Disability Themes Run Strong in Anime and Manga

By Tony Stephens, Hyper-Urban Arts

There is power in weakness. "My strength is made perfect in weakness." Power…weakness…how are they linked in the arena of anime and manga?

This is the core, the heart, of my various projects. My projects center around popular culture and disabilities; in ways which I hope entertain, educate and, most of all, inspire mutual understanding and acceptance as well as empowerment.

My name is Tony and I have a mostly invisible disability, I have a medical condition. Near the end of this article, I will provide more information about myself and my projects. One of my main projects is a series of panels that I present at pop culture conventions. For now, I will simply provide a sample of these projects with a little information about anime, manga and disabilities.

Anime Characters

Shanks, One Piece

Pop Culture Features Disability in Unique Light

Anime and manga, like many forms of entertainment and pop culture, have a long history of portraying those with disabilities and medical conditions. The representation of these elements in anime and manga, like many things, has evolved over time.

What follows is a list, a top ten, of characters in anime and manga who have some form of disability and/or medical condition. This list is a combination of research and polls.

Disabilities in anime and manga, as in most forms of popular culture, can be divided into four categories:

  1. Powers: These characters are considered normal except when using their powers and/or wearing their costumes.
  2. Appearance: Many anime and manga characters always look different even when not using their powers.
  3. Physical: These characters have a traditional visible disability.
  4. Mental: These characters are ones who have disabilities that are not easily visible, at least initially.

Anime Characters

Nunnally Lamperouge, Code Geass

Top 10 Disabled Anime/Manga Heroes

Top Disabled Anime Characters

When you look through the list there are several noticeable things, three of which I am going to cover at this time. The most obvious is that many of the disabilities which these characters possess include a list of those common in American comics as well such as deaf and hearing impairment as well as some degree of mobility hampering (often wheelchair use).

The next is that many of the abilities/powers which these characters possess, at least in some ways, show a distinction between many eastern and western culture, and popular culture in particular. That is that at least a couple of these characters, such as Shouko Nishimiya and Nunnelly Lamperouge, do not actually have or develop what many would consider super abilities, but instead simply find power in developing an inspiring love of life. This is an eastern pop culture-inspired ability/power due especially to the cultural views related to society, attitudes toward conditions, and self-image.

Female Anime Character in red suit

Ayase Shinomiya, Guitly Crown


Many of those who do develop enhanced or even super abilities also work to develop other areas of their mind and body. A few, most noticeably Jushiro Ukitake, Gildarts Clive and Edward Elric, develop some sort of mystical superpower, in a way many people are now familiar with in characters like Marvel's Dr. Strange.

The third thing which is only a bit touched on in the "notable information" column is that in anime and manga, there are an increasingly common representation of characters with what some would consider "real world" disabling medical conditions, such as Jushiro Ukitake's tuberculosis or Nunnally Lamperouge's CD (conversion disorder).

What these characters show, in some way or another is that they also have a notable loss of some sort of ability due to a physical, emotional or mental challenge. Some of these are from birth, but many are the result of a condition which naturally develops over time or even as the result of a traumatic experience. Most of, if not all these characters, show that they learn to discover that the condition and the abilities are one blessing.

Hyper-Urban Arts Continues to Explore Disability-Super Power Connection

Okay, now I am going to provide you with a bit more information about myself and my projects, before I end this article.

First of all, the information presented above is part of my Disabilities in Anime & Manga: Finding Strength in Weaknesses which I recently presented for the first time this past September, Labor Day Weekend, at Saboten Con in Phoenix, Arizona. Saboten is an annual anime and manga convention.

This panel is the first in series of modified versions of a panel which I have been presenting and heading since 2016 at Phoenix Comicon/Fan Fusion, that panel deals with American superheroes with disabilities and powers.

My main upcoming project, which I discuss at the end of every panel, is the first book in a novel series, among other things with my own characters that have disabilities and linked mystical/super abilities.

Anime character with disability

Edward Elric, Fullmetal Alchenist

Without giving a way too much, for a number of reasons at least some of which should be obvious, the core protagonists of my books are a group of children, mostly tweens. Think of it similar to X-men, Harry Potter, My Hero Academia or similar works of fiction. I do hope, however, that my ideas with have some unique ideas and twists. I am working currently to have the first novel out this year.

I write blog series on my studio website Hyper-Urban Arts. Many of the recent blogs focus on a different disability or medical condition, provide some information about the condition, and then also expand on this information by providing samples of celebrities, historical and popular culture figures who have or have had the condition.

As I mentioned in the intro, I have a mostly invisible disability. This is basically a stutter which I have had most of my life, and a medical condition which was finally diagnosed later in my life.  However, it is only classified as a seizure disorder because it cannot be properly classified beyond that. I now know that I had this condition all of my life, but in my childhood, it manifested mostly as night terrors.

Growing up with my stutter and now seizure disorder is one of my main motivations for my various projects. I want to use my personal experience, research and observations, as I indicted above, to motivate, entertain and educate.

My seizure disorder and related stutter are my super-power! 

Top Disabled Anime Characters

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