Psychology of Anime: How It Shapes Our Minds

Psychology of Anime: How It Shapes Our Minds

Anime, a genre of hand-drawn, animated films originating from Japan, has gained widespread global popularity, entrancing audiences with its unique art style and characters often adapted from Japanese graphic novels called manga.

Popular titles like Yugioh, Pokemon, Naruto, and Avatar the Last Airbender from the 90s and early 2000s have significantly impacted pop culture worldwide. With the rise of streaming services like Crunchyroll and Netflix, anime’s accessibility has soared, piquing interest in exploring the psychology behind this phenomenon.

The book “Transported to Another World: The Psychology of Anime Fans” digs into nearly a decade of research on the psychology of anime and manga enthusiasts, covering topics such as otaku subculture, genre preferences, parasocial connections, motivation, personality traits, fanship, stigma, and well-being.

Presented in an engaging and accessible manner, the book aims to shed light on the psychological impact of anime, its positive and negative effects on mental health, and the reasons behind its immense popularity, particularly among teenagers.

Psychology of Anime

The psychology of anime is a fascinating topic that discusses the complex interplay between the human mind and the captivating world of animated storytelling. Anime, with its diverse range of genres, themes, and characters, offers a rich tapestry for exploring various aspects of psychology, including cognition, emotion, behavior, and interpersonal relationships.

  1. Identity and Self-Discovery:
    • Anime often explores the journey of characters grappling with personal identity and self-discovery.
    • Viewers are drawn to narratives that depict characters overcoming personal flaws and embracing their true selves.
    • These stories resonate with audiences as they navigate their struggles to find purpose and self-realization.
  2. Trauma and Healing:
    • Many anime series explore the theme of trauma and the process of healing.
    • It has been observed that watching anime can help in relieving stress, providing a form of escapism and relaxation for many individuals.
    • Characters are portrayed dealing with emotional wounds and undergoing transformative growth and recovery.
    • These narratives offer solace and inspiration to viewers who have experienced trauma, fostering a sense of empathy and understanding.
  3. Existentialism and Purpose:
    • Some anime challenge viewers to contemplate existential questions about life and purpose.
    • Characters ponder their existence, motivations, and the significance of their actions within the larger context of the universe.
    • These narratives encourage introspection and reflection among viewers, prompting them to examine their own beliefs and values.
  4. Love and Relationships:
    • Interpersonal dynamics, love, and friendship are central themes in many anime narratives.
    • Complex relationships and emotional bonds between characters drive the plot forward and contribute to character development.
    • Whether exploring romantic love or platonic connections, anime provides insights into the intricacies of human relationships and emotional connections.
  5. Mental Health and Well-being:
    • Anime often addresses mental health issues and the importance of well-being.
    • Characters may struggle with conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, shedding light on the challenges of mental illness.
    • These narratives can serve as a source of comfort and validation for viewers facing similar struggles, encouraging conversations about mental health and seeking support.
  6. Morality and Ethics:
    • Many anime explore complex moral dilemmas and ethical questions.
    • Characters are often confronted with difficult choices that force them to consider the consequences of their actions and the greater good.
    • These narratives provoke thought and debate among viewers, encouraging them to ponder their own values and beliefs.
  7. Power and Control:
    • Power dynamics and the quest for control are recurring themes in anime.
    • Characters may grapple with issues of authority, manipulation, or abuse of power, reflecting real-world struggles for autonomy and agency.
    • These narratives highlight the complexities of power dynamics and challenge viewers to consider the implications of power and control in their own lives.
  8. Memory and Identity:
    • Anime frequently explores the relationship between memory and identity.
    • Characters may confront questions about their past, identity, and sense of self, often uncovering hidden truths or suppressed memories.
    • These narratives delve into the intricacies of memory and how it shapes our perception of reality, prompting viewers to reflect on their memories and experiences.
  9. Society and Change:
    • Anime often critiques societal norms and traditions, advocating for social change and progress.
    • Characters may challenge established systems of power or cultural expectations, advocating for justice, equality, and social reform.
    • These narratives inspire viewers to question the status quo and consider their role in creating a more just and equitable society.
  10. Nature vs. Nurture:
    • Some anime explore the age-old debate of nature versus nurture.
    • Characters may grapple with questions about the influence of genetics, upbringing, and environment on their identity and behavior.
    • These narratives delve into the complexities of human development and the interplay between genetics and environmental factors, prompting viewers to consider the factors that shape their own lives and personalities.
Psychology of Anime

Positive and Negative Effects of Watching Anime

Positive Effects:

  • Anime, particularly the “Iyashikei” subgenre, can have a therapeutic effect, promoting relaxation and contentment.
  • The music, art style, and storytelling in Iyashikei anime are designed to soothe the viewer’s nervous system and promote well-being.
  • Anime challenges traditional gender norms, promoting ideas of gender fluidity and acceptance.
  • It provides a sense of social support and identity within the anime subculture.
  • Anime can offer meaningful lessons and inspire viewers, positively impacting their mentality and coping mechanisms.

Negative Effects:

  • Anime may contribute to body image issues due to unrealistic portrayals of characters.
  • Some anime series depict female characters in a submissive and sexualized manner, perpetuating gender stereotypes.
  • Extremely violent and graphic content in anime can normalize aggression and lead to mental health issues.
  • Excessive anime consumption can lead to addiction, sleep issues, and escapism from real life.
  • Over-sexualization of female characters can lead to self-objectification and disregard for other aspects of identity.
  • Belonging to the anime subculture may lead to stigma and increase the risk of mental health concerns.
  • Excessive exposure to violent or unrealistic content can normalize harmful behaviors and perspectives.
  • Watching too much anime may lead to a loss of interest in other forms of entertainment.
  • Dark or psychological themes in anime can negatively impact mental state, especially for immature viewers.

Anime and Mental Health

Anime, with its diverse narratives and fascinating characters, can have both positive and negative impacts on an individual’s mental well-being. On the positive side, anime can provide a sense of escapism and comfort, allowing viewers to temporarily immerse themselves in fantastical worlds and relatable experiences. This escapist aspect can serve as a coping mechanism, offering a reprieve from the stresses and challenges of daily life.

Moreover, many anime series discuss complex psychological themes and character arcs that mirror real-life experiences, fostering a sense of connection and understanding for viewers navigating similar struggles. Characters grappling with self-discovery, social acceptance, and mental health challenges can resonate deeply with audiences, providing a sense of validation and support.

  1. Positive Effects on Mental Health
    • Anime can provide a therapeutic and healing effect, particularly through the “Iyashikei” subgenre, which focuses on everyday life and promotes relaxation and contentment.
    • Relatable characters and stories can help viewers feel less alone and more connected, ultimately improving their mental health.
    • The music, art style, and storytelling in Iyashikei anime are designed to soothe the viewer’s nervous system and promote a sense of calm and well-being.
    • Watching healing anime can provide a space for viewers to recover and manage everyday stresses, building resilience.
  2. Potential Negative Effects on Mental Health
    • Excessive anime consumption can lead to addiction, sleep issues, escapism from real life, social isolation, and excessive screen time, all of which can have negative impacts on mental health.
    • Belonging to the anime subculture is often stigmatized, which can increase the risk of mental health concerns like aggression, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and eating disorders.
    • Excessive exposure to violent or unrealistic anime content can normalize such behaviors and perspectives, potentially leading to adverse psychological outcomes.
    • Anime with dark or psychological themes can negatively impact one’s mental state, especially for those who are not mature enough to handle such content.

It is crucial to maintain a healthy balance and moderation when consuming anime, as well as to be mindful of the potential psychological impacts, both positive and negative.

Seeking professional help or support when needed can aid in navigating any mental health challenges that may arise from excessive or unhealthy engagement with anime.

Portrayal of Body Image and Eating Disorders

Unrealistic Body Standards in Anime

The author has personally suffered from anorexia and bulimia, highlighting that eating disorders are often overlooked, especially in Asian societies Japanese anime and manga are known for their unrealistic and highly objectified portrayals of women, which pressures Japanese women to adhere to an extremely thin ideal of beauty.

Japanese society often perceives overweight people as ‘disgusting’ and feels they must help them lose weight, sometimes in a cruel manner. This pressure to conform to unrealistic body standards has led to the development of eating disorders in the author and others.

Challenging the ‘Skinny is Beautiful’ Mentality

To address the ‘skinny is beautiful’ mentality and resulting ‘fat-shaming’ in society, especially in Asia where eating disorders are prevalent, the author creates artwork featuring girls with more realistic body proportions, in contrast to the unrealistic figures often seen in mainstream media like Disney and Pixar.

The author redrew the female superhero Wonder Woman in different body shapes to emphasize that beauty is not one-dimensional and that society’s emphasis on physical attractiveness is superficial. The author chose cartoons/animation as the medium because it can have a profound effect on a younger audience and effectively re-educate current beliefs or perceptions about body image.

Depictions of Weight Loss and Eating Disorders in Anime

  1. Problematic Portrayals
    • The anime ‘Kiss Him, Not Me’ features an overweight otaku girl who loses a significant amount of weight after a traumatic event, leading to her attracting the attention of several boys.
    • The character Isami Aldini from the anime ‘Food Wars’ is another example of a character who loses weight drastically.
    • The anime ‘Masamune-kun’s Revenge’ has a character who displays warning signs of anorexia, such as anxiety over weight gain and excessive exercise.
  2. Lack of Representation
    • There is a general lack of anime that directly addresses eating disorders or body image issues, except for a few examples like ‘Kageki Shoujo’ which briefly touches on the topic.
  3. Potential Positive Influences
    • Anime that focuses on fitness and weight loss, such as ‘How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?’, can potentially motivate viewers to improve their health, but should be approached with caution by those with eating disorders.

Exploration of Identity and Social Norms

Challenging Gender Norms

Anime often challenges traditional binary gender norms and portrays ideas of gender fluidity, which may help young people feel more accepted and break down harmful stigmas. Series like My Hero Academia feature female superheroes and gender-fluid characters, potentially having a positive impact on viewers’ perceptions of gender norms.

Identity Formation and Belonging

  1. Social Support and Acceptance
    • The anime subculture can provide a sense of identity and belonging for young people, offering social support and a community where they feel accepted.
    • Characters and narratives that explore gender fluidity and non-traditional gender roles may resonate with viewers navigating their own gender identity or expression.
  2. Stigma and Mental Health Concerns
    • However, belonging to the anime subculture is often stigmatized by mainstream society, which has been linked to increased mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
    • The stigma associated with being an anime fan can negatively impact an individual’s sense of self and lead to social isolation or ostracization.

Representation and Self-Expression

Anime’s diverse range of characters and narratives can provide opportunities for viewers to explore different aspects of their identity and self-expression. For example:

  • Characters with non-binary gender identities or expressions can validate and normalize these experiences for viewers.
  • Storylines that explore themes of self-discovery, individuality, and finding one’s place in the world can resonate with viewers navigating similar personal journeys.
  • The fantastical elements of anime can offer a safe space for viewers to explore different facets of their identity without the constraints of societal norms or expectations.

While anime can challenge traditional norms and provide a sense of community, it is essential to maintain a healthy balance and be mindful of the potential negative impacts of stigma and social isolation on mental health.

Subculture and Mental Health

Anime Subculture: A Double-Edged Sword

The anime subculture can provide young people with a sense of social belonging and identity, which can have a positive impact on their mental health. However, research has also highlighted the potential negative effects associated with certain subcultural identities, including the anime subculture.

A study conducted on 300 young adults in Japan examined the relationship between subcultural identity (anime, idol, hip-hop, fashion, sports), social support, reputation, and various psychological outcomes (depressive symptoms, anxiety, aggression, suicidal tendencies, empathy). The findings revealed a complex dynamic:

  1. Adverse Psychological Outcomes
    • Identity-related to anime, idol, and hip-hop subcultures was positively associated with adverse psychological outcomes like depression, anxiety, aggression, and suicidal tendencies.
    • In contrast, identity-related to fashion and sports subcultures had no association with positive or adverse psychological outcomes.
  2. Mediating Role of Perceived Reputation
    • The relationship between subcultural identity and adverse psychological outcomes was mediated by perceived reputation.
    • Higher reputation among anime, idol, and hip-hop groups was associated with less adverse psychological outcomes.
  3. Predictive Modeling
    • Neural network models were able to predict psychological outcomes with up to 71% accuracy based on subcultural identity, further supporting the link between subcultural preferences and mental health.

These findings highlight the need to address stigma and discrimination against certain subcultural groups, as this appears to be a key factor in their poorer mental health outcomes.

Balancing Belonging and Well-being

While belonging to the anime subculture can provide a sense of social belonging and support, the stigma associated with this subculture can also lead to increased mental health concerns, such as aggression, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Challenging the stigma and social pressures associated with certain subcultures, like anime, is crucial to ensuring the mental well-being of young people and allowing them to freely discover and express themselves.

Additionally, the over-sexualization of female anime characters can lead to objectification and a preoccupation with appearance over other aspects of self-worth. Individuals need to maintain a healthy perspective and balance when engaging with the anime subculture, seeking support when needed to navigate any potential negative impacts on mental health.

Psychology of Anime


The psychology of anime and its impact on mental health is a complex and multifaceted topic. Anime’s ability to resonate with viewers on a deep emotional level, explore complex psychological themes, and provide a form of escapism contributes to its widespread appeal. However, it is crucial to maintain a healthy balance and moderation when consuming anime, as excessive consumption or unhealthy attachments to fictional characters can potentially lead to negative psychological effects.

While anime can serve as a source of comfort, inspiration, and personal growth for some individuals, it is essential to recognize its potential drawbacks, such as promoting unrealistic body standards, normalizing violence or harmful behaviors, and contributing to social isolation or stigma. By approaching anime with self-awareness and seeking support when needed, individuals can navigate its psychological impacts and cultivate a healthy relationship with this captivating art form.


Are there any psychological advantages to watching anime? 

Studies indicate that individuals who watch anime tend to exhibit higher levels of general knowledge and IQ, which implies that anime viewing may enhance cognitive functions. Furthermore, Japanese anime has been recognized for its beneficial influence on the development of positive values in adolescents, including bravery, resolve, and a sense of teamwork.

How does anime make people feel?

Anime can evoke a wide range of emotions in viewers, including joy, sadness, excitement, and empathy. It provides a form of escapism and entertainment, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in captivating stories and vibrant worlds.
Additionally, anime can resonate with viewers personally, triggering introspection, reflection, and emotional connections with characters and themes.

What is an anime addict called?

A person who is deeply obsessed or addicted to anime is often referred to as an “anime addict” or simply an “anime fanatical.”

What is a female otaku called?

A female otaku is often called a “fujoshi,” specifically a female fan who enjoys manga and anime featuring romantic relationships between male characters. However, the term “otaku” can be used regardless of gender to describe someone who is highly enthusiastic about anime and manga.

What is romance anime called?

Romance anime is simply called “romance anime.” These are anime series or films that primarily focus on romantic relationships between characters, often exploring themes of love, friendship, and personal growth.

Why are some people so obsessed with anime?

People may become obsessed with anime for various reasons. It could be because they find solace and inspiration in the stories and characters, or because they enjoy exploring different cultural perspectives and artistic styles.
Anime fandoms also provide a sense of community and belonging, allowing individuals to connect with like-minded peers who share their interests and passions.

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