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The Supernatural in Asian Animated Series

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Seeing the rich worlds of Yu Yu Hakusho (Ghost Fighter,1992-1995), Jigoku Sensei Nūbē (Hell Teacher Nūbē,1996-1997), and others on print transformed into colorful action, adventure, or fantasy 3D is truly fascinating. We thus recommend the following supernatural animated series during Ghost Month, the seventh month in the lunar calendar believed to be the time ghosts and spirits can freely visit the mortal world.

DEATH NOTE (2006 - 2007)

Genius high schooler Light Yagami (Miyano Mamoru) discovers the Death Note, a black notebook that supposedly kills a person whose name is written on the page (that is, if the target’s face is also known). Skeptical at first, Light soon confirms that it works. The notebook's original owner, the shinigami (death spirit) Ryuk (Nakamura Shidou), pays him a visit. Driven by his own brand of justice, he sets out to use the Death Note to eliminate evil and lead the new world order—until he meets his match, L (Yamaguchi Kappei), an equally brilliant but mysterious detective.

Directed by Araki Tetsurō (Attack on Titan) of Madhouse, the 37-episode anime (Japanese-style animation) was originally aired in Japan on Nippon TV from 2006 to 2007. As winner of the Best TV Anime at the 2007 Tokyo International Anime Fair, this psychological police thriller is based on the popular manga (Japanese comics) of the same title written by Ohba Tsugumi (Bakuman), illustrated by Obata Takeshi (Bakuman), and published in Weekly Shōnen Jump from 2003 to 2006.

Available on Crunchyroll and Hulu

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (2019 - 2022)

Kamado Tanjiro (Hanae Natsuki), a teenaged breadwinner, returns home and finds his family massacred by a demon. His younger sister Nezuko (Kitou Akari) survives but turns into a demon herself. To avenge his family and transform his sister back into a human being, he joins the Demon Slayer Corps, a secret society battling demons for centuries.

The 26-episode shōnen (targeted towards young men) anime from Ufotable aired in Japan in 2019. The second season covering the "Mugen Train" (an adaptation of the 2020 film) and "Entertainment District" arcs was released from 2021 to 2022. The "Swordsmith Village" arc will also be adapted into anime.

This action-adventure series was awarded Anime of the Year at the 2020 Crunchyroll Anime Awards and Anime of the Year Grand Prize in the Television Category at the Tokyo Anime Awards Festival 2020. Even more popular is its source manga that was written and illustrated by Gotōge Koyoharu, published in Weekly Shōnen Jump from 2016 to 2020, and adapted into a light novel, movie, stage play, and video game.

Available on Viu, Crunchyroll, and Hulu

Furuba / Fruits Basket (2001, 2019 - 2022)

Honda Tohru is an orphan high school student forced by circumstances to live with the Soma family. She discovers the family curse—12 members transform into Chinese zodiac animals when stressed, weak, embarrassed, or hugged by someone of the opposite sex. Not being able to fit in as a child in school playing "Fruits Basket," she later associates the family with her new home and, in turn, helps them heal.

The shōjo (targeted towards young women) anime was so popular that it was produced twice: in 2001 and from 2019 to 2022. The first one aired in 2001 on TV Tokyo with 26 episodes from Studio Deen. Thirteen years after North American fans folded and sent 1,000 paper cranes to Japan, their wish was granted: a three-season, 63-episode reboot, a whole-manga adaptation by TMS Entertainment aired from 2019 to 2021. The last part, a prequel, was released as a movie in Japan cinemas in February 2022, earning almost USD 1 million in 18 days.

The slide-of-life romance series was the 2001 winner of the Animage Anime Grand Prix award. It is based on the popular manga written and illustrated by Takaya Natsuki, published in Hana to Yume from 1998 to 2006, and adapted into theater.

Available on Crunchyroll and Netflix

Jujutsu Kaisen (2020 - 2023)

Jujutsu Kaisen (literally, “Sorcery Fight”) features high school student Itadori Yuji (Enoki Junya) who spends his time outside class either with the Occult Club or with his grandfather at the hospital. Unfortunately, he is forced to learn the ways of the Jujutsu Sorcerers as he becomes the host of the demon Ryoumen Sukuna, the “King of Curses,” one of the spiritual beings born of human negativity, inflicting harm on humans.

The 24-episode anime from MAPPA aired in Japan on MBS from October 2020 to March 2021. A second season will be released in 2023, after a successful first season and anime film. The action series was awarded Anime of the Year at the 2021 Crunchyroll Anime Awards. It is adapted from Akutami Gege's manga published in Weekly Shōnen Jump starting in 2018.

Available on Netflix and Crunchyroll

Kuroshitsuji / Black Butler (2008 - 2014)

Set in Victorian England, the story centers around the Lord of the Phantomhive Estate and owner of Funtom Toy Corporation, 13-year-old Ciel Phantomhive (Sakamoto Maaya). More known by his moniker as "The Queen's Watchdog," Ciel is tasked by her Majesty to take on unsettling or unsightly crimes in the Country. Aided by his loyal and devilishly efficient butler, Sebastian Michaelis (Ono Daisuke), Ciel uses his wits, enhanced intelligence, and shady connections to successfully solve these cases at all costs. But beneath the politics of the nobility lay a sinister and otherworldly underbelly—one that has taken Ciel's family from him and has handed his soul to the demon who now calls him master.

Directed by Toshiya Shinohara (Inuyasha, Fushigi Yuugi) under A-1 Pictures, the two-season (72-episode) anime was aired on MBS and TBS from 2008 to 2014. The supernatural mystery thriller is based on Toboso Yana's manga Kuroshitsuji and has been adapted in other forms of media such as live-action series, video games, film, and even theatre musicals.

Available on Netflix and Hulu

Bonus: Filipino Mythology-Infused Supernatural World

Trese (2021)

Trese (literally, “thirteen” from the Spanish “trece”) follows Alexandra Trese (Lisa Soberano), a babaylan-mandirigma (priestess-warrior) and detective. She works closely with the police to solve supernatural crimes mostly occurring in Metropolitan Manila. As the culprits turn out to be beings from the Underworld, the balance within the alliance among different beings is revealed to be more complex and delicate. Keeping that harmony is a responsibility that rests squarely on Trese’s shoulders.

This six-episode crime/horror/mythology series from BASE Entertainment was released in June 2021. It is adapted from the multi-awarded komiks (Filipino comics) written by Budjette Tan and illustrated by Kajo Baldisimo, initially published in 2005.

Available on Netflix

What are your favorite Asian animated shows featuring the otherworldly?

ICYMI, we published recommended ghost stories from Korean and other Asian live-action series.

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