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Existentialism in Shounen Anime and Manga

Existentialism is often seen as a depressing philosophy, but I ultimately see it as a hopeful response to absurdity–a struggle for meaning and maybe a better life, whatever shape that may take. On that line of thought, popular shounen series with their various "never give up!" themes and questioning of humanity, morality, religion, and so on, seem to fit right into it. Naruto in particular reads like a bonafide Kierkegaardian Knight of Faith.

Does shounen anime/manga seem existentialist? If so, what kind of specific existentialist themes are in play? Does this help readers coming of age prepare for life by giving them a taste of having to figure things out in the face of adversity (and absurdity)? Or does it exceed itself and become naivety?

More broadly, what’s the relationship between philosophy and fiction? Does fiction “play out” the ideas of philosophy, or does it create its own philosophical ideas?

  • Interesting topic. Shonen is all about existentialism. In any Shonen anime, especially those like Bleach, Naruto and Fairy Tail, willpower goes a long way. Whoever has higher will has higher power. – SpectreWriter 4 years ago
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  • This is a really cool topic -- if I knew more about existentialism I would write it. I think it's important to take into account Japanese philosophy and culture and how that affects the writers of shonen manga and anime. – Chris 4 years ago
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