What’s great about anime is that it can teach us a lot about Japanese mythology and folklore. One such notable genre that can give us a great glimpse of that is through the supernatural genre. When it comes to shows like CW’s Supernatural and Lucifer, they take a lot from Western and Abrahamic religions, or American folklore. Supernatural anime can give you an idea of what some of their mythical creatures, spirits are like, and how they relate to Japanese culture. Through today’s list of female leads, they serve as a domestic and international surrogate for the audience to get some ideas in regards to how they relate.
10. Tsukasa Taira from Devils’ Line
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: April 7, 2018 – June 23, 2018
In contradiction to what we shared in our intro, our first exploration into our list doesn’t come from any Japanese folktale, but more from European mythology with vampires. Through Tsukasa, we see what it’s like for a regular woman who happens to fall in love with someone who is part vampire (but does it way better than Twilight). As she pursues her relationship with Yuuki, she tries to stay upbeat about it and genuinely cares for him. As her time with Yuuki progresses, she gains a sociological interest on how vampires/demons/devils can relate to humans. She’s the type of person who (believes she) knows what she’s getting into, is willing to take responsibility for whatever happens and only wants to help people. The fact that she doesn’t discriminate between human and devil shows that if such creatures do exist, maybe humans can find a way to include them in society.
9. Yuuki Cross from Vampire Knight
- Episodes: 13
- Air Dates: April 8, 2008 – July 1, 2008
Just like Devils’ Line, as you can also judge by the title, Vampire Knight deals once again with superstitions that are not Japanese in nature, but is still an excellent critique on class warfare as the Cross Academy has two separate sessions, a day session and a night session. As for the night session, it is said that it is exclusive to the elite class when in fact, they’re vampires! As for Yuuki, the daughter of the academy’s director, she is tasked with guarding this secret. In a way, Yuuki is your typical Shoujo heroine, but with her own unique twist that we don’t want to get in due to spoilers. Yuuki presents herself as your typical bubbly school girl but she can kick ass.
However, she does have some dark secrets of her own. She’s aware of the true nature of the students of the night session so lack of sleep does legitimately affect her academic performance. In addition, she’s somewhat amnesiac due to a traumatic event from her childhood, and it does also impact her ability to make immediate decisions. As her journey progresses, she learns to awaken the potential within her and help vampire (and man) kind.
8. Rinka Urushiba from Tokyo ESP
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: July 12, 2014 – September 27, 2014
As opposed to dealing with mythology and folklore of any particular culture, as Tokyo ESP suggests, this anime goes into the realm of psychic and telekinetic abilities. One such character who gains unexplainable abilities is Rinka, an average high school girl who lives with her single father. Her discovery to her powers was rather trippy as she saw fish and penguins flying in the sky as it leads her to a rooftop where her classmates can also see them. Rinka develops the ability to phase through solid objects like Shadowcat from the X-Men while her classmate gains teleportation. But they’re not the only ones in Tokyo who have gained unique abilities, some other individuals have as well and they’re up to no good. Instead, Rinka and her classmates use their powers to fight crime.
Thanks to her father’s upbringing and his influence as a police officer, she has a strong sense of justice and wants to make a difference. She knows that with great power, there must also come great responsibility and she doesn’t have to learn that the hard way. She grew up just trying to get by so she’s no stranger to adversity. She is a young lady who truly lives by example, an example that we should all try to live up to.
7. Tooru Honda from Fruits Basket (2019)
- Episodes: 10+ (As of June 10, 2019)
- Air Dates: April 6, 2019 - Ongoing
Tooru comes across as just your typical school girl, and she’s the nicest you can get despite losing her parents at a young age, and choosing to live what some could legally be considered homeless. During her outings, she meets the Souma family and moves in with them. What makes the Souma family unique is that there are 12 selected members who represent the Chinese Zodiac, and whenever they face some sort of emotional stress or embraced by someone of the opposite sex, they turn into that respective zodiac creature.
So, what does Tooru do about it? She is of course initially shocked by it, but she respects their privacy and is willing to be of assistance to them. She’s always been a positive person despite her hardships and she doesn’t see this as anything that new. Her positivity just eventually becomes infectious to the whole Souma family, and they come to appreciate her contributions. However, it doesn’t mean she is still capable of being emotional when things don’t go a certain way so there’s still that balance of realism and humanity to her. In the end, she always finds a way to not only help overcome her adversities, but the adversities of others due to her selflessness.
6. Dororo from Dororo (2019)
- Episodes: 24
- Air Dates: January 7, 2019 - Ongoing
While Honey’s Anime does respect the modern day concept of “preferred pronouns,” we can understand that the inclusion of Dororo, whose personal pronoun is “oira,” an ancient masculine first person pronoun, can be a controversial selection. We can’t claim to be specialists when it comes to gender identity, but Dororo, whose original incarnation debuted in the 60s, was rather unique around that time when the whole notion of transgenderism as how it is viewed now can justify this character’s listing and why the character identifies as a boy. Dororo’s gender identity is explained rather easily since it was her (or his) father that insisted that she (he) be acknowledged as a boy, which is different to more realistic reasonings as to why people identify as a different gender as opposed to having it forced on them. Of course, we can’t speak on behalf of actual transgenders, but are there any out there who live as a transgender due to their parents’ insistence? Then again, this is a whole different discussion for another article.
As to how the character relates to the supernatural, Dororo is certainly Hyakkimaru’s connection to his own humanity as he slays demons in order to regain his body as his killer intent intensifies. Through this version of Dororo, you see he/she has a genuine care for Hyakkimaru as his motivation turns to rage, and how it can negatively consume him. Wherever they go, Dororo is not afraid to face what’s out there due to living a harsh life and surviving on his/her own wits. Despite the hardship Dororo faces, he/she still has his/her principles, and really cares about the little guy wherever he/she goes.
5. Hana from Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (Wolf Children)
- Episodes: 1 (feature film)
- Air Dates: July 21, 2012
From this Mamoru Hosoya hit, we have Hana from Wolf Children, who falls in love with a man who happens to be a werewolf, and gives birth to his two children, Ame and Yuki, which respectively mean rain and snow. Unfortunately, her husband passes away leaving her to raise her two children on her own, who also can become werewolves. Hana is just a regular woman, but she’s aware that she made this choice and is doing what she can to take responsibility for her children’s well-being. The way she’s scared and how she handles her situation feels pretty realistic and relatable to anyone who has to raise children who are different in their own ways that could make them get secluded by society. Little by little, Hana learns to deal with her concerns and fears for her children. Eventually, she allows her children to go to school (as long as they keep their heritage a secret), comes to terms that her children have the right to live as they see fit, and whatever best effort she’s putting in, is good enough.
4. Reiko Mikami from Ghost Sweeper GS Mikami
- Episodes: 45
- Air Dates: April 11, 1993 – March 6, 1994
If there’s something strange, in the neighborhood, who’re you gonna call? If you’re in New York, then yes, Ghostbusters, but in Japan, your likely bet is the OG female Ghostbuster, or Ghost Sweeper, Reiko Mikami. Like Ray and the original Ghostbusters, she capitalizes on her skills to make a profit (while underpaying her teenage assistant and not paying her spirited assistant). As opposed to using proton packs, the nature of Reiko’s abilities are naturally superstition in nature, and her tools come from traditional culture. In addition to using a sword, she uses ofuda charms, or paper charms, like you would find in Buddhist temples in order to ward off evil spirits.
Reiko may use traditional means to combat evil spirits, but her motivations are modern. She’s the best at what she does, but she doesn’t do it for the sake it’s the right thing to do. Instead, she does it because she knows she can get away with charging exorbitant prices and is willing to take any customer as long as they can pay. However, deep down inside, she has to admit that she still cares about Tadao and Kinu, and there are moments where she has to learn that not all spirits are evil and they just need help, which is something Reiko has to learn.
3. Sakura Mamiya from Kyoukai no Rinne (Rin-ne)
- Episodes: 75
- Air Dates: April 4, 2015 – September 23, 2017
Like the child from The Sixth Sense, Sakura (thanks to accidentally finding her way into the spirit world and having a piece of candy there) has always seen dead people and has been pretty casual about it. Pop culture tends to portray spirits filled with malice and anger, but through Sakura, you feel that doesn’t always have to be the case since they were once regular people but can’t move on due to personal unfinished business. As opposed to getting freaked out about it, Sakura does what she can to help those spirits take care of what they have left to do. Sakura may come across as simple, but as the series progresses, you see she’s both an open-minded and open-hearted person who cares about the dead and the living.
As she meets Rinne and his family, she just goes with the flow like it’s nothing, and she brings a rather general and basic perspective as to how to solve some problems, while Rinne and Jumonji just want to use violence as the first step. Whenever there’s a problem, she thinks it through with a cool head and if she can’t figure it out, she knows in time the solution will come. Through her example, perhaps exposure to the spirit world may not be a bad thing and we just have to be chill about it.
2. Chihiro from Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away)
- Episodes: 1 (feature film)
- Air Dates: July 20, 2001
Yes, we already featured her in our Top 10 Female Leads in Isekai Anime list, but once again, we felt she was another opportunity we couldn’t pass up. To a certain extent, isekai and supernatural anime can go hand-in-hand. As we shared in that list, Chihiro is in a world that is very much in-tune with the culture of her home nation as well as its architecture. Its traditional setting is Miyazaki’s intent to portray how some people wish to go back to the old days but can’t. Through Chihiro’s journey, we see how the kami, or gods of her culture, punish her well-intended parents by turning them into pigs for eating their food despite insisting they were willing to pay. As Chihiro encounters the spirits of the bathhouse, audiences of all backgrounds can get an idea as to how modernization conflicts with traditional values as they look down on Chihiro.
Not only do you get an idea of how Japan’s modernization affect the demeanor of the spirits, but how pollution has also had its negative side-effects on them such as the old river spirit has turned it into a spirit full of smells. While the idea of religion and spirituality can be another debate for another time, through Chihiro’s journeys working at a bathhouse, we can all put into perspective as to how our conduct contradicts the teachings of our folklore and religions, and if we were to encounter them in some physical way, they’re likely not going to be happy with us.
1. Tomie Kawakami from Tomie (Ito Junji: Collection Specials)
- Episodes: 2
- Air Dates: April 27, 2018 – May 25, 2018
You probably know of Sadako from the original Ring series and Kayako from Ju-on, which paved the way for the US version, The Grudge. Coming from that class of ghosts is Tomie, the creator of modern horror manga, Ito Junji. Though she made her anime debut in an episode of the Ito Junji Collection TV series, she got her brief OVA series 30 years after her manga debut. Compared to Sadako and Kayako who tend to hide their hideous and ghastly faces, the true horror of Tomie is how she presents herself as the ideal woman who can make all men love her, and all women jealous of her.
On a foundational level, what makes her disturbing in the supernatural sense is that she has the ability to regenerate, which Ito has admitted takes inspiration from reptilian regeneration. Take for example, you cut off her arm, then another Tomie can grow from that ,but it doesn’t mean that they’re of one mind. What makes Tomie even crazier is that they’re instances that even the clones are willing to kill each other! But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! What makes Tomie a disturbing character of the supernatural kind is how her beauty will mesmerize you to the point that it will drive you insane and make you want to kill her.
When it comes to supernatural anime, they can be the forces of good, evil, neutral, or of a higher power, and it can apply to many cultures. Through anime, Japanese and international audiences can get an idea to the origins of their folklore and mythologies, and how they can relate to modern society, as it expressed through our female leads. A majority of the leads we chose are a universal surrogate as to how these creatures, worlds, and laws function, and how engaging in them can actually enrich our everyday lives. Then there are some characters like Tomie who are malicious in nature for reasons that just can’t be explained. In the end, it just shows that even though that Japanese superstition has its own unique distinctions, it shows like in other nation’s beliefs as it relates to the supernatural, there are many expressions as to how such features are to be helpful and/or harmful to regular people, or how regular people can be of benefit to the supernatural. Through our selections, we can get numerous ideas on those notions.