Ask John: Why is the Saiyuki Legend so Popular in Anime?

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of versions of “Journey to the West” (or Saiyuki) stories that have been turned into anime or manga, like Boku no Son Goku and Dragonball. What’s the story behind this?

To explain for readers that may not be familiar with the Journey to the West myth, the story is a Chinese folk tale set in the land of Togenkyo, a land in which humans and demons peacefully co-exist. When someone attempts to revive a sleeping demon to wreak havoc in the world, the gods order the monk Genjo Sanzo to journey to the West and stop the threat. The monk is ordered to be accompanied by three demons, Sha Gojyo, Cho Hakkai and the monkey king Son Goku. As you’ve stated, the Saiyuki legend has proven popular source material for Asian entertainment, including manga & anime ranging from Gensomaden Saiyuki to Midnight Eye Goku, Chinese martial arts movies including the Chinese Odyssey trilogy, to even a Japanese pornography movie. Considering the range of genres and ages that the Saiyuki legend has been adapted into other forms, I can only speculate that the Journey to the West myth is simply a part of Asian culture, and a characteristic archetype for Eastern literature the way the ugly duckling fairy tale (discovering value or beauty within oneself) and the Romeo & Juliet story (lovers from different backgrounds) are such popular themes in Western literature.

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