Anime Rant Blog Post

The Brilliance of Nen in Hunter x Hunter

The world of Hunter x Hunter created by Yosihiro Togashi is one that’s fascinating. From it’s strange environs to it’s 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 determine by this article’s title, is Nen.

If you’ve been in the HxH you would’ve seen these images where Gon uses his iconic ‘rock, paper, scissors’ move. Or the one where Killua radiates electricity, which has been beautifuly recreated in several Hunter x Hunter Merch like posters and shirts. 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; character is powered by personal aura, shapes it into various forms, defeats opponents. If you immediately thought of Ki, Chakra, Magic, or Reiatsu I wouldn’t blame you, it’s a staple of shonen.

Kawaikute Gomen!! song cover

However despite it’s superficial similarities, Nen is unique in its expression. It’s based around a user determining their own personal talents and developing abilities to supplement that skillset. There’s 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 ability.

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 this 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.

How Nen influences the fights of Hunter x Hunter

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 won before the first punch is thrown. The same can be said of the most crushing defeats.

If you like the anime series Hunter X Hunter, you can check: Hunter X Hunter Merch

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.”

mad gon

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.

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