Hello, and welcome to a rather ridiculous blog post. As an enjoyer of nekomimi – that is cat-eared characters – in anime, I’ve chosen to review how the trope has developed throughout 2021. This is intended as a bit of a parody of similar annual reviews in academia. I’m not taking this writing very seriously, and you probably shouldn’t either.
That being said, let’s take a look at what happened to cat characters in 2021!
Of the many terms to describe cat-eared characters (“nekomimi”, “catgirl”, “catboy”, “catperson”, “nekomusume”), the most popular one by far is “catgirl”, according to Google. For that reason, I’m using the term as a proxy for more general interest in nekomimi, at least in the English speaking world.
[Google Trend data for "catgirl" for the last 5 years. The spike in Oct '21 is off the chart, peaking at 100 points higher than expected]
Google Trends shows that searches for the term has generally increased over the past 5 years, growing at an average rate of 1.17 points per year. The graph above shows that for most of 2019 and 2020, searches for "catgirl" grew slower than expected. However in 2021 it seems we've gotten out of this slump. In October of this year, especially there was an extreme spike in the number of searches.
Initially, I suspected that this increase was the result of people preparing cat-themed costumes for Halloween, but a comparison to previous years’ data indicates that searches for “catgirls” should remain fairly constant the entire year. That is to say: We do not expect to see a Halloween spike. So why was this year different?
As far as I can tell, this attention was due to two things:
-  The release of a catgirl themed cryptocurrency on October 21st
-  Notorious meme man Elon Musk tweeting about catgirls 3 times that same week (possibly to influence prices of )
While it is unfortunate that this interest in catgirls had not much to do with actual nekomimi in anime, I’m hoping that it nonetheless kicks off demand for new neko-style content. Because, as we’ll see in the next sections, we’re in desperate need of it.
[Musk tweeting about catgirls in October 2021]
Nekomimi representation in anime has been absolutely dreadful for 2021. In preparation for this blogpost, I’ve combed Google, Reddit, Twitter and quite a few anime databases in order to figure out what cat-eared characters made their debut this year. After many hours, I’ve come up with a disappointingly small list. Here is quick summary of what I could find.
Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro features the titular character dressing up as ‘Nekotoro’ and her friends donning the ‘Torocat’ mascot costumes. As a recurring gag, Komi-san occasionally grows cat ears in Komi Can’t Communicate. Though originally played as one of Komi’s reactions, other characters in-universe are able to see them too, for some reason. And for fall anime, The Fruit of Evolution featured Origa Calmeria sportting nekomimi as well.
[Komi's cat ears pop up throughout the series]
Although not strictly a cat, I consider Jahy’s hairstyle “cat-like” enough to mention The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated on this list as well.
Outside of Japanese animation, we found a few neko characters as well. Mao Ling Xiangce features an entire island of them doing standard moe things. And Crunchyroll introduced Olive as a villanous catgirl for their original High Guardian Spice series.
What is there to say about the catpeople of 2021? Unfortunately, not much. Anime nekomimi appear to have fallen by the wayside. We may glimpse a cat ear here and there, but they are all too brief. Their moments in these series are typically meant to augment a character’s humorous quirks rather than be a key element of their identity.
Adendum: The following characters were graciously mentioned by Ohayotaku after this article was originally written. Thank you for the input!
- Mushoku Tensei's Ghislane
- Platinum End's Saki
- Rumble Garanndoll's Misa Kuroki + cat mech
I’m horribly out of touch with the manga scene. If I figure out any cat characters that appeared in new manga this year, this section will be edited to include them.
With the continued rise of virtual youtubers this year, it is worth examining this aspect of internet culture for cat aesthetics as well. Hololive, saw idols Lamy, Rushia, Flare, Luna, Gura and Kiara all debut versions of their avatars with cat ears. Searches on the Virtual Youtuber Wiki and Twitter reveal that neko-inspired outfits remain popular choices in freshening up vtuber wardrobes. The addition of cat ears to established outfits is often nothing more than superficial change, but in a nekomimi-starved world, it is a welcome sight.
For the sake of brevity and relevance, I cannot list all of the smaller personalities I’ve found here, but be assured, they’re out there if you take a minute to look. And it is also worth mentioning that there seemed to be more neko-tuber activity in 2020. Had I done this review a year earlier, this section could have been a lot more interesting.
[HololiveEN member Kiara showing off nekomimi avatar]
Looking ahead, I am hoping for a nekomimi revival in 2022. Over the years, the archetype has lost popularity to other kemononomimi such as kitsune, as well as fully anthropomorphized characters. But the appreciation for cat ears is still out there. And if the Catgirl Re-NYA-ssaince doesn’t happen this year, I will be happy if there are just one or two good cat characters to enjoy.
As 2022 rolls around, I hope to acquire a better sense of where to find nekomimi related content. That alone will greatly improve the quality of future reviews. If you have any such resources or know of characters I didn’t cover, I would be extremely appreciative if you shared them. I’m looking forward to writing another one of these in a year. Thank you for reading!
Edited by kamomesan
Additional nekomimi added