Religion and Anime

Most anime shows I have had the pleasure of enjoying include characters that are Demons or Devils.

In the beginning this definitely troubled me, that kids are watching shows that might immunize them from the notion of an evil being.

In fact, I have always been uneasy watching shows that make light of the ultimate tempter and his minions. That is one reason I do not watch the show “Lucifer” and hurried away from Netflix’s “Sabrina”. But Japanese anime portrays demons differently. Demons are beings with powers and can be killed. They are more akin to a distinct race of intelligent life than corrupter of souls.

And I got curious. Why is that? Where is the inspiration for these characters come from? Religion, perhaps? Since anime originated in Japan, then it is the religions in Japan that I shall look, Shinto and Buddhism.


Shinto has existed almost as long as Japan. The word Shinto means “The way of kami” which means god, lord or deity. It can also be elements of nature Shinto has played a major role in the history and politics in Japan until the end of world war II when it was separated from the state.

Shinto does not have a recognized founder of ancient scripts. It is a faith that believes that all humans are good, that evil is caused by evil spirits or demons. These demons do not represent an inherently evil force. Demons are invisible, though some are thought to be giants with horns and three or more eyes. It is believed that the spirit of some animals can possess a human. Of these animals, the fox or kitsune is the worse. 

Since demons causes evil, the emphasis of Shinto rites is to keep these spirits away through purification and prayers.


In the 6th century, Buddhism is introduced into Japan. Like Shinto, Buddhism does not have a concept of absolute evil. Demons are powerful and ancient spirits that require recognition and appeasement. They can be troublesome and threaten to overturn the human order, controlled but respected. Demons are not always going to remain demons and, like all other creatures, animals or ghosts, can attain rebirth in the human or divine realm.


Because of similarities of Buddhism and Shinto, both have flourished to become the major religion in Japan. The closeness has even resulted in deity swapping in which certain spirits or gods are incorporated into the other. An example is “Ryobu Shinto” or “Double Shinto” which is a combination of the Shinto “kami”and Buddhist “Bodhisattvas”. Some Buddhist figures also appear in some Shinto shrines and vis-a-verse. 

Most weddings and other celebrations in Japan are held in Shinto style. This is because death is considered impure. It is dark and negative. That is why there are no Shinto cemeteries near Shinto shrines, and Buddhist rites are commonly used during funerals.


The concept of demons in anime draws heavily on the Shinto and Buddhism, especially with the names and general characters. An example is Orochimaru of Naruto whose true form is that of a giant white snake, might have been inspired by Yamato No Orochi. Youko Kurama is the merging of the spirit fox and a human. Most demons in anime also consider humans to be worthless. They are to be despised, conquered or destroyed. 

Books on Shinto and Buddhism


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