Hoshin Engi: One of Japan’s Favorite Manga Is a Hidden Gem Overseas

Most obscure anime and manga stem from the 1980s, a time when Japan's economic boom was at its peak. Many creators were experimenting with what kind of stories could be told and how they could convey them. Since that time, many titles from that era have made their way to the internet in some form or another, creating a wider spectrum of international fans that can finally enjoy them. Despite users' best efforts, there remain series that go unnoticed by this global community. Hoshin Engi is one of those titles.

First published in Shounen Jump in 1996, Hoshin Engi was created by Ryu Fujisaki, who was also the creator of Shiki. Translated as Soul Hunter, the plot centers around Taikoubou, a kind-hearted young man tasked with an important mission: hunting down 365 demons on the Houshin Scroll and "houshin" them -- sending their spirits to a place called Houshindai. The demons are being controlled by a fox-spirit called Dakki, who has also been controlling the Emperor of the Yin Dynasty, Chuu Ou. The story is set and has heavy roots in China and Chinese mythology.

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Taikoubou is not your typical shonen protagonist. He's more of a trickster than his contemporaries, and while he doesn't bottle up his negative emotions, he tends to seclude himself and cry rather than letting his friends see him do so. That isn't to say he's not a macho-fighter type, but he prefers simple things like peaches and sheep. Despite this, he's also realistic in that he understands that sometimes lives will be lost and that it's an unavoidable fact of life. He knows it's impossible to save everyone, and while he has his own tragic past, he doesn't let it define him.

Weapons known as Paopei are used in the battles fought throughout the series. They are nature-based, with attacks that reflect whichever element that they represent. Taiboukou's main Paopei, for example, is called Dashinben and uses the element of wind. So, not only does he fight demons throughout his journey, but he also collects more Paopei. He also uses the Drunken Fist style of fighting, which makes him highly unpredictable in combat. Using his weapons and martial arts, Taikoubou and his friends do their best t0 try and stop the evil Dakko from taking over all of China.

The Hoshin Engi manga ran in Shonen Jump for four years and had 23 volumes published, totaling 204 chapters. It also received an anime adaptation in 1999, a live-action musical in 2019 and a new anime adaptation in 2018. It was also recently ranked Number 19 on a 2020 Twitter poll of Life-Defining Manga for Japanese fans.

Despite all of the praise it received in Japan, and the fact that there are dubs for both anime series, Houshin Engi never really saw the same kind of success internationally. The manga and its sequel both received English releases, so it's not like there wasn't material out there for international readers. Hopefully, it will start to see more popularity as people look for more anime to watch to satiate their boredom.

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