The modern slang form, which is distinguished from the older usage by being written only in hiragana (おたく) or katakana (オタク or, less frequently, ヲタク), or rarely in rōmaji, appeared in the 1980s.

Some of Japan's otaku use the term to describe themselves and their friends semi-humorously, accepting their position as fans, and some even use the term proudly, attempting to reclaim it from its negative connotations.

In general colloquial usage however, most Japanese would consider it undesirable to be described in a serious fashion as "otaku"; many even consider it to be a genuine insult.

She reveals that Arai used the word in her novels as a second-person pronoun, and the readers adopted the term for themselves.

In modern Japanese slang, the term otaku refers to a fan of any particular theme, topic, or hobby.

The former Prime Minister of Japan, Taro Aso also claimed himself to be an otaku, using this subculture to promote Japan in foreign affairs.

A subset of otaku are the Akiba-kei, men who spend a lot of time in Akihabara in Tokyo and who are mainly obsessive about anime, idols and games.

An interesting modern look into the otaku culture has surfaced with an allegedly true story surfacing on the largest internet bulletin board 2channel: "Densha Otoko" or "Train Man", a love story about a geek and a beautiful woman who meet on a train.

The story has enjoyed a compilation in novel form, several comic book adaptations, a movie released in June 2005, a theme song Love Parade for this movie by a popular Japanese band named Orange Range and a television series that aired on Fuji TV from June to September 2005.

Another popular criterion — how ideal the female protagonist of the show is — is often characterized by a level of stylized cuteness and child-like behavior (see moe).