A Guide To The Surprisingly Deep Symbolism Behind 'Attack On Titan'

If you don't take the time to look under the surface, Attack on Titan can feel like a gratuitously violent anime about man-eating monsters terrorizing humanity. However, there's a lot more to the series than what can be gleaned from a casual viewing.

Online fans have put their heads together to collectively interpret symbolism in Attack on Titan, ranging from the meaning behind military emblems to Eren's deep connection with a Tarot card, the Hermit.

Like the symbolism in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. the attention to detail is surprisingly meticulous and nuanced. 

Photo: Wit Studio / Wikimedia Commons

  • Many Of The Characters Represent Human Responses To Trauma

    Many Of The Characters Represent Human Responses To Trauma
    Photo: Wit Studio

    When you break it down, life in the world of Attack on Titan is terrifying. Within the walls, there's a sense of safety, but also a sense of painful constraint. Outside the walls, citizens risk losing their lives in a brutal fashion. 

    Losing loved ones is a given. Every single character has endured all of these horrors, and likely others. The characters respond to their traumatic circumstances in different ways, representing the various manners in which humans react to trauma. 

    Eren Jaeger becomes enraged. Mikasa Ackerman remains stoic and calm. Anxiety reels in Armin Arlert. Not every character has a unique response – others are rage-fueled or calm – but the show goes out of its way to demonstrate the variety of possible reactions. 

  • It Depicts Humanity As The Underdog

    It Depicts Humanity As The Underdog
    Photo: Wit Studio

    War stories are told by the victors, and for that reason it's often easier to side with the more powerful faction. Attack on Titan asks viewers to do the opposite: to identify with the underdog

    The Titans can be seen as foreign invaders trying to occupy a country and steal its resources. Meanwhile, humans are do everything they can to hold off a far more powerful force.

    The show doesn't simply depict warfare, it also portrays the political and philosophical differences between opposing groups, and discusses the futility of humans fighting against each other.

  • The Roses On The Stationary Guards' Crest Encapsulate The Position 

    The Roses On The Stationary Guards' Crest Encapsulate The Position 
    Photo: Wit Studio

    Every military unit has a different crest, each with its own striking imagery. Their designs are emblematic of their pursuits. 

    The stationary guards' crest consists of two blooming roses. These guards maintain the walls protecting humanity from the Titans, and roses represent all aspects of this job. 

    According to Patrick Eyre, roses stand for "honor, faith, balance, passion, wisdom, devotion, and timelessness." Balance and wisdom relate to the wall's intended purpose: keeping the mindless, unintelligent Titans away from humanity. 

    Timelessness refers to the assumption the walls will never be breached (which, of course, isn't how things shake out in the series). Finally, the phrase "sub rosa" implies secrecy—there's a lot more to the walls than meets the eye. 

  • The Scouting Legion's Crest Represents Humanity's Fight To Survive

    The Scouting Legion's Crest Represents Humanity's Fight To Survive
    Photo: Wit Studio

    The Scouting Legion is tasked with going out and finding Titans outside of the confines of the walls. They use a pair of black and white wings as their symbol

    The wings represent the group's desire for freedom and their ability to leave the confines of the walls. However, the wings' color scheme is also important, as the white is on top of the black.

    White is often associated with purity and goodness, while black is affiliated with evil and cruelty. The white could represent the Scouting Legion, while the black could be emblematic of the Titans. The dominant white suggests humanity will win. 

    However, black can also represent wisdom, while white symbolizes innocence and naivety. Humans, who are supposedly far more knowledgeable than the mindless Titans, may be defeated after all. 

  • The Military Police's Crest Jabs At Their Incompetence

    The Military Police's Crest Jabs At Their Incompetence
    Photo: Wit Studio

    In theory, the military police's role is to allow humanity to live safely and peacefully within the walls. However, thanks to extreme corruption within the division, they rarely uphold their described role.

    The force's crest is a green unicorn, which has multiple meanings. Traditionally, unicorns have healing powers and can greatly benefit mankind—just like this police force can.

    However, unicorns are also mythical creatures, which could be interpreted as a slight jab at the military's nonexistent ability to do their job.  

  • There's A Reason Why There Were Nine Founding Titans

    There's A Reason Why There Were Nine Founding Titans
    Photo: Kodansha

    According to the the mythology of Attack on Titan, Ymir Fritz was the first Titan to ever exist. After she died, her power was divided across nine different successors, who then created the rest of Titan-kind. But why nine successors?

    Nine is an important number across a wide range of cultures. In Japanese culture, which is most likely to have influenced Hajime Isayama's work, nine is an unlucky number, as its pronunciation (kyuu) is similar to the word for agony or torture (kurushimi).

    Turkish mythology may have influenced Isayama as well. According to the Turkish creation myth, Kayra Khan formed the Earth and everything on it—including a branchless tree he found pretty lackluster. 

    Kayra Khan added nine branches to the tree, and from those branches, nine clans were born. Those clans went on to create humanity, just like the original nine Titans went on to create the rest of their kind.