Power systems and shonen anime go together like peanut butter and jelly. A good power system can bring cohesion and authenticity to a world, and well-built power systems are a way for authors to flex their creativity and make interesting story beats. The best power systems in anime are the ones that not only look cool but also make sense from a mechanical standpoint.
If you haven’t already, read this previous article covering some of the best power systems in anime. We are going to take a look at some more cool power systems in anime and see how they work.
Ki – “Dragon Ball” Series
Ki served as the original inspiration for this series of articles and it still remains one of the most well-known power systems in anime. It was introduced in the original Dragon Ball and is a manifestation of a character’s life energy or fighting spirit. Ki can be manipulated to pull off the cool energy blasts the series is known for and facilitate things like flight.
Ki is composed of three parts: genki (vigor), yuki (courage), and shoki (“right-mindedness”). The amount of ki a person contains is directly proportional to their training. Ki was first introduced to the Dragon Ball universe largely through “power levels” though the series started moving away from the concept of a numerical expression of Ki about part way through the Frieza saga.
Akira Toriyama has gotten some good mileage out of the Ki concept, even though some explications have been inconsistent through the series’ nearly 40-year run. Dragon Ball Super introduced new variations of Ki beyond what we had seen before, such as God Ki and new Saiyan transformations. Ki is probably not as complicated or precise as say, Hunter X Hunter‘s nen, but Toriyama mostly tries to explain what the heck is going on.
However, the sheer badass-ness of Ki and the insane popularity of the Dragon Ball series has made it one of the most popular and influential power systems in anime.
Devil Fruits – “One Piece”
One of the longest-running anime series, One Piece has captivated fans with its colorful cast of characters, unique art style, and expansive world-building. The main power mechanic in the One Piece universe is Devil Fruits, mysterious fruits that grant those who eat them extraordinary powers. Devil fruits are unique and each grants the eater a unique power, such as fire manipulation, force control, or the ability to cheat death.
Devil fruits can be divided into three types, each of which is associated with a different class of powers. Paramecia fruits are the most common and allow users to manipulate parts of their body or objects in the environment. Luffy’s Gomu Gomu no Mi is a paramecia fruit that gives his body rubber-like properties.
Logia fruits are the rarest type and give the eater control over some kind of natural element. Ace’s Mera Mera no Mi lets him turn his body into fire and Smoker’s Moku Moku no Mi lets him control smoke and vapor. Lastly, Zoan fruits let the eater turn into a different animal or species. Chopper’s Hito Hito no Mi gives him human-like intelligence and characteristics. One of the best aspects of One Piece is how characters creatively use their power to overcome obstacles and foes.
Aside from the individual powers, devil fruits have other limitations. Those who eat devil fruits lose the ability to swim and only one instance of each type of devil fruit can be in existence at any given moment. Also, you can only have one devil fruit power, with one notable exception. Although devil fruits have been a significant part of the series since day one, we still don’t know much about where they come from or how they work. Eichiro Oda has stated that he will eventually fully explain how devil fruits work, but for now, their origin and mechanics remain one of the series’ largest mysteries.
Noble Phantasms – “Fate” Series
The Fate series has its own interesting power system in the concept of “Noble Phantasms.” The central narrative of the Fate series involves a recurring war for the Holy Grail and the historical heroes that are conjured to fight alongside summoners called Masters. Each hero has a secret unique weapon called a Noble Phantasm which serves as their most powerful attack. These weapons are related to the true identity of the historical hero (e.g. King Arthur wields Excalibur and Sigfried wields Balmung)
The weapons are kept secret because they can give other heroes clues about each other’s identities and weaknesses. If a Noble Phantasm’s true name is revealed, other heroes will know the true identity of who is wielding it and how they can defeat them. Thus, Masters take great pains to hide their hero’s true identity, going so far as to erase their hero’s memories so they cannot accidentally reveal the truth.
Bending – “Avatar”
Although not technically an anime, Avatar: The Last Airbender is clearly inspired by Japanese anime and has one of the more creative and thought-out power systems in media. Characters in the Avatar universe can control one of the four classical elements (earth, wind, water, and fire) through bending techniques. Normally, a person can only bend one element. The exception is the titular Avatar who has mastery over all four.
Each bending style is actually based on a real-world martial art. Waterbending is based on tai chi and involves fluid motions, consistent breathing, and body alignment. Earthbending is based on Hung Ga, a style of Chinese martial arts that mimics the movement and posture of animals. Firebending is based on Shaolin kung fu and uses aggressive kicks and footwork, while Airbending is based on Bagua, a type of fighting that uses circular motions to redirect forces.
One of the best parts of Avatar is how deeply bending is integrated into the world’s presentation. Characters commonly use bending for everyday tasks in a way that feels organic and realistic, while entire cultures are based around bending styles and arts. Bending styles also have substyles, such as metal bending as a specialization of Earthbending and blood bending as a sub-style of Waterbending. Avatar was praised highly for its ambitious and consistent world-building, and bending techniques are the defining aspect of the series’ identity.
Death Note – “Death Note”
Many might not consider Death Note’s Death Note mechanic to be a power system, but it has all the features of a good shonen power system: a tight set of logical rules, variations and exceptions, and creative applications. Death Note follows the story of Japanese high schooler Light Yagami after he comes into possession of a Death Note, the personal tome of a shinigami—a.k.a a god of death. The Death Note gives users the ability to kill anyone simply by writing their name in it. The series follows Light’s descent into madness and cruelty as he attempts to use the Death Note to rid society of criminality and evil.
The basic mechanics of the Death Note are simple. Anyone whose name is written in the notebook will die. Exact death conditions can be written in the book and the user has to clearly picture the victim’s face when writing their name.
Various other rules define when and how the Death Note can be used. For example, the user must write the victim’s true name in the book; fake names and pseudonyms won’t work. The user also cannot specify a sequence of events leading to death that is logically or physically impossible. Also, when a person transfers ownership of a Death Note to another person, all of the original owner’s memories related to the tome will be erased.
Death Note makes wonderful use of this system of tight, exact rules to craft an ingenious tale of cat-and-mouse between Light and his enemies, which includes the World’s Greatest Detective, the enigmatic L. The main appeal of the anime is how Light and others use and subvert the rules of the Death Note to outwit one another and gain the upper hand. The intensely methodological way that characters approach using the powers of the Death Note is unique for a shonen anime.
Stands – “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure”
I’ll admit, I am a bit biased here because I love JoJo so much. But Stands are probably one of the coolest (and wackiest) power systems in anime history. Every main character in the JoJo-verse has a “Stand”—a unique manifestation of their life energy.
Stands represent a person’s fighting spirit. Thus, each Stand is unique and confers a unique power to its user. Stand powers run the gamut from the basics, like Star Platinum‘s superhuman speed, strength, and reflexes, to the eccentric and, dare I say, bizarre, such as Sticky Finger’s zipper ability or The World Over Heaven’s ability to essentially rewrite existence.
When first introduced, Stands were named after the major tarot arcana and later, Ancient Egyptian gods. Most other stands are named after 70s and 80s rock songs and artists, like Aerosmith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Cheap Trick, and more. Recognizing the pop culture reference in a Stand’s name is always a nice blast of nostalgia.
Stands are tied to your personality, and given the variation in personalities, there are some truly wacky and weird Stands out there. It is impressive how much creativity Arakai squeezes out of the Stand concept, and the unique nature of Stands means that battles in the JoJo-verse are highly strategic and tactical in nature. The fact that Stand powers are so dynamic and versatile means that very few battles are predictable. Even a physically weak Stand can completely dominate a strong Stand if its precise win-conditions are met. The inherent uncertainty of Stand battles makes them even more enticing and engaging.
What do you think? Do you know any more cool power systems in anime? Comment below!