Anime inspired by Japanese mythology


10 Japanese Anime Movies and Series Inspired By Mythology
Japanese mythology anime
Image adapted from: Toho, Sunrise, Toei

Anime may have storylines that seem outlandish, but many of these plots are actually based on Japanese mythology. From the countless kami (god) in Shintoism to the yokai (demon) in old legends, there is no lack of creative material to draw inspiration from.

We’ve put together a list of 10 anime movies and series inspired by Japanese mythology from a time where gods and spirits roamed freely amongst us.


1. Inuyasha (2000 – 2010)


Inuyasha Japanese mythology anime series
Image credit: IMDb

Kagome Higurashi, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Tokyo, is whisked off to feudal Japan after being dragged into an old well by a centipede demon. There, she meets an obnoxious half dog-yokai named Inuyasha.

Within Kagome lies the mystical wish-granting Shikon Jewel, a relic carried over from her previous incarnation, a powerful Shinto priestess named Kikyo. When another demon tries to extract the Jewel from Kagome, she shatters it into many pieces with an arrow, scattering it across Japan. 

Inuyasha Japanese mythology anime
Image credit: Inuyasha Fandom

Kagome and Inuyasha then embark on a quest to recover the jewel shards before an evil half spider-demon does so.

A spin-off series is scheduled to be released in October 2020.

 

Genre: Adventure, fantasy, romance
Available on: Hulu, Netflix (original series only)


2. Naruto (2002 – 2017)


Naruto Japanese mythology anime
Image credit: Naruto Fandom

Naruto Uzumaki is a young ninja who dreams of becoming the Hokage – the strongest shinobi in the Hidden Leaf Village. Unbeknownst to Naruto, he is the human host of the fearsome Nine-Tailed Fox that destroyed much of the village, which is why the villagers ostracised him. Despite that, Naruto’s outgoing personality, determination, and compassion won over friends and foes alike.

Naruto Japanese mythology
Image credit: Naruto Fandom

In Japanese mythology, the Nine-Tailed Fox, or kyubi, is a mischievous spirit with the power to shapeshift into beautiful women. Some fans have pointed out the similarities between the prank-loving Naruto and the playful fox spirit of folklore.

Naruto
Susano-o and the Totsuka Sword and Yata Mirror
Image credit: Naruto Fandom

There are also references to other Shinto beliefs. The Uchiha clan’s abilities are named after Shinto kami, such as Tsukiyomi, Amaterasu, and Susano-o. Even the weapons and techniques used by the characters, such as the Totsuka Sword and chidori, are based on Japanese myths.

Jiraiya
Jiraiya overcoming a huge snake
Image credit: Utagawa Kuniyoshi

The legendary sannin (伝説の三忍) in the series – Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Orochimaru – are based on the Japanese folklore Jiraiya Gōketsu Monogatari (児雷也豪傑物語). Literally translated to The Tale of The Gallant Jiraiya, it chronicles a legendary ninja who can shapeshift into a giant toad. He defeats his enemy, Orochimaru, a master of serpent magic. He also falls in love with Tsunade, a maiden who has mastered slug magic.

Naruto sannin
Tsunade, Orochimaru, and Jiraiya
Image credit: Museum of Fine Arts

This folktale about Jiraiya has been adapted into novels and kabuki dramas. As a nod to the character’s connection to kabuki, Naruto’s Jiraiya uses speech patterns reminiscent of old kabuki plays.

 

Genre: Adventure, fantasy, shonen
Available on: Netflix, Crunchyroll, Hulu


3. Princess Mononoke (1997)


Princess Mononoke
Image credit: IMDb

Princess Mononoke is set in the 14th century. Cursed by a boar god, a young Emishi prince named Ashitaka embarks on a journey to the West to seek a cure.

On his quest, he encounters humans destroying a forest, as well as San, a wolf-girl who fights to protect the forest and spirits that dwell within. Ashitaka tries to negotiate for peace between both sides, but war threatens to erupt between the humans and the forces of nature.

Princess Mononoke Japanese mythology anime
Image credit: IMDb

The film is set in a time when people coexisted with nature spirits. According to Shinto beliefs, all things contain a spirit known as kami, and forests are no exception. The Great Forest Spirit, a deer-like god by day and a gigantic yokai-like Nightwalker at night, reigns over the forest, which is inhabited by thousands of kodama – adorable little nature sprites. The sentient animals and wrathful Nightwalker represent nature punishing humans for greedily consuming natural resources.

Princess Mononoke
Image credit: IMDb

 

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Available on: Netflix, Amazon Prime


4. Noragami (2014)


Noragami Japanese mythology anime
Image credit: IMDb

In modern-day Tokyo, Yato is a nameless deity who has no shrines dedicated to him. In an attempt to earn enough money to build his own shrine and following, he’s willing to grant any wish for a mere offering of 5 yen.

Noragami Japanese mythology anime series
Image credit: IMDb

Hiyori Iki, a schoolgirl, is involved in a bus accident while trying to protect a stranger. She recovers from her physical injuries but her soul is damaged and frequently slips into the spirit realm.

There, she meets Yato, who agrees to help her regain normalcy. Along with Yukine, a boy who can be used as a weapon by Yato, the trio go through adventures that gradually reveal Yato’s past.

Noragami (ノラガミ) literally translates to stray god, which hints at Yato’s backstory. The series is a mix of action, romance, and comedic moments.

 

Genre: Action, supernatural, urban fantasy
Available on: Netflix


5. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013)


Princess Kaguya Japanese mythology anime series
Image credit: IMDb

An old bamboo cutter chances upon a glowing bamboo shoot and discovers a tiny girl inside it. He and his spouse believe she’s divine and decide to raise the doll-like girl.

Princess Kaguya
Image credit: IMDb

The girl grows rapidly into a beautiful young lady who captivates all men who come before her. However, she slowly loses her jovial and carefree personality as life begins to bear down on her. She must ultimately accept the truth behind her roots and return to where she belongs.

Princess Kaguya
Image credit: IMDb

The movie is based on the 10th-century Japanese folktale, Taketori Monogatari (竹取物語), which translates to The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. This legend is also said to be the origin of Mount Fuji’s name.

 

Genre: Drama, fantasy, family
Available on: Netflix


6. Pom Poko (1994)


Pom Poko Japanese mythology anime
Image credit: IMDb

It is the early 1990s, and the rapid development of the Tama Hills in the outskirts of Tokyo has forced a family of tanuki (Japanese racoon dogs) out of their homes. The tanuki are family-oriented and fun-loving peaceful creatures. But as resources and shelter grow scarce, they decide to band together against the humans.

Pom poko Japanese mythology anime
Image credit: IMDb

The tanuki have an impressive trick up their sleeves – they are masters of shape-shifting and can infiltrate society by posing as humans. Will they succeed in stopping the onslaught of human destruction and take back their homes?

Pom Poko
Image credit: IMDb

In Japanese folktales, the tanuki are shape-shifting creatures who like to trick humans and make them look silly. Also, they’re said to drum on their bellies, making a “pom poko” rhythmic sound.

 

Genre: Comedy, drama, family, fantasy
Available on: Netflix


7. Kamisama Kiss (2012)


Kamisama Kiss
Image credit: IMDb

Kind-hearted schoolgirl Nanami Momozono finds herself evicted after her gambling father accumulates too much debt and she can no longer afford to pay rent.

She takes a moment to recollect her thoughts in the park and notices a man hanging from a tree to escape a dog. She helps the man and then recounts her predicament to him. The man, Mikage, offers his home to express his gratitude and Nanami accepts.

Nanami is taken aback when she reaches his home because Mikage lives in a shrine. It is revealed that he was the local deity and that he has chosen Nanami as his successor because of her kindness.

Kamisama Kiss
Image credit: IMDb

Nanami accepts the job and works hard to be a dutiful god at the shrine, but she also finds herself falling in love with her dashing fox spirit familiar, Tomoe – forbidden love between yokai and human.

 

Genre: Comedy, romance, supernatural
Available on: Hulu, Netflix (select countries), Funimation (select countries)


8. Spirited Away (2001)


Spirited Away Japanese mythology anime
Image credit: IMDb

Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl, finds herself trapped in a world with strange spirits and Shinto deities. Her parents were turned into pigs and she must undergo a tumultuous journey to free her family and return to the human world.

Spirited Away is heavily influenced by Japanese Shinto-Buddhist beliefs. The film is set in a bathhouse in the spirit realm, where kami and spirits come by to bathe.

Spirited Away
Image credit: Disney Fandom

Hayao Miyazaki, the director, revealed that his parents believed that spirits and kami exist everywhere, and that people should treasure all things because everything has a life to it.

Spirited Away
Image credit: Ghibli Fandom

This Shinto belief is also reflected in the Stink Spirit, which turned out to be a river spirit polluted beyond recognition. Her friend Haku, a river dragon spirit, is also a force of nature. 

Spirited Away Japanese mythology anime
Image credit: Ghibli Fandom

 

 

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Family, Mystery
Available on: Netflix, Amazon Prime


9. GeGeGe no Kitaro (2018 – 2020)


GeGeGe no Kitaro Japanese mythology series
Image credit: IMDb

GeGeGe no Kitaro is centred on Kitaro, a young yokai boy who’s also the last living member of the Ghost Tribe. He fights for peace between yokai and humans, along with other spirits and yokai of Japanese folklore. His loyal companions are his father, who has mostly decayed and takes the form of an eyeball, a rat-man, and a cat-girl.

Kitaro’s adventures typically involve him protecting humans from other malevolent yokai. This includes Japanese monsters, as well as foreign creatures such as the Chinese and Western vampires. Kitaro takes these creatures on with the use of his powers and cunning.

The Great Yōkai War arc is largely influenced by the tale of Momotaro, a young hero defending Japan with the help of animals.

GeGeGe no Kitaro is a long-running series, with fans spanning across generations. The first manga was released in 1960, and the first anime series in 1968. The latest season marked the series’ 50th anniversary and paid homage to the original.

 

Genre: Dark fantasy, horror, supernatural
Available on: Crunchyroll, Netflix (select countries)


10. Kamichu! (2005)


Kamichu! Japanese mythology anime
Image credit: AniDB

Yurie Hitotsubashi, a middle school student in Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, wakes up to find that she has become a kami overnight. Not much is explained about the affair, and she has no idea what type of goddess she is or what her powers are.

Yurie’s classmate Matsuri is quick to latch onto her as she sees it as a way to revamp her family’s bankrupt Shinto shrine. With her new nickname, Kamichu – a portmanteau of kami and chugakusei (middle school student) – Yurie must take on her godly duties while still attending school.

Kamichu! is a coming-of-age series that references Shinto beliefs. Many of the temples and landmarks in the series are faithful depictions of real-life locations.

 

Genre: Fantasy, slice of life
Available on: DVD


Japanese mythology-inspired anime


These days, when current affairs seem more bizarre than anime storylines, it’s nice to take a breather and delve into another world. We hope these anime movies and series inspired by Japanese mythology will keep you spellbound with their fables.

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