The concept of religion differs extremely between the west and the east. Eastern religions are typically polytheistic, whereas typically Western religions are monotheistic. Japanese society is heavily secularized compared to Western society. Since there is a big gap between them, the portrayal of religions in comics and manga is quite different as well.
Religion in Japan and its media
The media often uses mentions of Japanese religion and folklore as metaphors. In many famous animated feature films, series, and comics, elements are drawn from Shintoism and Buddhism play an important role in the main story.
Most audiences may recognize some of the storytelling mediums. However, other metaphors designed to connect with Japanese audiences can fly over the minds of audiences that have grown up in other cultures. You can find subtle religious hints in your favorite anime; Perhaps the protagonists visit the shrine on New Year’s Day, obtain charms or amulets, or offer incense to the deceased.
Difference between the portrayal of western and eastern religions in manga/anime
An interesting occurrence is that the majority of slice-of-life manga/anime often has elements of Shinto religion incorporated. Examples of that are a New Years’ episode where characters go to a shrine and pay respects to the local gods. However, dark and mysterious anime such as Hellsing or Neon Genesis Evangelion have plenty of Christian symbolism within them.
Western religions, particularly Christianity, are used for a sense of exoticness. Evangelion relied heavily on it because the Japanese audience wouldn’t be too familiar with certain terms such as the Dead sea scrolls. Another way Christianity is incorporated is because of the sentiment of absolute evil and absolute good. That sentiment doesn’t exist in the Japanese variations of Buddhism and Shintoism. Anime and manga do tend to make ideas thematic and religion is subjected to this process more often than anything else.
Portrayal of Church
Even the most religious places aren’t safe from evil. Corrupted Church is often perceived worse than a simple supervillain or League of Evil, because when even the holy priests turn to the dark side, what hope is there for humanity. In anime and manga, the Corrupt Church trope can be seen in many of them. Fullmetal Alchemist shows the Letoist church led by Father Cornelio. He is a pastor who uses the philosopher’s stone ring to create “miracles’ ‘ and induce Leo’s citizens to believe in a fabricated religion So that he can use them as soldiers to help him take over the Nation.
The Wall cult of Attack on Titan started as a group of zealots who worshipped the walls as a gift from god. After the fall of the wall, Maria gained rapid influence. One of the most dominant ones is the corrupt Church in the Fate series, where particularly the entire anime revolves around it. These are just one of the many examples.
Religion shown in Western Comics
A popular theory is that Superman is actually a re-written Moses. In the Superman comics, you have a story where his parents put an alien baby on a shuttle. They sent him to the land where he grew up, named Clark Kent. In the myth of Moses, his parents put him in a basket and then he became the liberator of his people. Superman, later, is named Kal-El, which is Hebrew and means “voice of God”. Superman is often portrayed as an image of Jesus as well. If you watch the trailer for the Batman vs Superman movie, there will be a picture of a superman statue with “false god” written on it, and Superman in the sky with the sun setting. He is just a shadow, giving people an angel-like or Christ image.
In addition to the mythical and sometimes even saviour image of Superman, religion, and comics are intertwined in different ways in several different titles, subtle or more obvious. For example, the superhero Thor himself is a god. If we even go beyond the characters, some comics try to address the meaning of religion, such as the popular series “Evil Men and Gods”, which compares celebrities to reincarnated ancient gods.
Even Western comics rely on Christian symbolism, just in more of a friendlier manner than the Japanese manga. In the comics or recent Netflix series Daredevil, Matt Murdoch’s Catholic faith is part of the story. Sometimes he struggled with faith, sometimes he trusted it, but no matter what, he often appeared in the church. The most recent arc in the comic tells the entire story from Daredevil’s perspective. An interesting one from the confessional, telling the events to the priest. In this regard, the image of Catholicism often appears traditional churches, clerical costumes, and statues of saints.
A topic that has been a discussion by Batman fans is Batman’s religion. His parents’ graves have crosses on them, and he was a holder of the Holy Grail for a while. So, it is speculated that he might be Catholic. Throughout entertainment, the Knights Templars and The Holy Grail have been often covered in both eastern and western media. The Fate franchise features the Holy Grail in all of the shows and novels.
Why is Japan much more critical of the Church in comparison to the West?
It is no secret that the Church has done some shady stuff in the past. While Japanese society is extremely secularised and Christians make 1% of their population, they don’t have to fear losing sales because of the critical viewpoint of the Church. With the West, that is not the case. In the USA Christians make up 65% of the population as of 2020. It would simply be too risky to criticize it.