The Best Eye-Opening Philosophical Anime

Animation has become its own niche that can no longer be contained in descriptors like “children’s animation”. Featuring a wide range of genres and cliches, it has turned into a multi-functional storytelling tool. Philosophical anime in particular are particularly good at highlighting this unique strength.

As a medium, anime offers producers the unique opportunity to convey deeper messages in a beautiful visual format. Here are some of the best philosophical anime that demonstrate the world’s revealing potential.

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Mushishi: the mystical world of Japanese traditions

In the world of Mushishi, “Mushi” are simple existences without purpose or confined form. They are the most basic life forms in the world and can mimic anything from plants to disease. Most humans are unaware of their existence, with Mushishi – people who research Mushi – being the exception. Ginko is one of those Mushishi who travels the world, researching Mushi-related events and helping ordinary people.

Traditional Japanese tradition is very much in tune with nature and Mushishi showcases this connection perfectly, taking themes and inspiration from classic Japanese legends and turning them into stories with substance and context. The mysterious Mushi translates directly to the mystery of nature. Following Ginko’s journey as he solves various mysteries around Mushi, Mushishi also invites spectators to contemplate the unknowns of nature.

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Mars Comes Like a Lion: The Strength of Love and Family Bonds

Shogi is a form of Japanese chess that requires patience as well as courage, and those at the top are certainly not simple people. Rei Kiriyama is the youngest professional shogi player at 17. He has developed a reclusive personality that isolates him from his peers since losing his parents and younger sister in a car accident, and has never regained a sense of familial love from his adoptive family. Until a chance encounter with the three Kawamoto sisters, Akari, Hinata and Momo, once again floods Rei’s lonely world with warmth and love.

Unexpectedly, Mars is coming like a lion, an anime about shogi, is deeply insightful and poetic. Rei’s interactions with the people around her – whether it’s her opponents in her shogi matches or the Kawamoto sisters – prompt deeper questions about the meaning and purpose of life. The world of shogi is harsh and extremely unrelenting on the psyche, but throughout the series Rei finds herself saved by the kindness and warmth of the sisters. His character development is impeccable as he gradually learns to form new relationships.

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Death Parade: What is human nature when there is nothing left to lose?

Quindecim is a special bar run by a character known as Decim. How special is it? This is where certain souls are sent to be judged if they die together, where Decim will invite them to play a game with their very souls in play. As their true natures unfold through the games, Decim will wear a Judgment: Is the boss’s soul sent to reincarnate or go into the void, never to be seen again? The appearance of a certain amnesiac girl begins to challenge Decim’s decisions.

death parade, set in the gap between life and death, questions what would happen if humans no longer had the shackles of their mortal life to restrain them. What would their true nature be? It is a bittersweet but dismal story of regret and hope.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends: The Relationship Between Humans and Yokai

Taking another dive into the world of Japanese lore from a slightly lighter perspective is Natsume’s Friends Book. He follows Takashi Natsume, who has always been able to see the yokai chasing him all day. One day, he finds a “Book of Friends” containing the names of the yokai his deceased grandmother, Reiko, had defeated. As a descendant, Natsume also has this power – which is why the yokai continue to pursue him in hopes of reclaiming their name. Protected by a guardian spirit known as Madara, Natsume decides to return the names to the yokai from whom they were stolen.

In his heart, Natsume’s Friends Book is a tale about the bond between humans and yokai. In each episode, Natsume encounters a different one with different goals and stories, each as memorable as the last. As he learns more about the yokai world, his bond with them deepens, as does his trust in humans. It’s a sweet yet poetic story with beautifully symbolic animation and music.

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Psycho-Pass: Can machines really predict the dark side of human nature?

psycho_pass characters

In the future, criminals will no longer be apprehended after committing a crime, but before it is even committed. With the implementation of the Sibyl system, inspectors can now apprehend citizens based on their Psycho-Pass, a score that represents signs of criminal intent. Alongside the Inspectors are the Enforcers, former Inspectors who have become latent criminals due to their high level of Psycho-Pass.

This anime explores the purity of justice and the moralistic consequence of using a potentially flawed system to apprehend otherwise innocent civilians. Told through the eyes of young Inspector Akane Tsunemori with a strong sense of justice, Psycho Pass warns against the pitfalls of relying on an easily broken system that only works to prevent, not solve the real problem.

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ID: Invaded: unraveling the minds of murderers and criminals

Continuing the trend of Psycho Pass is ID: Invaded, another futuristic anime exploring the consequences of using a different system for law enforcement. The Mizuhanome system allows detectives to enter a digital world which is a constructed representation of the criminal mind. These detectives must unravel the identities of the criminals by exploring their often twisted psychological plans, but there’s a catch: the people who enter these worlds must have killed someone before them. Former detective Akihito Narihisago is one such person.

The criminal mind has always been a fascinating subject to explore. ID: Invaded provides a unique visual take on this as Akihito attempts to unravel the twisted minds of criminals in these digital worlds. The line between good and evil becomes blurred as the logic behind the killer’s twisted motives is gradually revealed.

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