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.
Sliding Scales of Anthropomorphism:
Beast Fables feature animals that range somewhere between Nearly Normal Animals / Speech Impaired Animals / Talking Animals and Petting Zoo People. 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. 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 anthropomorphic animals (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: This form is basically a Petting Zoo Person, but with a more or mostly (but not completely) human-like head. Or, alternatively, a Little Bit Beastly person with a furry skin and/or an animal nose or muzzle. They are often treated more like Petting Zoo People than like Little Bit Beastly. The cast of Cucumber Quest is a good example.
- Petting Zoo People: These are human in as many ways as they are inhuman. On the one hand they will act human, and if you look under the fur you'll find a human skeletal system, for the most part, but they have animal heads instead of human heads, and often tails, wings, and the like. 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. Also using multiple species makes a cast easier to differentiate, another plus in medias that suffer from Only Six Faces. Females will of course have the obvious sign they are female.
- Humanoid Female Animal: What happens when you combine Petting Zoo People, Funny Animal, or Civilized Animal with Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism. The older females will (almost) always be a step or two closer to human than the males are. At the lower end, they may have long hair or Non-Mammal Mammaries. Where there are bigger differences, they may be a step higher up the scale from males. If a show focuses on Funny Animals or Civilized Animals, expect the female(s) to be Petting Zoo People. If the main cast are mostly Petting Zoo People then the girl will be only a Little Bit Beastly or a borderline Little Bit Beastly. Cleo the cat from Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats is a great example.
- Intelligent Gerbil: A science-fiction/fantasy method of characterization for Petting Zoo People, Funny Animals, and Civilized Animals. These are aliens/fantasy races who are, by amazing coincidence, like earth animals, which is reflected culturally and behaviorally. This is often explained as the result of an "alternate evolutionary path" (with the weirdly Unfortunate Implications that all animals somehow secretly want to be human).
- Funny Animal: This is where we hit characters who could be human, but Furries Are Easier to Draw. Generally, the majority or most of their mannerisms are that of a human. In some cases, almost all their mannerisms may be that of a human. Artistically, they are usually bipedal and have hands, but otherwise need not resemble humans at all. Mickey Mouse is a terrific example. He is a character who has become humanized to the point that 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.
- 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 Narnia and the Land of Oz.
- Uplifted Animal is usually here - it's an animal that can talk THANKS TO SCIENCE! or sometimes MAGIC.
- 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 creature 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. A few examples are bipedal even if their species isn't naturally so. 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.
Sliding Scale of Animal Body Type Anthropomorphism:
- Little Bit Beastly: They are characters who appear virtually human and have completely human skin, but feature the added characteristics of an animal's ears, tail, and sometimes claws, horns, Cute Little Fangs. The special abilities or instincts of that animal may also be present. Unlike "Borderline Little Bit Beastly" (below), this type has a completely human nose. There are two types of Little Bit Beastly, Kemonomimi and Gijinka. Kemonomimi look like (or basically are) humans, but have the added characteristics of an animal's ears and tail. Gijinka also look like humans that have the added characteristics of an animal's ears and tail, but they are regarded as actual creatures or animals in-story. Cat Girls are a good example of this type.
- Borderline Little Bit Beastly: They have a animal-accented human face and body frame with the animal's ears, nose, tail (where applicable), markings, and sometimes fur, feathers, or scales. They have a nearly human-shaped head and little or no semblance of their species' muzzle. If they are a bird, they have the beak or bill respective to their species that is small regardless of their species on an otherwise human-shaped head. Unlike many Petting Zoo People, their hands and feet look basically like animal-accented human hands and feet respectively. They usually have human-like breasts and usually have humanlike (often stylable) hair (or feathers if a bird) on their heads, whether male or female. The Wolf Man variety of Werewolf is probably the best example of this type.
- Petting Zoo People: They resemble an animal's head and tail (where applicable) placed on an animal accented human body frame. They have either a completely animal-shaped head, a largely animal-shaped head, or a half human/half animal-shaped head. They have the muzzle, beak, or bill of their respective species. They can have feet that are either plantigrade or digitigrade (or unguligrade if a hoofed animal) and usually keep the shape of that of their respective species. They usually possess human-like breasts. A more anthropomorphic variant can have a mostly or nearly human-shaped head with the animal's ears, and muzzle, beak, or bill, animal-accented human hands, and have human-proportioned, plantigrade feet that are either human-shaped or shaped like that of their species. A female will often have humanlike, styleable hair (or feathers if a bird) on her head, though males with similarly humanlike hair (or feathers if a bird) is also common. Humanlike, styleable head hair (or head feathers if a bird) is not exclusive to this type and can sometimes be found further down the scale.
- Borderline Petting Zoo People: Their bodies look partly humanoid and partly like their species, often they have either humanoid legs and non-humanoid torso, a humanoid torso and non-humanoid legs, or look semi-humanoid all over. Like Funny Animal / Civilized Animal Body Type Animals, they walk on two legs for at least a good part of the time. Also like that type, naturally quadrupedal animals can walk on two legs and on all fours equally well, especially if they are of the humanoid torso/non-humanoid legs type or the semi-humanoid all over type. They can have either digitigrade or plantigrade feet, and they sometimes have human-like breasts. Humanlike, styleable head hair (or head feathers if a bird) is not uncommon to this type.
- Funny Animal / Civilized Animal Body Type Animals: Like the final type, they have a body that is generally shaped like that of their respective species, except that they are bipedal even if their species is not naturally so. They walk on two legs for at least a good part of the time. Naturally quadrupedal animals can walk on two legs just as well as they can on all fours in this form. They can either stand with their legs straight (standard Funny Animal / Civilized Animal body type pose), sit up on their haunches (depending on the species in question), or stand with their knuckles on the ground (if a monkey or ape). There is a more anthropomophic variant that has this basic body type, but has human proportioned arms and legs to body. They can have either digitigrade or plantigrade feet. Birds (almost always) have Feather Fingers, and their wings can look completely like wings or look like arms to varying degrees. They very seldomly have human-like breasts. Funny Animals, Civilized Animals, and a few Nearly Normal Animals, Speech Impaired Animals, Talking Animals, and Partially Civilized Animals are of this body type.
- Animalistic Animals: Animals that have the general body shape and proportions like their respective species and move around the way their species would move around in Real Life. Naturally four-legged animals stay on all fours for the most part; rarely walking on two legs and (usually) not able to walk that way as well as they can on all fours. They can sit up on their haunches (depending on the species in question), stand with their knuckles on the ground (if a monkey or ape), or stand with a typical four-legged stance. Many of them are capable of performing feats that their Real Life physiology generally wouldn't allow, like grasping objects as if they have opposable thumbs or a prehensile tail and being able to make human-like arm and hand gestures, while others are not. Birds can have Feather Fingers, but their wings have to look completely like wings. The majority of Speech Impaired Animals, Talking Animals, and Partially Civilized Animals, and most Nearly Normal Animals are of this body type.
A note about arthropod anthropomorphism:In many works, especially older works and even in newer works, insects and arachnids (mostly spiders, not so much other arachnids) are drawn in a fashion that makes them look at least somewhat vertebrate-like, especially of the mammalian persuasion.
Anthropomorphism of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and other animals is straightforward; you give them human mannerisms, emotions, speech capabilities, and even body shape, but usually keep their basic head shape. But with insects and arachnids, you not only give them human mannerisms, emotions, speech capabilities, and body shape, you also give them human-like, mammal-like, and other otherwise vertebrate-like facial and bodily features even when they're supposed to be completely or mostly normal insects or arachnids in their world. When insects and arachnids are anthropomorphized even slightly, they are drawn with more mammalian traits and fewer traits that would show up on a real insect or arachnid.
Usually, this is to make insects and arachnids resemble humans to varying degrees to make them easier to sympathize with. The fact that they have other mammalian and other vertebrate-like facial and bodily traits, like vaguely dog-shaped noses, is a side effect of this.
Insect and arachnid protagonists are almost always heavily anthropomorphized to make them sympathetic. After all, bugs look bizarre from a human standpoint, so it's more-or-less impossible to like them when they're drawn realistically. Sometime they'll be left a few insectoid facial features, usually antennae or a decorative set of Monstrous Mandibles, but the majority of their face will look rather human.
- 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. The Doctor and Superman are good examples.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The human-like extraterrestrial equivalent of Petting Zoo People or the far edge of Little Bit Beastly. These guys have only one or two major characteristics that makes them different from humans. 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. Most Star Trek races, such as Klingons, are a good example.
- Intelligent Gerbils: and other Petting Zoo People - This is where they would go on the Alien-specific scale, as they are still human-like enough.
- The Reptilians: 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.
- 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.
- 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 insane 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.
- Human: Again, this is what you are; all humans are members of the animal kingdom after all.
- Green Thumb: This is when an organism has plant powers of their own. Usually some sort of Differently Powered Individual.
- Nature Spirit: A totemic spirit, or Anthropomorphic Personification like Nymphs, Dryads and Mother Nature.
- Plant Person: Instead of just controlling the plants, the person is half-human and half-plant. Think like a Petting Zoo Person with leaves and chlorophyll instead of ears and fur. Darkwing Duck villain Bushroot fits squarely here, as does Batman character Poison Ivy.
- Plant Aliens: When the plant-creature comes from another world.
- Planimal: A plant-animal hybrid.
- Wise Tree: A talking tree.
- Man-Eating Plant: Plants that are vicious and will attack, may overlap with Planimal.
- When Trees Attack: Like the above, but instead are basically just trees. May include a face and have branches for arms, roots for legs and leaves for hair, but doesn't truly look like anything in the Animal Kingdom.
- Inanimate, sentient plants: These plants are incapable of movement, but are still aware of their surroundings and can even feel pain. Sometimes it's a particularly horrifying variation of Baleful Polymorph; a person is turned into a mere plant, but still possesses enough consciousness to know what is happening to them, unable to do anything.
- Inanimate Plants: The plants are in no way sentient, and are simply treated like that in the work.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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 AIs. 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.