The Magical, Spiritual Side of Anime and Manga


by Danica Davidson

(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)

There's something special about anime and manga. Once they were a form of animation and comic books found almost exclusively in Japan, and now they can be found in households all across the globe. Interest has been growing, especially in the United States, with record numbers of anime and manga dubbed and translated, respectively, into English. These aren't a bunch of cartoons for little kids, nor are they simple comic books with plentyof pictures and lacking plots. You could say there's something, well, magickal about them.

While there are many titles with very down-to-earth stories, anime (which refers to Japanese animation) and manga (specifically, Japanese comic books or graphic novels) often will delve into Japan's spiritual side. As a land steeped in the old ways of Buddhism and Shintoism, these stories are often showcases for the gods and rituals of Asian descent.

It only makes sense. In American movies there are constant references to the American lifestyle, and we tend not to notice these things because we're so used to them. However, upon watching an anime or opening a manga, we become aware of Japan's otherworldly side. Oftentimes characters will go to Shinto shrines to pray to their gods, the Kami, for help. Even if it's not this vivid, torii, the easily-recognizable gates outside the shrines, are, too often to count, seen in backgrounds. Many Buddha statues can be seen, and a worried character may absentmindedly finger some prayer beads. It may be subtle, but it's everywhere.

In Japan, spirituality is not always similar to Western-brand creeds. For instance, most people in the West will often say they specifically practice one religion, are agnostic, or practice no religion at all. In Japan, there isn't necessarily such a need to label oneself. Instead, a Japanese person can feel completely confident putting power in science and secular matters, while perhaps going to a Shinto wedding or a Buddhist funeral. A person doesn't automatically have to say they're specifically Buddhist or Shintoist; they can mix and match.

There's a deep respect for these age-old beliefs, while at the same time not a need to be bogged down by them. A person can find power in the Shinto sun goddess while knowing perfectly well that the sun is in fact a star made out of hydrogen, helium, and other elements. There can be found benefit within beliefs without the pointless idea of making war against science. Instead, Japan, with all its scientific advances, continues to honor its old ways. And, through this natural honoring, it becomes part of their artwork.

So don't be surprised to find anime or manga that espouses both the everyday and the outrageous. In the adorable Mamotte! Lollipop, a normal girl spends her days going to a normal Japanese school . . . while meeting up with wizards on the side. Meantime, Bleach, a spellbinding action adventure, tells about a boy with a psychic ability to see ghosts and has all the usual teenage problems . . . along with the issue of traveling into the realm of the dead. Origin, a full-length movie , involves characters with normal love issues . . . and a man who transforms into a tree to save his people, an enthralling and symbolic gesture.

Much like the magick seen in mainstream American media, don't expect the Shinto and Buddhist practices shown to be how they really are. Plenty of rituals are shown accurately, but it's also fun to exaggerate. Ofuda are prayer strips, sometimes called spell strips, and while in reality they're pretty innocuous, the imagination can make them more powerful. In the captivating and dazzling Descendants of Darkness, the main character Tsuzuki uses ofuda to literally summon up gods to do his bidding. In real-life Japan, they might be pasted on ceilings for wishes of good luck. But how is that exciting in the realm of anime and manga? Not especially; therefore, let the ofuda become something beyond this world. Similarly, the third eye chakra is allegorical in many Eastern practices, but people are shown with an actual eye in their forehead in The Third: Girl With the Blue Eye. The Third is an amazing tale about the power behind those special beings with a sacred eye and the destinies they hold. Narutotakes the real Japanese martial arts practices and has its ninjas able to bring glowing forms of chakra energy into their hands.

Japanese gods themselves take center stage in some of these storylines, while in others they're more faintly referenced. In Descendants of Darkness, particular gods are seen coming to Tsuzuki's aid. Meanwhile, in Bleach, a character is named Aizen, after the Japanese god of love. Though it doesn't always happen, there are also times when characters are seen in prayer to the gods. In Loveless, a haunting and melancholic tale of a boy who lost his brother, the main character prays and finds comfort. This is especially interesting to an American audience, as most of our mainstream media makes a point to sidestep religion or other spiritual matters. They have a good reason for doing so: people can be picky about spiritual matters, and it's easy to offend. Likewise, it could be seen as pushing beliefs at people who are perfectly happy not being religious. This is a challenging subject, and it makes it all the more intriguing that anime and manga can get away with these things.

Perhaps one thing that's so refreshing about the magickal Buddhist and Shinto beliefs popping up in anime and manga would be that it's not preached. It's shown as something personal and benefitting to the specific character. Buddhist and Shinto rituals are revealed as being earth-based, ancient, open-minded, and useful. The characters don't struggle with them; they're shown as natural, just as they're natural to many Japanese people.

The presence of Japanese spirituality in their media is everywhere, whether it is all-encompassing or barely seen. Nonetheless, it's still there, and it's part of what makes anime and manga so fascinating. Along with their trademark loveable characters and tight plots, these forms of art are windows into Japan's soulful, magickal side.

Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2008. All rights reserved.

"Life happens. Life in the flow."

We learn over time that nobody can solve our problems, but someone can guide you how to solve the problem. You may receive guidance through a teacher, a guru or even strangers that you run into every day. As we practice yoga we learn that the more we know, the less we truly know. Every day I am reminded how much I truly do not know; a very humbling experience.
Yoga teaches me to be present. To just live for being and enjoying life as it is right NOW. Not ten minutes from now, no five days ago, but right now. We are taught to get out of our heads, to release worries and fears of the past or the future and to only live for this very moment. Presence.

"Lead me from untruth to truth, lead me from darkness to light." ~ Buddha

Through yoga we are reminded that we do have a dark side as well as a light side. We are not to repress the dark side, but embrace that side of our Self. We are the yin and the yang. We ultimately cleanse the dark stuff we hold inside. We shine the light on this. We must make friends with dark side. Both positive and negative balance out the whole. Daily practice refines and improves our inner vision to see our Self more clearly. We no longer need to run from fears. Face them and say I'm not running from you anymore. So much is in our heads, so much dark is only in our heads, self-doubt judgment betrayal. Yoga grounds the body so that the light and dark sides of ourselves become clear. So much is truly untrue. But as we diligently practice we are able to find the middle ground and walk our centered balanced line in life. We gain balance in centered lightheartedness. We can have harmony in both light and dark.

"Yoga tells us that the world is actually a projection of our own thoughts and we can modify our inner world to manifest into our outer world. When our inside realm is at peace and in harmony, our outer world shines this projection back at us."
~ David, Jiva Mukti Yoga co-founder

Yoga is observation.

We can observe our world and see what part that is in us is begin reflected back to us. We can then see what part of us needs modification or adjustment in order to have our outer reality reflect back to us the peace, happiness and love we so greatly desire and deserve.

Yoga is already inside of you. Happiness is there. Yoga helps you peel away the onion layers to get to the core. To freedom. The deepest Divine connection to the Ultimate Light Source.

Come out of wanting and back into acceptance and Joy. A yogi or yogini can turn any situation into bliss. That is a yogi. Yoga is being now. Ultimate yoga is meditation. Just BE.

Yoga is love.

"Love is the light that dissolves all walls between souls." 
~ Paramahansa Yogananda

Through a dedicated practice of all forms of yoga we can participate in the world with a sense of freedom, unaffected from trauma, depression, anger, etc. The freedom is balance in both.

Maggie Anderson is a Yoga & Spiritual Teacher, Reiki Master Teacher, Integrated Energy Therapy® Master Instructor, Soul Coach®, Past Life Coach, Magnified Healing® Master Teacher and Angelights Messenger. She is the author of How I Found My True Inner Peace and Divine Embrace. You can contact Maggie at

"Follow Your Bliss. It's Your Spiritual Compass."