Japanese Honorifics are best described as a sign of respect and endearment. Politeness is an important part of Japanese culture and language.
The concept of Japanese Honorifics is one of the strongest in the Japanese language and culture that is based upon politeness. It's a system that has existed since the Feudal Era (1185-1603). The use of honorifics makes clear a person's relationship or status among either friends, coworkers, or general society. They are a sign of the level of respect you have for a person. Honorifics are commonly attached to a person's name as a suffix.
A common misunderstandings about honorifics from most outside of the culture is that honorifics are used when a person is speaking of them self. Using an honorific when addressing yourself is seen as a sign of arrogance. It's the equivalent of talking about yourself in the first person.
Used in manga and anime, the Japanese honorific gives the reader an insight to the relationship characters have with one another. Several of these have such subtle nuances that they're not easily translated into other languages. This being the reason why most foreign publishers remove them. This can at times distort a story from its Japanese origins.
The manga publisher Del Rey in the US actually keeps the honorifics in their English publication as a general policy. Though they were replaced by Kodansha Comics, they kept the use of honorifics. Other publishers, such as Yen Press, occasionally do keep the honorifics in their translations.
These are examples and descriptions of many of the most common and uncommon Japanese honorifics you can find in Japan. Though most honorifics are written in the hiragana form of Japanese writing. Occasionally, they're written in kanji.
The honorific "-san" (さん) is one of the most common and well known honorifics in Japan. It's the basic equivalent of Mr. Miss, Ms, & Mrs. It covers all of these. Use of "-san" is directed toward a person you know generally or have just met. If you are unsure of which honorific to ever use. This is the safest choice.
The honorific "-han" (はん) is a variant of "-san" used in the Kansai dialect.
The honorific "-sama" (様 / さま) is best described as one level higher than "-san". More often used toward those you hold in high regard. It's a sign of respect and used in the service industry quite widely. When addressing a customer, an worker would refer to the person as "-ogyakusama" (お客様 / おきゃくさま), which means "guest".
This honorific can also be found at the end of certain statements that express gratitude for a person's efforts or hard work.
English - " I appreciate your effort. "
Japanese - " ご苦労様 (go-kurō sama) "
The honorific -dono (殿 / どの) originally comes from the word "tono" (殿 / との) that means "lord". It would be similar to addressing someone as "milord". The use of which is a higher level than "-sama". Use of "dono" is for those in which you have a very high level of respect for. This is not regularly used in modern Japanese conversation.
The honorific -ue (上 / うえ) is used when a person has an enormous level of respect for a person, but is no longer used in regular conversation in this modern era. It is more often regulated for family members from high social classes or people who were taught to speak formally. A literal English interpretation could be seen as " honored mother/father". It is not necessarily isolated to talking about your own family member, but other people's family, as well.
An example in manga/anime could be seen in series such as Soul Eater and Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion. The character Death the Kid addressed his father Shinigami-sama as "chichi-ue". Lelouch Lamperouge not only speaks of his own mother as "haha-ue", but even used that title for Kallen Kozuki's mother when he first saw her. He also uses "-ue" when talking about the elder members of his family.
Father: chichi-ue (父上 / ちちうえ)
Mother: haha-ue (母上 / ははうえ)
Older Brother: ani-ue (兄上/ あにうえ)
Older Sister: ane-ue (姉上 / あねうえ)
The honorific "-kun" (君 / くん) is a very common suffix added to the end of boy's names, and sometimes used for men. Normally with people who have known each other for a long time. It is a sign of closeness and endearment toward that male. The use of "-kun" can also be used for men who are of a junior status in employment, and used by a girl for a man she is emotionally attached to or very close with. The term is seen as more friendly than the formal "-san".
The use of "-kun" on males is not an absolute rule. It can be used in a work setting by employers in addressing female subordinate employees. The application for women can also be used when speaking to a girl you have known since infancy. In the series Detective Conan, the police chief Juzo Megure always addressed Ran Mouri as "Ran-kun". He has known her since she was born.
The honorific "-chan" (ちゃん) is a common suffix added to the end of a girl's name, and sometimes used for women. Normally with people who have know each other for a long time. It's a sign of closeness and endearment toward that female. The use of "-chan" can also be used for women who are of a junior status, such as underclassmen; but use in business and employment is normally avoided by employers.
The use of "-chan" on females is not an absolute rule. It gives a sense of child-like cuteness. A mother will often use "-chan" for her own son his whole life, and it can be used for the names of pets. In the series Detective Conan, Shinichi Kudo's mother Yukiko Kudo always addresses her son as "Shin-chan".
The honorific "-bōzu" (坊主 / ぼうず) is a way of addressing boys in an informal manner. The use of which could be endearing or disparagingly.
The honorific "-senpai" (先輩 / せんぱい) is a way of addressing any upperclassmen as a nod to those who came before you. Its standard use is in the school settings but not isolated to academic levels. It is also used in a business setting by employees or team members for those who hold seniority over them. The honorific can be used in place of the upper-classmate's name and address them simply as "senpai". Frequently, the "-senpai" honorific is spelled as "sempai". This is because of how the word is actually pronounce in Japanese.
This honorific has one of the wider uses in manga/anmie.
The honorific "-kohai" (後輩 / こうはい) is a way of addressing any underclassmen and the opposite of "-sempai". The difference is that the use of this term is hardly ever used as an honorific. More often the "-kun/-chan" honorifics are used when talking to underclassmen.
The honorific "-sensei" (先生 / せんせい) is a suffix added to the names of those who are teachers or a master at a craft. It's one of the most well known honorific next to "-san". Contrary to common belief, it is not exclusive for just teachers. It could be used as a title for doctors, writers, and even artists, anyone who is a master of a craft.
Similar to "-senpai", the "-sensei" honorific can be used as a stand alone title for addressing a person.
The honorific "-senshu" (選手 / せんしゅ) is a suffix added to the names of those who are athletes, no matter the sport. It can apply to boxers, soccer player, and those who enter martial arts tournaments.
The honorifics "-anisan" (兄さん / あにさん) is a generic term used for any boy, but more commonly one who is older. It's often shortened to "nīsan" (にいさん). Variants of this are "-anisama" (兄様 / あにさま) and "-ani-ue" (兄上/ あにうえ). When used as a general term when describing a boy, it's used when describing a young adult, teens through late twenties.
The honorific "-anesan" (姉さん / あねさん) is a generic term used for any girl, but more commonly one who is older. It's often shortened to "nēsan" (ねえさん). Variants of this are "-anesama" (姉様 / あねさま) and "-ane-ue" (姉上 / あねうえ). When used as a general term when describing a girl, it's used when describing a young adult, teens through late twenties.
In manga/anime, "-anesan" or "-anesama" is often used among female characters that a younger person admires and look up to.
The honorific "-ojisan" (伯父さん / おじさん) is a generic term to mean "mister" or "old man", but also used as a title for one's uncle. A term that could commonly be used when addressing a man who is in the age range of forty years and up.
Similar to "-senpai" and "-sensei", the "-ojisan" honorific can be used as a stand alone title for addressing a person.
The honorific "-obasan" (伯母さん / おばさん) is a generic term to mean "ma'am" or "old lady", but also used as a title for one's aunt. A term that could commonly be used when addressing a woman who is in the age range of forty years and up. Though, use of this one could possibly offend a woman.
Similar to "-senpai" and "-sensei", the "-obasan" honorific can be used as a stand alone title for addressing a person.
The honorific "-ojōsama" (お嬢様 / おじょうさま) is a title that is often given to the daughter or sister of a family from high social or political status. As with "-senpai" and "-sensei", it can be used in place of the person's name.