Saeyeon Ju & Amy Wang

Menhera-chan is a Japanese animated female character who derives magical powers from acts of self-harm such as cutting her wrist. She was created by artist Bisuko Ezaki in 2013 and is the unofficial face of yami kawaii, a form of Japanese kawaii subculture that connects cuteness to darker themes including depression, self-harm, and other forms of mental illnesses. Her name itself reflects these darker themes, as the term menhera is used in Japan to describe people who experience some sort of mental illness. Regarding her appearance, Menhera-chan is a cute, small girl with two pink pigtails in purple bows; she wears a pink schoolgirl uniform, white tights, and a pair of black loafers (see Figure 1). Her left arm is bound with white bandages, and she wears a purple bow around her neck with a red heart brooch attached to it. Lastly, she wears a kagome crest on her neck, which symbolizes a union of opposites. 

Figure 1. Menhera-chan.

Menhera-chan is interesting in the way she expresses the rather stigmatized subject of mental illness. As mental health issues are highly stigmatized in Japan, individuals who experience these issues often find it difficult to feel validated and seen.[1] Because mental illnesses and mental health issues are not fully acknowledged in the country, Menhera-chan challenges Japanese cultural norms, as she very visibly wears her bandages. Her conspicuous signs of self-harm not only normalize mental illness, but also empower individuals who struggle with them since her character transforms into a heroine by cutting her wrists. Although the trigger for this transformation can be interpreted as insensitive to serious issues, it can be seen as an empowering transformation that fosters a greater sense of understanding and discourse on mental illness. Menhera-chan’s creator, Bisuko, states, “I wanted to show people things that people generally may not want to see, but these are things that people experience.”[2]

Menhera-chan’s potential can be experienced in Japan and other countries in which mental health issues are generally not discussed. As kawaii culture has become an increasingly global phenomenon, more people are accepting and enjoying kawaii characters like Hello Kitty, allowing once “foreign” characters to become more normalized in the West and other parts of the world.[3] This has led to characters like Menhera-chan being more easily accepted and enjoyed across various locations outside of Japan. Specifically in the U.S., discourse surrounding mental health is somewhat prevalent. However, children of Asian immigrant parents do not necessarily experience such discourse and acceptance, as, according to erin Khuê Ninh, they “must surrender rights; the model minority Future, after all, must not be endangered present-day freedoms.”[4] Many Asian Americans view mental health as a sacrifice that many Asian American children make as a result of their parents’ cultural upbringing; thus, even in populations outside of Japan, there is an existing need for the destigmatization of mental illnesses overall. When looking at the message that Menhera-chan sends to audiences, the juxtaposition of darker themes with her cute sailor uniform and playful, bright colors contributes to her increasing popularity, as she uses the opposing meanings to generate a more positive association for those with mental illnesses.[5]

Bisuko describes the production of the Menhera-chan comic as an “escape from reality” that reflects a time when he was under immense stress due to college exam preparation and personal issues.[6] His creation of Menhera-chan and her subsequent rapid rise to popularity in Japan may indicate a growing shift toward self-care, which has emerged as a response to the nation’s inadequate social support systems. Many young Japanese people face the loss of “earlier forms of social support and community” due to various factors such as changing economic situations, bullying in school, isolation, and general stress.[7] Yet, a greater shift in responsibility for mental health from the “state... onto the individual” has occurred instead of the implementation of better social support systems for citizens.[8] The gravity of mental health problems and associated self-harm are softened by their association with the “traditionally innocuous” kawaii aesthetic. When combined, these dissonant concepts create a darkly humorous yet relatable aesthetic that offers a way to confront and express mental illness in a creative and comforting manner.[9]

Figure 2. “Wrist cut warriors” who derive superpowers from cutting their wrists.

In global popular media, characters who practice self-injury are “predominantly female adolescents who self-cut.”[10] One type of Japanese comic containing self-injuring characters is the popular shōjo manga, which has a target audience of girls eighteen years and younger. In comics of this category that feature self-harming female characters, self-injury is portrayed as a coping mechanism against external pressures such as bullying in school or controlling parents. The characters are primarily the protagonists of the comics, and detailed descriptions of their internal thoughts and struggles are provided from a first-person perspective. In this way, the manga acts as a guideline, allowing readers to relate to the female protagonists’ experiences and emotions and “walk through life struggles” together.[11] A sort of empathy extends from the comics, as self-harm is established as an “understandable response to contemporary pressures placed upon young girls.” Self-injury is also seen as a “gesture of friendship or group membership,” demonstrating the desire for connection with a group of people who are accepting as well as escaping from uncontrollable, threatening situations. For Menhera-chan, self-injuring through wrist-cutting allows her to unlock her superpowers and exert power over the stressful situations she is placed in. As young readers relate to Menhera-chan’s youthfulness and struggles (such as being bullied in school), her experiences become a guideline for dealing with mental health issues and frame mentally ill individuals as powerful and independent. Additionally, Menhera-chan is friends with two other girls, Sabukaru-chan and Yumekawa-chan, who have similar superpowers (see Figure 2). Together, the three girls become “magical character[s] and fight evil.”[12]

Perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of Menhera-chan’s comic is its visual elements, which include syringes, nooses, pills, and self-harm motifs. The comic’s many depicted ornaments have resulted in a “unique material culture” and commodification of the objects.[13] Bisuko’s Twitter and Instagram bios include a linked website with updates on his and Menhera-chan’s appearances at conventions and other events. The website also includes a shop featuring Menhera-chan and yami kawaii-themed stickers, tote bags, badges, and pastel clothing items decorated with words such as “death” and “kill.” These clothing items and accessories serve as a means for people to express their “inner turmoil and social discomfort” in a cute manner.[14] The playful and direct acknowledgments are beneficial in that they allow for open discourse about stigmatized mental health themes in a space outside of clinical contexts. Moreover, they transform self-injuries into “removable accessor[ies],” giving people an opportunity to exert control over how they want their mental illness to be expressed. However, there have also been controversies related to darkly cute commodities. For instance, the “risuka bangle” (produced by fashion brand Conpeitou in collaboration with Menhera-chan) depicts a graphic wrist cut surrounded by cute Menhera-chan characters and animals (see Figure 3). The bracelet and similar merchandise have been accused of trivializing self-harm and other mental health issues by treating serious topics as mere producible fashion trinkets.

Figure 3. The Menhera-chan X Conpeitou risuka bangle bracelet.

A different controversy associated with Menhera-chan and yami kawaii relates to Menhera-chan’s creator himself. While Bisuko is well-known in the menhera and yami kawaii communities, he has been criticized for attempting to “register Yami Kawaii as his trademark” when people believe he cannot take credit for creating the aesthetic.[15] In addition, the internet has seen an outcry against problematic and misogynistic remarks that the artist previously posted on Twitter. 

While Menhera-chan’s comic contains controversial visual elements such as syringes, nooses, and wrist-cutting, it has garnered popularity due to its relatability and willingness to touch on stigmatized topics that those affected by mental illness may not find adequate support for. Depictions of menhera characters have a powerful role in shaping people’s experiences with self-injury, and the dual cuteness and gravity of Bisuko’s comics open “spaces for vocality” when clinical approaches are insufficient to describe one’s pain and experiences.[16] While some regard the placing of mental health and self-injury in a cute context as trivializing these highly stigmatized and sensitive topics, characters like Menhera-chan are arguably unfolding new avenues for self-expression and control over individual experiences with mental illness.  

Published: 6/30/2023


[1] Shuntaro Ando, Sosei Yamaguchi, Yuta Aoki, and Graham Thornicroft. “Review of mental health related stigma in Japan,” Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 67, no. 7 (November 2013): 471-72.

[2] Mai Nguyen, “When Dark and Cute Meet: Yami Kawaii with Bisuko Ezaki,” Asia Pacific Arts, December 12, 2018,

[3] Christine R. Yano, Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty's Trek Across the Pacific (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013).

[4] erin Khuê Ninh, “The Model Minority: Asian American Immigrant Families and Intimate Harm,” Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies 1, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 172.

[5] Sabrina Greene, “Performing the branded self: Harajuku fashion and South Korean cosmetics as tools of neoliberal self-branding on social media” (MA thesis, McGill University, 2019), 41.

[6] Jimmy H, “All you need to know about Menhera Chan,” Art Design Asia, accessed May 21, 2023,

[7] Amanda S. Robinson, “Finding healing through animal companionship in Japanese animal cafés,” Medical Humanities 45, no. 2 (June 2019): 190.

[8] Robinson, "Finding healthing," 193.

[9] Yukari Seko and Minako Kikuchi, “Mentally Ill and Cute as Hell: Menhera Girls and Portrayals of Self-Injury in Japanese Popular Culture,” Frontiers in Communication 7 (2022): 9.

[10] Seko and Kikuchi, “Mentally Ill and Cute as Hell,” 2.

[11] Yukari Seko and Minako Kikuchi, “Self-Injury in Japanese Manga: A Content Analysis,” Journal of Medical Humanities 42, no. 3 (2021): 364.

[12] Jimmy H, “All you need to know about Menhera Chan.”

[13] Seko and Kikuchi, “Mentally Ill and Cute as Hell,” 9.

[14] Seko and Kikuchi, “Mentally Ill and Cute as Hell,” 9.

[15] “Yami Kawaii,” Fandom, accessed April 24, 2023,

[16] Seko and Kikuchi, “Mentally Ill and Cute as Hell,” 10.