6 anime shows to check out if you love American Gods

Contributed by
Jun 15, 2017

If American Gods has got you clamoring for more stories about gods and mythical creatures, Japan has you covered.

Despite being one of the most technologically advanced nations on the planet, Japan still celebrates ancient mythology and beliefs. Shrines can be found in most cities and towns, and praying to a god for good fortune is commonplace. This casual acceptance of the spiritual existing alongside the mundane is reflected in the tons of anime about the gigantic pantheon of gods, demons and monsters that lurk in dark and forgotten places.

If you want to watch a single god’s struggle to maintain relevance in the modern world, there's Noragami.

Yato is an ancient god, born during a time when humanity loved nothing more than to destroy each other on the battlefield. He was, at one time, a powerful god of war, and whoever worshiped him would guarantee victory for their side. But that was then, and now Yato is a homeless god wandering the streets of Tokyo. He sleeps in abandoned shrines and dreams of the day when he'll earn a shrine of his very own. He seeks modern worshippers through ads on the trains and the newspapers, and he's willing to do anything in exchange for a tiny slice of worship: a 5-yen coin. "Anything" in this case means finding a lost kitten or washing a bathroom. Meanwhile, Yato's ancient god buddies want to draw him back to his previous life of death and destruction, but he might lose the precious few human friends he's made in the modern world.

Yato's quest for modern-day relevance echoes the same quest by many of the Old Gods in American Gods, particularly Mr. Wednesday, who tells Shadow that his greatest fear is being forgotten. Yato, however, specifically wants to atone for his destructive past by rebranding himself as a helpful, modern god-of-all-trades. Mr. Wednesday refuses to change himself for the sake of worship. He'd much rather start a war than have to appeal to the modern worshipper.

 

If you want to see gods in a classic sitcom-style situation, check out Ah! My Goddess.

Ah! My Goddess is an older title and considered something of a classic within the genre. Keiichi Morisato is a hapless college student who makes a random phone call and, in an incident that's a literal deus ex machina, is accidentally connected to the Goddess Help Line. The goddess on the other end, Belldandy, offers to grant Keiichi a single wish. Keiichi doesn't believe that he's speaking with a goddess and jokingly wishes for her to stay with him forever. Belldandy grants his wish and moves in with him. She's later joined by her older sister Urd and her younger sister Skuld, and, you guessed it, hijinks ensue.

Like Mr. Wednesday, Belldandy and her sisters come from Norse mythology. Unlike the wily and selfish Mr. Wednesday, Belldandy truly wants to improve Keiichi's life. The goddesses are all well-meaning, but as this series is a comedy, sometimes their magic is more troublesome than helpful. Their combined efforts to understand humanity are played for laughs, and the goddesses learn a little more about human nature with each misguided adventure. This show is a charming counterpoint to the comparatively sullen American Gods, using humor to bridge the gap between humanity and the divine.

 

If you're wondering how Disneyland might exist in the urban fantasy world of American Gods, watch Amagi Brilliant Park.

Seiya Kanie is recruited, through shady means, to help revive the prospects of the run-down theme park of the title. The challenges, however, are much more difficult than just improving the number of churros sold. Every single person who works in the park, even the mascot characters, is actually a refugee from a war in a magical dimension. They fled their home and settled in our world, and their existence here relies on the amount of positive energy (i.e. "fun") they can extract from park visitors. Without that energy, these magical creatures will die. Seiya's tasked with making sure the park welcomes 250,000 visitors, but will he be able to do it before the three-month deadline is over?

Amagi Brilliant Park takes American Gods' idea of the power of belief and transposes it to the one place in our world where we might still think magic exists: the theme park. Human belief is what keeps all the gods going, and human belief does the same for all the denizens of the park. The mascots aren't humans wearing costumes but real creatures who only look like they're made of plush fabric. They're only able to exist in our world because of a tiny bit of magical belief humans carry within us as we're in a theme park. You'd better believe in magic, because who really knows the truth behind those princess meet-and-greets?

 

If you want another adventure where an ordinary human gets caught up in a world of gods and demons, here's Inuyasha.

Inuyasha is another classic anime title, and perhaps one of the better-known shows on this list, thanks to its stint on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim/Toonami animation block. Kagome Higurashi is a teenager who discovers a portal to the past (specifically Japan's feudal era) in an ancient well. While there, she meets a half-demon named Inuyasha and discovers that she has a mysterious connection to him. He once fell in love with Kagome's ancestor, Kikyo, who betrayed him and magically bound him to a tree when he threatened to destroy her village.

The MacGuffin of this story is the Shikon Jewel, an artifact that grants one wish to whoever possesses it. Inuyasha wants it to make him a full-fledged demon instead of half-human. Things happen, the jewel is shattered into a thousand-thousand pieces, and now Inuyasha and Kagome must work together to find all the pieces and reconstruct the jewel. Oh, and darker forces are also seeking to reconstruct the jewel for nefarious purposes, so no pressure!

Kagome's character arc somewhat mirrors Shadow Moon's in American Gods. They are both ordinary humans who are pulled into a dangerous, magical world because of extenuating circumstances. They both have very little control over their journey, but they're both resigned to doing their duty because they believe it's the right thing to do. Also, both of them are pretty chill considering all the weird stuff they encounter, which makes me think that there should be crossover fiction where the two of them commiserate with each other about their adventures, preferably over coffee.

 

If you want another supernatural, distinctly American story with some over-the-top ultra-violence, take a look at Baccano!

It's kind of difficult to describe Baccano! without completely spoiling it, and the twists and turns while watching the story unfold are a large part of the fun. The show is set in Prohibition-era America, and most of the action takes place on a passenger train that’s Chicago-bound. The train is a kind of liminal space where distinct groups who normally wouldn't interact with each other are forced to exist together in tight quarters. For instance, a few mob families are around, and they have to keep animosities under wraps. Thieves and other rogues are there to take advantage of those animosities. And a serial killer, an urban legend known as the Rail Tracer, is rumored to be on the train too. Blood starts to flow, fear starts to mount, and the train might arrive in Chicago without any passengers left aboard.

Like American Gods, Baccano! is a story that could only take place in the United States. The characters are all products of 1920s America, and their Prohibition experiences fuel their decisions. The supernatural aspect of the series builds up slowly, much as in the American Gods novel. Shadow's experiences with the fantastic don't really come into play until he agrees to work for Mr. Wednesday, and the other-worldliness of Baccano! sneaks up on you too. By the time you figure out what's happening, you’re in the show's thrall.

And you might even start rooting for the bad guys.

 

If you want a show about how paranormal monsters might end up even more human than human, let me show you Durarara!!

Durarara!! is from the same creator as Baccano! Like Baccano!, Durarara!! boasts a huge cast of characters who normally exist in disparate groups and only start interacting with each other when something threatens them all. Unlike Baccano!, Durarara!! is set in modern-day Tokyo, specifically an area of the city called Ikebukuro. There are moments of supernatural horror, as a mysterious figure known as the Black Rider seems to be straight-up murdering people in horrifically bloody ways, but perhaps the biggest threat to safety in the city is a gang known as The Dollars.

American Gods doesn't shy away from showing its god characters as fallible and human. Durarara!! includes a character named Celty Sturluson, who is a mythological creature called a dullahan, a headless figure that carries its head at its side. Celty, who is unable to speak because she lost her head, is shown as the most human and relatable character in the show. She genuinely cares about her friends, and she wants to protect her city from danger.

The show then puts up an interesting dichotomy, depicting some human characters as truly monstrous. Izaya Orihara is an information broker who makes it his business to understand what goes on in the city. Sometimes he manipulates situations for his own benefit and the benefit of anyone who pays him. He's heartless, ruthless and lacks friends, a human monster in contrast Celty's monstrous human.

 

Honorable mentions:

Natsume's Book of Friends

I seem to always spout the virtues of this anime on this site, but that's only because this show is just so dang good. No other current anime depicts the hidden, spiritual world of modern Japan quite as well as Natsume's Book of Friends. A number of stories deal directly with the unlikely power of human belief. In one melancholy episode, a tree spirit occupies an abandoned shrine and then gains a single human believer, who continually leaves offerings at the shrine for her entire life. When she dies, the tree spirit shrinks and weakens, disappearing from existence forever. The show is basically about the interconnectivity of the spiritual and human realms. This relationship is often contentious, but one cannot exist without the other.

 

Paprika

And finally, if you want something as visually mind-blowing as American Gods, watch Paprika. On the surface, the film is about how the power of dreams can change one's life. But the visuals of the film are a testament to how effective animation can be. The climax of the movie, where dream sequences begin to invade the real world, is trippy eye candy. There is some disturbing imagery as well, with Altered States-like horror and skin sloughing off bodies to reveal different faces. But overall, the film is a celebration of the human imagination and the triumph of the creative mind over reality.

Plus it has some amazing scenes like this one:

As Mr. Wednesday said: "Shadow, at best you suffer from a failure of imagination. We're gonna have to fix that."