Yokai are traditional monsters of Japanese folklore. The can range from mischievous to down-right terrifying! They are such an integral part of Japanese culture, that it’s no wonder that they populate a lot of manga! In many of the manga that have been translated here, the yokai can either be the leads or they can be helping a human interact with the yokai world.
Yokai As Leads
Yokai started getting leading roles in manga as early as the 1960s with the series Cat-Eyed Boy, which features a half-human, half-cat yokai and his attempt to find his place in the world. He is scorned by yokai and humans alike, even though he just wants everyone to get along. Taking relatively the same path, but going with a half-human, half-dog yokai is the series Inuyasha, with the lead by the same name. He has much of the same troubles as Cat-Eyed Boy, only hundreds of years in the past, and he’s not so keen on human-yokai relationships in general, just his relationship with only one human, Kagome. Black Bird has the Tengu yokai Kyo feeling the same way, as he tries to get the human girl Misao to become his wife so his clan can become the more powerful. His motives seem material at first, but as the series goes on, he starts to how real feelings for Misao, even if it comes off border-line pornographic. A series that doesn’t hide its true intentions is Yokai Doctor. Kuro is a yokai doctor, and yokai in disguise who has come to the human world to learn more about them. He befriends Kotoko, the daughter of an exorcist family, and she becomes his nurse. The fan service runs rampant throughout the series, making the yokai more a side story than reason for the title.
Yokai As Guides
Humans are often getting drawn into the yokai world, sometimes because they want to, they want to, and sometimes it’s thrust upon them. In tactics Kantarou has always been able to see yokai, and tries to befriend them. He finds and releases a powerful yokai, The Demon-Easting Tengu, and binds by giving him the name Haruka. So while Haruka has to obey him, Kantarou wants them to be true friends. While Kantarou is the really the guide in this series, helping Haruka become accustomed to Taisho Japan, Haruka does help Kantarou meet more yokai he might not have, such as Sugino. Yokaiden is a OEL title about a boy, Hamachi who wants to meet yokai. After his grandmother is apparently killed by a Kappa yokai, he goes in search of him in the yokai realm. He has several small encounters in the human world, but once he goes to the yokai realm, he need the help of Tsukumo Gami, a paper lantern to not only lead the way, but to help keep him out of trouble, since his clueless but enthusiastic nature gets him on the wrong side of some yokai. Kamisama Kiss has a Nanami being thrust into the position of master of a local shine, and god. She was just looking for a place to live, and has to rely on Onikiri and Kotetsu, yokai shrine attendants, and Tomoe, a fox yokai who serves as guardian of the shrine and Nanami. She and Tomoe get off to a rocky start, and even after securing Tomoe’s loyalty, they still bicker. In Natsume’s Book of Friends, Takashi Natsume has always been able to see yokai, but when he moves back to his grandmother’s home to live with relatives, he comes into possession of the Book of Friends, a book his grandmother made by taking the names of yokai and binding them to her. Natsume doesn’t know what to do with the book at first, but he befriends Madara, a yokai that was sealed away in a maneki neko that Natsume inadvertently freed. Madara agrees to protect Natsume until he dies naturally, and in return Madara will get the book of friends. Madara is a real guide to Natsume, which is a reason he calls Madara Nyako-sensei.
Landing in the middle of these two categories is Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. Rikuo is 1/4 yokai and destined to take over the 100 demon night parade. He has grown up in both the human and yokai world. And while he has swayed between wanting to be part of one world or the other, he finally decides to try to reconcile with both worlds by protecting both humans and yokai. In the world of Nura, yokai are like yakuza, and the most the leader must be able to inspire fear in both humans and yokai in order to lead. Like his goals, Rikuo has two sides; his human side, which he is in the light, and his much stronger and inspiring yokai side, that only comes out in the dark.
To learn more about yokai in general and the 100 Demon Night Parade, check out Matt Alt’s entertaining and informative book, Yokai Attack! In this book you’ll recognize a lot of yokai from these manga, which can really expand your enjoyment of them.