It’s no rocket science that the Japanese love cats.
Cats are found literally everywhere — from pop culture (e.g., Hello Kitty was created by a Japanese artist) to manga and anime to entire cat islands (Aoshima, Tashirojima) and cat temples (Gōtoku-ji, Nyan Nyan Ji).
Take only maneki-neko as an example. It’s the figurine of a calico Japanese bobtail with a raised paw, believed to bring good luck to the owner. The legend has it that a 17-century Tokyo monk lived in a small Zen temple in Setagaya. Albeit being poor, the monk shared his meager meals with a cat who came across the temple and stayed there.
One day, daimyō Ii Naotaka was en-route to a hunting trip when a storm came suddenly. He took shelter under a big tree near the temple and then noticed the temple cat raising one paw as if inviting him in.
As Ii Naotaka headed for the temple, a bolt of lightning hit the tree beneath which he had been standing just seconds ago. He was so grateful to the cat that he became the patron of the temple. When the cat died, it was buried in a special graveyard for cats, and a statue in its liking was made to commemorate the lucky cat. The Gōtoku-ji temple in Tokyo claims to be the original home of Ii Naotaka’s first maneki-neko statue.
Thereupon the belief that maneki-neko figurines bring good fortune was established and has endured ever since.
Knowing this, we can hardly be surprised that cats are being revered in Japan.
However, what is less known is that the Japanese also fear cats. Japanese folklore is a long tale of monstrous and scary cats, ranging from nekomata (猫又, “forked cat”) to bakeneko (化け猫, “changed cat”) to kasha (火車, “burning chariot”)… the list goes on.
Whereas kasha and nekomata are terrifying yōkai, any cat that grows old can become a bakeneko — a shapeshifter that has obtained wisdom with age.
It is also interesting to observe this fascination through manga and anime. You will more often see a manga character display affection towards a cat than towards a dog, for example.
Still, not all cats are made equal. Some furry side characters are more loved than others while some get forgotten or even overlooked. Not good. Some anime cats are simply too interesting to be forgotten, so let’s take a look at the top 5 anime for cat lovers.
5. Night on the Galactic Railroad (銀河鉄道の夜)
Night on the Galactic Railroad (銀河鉄道の夜, Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru) is based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Kenji Miyazawa. Albeit the novel was published posthumously (ca. seven years after having been written), Night on the Galactic Railroad is nowadays considered to be a Japanese fantasy classic.
Curiously, there are four different versions in circulation, with the latest one being the most famous in Japan. The book has inspired a number of plays, stage musicals, and manga, the best-known of which is arguably Leiji Matsumoto’s manga Galaxy Express 999.
“Night on the Galactic Railroad,” Miyazawa’s most famous work, tells the story of two boys as they journey upon a train that traverses the cosmos, learning the true meaning of friendship, happiness and life itself along the way.”Amazon’s review of “Night on the Galactic Railroad & Other Stories from Ihatov”
The Night on the Galactic Railroad anime film adaptation aired on July 13, 1985. Directed by Gisaburo Sugii with a screenplay by Minoru Betsuyaku, the film was produced by Group TAC and Gallop. It won the Ōfuji Noburō Award in 1985.
The film follows young cat Giovanni who travels with his friend Campanella on a steam locomotive running through the Milky Way. The two meet a number of diverse passengers and see various curiosities. Not to spoil the film, but let’s just say that the mood evolves from excitement to doom as the plot progresses.
The Night on the Galactic Railroad anime has Alice in Wonderland vibes and — notwithstanding the fact that the novel that inspired it is a classic, it is definitely not for everyone. As a matter of fact, reviews range from “stellar” to “a complete waste of time,” so it’s up to you to give it a chance.
It is definitely unique and thrilling and provides an invaluable insight into one of the best-loved Japanese fantasy classics. The good news is — Night on the Galactic Railroad is in the public domain and you can watch it for free on Youtube.
4. A Whisker Away (泣きたい私は猫をかぶる)
A Whisker Away (泣きたい私は猫をかぶる, Nakitai Watashi wa Neko o Kaburu, lit. “Wanting to Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat”) is a marvelous film produced by Studio Colorido, Toho Animation and Twin Engine and is a perfect anime for cat lovers.
Directed by Junichi Sato (Aria the Crepusculo) and Tomotaka Shibayama (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and written by Mari Okada, A Whisker Away was released in 2020.
The plot follows Miyo Sasaki, an unhappy middle school girl who doesn’t get along with her stepmother Kaoru. She likes fellow student Kento Hinode, but he doesn’t seem to like her back. One day, Miyo receives a magical Noh mask that enables her to transform into a cat. She uses the opportunity to keep Hinode company and learns a lot about him. Eventually, she realized she cannot support him as a cat but is afraid of revealing the cat’s identity while in her human form.
A Whisker Away is beautifully animated and the plot — albeit somewhat cliché — is something younger audiences can easily relate to. It’s a definite must-watch. The film is available on Netflix.
3. My Roommate is a Cat (同居人はひざ、時々、頭のうえ)
My Roommate is a Cat (同居人はひざ、時々、頭のうえ, Dōkyonin wa Hiza, Tokidoki, Atama no Ue., lit. “My Housemate Is on My Lap, But Sometimes, on My Head”) is a TV anime series inspired by the manga of the same name by Minatsuki (writer) and Asu Futatsuya (illustration). It was produced by Zero-G and aired in 2019.
The plot follows hikikomori (shut-in) Mikazuki Subaru, a novelist who comes upon a stray cat (Haru). One thing leads to another and the two end up living together. Mikazuki begins to gradually open up thanks to the “roommate.” The 12-episode anime provides the perspectives of both protagonists — a welcome take by all accounts.
Since it follows the everyday life of Mikazuki and Haru, the anime series is suitable for wide audiences. If you like easygoing anime, you are certain to like it.
My Roommate is a Cat is available on Crunchyroll.
2. Kiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便)
I’m always having a difficult time when Hayao Miyazaki’s work needs to be ranked because his anime are beyond the competition in my book. That’s why I’m ranking Kiki’s Delivery Service second with a heavy heart… but objectivity comes first.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便, Majo no Takkyūbin, lit. “Witch’s Express Home Delivery”) is a 1989 anime film inspired by the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono. It was animated by Studio Ghibli and distributed by the Toei Company.
“Half-witch Kiki never runs from a challenge. So when her thirteenth birthday arrives, she’s eager to follow a witch’s tradition: choose a new town to call home for one year. Brimming with confidence, Kiki flies to the seaside village of Koriko and expects that her powers will easily bring happiness to the townspeople. But gaining the trust of the locals is trickier than she expected. With her faithful, wise-cracking black cat, Jiji, by her side, Kiki forges new friendships and builds her inner strength, ultimately realizing that magic can be found in even the most ordinary places.”Amazon’s review of “Kiki’s Delivery Service”
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a stunning film everyone simply has to see. It is a slice of life story at its finest with Miyazaki-sensei’s trademark multi-layered characters that leave no one unimpressed.
On that note, “jiji” means “old man” in Japanese.
1. She and Her Cat: Everything Flows (彼女と彼女の猫~Everything Flows~)
She and Her Cat: Everything Flows (彼女と彼女の猫~Everything Flows~, Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko ~Everything Flows~) is an anime television adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s 1999 original short anime She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points.
Produced by Liden Films and directed by Kazuya Sakamoto, She and Her Cat: Everything Flows aired in March 2016. Featuring four short episodes (but still longer than Shinkai’s five-minute story), the anime series follows a job-hunting university student and her life with her black cat Daru, from the cat’s perspective.
I’d say that anyone who owns a cat recognizes that She and Her Cat is a real deal (both adaptations are, as a matter of fact). Heartwarming and harrowing at the same time, the anime series is a sobering reminder that our furry friends’ time runs out faster than ours and that they notice more than they let out… we just may not realize it.
Anime for cat lovers: where to next?
These would be the five finest anime among many others featuring cats. If you take a minute to contemplate, you’ll realize there are more memorable anime cats than you originally realized. Nyanko-Sensei (Natsume’s Book of Friends), Chi (Chi’s Sweet Home), Puck (Re: Zero), Nekobasu (My Neighbor Totoro), Kirara (Inuyasha), Sakamoto (Nichijou – My Ordinary Life), Kuro (Blue Exorcist), The Baron (The Cat Returns), Kyo (Fruits Basket) are just the most obvious ones that come to mind. What about other, less intrusive ones?
Here’s an idea: the next time you’re watching a new anime series, pay attention to side characters. You never know — your next favorite cat may well be there!