Japanese Fashion Wikia

'WARNING': This page discusses issues of mental health, which, although not graphic, may be triggering for some readers. Please read with caution.

Yami Kawaii is a sickly cute fashion that was derived from Yume Kawaii with a strong emphasis on sickness motifs. It is part of Anti-Kawaii which adds opposing elements to typical kawaii style in order to leave a greater impact. As the word yami means both "sick" and "dark", it revolves around not only medical but also dark themes related to mental health. [1]

It is often confused with the Gurokawa trend, which revolves around horror and gore, but Yami Kawaii has a more cutesy spin to it with lots of anime-style illustrations, and is not bloody or gory. [2]

The Name[]

Yami Kawaii (病みかわいい) provokes two of the biggest taboo topics in Japan: depression and mental illness. The term is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for "sick" (病み) and "cute" (かわいい), and impresses with its combination of pastel colors and black. It particularly reflects serious issues in its motifs, and that is what makes it interesting for many. [1][2]

Style Basics[]

Yami Kawaii has similarities to both Yume Kawaii and the Gurokawa trend that were popular around the mid-2010s. However, it has its own aspects that make it stand out as a distinct style. [1][3]

Color Scheme[]

The color scheme of Yami Kawaii is the opposite to Yume Kawaii, with more dark colors dominating the style than its counterpart. Pastel colors, like light pink or baby blue, are also occasionally used but are often paired with black. [3][4]


Yami Kawaii in fashion doesn't have many rules. The motifs of the clothing combine opposing things like cute looking text styles with depressive texts. For instance, a pastel pink shirt with bubble lettering will have a "yami" message, like “I want to die” or “Kill you." Images such as guns, pills referencing medication addictions, and other disturbing themes are common and have to be present in some form to make the outfit no longer simply kawaii, but Yami Kawaii. [2][3]


Yami Kawaii accessories will often continue the offputting theme, with things such as bandages, skulls, pink blood, and gasmasks being popular. Sometimes these accessories may be a little darker, pointing more directly towards more dangerous aspects of struggling with mental illnesses. For instance, wearing a rope around the neck like a choker, or a syringe with dripping blood necklace, or gauze wrapped around a wrist.


There is a wide range of makeup style that can be worn within Yami Kawaii, but undereye blush, also known as byojaku, seems to be the most common. The sickly look of the red or pink eye makeup is further enhanced by drawing puffy eye bags. [5]




The original character and manga series "Menhera-chan" by Ezaki Bisuko in particular is credited to have helped the spread of Yami Kawaii. The development behind the whole thing was, as you can guess, not a particularly nice one.

Ezaki Bisuko's parents divorced when he was a child, from which he suffered all his childhood. During this time, he had to endure many insults and humiliations, which caused him to develop a mental illness. [6]

The manga follows a group of magical girls who fight "evil spirits", which are symbolic for mental illness, in order to free people from their corruption. There's also short stories featuring the characters for the purpose of social commentary on current events in the real world.[7]

The character and artist inspired many other people to use art as a creative outlet to break the silence regarding their suffering. However, in recent years, there also have been critical voices accusing the artist of solely using the topic of mental health as sales point. [8][9] This conclusion has been strengthened further with an increasing amount of collaborations with fashion brands featuring barely-clothes, self-harming girls as fetish objects.[10]


News header zenbukiminoseida art201507 1

Zenbu Kimi no Sei da.

Generally, although Yami Kawaii is meant to bring attention to mental illnesses, it is all done in good fun. It is often seen as a silly or light-hearted way to bring attention to a serious topic. [2] The style is also seen as a way to empower those who feel they have been silenced on the topic, even though the topic itself may be hard to deal with.

However, some who wear the fashion, especially those who identify as menhera, can tend to see their mental illness as a part of their whole personality, moving yami kawaii from just a fashion style, to a lifestyle. [11] Although most who wear the style relate to it because they suffer from mental health issues, not all do. Especially younger people simply enjoy the aesthetic of the style as a form of self-expression. [9]

Some have criticized yami kawaii for making mental illnesses "trendy" or something to be emulated, especially when it comes to popular figures who push the style. [9] For instance, the idol group Zenbu Kimi no Sei da. actively promotes the style, and their Yami Kawaii music discusses serious themes such as depression and suicide. However, others say it is simply a useful tool to share an important issue and usher in change. [12]

Brands & Shops[]


External Links[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bisuko Ezaki on the Histroy of Yami Kawaii. Harajuku-Pop. December 1, 2022. Retrieved December 9, 2022 from https://harajuku-pop.com/67775
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Misha Janette "Yami Kawaii, the sick subculture of kawaii." Tokyo Fashion Diaries April 18, 2016. Retrived December 9, 2022http://www.tokyofashiondiaries.com/yami-kawaii-subculture/
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Menhera TV. "Genres of Kawaii: Yami Kawaii." August 17, 2018. Retrieved August 26, 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUdUh62NpOU&t=83s
  4. "Cuteness you can't escape from! Summary of "Yamikawaii" fashions" Torothy. Retrieved December 9, 2022 from https://torothy.com/article/688/yami_kawaii
  5. "Japanese Girls Wearing "Sickly" Makeup Is Cute?" Japan Info. January 13, 2016. Retrieved August 26, 2020 from https://jpninfo.com/39368
  6. "[Interview] Bisuko Ezaki, author of Menhera-chan (translated title)" Jagzzi. (n.d.) 2016. Retrieved August 26, 2020 from https://web.archive.org/web/20161023200201/http://jagzzi.xyz/interview/bisko/
  7. "Contents" Atelier M.U. Retrieved December 9, 2022 from https://ateliermu.wixsite.com/ateliermu/character
  8. "[Original] Illustrator Bisuko Ezaki applied a Trademark Registration for the Genre Name" Togetter. March 12, 2019. Retrived December 09, 2022 from https://togetter.com/li/1327507
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Choom "Think Piece: Movement or Misinformation?" The Comm. August 21, 2019. Retrived December 9, 2022 from https://the-comm.online/blog/movement-or-misinformation/
  10. Bisuko Ezaki on Twitter. Aug 14, 2022. Retrieved July 19, 2023 from https://twitter.com/BisukoEzaki/status/1558682373205635072
  11. "Style Out There - The Dark Side of Harajuku You Haven't Seen Yet." Refinery29 Documentary. February 24, 2018. Retrieved August 26, 2020 from https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/yami-kawaii-fashion-harajuku-style-dark
  12. Zenbu Kimi no Sei da: ゆくえしれずつれづれ, ShitEndプラシーボ, うぇゆうぇゆうぉっ〜ヒネクレノタリ〜

For more information on the term Menhera and how it relates to Yami Kawaii, please see:

  • Menhera.jp - What is Menhera? Etymology, history, meaning, fashionizing, etc. (translated title)
  • Menhera.jp - Menhera and Kawaii Culture: The Birth of Yami Kawaii (translated title)
  • Menhera.jp - Fashionizing Menhera from a look on the "Wrist-cut Bracelet Incident" (translated title)