Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle,Tokyo Ghoul, Death Note, Fruits Basket, Maid-Sama!, Black Butler, Yuri!!! on Ice, just to name a few, are all easily accessible "anime" titles. While the word "anime" has a lot of associations, it simply means "animation." That's it. By the American definition, "anime" is animation produced in Japan by Japanese studios. By the Japanese definition, "anime" is all animation—from Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle) and Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell) to Pixar (Finding Nemo, Inside Out) and Disney (Frozen, Zootopia). The question of whether or not a Christian should watch anime is the same as asking if a Christian can watch movies (in general) or read books (in general).
As always, if your parents tell you "no," you must respect their decision (Ephesians 6:1-2). In the case of Japanese anime, there is, sadly, a lot of negative stigma. And due to its unfortunate tie to pornography, many parents will put an absolute ban on anime altogether in an effort to protect you.
But what if you've been given the freedom to make your own choice?
Like with any other type of art (books, movies, podcasts, music, etc.), what we choose to expose ourselves to largely boils down to a choice of conviction (1 Corinthians 10:23-31). Even stories surrounding the theme of redemption require something to be redeemed from. (ALSO SEE: Which movies or books are safe for Christians?)
Philippians 4:8 reminds us to focus on life's positive aspects. Different obstacles to these positive thoughts may surface in different types of media and stories. If you don't know what is going to be an obstacle for you, talk to God about it (Philippians 4:6). Your media choices are NOT too small of a thing to ask God about (1 Peter 1:22-25).
While Japanese anime is just a style of art (e.g. film, music, podcast, etc.), it does carry a set of obstacles unique from American media (and unique from Western culture in general). Western culture leans toward monotheistic (one-god) and atheistic (no-god) worldviews. Because of that, we have a lot less blatantly spiritual content in our media. Even such shows as Supernatural, which may acknowledge other religions, is still based on Christian mythology. When they're trying to look for "God," it's the same God that originally kicked Lucifer out of heaven. The core storyline of Supernatural is still based on Christian beliefs.
Japanese culture (and other Far Eastern cultures) are built upon polytheism (many-gods) and mysticism. While Japan is becoming increasingly atheistic today, Japan is the source of Shintoism. Shintoism is a Japan-centric belief that states the islands of Japan and the Japanese people are the children of the "kami" (spirits) and gods living in and on the islands. Regardless of where Japan is today spiritually in general culture, Shintoist mythology is the backbone of a lot of anime. Shintoism provides the cultural or religious setting for fantasy stories (e.g. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan) and horror stories (e.g. Higurashi: When They Cry). Sometimes even contemporary dramas contain subtle nods to Shintoism. The use of tarot cards, incantations, etc. is not uncommon in anime.
Some Christians struggle with media that promotes other gods, and if you are one of those people, Japanese anime is probably not the thing for you to try. While some anime addresses themes of Judeo-Christianity in a respectful, beautiful, and redemptive way (e.g. Trigun), they are pretty rare. For others, the religious culture shock of anime can be very overwhelming. For yet others, anime is just another form of entertainment. And for some, anime presents a unique way to grow their own faith by asking fresh questions they hadn't thought of before. It really depends on each individual, thus why it's important to ask God about your personal media choices.
Believe it or not, you can find anime about mahjong, bartending, pachinko, terrorists, gondoliering on Mars, sci-fi/fantasy adaptations of Shakespeare and The Count of Monte Cristo...the list goes on. While this diversity makes Japanese anime an interesting medium to keep up with, that freedom leads to some kinkier or morally-gray scenarios than we might be used to in American media.
"Hentai" is the pornographic sub-category of Japanese anime and where a lot of parental concern stems from. The word hentai in Japanese literally means "abnormal, perverted." Many people have had the misfortune of stumbling across hentai when they first tried to look into anime. Trust me, you don't want to Google that.
"Fanservice" is sexual content or innuendo that doesn't progress the plot but rather fulfills the character romance fantasies of avid fans. These scenes often occur quite heavily in popular anime shows. Titles such as Bleach, Blue Exorcist, and Sword Art Online have moments and episodes that are unnecessary and lewd.
"Ecchi" is another red flag term, but harder to exclusively place in its own sub-category. Ecchi is anime with heavy sexual innuendo, partial nudity, humorous sexual jokes, and general fanservice. This term comes from the Japanese pronunciation of the letter "H" (pronounced eh-chi) because, in Japan, erotic content is rated "H" while most of the rest of the world calls it "X".
LGBTQ+ characters and relationships are often addressed in anime as well. Sometimes the LGBT characters/relationships/themes are exclusively comical (e.g. Ouran High School Host Club, Black Butler). Sometimes these themes are more organic, but still a large part of a heavier story (e.g. Yuri!!! on Ice). Wandering Son is a story entirely about gender identity.
Emotionally traumatic themes pop up a lot too. Some deal with child abuse and abduction (ERASED), grief (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day), and abandonment (Clannad, Clannad: After Story, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood). There are also ultra-violent anime series such as Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul (and, arguably, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood).
Anime, just like any other medium, can tell stories or have goals that span any subject matter. They just all happen to have an animated style in common. But remember, just because something is animated, that doesn't automatically mean it's "safe for kids."
There are repeated warnings to Christians to be careful of what thoughts we allow to camp out in our brains. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to "take every thought captive to obey Christ." Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth."
We are responsible for what we allow into our brains to shape our thought patterns. How are we responding to the subject matter? Does anime just carry too many landmines to be worth the risk? Some Christians believe so, just like some Christians prefer to steer clear from other specific types of media altogether. Others have found a connection to anime that, between them and God, doesn't cause harm, and may even benefit their spiritual walk as they wrestle with philosophical and moral questions.
While one Christian may be deeply disturbed by the ultra-violence in Attack on Titan, to the point of insomnia or feeling unsafe, another Christian may watch it and be inspired by themes of courage, sacrifice, and brotherly love (which are also biblical themes, BTW). While one Christian may watch Yuri!!! on Ice and fall in love with a story that speaks of perseverance, emotional strength, love, forgiveness, grace (again, biblical themes), another Christian may watch it and be deeply bothered by the same-sex romance that is front-and-center almost from episode 1.
If you're interested in exploring Japanese anime, approach it just as you would any other medium you want to learn about—by asking yourself questions about your situation and motivations (Matthew 26:41). Do your parents say it's OK to watch anime? Is watching anime impeding your walk with God with its harsher level of brutality and innuendo? Is watching anime helping you to process the world in new ways—ways that you can use in your understanding of other people? Do you want to watch anime your own pleasure or for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
This is why it's important to talk to God about your media decisions and to LISTEN to the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, "Do not quench the Spirit." If you are convicted in any way against anime, stay away from it, but respect your sibling in Christ who might not share that same conviction (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 10:24-29). Likewise, for those Christians who have no conviction against anime, respect your sibling in Christ who may not be comfortable with it. Don't talk about it around that person, and don't pressure them to watch it.
Anime is simply Japanese animation. If your parents tell you "no," you must respect their decision (Ephesians 6:1-2). If you have been given freedom to decide for yourself, then use discernment and prayer when considering what to watch (1 Corinthians 10:23-31). Anime is heavily informed by Japanese culture, religion, and morals. We must make sure that what we allow to influence us in the media is a positive, faith-growing thing—not something that will turn us away from God's will for our lives (Philippians 4:8). If you don't know what's going to be an obstacle to your faith, talk to God about it (James 1:5).
September is an avid film nerd from growing up on weekend trips to Universal Studios Hollywood. She is passionate about the intersections of Christian spirituality, faith, and storytelling in popular culture. Outside of 412teens and digging up obscure horror flicks from the 2000s, she works as a freelance developmental editor and acquisitions consultant while comforting her clingy feline floof, Faust, from the anxiety of existence.