I have a peculiar, long-running, loosely organized series of articles about hair color in Japanese anime, manga/light novels, and games. The series serves as evidence of my writing what I want to write about instead of writing for search engine bots. This is not to say that I never have an idea that I have reason to believe one of my posts may match search intentions of the moment, but that is not how I decide my article topics. However, despite my anime and related hair color pieces being a niche topic, February 2024 marked a high water mark for my project – with two new anime hair color articles ranking first and third on the list of the most-read articles in what turned out to be one of The New Leaf Journal’s most trafficked months. If that was not enough, some of my older hair color pieces have also made a splash in February 2024. I decided to celebrate the triumph of my anime hair color project by explaining how it came to be in the first place.

Early Anime Hair Color Highlights

I have been regularly watching anime since 2007 or 2008, and I started following simulcasts around 2010 or so. I will confess that I, like most anime viewers, did not often think too deeply about anime hair color. I mostly took it for granted that anime character designs often include unnatural hair and that it is often, although not always, a matter of artistic discretion. For example, in 2008 I watched Death Note, in which the seemingly straight-laced protagonist (or antagonist) college student has brown hair, but I never thought about whether his hair color was natural, and I only learned well after the fact that this was apparently a hot topic of discussion in anime fora.

Note, however, that I did not say I “never” thought about hair color in anime.

My first anime hair issue came when I was watching the iconic episode 10 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica with a friend in the Brooklyn College library back in 2012.

(Why 2012 and not 2011 when it aired? No one had officially picked up Madoka as a simulcast in 2011, but Crunchyroll obtained the rights to it in 2012 and dripped out episodes on a weekly basis in the spring season of 2012.)

The main character of Puella Magi Madoka Magica – not Madoka, of course – was depicted with a different hair style in episode 10. I immediately understood that this was the same character we had followed in the previous 9 episodes but with different hair. For that reason, I was surprised when my friend remarked it was odd that the show had not only introduced a new character in episode 10 but made her the star of the episode. I turned this anecdote into a philosophy article a couple of years ago – philosophy in honor of the fact that I was a philosophy major at Brooklyn College (honors track – never forget the honors track). I had another friend who rated Madoka as his all-time favorite anime and the character with the new hair style as his favorite character (that friend is the one who argued that School Days was good). The hair confusion story turned into an inside joke.

But the Madoka incident did not prepare me for what would be my greatest pre-New Leaf Journal hair style debate. Some time after watching Madoka, I watched Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star with the friend who had suffered from Madoka hair confusion. There is a scene late in Distant Star that takes place a few years after the beginning of the movie. My friend remarked that the young man’s previously brown hair had turned gray and, while he accepted it as an artistic choice, he still thought it was a little heavy-handed to use that kind of hair color change to indicate the passage of a few years. I looked closely and concluded that the hair was brown not gray, and the issue was the lighting (Mr. Shinaki is big on lighting in his movies, see my screen captures of his later 5 Centimeters Per Second). A 45-minute debate ensued and we did not resolve the issue. I will concede it is more ambiguous than the identity of the girl in episode 10 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, but I still think I am right.

I do not recall having any profound thoughts after the Voices of a Distant Star debate, which probably occurred in 2012. Maybe I had concluded that 45 minutes was already too much of my life devoted to anime hair color debates. I did watch anime series where changing hair color was noted, but it was not something I singled out for special attention in my anime viewing.

But this would begin to change in 2020.

The Roots of My Anime Hair Color Project

I launched The New Leaf Journal on April 27, 2020. That does not directly concern anime hair color. To the best of my recollection, I did not publish an article that was primarily about anime, much less anime hair color, until that September. But when you commit to regularly writing articles, you naturally start to see potential article topics in unexpected places.

At some point in 2020, I read volume 8 of the My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected light novel series. I rarely read light novels and manga (I am usually anime only rather than anime first), but being a fan of the anime series that is based on the novels, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, I was interested enough to check the source material. (Keep this between you and me but this will form the basis of a New Leaf Journal project in the near future.) One of the main characters of volume 8 of the novel series is Iroha Isshiki. Without diving into unnecessary detail – My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU has a decent-sized cast, but just three main characters in Hachiman Hikigaya, Yukiko Yukinoshita, and Yui Yuigahama (do you see the naming trend for the main trio?). For all meaningful intents and purposes, Iroha effectively makes her debut in chapter 8, which comes just past the half-way mark of the series, and she establishes herself as a fourth main character, albeit always a half-step below the main trio in prominence.

Iroha Isshiki, who has naturally brown hair, talking in episode 11 of the second season of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU.
Iroha (left) and Hachiman (right) in the anime.

Iroha is my favorite character in the series, so I was naturally interested to see if the novels, which are closely followed by the anime but more detailed on some points due to lack of time constraints, offered some additional context into her character. In both the novels and the anime, Iroha is depicted as having light brown hair. I thought nothing of it when I watched the anime because (A) there are some vague references to hair dye in the series and (B) many of the characters have dyed or otherwise unnatural hair colors. The anime made no reference to Iroha’s hair. However, the novel included an interesting observation about Iroha’s hair in the internal monologue of the viewpoint character, Hachiman:

[H]er shoulder-length light-brown hair swayed. It seemed that was her natural color—perhaps the flecks of sunlight dancing across it were due to her cuticles.

Hachiman Hikigaya

I found this line interesting. Hachiman is nothing but hyper-observant of those around him in a particularly introverted way. Here, he makes clear his view from staring at Iroha’s scalp that she is a natural light brunette. I thought the passage was interesting because the author, through his view-point protagonist, thought it was worth highlighting. I also found it interesting because there is no evidence in the novel that Iroha is anything but fully Japanese, and most Japanese people do not have naturally light brown hair. I highlighted and bookmarked the passage on my e-reader. Note that I thought this was interesting enough to highlight and bookmark before the idea of turning it into a New Leaf Journal article, much less making it the start of a series of New Leaf Journal articles, had ever crossed my mind.

The referenced Iroha quote still did not trigger my article project. The spark came from two real world articles. I came across a 2019 article about a Japanese middle school student with naturally occurring brown hair who was allegedly forced to dye her hair black in order to come into compliance with a dress code which, on its face, prohibited ‘unnatural’ hair colors. I found that article interesting enough to cover with my own essay. When I was researching the brown hair dress code issue, I came across another article on the same site (SoraNews24) titled Do Japanese people think all those anime characters REALLY have blue, pink, and green hair? I kid you not – going down the rabbit hole on the real hair color dress code story led me to an article that specifically focused on how anime viewers understand unusual anime hair colors.

It was while I was writing the dress code story article, which I published on February 7, 2021, that I recalled the quote about Iroha’s brown hair that I had read a couple of months earlier (I do not remember precisely when I read the novel but I will guess it was in November or December of 2020). The dress code story made me think of Iroha because the real life girl was singled out precisely because she was fully Japanese (no indication that she had a non-racially Japanese parent) and for that reason did not receive the benefit of the doubt that a foreign or mixed-race Japanese student may have. Similarly, there is no indication that Iroha is perceived as not being fully Japanese. The anime article inspired me because the source material for the anime in this case – the novel – explicitly tells the reader how to interpret Iroha’s brown hair and, in so doing, how this distinguishes her from some characters who are noted to have dyed hair (e.g., one of the three main characters, Yui Yuigahama, is noted to dye her hair). I started putting together the Iroha article not long after publishing the real dress code article and it went live on February 12, 2021 (see Iroha Isshiki’s Hair is Brown, as Expected?).

The Iroha article is a genuine foundation for all the hair color articles to come. In that piece, I actually led with the SoraNews24 article about understanding hair color in anime and articulated a methodology to follow in my studies. First, I try to understand the world of the anime and if the world, in and of itself, is something that on its face contemplates, if not allows, naturally occurring unnatural hair colors. If so, the series is unlikely to present a compelling hair color study. If the series has a real-world setting or something similar, it may be worth seeing if it addresses unusual hair colors. From that foundation, I analyzed My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, which has a grounded, real-world, modern high school setting and then examined how it acknowledges the use of hair dye at several points. Then, using evidence in the novel, I explained how it subverts our expectations in the case of Iroha by making a point of noting that Iroha’s brown hair, unlike the brown hair of Yui Yuigahama, is the real thing.

I viewed the Iroha article as the beginning of a project, and that is part of why I wrote it with a meaningful introduction before discussing the series proper. Less than one month later, I published my second article in what would turn into the series, this one addressing a minor character from the same series as Iroha – Kaori Orimoto. Shortly after writing the Iroha article, I read volume 9 of the novel series. There, it described Orimoto as having black hair. She is also depicted as having black hair in the novel. Why would this be notable? She clearly isn’t dying her hair. It was notable because I remembered that the anime depicted her with brown hair. Here, I concluded that Oregairu (the colloquial name for the whole series) is an odd hair color piece in that some hair color in the anime is to be understood literally while others are a matter of artistic deviation away from the source material.

Kaori Orimoto talking to Hachiman Hikigaya in episode 6 of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO! (Oregairu)
Hachiman (left) and Orimoto (right). Orimoto has brown hair in the anime but she is explicitly described as having black hair in the underlying novels.

The hair color project went on the back-burner for a while until August 19, 2021. I finally got around to watching Kimi ni Todoke, a series that aired from 2009 to 2011, in 2021. One episode acknowledged the existence of hair color in the world of Kimi ni Todoke, so I turned that into an article. For whatever it is worth, I think this hair color study is materially less interesting than the two Oregairu cases, but as we will see later, search engines disagreed. My final 2021 hair color article looked at a series I was watching as a simulcast that fall, My Senpai is Annoying, where we learned that despite the series being set in modern Japan and having no superpowers, the main character had naturally green hair.

With those four articles, we were off to the hair color races. But did anyone actually read the articles? Let us find out!

Strands of Attention

Note before continuing that all statistics come courtesy of our local page visit counting solution, Koko Analytics, which I discussed in a 2022 review.

The New Leaf Journal did not receive many visitors in 2020. We started to see significant growth in December 2020, January 2021, and February 2021, with each month significantly improving on the last (it is worth noting that we average more viewers per week these days than we received for any of those three months). I note this only to explain that the threshold for success in early 2021 and throughout 2021 generally was different than what it is today.

I was curious when I published the Iroha article whether it would generate some traffic from searches, which we had only begun to start seeing consistently not long before the article was published. The initial returns indicated not. For whatever it is worth, the final season of the anime had ended definitively in September 2020 and the novel series had also concluded, so it was not as if this was necessarily a hot topic even though Oregairu as a whole is popular. To my surprise, the Orimoto article actually performed well by the standards of when it was published, notching not one but two month-end top 10s before fading. Then in September 2021, my Iroha article came from nowhere to post what would be the best hair color article month until January 2023 (it is still one of the better hair color article months). While I do not know definitively what caused it, I have reason to believe someone linked to it in an Archive of Our Own fan-fiction story. Iroha did not do too much outside of September 2021 and my My Senpai is Annoying article did not make much of an initial impression despite going live while the series was ongoing, but to my surprise, the least dramatic of the hair color articles, my piece on Kimi ni Todoke (I note again a series that had been off the air for more than a decade) had a strong December and did enough to make the year-end top 50 most-visited articles despite having been live for less than one-third of the year.

2021 Hair Color Article Performance

ArticleMonthly Top 12sWeekly Top 5sYear-End Rank
Iroha Isshiki’s Hair is Brown, as Expected?Sep (10)N/A23
Kaori Orimoto’s Hair is Blacker than I ExpectedApril (10); May (11)N/A26
Understanding Hair Color in the Kimi ni Todoke Anime SeriesDec (12)N/A43

None of the three hair color articles that made a splash were consistent, but we had enough traffic even in 2021 to make having all three in the top 43 worth noting. I still viewed anime hair color studies as more of a niche project for fun than something that would consistently attract new visitors, especially since none of my early anime articles lit Koko Analytics on fire. But I suppose anything is possible.

2022 remains our best-ever New Leaf Journal year in terms of visits for two reasons: Four articles made Hacker News page one and, unlike in 2023, we were not blacklisted by Bing for much of the year. While 2022 was good to The New Leaf Journal as a whole, it was not so great for anime hair color articles attracting visitors. I published two articles on hair color in Japanese visual novels, one of which I think is actually one of the best of the broader series, and one on real-world dress code stories, but all three failed to make an impression. The Oregairu duo also did little of note in 2022. But there was an easy-to-miss sign that something was brewing…

ArticleMonthly Top 12sWeekly Top 5sYear-End Rank
Understanding Hair Color in the Kimi ni Todoke Anime SeriesN/AN/A42
Futaba Igarashi’s Hair Is Naturally Green?N/AN/A53

Both of these articles actually posted more absolute views than the Iroha article did in 2021 (Futaba narrowly so) – but 2022 was much more competitive (albeit, to be fair, a rising tide lifts all boats – so these articles likely benefited from the overall traffic as well). What this chart does not show is that the Kimi ni Todoke article posted its best month in December 2022, and that was good enough that I noticed it, although without thinking much of it. I missed a certain announcement that Kimi ni Todoke was picked up by Netflix. How did that turn out? Let us see the 2023 ranking…

ArticleMonthly Top 12sWeekly Top 5sYear-End Rank
Understanding Hair Color in the Kimi ni Todoke Anime SeriesJan (7); Feb (8)223
Futaba Igarashi’s Hair Is Naturally Green?N/AN/A30
Sawako's friends Ayane and Chizuru imagine Sawako changing her hairstyle with horror in episode 9 of the Kimi ni Todoke anime.
Screen capture from Kimi ni Todoke.

The Kimi ni Todoke article posted the two best anime hair color article months yet seen, and by best I mean its January and February numbers doubled the previous record set by the Iroha article in September 2020. This was clearly thanks to interest generated by Netflix adding Kimi ni Todoke and the even more unexpected announcement that the series would receive a third season more than a decade after the second season ended. Futaba also did unexpectedly well in light of the fact the anime had stopped airing in 2021.

I published six new hair color articles in 2023 (five anime, one visual novel). This turned out to be something of a mixed bag. What may be my finest anime hair color article, a look at a character with naturally brown hair in Ippon Again! – which was actually airing when I wrote it – being accused of a dress code violation did not attract any meaningful traffic. But the last two articles, while decidedly less interesting than the Ippon Again! piece, would be significant. On November 15, 2023, I decided to write about artistic hair color choices in The Apothecary Diaries, a popular then (and still) ongoing anime set in a fictionalized version of ancient China. That reminded me of a 2022 anime I had seen in 2022, Raven in the Inner Palace, which is also set in a fictionalized version of ancient China and has its own hair color point of interest. I published both on November 15, 2023, and with them I published a new collection hub for people to find all of the hair color posts in one place.

In January 2024, Hair Color in Raven of the Inner Palace posted an unexpected 10th place finish on the month. While that is not the best in ranking terms (Kimi ni Todoke’s 7th from January 2023 held the distinction), Raven actually narrowly beat Kimi ni Todoke’s best month in 2023 in absolute numerical terms. It also notched a weekly top five finish in January, becoming only the second hair color article to do so. Now I do not actually know what caused this, but it was a sign of bigger things to come.

February 2024 was the triumph of anime hair color.

On February 2, 2024, I published an article on the interesting hair color case of Yuki Itose in the still-ongoing anime series A Sign of Affection. That article was based on it being indirectly revealed in episode 2 that Yuki began dying her hair when she started college. Just one day after I published the Yuki article, I watched episode 5 when it aired and saw that episode 5 indirectly established the hair dying history of Yuki’s love interest, Itsuomi. I thought about amending the Yuki article but instead opted to write Itsuomi as a follow-up. See how they performed in the last four weekly rankings…

WeekYuki Article RankItsuomi Article Rank

First Yuki became the third hair color article to land in a weekly top five after Kimi ni Todoke and Raven. Then Itsuomi not only became the fourth, but became the first hair color article to top a weekly ranking, which it did two more times. Unsurprisingly, we made some hair color ranking history in February as well.

ArticleFebruary Rank
Itsuomi’s Hair Color in A Sign of Affection1
Yuki’s Hair Color in A Sign of Affection3
Hair Color in The Apothecary Diaries Anime22
Hair Color in Raven of the Inner Palace24

Itsuomi unexpectedly became the first hair color article to lead a monthly ranking and only the third anime article to do so (the first two anime articles to earn the honor covered height differences in anime romances and heights in The Dangers in My Heart). Yuki’s third would have been the highest hair color finish but for Itsuomi. Both of these articles blew away the previous page views record for a hair color article set by Raven of the Inner Palace in January 2024. Speaking of Raven, both it and Apothecary Diaries checked in my top 24 in what was one of our best months on record (the latter two posted about the same visitor numbers in absolute terms as Iroha for her 10th place finish in September 2021). The stunning month for anime hair color articles was even more impressive when we account for the fact that February was one of our best months per record in terms of views per day.

Itsuomi peers closely into Yuki's eyes on a train in A Sign of Affection's first episode.
Yuki (left) and Itsuomi (right). Thanks to the level of hair color detail in A Sign of Affection, we not only know for certain that both of them dye their hair, but also what there natural hair color is and roughly when they started dying their hair.

If all this success (it’s all relative I suppose) was not enough, I learned while reading the Cabbagesorter blog that at least one person out there follows the hair color project (not much else according to the blurb – I would not have guessed that the hair color project would ever be a leading hook).

Hair Color Tips

This concludes my history of my peculiar anime (and other Japanese media!) hair color project. I figured that the run of dominance achieved by the A Sign of Affection duo in February made this the moment to explain how the project came to be. It is entirely possible that the A Sign of Affection articles (there are now four) may continue their run through March, but time will tell.

Despite the A Sign of Affection success, it seems to be somewhat random which hair color articles will do well. For example, my hair color article on My Senpai is Annoying is not one of the more interesting of the bunch, but it has been a consistent performer long after the anime concluded. Conversely, I thought my Ippon! Again article last year covered very interesting (admittedly relative) hair color material and the anime was fresh when I published it, but I saw no evidence that anyone found it. While the A Sign of Affection posts are clearly being driven by the fact that the anime is ongoing and relatively popular (it is a good series, for whatever it is worth – so, well-deserved), the series is actually remarkably detailed when it comes to accounting for hair color, so I am glad that the two break-out articles are on a notably interesting hair color case.

Going forward, I will continue to be on the lookout for interesting hair color notes in anime and related media. I have a hair color project related to a visual novel called True Remembrance, which I reviewed on February 29, 2024, planned for the near future. I am also thinking about whether I can come up with good hair color cases in some of the many series I watched when I was not thinking much about the subject. If you happen to be one of the few people who follows specifically for the hair color, you should continue to see some new studies periodically here at The New Leaf Journal.