Can a Christian Watch Naruto and Dragon Ball Z?

I often receive questions from concerned viewers of anime who struggle with certain aspects of the medium, or in some cases, the entirety of it. On occasion, it feels appropriate to share that question with our broader audience, as well as my response. Here’s an example I recently received:

Is it okay to watch Naruto / Dragon Ball even with the underlying messages in them?

I found this question fascinating because it touches on something other that which I normally encounter. Oftentimes, and for good reasons, Christians are concerned with content in anime that isn’t necessarily particular to the form—namely sexual scenes and fanservice, though also violence and language. When answering, I’m able to draw from other media we consume to create a broader picture of what we’re viewing and what the culture is creating. It’s not just anime, in other words: We’re examining what humans are creating for our enjoyment, and have to consider how we’re approaching those forms.

But this question seems to infer something beyond those largely surface-level decisions made by animators and mangaka. Setting aside the rich themes of many shounen series (friendship, teamwork, sacrifice), many also exude ideas that are deeper in a more religious or spiritual way; both can be connected to a human desire to seek God and do what we were made to, but they can also run contradictory, especially when considering that the latter usually reflect non-Christian religions. But that’s to be expected. Surveys have told us that Japan is only 1-2% Christian. Most Japanese are a mixture of Buddhist, Shinto, and atheist, a conglomeration of culture, practicality, and modernism. Rumors abound of certain Japanese directors and voice actors in the industry being Christian (I personally attempted to ask the question of a seiyuu during an interview but was flatly denied by the interpreter), but rarely confirmed, while tendencies to see Christian principles on some series, like Haibane Renmei and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, are countered by Japanese religious themes just as strongly, if not more so. Naruto and Dragon Ball (and its sequel series) reinforce the spiritual ideas of Japanese culture very strongly as well. Animism, reincarnation, and the such are part of life in those character’s worlds. My assumption is that the asker is referring to these non-Christian worldviews.

The answer to whether it’s okay to watch them or not is a complicated one. It’s both yes and no. I’ll start with that earlier, more positive response.

In a vacuum, the act of watching Naruto is not a sin. Neither is watching something that shows sin. If it were, reading the Bible would be the greatest sin of all! Speaking of other religions, how much worse can it get than child sacrifice, rape, and murder? So yes, you can watch these series.

The issue arises when something becomes an idol, when it takes God’s place. Media, and anime specifically for all us otaku, is a danger in this way. Let’s face it—anime is most likely in some degree an idol for all those reading this article. We’re capable of incredible feats, and also susceptible to the influence of culture; if anime affects pushes us away from God, that’s a problem. Further, the anime viewer finds herself reveling in things that are not of God. Even one like me, who spends a great deal of time looking for signs of the invisible God in anime, can’t help but to be aroused sometimes by fanservice, laugh at crude jokes, and be awed by even vile violence. So as I enjoy those things, probably far more than I realize I do, I am sinning. There’s the danger.

Particular to this question is also the hazard of accepting an entire worldview as good, when only God is good. And I’m not talking about watching an episode of DBZ and thinking, “You know what? I think that when I die, God has prepared a training place for me in the clouds!” I mean in a more subtle way as one embraces ideals that aren’t godly, as in a warped view of love, a desire to focus on ourselves (and even others) above God, and a view that ultimate aims in life are separate from worship of the creator. Watch enough anime and see if these ideas don’t become a part of your worldview, a temptation that takes you away from doing “good,” from actively worshiping God by loving and obeying him, and by reaching out to others in order to share the good news.

And yet, I continue to watch anime. Is there a hypocrisy there, a concession to the world? Am I playing with fire? Perhaps! But I also believe that the goodness that God imbues in us often shines through anime, and can be something that reflects the goodness of God, that draws us closer to him. Thus, Beneath the Tangles exists, a place where we take the goodness expressed through our favorite art forms and then worship God all the more by pondering upon his greatness in love, creativity, power, justice, and holiness, which then hopefully convinces us all the more to directly do his work. When I approach anime with eyes looking for these wondrous things, I’m more able to enjoy the wonderful qualities of God, like beauty and humor, expressed through anime, and enjoy less the sinful aspects (and rather disdain them as I grow in my faith). I find that I’m approaching anime this way when my personal life is dedicated more to Christ, when I’m desiring him, enjoying him, loving him. If I’m not in that place, I probably should avoid anime that is more able to tempt me to sin, and focus on getting right with God.

And so, the answer, again, is both yes and no. As with so many things in life, God parents us by giving us choice. As you grow in faith, so too, will your decision-making ability increase. And as you love God more and more above the world, my hope is that you’ll also be impacted far more by him than by culture, media, and anime, so that this question becomes an easy one for you to answer as every fiber in your being reminds you—God’s will be done.


7 thoughts on “Can a Christian Watch Naruto and Dragon Ball Z?

  1. Great article!

    Me personally, I follow the advice of St. Maximus the Confessor: “Food is not evil, but gluttony is. Childbearing is not evil, but fornication is. Money is not evil, but avarice is. Glory is not evil, but vainglory is. Indeed, there is no evil in existing things, but only in their misuse.”

    In other words, when watching any anime series (provided that it’s not overblown on the fanservice, unneccessary gore, or occultic themes) make sure that you don’t read too much into it or have it push you away from your duties to Christ and His Church.

    1. That’s good advice, thank you! My worry is that as limited as we are, we so subtly are drawn away from God. But certainly as we seek him more and more, we become less and less entangled with the world!

    1. Anime like DBZ has storylines and elements in it that can remind us of the power of the gospel, should we have eyes to see it.

  2. I would almost say that we should bring anime\manga into the light of God instead of being drawn away from God because of anime\manga. Anything we create is by extension coming from God, it’s permitted to exist and show us a glimpse of creation itself, i say this as a person studying to become a priest, we should be much more flexible (just like the holy spirit) and refrain from seeing sin in everything that isn’t perfectly pure, sometimes we can easily stray into puritanism that way which is anything but Godly. I’m if anything surprised by how naturally Japanese people have a tendency to write grace into anything and how religion is omnipresent in their worlds, i wouldn’t describe them as a mixture or Buddhists\Shintoists and atheists, i have friends in japan, some of them non-religious and they have never met a non-religious or atheist Japanese in their lives, some of them are still traumatized by the terrorist attack from Aum Shinrikyō and tend to focus the criticism to religious institutions but almost never to religion itself, it’s almost a natural thing in japan to have a spontaneous belief in the afterlife or in God even if they would then describe themselves as not following any specific religion (funny thing is that they still love to read the bible or even getting baptized just out of interest) they definitely have something to teach regarding ecumenism and they have a lot to learn too. Honestly ? i wouldn’t be surprised at all if there actually is a training place for all of us in paradise or anything of beauty that we humans created thanks to God ಠ‿↼

    P.S: There’s actually a book that is getting more and more in the spotlight regarding dragon ball and Christianity “Apologia di Dragon Ball – Le ragioni di un successo planetario by Chiara Aviani Barbacci” written by a bright young lady and appreciated by multiple religious figure in Italy, you may be interested in it; good job with the website!

    1. Thanks for sharing! I agree when it comes to Puritanism…most of the questions I receive are from young people who tend toward that and either live in this hypocritical space or are self-loathing because they love anime and hate that they love it. On the other hand, “redemption” of media isn’t necessarily the best place to go either; we should approach it with honest eyes that can see God within and also a humanity that errs.

      The religious beliefs of the Japanese are indeed complex and hard to categorize, though surveys show that when push comes to shove, atheism runs strongly throughout the country; and yet the graciousness you mention and the many other wonderful qualities of the Japanese (and even sinful ones!) perhaps make it a wonderful ground for evangelism. I know some of our volunteers past and present have participated in Japanese missions.

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