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Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism

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"Here is a thought! Who amongst you have seen the sight of man turned beast? A hapless few, we trust!...And yet...though we are repelled at the sight of man turned beast...we revel to see beast turned man! When you pass along this thought...remember you saw it in Mad!...And now, our story..."
MAD #19's introduction to their "Mickey Rodent" story

Anthropomorphic means, loosely translated, Humanlike. Since there are many humanlike characters in fiction (for obvious reasons), this page is here to make it clearer what the differences between different levels of anthropomorphism are.

When people talk about the term "anthropomorphic", they usually refer to an animal, plant, alien, mythical or fantasy creature, robot, inanimate object, or other non-human that acts human or is humanoid in shape. However, the word "anthropomorphic" technically means "of human shape or form".

The pertinent terms are:

  • Anthropomorphic: This general term refers to anything of human shape or form.
  • Zoomorphic: This term refers to something of animal shape or form.
  • Anthrozoomorphic: This is the technical term for animals that act human.

Note that the differences are often rather ambiguous. Some characters could actually fit into multiple categories. Can get even weirder when trying to categorize an Animate Inanimate Object on this list. Also see Anthropomorphic Personification, for when abstract concepts are depicted as being human-like characters.

Sliding Scales of Anthropomorphism

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Let's start with animals, one of the most common types of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism. Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic animals cover a vast ground, ranging from animals with a few human-like characteristics, to looking like humans with a few animal-like characteristics.

Beast Fables feature animals that range from Nearly Normal Animals, to Funny Animals. These are Older Than Dirt, which means, in the oldest versions, it's hard to tell if the original teller saw actual animals as equal to people, or saw them as humanoid versions of animals; a character may behave as a human one minute and a Talking Animal the next.

Sliding Scale of Animal Anthropomorphism

  • Human: Just an ordinary, run of the mill human. This is what you need to be to be on this site. Superintelligent chimps are NOT supposed to be given internet privileges, so any of those should go back to their cages right now!note 
  • Little Bit Beastly: These are on the lower end, they are practically human in every way, if your eyes never reach the top of their head where their ears are, or if you miss that tail behind them. In other words, if you wore a pair of fake bunny ears you'd look like one. Artistic laziness issues are almost never in the cards for this, unless the animal characteristics are used to distinguish a character in a world of Only Six Faces; usually this is due to Rubber-Forehead Alien or Planet of Hats, because reality is boring. Of course there are other reasons this might show up.
    • Catgirls are a sub-trope. The Eastern versions usually just give females the ears and sometimes the tail of whatever animal they supposedly are and males are Beast Men (though of course there might be exceptions), along with a very few defining characteristics and a personality that matches their animal.
  • Borderline Little Bit Beastly: Take a human, give them a non-human head, and there you go. Alternatively, a Little Bit Beastly person with a furry skin and/or an animal nose or muzzle. The cast of Cucumber Quest is a good example.
  • Beast Man: Take a human (anyone is allowed, despite the trope name), give them some animal traits, and you get this trope. The Japanese word, Jyūjin translates directly into this, being a zoomorphic human. A kemono looks as humanoid as this trope, but is an anthropomorphic animal. Furries Are Easier to Draw comes into play, as they don't have difficult-to-draw human faces, but the obviously human traits make the characters less alien to the audience, making them easier to take seriously. Plus using multiple species makes a cast easier to differentiate, a bonus in media that suffer from Only Six Faces. Women will of course have the obvious sign that they are female. Tends to come with:
  • Borderline Beast Man: This is for characters who don't quite fit into either Beast Man or Funny Animal. Usually, they're a character who can trace their ancestry back to an Earth animal, however they're treated more as a distinct species rather than as an animal that acts human—if you're confused, consider that birds evolved from dinosaurs so you can technically say that they're the same animal, although you probably think of them as different ones. It can also be seen as justified Intelligent Gerbil, where you have Beast Man characters explained as the result of Hollywood Evolution (either an alternate timeline with alternate evolutionary paths, or the setting is in the far future after humans are gone, or genetic manipulation). Cat from Red Dwarf is a good example: He's the result of domesticated cats evolving over 3 million years, but he has very little in common with the animal that's his distant ancestor. More importantly, it's not possible to replace Cat with a human like you could if he was a Funny Animal, since one main plot point of Red Dwarf is that all the humans are dead.
  • Funny Animal: This is where we hit characters who could be human, but aren't. Like Beast Man above Furries Are Easier to Draw might be the reason, but it's more often because animals appeal to the target audience more, the writers are exploring a What If? scenario on how a world might be different from ours, or to have social commentary that isn't too on the nose. Most, or even all, of their mannerisms are that of a human: Imagine if your pet does everything you do - eating, talking, cooking, sleeping, working - and you should get the idea. Mickey Mouse is a terrific example. He is a character who is so humanized you could replace him with a human and the plot would be nearly identical. He always wears clothes, he goes to work and lives in a house, and... he has a pet dog. This term hails from the golden age of comics. As there can be some confusion between this and Beast Man above, ask yourself this question: Are they considered to be a cat/dog/lizard or are they considered to be a distinct species in their own right? If the former, then it's likely Funny Animal, if the latter, it's likely Beast Man.
  • Civilized Animal: This is an intermediary stage between animals who talk and animals who might as well be human. They generally have half the mannerisms of a human and half the mannerisms of the animal. Bugs Bunny would be an excellent example: he lives in a hole in the forest and is hunted by Elmer Fudd — and he stands upright, wears White Gloves, and tries to take vacations to Aruba. Brian the dog in Family Guy is this trope; he drinks martinis, walks on two legs and goes to college but also barks at people, scratches his butt on the carpet and so forth. Twilight Sparkle and her friends go here too: they live in houses, are the top of civilization with technology and magic ... and walk on all fours and eat hay. Its seminal use in literature is The Wind in the Willows... Which is itself rather confusing at some points (Toad lives in a splendid old Hall, Mole lives in a hole in the ground).
  • Partially Civilized Animal: This is the intermediary stage between the Nearly Normal Animal / Speech-Impaired Animal / Talking Animal level (animals who are still unarguably animals, and have mostly animal behavior) and the Civilized Animal level. Generally, the majority of the mannerisms are that of the animal. Examples include the cats and dogs of, well, Cats & Dogs and the owls of the Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.
  • Talking Animal: This is an animal who can talk as well as a normal human, and who can communicate with humans. However, they still are unarguably animals, and usually have mostly animal behavior (the humans might not like what such animals have to say about them). They may occasionally act more human-like if the need (and Rule of Funny / Rule of Cool) calls for it. Examples include Dinotopia's Ambassador Bix the Protoceratops, TV's Mister Ed, and the animal denizens of The Chronicles of Narnia and the Land of Oz.
    • Speech-Impaired Animal: An animal who can't quite talk (at least not without heavy quirks), but is definitely of above-animal intelligence and usually capable of relatively efficient communication. There can and often will be misunderstandings. Like Talking Animals, they may occasionally act more human-like if the need (and Rule of Funny / Rule of Cool) calls for it. Scooby-Doo is practically the Trope Maker. Pokémon and other creatures that "speak" to humans in nonhuman languages also fit here.
  • Nearly Normal Animal: An animal that is very much an animal, particularly when it comes to thought processes, personality, instincts, priorities, and motivations.
    • Largely Normal Animals: An animal who clearly has thought processes, but doesn't talk freely with humans. LNA characters may talk to each other, essentially having their own language, but humans won't understand them. That is, unless they Speak Fluent Animal or if the language can be learned. Their thought processes and personality are still very much like that of whatever animal they are. Many of them are able to make human-like arm and hand gestures and some can even grasp objects as if they have opposable thumbs. Bipedal characters qualify if their species can at least stand on its hind legs in Real Life (e.g squirrels, meerkats). The cast of Watership Down and the original four legged Garfield fit here. So do Mickey Mouse's dog Pluto, the original four legged Snoopy from Peanuts, and Krypto the Superdog.
    • Mostly Normal Animals: basically normal animals that have been given clear thought processes as well as a few human or some or several doglike characteristics (greater frequency of uttering sounds, human-like expressions) that still don't retract from their animal-ness. These animals don't talk. They can talk in Animal Talk within species, but not between species. These animals don't go beyond being able to make human-like arm or hand gestures sometimes.They stay on all four legs if they are four-legged animals. They are between Largely Normal Animal and Almost Normal Animal.
    • Almost Normal Animals: basically normal animals that have been given very few human or a few doglike characteristics (greater frequency of uttering sounds, human-like expressions) that don't retract from their animal-ness but allow audience not well versed in the way of animal behaviour to understand what's going on in the animal's mind. Can be merely a result of bad research, or completely intended. Like MNAs, these animals don't talk, not even in Animal Talk. They don't make human-like arm or hand gestures and they stay on all four legs if they're four-legged animals. Mostly seen in works aimed at children.
  • Animals: They're treated as just that in the work. As a joke, they will understand everything characters say.

Also see:
  • Human: Again, this is what you probably are.
  • Transplanted Humans: These aliens actually are humans, and they look like humans, and for the most part they act like humans. It's just that some Ancient Astronauts or somesuch whisked them away from Earth a long time ago. They might have a difference or two, but this is usually explained away as being cultural (if it's a body modification or a way of doing things), genetic engineering, or (if they were transplanted long enough ago) just evolution.
    • Transhuman Aliens: If these characters look just like normal humans, save for a few noticeable physical differences like mechanical or biological embellishments, it's because they are normal humans. They're just altered somehow. In older fiction they tend to be involuntarily altered mooks with sad backstories, but are becoming increasingly popular as benevolent characters who have chosen to be altered in hard sci-fi (certainly the increasing acceptance of body art and modification has something to do with this). The fun part is that they may physically resemble any of the other categories on this page...
  • Human Aliens: Aliens that look just like people. They may look a little different, they might have Bizarre Alien Biology, or super advanced technology, or some form of superpowers, but no person would be able to tell the difference. Gallifreyans , Kryptonians and Transylvanians (not those Transylvanians ) are perfect examples.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The extraterrestrial sister trope of Beast Man, Rubber Forehead Aliens have only one or two major characteristics that makes them different from humans. What makes them different, however, is that they don't bear semblance to any animal. They might justify this by saying that they have a common ancestor with or are somehow descended from humans. This usually comes from budget limitations, so you are more likely to see this in live action than in animation. Klingons and Vulcans are widely-known examples.
  • Intelligent Gerbils: and other Beast Men - This is where they would go on the Alien-specific scale, as they are still human-like enough.
  • Little Green Men: Not often seen in modern fiction. These guys are usually less humanlike in appearance, but still retain humanlike personality traits. They're even kind of cute sometimes.
  • Lizard Folk: They can be anything from Rubber-Forehead Aliens to stranger variations of Humanoid Aliens, usually straddling the line right here between humanoid and animalistic. They are obviously based on a group of terrestrial animals, but they tend to follow a set of traits that have no specific parallel among Earth creatures. For example, the Gorn — and no, it's not that kind of Gorn.
  • The Greys: Essentially the alien version of The Fair Folk. They look mostly human — but their psychology is very, very unlike a human's...
  • Humanoid Aliens: Essentially anything else that has the same basic body structure as a human (one head, two arms, two legs, upright walking posture).
  • Cephalothorax and Waddling Head Aliens: Still has one head, two arms, two legs and an upright walking posture but lacking any distinctive torso so it can't really be called "Humanoid". Belongs either here or before Starfish Aliens for the weirder examples.
  • Insectoid Aliens: These are pretty much exactly what they sound like, and are especially popular non-humanlike aliens. There's something distinctively alien about an insect from a human point of view, so why not scale them up? They tend to have a hive-like social structure, with a few human-like personality touches, and may even be vaguely humanoid in appearance too.
  • Starfish Aliens: Really Alien Aliens. And given the awe-inspiring variety of life on our planet, it's not unlikely that these are closest to what's really out there.
    • Octopoid Aliens: Tentacled non-skeletal aliens resembling terrestrial cephalopods. Most humans wonder if they're aliens to begin with, so why not include them to add to their non-humanness?
    • Energy Beings: Aliens that don't even have the decency to take on a physical form for us humans to relate to. Occasionally can be the following category at the same time as well (such as Aphoom Zah, Cthugha and Tru'nembra from the Cthulhu Mythos).
  • Eldritch Abomination: These are sort of off the scale altogether: Aliens that are so alien, they tend to break the brain of a mere human, who was probably expecting something more along the lines of Lt. Worf.

Also see:

Anthropomorphism can even be applied to machinery, robots in particular. All kinds of intelligent computers have something in common with both ends of the scale.
Also see:
  • Human: Yet again, this is what you are. Of course, some of you may have a pacemaker or a couple of artificial ribs or something, or even an artificial limb, but when it starts encroaching on the below territory, you get a...
  • Cyborg: Human, but with artificial components - they tend to blend with the Transhumans (see Extraterrestrials folder above). They can range from relatively small replacement parts (Geordi LaForge's eyes in the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies) to complete body replacement with few biological components left, with varying degrees of human appearance (from major Motoko Kusanagi to RoboCop 2).
    • Full-Conversion Cyborg: The aforementioned "complete body replacements". Cyborgs with only a few flesh organs remaining, they range from appearing human on the surface, to looking completely robotic at first glance.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Robots that look and act pretty human, often unnecessarily so. So human, in fact, that sometimes it's hard to distinguish them from real humans. Examples include T-800 from the Terminator series.
    • Artificial Human: Mostly biological humans developed by artificial means, but still considered advanced robots. They usually transcend regular humans in terms of strength and sometimes intelligence. Examples include the Replicants from Blade Runner.
    • Robot Kids: Robots that are designed to be children. Astro Boy is an example.
    • Robot Girls: Robots with the appearance of a human female.
  • Uncanny Valley Robots: Robots which are almost human, but miss the mark in a few key places, causing people to pick up on the "devil in the details" and regard them as just plain creepy. It is harder to depict these kinds of characters in animation due to the stylization that comes with it.
  • Androids: Robots which have a human-like body type, but are obviously mechanical in nature. Examples include all kinds of mechs, 90% of Transformers, and ASIMO.
    • Fembots: These are specific android robots that are designed to be female.
    • Humongous Mecha: Gigantic robots with a humanoid shape, which may or may not be autonomous/sentient (though they're usually depicted as being manned vehicles).
  • Tin-Can Robot: Robot with a round or cylindrical body. Usually not painted and with clearly seen bolts.
  • Robot Buddy: Robots with characteristics of humans or animals, usually with animal-like or human-like (but not too human-like) body shape. Examples include R2-D2 from Star Wars.
    • Robot Dog: Robots with the characteristics of dogs.
  • Starfish Robots: Robots are still sentient, but either have characteristics of invertebrates or ones not based on any terrestrial creature.
  • Sapient Tanks and Sapient Ships: The very edge of what is usually allotted sentience, these are robots and machines that are built very clearly as machines, sometimes being little more than boxes on threads, and oftentimes being vehicles with integrated A.I.s. Intellect ranges all over the scale, from being smarter than humans to being little more than glorified attack drones, but their unique circumstances tend to make them difficult to relate with humanity, at least from a physical perspective.
  • Spider Tanks and other mechanoid creatures: This is where robots cease to be individually self-conscious. Examples include all kinds of robotic spiders and insects who are still mobile. This is one of the examples.
  • Industrial robots: These robots are usually immobile and mounted to one place and can consist of a single robotic arm or even simpler structure, with only a limited set of behaviors or functions. All kinds of Sentry Guns commonly found in shoot 'em ups and other video game genres belong here.
  • Grey Goo and other amorphous mechanical stuff: At this point robots become so non-humanlike that it Crosses the Line Twice and becomes creepy again. They start having some extremely weird characteristics.

Other types of anthropomorphic characters that don't exactly fit with the other categories above.
  • Animate Inanimate Objects are pretty much any non-living, physical entities that move, look, and behave like living creatures do, including both naturally-occurring objects (like rocks or water), and man-made items (though if it's some sort of machine, just look at the Robots folder above).
  • Anthropomorphic Personifications are beings which represent various forces of nature, or abstract concepts in human culture. Many mythological deities and spirits personify something, for example Death.