The world of Hunter x Hunter, created by Yosihiro Togashi, is one that’s fascinating. From its strange environs to its deep and motivated characters, all of it blends together in a nice package. However, there’s one element to Togashi’s writing that elevates and distinguishes it beyond pretty much any other story. That element, as you can determine by this article’s title, is Nen.
If you’ve been in the HxH fandom, you would’ve seen these images where Gon uses his iconic ‘rock, paper, scissors’ move. Or the one where Killua radiates electricity. All these are perfect examples of Nen in HxH.
Due to the nature of this article, spoilers are to be expected. I highly recommend watching the anime before continuing. Thank you, and enjoy.
A Brief Overview
Without going into the specifics (which I definitely could, but this would soon become an essay), Nen is a broad power system.
On a basic level, it appears similar to other Shonen power systems. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a character is powered by their personal aura, shapes it into various forms, and defeats opponents.
If you immediately thought of Ki, Chakra, Magic, or Reiatsu, I wouldn’t blame you; it’s a staple of shonen.
However, despite its superficial similarities, Nen is unique in its expression.
It’s based on a user determining their own personal talents and developing abilities to supplement that skillset.
There are similarities to Hirohiko Araki’s Stands from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Where character’s abilities are a direct expression of their will.
You can tell a lot about a Hunter x Hunter character’s personality simply by looking at their abilities.
The primary difference between the two, however, is that a character’s Hatsu (the term for a unique, expressed ability) is a conscious development.
This means that ingenuity and a solid understanding of the system’s rules are fundamental in determining a character’s strength.
In most shonen series, a powerful character is determined by a large energy pool. Power without thought in the HxH world is a waste at best or life-threatening at worst.
This focus on thoughtful, distinct abilities rather than increasingly large energy blasts ties into the first point.
Types of Nen Auras in Hunter x Hunter
Nen is a much more complicated power system compared to most other shonen power tropes. Each person is different, with different personalities and auras.
Therefore, the abilities they might possess broadly fall into the six categories below. However, it must be noted that a single person is also capable of learning more than one type of nen.
But the point is, if they study the nen closer to their natural aura, they will excel at it. Whereas, if one studies a nen far away from their natural ability, they will probably be very bad at it. But if they study an ability close to their natural ability, it will definitely help them upgrade their skill.
Six Types of Nen:
Enhancement type nen users, also known as Enhancers, have the ability to vastly improve their physical capability. From their attack to their defense, they can enhance the overall stats of their body.
They are also able to use their enhancement abilities on objects. In rarer cases, Nen users of this type are also capable of enhancing their healing factor and regenerating themselves at a faster pace.
Notable Enhancement Type Nen Users in Hunter x Hunter:
- Gon Freecs
- Isaac Netero
Transmutation type nen users, also known as Transmuters, have the ability to change their aura to match that of an external entity. The entity could be natural elements, animals, or man-made substances.
A great example of Transmutation ability is Killua’s power to convert his aura into electricity. Similarly, Hisoka’s ability to turn his aura into a bubble gum-like substance is yet another great example.
Since it transforms the user’s aura to obtain the properties of other elements and objects, Transmutation abilities are invisible to non-nen users.
Notable Transmutation Type Nen Users in Hunter x Hunter:
- Hisoka Morow
- Killua Zoldyck
- Machi Komacine
- Biscuit Krueger
Emission type nen users, also known as Emitters, have the ability to separate their aura from their body and use it offensively and defensively.
As you can imagine, the Emitters can shoot aura beams and are usually excellent at long-range attacks. Depending on the user’s skill, the aura’s power varies vastly.
Advanced Emitters can use their auras to teleport themselves and phase through objects like a ghost.
However, since each person has an aura limit, Emitters cannot continuously use their ability for prolonged periods of time. The emitted auras also lose their power the longer they are away from their user.
Notable Emission Type Nen Users in Hunter x Hunter:
- Leorio Paradinight
- Lynch Fullbokko
Conjuration type nen users, also known as Conjurers, have the ability to create physical objects using their aura.
While these users can create about anything with this ability, they normally place rules and limitations on it, which in turn makes the conjured object more powerful.
What’s special about such conjured objects is that they continue to exist even if they are far away from their user. Not to mention, their durability and strength scale along with the user’s skill.
It is also possible to create an item with supernatural ability, which makes Conjuration a powerful nen type. That said, “overly supernatural” objects such as swords that cut through anything are not possible to create. Therefore, it is limited to “human capacity.”
Since Conjurers create physical objects, even non-nen users are capable of seeing them.
Notable Conjuration Type Nen Users in Hunter x Hunter:
- Shizuku Murasaki
Manipulation type nen users, also known as Manipulators are one of the most fearsome nen users in the Hunter x Hunter series.
They are capable of manipulating a person or an object and are able to maintain control for a good period of time. They also have a great range, meaning they can manipulate a target from afar.
However, if another Manipulator has taken over a target, they cannot be targeted by another manipulator. This is because manipulation techniques involve the user’s aura being mixed with the target’s aura.
The degree to which Manipulators can control their target depends on how hard the activation is. If the method to activate manipulation is hard, the user will have more control.
Notable Manipulation Type Nen Users in Hunter x Hunter:
- Illumi Zoldyck
- Morel Mackernasey
Specialization type nen users, also known as Specialists, are those who have nen abilities that do not match any of the above types. Since this type does not have a specific description, it includes a wide range of abilities.
For example, the ability to see the future does not fall under any of the above types. Therefore, it is a specialization type nen.
This type is completely different from the other types and has its own rules and limitations.
Since everything about Specialization is vague, it is practically impossible to train and attain this aura. Therefore, only chosen ones that naturally develop this aura can use Specialization abilities.
Notable Specialization Type Nen Users in Hunter x Hunter:
- Kurapika with Scarlett Eyes
- Neon Nostrade
- Chrollo Lucilfer
Subtypes of Nen Abilities in Hunter x Hunter
|Barrier||Ability to create a wide range of barriers using tools like talismans infused with nen.|
|Collaborative||This subtype of nen ability needs a collobarator to activate. That is, it takes two people to work.|
|Compound||This subtype offers a wide range of abilities, depending on certain conditions.|
|Counteractive||This subtype of nen activates as a counter to an opponent’s attack.|
|Curse||This subtype allows the user to cast a long-lasting curse on a target.|
|Diffusive Levy||This subtype involves gathering something from their targets.|
|Double||This subtype of nen allows the user to create a body double of themselves.|
|Exorcism||Exorcists are very rare nen users who have the ability to remove a curse.|
|Haunting||This subtype of nen is activated after its user dies, and enables them to haunt their target.|
|Land Mine||Users of this subtype can choose specific locations and place nen bombs that blow up on interaction.|
|Loan||This subtype of nen allows one to loan their nen ability to another person to use.|
|Nen Beast||This is a cool nen ability where the user can summon or create beasts using their auras.|
|Parasitic||This subtype of nen ability allows its user to feed off the aura of another person.|
|Supportive||This subtype includes a wide variety of nen abilities that do not focus on combat.|
|Symbiotic||This subtype of nen ability is created when multiple users pour their auras together and create a powerful ability. It is an ability that needs a group of people to activate.|
How to Identify a Person’s Nen Compatability
Every person has one type of nen that they are compatible with. They are free to try and practice other types, but this one will be what they are natural at.
Especially, if a new student needs to start learning to use their auras, they need to know what type of nen aura they possess.
This is why the Hunter x Hunter universe has a distinct way to test and identify the aura of a person. This test is called the water divination test.
What is water divination?
The water divination technique is used to determine the type of nen aura a person has. This involves placing a leaf in a glass of water. The person taking the test must place their hands on the sides of the glass and let their aura pass through.
Depending on their Nen type, they will see one of the following responses:
|Enhancement||The water in the glass increases in volume.|
|Transmutation||The taste of the water changes.|
|Emission||The color of the water changes.|
|Conjuration||The water turns dusty with impurities.|
|Manipulation||The floating leaf moves around on the water’s surface.|
|Specialization||Any other changes to the water or leaf aside from the ones listed above.|
How Nen influences the fights of Hunter x Hunter
Creativity is essential to the development of one’s ability. This automatically makes fights more calculative in tone.
Determining the abilities of your opponent and how to cover for your weaknesses are essential. The prime example of this would be in Sea Hunter Morel’s bout with the chimera-ant Cheetu.
Cheetu, as a cheetah (as you might’ve guessed by his name) chimera ant is leagues stronger and faster than the hunter. That coupled with his raw potential and aura reserves should’ve made him a force to be reckoned with indeed.
Instead, what we get is a one-sided victory in Morel’s favor. This is because Cheetu is an idiot.
Due to his playful nature, he developed a Hatsu based around a game of tag. This on it’s own isn’t bad, but it led to his defeat when Morel preyed upon his easily bored nature.
Moments like these characterize every single conflict of Hunter x Hunter. Battles are decided before the first punch is thrown. The same can be said of the most crushing defeats.
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A Brief Comparison With Other Anime
A likeness can be drawn between the series and Tsugumi Ohba’s Death Note. Not just because of the rich, tactical, combat but also due to its strict rules.
A conflict is much more interesting when one has to look at the tools at a character’s disposal. When those tools start to fail or are used in innovative ways it ensnares the mind of an audience.
Whereas when a new tool is added whenever the characters are in trouble, it starts to lose the audience.
An example can be seen in JoJo Part 5 where Giorno seems to have whatever tool he needs. While I love Part 5, you never really feel like Giorno in particular is in any real danger which hurts the plot as a whole.
Meanwhile in Hunter x Hunter, I don’t think the main characters were ever guaranteed to be safe.
There’s one last thing to talk about when discussing Nen. Perhaps the most important and fascinating aspect of it.
Nen and Emotions
Nen, despite all of it’s technical implementations, is a power system keyed to it’s characters emotions. It responds to them and is in turn fueled by them. This can best be seen with the concept of Limitations.
I haven’t gone into it yet, but a character can increase their power by willingly putting a restriction on it.
This increase in power doesn’t come from some arbitrating law, but because to actively hamper one’s self requires resolve.
Limitations aren’t the only things that can increase an abilities strength though.
In the case of one Biscuit Krueger her dysphoria led to her physical appearance slowly shifting into her ideal self. This wholesome, gentle, desire led to a gentle outcome.
However a dark, desperate, wish can bear twisted fruit.
This is the fate for one Gon Freecs’ when he encountered the chimera-ant Royal Guard, Neferpitou.
Angry at himself for losing perhaps the only father figure he had. With no one around to cool his temper. With no life experience to deal with his grief and rage he makes a dark oath.
“I don’t care if this is the end. So I’ll use everything, I’ll kill you Pitou.”
Related >> Hunter x Hunter Quotes
And with those words he damns himself, tosses away all of his staggering potential, all in the name of ending a grudge.
All of this would lead to a standard Shonen transformation in most other series, but here it’s full of sorrow.
We know the power of a Vow. We know how emotions can affect Nen and so we watch the climax of the series in horror.
All of these story elements are brilliant in concert. It’s a sort of balancing act where a character’s strength comes from properly harnessing their emotions while not stunting them.
And that is why I think Nen is brilliant. Please let me know in the comments if you agree and let me know some of your thoughts on Nen. This has been Olivia and I’ll see you next week.