One of the few things I enjoy in life is anime. Anime was one of the few things that helped break through the wall I’d built around my emotions that were put up to stabilise my borderline personality disorder and helped me bring that wall back down and helped me to feel things again. Because of my love for anime, I wanted to write something about it. This article is the result of that wish.
One of the great things about anime is that this art medium never shies away from the taboo, but one of the disturbing things about anime is that it never shies away from the taboo. One of the topics they’re not afraid to tackle is mental health. You’ll see character after character in show after show having a mental health condition in one form or another, such as having Hikikomori.
In case you don’t know what Hikikomori is, it’s a condition that’s arguably largely a cultural phenomenon, that predominantly exists in Japan, the home of anime, which encompasses social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and learning disorders.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Hikikomori, then click here to be taken to an article I wrote about it.
How Can Anime Affect Mental Health?
Anime can affect mental health in a number of different ways, they can show us how different characters can react in high-stress and traumatic situations, how people can still be successful with mental health conditions, and show us the full range of extremes and unpleasantness that often comes with mental illness.
But one of the best ways anime does this is by creating characters we can connect with who challenge the stigma of mental health, fully making characters with mental health conditions mainstream, that we can love. There is also an anime show for every mood or emotion you might want to feel, connect with, or change.
Anime’s Representations Of Mental Illness
There are countless anime characters that depict signs of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more (The Wonk). Below are some of my favourite examples from the anime I’ve watched mixed in with some that were recommended to me as good examples.
Black Clover is a show about a world where everyone can use magic, except Asta. Asta was abandoned with Yuno and raised at a church with other orphaned children. Asta would go on to become a member of the Black Bulls, a Magic Knights Squad, where he would go on to meet Grey, but not really.
Grey has such extreme anxiety that she uses transformation magic to hide their true appearance from everyone around her. The image she chooses to show everyone is of a giant male person, with no one seeing Grey‘s true form until episode 45. However, unbeknownst at the time to the Black Bulls and the views, they did sneak an image of Grey running all flustered in the background in episode 11 (CBR).
In episode 150, the teammates use a form of graded exposure to try and help Grey overcome her anxiety, with Gordon using the dolls he made of all the other Black Bulls as a way to help. That’s because Grey‘s anxiety is so bad that she can’t cope with being looked at, even from a sizable distance.
However, another teammate, Gauche, takes it to an extreme by using his mirror magic to allow Grey to see herself and others to see her from every angle. Somehow, during this filler training episode, Grey randomly gets hypnotised and their anxiety goes away, but it doesn’t stay that way.
In subsequent episodes, you still see Grey struggling with anxiety, although she no longer hides by transforming into their big male persona, instead you see Grey shacking a lot while hiding her face behind her hands. But, we seem to be slowly seeing her anxiety get better and better, so it’ll be interesting to see how it eventually ends up.
Naruto and Naruto Shippuden
Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden has a lot of examples of people exhibiting mental illnesses, but the two most prominent ones are Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha. Both of these characters experience a similar isolating childhood that would lead them to take very different paths in this story about ninjas.
Naruto Uzumaki parents both die moments after he’s born after having had the Nine-Tails sealed inside him at birth. For reasons unknown, everyone in his village shuns him and he’s basically left to look after himself. An odd choice for someone with a living weapon sealed inside him.
Because everyone keeps their distance from Naruto, he’s compelled to act out for attention, due to his crippling isolation, loneliness, and depression. Something I can relate to as someone who grew up enduring racist abuse throughout my childhood, which left me depressed and desperate to be accepted, just like Naruto.
Sasuke Uchiha, on the other hand, had his entire clan wiped out by his own brother. Grief and anger caused him to become isolated, closed off, depressed, and distant. However, unlike Naruto, he’s not interested in being accepted. He wants revenge. These two characters played out the two different, somewhat extreme, ways children might respond in these situations. Sasuke‘s storyline is especially true with how children can be radicalised into joining terrorist organisations in response to their family being killed, as has been played out a lot since the war on terror started.
Boruto: Naruto Next Generations
Boruto: Naruto Next Generations is the latest series to follow Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden, focusing on the children of the main characters from the two preceding Naruto series. Again, there a lot of examples of mental illness in the series, but there was one storyline that particularly stood out to me. Naruto‘s son, Boruto, experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the course of two episodes (episodes 131-132).
Boruto is sent back in time where he encounters his father, Naruto, as a child who loses control of the Nine-Tails that’s sealed inside him, causing him to hurt Boruto. This then causes Boruto to experience flashbacks of the attacks as well as causing him to have flashes of overwhelming fear when around Naruto. These two episodes of PTSD in children highlights the importance of not hitting your children, although in the context of this show it wasn’t done on purpose.
Mushoku Tensei (Jobless Reincarnation)
Mushoku Tensei is a story about someone who fears going outside (agoraphobia) who dies and is reincarnated in a world with magic and monsters. The protagonist, Rudeus Greyrat, has retained all his knowledge from his previous life, which gives him an advantage in this new world. However, the memories of his childhood trauma from school bullying are also remembered and still plague him in this new world as well. You can best see this played out in episode two of the first and only season, so far.
Soul Eater is a show about a group of students attending a school for aspiring demon hunters. One of those students is Death the Kid who has a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Furthermore, there’s also another student, Black☆Star, who likely has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Ikusa x Koi (Val x Love)
Takuma Akutsu is the male protagonist in the anime series, Ikusa x Koi. In this series, Takuma Akutsu develops social anxiety due to the reactions of others based solely on his appearance, so he likely has a case of body dysmorphia too. Everyone he comes into contact with is scared of him, which causes him to become an outcast, resulting in an inability to interact with others and the development of his social anxiety disorder.
The insertion of the Saotome sisters by Odin into his life will help to change all that, as he’s tasked with helping the nine sisters with raising their levels to fight off the monsters threatening humanity. Because although he may be perceived as being scary, he’s really not a bad guy.
Yuki Takeya is the main protagonist of Gakkougurashi! (School-Live!), and according to ReviewThis, Yuki Takeya sufferers from PTSD and psychosis. The cause of Yuki Takeya developing these mental health issues is a result of a zombie outbreak, which eventually causes her to mentally break down after watching her teacher (Megumi Sakura) sacrifice herself to save her students.
The result of this was Yuki Takeya slipping into a delusional state to escape the reality of the zombie pandemic. What she see’s, paints the picture that the zombie outbreak hasn’t happened and everything is ok. However, this delusion slowly starts to crumble over the course of the series.
Kumo Desu ga, Nani ka? (So I’m a Spider, So What?)
Kumo Desu ga, Nani ka? is a story about a girl who’s reincarnated as a spider in a dungeon, with half the story focusing on her struggle for survival in this new world as a spider which follows the classic RPG format. In episode 11 of the first and only season so far, the reincarnated spider has a conversation with itself about PTSD and how they need to get over it.
They talk about how trauma is trauma for a reason because it’s difficult to overcome, but they must get over it because the world is at stake. However, first, they have to overcome their fear and kill the source of their PTSD, the Earth Dragon Araba. This particular anime doesn’t go into a huge amount of detail about PTSD and mental health, however, the comment about trauma being difficult to get over, otherwise it wouldn’t be trauma, I thought was a great statement to make on trauma and PTSD.
No Game No Life
No Game No Life is about a bother (Sora) and sister (Shiro) who love gaming and who both have Hikikomori (or social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, like me) and are transported to a world of games, which they love.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April)
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso follows Kо̄sei Arima, a young pianist, who loses his ability to hear the piano after his mother’s death, where grief plunges him into a deep depression. But everything starts to change when he meets Kaori Miyazono.
Mob Psycho 100
Mob Psycho 100 is about a child (Shigeo Kageyama) who has psychic powers that are linked to his emotions, who uses his abilities to exorcise ghosts. However, Mob is depressed, so depressed that it affects his everyday life, and even prevents him from eating, with the show using his emotionally linked psychic powers to highlight this, such as bending a spoon away from his mouth while trying to eat (The Bald Savant).
If you’re interested in reading about some other anime that shows mental illness, then click here to be taken to a list of anime shows I didn’t mention. Although it’s not a complete list, it will give you a chance to check out some other anime on mental health.
Ways Anime Can Boost Wellbeing And Inspire Us
Anime shows like Black Clover, Naruto, Fairy Tail, and Boruto, show us how to keep pushing forward even when you’re knocked down, time and time again, to never give up. It’s so easy to get swept up in that feeling of never giving up when you see these animated characters giving it their all. They may not be real, but the emotional hit and the psychological boost you can get from them is.
One great example from anime is how friends can be there for each other to offer support, provide safety, give them a helping hand, and back them up when they need it. Anime can do a really good job of showing How To Always Be There For A Friend: #BeTheMateYoudWant. The flip-side to that is how anime often shows how not being there can harm those that need it, especially when it comes to bullying, which I know too well first-hand, my childhood was just an endurance of racist abuse from start to finish.
A common troupe(?) used anime is the never giving up and how the lowest most bullied person can become a person everyone looks up to even if the world thinks you’re the lowest of the low. This is best portrayed in Black Clover and Naruto, if you ask me.
Watching Naruto overcome all the obstacles in his way and gaining acceptance in Naruto, Naruto: Shippuden, and Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, was an awesome journey that often would make me feel somewhat positive about my own situation. Furthermore, watching Sasuke go from a troubled child to a terrorist, to finally redeeming himself, also has its merits, as it reminds us it’s never too late to change who we are for the better.
Another thing anime can do is shine a light on problematic emotions. Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which centres on the brothers, Edward Elric and Alphonse Elric, is set in a world where alchemy is real. The brothers, driven by grief, try to use alchemy to resurrect their dead mother, the failure of which leaves one bother without an arm and the other without a body. Edward Elric, now driven by guilt, tried to find a way to return his brother back to his body. The anime is a dramatic example of how powerful grief and guilt can be, and how getting support for these emotions can be valuable for our mental health and general wellbeing.
Bad Representations Of Mental Health
Like all entertainment mediums, not all representations of mental health are portrayed in a way that fully respects the conditions. One of my favourite anime’s, for example, Soul Eater, could be argued and has been argued by The Artifice, as presenting a problematic take on Death the Kid and his OCD, turning it into something humorous. The fact is, although mental health is very serious, there are times when it can be humorous when seen objectively, especially to an outsider, which is the case with this representation. Tourettes Hero is a good example of this.
Although not about mental health directly, they’ve embraced the weird, funny, and often offensive stuff they say to change the narrative on the disorder in order to challenge the stigma and public perception. Not all representation can be positive, because like it or not, there can be an unpleasant side to mental health that also deserves to be told to present a complete picture.
The Negative Impact Of Anime On Mental Health
One of the biggest negatives of anime for mental health, however, is their use of impossibly beautiful standards and body shapes. Female characters often have super skinny waists, big breasts, and impossibly shaped bodies you can only have by creating them using your imagination.
As such, it could easily be a factor in people developing body image issues like body dysmorphic disorder or worsening them if they already have them. Especially with how prevalent anime is in Japanese culture and how idolised anime characters can be. The male anime characters often aren’t much different either, often with perfect muscular bodies, but it doesn’t compare with how they portray female characters.
Anime isn’t alone in how it can sometimes be negative for our mental health. TV shows and films can also have a negative effect on how it portrays mental health. 60% of people who took part in an opinion poll found that schizophrenia is more negatively portrayed than other mental health condition, as reported by Mind. Furthermore, according to Arwa Haider‘s article for the BBC, movie depictions of mental instability in genres like horror can dominate our perceptions of people with mental health conditions; like all people who are mentally unwell might be deranged killers or sadists.
While researching for this article, I came across a mental health charity called Anime For Humanity that exists in the US, which seeks to improve the mental wellbeing of others through the use of anime. So why not check them out by clicking here, especially if you live in the US, because you’ll be able to get an anime therapy kit. Jealous.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of watching anime and how it made you feel in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget to bookmark my site and if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
46 thoughts on “How Anime Brings Mental Health Into The Mainstream”
Funnily enough, I was having a very similar conversation to this with one of my friends’ kids this week. She loves anime, she is obsessed. I was chatting about with her and she said much the same as you.
The kids got great taste then ?
I really enjoyed reading this! As you said anime can bring mental health on the discussion and show that people can live with it and that there’s always a chance for everyone to live as best as we can. On the flipside, as with everything there’s portraying of mental illness that are not realistic. I have only watched You lie in April from this list and started Naruto, so thanks for the recommendations!
Naruto is great, I hope you enjoy watching it
This is great, and it is a huge positive to talk about mental health using art as the opening to a discussion. What I love is that we have been using stories to explain our emotions and issues for such a long time, that is why all arts are so important to our emotional wellbeing. Anime is a wonderful art form that challenges our perceptions of the world and of authority. We should take comfort that there are a variety of ways we can express what we are feeling, and anime is one of those. Well said with this post.
The power of story telling is an amazing gift of human creativity
I’m not an anime fan, so I read your post as a window on how the Japanese see mental health ans wellness. I hope to run the Toyko marathon someday and extend my visit to see their culture in person.
We just had a Marvel limited series—WandaVision—tell the story of Wanda Maximoff’s grief at losing Vision and how it enveloped everything around her. It will be interesting how that develops, given Marvel’s interconected universe, but it was a perfect theme for 2020.
As always, keep writing. Your words have power.
WandaVision is a good series with a lot of surprises. I hope you’re able to enjoy Japan and you’re able to do the Tokyo marathon, once we’re all allowed to do such things again
When I studied film theory, they talked about one of the ways film is so interesting, is that as we are transported into those situations through the characters, our minds are being shown ways to deal with things and situations we may have never faced personally, and then on the chance that we do, our minds know better how to deal with it, because our mind has essentially been shown an example of how to deal. Almost like sense memory, if you will. So watching characters go through things, especially that we experience ourselves regularly, can be beneficial in ways we hadn’t really expected. One of the reasons why representation is so important. Great article, and it got me thinking about theory again, which I always appreciate.
Wow, I had never really though of it that way, but that makes a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing your insights
Great post! I never really thought about it before, but animes do bring up the topic of mental health more than other shows might.
Anime can really push the envelope
I really enjoyed this post! When I saw the title, I immediately thought of Death the Kid and Arima Kousei, and your comments on both characters were interesting. I felt a little bad about how Kid’s issues were used for comedic effect; he clearly needs some help, but it always got treated like a joke. I wonder if PTSD came into play with Kousei’s inability to hear the piano. He was definitely grieving, but his mom was also pretty terrible. I feel like Fruits Basket and Clannad are also both ripe for a mental health discussion–many of the characters in both series are struggling with grief, rejection, or depression.
I haven’t watched Fruits Basket or Clannad, I may have to check them out to see the many examples of mental health featured in them
Fascinating post! Our family has watched quite a bit of anime, mostly Studio Ghibli movies like Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and Grave of the Fireflies.
Grave of the Fireflies was very sad since it’s about war and starvation. Definitely has themes of PTSD, shock and depression. I have not seen the ones you wrote about, but will check them out.
The anime I mentioned are all series rather than films, so you may need a lot of time set aside to enjoy them
glad that anime doesn’t shy away from discussing “taboos” such as mental health, and I think it’s great to see important subjects in the mainstream media 🙂
Indeed, we need lot’s more of this
Awesome post! I like all points that you highlighted in this article. It’s true that anime writers are very honest about mental health. We can learned about mental health by watching anime. These are one of the reasons why I love anime. Thank you for sharing this awesome article. Keep out the good work.
Thank you. Yeah, anime is really great like that, it’s one of my favourite forms of entertainment
My boyfriend watches anime and I’ve totally thought the same thing before! Some of the situation are totally relatable and you stop to think about it (at least I do) and you’re right they are always there for each other (unlike some “real friends in real life situations). They don’t judge each other they’re just there. Great post, I loved it!
Anime really love to the friendship and bonding storylines
Growing up I never liked seeing animated female characters drown with perfect bodies. I remember not feeling beautiful because of see this when I was younger. It took a few years for me to see that I was beautiful and didn’t need to look like these unrealistic beauty standards. I have only seen a few anime shows and did see how they are relatable the characters.
Unrealistic bodies in cartoons and anime are a real problem
Great post! Didn’t know how in-depth the correlation is with anime and mental health, both positive and negative impact. I’m not into anime but I do have lots of friends who are super into it and I can somehow see why they do. They say the storyline and plot are unique and not predictable. Striking dialogues and cool characters. They cry, laugh, and everything in between whenever they watch haha. Thanks for sharing!
There’s a lot of bitter sweet endings in anime too, so you don’t always get the happily ever after endings
I have touched base with several anime books as well as shows, and anime really does bring mental health into the light! I find most of the characters often have something they are openly struggling with and, while some of the interactions within the story can be quite narrow-minded and wicked, there is a lot of support in the culture where mental health is an ‘open book’, so to speak.
That said, I LOVE that you also note the artwork and depiction of anime characters is always very similar and puts forth a set image.
Thanks for sharing!
Japanese culture is great in some ways and horrible in others, the fearlessness in tackling the taboo fiction is great but they lag far behind in overcoming traditional gender roles in society
My nephew love anime movies. I don’t know what he finds so facinated about them. Your blog has made ne see a new perspective. Thanks for sharing
Thanks for commenting
This was a fascinating read! I used to watch Anime but have lapsed in recent years. It’s great that they show realistic characters which help battle the stigma in mental health. Too often I feel like in TV shows they mention a condition but then too easily it just disappears or it’s not an accurate portrayal at all.
TV shows really did a disservice in regards to mental health over the years, but they seem to be moving in the right direction at last
Super cool article! I teach and the many of the kids love anime, both reading and drawing/creating. So this provided some new insight. I had no idea about the depth of the genre. And if you ask me, it’s long overdue. Stories with complex real characters and real life problems finding ways to be successful is what our mainstream needs, because in real life, it is complex with real problems. I imagine, reading and identifying with these characters is a great way to calm the mind and bring a sense of peace and resolution. Very eye opening for me. Thank you for posting.
That’s great that you teach kids that love anime, although some anime is very much not meant for children. Some anime can get extreme and graphic with the trauma
What an interesting read! Anime is particularly interesting because there is so much out there, and often it does address a lot of different concepts. I will need to check out No Game No Life as that sounds like a show I’d relate to loads.
No Game No Life also has a movie on Netflix, if you’re a subscriber
This is my first time reading a post about anime. Anime has been a part of my life. I love to watch them since I was 7 till now. Naruto and Boruto sure one of those amazing animes out there! They’re definitely help me when I’m having a bad day and need take break from work x
I love anime, but I do hate how the majority of anime only has 1-2 seasons so you’re constantly having to find new anime to watch
I’m an anime fan and I love how it depicts some reality and can be so relatable. This post is spot on and such a great read!
My daughter has started watching some anime films recently (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away) and loves them. I’m not sure if it’s due to the characterisation or just for artwork inspo but this article has intrigued me, I’ll have to watch some with her too now, thank you.
Those films are great
This was really interesting. I’ve never much anime so I didn’t know that it was so good at tackling these issues. It’s amazing that it can be so direct at introducing it, I imagine it makes introducing some real life conversations a bit easier for some people if it can minimise the taboo!
Indeed, it can be a good gateway to conversations that need to be had
My nieces love Naruto! Glad they are getting exposed to these angles. I am glad you highlighted Your Lie in April. I caught it about a year ago and was immediately smitten and impressed by its emotional depth. I’ve never been a huge animal guy, but definitely motivated to seek out similar fare.
I love anime, I hope you are able to check out more of it