Teen Anime Philosophy Texts from Outer Space

by Brian Hioe

Neon Genesis Evangelion logo against a night sky, with teen pilots Asuka and Shinji in flight suits, with mecha EVA-01

When I was growing up in a small suburban town in upstate New York, there weren’t a lot of kids who shared my interests in philosophy and literature. So when I went to college and became an English literature major, I was excited to take classes on many of the subjects I’d already been looking into. But I was disappointed to find that a lot of professors used pop culture–Hollywood films, mostly–to make philosophy into something bite-sized, palatable, and relatable to young people. I hadn’t grown up watching South Park or Family Guy or whatever, so maybe that’s part of why this approach didn’t resonate with me.

Though I didn't realize it at the time, I wasn't so different from my classmates—only instead of needing pop culture references to explain philosophy, I'd followed pop culture references into philosophy on my own. As a teen, I'd started reading Nietzsche and Freud or whoever, not out of nowhere, but because of my interest in Japanese anime and video games.

In the 1990s and 2000s, when I was growing up, the anime franchise Neon Genesis Evangelion cast a large shadow over the world of Japanese anime and video games. How to describe Evangelion, I’m not even sure; apart from forever changing the whole medium of anime, it’s a work that continued to shape my worldview in the decades since I first experienced it.

It’s a paywall, but a small one

Read this post and get our weekdaily newsletter for $3 a month