Atheism is growing in acceptance, worldwide. Today, it's only punishable by death in some countries. The ludicrousness of the fact that atheism is persecuted anywhere, in this day and age, however, is a subject of discussion for another day. The fact is, Japan is not one of the country's where atheism is frowned upon. In fact, considering how Buddhism and Shintoism have evolved, and are currently practiced there, there is an argument to be made for the majority of Japan's population being atheist. One might then suspect to be able to find a representation of this atheism in Japanese anime.
That's not entirely true though. See, in Japan, unlike in the West, there is no Judeo-Christian norm looming over everything. Perhaps a large percentage of anime characters are atheist, but we're unlikely to ever find out, because there's no reason for them to bring it up. It's simply not a factor, most of the time. The same thing happens with video games. Unless religion is a theme, its unlikely to have a character express one belief or another. For this reason there's not a whole lot of "confirmed" atheists.
That's not to say there are none, however. I've done my best to gather together as many characters, with supporting quotations, as possible, for the reader's benefit. I will try to maintain this list, adding new characters as I come across them.
Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist)
Let's kick off things, and get the ball rolling, with a fan favorite. Edward Elric is one of very few characters -- in any medium -- whose atheism is displayed front and center as being a major aspect of who he is as a person. He's certainly the most well-known atheist of the anime world, if internet discussion is anything to go off of. Finding a specific quote to show this disbelief in God proved remarkably easy. The following conversation happens in the very first episode of the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist series:
Ed Elric: So, if you pray and polish the altar enough times, someone who's dead will be brought back to life?
Rose Thomas: Something like that.
Ed Elric: Water: 35 liters. Carbon: 20 kilograms. Ammonia: 4 liters. Lime: 1.5 kilograms. Phosphorus: 800 grams. Salt: 250 grams. Saltpeter: 100 grams. Sulphur: 80 grams. Flourine: 7.5. Iron: 5. Silicon: 3 grams. And trace amount of 15 other elements.
Rose Thomas: What's that?
Ed Elric: It's all the ingredients of the average adult human body, down to the last specks of protein in your eyelashes. And even though science has given us the entire physical breakdown, there's never been a successful attempt at bringing a human to life. There's still something missing, something scientists haven't been able to find in centuries of research. So what makes you think that a hackjob priest with his parlor tricks is going to be able to? And in case you're wondering, all those ingredients can be bought on a child's allowance. Humans can be built on the cheap. There's no magic to it.
Rose Thomas: Well if there's no magic to it, then you bring someone back to life?
Ed Elric: Just a matter of time, Rose. Science will find a way. Science is the answer to everything. If I were you, I'd drop the scriptures and pick up an alchemy book. We're the closest thing to gods there are.
(Fullmetal Alchemist, Episode 1)
Roy Mustang (Fullmetal Alchemist)
Another fan favorite from the Fullmetal Alchemist, Roy Mustang is less frequently understood to be an atheist. This, however, does not make the fact untrue. In the penultimate episode of the 2003 series, in a conversation with King Bradley, Roy Mustang states his disbelief in a god rather directly:
King Bradley: People are foolish.
Roy Mustang: Foolish enough to let you profit off their pain and suffering.
King Bradley: You've got me all wrong. To stop the human race from leading itself to ruin, I enter and take the stone, thereby preventing its use. I think of myself as one of God's guardian angels.
Roy Mustang: There is no such thing as God.
(Fullmetal Alchemist, Episode 50)
Wrath (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
This will be the last character from Fullmetal Alchemist on this list, I promise. It's just so easy to include these characters due to the directness of their words. In Brotherhood, the homunculus Wrath differs quite heavily from his 2003 counterpart. Amongst the many differences, is an articulated distaste for the idea of God:
Wrath: 'God', you say? Now this is intriguing. How much longer do you think your god plans to wait before unleashing his fury? Just how many thousands of lives must I take, before he decides to strike me down?
Soldier: You're a monster!
Wrath: "Open your eyes. 'God' is nothing more than a construct created by man to inspire fear and promote order. If you wish to see me struck down, for all these atrocities, use your own hands to do so, not 'God’s'."
(Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Episode 30)
Revy (Black Lagoon)
There are a lot of adectives and adjective phrases that might be used to describe Revy from Black Lagoon. Hotheaded, angry, impulsive, and badass are some of these words. She is also undeniably an atheist. The following conversation between Revy and Rock is very telling about Revy's personal philosophies. It's really a lot of food for thought, as it touches the surface of a variety of topics such as nihilism, daoism, and possibly capitalism. Her feelings towards religion aren't exactly subtle, however.
Revy: This and this. What would you call these?
Rock: A medal and a human skull.
Revy: You're wrong, Rock. These are things. When you strip away their meanings, that's all they are. Just the word "things." And if you were to once again give these things meaning, their value wouldn't be determined by some rosy, so-called memory. It would be determined by the one thing everybody agrees on. Money. That's all these are worth. The rest is nothing but fancy words to add appreciation.
Rock: Is money... God?
Revy: It's power. Something a lot more useful than God. Rock. Besides this, what do you put value on? God? Love? Don't make me laugh. Back when I was a brat and crawling on the streets of that dump, for whatever reason, God and love were always out of stock. Before I knew better, I clung to and cried out to God. Well, I believed in God, right up to the day cops beat the hell outta me for something I didn't do. It was just because I lived in a poor neighborhood. With no power and no God, what can a Chinese bitch rely on? It's money. And guns. With those two things, the world's a great place.
(Black Lagoon, Episode 5)
Misaki Nakahara (Welcome to the N.H.K.)
Now here is an interesting one: Misaki Nakahara from Welcome to the N.H.K. In episode 22, Misaki Nakahara delivers speech -- a lecture, as she describes it -- on the idea of God. The speech resonated strongly for me, because its structure is analogous to the process of becoming an atheist that I, and many others, have experienced. We first begin by questioning if God is truly benevolent. We ultimately conclude that he does not exist in the first place. Misaki's speech is as follows:
"Please take a look at this. I have created a chart that shows the ratio between pain and fun in life. It is evident from this chart that fun things, things that make life worth living... These kinds of happy occurrences make up less than ten percent of a person's life. People who believe in God say this world was created by God. Therefore, this world of pain and struggle was created by God. The God who created such a miserable world cannot be a good person. God is evil. There's no doubt about it. Do you have any counter arguments? Since God is evil, he does mean things. The one responsible for Satou-kun's reclusion is probably God. Letting me see Satou-kun and that senpai come out of the hotel is also God's ill will.
"That's why I know what I have to do about it. I have to... defeat God. This world would probably transform into something wonderful if such a mean God vanished. The problem is... I don't know where God is, much less how to defeat him. Unlike the others, I can't believe in God, since I have a poor imagination. Like the people attending the same meetings as my aunt... and the people going to hatsumoude. If an extravagant miracle would occur before my eyes, like in the Bible... I would be able to believe in God. If I had faith, I could blame all the bad things on God."
(Welcome to the N.H.K.,Episode 22)
Roronoa Zoro (One Piece)
Roronoa Zoro from One Piece: known for being a swordsman capable of fighting with three swords simultaneously. Less known for his religious beliefs. He nonetheless does comment on the subject, specifically, during the Skypiea Arc. He receives the approval of Chopper, but the disapproval of Nami.
Tony Tony Chopper: Zoro... is more arrogant than God.
Nami: Those priests are on this island too. And you're never supposed to anger God! That's just common sense!
Roronoa Zoro: Sorry, I've never prayed to God...
Tony Tony Chopper: Ohhh! So cool!
Roronoa Zoro: I don't believe in him, so why should I pray to him?
(One Piece, Episode 159)
Sanzo Genjou (Saiyuki)
I don't like spreading information that turns out to be false, so let's put an asterisks on this one. I have never actually seen an episode of Saiyuki. Furthermore, it's not currently anywhere near my to-watch list. However, I have been told that there is a character named Sanzo Genjou, whose atheism would be confirmed by the following quote (if this quote is legitimate.) If anyone can confirm this (ideally with an episode number), I would be very much grateful. Similarly, if anyone is able to show a quote that disproves this claim, I will also be grateful, and I will remove this entry. The quote is as follows:
"I don't believe in anyone, nor do I believe in God. I just believe in myself."
Phew. It was certainly an undertaking to compile this list. In addition to racking my brain for the characters I could think of, and using Google to fill in the gaps, I had to research the individual episodes in which these claims were confirmed. I then had to transcribe the quotes; and this all took a lot longer than I expected it to. I hope it proves useful, however, because I know I've searched for lists like this in the past only to come up empty.
This being said, if anyone can submit characters that I've overlooked, the list can be improved. There is a comments section below for this purpose. If you can, please make use of it!
Dvqiwi on July 20, 2019:
Yeah but Ed is clearly agnostic not athiest...
Madeline on February 10, 2019:
Kobayashi from Kobayashi's Dragon Maid is an atheist.
Chris Olson on September 08, 2017:
From watching Soul Eater, Dr. Franken Stein should DEFINITELY be on this list. You can definitely tell, because:
1. He is extremely intelligent.
2. He sees everything as scientific experimental test subjects being studied, as well as himself.
3. Like Victor Frankenstein from the old Mary Shelley novel, he imagines a world "Without God," setting his own morals without the use of a divine power.
Rachael Lefler from Illinois on November 02, 2016:
Wrath would be more like a "nay-theist" ie someone who knows God exists and thinks him a jerk, same with Ed. Edward has direct proof that his magic works because of a higher supernatural being called Truth. He's only saying things about that one false God. It's more like when a Christian denounces Muhammad as a false prophet than truly like atheism in the strictest sense. And the "Welcome to NHK" thing is also not necessarily about atheism, or lack of belief. It's more about being upset that God would make a world that has so much suffering in it. Being mad at God doesn't equal atheism.
IvoryTusk from Albuquerque, New Mexico on April 07, 2016:
There is definitely a shift occurring in storytelling, where there is less emphasis on religion and even beliefs vs. disbeliefs in God and more toward what characters gravitate toward for connection and understanding. There is an argument that the most compassionate and ethical characters are those who are not bound by the confines of religion, but can use science, reason, and understanding as the basis for devising what they need to of individuals and of themselves.
There is still a challenge within our human culture to think that a person outside of a religious construct has no morals or ethics, or can even know what it is to be human. Such stories as are generated by the anime genre tend to explore that concept much more deeply. It is fascinating that those who are the most enmeshed with religious teachings, the temples, etc. are also those who seem to be the most corrupt, the most hypocritical, etc.
We are definitely seeing a shift within our own understanding, and where we have seen religious practices ebb and flow in the past is continuing at a much faster rate currently. In the Information Age, it is much more difficult to hide behind half-truths or to rely entirely on baseless faith.
The notion of turning toward religion for comfort, peace, and understanding of others is accepted more widely than the notion of turning toward reason, communication, and even a superficial connection to another human being. This in itself fascinates me, but I am even seeing this kind of notion being turned on its head, where the idea of religion bringing comfort is heralded as a confounding notion; how can we gain comfort in something of which there is no proof?
This kind of shift is really one I love observing, reading, and experiencing; it shows that we as a species are on the brink of an evolutionary process. I am fascinated to see where it will take us.
Chris Qu (author) on November 06, 2015:
As an update: we had a knuckle-dragging protohuman leave a hateful comment on this hub recently. He really only succeeded in showing how stupid he was, but I went and removed it anyway.
TheOnlyMarz on December 01, 2014:
Im really impressed by this article
it must of took a long time to gather information
Nigel Kirk from Calgary, AB, CAN on November 18, 2014:
I do chuckle every now and then, I admit, at Edward's English VA (Vic Magnona). He is an extremely conservative Christian who at conventions constantly denies that any characters he has voiced are Atheist. In particular, Edward.
It should also be noted that "The Godfather of Anime" Osamu Tezuka was an outspoken Agnostic. I appreciate religious messages in pop culture (so long as they are not harmful or promote hatred) but I also have a strong appreciation for secularism and it's rise, and hope it continues to grow in acceptance.
Waray-Warai on November 18, 2014:
Keita Suminoe of Kiss x sis is also an atheist.
:) on September 14, 2014:
I'd recommend Izaya Orihara to the list... He certainly does not believe in God, but gives an amazing speech about idolization ("She will become your God") in ep18.
Brooke18 on July 25, 2014:
Zoro is my favorite character in One Piece but I don't like the fact that he's Atheist. That could be because I'm a Christian. Then again, I try to ignore it because his personality is so cool!
I also never really noticed that so many characters in FullMetal Alchemist were Atheist!
HaadoGeisha on February 22, 2014:
Setsuna F. Seiei, Gundam 00
just someone on February 17, 2014:
Edward didn't meet "God" as a Judeo-Christian deity nor "god" as a deity of any other religion. "Truth" in the series is everything and "God" is merely a name that some people might use of it.
Alex on December 23, 2013:
Wait, how can Edward Elric be an atheist if he met god; also remembering that was his standpoint very early in the series - also said by a previous comment. Actually Wrath reconsiders his position upon his death as well, wondering if there was a god, was his death a form of divine punishment. FMA is a great program for this kind of discussion in fact, Alchemists wielding a great power which infringes God's right of creation, but pay dearly for its use in the taboo case.
Question on October 11, 2013:
So is God a fictional character in fiction? Or is He fictional in reality?
Or is the concept of "God", real in fiction as well as reality?
Chris Qu (author) on July 18, 2013:
Atheism is defined, explicitly, as the disbelief in God (captial G) or gods (lowercase g). It does not necessarily extend to a complete lack of belief in other supernatural concepts, even though, in the real world, this is almost invariably the case. The same reasoning that would make atheism appealing to someone, would also cause them to conclude that such other supernatural concepts are unrealistic. However, this way of thinking becomes somewhat flimsy when applied to a fictional, fantasy world.
In lots of fictional worlds, the rules that govern the real world are bent and broken. They give way to what we would consider the supernatural. For example, consider Harry Potter. The world is based on magic -- decidedly supernatural stuff. If a hypothetical character from this world were to deny a belief in god, would he or she also have to deny that the magic around them exists? To prevent this paradox in thought, I think it's important to stay close to the explicit definition of the term atheism.
Of the characters I found, I think its possible that Revy was specifically referring to the Judeo-Christian God. Black Lagoon is a series grounded in reality, and she lived in America, so the context is certainly there. The others, I believe, express a disbelief in any god of the Judeo-Christian model -- but not necessarily God with a capitol G. I think their beliefs suggest an overall lack of belief in the divinity, or in any supreme beings.
However, a complete lack of belief in anything magical would seem a little bit strange, in a world of magical Devil Fruit. :)
Haruhi is an interesting example, because -- and I haven't yet read the latest translated novel -- there was an ongoing discourse on whether or not Haruhi, herself, was a deity. I am a little fuzzy, but I believe both Kyon and Haruhi have made statements suggesting they are agnostic?
In any case, thanks for reading and taking the time to reply. I love discussion like this.
Nigel Kirk from Calgary, AB, CAN on July 18, 2013:
From your quotes and your comment above, I believe you may be misrepresenting Atheism to specifically be not the Judeo-Christian God. Using your Iron Man analogy, Tony Stark would have two choices: Renounce Atheism for Agnosticism (Of which I am one) or deny that Thor is a deity (which the movie "Thor" leaves as an open possibility.)
The other possibility is Gnosticism. Which was explored in the Most recent Haruhi Suzumiya Light Novel: The idea that God or the Gods are actually evil and need to be replaced with a newer benevolent one (A common theme in Buddhist-Shintoism).
The whole point of Atheism is that they do not believe in any form of deity. Period. Nor do they believe in Karma or Fate or other such supernatural concepts.
Anyway, other than that, Your hub was a good read!
Travis Aaron on July 15, 2013:
Nice hub! I did note when Zoro said he didn't believe in god!
Chris Qu (author) on May 31, 2013:
Thanks for the read, and for the comment. I suppose it's within the realm of possibility that Ed is an agnostic. I don't think the A-word ("atheism," not the other one) is ever said directly, but this is my interpretation that quote: 1) He denies the existence of magic. 2) He devalues religious practice. 3) He makes the bold claim that alchemists are the closest thing to the idea of a god; a statement that doesn't work, logically, if he believes in an actual god.
I believe the comment about God slapping them in the face was meant to be a sardonic comment about fate. However, The Truth is the interesting 8-ball in the discussion. The Truth says that he goes by All, One, and God. However, these are titles. They are names he has become known by. The Truth doesn't claim to be the creator (I'm going from memory right now, if I am making any mistakes, I will own up to it).
I suppose an analogy would this: Let's assume Iron Man is an atheist (there is an interesting on-going discourse regarding this). Iron Man is personally friends with Thor, who is considered to be a god. However, would we say this has an effect on him being atheist or not?
Fiction is an interesting thing. Much as how we can suddenly have alchemists, homunculi, and chimerae... we can now have gods. Note, the lowercase g instead of the capital G. The gods we are now talking about are powerful beings -- but they are not the omnipotent creator deities that we understand them to be in western philosophical thought. Wrapping real-world theological debate around these new constructs can be challenging.
But it can also be enjoyable, as I'm now finding, and am hoping you have found! Again, thanks for posting.
Haley Booker-Lauridson from GA on May 31, 2013:
Great hub! However, I have to disagree with you on the first one. Edward Elric is not completely athiest, but rather agnostic during the beginning of the anime (but especially in the manga). He never makes an implication that God doesn't exist, but rather that God is no better than humans, which is noted in the quotes you chose for him.
In a later episode, he says something in effect to "Every time we get close to the truth, God just slaps us in the face. I guess he really does hate us, huh?" And then in the manga, it is revealed that what took his arm, leg, and brother's body, was called the Truth, but also went by All, One, and God. He does accept that this being might be God, but he definitely does not like him.
In conclusion, during the beginning of the anime/manga, Ed is agnostic, never stating that they live in a Godless world, but making jokes about God instead. As the series goes on, he believes in a God, but thinks he is an asshole.
Can't say much about Mustang or the others on this list, and you're absolutely right about Bradley. Thanks again for the hub!