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Celeriac

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  • Joined Jul 12, 2015
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Zen Anime

This is a list of anime that offer a zenlike perspective to their stories. Zen (禅), also "chán" in Chinese or "dhyāna" in Sanskrit, means mindful absorption or a meditative state of mind. Zen's core mindset is that of receiving and accepting the world with minimal judgment in the evaluative or idealistic sense, promoting an open-minded and intuitive approach to life that celebrates the present and the flow of things in their own suchness. Anime that embodies zen doesn't push you to judge its events and outcomes, rather it allows you to enjoy the strange ride. The events in such anime, whether they can be classified as "good" or "bad" in an immediate sense, do not necessarily have matching repercussions in the long term; they simply happen and are as they are. Odd things may happen for no apparent reason other than to embellish or help the story. These anime don't tend to place great narrative pressure on a specific way for how their stories should progress and resolve. I'd argue that they're also best viewed in a zenlike mindset: don't attach yourself strongly to things, and find beauty in each moment on its own terms.
1 Samurai Champloo

Samurai Champloo

The protagonists are quite amoral and they exemplify a courage to live with a great deal of uncertainty concerning their future, living very much in the present. The show does a magnificent job at instilling the viewer with a nonjudging point of view towards its sometimes chaotic stories and resolutions. You'll have a bad time if you insist on viewing Samurai Champloo through a moralistic lens or with a strong desire for a continuous, coherent plot.

2 Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop

3 Hotarubi no Mori e

Hotarubi no Mori e

4 Hyouge Mono

Hyouge Mono

Hyouge Mono is a spectacular mixture of political intrigue, absurdity of individuals' vain desires, and a zenlike enjoyment of aesthetic aspects in life with over-the-top responses and insight by the awesomely expressive protagonist.

The show has a strong focal point in the Japanese tea ceremony. An insightful saying goes 'tea and zen are the same flavor' (茶禅一味), and this series just so happens to be the best tea-related anime out there.

5 Space Dandy

Space Dandy

Space Dandy as a series has a special relationship with its time continuums, which gives full weight and drastic freedom to each individual episode's own story. The protagonists are fully invested in whatever they do, yet with a charming disregard for anything but the present moment. The series itself is similarly aloof about how its stories turn out.

6 Space Dandy 2

Space Dandy 2

Space Dandy as a series has a special relationship with its time continuums, which gives full weight and drastic freedom to each individual episode's own story. The protagonists are fully invested in whatever they do, yet with a charming disregard for anything but the present moment. The series itself is similarly aloof about how its stories turn out.

7 My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro

Two kids are fascinated by the things they find in their new countryside home, embodying the 'beginner's mind', a zen mindset where you're totally open to experiencing and learning things without letting previous knowledge and experience get in the way.

8 Spirited Away

Spirited Away

This great movie has strong emotional motivations for the protagonist and the viewer, but its presentation of scenes and scenery also asks you to take it all in as a magical experience to be celebrated in itself. I rarely see anime with such fascinating audiovisuals that stem from such (ultimately) mundane and simple things.

9 The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The story as it unfolds is not so zenlike in itself (other than the beautiful, serene style), but it delivers a very zen-compatible aesop about enjoying your life every day and not simply pursuing an abstract form of happiness as a long-term goal enabled by something else, because it will always be just out of reach with that mindset, no matter your social or economic standing.

Kaguya's handmaiden, for what her limited screen time is worth, is one of the most zen characters I've seen in anime.

10 Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo Godfathers

The characters in this movie have their problems, past and present. They don't do things perfectly, and things don't go perfectly for them or people around them. Yet, the story and narration at large don't judge them, and fate rolls onward, sometimes with absurd coincidences.

11 The Tatami Galaxy

The Tatami Galaxy

The Tatami Galaxy presents a kind of purgatory for the protagonist who wants very specific outcomes as a result of his seemingly all-important choice of picking a different university club in each different continuity while not changing his own mindset. Very fascinating stuff.

12 Mushishi

Mushishi

13 Mushishi Zoku Shou

Mushishi Zoku Shou

14 Mushishi Zoku Shou 2nd Season

Mushishi Zoku Shou 2nd Season

15 Mononoke

Mononoke

The stories that Mononoke presents are truly amoral and often horrendous from an individual's perspective, but the show does a great job of letting its characters and plot deal with it regardless, finding some sort of peace as the restless spirits born from immense regret pass away, never preaching morals.

16 Cat Soup

Cat Soup

17 Iblard Jikan

Iblard Jikan

This is quite literally an exhibition of animated paintings with a fantastical impressionist theme. There's no story, just marvel.

18 Out of Sight

Out of Sight

Pure enjoyment of auditory visualization, a celebration of mindfulness.

19 Jumping

Jumping

A kid jumps around for a bit for no specific reason, landing and flying in the darnest of places.

20 Mind Game

Mind Game

21 Fuyu no Hi

Fuyu no Hi

Winter Days is a supremely artful audiovisualization of a renku, a kind of collaborative chained poem, from the famous poet Bashō's collection from 1684. Fittingly, the 36 animated scenes based on the poem were created by different animators in different styles as a collaboration. This film doesn't make sense as a conventional story, rather it simply shows how the 36 haiku-like stanzas were interpreted, in turn giving the viewer additional layers to interpret. It's a wonderfully aesthetic and zen-like watch.

22 Kanamewo

Kanamewo

A woman finds an allegorical embodiment of her own presence and awareness. Zen is all about that.

23 Night is Short, Walk On Girl

Night is Short, Walk On Girl

24 Lupin III

Lupin III

There's a very carefree and unattached atmosphere to this series and especially its main characters who are an amoral bunch to begin with. They seem to enjoy their lives as a whole, whatever happens.

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