Shinto is so woven into Japanese anime that it is perhaps harder to find an anime example that doesn’t have some kind of Shinto influence than one that does.
But here we have tried to assemble a list of titles where the use of Shinto imagery or concepts is particularly overt. Each one of the 25 items on the shinto anime list includes a link to where it can be streamed online.
But before we present the list, let’s look at some of the key concepts in Shinto and anime. See here for our complete list of Shinto symbols and their meanings as they relate to anime.
We also did an entire youtube/podcast talking in Japanese & English about Shinto & Japanese mythology anime here.
The Relationship Between Shinto and Anime
1. What is Shinto?
Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan and it has a rich mythology with many anime-worthy themes. The word shinto literally means “the way of gods,” which refers to how the kami (gods) are central to everything in Shinto thought.
Shinto has no founder or scripture; it’s an umbrella term for any number of spiritual traditions with deep roots in ancient Japan. “Kami” can be translated as god, soul, spirit etc depending on the context used which often leads to confusion among Westerners who use these words
The origins of Shinto can be traced back as far as 2000 BCE, when people started worshiping natural objects like mountains or rivers. These natural objects became symbols for what we might call spirits today. However, over time these beliefs evolved into an organized system that was eventually codified with written texts such as Kojiki (712 CE) and Nihon Shoki (720 CE).
2. How does anime fit in with Shinto?
There are anime that cover all aspects of Shinto mythology and folklore. One reference point is with the manga, Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi. This series follows Kagome Higurashi as she searches for fragments of a jewel called the Sacred Jewel Of Four Souls in order to break an ancient curse on her family’s bloodline. The anime features many typical Shinto themes like kami-like creatures such as demons or spirits (yokai) who live in various objects around them; torii gates which act as entrances into sacred spaces; foxes who can serve both good and evil purposes depending on their circumstances; miko-san, young religious attendants often wearing white clothing whose role it is help promote peace through rituals
3. Why is there so much shinto imagery in anime?
The first reason that shinto imagery is so common in anime is because, well, shinto imagery is common in Japanese society at large. Japan is often referred to, and refers to itself, as having “no religion”. But it could be argued that, far from having no religion, religion in Japan is so pervasive, so much part of the environment, that it often becomes invisible. Or at least unnoticed.
Even in modern-day life, kami-like beings such as demons and spirits live in various objects in the world; torii gates act as entrances into sacred spaces; foxes can serve both good and evil purposes depending on their circumstances.
Modern anime reflects this modern world-view. So anime features many typical Shinto themes like Miko-san, young religious attendants often wearing white clothing whose role it is to help promote peace through rituals.
Another factor in the popularity of Shinto in anime relates to the fact that Shintoism gives a sense of ancient, somewhat nostalgic, mysticism to a fictitious story. In many ways, it offers the reward of instant depth.
It also connects modern Japan with its ancient past without drawing an overt connection to Japanese nationalism – an idea fraught with nuances of war, aggression and right-wing jingoism.
Shingo relates well to popular Japanese tropes of combat, martial arts, ninjas by connection with the ancient belief system of shinobi.
5. The future of Shinto and anime in Japan and around the world
So what is the future of anime and Shinto in Japan? As Western anime becomes more popular, some argue that it will become an even greater influence on Japanese anime. Others feel that as anime evolves into a global genre, they may lose their connection to Shintoism altogether. Certainly, at this point, modern anime don’t show any sign of distancing themselves from the use of shintoistic symbology.
In either case, there are those who enjoy anime for its entertainment value alone – and others who find deeper meaning in stories steeped with ancient beliefs. Faithful viewers can’t help but wonder: how much longer before new generations grow up without any knowledge or understanding of these commonly used shinto symbols as they are used in modern anime?
6. Anime as a way to preserve traditional culture
Japanese anime is a way for Japanese culture to be preserved, albeit in a certain romanticized or fantastic form. With anime’s international popularity as well, it helps spread these symbols of Shintoism far and wide. Whether or not these symbols take on the same resonance or meaning when transported abroad is something of a moot point.
7. Common Shinto imagery in Japanese anime
Torii gates: anime culture is saturated with torii gates, the arched entrance to shrines. Torii are normally painted vermillion and white – a double-sided symbol of purification. The red side represents blood or life force while the white stands for purity. Unpainted stone or wooden Torii are also common.
Foxes: Foxes feature heavily in anime.
Foxes hold a range of different meanings in Japanese culture. They are complex beings, sometimes being symbols of good luck, sometimes bad. They also have some similar connotations to the Western idea of a fox as being cunning or sly and as such having the ability to trick people.
Miko: anime shows often feature miko, who are the female Japanese priests. They can be recognised by their white robes and shimenawa necklace that represents an opened up chest in a physical body. Miko wield the power to cleanse people of evil spirits which is represented with purifying salt and water thrown on them.
- Gugure! Kokkuri-san
Gugure! Kokkuri-san is a manga series created by Japanese artist Tsurusawa Hiroyuki. It was serialized in Square Enix’s Young Gangan magazine.
The story revolves around a young girl who summons a spirit using a Japanese version of an Ouija board. The spirit that arrives is a fox spirit, a very common identity in Shinto symbolism.
There are a couple of novel twists that make Gugure Kokkuri-san an interesting anime. The “girl” is actually a living doll, replete with a somewhat distant, robotic manner. And the fox-deity turns about to be a somewhat vain being with a constant need for external validication.
- Kyoukai no rinne
(境界のRINNE), which translates roughly as “The boundary of reincarnation” combines elements of fantasy, youth drama, and comedy. The story revolves around half-man, half deity Rokudo Rinne and Mamiya Sakura, level-headed school girl with the ability to see the spirit world. Together they solve problems and mysteries that cross over from the spirit realm to the school-yard.
- The Eccentric Family (Uchouten Kazoku)
“The Eccentric Family” is a show that lives up to its name, giving you a rich story-world inhabited by shape-shifting beings, tanuki and tengu.
This anime centres on a particularly eccentric family of tanuki raccoons. The tanuki family goes by the name of Shimogamo, taking their name from the “Shimogamo Shrine” that exists in real life in Kyoto. Indeed, the whole show is steeped in Kyoto culture and features many of the iconic areas from the ancient capital city, including Maruyama park and Teramachi road.
We’ve written about the Eccentric Family frog character here.
- Hot Springs Fairy Hakone-Chan (Onsen Yousei Hakone-chan)
Hot Springs Fairy Hakone-Chan is a series that features a spirit who takes care of the iconic Hakonie Hot Springs in Japan.
The main character is depicted as a Miko shinto priestess, but is actually a guardian-deity for the spring waters. We learn that the deity is somewhat weakened, making her switch between appearing as a young girl, and a young woman.
A slice of life/drama, based on a manga series with the same title. It revolves around Yato who is a minor god and helps people to solve their problems by taking out the things that disturb them. The anime was released in 2014 and season 2 was announced at last year’s Anime Expo convention held in Los Angeles.
- Cool-headed Hoozuki (Hoozuki no Reitetsu)
Cool-headed Hoozuki (Hoozuki no Reitetsu) is about a demon called Hoozuki. Hoozuki has been a detached civil official for the last 900 years. He works beneath King Enma, who is in charge of judging people’s deeds when they die and sending them to heaven or hell according to their deeds.
- Mushi-shi (Mushishi)
This anime is available on crunchyroll
In the world of this insect influenced there are invisible creatures called Mushi (insect). They exist without any goals or purposes aside from simply “being.” They can be found everywhere and can neither be seen nor heard by humans unless they manifest themselves through their powers. These abilities of the Mushi range in size, shape, and function. Some have massive powers to affect the world around them.
Mononoke, not to be confused with the more well known Ghibli film Princess Mononoke, is a television anime anime by Toei Animation that aired from 2013-2014. It follows an Edo period seller of medicine, who moonlights as a swordsman.
Mononoke is probably most clearly set apart by it’s highly unique style of animation that seems to reference traditional Japanese arts – as if a sumie or ukiyo-e picture had come to life and ball of energetic movement across the screen. Even the soundtrack for this one sounds like a modern take on Japanese music from the middle ages.
- Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light (Hotarubi no Mori e)
Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light (Hotarubi no Mori e) is a movie with not an ounce of fat nor any excess. Every second is deliberate and meaningful, and every shot feels deliberate and meaningful. It’s so perfect as to be almost… well, eerie in its perfection. It follows the story of a little girl lost in the woods who meets a strange boy who is not like other humans but perhaps more than human – just as many characters in Japanese folklore are believed to have been non-human creatures living in disguise among us mortals. Nothing supernatural happens here; he (Hotaru) is real, albeit mysterious beyond imagination, while she (Sakura) remains a simple young girl.
- Natsume’s Book of Friends (Natsume Yuujinchou)
This anime is available on Crunchyroll
Natsume’s Book of Friends (Natsume Yuujinchou) is an anime that, from its very first episode, had a clear direction for the series. Unlike most other shounen anime out there that focus on action-packed battles and new technology, Natsume has instead gone down a different path: it’s about the connection between humans and yokai. It’s about how people and spirits coexist in the human world; each of them has abilities that are useful to the other half and can help each other with their problems.
This anime is available on Netflix
Inuyasha is a half-demon who was trapped in the form of a dog for most of his life. In his quest to obtain the power of the sacred Jewel shards, he comes across Kagome, a young miko with powers of her own. Together they encounter many other characters including Koga – an ally turned rival; Sesshomaru – an arrogant and powerful full demon and Jaken – A small imp that travels alongside them. The journey becomes one in which all involved become increasingly involved until it develops into a battle to protect the jewel from their enemies such as Naraku, Japan’s deadliest villain whose target is nothing less than world domination…
There are frequent references to Shinto imagery and concepts in the popular Naruto series. Uzumaki Naruto, for instance, carries within him Kurama spirit from the Nine-Tailed Fox Demon. We’ve written about the meaning and where the name Naruto comes from here.
13. Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke is one of the top grossing films in Japan, and is considered by many to be a masterpiece. It combines deep philosophical issues with very human themes, as well as an intense action plot. This makes for a film that is accessible to almost everyone.
Two characters seem very similar to each other. One is Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime in Japanese), who lives with a wolf pack; the other is San, a Chinese girl living among wolves on top of a mountain. Both wear animal skins and are strong fighters. But there’s one big difference: while Mononoke is half human-half wolf, San has become completely part of her wolf family — an entirely non-human being capable of extraordinary feats.
- The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is another Ghibli masterpiece, based on the traditional story of princess that has descended to earth from the moon. The anime is immediately set apart by its simplistic, hand-drawn style that helps accentuate the traditional, olden-day nature of the story.
A bamboo cutter goes out to cut bamboo in the mountain behind his house and finds a strange-looking grove. He finds a baby girl in a budding baby-bamboo. The girl grows until she becomes the most beautiful princess ever seen by human eyes. But, alas, her true home is not in the terrestrial realm, but in the heavens.
- Pom Poko
This anime is available on Netflix
The Japanese anime Pom Poko is about raccoons (called Tanuki in Japanese). It is also a movie about the struggle of the nature-loving raccoons against the humans who want to build a new expressway through their forest home. The film’s name comes from an old Japanese tale in which raccoons use their rear ends as drums and dance to distract hunters while helping each other escape.
It has to be one of the few films ever to show animals using their own testicals as parachutes. We kid you not.
The film has parallels in Western films. One thinks of how rabbits are depicted in Watership Down or White Fur, two stories about animals struggling for survival against human encroachment on their natural territory.
- Kamisama Kiss
This anime is available on Hulu
The Japanese anime is Kamisama Kiss is about a high School girl Nanami Momozono who has no place to go and is starving because she ran out of money for food. Out of desperation, she prays to a god, asking him for help. And at that very moment the mysterious (and handsome) Tomoe appears before her. He informs her that he will be staying with her until his other “master” comes back…
- Spirited Away
The Studio Ghibli anime Spirited Away is about a young girl Chihiro who finds herself trapped in a strange new world of spirits. The world is inhabited with a world of strange yokai monsters, and filled with various imagery related to shinto belief.
Spirited away became an instant classic on its release by Ghibli Studios and manages to exquisitely mix ancient shinto symbology with eccentric genius of Ghibli’s Miyazaki Hayao.
- GeGeGe no Kitaro
GeGeGe no Kitarō has been around since the 1960s and was an early manga/anime to delve deep into the world of Yokai Japanese monsters. The story follows “Kitaro” or his alter ego “Nezumi-Otoko” which means “Rat Man”, who is able to see and interact with these mythical creatures.
It’s worth GeGeGe just for the parade of wacky Yokai that creep, slither and soar across the screen, if nothing else!
In particular, what’s not to love about a walking, talking eyeball as one of the main charcters.
The Japanese anime Kamichu! is about a young girl who has been chosen by God to become a Goddess and thus be responsible for the well-being of all the many spirits that populate her world. Kamichu! has parallels, but is not strictly part of the harem anime genre, despite having many potential love interests.
- [email protected] (ささみさん＠がんばらない)
Sasami Tsukuyomi is a loner high school student who rarely leaves the house. Her older brother, Kamiomi, dotes on her as he sees to her everyday needs. It becomes apparent that Sasami possesses god-like powers.
- Destiny of the shrine maiden (Kannazuki no Miko/神無月の巫女)
The Japanese anime Destiny of the shrine maiden (Kannazuki no Miko/神無月の巫女) is about a girl named Himeko Tachibana who has a younger sister, Chikane Himemiya.
Chikane is an immortal and reincarnates over the course of 700 years into the body of various women, with Himeko as her final incarnation; in every life she continues to fall for Himeko, and is determined to make her her own.
This anime is available on gogoanime
Kumamiko’s producer is called White Fox (白狐), so this show has shinto links from the very point of production! Kumamiko(くまみこ) is about a bear-girl who goes to the human world to live with a Japanese high school student. The mise-en-scene of this anime is replete with Torii gates, animism and Miko-san.
- Our Home’s Fox Deity(/Wagaya no Oinari Sama/我が家のお稲荷さま。)
The Japanese anime Our Home’s Fox Deity is about a boy named Kohei who was recently orphaned. One day, while taking out the trash at his foster home, he hears someone calling to him from a dumpster. When he opens it up, he finds a girl inside! She introduces herself as Tanpopo and says she is a “deity of the house” (the “fox deity”, or “inari” in Japanese, of the title). She explains that her true form isn’t visible to humans. But Kohei is special because his departed mother was an earth deity also capable of shape-shifting.
- Red Data Girl (RDG)
This anime is about a mysterious girl raised in the woods by a Druid-like priest who has strange powers.
This not-very-shinto-sounding anime actually oozes with shingo imagery and concepts. Based on a novel the story centres around Izumiko Suzuhara, who has been raised in a shinto shrine. She’s a shy girl who longs for the city, but who has a strange power to destroy any electrical device she touches. She goes on to meet a “himegami” or “princess-god” while on a school excursion. She finds out she is a “Yorimashi”, which explains her mysterious abilities.
- Gingitsune (ぎんぎつね)
Gingitsune (ぎんぎつね) is about a shrine maiden named Makoto Saeki (佐伯 誠) who travels from her place in the human world to the land of gods. Her story begins with a vision she sees while praying at a small shrine in Tokyo’s Jinbōchō neighborhood.
Bonus Shinto Related Anime:
Demon Slayer (鬼滅の刃）
This world-conquering story about a boy who finds his family slain and his sister possessed by a demon is half Zombie-horror, half traditional Japanese and shinto inflected god-monster-demon story. We’ve done a background on the meaning of Demon Slayer’s name, Kimetsu no yaiba and the Demon Slayer Opening themsong Gurenge here.