Christian Responses to Anime

12:00 am | Uncategorized | Anime

P. Scott Price posted this response to one of my posts on the amrc-l mailing list:

I had some questions that you (or others on the list) might be able to shed some light on. I am constantly surprised at the presence of active web sites created by conservative Christians for anime and manga that appear to be the product of active web communities. The following is just a brief list of sites

A quick surf on the web finds a number of conservative Christians placing anime and manga right up the with “sex, drugs, and “rock and roll” as just one more tool of the devil. A typical quote from one page is as follows:

“Forty years ago, the Beatles landed in New York City and launched what history books call the British Invasion. Perhaps drowned out by all those screaming girls, another outsider touched down and slipped quietly through customs. Its few cultural ripples gradually swelled to tsunamic proportions. Today, that stylish Japanese pop culture invasion has reached teens via every conceivable medium, trading heavily in false religions, faulty worldviews, violence and pornography.”

This kind of response is not surprising given the distrust that many conservative Christians have with modern culture and the prevalent cultural assumption that all comics should be “appropriate” for kids.

Other web pages clearly show that some marketers have learned that conservative Christians will buy anime-inspired Christian products This follows a long term pattern of conservative Christianity making its own versions of popular culture such as Christian rock, Christian rap, and even in the 1960s and 70s - Christian underground comic books.

However, the above sites appear to be neither warnings of evil nor niche marketing. Instead they look very much like any other anime community. A quick review seems to suggest that anime appeals to individuals who identify themselves as conservative Christians despite the differences in world view and such individuals respond to anime and manga in ways very similar to individuals who do not identify with conservative Christianity.

Has anyone looked at this phenomena?

In the recent past, conservative Christians have made peace with and have even embraced fantasy based on the Christian fantasy authors like Williams, Chesterton, MacDonald, Lewis, and Tolkien. However, such a bridge does not exist for anime.

So how well does anime sit in the conservative Christian culture and is it important to conservative Christian anime and mange lovers that the two be reconciled?


You raise a good point. The response of Christians to anime and manga is confusing and contradictory to people who are not within the Evangelical Christian community and not in tune with the kinds of concerns that exist. Let me see if I can untangle this somewhat.

Two points: I will use Evangelical, Protestant, and Christian in somewhat synonymous ways. My primary focus is on how Protestant Christians respond to anime, so when I use the word “Christian” I have Evangelical culture in view. Also, my concerns are Anglocentric; I am most concerned with how English speaking Evangelicals in the United States - and to a lesser extent Evangelicals in the English speaking world - respond to anime and manga.

Generally speaking, Evangelical Christian responses to anime parallel in some ways earlier Christian responses to gaming (D&D), video games, and more broadly Christian responses to popular culture (television, movies, etc.). I have observed several types of responses, and have found the following categories useful:

  • Separatist
  • Moralistic
  • Discernment
  • Creative
  • Redemptive
  • Embracing

These categories are not exhaustive - there could easily be other types of responses that I have not observed. Also, these categories aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. A Christian response could be Embracing with characteristics of Moralistic response, for instance, or could combine elements of Discernment and Redemptive response.

(An additional category of response may be implied by John Morehead and Phil Johnson, recommending a missional approach toward anime and manga consumption as a post-modern sub-culture. However, I can’t comment on this yet as I still have a stack of reading to understand the paradigms they propose.)

Separatist responses on anime and manga would see anime and manga as either “worldly”, or on the more extreme end, as evil or demonic. Typically these views are held by Christian Fundamentalists. (Please note I am using “fundamentalist” in a specific way to refer to a particular historical movement and sociological phenomena within Protestant Christianity, and not in a broad-brushed or derogatory sense.) An example of this response would be Berit Kjos who has written a number of articles on anime and manga from this perspective that are available on her website.

On the other end of the spectrum, the embracing response represents the opposite extreme, consuming anime and manga with little concern for content and meaning. These are the folks who are into anime and manga for the sheer pleasure of the form, and may give a small nod to content concerns without it affecting their consumption habits. ChristianAnime.Net, AnimeAngels.Net, and the discussion on ChristianForums.Com would fit into this category. Active Christian anime communities typically have a very relaxed attitude toward anime viewing.

There are exceptions to this relaxed attitude, of course. All Evangelical responses I have found do include at least some degree of separatism. Responses to hentai or explicit homosexual content are uniformly separatist.

Moralistic responses tend to parallel the most common Evangelical response to movies, video games, and other pop culture. These are usually geared toward parents specifically to help determine whether children or teenagers should participate in content. Usually moralistic responses are focused on the language, sexual content (including nudity), and violent content of media. Concern is also given toward religious and occultic themes if they are perceived as potentially dangerous. An example of this approach can be seen in ChristianAnswers.Net reviews of some anime, such as their review of Spirited Away.

Discernment responses have become more popular in Evangelical circles in recent years with the renewed interest in developing a Christian worldview. In general, the discernment approach emphasizes that Christians develop a Biblical worldview that is informed on philosophical and theological matters, consuming media with a more critical eye towards the philosophical and theological perspectives being conveyed. Probe Ministries, Brian Godawa, and Richard Abanes advocate and employ this form. While there is little from this approach specifically geared toward anime and manga, one of the advantages and attractions of discernment is that it can be applied broadly to a variety of media regardless of what innovations develop. Discernment views, however, are often criticized as being overly intellectual on one hand, and of being too negative and critical on the other. Although the discernment view does not necessitate negative criticism of media, it often works out this way in practice.

The creative response considers a particular media as neutral, and the message being the matter of concern. This view emphasizes the need for Christian creativity in embracing a particular art form, while simultaneously using the art form as a means to carry a Christian message. ChristianManga.Com is an excellent example of this response at work, creating high quality manga with Christian themes and messages. Motivations for the creative approach are often either evangelism oriented, intended as a “Christian alternative”, or can also a purely artistic response which blends Christian themes naturally as part of the artistic process. In fantasy literature Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and J.R.R. Tolkien stand out as a few examples of Christian fantasy authors that employed fantasy in creative ways without concerns for evangelism or creating “Christian alternatives” to cultural artistic expressions.

However, the creative response is not without its problems. Separatist responses often will embrace the “Christian” creative forms while shunning forms that are not explicitly “Christian.” A parallel effect can be seen in the Christian music subculture, which tends toward creating an alternative “Christian” sub-culture parallel to the mainstream culture. Walter Kirn of GQ magazine wrote a biting critique of this phenomena in which he complains of how Christian art forms trail behind the mainstream rather than taking a lead in artistic innovation. I would not put in this category as it seems geared toward Christian themes in manga purely as art form, but in Evangelical circles there has been a strong emphasis placed on making imitations of the popular culture that are inferior in quality and meaning to their mainstream counterparts with the effect of creating “alternaculture.”

Finally, the redemptive response examines media with the intent to find redemptive themes in art that point toward Christian themes. One of the ideas that drove the thinking of the aforementioned authors was the concept that the pagan myths pointed back to “true myth” in Christianity. Redemptive responses look at existing forms of art in culture, draw out themes that parallel Christian themes, and use those to point back to Christianity. Obvious recent examples of this include Christian responses to film adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”, but can also be seen in responses that compare “Superman” and “Hero” as a figure of Christ, or “Requiem for a Dream” for its willingness to portray the consequences and tragedy of a particular lifestyle. However, this response has been criticized by separatists as being too eager to find common ground in a way that leads toward syncretism. Berit Kjos has argued this in response to redemptive readings of “The Lord of the Rings.”

The article from “Plugged In Online” you pointed to reflects a number of Evangelical responses. Most of the article focuses on a moralistic response: concerns about religious syncretism, violence, sexual content, and ratings confusion dominate the article. The emphasis is clearly on warning people (notably parents and youth workers) of the dangers associated with anime and manga. Near the end there is pointers to the Christian Anime Alliance and AnimeAngles.Net as sources for a discernment approach, though I personally would characterize those sites as an embracing response. The article ends, however, on a creative note, pointing to and their manga productions primarily as an evangelistic strategy. Anime and manga are only just now coming on the radars of Christian ministries, so it shouldn’t be surprising that responses would be rather negative. As time goes by, more balanced perspectives will emerge.

As far as why Christians are drawn to anime and manga, even with the extreme differences in worldview, I wish I had a good answer for this as I can only speculate. I suspect that this is a reflection of the power of these art forms and their seemingly limitless capacity and flexibility in dramatic story-telling. It is part of the human passion for meaningful stories; perhaps the distance from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” to “Princess Mononoke” is not nearly as wide of a chasm as it might at first appear.



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Comment on July 31, 2006 @ 6:17 am

Excellent article. The classifications, although not exhaustive (as you mentioned), are an excellent starting point in engaging anime and manga.

r. abanes

Comment on August 2, 2006 @ 12:28 pm

Dear friend,

You may find my new book about video games extremely interesting - “What Everey Parent Needs to Know About Video Games.”

I am an avid gamer and fan of video games.


Richard Abanes

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