Kyoto Animation is one of Japan’s most famous anime studios. Besides its shows, the studio is famous for another thing: large eyes.

This piece originally appeared 10/21/15.

Many anime characters have abnormally large eyes. And many studios in Japan have their own house style. Kyoto Animation is no exception! What’s interesting is that the anime characters it creates often have similar eyes, hence the clever pun “Kyou Ani-Me” (京アニ目), which means, “Kyoto Animation Eyes.”

[Photo via 2ch]

The anime K-On! (lede image) was, in particular, noted for huge eyes, thus leading to the term in Japan けいおん目 or “K-On! eyes.”

[Image via GA]

The big K-On! eyes are not entirely Kyoto Animation’s fault. Below, you can see how the original manga (top) compares with the anime (middle).

[Image via けいおんファンサイト]

Those are the voice actors on the bottom.

Huge eyes, of course, originally came to Japanese manga via the big-eyed characters found in highly influential Western cartoons, such as the work of Walt Disney and Max Fleischer. (Read here for more on the development and meaning of anime.)


At this point, though, modern anime and manga are probably drawing more on dominant Japanese stylistic conventions than directly from, say, Betty Boop cartoons.

[Photo: maiki_doramu]

This is evident when you see drawings of people practicing their Kyoto Animation eyes.

[Photo: Furan495Toho]

[Photo: chiu_1234]

But what exactly makes a Kyoto Animation eye a Kyoto Animation eye? That’s a trickier question than you’d think.

[Photo: kinokio0121]

This is a close-up of your typical Kyoto Animation style eye.

[Photo: eroron_eroron2]

Using a practice drawing by Twitter user eroron_eroron2, let’s analyze the different parts of the Kyoto Animation style. Note that there are sometimes reflections in the bottom part of the eye, too.


If we look through anime the studio’s created, we do see a definite pattern. Again, this is not a bad thing! This is Kyoto Animation’s style.

[Photo via NicoHaya398]

[Photo via Other_8909]

[Photo via NicoHaya398]

[Photo: nnshrk63]

There are caveats, such as anime boy characters whose eyes are slightly smaller. This is a way to make them appear cooler. Anime boy characters with big eyes can be cuter.

[Photo: Rin874_252521]

Also, Kyoto Animation’s style has developed and changed over the years.

[Photo via 2ch]

There are some nuances, even in recent work from Kyoto Animation. For example, this is from 2014:

[Photo via 2ch]

And this is from 2015:

[Photo via 2ch]

They’re not exactly the same eyes, but you can tell that Kyoto Animation created these images.

[Photo via ettirgam2]

And that’s the way it should be.

Top image via avaronsukareto

To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter@Brian_Ashcraft.

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