Gods and mythology have featured in many science fiction and fantasy books, so why can’t they serve as inspiration for manga? While it’s true that manga often draws upon Japanese mythology and folklore for some of its most classic series (Naruto, anyone?), that doesn’t mean it can’t incorporate other cultural sources. Given manga’s longstanding tradition of throwing together seemingly disparate plot elements as long as the end result is cool, I’d argue that it’s almost expected.
To that end, here are some manga featuring gods and classic myths in a variety of styles and approaches.
Noragami: Stray God
Hiyori is just a normal student until the day she gets into an accident when she tries to save a young man. She doesn’t die, but now she’s caught between the living world and the afterlife. Even more troublesome, her soul can slip out of her body. That’s definitely a problem.
But the person she saved is no ordinary young man either: He’s Yato, a nameless god with no shrine, and she asks for his help. Of course, Yato might have no worshippers now, but that wasn’t always the case.
The webtoon that took the world by storm, Lore Olympus retells one of Greek mythology’s most famous stories. Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, has been raised in the mortal realm her entire life. But when she joins the glamorous world of the gods, she meets Hades. The encounter will change her life forever. Contemporary retellings of Greek mythology, and especially the story of Hades and Persephone, have been the rage for a few years now, and Lore Olympus takes up that trend in stupendous fashion.
Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac
A classic shonen manga, Saint Seiya tells the story of five warriors who defend Saori Kido, the modern reincarnation of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. Athena, in all her reincarnated forms, has protected the earth from the various other gods who threaten it. Since its original publication in the 1980s, Saint Seiya has had multiple spin-offs and adaptations—including a recent live-action film.
Pantheon High, Volume 1
On an Earth where the gods from different pantheons co-exist, their demigod children attend an elite private high school in Los Angeles. They include the studious daughter of the Norse God of War, the reckless son of Hades, the popular daughter of the Egyptian Sun God, and the athletic son of the Japanese Goddess of Luck. But don’t think that being divine children means their lives are easy. In Volume 1, the four protagonists fight against a plot by their fellow students while in Volumes 2 and 3, the core group discovers the events of Volume 1 were only part of a larger plan. The evil gods from different pantheons have forged an alliance to destroy their peers and take over the world. This one’s a good starter manga for fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.
Better known for their other manga titles like Card Captor Sakura and X, the all-female team of CLAMP made their industry debut with RG Veda. Based on Vedic mythology, the manga tells the story of six people who rebel against a tyrannical emperor that usurped the throne centuries before. But in what has become a hallmark of all CLAMP manga, not everything is as it seems.
You might be familiar with the Chinese zodiac, but do you know the story behind it? According to the myth, the Jade Emperor organized a race and invited all animals to participate. The animals who did show up were rewarded by getting an entire year named after them, and the race itself would determine the order. But one animal missed out: the cat. Fruits Basket introduces us to the Sohma clan, whose thirteen members are cursed and possessed by the animals from the Chinese zodiac, and the singular young woman who discovers their secret.
Record of Ragnarok
Like other manga featured on this list, Record of Ragnarok features gods from different pantheons. Unlike other titles, however, this series (which was later made into a popular Netflix anime) is a full-blown battle royale. Every 1,000 years, a council of gods convenes to decide the fate of humanity. This time, the gods decide to eradicate humanity. But Brunhilde, a Valkyrie who despises the gods, makes a proposal. Give humans one last chance to earn their survival by fighting against the gods in a tournament.
Thirteen human champions from across history face 13 gods, and if the mortals can win seven matches, they can avert their unlucky fate. Familiar figures like Thor, Hercules, and Apollo represent the gods’ side, but the human alliance features some surprising choices like Jack the Ripper, Nikola Tesla, and Buddha—who despite having earned godhood, decides to fight on the side of humans.
The classic Chinese novel Journey to the West has had numerous adaptations across different media formats (manga readers are probably familiar with Dragonball). In Saiyuki, Kazuya Minekura offers a stylish, if loose, retelling of the original story. Humans and demons once lived together in peace, but that changed when someone sought to revive a demon lord by mixing human science and demon magic. The forbidden combination unleashes a calamity that turns demons into mindless monsters.
Four people are charged to stop the catastrophe: a water demon, a demon hunter, the Monkey King newly freed from 500 years of imprisonment, and a priest tasked with keeping them all in line.
The classic magical girl series features many references to mythology. The star-crossed romance between the moon goddess Selene and the mortal Endymion. The female soldiers who embody the classic motifs of planets associated with the Greco-Roman pantheon. The Sacred Treasures of Japan which are said to be proof of the imperial line’s connection to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Despite all these mythological callbacks, however, the manga starts with a teenaged girl named Usagi Tsukino who learns she’s destined to protect the Earth from evil.