Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a shonen manga by mangaka Koyoharu Gotoge, published by VIZ Media. Demon Slayer has also been adapted into an anime that at the time of writing this, has one season out, a full-length movie, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train, and is running its second season. The basic premise of Demon Slayer is that Tanjiro Kamado finds most of his family has been killed by a demon- and the only one spared is his younger sister Nezuko. But Nezuko has been turned into a demon. Tanjiro, with Nezuko in tow, embarks on a quest to find a way to turn her back into a human. He joins the Demon Slayer Corps, meeting friends and allies who will help along the journey.
It’s not hard to see why Demon Slayer has blown up in popularity; it has a memorable cast of characters, thrilling battles, and uses tropes that one expects from a Shonen title. Tanjiro is an underdog, he goes on a long journey involving intense training, there’s a very clear hero vs villain narrative, and he grows a lot as a character. But the most important trope used by Gotoge in Demon Slayer is friendship. Strong friendships are a staple of Shonen, but Demon Slayer centers this, and themes of love, relationships, and compassion, within the larger narrative.
This is where the spoiler alert comes in; because the anime is currently in the midst of season 2, the focus of this article will be the manga. There will be spoilers for the entire series if you haven’t finished it.
Tanjiro’s story could have ended before it even began when he found his family brutally killed. He could have gone back down the mountain, mourning his family but continuing a normal life. But when he realizes Nezuko is still alive, Tanjiro’s love for her outweighs any other thoughts he may have and his single-minded focus becomes to get her to help. Even when confronted by Giyu Tomioka, the Water Hashira of the Demon Slayer Corps, Tanjiro begs him to spare Nezuko. Tanjiro is ready to do anything, even die, if it means saving his sister.
It becomes clear that Tanjiro’s only choice is to join the Demon Slayer Corps himself and despite the intense, dangerous training, he doesn’t hesitate. He loves Nezuko more than he fears demons or even death.
Surprisingly, Tanjiro often exhibits compassion to the demons he kills; he doesn’t excuse their actions as a demon, but he recognizes their pain from when they were human and tries to give them a respectful death. This is especially evident in his fight with Kyogai (The Drum Demon) former Lower Rank Six of the Twelve Kizuki. While fighting, Tanjiro doesn’t step on the papers scattered on the floor. This stands out to Kyogai, as the papers contain writing he’s done- and when he was human, his interests were demeaned by someone important to him.
As previously mentioned, strong friendships are a Shonen trope, and Demon Slayer best exhibits this in the relationships between Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and Inosuke. While the three have a rocky start, they quickly become incredibly close; they become more like brothers than friends.
On the Infinity train, Rengoku, Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and Insoke all fall under the sleep spell of Enmu, Lower Rank One of the twelve Kizuki, where humans in his employ try to destroy their spiritual core. In his dream, Tanjiro sees his family again, experiencing the life that was cruelly ripped away from him, and Nezuko. But he realizes that it’s a dream and he can’t stay there- not if he wants to save the lives of the other passengers. Tanjiro recognizes that he has to keep moving forward, but that doesn’t mean he loves his family any less.
Moving through grief as an act of love is further driven home by Rengoku’s death. Though he wasn’t part of Tanjiro’s life for very long, Rengoku had a huge influence on the younger demon slayer. Tanjiro cares enough about Rengoku that he visits his family to deliver Rengoku’s final messages to them. He even defends his fallen friend against his father’s insistence that his time as a hashira was pointless.
During the Entertainment District Arc, Sound Hashira Tengen Uzui enlists Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and Inosuke to help him find his wives, as well as the demon they were spying on. However, once Uzui realizes how dangerous the mission truly is, he wants Tanjiro and Inosuke to leave, saving themselves (Zenitsu has already gone missing). But neither will give up on their friend, Tanjiro being adamant that Zenitsu is still alive. He will save everyone he cares about, even if he has to risk his own life.
Like Tanjiro, Uzui wants his loved ones to be safe, though he takes a different approach. He tells his wives, Makio, Suma, and Hinatsuru, that their lives always come first; before citizens, before him. He wants them to stay alive no matter what. This is a radical statement to them, as they were raised as Shinobi and taught that dying on a mission is all but inevitable. It’s clear that he loves his wives deeply in his own flashy way.
The Sunrise Countdown Arc, the final of the story, is when all of the relationships that Tanjiro has built with others begin to become extremely important. This is when the bonds of friendship, and the loyalty that comes along with them, are tested. In their attempts to get to Muzan, the hashira fight the remainder of the Twelve Kizui, many falling in battle. They’re all willing to die if it means giving Tanjiro a chance to get closer to killing Muzan.
During the final battle, Muzan’s spirit tries to influence Tanjiro to remain a demon, reminding him that as a bearer of the Demon Slayer Mark, he likely won’t live past 25, but as a demon, he would be immortal. This proves unsuccessful as Tanjiro states that all he wants is to become human again, to see his friends and his sister again. The time he has left doesn’t matter to him, it’s the relationships that matter.
Realizing this, Muzan shifts gears and begins trying to discourage Tanjiro by telling him that the friends who died for him resent him for it, and his living friends hate him for becoming a demon. Contrary to Muzan’s lies, Tanjiro’s fallen comrades, including many of the Hashira, reach out and push him up, away from Muzan. And they’re not the only ones for Nezuko, Inosuke, Zenitsu, and Giyu are all reaching down to Tanjiro trying to pull him back.
The love of his friends keeps Tanjiro from succumbing to Muzan’s influence. Without his friends, Tanjiro wouldn’t have had the support, or the reason, to become human again.
There are many other moments within the Demon Slayer manga that emphasize how important love and compassion are. During the Asakusa arc of the manga, Tanjiro and Nezuko meet Tamayo and her assistant Yushiro. Despite being a demon herself, Tamayo tends to patients both humans and demons. She also refuses to kill humans to feed, only accepting blood from donors. And when Tamayo exhibits great compassion towards Nezuko and promises to help Tanjiro find a way to turn her back into a human. Upon flashbacks, readers learn that Tamayo used to be Muan’s personal assistant, but over time she chooses to actively go against Muzan, she chooses to care about humanity.
Like many of the others, Shinobu Kocho, the Insect Hashira, has lost a family member to demons; her older sister Kanae. Because of this untimely loss. Shinobu hates demons with a ferocity she hides behind her collected demeanor. When she initially runs into Tanjiro and Nezuko, she attempts to kill Nezuko; however, once she hears the full story, she is compassionate towards the siblings, not wanting Tanjiro to lose his sister as she lost hers.
As the Insect Hashira, Shinobu lives in the Butterfly Mansion with her adopted sister and Tsuguko, Kanao Tsuyuri. In addition to these two, many other girls live at the Butterfly Mansion, providing training and care for demon slayers who stay there. And Shinobu cares about them all. While she is driven to kill demons by her anger, that anger comes from the fact that a person she loved so much was cruelly taken from her.
Kanao’s character arc goes from her being unable to express her emotions or desires to her learning that it’s okay to have emotions. It takes the tragedy of Shiobu’s death, for Kanao to finally cry, admitting how much she loved both of her sisters. Similarly, Inosuke breaks down upon remembering his mother, who did love him, despite the fact that she abandoned him. She was attempting to save his life.
Zenitsu undergoes one of the most drastic character arcs during the series. He out whiny and cowardly, only joining the Demon Slayer Corps because he felt he owed it to his master. Zenitsu frequently hung back during fights and was only a competent fighter while asleep. But as the series went on, he slowly became more capable, and upon learning that his master had died, becomes a formidable foe to demons. Though his master pushed him hard, Zenitsu cared deeply for the man, because he had never given up on Zenitsu, even when Zenitsu had given up on himself.
Another good example of love being a driving force is the story of Mitsuri Kanroji, the Love Hashira, and Obanai Iguro, the Serpent Hashira. Mitsuri joined the Corps because she wanted to find a husband- specifically a husband that was stronger than her. Obanai has a lot of trauma because of the “cult” he was raised in, and he also struggles deeply with self-hatred, believing his blood to be tainted because of his family’s past demon worship. Despite this, he develops feelings for Matsuri, though he doesn’t believe he’s worthy of her. However, she continually meets him with love and acceptance. Seeing her and Obanai confess their love for each other, only for Mitsuri to succumb to her injuries, is a devastating emotional blow. Had fate been kinder, Mitsuri and Obanai could have been quite happy together.
The focus on love, relationships, and compassion is what gives Demon Slayer such emotional weight; when the characters are so fleshed out due to their relationships with each other, it hits that much harder when they’re broken. These well-developed, important relationships make the character deaths more meaningful because not only have the other characters formed a relationship with them but so has the reader. And while the relationships may have ended, they still matter because of the emotions that went along with them, and the way the memories will affect the other characters, and the reader, going forward.