Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Slice of Life, Supernatural, Shoujo
Original Name: Natsume Yūjin-chō
For as long as he can remember, Takashi Natsume has had the ability to see spirits, inheriting the power from his grandmother Reiko. Upon her death, Reiko bequeaths to her grandson her Book of Friends, a book containing the names of spirits Reiko had bullied into servitude. The Book of Friends is a highly prized item in the spirit world, and spirits haunt Takashi constantly. Whereas Reiko formed the contracts, however, Takashi spends his time dissolving the contracts and releasing the various spirits that come to him for help. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t malicious spirits trying to kill him. Which is where Madara (called Nyanko-sensei by Natsume) comes in; Madara serves as Natsume’s bodyguard and spiritual advisor of sorts, even though ostensibly he is motivated by his own desire to possess the Book of Friends. He later on begins to become more attached to Takashi.
The main character who like his grandmother (from whom he has inherited the Book of Friends – a book of contracts binding ayakashi defeated by Reiko to her in servitude), Reiko Natsume, can see ayakashi.
Because of Natsume’s strong resemblance to Reiko, he is often mistaken for her, and chased by yokai who hate Reiko but covet the Book of Friends. He decided to dissolve the book by returning all the names to their owners. He is accompanied by the yokai Madara, who he calls “Nyanko-sensei” or sometimes simply “sensei,” promising him possession of the Book of Friends once he is dead.
Natsume is an orphan. His parents died when he was a very young child, leaving him to be passed from relative to relative most likely because of his attempts to share that he could see ayakashi. Natsume has a tough and sad childhood because other people cannot see ayakashi, so he is often framed as a liar and attention seeker for telling strange stories, his attempt to fight off or run away from ayakashi often disturbs others, thinking he is insane. Natsume is eventually passed on to the Fujiwaras, a middle-aged couple on his father’s side of the family. He loves them, and does not want to cause them trouble, so he keeps this ‘alternate landscape’ problem to himself. He has incredibly strong spiritual power, allowing him to actually hit and hurt yokai.
Natsume is described by Yuki Midorikawa as “a boy who is trying to be a kind person.”
Natsume returns the name inscribed in the Book of Friends by first picturing the ayakashi in his mind. The book flips to the page on which the name is written and Natsume takes the page and places it in his mouth and exhales. Natsume is only able to do this because he is Reiko’s blood relative. The cost of releasing the name, however, is that Natsume’s energy is completely drained in the process. If an ayakashi becomes emotionally unstable, in the same space as a sleeping Natsume its dreams may flow into Natsume’s.
On the other hand, most of the ayakashi let Natsume see their memories, so that he can understand them better. Natsume can also see their memories when he releases a yokai’s name. When Natsume is completely frustrated over a problem and falls asleep in class, he actually sleep-draws in his notebook about whatever is bothering him at the time. When he was being chased by a shadow he called “Mary,” he started drawing it in his sleep, making his friends wonder if he was in love with a foreigner. His incredibly strong ability in spiritual magic and strength causes him to smell “yummy” to man-eating yokai, as Madara puts it.
Natsume’s incredibly strong spiritual power and his rare senses has him targeted by yokai and wanted by exorcists. At the beginning Natori wants him to join his exorcist clan, but later prefers him as a friend. Matoba, a powerful exorcist, also tries to recruit Natsume to the Matoba clan.
A mysterious Inugami. Madara was sealed in a shrine until he was accidentally released by Natsume. Because Madara was trapped in a material form for so long, Madara ordinarily takes on the shape of a maneki neko (lucky cat), leading Natsume to nickname him Nyanko-sensei. In this form, other people can see him, leading for Natsume having to ask his guardians if he could keep him as a pet. He is a powerful ayakashi, who protects Natsume from others and teaches him spells on occasion, in return for Natsume’s promise to give him the Book of Friends when he dies, so Madara often complains when Natsume returns other yokai’s name, say that at this rate he will be nothing left in the Book when Natsume dies. They often fight each other, which leads to Natsume punching Madara on the face and knocking him out. But as the story progresses, Madara takes a liking to Natsume. Despite his protests of not being a cat, he likes to play with cat toys. Nyanko’s design is based on a lucky cat statue Midorikawa was given as a child. In the anime, Natsume is more respectful to Madara. Many times in the manga, other characters call Madara a ‘pig’ because of his round shape as a maneki neko. This annoys him a lot.