If you’ve navigated to this page, you may be wondering: What is an “otaku”?
Simply put, in Japanese, “otaku” (or オタク) means “geek, nerd, or enthusiast” (JED, Japanese-English Dictionary). In Japan, this could include anyone from someone obsessed with reading books, to ancient shogunates, to anime, and anything in between. It truly means nothing more than “nerd”. However, western culture has adopted the word “otaku” to mean, specifically, anime otaku. While these exist in Japan (and likely comprise the majority of the population accused of being otaku), it is mostly in the English adoption of the word that otaku has come to mean someone obsessed with Japanese media, particularly anime (check out the Otaku Dictionary for more information on anime-related terminology).
Or, perhaps you’re here because you already knew all of that.
From a Christian perspective, an “obsession” with Japanese media can sometimes be a bit concerning. Japanese artists and writers, statistically speaking, do not come from a biblical worldview, considering that the Christian population in Japan hovers somewhere between 0.3-2.0%. While this might cause some recoil from Japanese media among many Christians, it is worth noting that all humans bear the image of God, regardless of personal beliefs (Genesis 1:27) and that all people, again, regardless of beliefs, bear some part of God’s Word on their hearts (Romans 2:15). Consequently, as with most art and stories, there are often many links to biblical truth or understanding that can be found underlying many areas of Japanese media.
One of our goals here at Beneath the Tangles is not just to share the love of Christ through the medium of anime and similar media, but to also provide an avenue for fellow believers to share in this passion in a Christ-centered environment. For that reason, we have provided a simple guide here, joining our previous Anime Recommendations for Christian viewers, in order to assist people in getting started in this Japan-centric area of interest who might be concerned about it either for themselves or for a friend who they are trying to understand, or perhaps merely would like a friendly push in the right direction. We’ve also developed a section called Parents Corner, more specifically tailored for those with children who are interested in anime and manga.
Otaku-centered media can usually be broken down into four major categories (excluding video games, which is a category far too broad and sometimes removed from the other four for us to be able to adequately cover here): Anime, Manga, Light Novels, and Visual Novels. Since individual taste often dictates which of these different media someone might show more interest in, below are links (in progress) leading to a specialized list of recommendations in each medium, complete with description, pros, cons, biblical connections, and questionable content. We hope that you will be able to use these as a resource for your own interests, or in helping a friend.
Anime (pronounced a’-nee-may) is mostly simply understood as animation produced in Japan, though the definition has expanded in recent years to include that from other countries which is influenced by Japanese animators. Described as being “characterized by colorful graphics, vibrant characters and fantastic themes,” the form differs markedly from traditional western animation through it’s visual and directorial style and by commonly employing mature themes and fantastical stories. Well-known examples of anime include Pokemon, Naruto, and Spirited Away.
Visit our anime recommendations page.
Visit our anime movie recommendations page.
Manga (pronounced mahn’-gah) is simply the Japanese form of comics. While comics in the western world do not hold the vast popularity that manga holds in Japan, the format is similar, playing out in drawn tiles with speech bubbles that convey story and action. Unlike western comics, however, Japanese manga covers many more genres and holds much more relative interest in its homeland, serving as one of the primary source materials for the higher budget anime medium. Well-known examples of manga include Bleach, Fairy Tail, and Attack on Titan.
Visit our manga recommendations page.
Light novels are another published medium like Japanese manga. Unlike manga, though, light novels are more comparable to the western book genre of “young adult novels.” Light novels are novels, or novellas, written primarily for the teenage audience and are released in volumes of somewhere in area of 150 pages. While they are written much like western young adult novels, they are often more dialogue-heavy and also include occasional pictures. Well-known examples of light novels include Sword Art Online, Toradora, and the Haruhi Suzumiya series.
Light novel recommendations page coming soon…
Visual novels are one of the most unique mediums of Japanese entertainment, and the hardest to compare to western media. Visual novels are often considered within the genre of video games, which is a bit of a misnomer because many of them are “read” more so than “played”. The closest equivalent to western media is the choose-your-own-adventure book (no longer of much popularity), though they actually play out more like a mixture of an audio drama mixed with a manga. Although there are differences within the visual novel medium, most are “read” by clicking through dialogue and thoughts of the main character from the first-person perspective, accompanied by background visuals, character sprites, music, and sometimes basic animations, voice acting, or mini-games. Although the visual novel medium is viewed overwhelmingly in Japan as a carrier of the infamous R-18 eroge genre (pornographic dating simulators), there are many visual novels that are clean and well-written. Well-known examples of visual novels include Clannad and Narcissu.
Visit our visual novel recommendations page.