All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween is quickly creeping upon us. A night of tricks and treats, Allhalloween is a night of revelry for kids and adults alike. This is also the perfect season to snuggle up on the couch and watch your favorite anime yōkai.
Simply put, yōkai are supernatural entities and spirits in Japanese folklore. Ranging from the abura sumashi or ‘oil presser’ to zennyō ryūō or ‘virtuous woman dragon queen,’ there are over 200 different types of yōkai. They may take the form of animals, humans, objects, or spirits. A yōkai may be evil, good, or drift between the two.
Anime contains a rich treasure trove of yōkai characters. However, these can sometimes get lost in the torrent of shikigami and kitsune figures. In the spirit of Halloween, this post seeks to expand upon the rich yōkai lore from an anime perspective. So without further ado, here is a list of 10 popular yōkai and their characters in anime.
In reviewing this post, please let me know your favorite yōkai in either anime or manga. I really welcome your thoughts.
- Translation: Raccoon Dog
- Character: Kohachi Inumami
- Anime: Kemono Jihen
An animal yōkai, the Tanuki or raccoon dog resembles a badger in spite of being a canine. These animals are most active at night and are found across Japan. This yōkai is a trickster. According to folklore, bakedanuki can shapeshift and use their ‘magical testicles’ as weapons. Images of these beloved animals adorn Japanese homes and shops.
Kohachi Inugami is the main character in the anime series Kemono Jihen. A bakedanuki, he is a lead detective. His agents serve as a liaison between humans and magical beings or kemono. Kohachi is a substitute father figure for them, who are themselves kemono. His tanuki form is disarming but this figure hides a cunning mind.
- Translation: Rattling Skull
- Character: Karuta Royomiya
- Anime: Inu x Boku Secret Service
Gashadokuro appear in places of mass death and great pain, where circumstances prevent proper funerary rites. They get their massive boney frame from combining the skeletons of the fallen. The ‘rattling skull’ get their names from the sound made by their rattling teeth and bones. Legend tells how a sorceress raised an army of gashadokuro in order to save Kyōto from invaders. Rattling skulls do not require food but, despite this fact, they enjoy eating people. Moving around at night, the gashadokuro’s kills by creeping up on unsuspecting victims and biting off their heads.
Karuta Royomiya is a teenage girl, who is an yōkai and secret service agent in Cocoa Fujiwara’s manga, Inu x Boku SS. Due to a childhood incident, she tries to suppress her ghastly gashadokuro form. Her efforts to suppress her yōkai form make her appear quiet and emotionless to colleagues. In contrast, she cares deeply for her friends but is frightened by her powers and the harm they can cause. Unlike the yōkai of lore, she has a voracious appetite. She may have some quirky traits but Karuto is a reliable and powerful special agent.
- Translation: Fox
- Character: Mugetsu
- Anime: xxxHOLiC
Kitsune or foxes are one of the most prolific yōkai in anime. These magical yōkai come in two forms, holy and wild. The holy kitsune are Shinto shrine servants, whereas wild foxes are free spirits. Holy foxes are messengers for celestial beings, providing guidance to worshipers. On the other hand, their wild cousins delight in mischief and pranks but are also capable of creating relationships with people.
Mugetsu is a pipe-smoking kitsune, who appears as a furry snake-like animal. Ame Warashi gave this furry yōkai to Kimihiro Watanuki. Much like the wild foxes, Mugetsu prefers to hide away from people. Living in Watanuki’s shirt pocket, this yōkai can transform into a powerful nine-tailed fox. His foxfire attacks are capable of destroying demons. Mugetsu is Watanuki’s faithful companion, with this spirit animal showing affection to Watanuki.
- Translation: Crow Tengu
- Character: Kurama
- Anime: Kamisama Kiss
Savage monsters, the kotengu look like large birds of prey with human features. They live solitary lives unless a mission requires them to team up with other yōkai to achieve an outcome. The kotengu are prone to rampaging tantrums when things do not go their way. Despising all humanity, these animal-type yōkai hurt and pillage villages for fun. Their greatest weakness is being overconfident and having a fondness for magical items. This failure makes it easy for villagers to trick the kotengu.
Julietta Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss is a shōjo story about Nanami Momozono, a school girl, encountering the world of yōkai. A crow tengu, Kurama’s human form is that of a bad boy pop idol. He desires to eat the heart of the young girl to become a land god. Seventeen years earlier, he left his home on Mount Kurama because he could not fly like the other karasutengu. After she saves his life, the teenage yōkai develops feelings for Nanami. A loner initially, Nanami’s friendship helps Kurama to face his past failures to grow and create relationships in both the human and yōkai worlds.
- Translation: Forked-cat
- Character: Kirara
- Anime: InuYasha
Nekomata come in two forms, mountain and domestic. A cat yōkai, the domestic two-tailed nekomata live in cities and villages. Japanese lore states that only the oldest and wisest of housecats can transform into a yōkai. These monster cats can walk on hind legs and speak. Nekomata are strong, vicious and look upon humans with contempt. Within folklore, the forked cat kidnaps and eats people but is prone to using human corpses as puppets.
A cat yōkai, Kirara is a supporting character in Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha. This nekomata does not fit the monster of legend. She builds a strong relationship with the Shako family. Her loyalty to the family builds an unbreakable trust with Shako’s granddaughter, Sango. Able to transform and use fire, Kirara furry façade masks a fierce combat ally. The duo and InuYasha’s group roam the countryside dispatching demons. Kirara is the oldest at the party.
- Translation: Removable Neck
- Character: Kubinashi
- Anime: Nurarihyon no Mago
The nukekubi are violent, bloodthirsty yōkai. The vampire-like monster detaches its head, hurling at people and animals. For those seeking the safety of the indoors, a nukekubi will scratch and gnaw at the structure until morning or it feasts. This is a hereditary curse inflicted mostly on women, which can pass through to their children. The way to dispatch a nukekubi is by removing the monster’s head and hiding it, with it eventually starving to death.
Kubinashi is a male nukekubi of the Nura Clan. A talented thief, his motivations are akin to Robin Hood. Despite his drive, Kubinashi is unpleasant to be around. His chief weapon is a string, which earned him the title of ‘String Assassin of Hitachi Provence.’ He became a nukekubi to seek revenge against all yōkai for torturing and killing his friends. Unlike the creature of legend, Kubinashi does not suck blood or launch its head to attack people.
- Translation: Death God
- Character: Shunsui Sakuranosuke Jirō Kyōraku
- Anime: Bleach
Thanks to anime series like Bleach, shinigami are as plentiful as kitsune. An evil spirit, these yōkai hang out in places of death to seek out and possess the living. They are grey, corpse-like spirits that invade a person’s thoughts. No sunshine and lollipops here, the shinigami make their victim dwell on past misdeeds. Their goal is to make the possessed harm themselves. In order to prevent shinigami, a priest must purify the recently deceased.
Tite Kubo’s Bleach features dozens of shinigami. Unlike folklore, anime often represent these death spirits, as gods and very few possess others. One of the fan favorites is Shunsui Sakuranosuke Jirō Kyōraku, captain of the 1st Division. He is a powerful warrior but chooses to womanize and lounge about to the chagrin of his lieutenant and niece, Nanao Ise. Shunsui writes a romance novel for the Seireitei Communication, which never brings in fans. When the chips are down, Shunsui never loses his cool but fights with honor and integrity.
- Translation: Tool Spirit
- Character: Lizlet L. Chelsie
- Anime: Omamori Himari
Tsukumogami are animate household objects. These harmless yōkai come in the form of old and worn houseware and tools. The belief in tsukumogami may have come out of Buddhist tradition. These objects are prone to playing tricks on wasteful owners. Legend tells of an animated tea caddy owned by Matsunaga Hisahide used to bargain for peace with Oda Nobunaga.
An antique teacup, Lizlet L. Chelsie takes the form of a young woman with long blonde hair. The European houseware finds herself shipwrecked in Japan. After a hundred years, she transforms into a human. Liz is a kind person, who works as a maid hostess at the Café Relish. She is the fourth main character in the series and has romantic feelings for the protagonist, Yuto Amakawa. Although a pacifist, Lizlet L. Chelsie is able to use special abilities and magic.
- Translation: Snow-woman
- Character: Shirayuki Mizore
- Anime: Rosario + Vampire
Linked to winter storms, the yuki-onna is an attractive woman who preys upon lost travelers. She appears with long black hair and wearing a white kimono. Her ghostly pale skin is almost transparent upon the snowy backdrop of winter. The snow-woman lures mountain trekkers to a frosty demise. On rare occasions, she is kind and allows the traveler to escape becoming a popsicle.
Akihisa Ikeda’s Rosario + Vampire is a series about a human teen joining a high school for yōkai. A snow-woman, Shirayuki Mizore is a cute teen with shoulder-length purple hair. She dresses like a typical girl. Plagued by rumors, she is sensitive about how others see her. She can use her frost abilities to create ice daggers, ice claws, and powerful dragon hail bullets. Shirayuki Mizore from journey’s from self-doubt to a contender for the hero’s affection.
- Translation: Zashiki child
- Character: Chitose Nakai
- Anime: Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs
A house yōkai, zashiki-warashi bring fortune and wealth to homeowners. Rarely seen, they sometimes make their presence known to children and homeowners. These playful spirits appear as young children, with boys wearing uniforms and girls adoring kimonos. The first sign a zashiki-warashi has taken up residence is a trail of children’s footprints going through ashes or powder. Being ghost children, it is only natural that these yōkai love candy and other sweets.
Chitose Nakai is a supporting character in the manga and anime series, Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs. Yuragi Inn’s caretaker, she is a zashiki-warashi. Chitose can control the fortunes of others but chooses to use her talents rarely. Despite being the series’ oldest character, her youthful appearance enables her to enroll in the local middle school. Rare to anger, Chitose Nakai is an energetic and cheerful yōkai.