Anime Underground Real Mythology Behind Your Favorite Anime  

Anna Lindwasser
11.8k views 15 items

Anime's more fantastical creations can often feel like they come out of nowhere. Sometimes that's true – no one can explain the twisted origin of FLCL – but in many cases, creators draw inspiration from ancient stories and legends. 

Much of the real mythology in anime comes from Japanese folktales and traditions. Shinigami, which appear in Death Note (among other shows), are gods of death that perform many of the same duties as Ryuk and Rem, minus the whole notebook thing.

Other shows cast a wider net, and use cultural tales from Europe, South America, and Africa. Without Norse mythology, the world would never have been gifted Ah! My Goddess.

Even if you already love a series, understanding the legends upon which it is based will give you a deeper appreciation for the artistic liberties its story takes. 

Death Note is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Real Mythology Behind Your Favorite Anime
Photo:  Death Note/Madhouse

While traditionally, Shinigami don't use Death Notes to carry out their grim work, they are Japanese gods of death. According to legend, Shinigami are to spirits who lure humans towards the end, either by persuading them to commit suicide or outright killing them.

Surprisingly, the term Shinigami is actually a product of Japan's interaction with the Western world (most likely in the 18th or 19th century). Prior to then, Japanese tradition did not consider death to be an inherently bad thing. While the idea of death spirits still existed, they weren't sinister, as they assisted with a natural life process. 

The Western influence on the idea of the Shinigami perhaps explains the creatures' resemblance to Grim Reapers

Also Ranked

#36 on The Greatest Animated Series Ever Made

#1 on The Best Adult Anime of All Time

#5 on The 100+ Best Anime Intros of All Time

#3 on The Best Gothic Anime Series Of All Time

see more on Death Note
Pokémon is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Real Mythology Behind Your Favorite Anime
Photo:  Pokémon/OLM

To create a vast world of unique creatures, Pokémon pulls inspiration from a wide variety of sources, such as ice cream, real-world animals, and even Japanese mythology

Jynx, an ice/psychic type Pokémon, is based on the Japanese legend of the Yamauba. According to myth, Yamauba are elderly witches who live in the mountains and target naive journeyers. The legendary beings' magical powers and preferred location account for the Pokémon's elemental composition. 

Exeggutor is also based on a mythological monster. Jinmenshi are trees that bare fruit resembling raucous human heads. The fruit is said to have gone extinct after it was consumed in huge quantities. Why anyone would want to eat a fruit that looks like a human face is not explained. (Exeggutor, for his part, does not look especially delicious.)

Also Ranked

#22 on The Greatest Animated Series Ever Made

#22 on The Best Anime Series of All Time

#85 on The Best Kids Cartoons of All Time

#13 on The Best Cartoons of All Time

see more on Pokémon

'Onyankopon' Borrows Its Titlular Character From Akan Folklore

'Onyankopon' Borrows I... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Real Mythology Behind Your Favorite Anime
Photo: Onyankopon/Asmik Ace Entertainment

African mythology is rarely featured in anime, so the 2017 children's show Onyankopon is in a league of its own. The show references an Akan folktale about Onyankopon the sky god, who used to live among humans, but retreated into the air after an old woman hit him in the head with a pestle she was using to mash yams.

The anime version of Onyankopon is a dancing cat. Like any true god, the logic behind his appearance is never thoroughly detailed, but speculatively, it could be because the "nyan" in his name is Japanese onomatopoeia analogous to "meow." 

Onyankopon wants to use his dancing abilities to help humans with their problems, but he's afraid to go near them, as the pestle incident left him traumatized. Because of this, he sends proxies to help high school girls navigate issues like relationships and dieting. It's confusing, but sort of cute.

'Interviews With Monster Girls' Makes Murderous Beasts Seem Adorable

'Interviews With Monster G... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Real Mythology Behind Your Favorite Anime
Photo:  Interviews With Monster Girls/A-1 Pictures

Interviews With Monster Girls features a variety of mythological creatures that exist in a universe called "demi-humans." The cast includes a vampire, a succubi, and an ice woman, all of whom are trying to find acceptance at a Japanese school, despite having unusual bodies. 

Most of the characters are cute, harmless versions of terrifying monsters. While most people think of vampires as murderous, bloodsucking demons, Hikari Takanashi is a peppy, energetic girl who uses a lot of sunblock and drinks government-supplied blood packs.

Kyoko Machi is a dullahan, one of the more terrifying figures from Irish mythology. Dullahans roam the Irish countryside at night, carrying their severed, rotting heads, and indiscriminately leading humans to their deaths. Sometimes, Dullahans ride around on jet-black horses Sleepy Hollow style, but in other versions of the story, they travel in black coaches that move rapidly enough to set fire to the surrounding area. 

This all sounds pretty dreadful, but you wouldn't know it from watching the anime. Kyoko – the show's resident Dullahan – is a regular girl who carries her head to school and would never dream of killing anybody.