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Synonyms: PWP
See also: rating, lime, Cream Lemon
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Lemon is a term from anime fandom used to designate a work with explicit erotic content. The term derives from an early pornographic anime/hentai from the 80s called Cream Lemon. A piece of fanfiction which includes the word 'lemon' in its title can be expected to be pure porn; others might warn that a work contains "a hint of lemon" or lime. The usage has not travelled much beyond anime fandom, though sightings have been reported in Harry Potter and Twilight fandoms.

Explicit sex stories in general, especially in anime fan fiction, are known as lemon, a term which comes from a Japanese slang term meaning "sexy" that itself derives from an early pornographic cartoon series called Cream Lemon.[1]

Usage Throughout Time

This article or section needs expansion.

How has the use of the term grown and diminished over time? Was there a "peak lemon" period?

TV Tropes has this to say about the spread and usage of "lemon" and related terms over time:
The term was originally specific to the anime fanfiction community, although by the early-middle 2000s it had spread to other fandoms as an alternative to just calling something porn or smut. The origin of the term is obscure, but the most common etymology traces it back to the classic hentai anime series Cream Lemon, by way of an early mailing list for publishing erotic anime fanfic, called "The Lemon List" in its honor. The term derives from the idea that like a lemon, sexuality looks beautiful and alluring, but when you experience it more directly, it's bitter and sour.[2]

In the late 90s/early 2000s, the term Sekkushiaru Roman came into use for the overtly romantic style of lemon.[3]

Screencap of Tumblr trending searches in February 2019, showing Les Miserables, Kingdom Hearts, Thomas Sanders, Superbowl, Lemon, and Naruto

The humorous Tumblr post "I feel like fandom generations are both very specific and easily conflated.", published in December 2018, included a generation dubbed "Citrus Cheesecake" (in between "I was there Gandalf" and "Archive of Our Saviours"). Some of the defining traits of this "generation" were listed as "DeviantArt and ff.net" and "“more of a lime than a lemon >//< but also kind of just a lemon with fluff?”"

Lemon works on AO3.png

Additionally, the subsequent generation "Archive of Our Saviours" included the traits "ratings that had nothing to do with fruit" "(thank gods)".[4]

In early 2019, due to Tumblr blocking NSFW tags, some Tumblr users brought back #lemon and other citrus terms to tag their NSFW content instead.[5]

NSFW will be tagged as #lemon
sorta NSFW is #Lime
Weird fet shit/ extreme NSFW is #orange
reblog to spread awareness that we’re back on the citrus scale[6]
I cannot fucking believe we’re going back to the damn citrus scale I feel like I’m being dragged ass first back into middle school [7]

The Citrus Scale

While "lemon" on its own was the most widespread term, fans developed a range of variant terms to describe different levels of explicit content contained within their stories, all oriented around citrus fruits. The definitions of these can vary, either because fans' recollections are unclear or because there were different conventions used by different groups of fans.

From The Fanfiction Glossary:

"Lemon" comes from the title of an anime called Cream Lemon, which is PWP in animated form. As far as I am aware, "lemon" refers and has always referred to any kind of explicit NC-17 sex in a story, and not specifically to F/F. Other shades commonly used in anime fandom are

  • "lime," denoting a tasteful seduction and fade-to-black or simply the R-rated version of the sex scene,
  • "lemonade," denoting a WAFFy lemon fic, and
  • "citrus" or "citrusy," indicating a strongly erotic tone without necessarily including graphic sex.
  • "Orange" sometimes pops up to describe stories involving just necking, but most authors don't bother. [8]

From the Protectors of the Plot Continuum wiki:

1. Citrus
Citrus is used to describe the most mild interactions on the scale, such as a romantic hug or a kiss on the cheek.

2. Orange
Orange is used for kissing, hugs, and some more touching beyond that that begins to have a hint of sexuality.

3. Lime
Lime goes further into the sexual, with heavy making out and possibly some light groping. Some might not have these, but rather qualify as a lime for hinting at lemon-scale action.

4. Lemon
Lemons have actual sex.

5. Grapefruit
Occasionally, a fifth fruit (well, fourth, since citrus itself isn't actually a single fruit) is added. It is generally said to be the X-rated or truly bizarre lemons, but it is not widely used.

Pineapple has been used sparingly to describe particularly kinky sex, though this does not seem to have caught on as much as other terms. [9] It is possible the term also comes from the hentai anime production company Pink Pineapple.

Lemon in Fan Communities

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Add fanfic archives that used the citrus/lemon system.

Some fan communities or fan sites have particular associations with the term lemon and related terms, due to either being anime-centric or hosting a high proportion of anime fanworks. Fanfiction archives that used the "citrus scale" included Noire Sensus and other sites that included both anime and western fandoms.


The popular quiz site Quizilla, which was home to a great deal of anime and manga fanworks, had a long and involved history of using lemon-related terms to avoid having explicit fanworks removed from the site.

After the site's official closure in 2014, a former Quizilla user created a Reddit thread to reminisce,[10] and many fans fondly remembered the use of "lemon" to denote smut.

I just went to search for it, after years of being away, and I'm officially heartbroken. My naive 15-18 year old self learned SO much from all the lemons. LOL
Oh god, lemons. And limes! I remember reading a few that even specified "just kinda lime-y, not full lime or lemon though!" Apparently there was some scale of citrus to show how sexy it got?
I wonder if teenage girls new to fan fiction know that term, or if it's specific to people who discovered fan fiction on sites like Quizilla and fanfiction.net that technically forbid pornographic scenes so teens came up with terms like lemons to get around the filters but let others know what was going down in their fanfic. 'Cause I haven't seen that term since … shit, I don't even know when. Before fic migrated to live journal, that's for sure.
I'm a guy and I know that term... but I first saw it on fanfiction.net lol. Never wrote one though (edit: that was a bit ambiguous i actually meant i've never written a fanfiction let alone a lemon)

In response, the original founder of Quizilla, Matthew Nielsen (aka xunker) weighed in with his personal recollection:

I will go one step further: I started the site in August 2002 and it wasn't until probably late 2003 that I learned what that meant. A whole year of blissful ignorance.

No bones about it, Quizilla had a problem with that kind of content. I dutifully removed it when it was reported or automatically flagged, but if nobody reported it or they used words I didn't know about, well.. let's just say that I, 24 years old at the time, was regularly being outsmarted by 14-year-olds.

I think I learned what it meant when someone sent me a message asking me to "please get rid of all these lemon stories!" Thankfully, when I naively asked them what they didn't like about that particular citrus fruit they explained it all to me.

Thus, an arms race started: when I started automatically flagging quizzes if the title contained "lemon", they switched to "L3m0n". Then to "nomel", "lemonade", "limon", "lémón" and a dozen others I can't remember anymore.

The automatic filters got better and we later added volunteer moderators to seek it out and remove it, and that helped a bunch, but I can guarantee that people found ways around all of it. When you're young, you've got two never-ending resources: tenacity and time.


While "lemon" as a fan term evolved largely as a way to evade purges of explicit content on fan websites, making it unnecessary on a purposely inclusive site like AO3, the term is nevertheless used as a tag on a number of fanworks.

As of February 2, 2019, a tag search for "lemon" turns up 7,168 uses[11] in fandoms as diverse as Supernatural, Hey Arnold!, Undertale, The Hobbit and Venom.

The earliest snapshot of the lemon tag on the Wayback Machine, taken on July 6, 2010, shows just 7 works in the tag.[12] This is likely due to the much smaller number of works on AO3 at the time, but may also be because anime fandoms were less represented on AO3 in its early days. Fandoms containing fanworks with this tag in 2010 included Yu-Gi-Oh!, Gundam Wing, and Dragon Age: Origins.


Tumblr post by broke-boujeeandlovingmarvel. In addition to being widely reblogged on Tumblr (with more than 100,000 notes as of February 2019), this post also appeared as an image in articles and on websites like Twitter.

The fandom community on Tumblr had little history of using the term "lemon" prior to early 2019. In the wake of the Tumblr NSFW Content Purge, Tumblr users realised that any post tagged "NSFW" or similar was being automatically flagged and removed, and so looked for another way to label smut and adult fanworks.[13] A number of users independently landed on the idea of reviving the "citrus scale" on Tumblr to avoid the site's filters.

Aite, so I’m taking a leaf out of the old playbook and tagging all the N*FW content on this blog as #lemon

We’re going old school. Blacklist it if you’re not up for the #lemon[14]

It wasn't long before "lemon" was trending on Tumblr. Tumblr users who had been in fandom long enough to remember the Citrus Scale reacted with a mixture of glee and horror.

[fan comments to be added]

Links & Further Reading


  1. Fanfiction Terms for Idiots by Mistress Fang via Fanfiction.net. Published December 6, 2008 (Accessed February 2, 2019).
  2. Lemon on tvtropes.org
  3. Comment by UltraBooster, Reddit. 'It says something about Morag when the first lemon fic ever written of the game is about her', Posted December 7, 2017 (Accessed February 2, 2019).
  4. I feel like fandom generations are both very specific and easily conflated. by concerningwolves via Tumblr. Posted December 16, 2018 (Accessed February 6, 2019).
  5. Red_Dragonn (January 31, 2019). "tagging my Unsafe for work shit with lemon at this point…. Bewarned™". Retrieved February 1, 2019. 
  6. Paris Darling-Valentine (January 31, 2019). "NSFW will be tagged as #lemon". xChrononautx. Retrieved February 1, 2019. 
  7. Histeronics > Actinideseries (February 4, 2019). "I cannot fucking believe". actinideseries. Retrieved February 4, 2019. 
  8. The Fanfiction Glossary (via Wayback) - etymology note by Yumemisama. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)
  9. Google Groups: Dammit!
  10. I just learned that Quizilla is no longer around. Anyone else spend their tween years taking stupid quizzes?, Reddit. Posted November 13, 2014 (Accessed February 2, 2019).
  11. Screenshot of the tag page for AO3, taken while logged in on February 2, 2019. An archived snapshot of AO3 on the same date only shows 6,853 works, due to the omission of "locked" works that are only visible to logged-in users.
  12. Works tagged "lemon" on AO3, Wayback Machine. Snapshot taken July 6, 2010 (Accessed February 2, 2019).
  13. Tumblr post by just-things-i-like-mostly, with the tag #so i have heard rumors about this thing called lemons. Posted January 29, 2019 (Accessed February 6, 2019).
  14. Tumblr post by randomingoftherandomness, January 18, 2019 (Accessed February 6, 2019).