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Introducing Otacore, the music genre tripping on Japanese fandom culture

By Malavika Pradeep

Feb 20, 2022

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Shortly after Spotify Wrapped goes live every year, several subreddits witness an influx of screenshots asking others what their top genres of the year mean. Among Catstep, Escape Room, Weirdcore, Orgcore and Nintendocore is an incognito—and often misunderstood—category with roots in Japanese popular culture.

Introducing Otacore, a music genre synonymous with the labels “weeb music” and “nerd tunes” on the internet. Although I wouldn’t (entirely) blame cringe culture for forming these perceptions, Otacore deserves due differentiations from its fandom-based counterparts. So, Shinzou wo Sasageyo and let’s dive in.

What is Otacore?

Coined by Every Noise at Once, an ongoing project by Spotify which attempts to generate acoustic maps of music genres using an algorithm, Otacore is the portmanteau of the words ‘otaku’ and ‘core’. While the former is a mildly-offensive term used alongside ‘weeb’ to describe people with consuming interests in Japanese anime (hand-drawn or computer animation) and manga (comics or graphic novels), the latter is the suffix used to categorise hardcore tunes in the industry.

When both of these terms are merged together, ‘Otacore’ oozes the impression of an anime-obsessed teen listening to the so-called “weeb music”—seated on a gaming chair facing multiple desktops with LED lights, Funko POP! Bobbleheads and posters choking their walls. Let’s not forget the $1 Death Note-inspired diaries and Tokyo Revengers’ Toman jacket anxiously stuffed into their closets.

Although this is how Otacore is perceived by the internet at large, it’s far from the truth. Sure, it has roots in anime, but it’s a genre based on Japanese pop culture fandoms as a whole. This could be anything from video game effects, anime, drama and movie soundtracks, or commercials. Even those Japanese dream pops that have been going viral on TikTok lately—for example, Miki Matsubara’s ‘Mayonaka no Door / Stay with Me’—are in the Otacore mix. And yes, even Deadman 死人’s iconic hit ‘Omae Wa Mou’ that spawned a TikTok dance craze also falls under the genre.

J-pop, J-rock, Nightcore and more

The inclusive element of Otacore is what makes the genre difficult to define. Although several outlets have classified it as a blend of pop and electronic music “that would normally be heard in anime soundtracks,” it’s worth noting how the genre incorporates areas of interest rather than specific music styles.

Simply put, all of those Otacore playlists you see on Spotify seek to tell stories based on their pop culture references rather than just make you listen to the music—which, again, could be lo-fi, rock, death metal or dream pop. If you’re an Attack on Titan fan, imagine streaming one of these playlists and coming across ‘Boku no Sensou / My War’ by Shinsei Kamattechan. You’ll automatically visualise the colourful flames and bombs going off against a crisp white background with soldiers marching all over it. Now imagine the next track being the action video game Genshin Impact’s official theme song. You’re suddenly hit up with hazy castles, infinite walkways and open tree breezes. A rollercoaster ride, am I right?

A genre that Otacore is often confused with is Nightcore. Triggered into existence as a subgenre of hyperpop (also known as digicore) and trance music, Nightcore is characterised by original songs that are remixed by increasing their pitch and speeding them up by approximately 35 per cent. “This gives an effect almost identical to playing a 33.3 revolutions per minute (RPM) vinyl record at 45 RPM,” Wikipedia goes on to note. Given how Nightcore videos on YouTube often feature anime girls as thumbnails, it’s easy to understand the mixup.

While the two genres at hand may have influenced each other, their sounds and stories are not the same. In fact, Otacore is yet to be realised as an ‘official’ genre by organisations in the industry like Billboard and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Heck, even Google Docs is having a hard time recognising the term as I’m writing this article.

Even without the industry’s backing and recognition, however, Otacore effectively captures gen Z’s rising interests in Japanese popular culture worldwide—alongside itashas and the overarching animecore aesthetic. Meanwhile, its fans, who are at the core of the music movement, don’t mind the lack of official support either. So the next time someone asks you “What the hell is that?” while you stream an Otacore playlist out loud, take a deep breath and holler “hot girl shit.”

And if all of this talk has evoked your interests in the genre, here are some of the Otacore artists worth checking out:

1. Linked Horizon

2. The Oral Cigarettes

3. DEEP SQUAD

4. MC Virgins

5. Akano