Can Christians Watch Anime?

Examining whether or not it's okay for Christians to watch anime requires us to take a step back and look at how we approach media (and the world).

When the Pokemon craze started years ago, congregants were flabbergasted by the franchise, not knowing what to make of it. From their pulpits, many pastors decried the phenomenon and, as with Harry Potter, parents began to prevent their children from accessing Pokemon. Times have changed and both Pokemon and Japanese media in general have become more mainstream among English-speaking audiences, though a quick perusal of Google shows that many are still wary of this property. It is still seen as dangerous to many Christians.

On Beneath the Tangles, our writers like to engage our readers on matters of faith and to analyze the intricacies of anime and fandom, but the question we’re most often asked brings us to a more primary level: can Christians watch anime? Should they watch anime? The answer, for a Christian, requires some thinking and diving into scripture; it may also require many to take a different approach to how they view media, and in fact, maybe how they approach the world.

Approaching Anime and Media

Growing up, I had problems understanding what was okay for me to read and watch. In Sunday school, we read the Bible, studied stories of children tempted by theft and other sins, and watched sanitized cartoons. But I was very aware that like me, my friends were watching R-rated films, collecting comic books featuring scantily-clad heroes, and watching cartoons with no God in shows’ worldviews. What was I to make of it all?

Later, I realized that there were different frameworks from which Christians could approach media. I’ve studied several, which all work along a spectrum. At one end are viewers who will only consume explicitly Christian content; at the other are those that believe no content, no matter how explicit, is off limits. But which point along the path is correct? Which is biblical?

In Philippians (4:8), Paul exhorts us with these familiar words: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” The application seems to be that the extreme left side of that spectrum described above, in which we should only consume “pure” Christian media, must be right! Right?

kanade wings

Anime is full of angels and churches, but few series are Christian-based.
art by SS@CP17 | reprinted with permission

If we buy into that, I’m afraid we’re puffing ourselves up with pride. Aside from scripture itself, no piece of media is pure and holy. None. Not one. Not the four page bible lesson you got in Sunday school, not the latest faith-based movie about prayer, not even that awesome episode of Veggietales that you saw as a child. None of it. And the reason is clear: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:32). We are incapable of making something fully pure and fully holy, because we, as the creators of such media, are sinners. We can create something close, but just as with us, that media is going to be imperfect.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t holiness inside that work. That doesn’t mean we can’t see God in something that isn’t perfect.

We can experience God and see him through media, both that which intentionally focuses on him and that which doesn’t. We see God’s affable nature in comedy; we see his awesomeness in great works of art; we see his creativity in strong writing and excellent direction in films; we see his love for his creation through heartbreaking stories.

On Beneath the Tangles, we explore these concepts, these themes that tell us about God, by discussing them as see them in anime. We won’t always make the direct connection (ex. grace between characters demonstrates grace of God toward us), though we sometimes do. We want to, however, get our readers thinking about what they’re viewing and what it means to them and what it says about God and his nature, intentional or not.

Further, we experience God in anime and other “ungodly” entertainment precisely because of something expressed in the Philippians verse: so much of what we view is admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Unfortunately, faith-based properties (Veggietales being an exception!) are often none of these things. They lack the creative vision that defines our God, and worse that that – and this is what I was fed with by the spoonful in Sunday school as a child – they lack the authenticity that marks everything in the Bible. A story about some kid gossiping and later finding out the consequences and repenting isn’t nearly as authentic an experience as Hikigaya breaking down and realizing he wants something more in his life than being a loner. And there is no faith, there is no forgiveness, there is no relationship without authenticity.

nagisa hugging ushio

Clannad, a series with a non-Christian worldview, wonderfully expresses authentic ideas about family and love
art by 茨乃 | reprinted w/permission

We need to look for something more in our media. We need to seek out God not just in a movie about Christ, but in everything we see or do. His fingerprints are all around us; we’ll learn to love him better and love those around us better when we understand that God’s story is folded into all his creation, including cartoons animated by people across the world who don’t believe in him.

What Anime is Acceptable to Watch?

That said, the next set questions I’m often asked are along the following line: “But where is the line? What media and anime can I watch? Certainly, I can’t watch everything that’s out there…can I?”

Conservative Christian culture has the opposite problem of the non-Christian culture – we too quickly want to draw a line and stick by it. PG-13 is okay, but not R; violence is okay, as long as it isn’t tortuous or overly graphic; sex is okay, as long there isn’t nudity. We build these rules that are based on cultural norms instead of upon God’s command to love him and others. Some of the reason for it, I believe, is our nature – we don’t handle freedom well. Some of it is perhaps laziness.

The truth is, everyone’s “line” is different. While there’s ample room for discussion about things that are clearly over the line, the rest is determined on a lot of factors: our experiences, our background, our maturity, our temptations. What will drive one person to sin won’t do the same for another. For instance, Code Geass, a relatively tame piece of media, created these awful feelings inside of me, so I had to drop it; another person might watch the same series and father incredible insights about faith. Neither of us is wrong; we just have different tolerances.

If you’re a parent, you need to simply do the difficult work of knowing what’s specifically good for your kids and if the media they’re watching aligns with that. The world of anime is vast and can be confusing, but when we invest in learning about our kids’ interests, we can doubly accomplish the work of steering them away from media which they might not yet be prepared to consume and point them toward series that help them gain greater insights about who they are and what the world is about. Our parents’ page is a good place to start for beginners.

rakka haibane

Haibane Renmei is a series that explores depression, sin, death, loss, and grace.
art by yes | republished w/permission

The “line” in our own lives is just as important as we look to discover what it is that drives us to sin and what encourages us to worship God (should we take that step further and make connections with the media we watch, rather than simply be sideline consumers). Dustin Schellenberg’s piece on why he avoids Game of Thrones is a great discussion piece on this topic; the idea is fleshed out further through an excellent episode of the Infinity +1 podcast, in which Dustin participates.

Knowing your tolerances is important to avoid sin, but it may also help free you to watch anime and other media that you might not otherwise. I would encourage you to approach media the way we do here, and how many other websites do as well, including Geekdom House, Christianity Today, and Christ and Pop Culture, to not only enjoy it on a visceral, emotional, or even thinking level, but to let it be a way in which you can worship God and reach to others in love. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do” – watching anime included – “do it all for the glory of God” (I Cor 10:31).

It’s All About God

When we ask, “Can I watch anime?” or “Should I watch anime?”, I think what we’re really asking is, “Will God be pleased with me if I watch anime?” There’s a heart to this query that’s bigger than the yes/no drabness of the question itself. It points to our desire to please our Father, and I think that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

To know the Father is to know his grace, love, power, goodness, holiness, excellence, and patience. It’s to know that he has imbued within us his image, and that we carry forth much of his work, intentionally through ministry but also just by living – breathing, eating, working, creating. And within the last of those items, creation, we can see glimpses of God. We only need to determine if we’re open to seeing him in places we didn’t expect we would – like in cartoons made on the other side of the world.

Otaku. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Meg Ryan movies. Self-anointed sushi chef. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Forever stuck in the 90’s. Thinks the 80’s was better than it was. Jesus is King.

31 Comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

  • Lazarinth
    13 October 2017 at 7:05 am

    Man, I’ve heard this question asked again and again with the same answer. A better question would be “Can Christians Watch Hentai?” Now that would be an article I would read.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 October 2017 at 7:37 am

      Haha, well, there is that far end of the spectrum of Christians that would say, yes, you can. But it would be a difficult argument to make. Now, can Christians watch ecchi? I think that’s a more interesting article than either hentai or anime in general, as it takes my argument and really gets down to the nitty gritty without going to that straight-up pornography area.

      Leave a Reply
      • nihongozuki
        14 October 2017 at 10:33 am

        How would you answer the question “Can Christians watch ecchi?”? Do you plan to write the article?

        Leave a Reply
        • TWWK
          17 October 2017 at 11:42 am

          I think the answer is exactly the same as the one for this article. We’re free to do anything, but we have to consider what’s best for us. In terms of ecchi, it could be good or it could be bad for us, and each series is probably different. We need to be thoughtful consumers of media.

          Leave a Reply
          • nihongozuki
            17 October 2017 at 1:36 pm

            What is the basis for your statement that “we’re free to do anything”? How would you decide what is best for us? Any example from ecchi genre, please.

          • TWWK
            20 October 2017 at 11:06 am

            “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” We can do all manner of things in the confidence that God is in control and it is he who makes us holy. But we need to think about how what we do affects our love for God and our love for others. It’s a personal question as we’re all at different steps along our faith journey and have different things that push us toward sin. Ecchi anime may do that, but if we paint it with a broad stroke as bad in all circumstances, then we neglect our freedom in faith and also the possibility that a show like Love Hina, for instance, contains a lot of lovely qualities about love and determination that might encourage us to love God and others more.

          • nihongozuki
            20 October 2017 at 2:30 pm

            I think you are citing apostol Paul out of context and thus misinterpreting him. Earlier he wrote about those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1Cor.6:9,10). So, “all things” do not include that things which were practiced by those ones: sinful acts (including breaking the 7th commandment). I think, ecchi genre in anime shows us a breaking of the 7th commandment, because it exposes that which is confined by God for marriage only. So, ecchi theme in anime is evil in the sight of God. And Paul said: “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1Thes.5:22). Love Hina definitely doesn’t present an example of Christlike love between two main characters of it. What “lovely qualities about love” have you found in the show?

          • TWWK
            20 October 2017 at 2:46 pm

            I’m going to stop right here because we have a fundamental misunderstanding about how to approach media. If you wish to understand my viewpoint about how I challenge Christians to view media – ecchi included and not being wildly different from any other media created by a sinful humanity – please read the above article.

      • Lazarinth
        14 October 2017 at 10:07 pm

        Depends what demo of Christain you are, I suppose. If you’re Catholic just to go to confession a Bamn! and the dirt is gone.

        Leave a Reply
        • Paul Dang
          15 October 2017 at 7:59 pm

          That’s not exactly right. The damage is still done even if forgiven, according to Catholic theology and it takes more effort to avoid the evil than before the sin. That’s all I’ll say concerning this.

          Leave a Reply
          • Lazarinth
            18 October 2017 at 11:38 pm

            Well, you’d know more than me.

        • TWWK
          17 October 2017 at 11:46 am
    • nihongozuki
      14 October 2017 at 10:28 am
      • Lazarinth
        18 October 2017 at 11:40 pm

        “The same answer” is always that the collectivist mindsets are silly and that individuals should decide for themselves.

        Leave a Reply
        • TWWK
          20 October 2017 at 11:22 am

          I think that’s a way of looking at this article. Christians – and the same can be said of all individuals of all faiths – get into this collective mindset that can certainly dangerous and ignorant. I’m hoping that some who read this will excise themselves from cultural beliefs and 1) examine what they believe and 2) make decisions based on that, rather than letting others make decisions for them.

          Leave a Reply
  • nihongozuki
    14 October 2017 at 10:39 am
  • Luminas
    16 October 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Excellent post here, TWWK! Sorry I haven’t been around much for a good chunk of time— things are getting pretty busy at Luminas’ work! 8D Here are my thoughts:

    “Further, we experience God in anime and other “ungodly” entertainment precisely because of something expressed in the Philippians verse: so much of what we view is admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Unfortunately, faith-based properties (Veggietales being an exception!) are often none of these things. They lack the creative vision that defines our God, and worse that that – and this is what I was fed with by the spoonful in Sunday school as a child – they lack the authenticity that marks everything in the Bible. A story about some kid gossiping and later finding out the consequences and repenting isn’t nearly as authentic an experience as Hikigaya breaking down and realizing he wants something more in his life than being a loner. And there is no faith, there is no forgiveness, there is no relationship without authenticity.”

    This is part of the reason why I tend to skew towards anime in general, actually. You see, mainstream Western culture, in the name of authenticity of one form or another, has managed to actively remove the sacred from nearly everything. (You still get the odd, brilliant flashes of it every now and again, but you’re not going to find it in Game of Thrones for example.) Ironically, by trying to ensure their characters are “fleshed out” and “three-dimensional,” many action movie and drama show characters are lacking…something. Something that you acknowledge as hyper-real, or larger than life, that pulls you in to the best old fairy tales.

    Biblically-centered or faith-based properties often suffer from the opposite problem: they’re so focused on being perfectly accurate that they fail to accurately convey sin and complication where it’s necessary. Nor do they really convey the incredible gravity of what is happening. There’s a scene in the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe (in the book) where the Lion and the Witch leave the area and eventually come back, and Aslan looks really unhappy but absolutely certain. The Witch’s expression borders on predatory. It turns out what they actually agreed to was that Edmund would be traded for Aslan. Now….Biblically this scene…doesn’t really work for a number of reasons. It implies rules and logic that are more Zoroastrian than Christian. But *emotionally,* once Aslan’s death is viewed, it just *works.* Aslan’s death hits you like a brick to the chest, if you’re a kid, and the whole thing implies something really ancient and sacred and complex. Something that can’t be boiled down to a lesson in Sunday school or the right Psalm. And by not being willing to take these kinds of leaps, a lot of explicitly Christian allegory ironically fails to capture the gravitas of the Bible.

    As for anime…it does this kind of thing really well, all without being explicitly Christian or even intending to be. Clannad is a morality play that rings true, and Fullmetal Alchemist somehow manages to seem quasi-Biblical, all with a pretty Buddhist view of reality.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      17 October 2017 at 11:52 am

      Haha, that’s okay – we miss your consistent commentary, but I guess work takes precedent over aniblogs. 😉

      Thank you for your insight – you put it very well. In our quest to be “authentic,” we ironically lose authenticity. I wonder if it’s because we overthink sometimes…or if it’s because we arne’t perceptive about what’s genuine and real. We impose an image of ourselves that the outside world sees, and even worse, of how we come to see and judge ourselves. And so when we create media (or bible studies or writing or anything else), we sometimes try to develop something that is luscious and thoughtful and…which isn’t quite there. But sometimes in trying to hit the spirit of something (ex. the Aslan death example you gave) or the heart behind it, we find more truth and honesty there than in hitting the letter of the law.

      I think more Christians would embrace this kind of insight if they could learn to be more authentic toward others and toward themselves.

      Leave a Reply
  • Sosa
    19 October 2017 at 2:47 am

    i think the answer to “Can do ” is always “Yes if it doesn’t affect the way they live”. I can watch the sleaziest, most debauched shows possible as long as it doesn’t reflect on my character. Similarly, i can also watch the most pure shows but have no effect on me. Playing violent videogames hasn’t correlated with increased violence; why should the same be said for other types of media, and other types of content?

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      20 October 2017 at 11:26 am

      That’s precisely right in regards to how does it affect oneself. I wonder, though, if people really think about how media affects them. We consume and consume and consume without considering the long-term impact of how media affects our worldview, how we exchange animated entertainment (good, bad, or neither) for “better” things we could do, and how certain kinds of series chip away at our efforts to live a certain way, to avoid certain things in our lives. We’d rather not think when it comes our entertainment, sometimes, and I think that subtly causes changes to our character that we might not realize are occurring – that’s certainly been the case in my life.

      Leave a Reply
  • Teddi Deppner
    25 October 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Really enjoyed your perspective (in the article and the comments), and glad to have this resource to share with others who have this question!

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      30 October 2017 at 8:05 pm
  • simoku
    26 October 2017 at 11:00 pm

    でたー! to mean “it’s here”, is how I reacted to this post.
    And 인정 to mean “agreed” and “respect”, is how I feel about this post.

    Everything from being one of those kids whose Christian parents prevented me from watching Pokemon, to Philippians 4:8 being my starting place for understanding anime in a Christian context–I feel you Charles! Good wisdom regarding “no piece of media [being] pure and holy”.

    I agree that the line is different for everyone. And what a wonderful journey it is learning more and more about His nature. There is grace, and ,”therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Just where I am right now, I guess.

    Leave a Reply
  • Pueden los Cristianos ver anime? – Akari Radio
    2 November 2017 at 11:51 am
  • Matthew
    5 November 2017 at 11:44 pm

    For me as a Christian, it depends on the circumstances. Personally, I know anime is fake and I know the things can be exaggerated. As long as we don’t let anime control our lives and confuse us with reality, we should be fine.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      6 November 2017 at 2:42 pm

      Is the bigger problem confusing anime with reality or anime becoming an idol to us? The second concerns me more because I don’t necessarily think it has to forcibly control our lives to be an idol; it simply needs to feed a desire to love something else more than God.

      Leave a Reply
      • Matthew
        6 November 2017 at 3:11 pm

        I have always been warned to not treating it as an idol. I like anime but it’s not my basic needs.

        Leave a Reply
        • JoelBedulla
          7 November 2017 at 7:15 am

          Amen Matthew, same for me. Anime is a form of entertainment, not a lifestyle. And it’s the same with all other kinds of entertainment such as books, music, movies etc. Liking anime is acceptable, but worshiping it as necessary need to live and breathe is wrong.

          Leave a Reply
          • Matthew
            7 November 2017 at 9:31 am

            Yeah exactly. I like anime but it’s not something I would worship. I like to treat it as my hobby and past time. I got other stuff that needs my attention.

        • TWWK
          7 November 2017 at 3:30 pm

          That’s good! Idols are sneaky…they don’t have to be the things we need in life, but rather, what we choose, and what ends up changing us and motivating us.

          Leave a Reply
          • Matthew
            7 November 2017 at 6:17 pm

            Yeah that’s true. What’s you treat something like an idol, it becomes like a drug. It attacks your soul!

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