Hanahaki – The Fictional Disease of Unrequited Love

Using diseases as tearjerkers of the stories is an age-old practice. Take the greyscale disease, for example, that appears in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. It manifests itself in the form of grey, stone-like patches on the skin. When contracted by children, it leaves them disabled – but it is usually fatal for adults. Another example is the Inferno virus, which was seen in Dan Brown’s Inferno. This airborne virus, once breathed in, can render people infertile. Bertrand Zobrist created it as a way to control Earth’s population!

Fiction has no scarcity of diseases – but among a sea of them, there exists one that practically says love kills! This particular disease, called Hanahaki disease, has the victim coughing up petals and nurturing a plant in their lungs. But don’t be fooled by its flowery presence – it is, in most cases, deadly!

What Exactly is Hanahaki Disease?

Hanahaki is a fictional disease, where, instead of coughing up blood or any other gory symptoms, the person coughs up flower petals. It’s because there’s a flowering plant growing in their lungs, with its roots strongly embedded inside. The more it is ignored, left untreated, the faster the plant grows, eventually leaving the person unable to breathe.

While it may last anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, it mostly depends on the person the victim is in love with! As you see, this only happens to people who are in love with someone, but that person doesn’t love them back. In simpler words, it’s a physical manifestation of the victim’s one-sided love. The flowering plant that is housed inside them is the favourite flower of their love, which lets the latter know they’re the reason behind the victim’s disease.

As the disease progresses, pain, fatigue, and headaches accompany these petaled coughs. And if the person sees their object of affection being loving towards someone else, the symptoms worsen tenfold!

In a way, only their object of affection has the power to put a stop to their suffering. If they don’t love the victim back, the latter is almost guaranteed to die. In case they do reciprocate their feelings, the plant withers away and the petaled coughs reduce slowly, until love takes their place!

However, subverting anything canonical is common in literature, and Hanahaki isn’t an exception to that too. There are more ways the story of these patients can take a turn –

  • Never confessing:

The victim may decide that outright rejection is worse than experiencing a painful death. And so, they don’t confess or pursue their love, instead choosing to suffer in silence and die.

  • Surgeries:

In some cases (read: stories), there are facilities that perform surgeries on Hanahaki patients. These facilities remove the plant from the roots, thus destroying the source of the problem. But this also leads to erasure of the victim’s feelings or the memories of their loved one.

Sometimes, it can become so risky that the patient ends up without any capacity for romantic love! There is one cure, though – and that’s the object of affection loving the victim back. As you can see, it’s rather a complicated scenario when it comes to surgically removing Hanahaki!

  • Still uncurable:

In rarer cases, even if the patient is cured, may it be with surgery or whether their love is reciprocated, they still die. It’s because the damage left by the disease on the lungs is too grave and no amount of medical intervention or love can help.

Origins of Hanahaki

The term hanahaki comes from the Japanese words hana, meaning flowers and hakimasu, which means throwing up. The concept has been prominent in Japanese and Korean folklore and visual art for a long time. But the first ever example of it being spotted was in the late 2000s.

Japanese manga artist, Naoko Matsuda’s shoujo manga, Hanahaki Otome, or The Girl Who Spit Flowers, follows the story of a girl with this disease. The summary is simple – she experiences strong chest pains and flowered coughs because of her unrequited love.

Why is Hanahaki not Seen in Mainstream Literature?

Hanahaki disease did stem from a manga, however, it rarely ever appears in mainstream literature. The reason why we don’t see it frequently came to light in 2017, during the 3rd Lezhin World Comic Contest. Bboong’s webtoon, Spring in the Heart, had won the second prize, only for it to get disqualified later on the grounds of rules violation.

The author then explained in a Twitter post that they didn’t know the concept itself was copyrighted by the original creator. As Bboong used it without confirming, it ultimately led to their webtoon facing disqualification.

Fortunately, hanahaki has a much stronger presence in fanfiction and fanarts. Since fanworks is that sneaky loophole where everything is acceptable, fanfic writers and fan artists are obsessed with it! Even more than usual, because the disease has a great potential for angst and hurt/comfort themes.

Versions of Hanahaki

Fanfiction writers have put forth all the creative ways they can interpret the Hanahaki disease – and it’s so refreshing! Here are some unique subversions you can check out –

  • Transmission through sexual intercourse: One of the versions is more sexual in nature where Hanahaki is contractable through sex. In this case, the flowers are formed around the pubic section. If love is requited, the victim starts losing the flowers until the affected body part heals itself. However, if rejected, the patient goes through the same painful and uncomfortable journey.
  • Reverse hanahaki: In this version, it’s not the victim of a one-sided love that suffers through Hanahaki – it’s the one they love that suffers! They start coughing up the petals, and experience pain and fatigue. The only way to make it all go is the same – for the victim to confess and relieve their object of affection from all the pain.
  • Platonic Hanahaki: While Hanahaki is strictly an unrequited love disease, there are also stories where authors focus on unreciprocated platonic feelings. That means that the person wants to be someone’s best friend, but their feelings are not mutual (or they think so). This leads them to become a victim, with similar symptoms and cures as romantic Hanahaki!
  • Breaking the petaled curse: In some stories, you’d even see that the victim has broken the Hanahaki curse. How so? By getting over their romantic feelings and moving on. Bonus points if they fall for someone who actually reciprocates their love!

Stories to Read if You’re a Hanahaki Lover!

Fanworks revolving around Hanahaki disease are available in abundance! Here are some to kickstart your Hanahaki journey!

  • I Bloomed for You (Meanie_Beanie) focuses on BTS’s two youngest members and has garnered around 318,279 views!
  • Words That Water Flowers, written by user DecemberCamie, is set in the Hunter x Hunter fandom, with 95,895 hits.
  • Petals and Blood, by user Pomfry, features Jon Kent, son of Superman and Damian Wayne, Batman’s boy. This fanfic has over 30,500 hits!
  • The Mind and the Malady (Saltcore) has 20,482 views, catering to Critical Role
  • Hanafunki, by user PurplePersnickety, featuring Bakugou Katsuki and Kirishima Eijirou, with more than 13,000 people reading the story.

Apart from these, there are many more fanworks free for your perusal. All you have to do is type in Hanahaki in your search bar.

Final Words

Hanahaki takes intangible things like emotions and transforms them into a physical affliction with equally tangible remedies. Even if you remove all the fancy words and heart-wrenching visuals, Hanahaki is still something that paints love as a source of immense suffering as well as joy. So, even if it’s fictional, the way it explores human longing and desire for emotional connection is what makes it universally appealing. And its popularity just continues to grow day by day!

By Pranjali Wakde