Visual kei (ヴィジュアル系 vijuaru kei, literally "visual style" or "visual system") is a movement among Japanese musicians, that is characterized by the use of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes, often, but not always, coupled with androgynous aesthetics. Some sources state that visual kei refers to a music genre, or to a sub-genre of Japanese rock, with its own particular sound, related to glam rock, punk and metal. However other sources state that visual kei's unique clothing, make-up, fashions, and participation in the related sub-culture is equally as important as the sound of the music itself in the use of the term.
Visual kei emerged in the mid 1980s, pioneered by bands such as X Japan,D'erlanger,Buck-Tick and Color. The term visual kei was created with one of X Japan's slogans "Psychedelic violence crime of visual shock". Color vocalist "Dynamite Tommy" formed his record company Free-Will in 1986, which has been a major contributor in spreading modern visual kei outside Japan. Under Code Production, a sub-label of Free-Will founded by Kisaki, since its formation in 2003 has had a definite influence on newer independent visual kei bands, particularly in Osaka.
In 1992, X Japan launched an attempt to enter the European and American markets, but it would take another 8 years until popularity and awareness of visual kei bands would extend worldwide. In the mid 1990s, visual kei received an increase in popularity throughout Japan, and album sales from visual kei bands started to reach record numbers. The most notable bands to achieve success during this period included X Japan, Glay, and Luna Sea; however, a drastic change in their appearance accompanied their success. During the same period other bands, such as Kuroyome, Malice Mizer, and Penicillin, gained mainstream awareness, although they were not as commercially successful. By 1999, the mainstream popularity of visual kei was declining; X Japan had disbanded, and in 2000, Luna Sea decided to disband.
In 2007 the genre was revitalized, as Luna Sea performed a one-off performance, and X Japan reunited for a new single and a world tour. With these developments, visual kei bands enjoyed a boost in public awareness, described by some media as "neo-visual kei". New bands still use visual kei to describe themselves. Some examples of mainstream bands are Versailles, Nightmare, and The Gazette.