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 Neither good nor evil, they are life in its purest form. Vulgar and strange, they have inspired fear in humans since the dawn of time and have, over the ages, come to be known as "mushi".

Ginko is a mushishi -- a person who can see the small pseudo-nature-spirit entities known as mushi, which both mystify and plague mankind. With little more than his wits and experience to guide him, Ginko walks the earth (or more specifically Japan) helping humans who have become unpleasantly entangled with the mushi. The mushi themselves are rarely sentient and occupy a nebulous zone between things that can be identified as life forms and things that cannot, such as a swamp that travels from location to location, or tiny heat-absorbing microbes. Usually the motivation for the mushi is as simple as survival or reproduction, such as a sound-eating mushi infecting a human, causing deafness; but because of their mystical properties, they tend to cause a variety of troubles when they interact with humans.

The manga ran for nine years, ending in 2008. It was adapted into an anime that ran for 26 episodes, ending in mid-2006. Most of the episodes were stand-alone stories, though a few interconnected with other episodes in an oblique manner.

The series' general tone is extremely mellow and in some ways seemed toned after a PBS docudrama. Though many civilians take offense at whatever mushi-related troubles they have, Ginko sees problems to be solved by understanding rather than pests to be exterminated (even if he does often wind up killing the mushi from necessity). Personal tragedy and triumph tends to blossom for many of the individuals Ginko encounters, yet the overall theme seems to be a reverence for the mundane as well as the fantastic; people learn to appreciate such simple joys as the sound of their own heartbeat, for example.

Also, a Live Action Adaptation Movie was made by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), which won many independent film awards.

The series is now available on Netflix, Hulu and Youtube.

Tropes used in Mushishi include:
  • Amnesia Danger: Sayo, the forgetful mother from one of the episodes, has fallen victim to a mushi that slowly eats away all of her memories -- including her ability to recognize basic bodily functions. It is a permanent and irreversible process reminiscent of both the rarely explored anterograde amnesia and retrograde amnesia; should the memories run out, the host will probably be killed.
  • Anachronic Order: You can watch the episodes completely out of order and still not miss anything important to the overall story. Especially since the series jumps around in terms of which story from which manga volume it adapts.
  • Anachronism Stew: The exact setting and time period is kept deliberately vague, but it resembles feudal (or possibly mid-to-late 19th century) Japan, in mostly rural areas. There are some odd artifacts, though, such as Ginko using scientific equipment far in advance of what was generally available at the time (like a wooden microscope!), not to mention his very Western-style clothing.
    • And no one seems to comment on his foreign clothing either, which is very odd considering how odd it should make him look to them. Then again, just like the scientific equipment it probably is the Mushishi equivalent of a wizards hat and robes.
    • Word of God states that the series takes place in a fictional period between the Edo and Meiji eras, in which outside technology has arrived, but Japan remains a closed country.
  • And I Must Scream: A woman who was kept alive for several generations thanks to a combination of a mushi infection and male members of the same family falling in love with her and grafting her head onto different bodies.
    • A lesser version is a woman who seems to be followed by rain she's infected with a mushi that eats moisture and hasn't cried in years -- not when her little brother(?) died because the rain made him sick and not when a friend almost died of heat stroke because the rain isn't following as close as it used to.
  • Art Initiates Life: The boy from Episode 1 has this power.
  • A Mushi Did It with Bizarre Alien Biology, complete with an explanation of what's known of its lifecycle.
  • Badass Bookworm: Ginko. While he may not be brawny or get in many fights, he is definitely the one you want to be standing there unflappably to tell you what to do when some immense Thing you can't even see is slithering overhead.
  • Bittersweet Endings: All over the place.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: See above about being very similar to a documentary: the mushi and their strange powers and ecology are sort of the point of the show.
  • Blessed with Suck / Cursed with Awesome: Many mushi-infected people are granted powers that prove useful--until the mushi grows in power and gets beyond the infected person's control. For example, there is a man whose dreams appear to be prophetic. Instead his dreams are infested with Mushi that make his dreams into reality. Ginko tries to give advice that lets people live with their condition, with varying success.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The cleverer mushi tend to possess this. Few are actively malicious, but several seem oblivious to the harm they can do humanity
  • Body Horror: Many of the mushi cause trouble by entering people's bodies and taking over one small part of it, although some of the less fortunate people have been transformed into mushi completely.
  • Booze-Based Buff: In the manga, a sake-maker creates an artificial version of the river of life (his dad got to taste the real thing and has been trying to recreate it for years). The other mushi-masters are amazed, but warn him not to sell the stuff as it causes muggles to see mushi, which can lead to panic attacks.
  • But Not Too Black: The illustrators for the anime had an extremely difficult time coloring the dark-skinned characters without making them look like Africans.
  • Celibate Hero: A strange case. Since Ginko can never settle down without drawing too many Mushi in, he doesn't exactly have the chance for romance. Not that it stops the ladies from hitting on him, but he stands firm.
  • Chick Magnet: There's a reason (well, okay, two reasons) Ginko is nicknamed "Pimp-ko" by the fandom.
  • Cold Flames: One variety of mushi featured feeds off human body heat by appearing to its victims as an open flame. If a person huddles close to it for warmth, it slowly saps their heat from them until they freeze to death.
  • Collector of the Strange: Dr. Adashino, Ginko's be-monocled pal.
  • Credits Jukebox: Every episode gets its own ending tune.
  • Creepy Child: The Watahiko. Though they're not so much children as they are a viral parasitic Hive Mind...
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Aside from the myriad horrible uses a Mushishi could put his knowledge to should he be inspired, there are the techniques that manipulate the Lifestream itself. Anyone who can do so has the power to become immortal, or create a seed that will ensure a truly bountiful harvest...at the low, low cost of someone's life. Doing so risks disrupting the balance of nature, and The Heavy Seed revolves around Ginko dealing with the legacy of such an abuse.
  • Dojikko: Sayo, as her son claims.
  • Downer Ending: Many of the stories throughout the series have a sad (or at least not pleasant for all involved) ending.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: More than once, this is all that's left after a person's body turns to mushi completely.
  • Eye Scream: Episode 2. The part where Ginko takes out his fake eye even has this effect on another character. It gets worse in "Eye of Fortune, Eye of Misfortune". A woman's mushi-infected eyes jump out of their sockets and wriggle away!. The author finds eye damage especially squicky.
  • Flying Dutchman: Due to Ginko's power to attract mushi, he can never have a permanent home.
  • Foreign Language Theme: The opening song is sung in English.

 I walk ten thousand miles, ten thousand miles to see you...

  • Genius Loci: Some mushi take the form of (very large) natural phenomena. One of the most prominent is the Traveling Swamp, which is generally harmless unless someone drinks of its waters for too long (causing them to eventually dissolve into water themselves). It saved the life of a young woman who would have been drowned (by being thrown in a river as a sacrifice).
  • Genki Girl: Sayo, the forgetful, restless infected mother.
  • Green Aesop: A lot of the stories tell about living in harmony with the environment, as pollution can cause all mushi to leave - with possibly worse effects on the people than when the mushi were present.
  • Green Eyes: Ginko has lovely, vivid blue-green eyes, as did Nui. This, as well as their silvery heads of hair, are a result of being exposed to a mushi named Tokoyami.
  • Groundhog Day Loop: A guy has been living in a "long, happy nightmare" since his encounter with a time-warping mushi. Ginko warns him not to go through it again but then his wife is mortally wounded and they can't get back to their village in time. He goes through with her and now she's the one experiencing deja-vu...
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Some Mushishi less enlightened than Ginko have this view about all mushi, seeing them as pests or threats to be exterminated. In "Drowning in a Sea of Letters", Ginko comforts a girl binding a mushi trapped inside her with stories of harmless and/or beneficial mushi.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Oniko, children of mushi and human, which are very rare and inherit traits from both parents. In episode 14 Ginko meets woman and her daughter, who are descended from Magaridake, mushi that look like white bamboo. Though they look completely normal, both were born inside bamboo shoots and need water from mushi to survive.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Narrowly averted, though only through another character's not-quite-so-heroic sacrifice. In the final story, Ginko risks his life to save a teenage girl who was chosen as a mountain-master but was rejected when she returned to her family and began to miss them even after returning to her mountain. He's about to be disintegrated into the lifestream (which he's fine with since his days were numbered anyway) when the girl takes his place because she couldn't stand being away from the mountain -- because she was the mountain.
  • Human Sacrifice: The girl who travelled with the swamp.
  • Identical Grandson: Played with. A particular island has a mushi called Uminaoshi that can seemingly reincarnate a person into a child form so they can be reborn to someone else, such as their daughter. Turns out that the 'reincarnations' actually are that person, at least physically; the mushi reduces someone to an embryonic state and allows them to be reborn if the egg is ingested. But since they have no memories of their 'past' lives, are they really the same people? There's no way to prove the reborn even have the same soul.
  • Kill It with Fire: In Episode 21, the Watahachi parasite does it to itself in order to force itself into hibernation rather than be killed by Ginko.
    • It doesn't really die though, seeing how the episode ends with Ginko carrying him off in a bottle.
    • In Episode 23, Yahagi thinks doing this to the mushi will solve the problem. It only happens to escalate into a problem that kills several villagers and threatens her own life.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Ginko has the retrograde variant. It plays an important role in his backstory, and is irreversible.
  • The Lifestream: Many references are made to a river of light that only Ginko and certain other special people can sense. This river is the primal life force that the mushi come from, and strengthens and bolsters nature when it is near the surface of the earth: normally it's deep underground..
  • Locked Into Strangeness: One of the possible effects of mushi. See the girl in episode 5 (green hair) and Ginko and Nui (white hair).
  • Magical Underpinnings of Reality
  • Magnetic Medium: Ginko's reason for being on the move all the time.
  • Mama Bear: One Victim of the Week invokes this against Ginko by stabbing him. Too bad she was protecting a parasitic mushi who was responsible for the death of her actual child...
  • Marriage to a God: The girl who travelled with the swamp. She was sacrified as a bride for the river god, due to massive floods in her village.
  • Mind Screw: Not a very severe case, but there is some -- as to be expected of a series that blends psychological, fantasy and slice-of-life themes together.
  • Monster Protection Racket: It turns out that Ginko was dragged into a couple of these as a child -- some mushi masters would take him in (knowing that mushi tend to gather around him and cause trouble) so they could increase their business.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Guess who.
  • Mundane Utility: Nui uses weak Mushi in place of lamps. Also there is Mushi that inhabits enclosed spaces in areas close to the lifestream, mostly silkworm cocoons, linking them together through a labyrinthine networtwork of extra dimensional silk tunnels. If you open their container you are sucked in and lost, probably forever. Mushishi use them as pre-modern email. And then there's the girl who uses the illumination from the lifestream to see her bouncing ball in the dark, and...yeah. And yet it averts Mons.
  • Mystery of the Week: Mushi-based.
  • The Obi-Wan: Nui, to Ginko.
  • One Myth to Rule Them All: Ginko says that most supernatural phenomena, like ghosts, are actually mushi.
  • Only Six Faces: Despite Ginko's unique appearance, the series (especially the manga) suffers heavily from this. It's even more apparent with the darker-skinned characters, who will always have one person, male or female, with the same facial features and short haircut.
    • All the younger male characters bear a striking resemblance to each other, to say the least.
  • Our Souls Are Different: A boy from a Mushishi family couldn't see mushi and underwent a process that replaced his soul with one, making him "the can" in order to help the girl who's Sealed Evil in a Can. As an adult he's usually The Stoic, but occasionally the mushi-soul leaves and he becomes The Spock.
    • A woman who can pull the life-force from living things eventually becomes overwhelmed by it and her soul essentially separates from her body, becoming an angel-like being only her son can see.
    • Our Zombies Are Different: They're harmless, used as a way for a physically weak species of Mushi to migrate, and mostly sit in the sun all day photosynthesizing.
  • Peek-a-Bangs: Ginko's haircut covers one eye.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Episode 22. The ushinoume produces not just one, but hundreds of embryos from the person whose lifetime it eats. Couldn't a dying person make dozens of clones of his/herself?
  • Reality Warper: Certain dream Mushi can make people dreams come true, making them Reality Warpers with power incontinence. Medication can usually let the person live a normal life just thinking they have prophetic dreams. In a bad case, though, a man guilty and off his meds over his daughters death because he didn't predict the Tsunami she died in his visions accidentally wipes out his entire village by imagining a plague that turns them to dust.
  • Scenery Porn: Only Six Faces notwithstanding, the backgrounds are breathtakingly beautiful.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: One girl actually has a dangerous Mushi locked away in her leg which prevents her from walking on it.
  • Secret Other Family: One Victim of the Week's husband did this to her and her son. Good thing she can't remember it.
  • Shoot the Dog: Ginko does this a few times.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Subverted. Though the smoke from Ginko's pipe has the effect of warding off the mushi that are attracted to him, it does not contain normal tobacco (or any type of narcotic, for that matter); and he couldn't stop even if he wanted to, lest he be swallowed up by a swarm of mushi.
  • Starfish Aliens: This is what pretty much all of the mushi are.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: The study of Mushi is more or less treated as a science. A science that just happens to analyze things that can live in your dreams or eat silence.
  • Taken for Granite: Or wood, anyway: A carpenter eats a mushi that lived in an ancient tree, giving him access to the tree's long memory. When he finds the tree again he narrowly escapes being assimilated back into the wood, but it's implied he will eventually become a statue.
  • Time Dissonance: Anyone who takes on the time-POV of a mushi (see "Those who Inhale the Dew" and "Sea Meets Man").
  • The Virus: One of the mushi Ginko encounters has the ability to enter soon-to-be-pregnant women and replace their unborn fetus with a copy of itself, which spawns clones that the fetus' unwitting parents raise to maturity.
  • The Unfavorite: The boy in "The Seat Of The Lightning", whose mother refused to love (or acknowledge) him even after he allows himself to get struck by lightning so their house won't get burned down and later saves her from being struck despite her declarations of being willing to die with him. His mother once tied him to a tree during a thunderstorm to keep the lightning away from her house.
    • The stepmother of the ferryman who can summon bird/wind mushi is more concerned that he can't make money than the fact that he survived his ship sinking.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Ginko has silver-blond hair and is walking around in Western-style clothes in something that can be described as a feudal Japanese rural area. And no one ever questions this.
    • Not to mention his odd eye colour, odd skin tone (he's not impossibly pale, but more so than any of the other men in the show) and his one missing eye (he has a glass one, which did exist, but glass eyes still tend to be fairly noticeable.) Might have something to do with the fact that he usually introduces himself as a Mushishi; people EXPECT him to be a bit odd. Some of the mushi might qualify too, with people surprisingly blasé about, say, an island with people who demonstrably reincarnate every time they die. It's implied that there's far more mythology up and walking around in this world than in a normal Japanese setting -- even people who can't see the phenomena first-hand seem to have little trouble believing in it.
    • There was one boy (the little Eye Scream girl's friend) who had Western clothes in the manga (he even had a toy airplane!), but he got Japanese clothes in the anime after the artist retconned the setting away from modern times as it was in the original one shot chapter.
      • Word of God has it that the story is set in an imaginary time between the Edo and Meiji eras in which isolationism continued. There are western influences but far fewer than occurred in real life.
  • Victim of the Week/Woobie of the Week: Almost every episode has one or two in the form of Ginko's 'client(s)'.
  • Walking the Earth: Ginko is forced to do this due to the amount of mushi he attracts. There are other mushishi who do the same, though not all.
    • The Isaza, a wandering tribe who study mushi and aid the mushishi, are also eternal wanderers. Ginko tagged along with them for a while when he was younger, and still meets up with them briefly from time to time.
    • The woman who's followed by the rain. If she stays in one place it'll cause floods and sickness fortunately it's starting to weaken.
  • We Are as Mayflies
  • Weirdness Magnet: It's not too uncommon for people, such as Ginko and Nui, to be born with the tendency to attract mushi, which naturally brings a lot of oddity to their lives - if not outright danger. The best way to keep it under control is to keep moving and smoke a lot of mushi-tobacco.
  • White-Haired Pretty Boy: Subverted. Ginko is the hero of the show (can't be considered an Anti-Hero, despite being forced to make hard choices on occasion) and has a normal level of masculinity.
  • White-Haired Pretty Girl: Nui.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Certain mushi can make you immortal -- at a price.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Apart from Ginko, most other mushishi are shown to prefer killing mushi. Even Ginko will kill a mushi if it is endangering someone's life, but he prefers not to.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: The mushi in "Where Sea Meets Man" has the opposite effect; a woman lost within it for three years thinks only three days have passed, and when Ginko and the woman's husband spend an hour or two under the mushi's influence, they're missing from the real world for a month.
    • Played with in "The Pickers of Empty Cocoons". The missing sister has been gone for about ten years, but hasn't aged at all; however it's not known how long the time she perceived was.
    • Similarly, victims of a shadow-mushi can trade places if they're touched by another person's shadow. No-one knows how long Mikage was trapped, and Akane returned unaged after many decades.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: It's possible for something or someone to become a Nature Spirit by killing one and eating its flesh. After hearing that this is the only way that Mujika can get rid of his Flying Dutchman status and stay with her, his lover Saku goes out to kill the resident mountain boar god to do just that - getting killed in the process.
    • Ginko almost did this as a kid when he found an egg which was the new mountain-master. He briefly considered taking that power for himself, then accidentally dropped it. Fortunately the mushi took it back and found a new master.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Nui. It's also very, very likely that Ginko doesn't have much longer before he's gone as well.
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