.
    • Touma and Relena are an odd case — they're half-siblings, Touma is half-Japanese and Relena is fully Austrian. Whether Relena actually calls Touma "oniisama" as a sign of respect or if it's just the Translation Convention in effect is never addressed. In the dub, Touma is usually called "Thomas," while Relena calls him "Tommy."
    • The reason Agumon calls Marcus/Masaru aniki in the original but "boss" instead in the dub is because, in this case, "aniki" means "brother" literally but also means "boss" according to the Yakuza, therefore having the same connotations. The same reason is why Agumon considers himself Marcus' follower/employee.
  • In Bleach, Karin calls her older brother Ichigo "Ichi-nii" a homophone for "One-two", while Yuzu calls him "Onii-chan" (the same as what Orihime calls her brother).
    • Ha, think about if Karin called Ichigo "Ichi-nii-san" which would actually work, plus be a homophone for "One-two-three".
    • Rukia usually refers to Byakuya as "Nii-sama" but, very occasionally (usually in the earlier days of the manga), she has used other forms.
    • Kon likes to call Rukia "Nee-san", but this is due to the use of the term as meaning "hey lady!".
    • Kiyone (third seat of the 13th division) calls her older sister Isane (lieutenant of the 4th division) "Nee-san".
    • Ganju (youngest of the Shiba siblings) refers to Kaien, the eldest, as "Aniki" and older sister Kukaku as "Onee-chan", while middle child Kukaku uses "Onii-san".
  • In Gintama, Shinpachi addresses his sister Otae as "aneue"; Kagura, despite not being related to either of them, calls her "anego."
  • In One Piece Movie 9, Wapol calls his older brother Mushul (exclusive to the movie) "An-chan," despite Mushul's desire to be referred to with "Onii". In the manga, Hancock's younger sisters refer to her as "Ane-sama". Monkey D. Luffy calls his older brother, Portgas D. Ace, by name, but given their different surnames, it has been speculated that they are not biological brothers.
    • It turns out that they're not related at all; Ace's father isn't Dragon, but Roger.
  • Subaru Nakajima of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha refers to her older sister Ginga as "Gin-nee," despite formerly using "onee-chan" on her. Meanwhile, Cinque, one of the new siblings they gained after the post-StikerS Time Skip, refers to Ginga using the very formal "aneue". Yes, the same Cinque that once captured Ginga by beating her to a bloody pulp. Must be some inverted variant of befriending.
    • Well, she was the one that Subaru befriended with Vibration Shatter during her Unstoppable Rage. She also tends to use Keigo when speaking, and addresses Genya as "chichiue".
    • In StrikerS, Fate, who has been adopted by the Harlaown family, refers to Chrono as "Onii-chan" in situations where she doesn't need to address him as a superior officer, prompting him to suggest that she should stop doing that now that she's an adult. In the third sound sage of the first season, she considers calling him "Nii-san" or "Aniue".
    • Nanoha's older sister Miyuki refers to her older brother Kyouya as "Kyou-chan", rather than "Onii-chan", like Nanoha does. This carries over from Triangle Heart 3, when he was her cousin and not her biological brother.
    • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha INNOCENT, Alicia, who is Fate's actual older sister in this continuity (even if she doesn't look older), complains about Fate sometimes not calling her "Onee-chan", and retaliates by reading aloud an assignment she wrote about how much she loves her sister in front of Fate's new friends.
  • In Outlaw Star, Jim refers to Gene as aniki, but just "Gene" in the English dub.
  • In Captain Tsubasa, Sanae Nakazawa is nicknamed "Anego" since she bosses the Nankatsu kids around like an older sister. Tsubasa did it until around the second half of the original TV series; since then, he stopped calling her "Anego" and refers to her as "Sanae-chan" instead.
  • In Scrapped Princess, the main character Pacifica refers to her siblings as "Shannon-nii" and "Raquel-nee"
  • In the TV series of Read or Die, Anita calls her (adopted) sisters Maggie and Michelle "Ma-nee" and "Mi-nee." She ends up calling Nenene "Nene-nee" after rejecting "Nenene-neesama."
  • The archaic formal term for "brother" listed above, aniue, is familiar to any Mai-HiME fan. Mikoto uses this term for her long-lost brother (she doesn't know his name).
    • In a Lotus-Eater Machine sequence inflicted on Mai, Mai tells Mikoto, who is apparently her little sister in this version of reality and whom she views as like a little sister, to not call her older sister by name.
  • Haruka Minami is always "Haruka-oneesama" to her little sister Chiaki. This is partly because of her Promotion to Parent and partly because, well, she's an Onee-sama.
  • In Weiß Kreuz, Aya Fujimiya calls her older brother "Ran-oniichan" or just "oniichan."
  • Souta in Inuyasha calls Kagome "nee-chan," while in the feudal era, Kohaku calls Sango by the more archaic "aneue" (when he remembers who she is, anyway). Manten, the younger of the youkai Thunder Brothers, calls his older brother Hiten "anchan," and most of the Band of Seven call their leader Bankotsu "aniki" or "o-aniki." Kaede refers to Kikyou as "onee-sama". (Inuyasha himself, being your standard Jerk with a Heart of Gold shounen protagonist, calls his Aloof Big Brother Sesshoumaru by his first name only, and both he and Sesshoumaru himself seem horrified when Kagome calls Sesshoumaru "oniisan".)
  • Himiko in Get Backers addresses her older brother Yamato as "aniki." He's a casual Big Brother Mentor-type, so it fits. Juubei addresses his older sister as "aneja," which is written with the kanji for "older sister" and "person." Yukihiko Mirouku tends to use [Name]-niisan or -neesan for his siblings, while Yohan, after revealing that he's Kazuki's younger brother, addresses him with the archaic "aniue." He calls his adopted older brother by name, while his adopted younger sister calls him by name.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, Kuwabara usually calls his big sister Shizuru "aneki," switching to "Neechan" when he's sucking up to or teasing her.
  • Gash Bell: The Brainwashed and Crazy Gwen Stacy Kolulu calls her bookkeeper, Shiori, "neesan", which is an important plot point. She goes on to call Gash's bookkeeper Kiyomaro "niisan" when he burns her book at her behest.
  • Fruits Basket: Yuki calls Ayame "nii-san", and when Mine calls Yuki "otouto-kun", it's one of the first hints that she and Ayame are a couple. In the not-actually-siblings department, Kisa calls Tohru "onee-chan", and Haru calls Hatori "nii-san".
  • Ryuuki in Saiunkoku Monogatari persists in calling Seiran "aniue" when they are alone together, in spite of Seiran's protests, once he finds out that Seiran is actually his exiled older brother Seien.
  • In Love Hina, Motoko Aoyama refers to her older sister Tsuruko as "aneue". Except in the Tokyopop manga translation, in which she uses "oneesan."
  • One of the hints of Olba Frost's deep devotion to his older brother Shagia is that, for a very cocky and arrogant guy who can be Ax-Crazy in battle, he actually addresses Shagia with the respectful "Nii-san" instead of the more familiar "Aniki". In fact, he did it so often that Olba's seiyuu Nozomu Sasaki has said that he came to dislike the word itself.
  • The fact that you can use titles for your brother while talking to him caused a translation error in the second Tenchi Muyo! movie, when Aeka said "my brother's tree" while talking to Katsuhito. Literally translating this into English led fans to conclude that he is not her brother (and therefore that the movie couldn't take place in OAV continuity).
    • The dub also had to really wrack its brains when Tenchi's long-lost sister reveals herself and at one point goes on about all the various sibling terms she'll finally get to be called. The dub mostly keeps up when coming up with variations, and makes some of the dialogue refer to finally getting to have a brother-sister relationship with him. Maybe "sissy-poo" is a bit of a stretch when it comes to alternate terms, but... they did a pretty good job translating the most .
  • Oboro in Utawarerumono puzzles Hakuoro when he begins calling him "aniki", but he just shrugs it off. Really, this is about as respectful as you can expect him to get.
  • Yukino and Kanade from Candy Boy call each other "Yuki-nee" and "Kana-nee", often saying it twice wen they want to get each other's attention. Their younger sister Shizuku calls them both "neechan", although for Kanade she also tends to use the variety "baka-neechan".
  • In Maria†Holic, the priest Kanae thinks Kanako's issues stem from losing her beloved brother. (To Tchaikovsky syndrome in B minor. Yes, Mariya's behind this.) The term he uses for this nonexistent brother is ani-ue.
  • In Code Geass, Nunnally often referred to her older brother Lelouch with the ultra-respectful Onii-Sama . His fake younger brother, who he eventually accepts before his death Rolo refers to him as Nii-San. (The dub uses "Big Brother" for both.) Not sure if it's in the canon, but fanon usually has the word aniue pop up in regards to Lelouch's relationship with his older half-brother Schneizel.
    • Cornelia also uses aniue when speaking to Schneizel.
    • Euphie uses "Onee-sama" on Cornelia, but Cornelia insists on being referred to by her title of Viceroy on certain occasions.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Alphonse refers to his brother solely as "Nii-san". He uses it so much, it's practically his Catch Phrase, and it even carries over into English translations and dubs as "brother".
    • Alex refers to his older sister Olivier as "aneue".
  • Suboshi in Fushigi Yuugi calls his brother "aniki".
  • In Sorcerer Hunters, Marron refers to his brother as "niisan" more often than he does his name, while Tira calls Chocolat "onee-sama". Eclair in the OAVs refers to her big brother Gateau as "aniki".
  • In Shakugan no Shana, Keisaku and Eita always use the respectful ane-san for Margery Daw. You'll find that funny if you get to know her.
  • In Baccano!, the Ax-Crazy mechanic Graham Specter refers to his hero, the equally Ax-Crazy Ladd Russo, as "Ladd-aniki". Luck and Berga Gandor call their older brother Keith "Kii-nii," and Maiza's younger brother calls him "nii-san."
  • In Death Note, Sayu always calls Light oniichan; he just calls her Sayu, as you'd expect — though in the manga, there's a point where an Alternate Character Reading is employed, with the kanji for "Sayu" being read as imōto.
    Light (to Ryuk): "My sister would have a heart attack just from seeing your face."
  • In CLANNAD, the members of the street gangs refer to Yukine as Yuki-nee.
  • In Amagami Miya with her famous "nii-nii" for her brother Junichi.
  • Another rather famous "nii-nii" in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni from Satoko. It's also someone's Berserk Button.
  • Elfman from Fairy Tail refers to his sister Mirajane as "nee-chan".
    • Their little sister Lisanna calls them "Elf-nii-chan" and "Mira-nee".
    • Sho, Erza's childhood friend, calls her "nee-chan".
  • Vision of Escaflowne: Van Fanel when refering to his Mother or Brother will use; Hahaue and Aniue respectively.
    • Millerna Ashton will use the somewhat, more traditional Onee-sama and Otou-sama for her Sister and Father. This is likely to show how far out in the sticks Fanelia was as opposed to Asturia since both are royalty.
  • In The World God Only Knows, Elsie, a low-ranking devil who concludes a contract with Keima, considers him a god and pretends to be his younger sister. So, she calls him "Kami-nii-sama", thus mixing together "god" and "older brother" (This gets translated to "divine brother" in the English dub).
    • Kusonoki calls her older sister Hinoki "ane-ue".
    • Meanwhile, after meeting Keima (and being snogged on multiple occasions) in the First Memory Fragment of the Heart of Jupiter arc, Dokurou addresses him with the affectionate onii-chan.
  • Zero no Tsukaima's Louise has two elder sisters, neither one of which is referred to by name, they are called Onee-sama and Chi-nee-sama (basically meaning second elder sister) respectively.
  • In Queen's Blade Elina calls her elder sister Leina "onee-chan," while both call their eldest half-sister Claudette "onee-sama."
  • In Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl, Hazumu has been gender-swapped, and the ship's AI has based its hologram avatar on his new female form. Because of this, she call him/her "nii-nee-san."
  • Evolves over the course of Ranma ½: While Ranma normally addresses Kasumi using "Kasumi-san" in the later seasons he occasionally uses "Kasumi-onee-san" as a sign of his esteem even though they are not technically related (yet). In the episode where Ranma thinks he's a girl he addresses her as "Kasumi-onee-chan" and the dub actually translates this as "Big sister Kasumi" for an equivalent cutesy effect.
  • In the TV series Arashi No Yoru Ni: Himitsu no Tomodachi, Boro always refers to Gabu as "Gabu-nii".
  • In Blue Exorcist Yukio calls Rin "Nii-san", but refers to him as "Ani" when talking about him to others. Amaimon noticeably calls Mephisto the respectful "Aniue".
  • In Initial D, Keisuke almost invariably refers to his older brother Ryosuke as "aniki."
  • Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai uses this a lot, even though there are only two cases of actual sibling relations. Kobato refers to her older brother, Kodaka, as "an-chan" whenever she lapses into her native Kyushu accent. Kodaka is also addressed as "aniki" by Yukimura (deliberately as a gang leader reference, because Yukimura believes Kodaka to be a paragon of masculinity) and "onii-chan" By Maria and Kate. Averted with Kate and Maria, though — Kate wants Maria to do this, but Maria won't have anything of it unless forced to.
  • In Saki most of the older sisters in the series- Teru, Hiroe, Yuu, Nozomi and Kana are referred to as "Onee-chan" by their younger sisters- Saki, Kinue, Kuro, Ako and the three younger Ikeda sisters, respectively. Ako, a friend of Kuro's who knows Yuu, calls her "Yuu-nee", and Yuu sometimes refers to herself as "Onee-chan" when talking to or about Kuro.
  • In Girls und Panzer, Miho calls Maho "Onee-chan," and in the prequel manga, Little Army, Emi refers to her older sister as "Nee-san".
  • Killua from Hunter × Hunter calls both, Illumi and Milluki, aniki. That confuses Gon a little bit, since he only knows Illumi and Kalluto, but he never met his other brothers, yet. Killua is called nii-san and onii-chan by Kalluto and Alluka, respectively.
  • In Kill la Kill after it is revealed that Ryuuko and Satsuki are sisters by blood and actually on the same side in the story's conflict, Ryuuko attempts to stammer out "Nee-san" when addressing Satsuki, who responds that she doesn't expect Ryuuko to treat her as a sister. They settle for calling each other by first name alone, until the very end, where Ryuuko finally calls Satsuki "Nee-san".
  • In X/1999, Sorata calls Arashi "Neechan" in the more playful sense. The subs traduce her as "missy".

     Live Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • Lots of characters in the Yakuza series call Kazuma "aniki" (for example, Rikiya of the recent Yakuza 3). Of course, that shouldn't surprise anyone...
  • Rose Bernstein in The King of Fighters calls her brother Adel onii-sama in his opening pose.
  • The thing from Elevator: Source that runs at the elevator with an anime girl's face repeatedly says "Onii-chan" as the doors close in its face.
  • Final Fantasy X has a character named "Aniki", who happens to be Rikku's brother. This was translated as "Brother", and throughout the game and its sequel everyone calls him "Brother" despite not being everyone's brother.
  • In The Last Blade 2, Kojiroh invokes "aniue" in one of her violent deaths.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • In the manga for Fire Emblem 4, Azel and Ethlyn refer to Arvis and Sigurd (respectively) as "niisan" and "niisama". Which is odd considering Ethlin is comfortable teasing Sigurd while Azel fears Alvis, yet she's the one using "sama"...
    • In FE1 and 3, Rikard calls Julian 'aniki'. In the localization, this became "chief".
    • Say'ri in Fire Emblem Awakening used 'aniue' to refer to her brother, which emphasises both her Big Brother Worship and her archaic style of speech. Since there's no real equivalent in English, most of these instances were changed to Say My Name in the localisation, and her archaic speech was conveyed by having her use words like 'nay' and 'fie' in other contexts.
  • In Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword, which uses Japanese voices alongside English text in the English version, Momiji refers to Kureha as "onee-sama" while visiting her grave in the ending.
  • At the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II, Selphie, who is one year younger than Kairi, calls her "neechan". In the English dub, she just calls her by name.

    Visual Novels 
  • Satoko in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni calls her brother, and later, Keiichi, "nii-nii." Similarly, she refers to Shion as "nee-nee".
  • Hisui of Tsukihime always refers to her older (twin) sister Kohaku as "nee-san." Always. If she ever uses another term (for example, "my sister," per the Mirror Moon translation), it's a giant clue that it's not actually Hisui...
    • Akiha calls Shiki "Nii-san". Like the above example, if she uses another term, she's referring to SHIKI, her actual brother.
    • Supplementary materials have Arcueid referring to Akiha as 'Imouto', due to her firm belief that once she and Shiki get hitched Akiha will be her sister-in-law anyway, so she might as well get started now.
  • In Fate/stay night Shirou is quite surprised to hear that Issei views Kuzuki, who is apparently the only other teacher at their school, as an older brother and refers to him with "aniki". Rather informal for the rather stuffy Issei.
    • Sakura uses "Nii-san" on her adoptive brother Shinji and, after a certain point in Heaven's Feel, "Nee-san" on her actual sister, Rin.
  • Little Busters!: Rin shows her lack of respect for (and, in turn, her closeness to) her older brother by always referring to him simply with his first name, just as for all of the other childhood friends. At one point Kyousuke tries to persuade her to call him by a title, and while she adamantly refuses to call him 'oniisan' or 'oniichan', she without fuss calls him 'aniki' for a little while.
    • Also, the term 'Anego' - a more informal version of 'oneesan' with Cool Big Sis overtones - is strongly associated with Kurugaya, who often refers to herself by the term and insists that Haruka calls her that way.

    Webcomics 

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alternative title(s): Japanese Sibling Terminology
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