Unlike the nigh never-ending sea-faring tale of One Piece or the ongoing story of Naruto into a new generation, Bleach hasn't been around for nearly as long or as consistently as its colleagues in the Big Three anime of the early aughts. Though the series originally premiered in 2004, it was taken off the air in 2012 before it even finished adapting the rest of Tite Kubo's manga. The anime eventually returned in 2022 to finish the job, though it's been separated into ongoing seasons in different cours.
That said, one would be forgiven for forgetting some of the elements and plot points of the series. The manga has been over since 2016 and the sequel anime in Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War picks up from where the previous anime left off, leaving little room for a recap.
Bleach is known for its ever-widening cast of characters, many of whom are separated into different factions and subsections of those factions. Yet among all of them, the Shinigami remain the most prevalent.
What is a Shinigami in 'Bleach'?
Bleach follows the tale of Ichigo Kurosaki, a teenage delinquent with the power to see ghosts. He soon encounters Rukia Kuchiki, a Shinigami who is in pursuit of a malevolent spirit known as a Hollow. After Rukia is injured by said Hollow, Ichigo takes it upon himself to protect her. To that end, he inadvertently steals Rukia's powers and becomes a Shinigami himself, obtaining the power to defeat the Hollow on his own.
From that point on, Ichigo serves as a substitute Shinigami and defends his home of Karakura Town from Hollows and other threats. Throughout the series, he crosses swords with other forms of Hollows and even other Shinigami as he learns deeper truths about them and his own family in the process.
Of the many factions in Bleach, we learn about Shinigami during the very first minutes of the series.
Translated by official localizers as "Soul Reaper," Shinigami are essentially armed soldiers who are tasked with ushering the spirits of the dead toward an afterlife, otherwise known as Soul Society.
Many Shinigami are a part of the Thirteen Court Squads, a massive organization with its own internal hierarchy of increasingly-powerful Shinigami. Though they initially fight Ichigo and his allies for breaking Shinigami law, they eventually become trusted allies.
Most Shinigami are armed with special katana known as zanpakutō, which can alter their shape depending on the wielder's powers.
Though Shinigami are mainly focused on fighting Hollows and guiding lost souls, they often engage in large scale battles with other organizations that threaten both the world of the dead and the world of the living.
As a show, Bleach has contributed greatly to the meme-status anime trope of stories that have way too many characters to keep track of. Yet even with that level of infamy, Shinigami are one of the most recognizable aspects of the anime.
Bleach is currently streaming on Hulu. Part 2 of Thousand-Year Blood War begins on July 8.