Being a teenager is a challenging time, for sure. There are the physical and emotional changes, as a person grows in that strange space between childhood and adulthood. It’s a time of pain and happiness and everything in-between. Many teens would be absolutely beside themselves to have magical powers, imagining magic wands to turn ancient history teachers into squawking chickens or making the captain of the football team (or cheerleading squad, as the case may be) fall madly in love with them. Certainly this would make any teen’s life easier (so it would seem), but those teens new to magic and witchcraft often have a misconception of what they really entail.
The media being as pervasive as it is, teens are not immune to its images and messages. Anime, a Japanese form of animation (along with manga, anime’s print counterpart) has become likewise quite popular with younger generations. This is no surprise; oftentimes the main characters in anime and manga are teenagers, reflecting real life teens as they struggle for dates, social acceptance, and self-discovery. Making anime and manga even more appealing to today’s teens (both those practicing witchcraft or magic and those who do not) is the fact that the characters often possess something extra special . . . a lot of them have magical powers.
So they’re not just teens, they’re magical teens. Fifteen seems to be a special age in Japanese artistic mediums, as this is usually the age of the hero or heroine, and in many cases, characters don’t learn about their magical talents until they reach this age. Up until then, they were like anyone else, only to discover their latent powers and have their mystical adventures begin. Considering that teenage years are a time of transition, doesn’t it make sense that this would be the time for discovering magic?
Take Yuri Shibuya, for example. This fifteen-year-old is the main character of the mega hit Kyo Kara Maoh, which started as a novel series and spun off into an anime and manga. For a decade and a half, Yuri’s gone through his ho-hum life, interested in baseball and unable to get any dates. Then, one day, he’s literally flushed into an alternate world (water being his magical element, as he’ll soon learn) where he’ll discover a place called the Demon Kingdom (Demon not being evil, but magical). In fact, he’ll discover that he’s meant to be the next Demon King, blessed by The Great One, an ancient King turned God. Kyo Kara Maoh is one of the most popular anime series out there, both in the United States and Japan, reaching the top of sales not only for its whimsy, but its amazing storytelling and plot.
While Yuri finds himself king of a beautiful kingdom, things are a little darker for fifteen-year-old Ichigo, star of Bleach. He takes on the powers of not royalty but godliness when he’s consumed with the energy of the Soul Reapers, or Death Gods. Similar to Yuri, he went through life fairly normally (with the exception of being able to see ghosts and spirits) until he met a Soul Reaper and gained some of her powers. Now Ichigo’s finding ways to enter the Soul Society, where beings of death dwell. They don’t all care for this brash new human in their midst, and Ichigo will find himself in hot water before he’s able to fix anything.
Magical teens don’t always have other worlds to go to. Some exist very much in our world. In Hands Off!, a sharp and quick-witted manga series, three high school boys go through their days while living with very special talents. One can read emotional auras, while another has post-cognition, able to see past events as if he were there. The third one, who worries about his appearance (he fears he is not masculine enough to win dates with the ladies), has ESP. And while each boy has his own extraordinary skills, they have individual responses: one is selfish with them, one curses them, and one is too wrapped up in his insecurity to think about them. Yet as the series commences, the selfishness will die down, the curse will have some blessings, and even the insecure boy will take a new look at his life.
High school is rough for any teen, let alone those with magical powers. The main character of Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Haruhi, wants to start a club for people interested in time travel, ESP, and aliens. And lo and behold, her new club members include a time traveler, an ESPer, and an alien. The other students think Haruhi is a little odd (if not downright crazy), but if she can find the magical people she seeks, clearly she knows what she’s doing.
One much darker magical teen show is Death Note. The ambiguity of its high school-age main character (who is not clearly good or bad) causes its audience to grapple with images of good and evil and let them look at the whole world differently. Light, the series lead, finds out he has the power to kill with his notebook. The notebook came from the Death Gods (yes, the same type found in Bleach). He decides to use it to kill criminals, telling himself this will make the world a better place. But when the power gets to him and he then begins to kill off the FBI and police agents who are now after him, he continues to insist to himself that he’s doing the right thing. If the authorities stop him, he reflects, he’ll no longer be able to take out criminals. Life isn’t black and white, and the teen years aren’t either. Likewise, Death Note and Light plunge into the darker parts of the world and mind, showing the hypocrisy and contradictions in our thoughts.
It makes sense that teens in anime and manga are portrayed magically. In a practical sense, a large portion of the anime and manga audience is in their teens. While these mediums are of course widely enjoyed by people in their twenties, thirties, and so on, teens are a wide market.
However, in a more emotional sense, this portrayal is logical because the teenage years are a time of growth, change, and the discovery of self. Many teens either long for “magical powers” or begin to experiment with them. The teenage years can be painful, they can be awkward, but you could also say they have their moments of being . . . well . . . magical.