Death Note: Shinigami Rules Explained

Shinigami creates the main storyline in the adventures of Light Yagami in the popular anime death note. While the vast majority of the rules are mentioned throughout the anime, it’s hard to keep up with the many unique aspects and characteristics of the rules. Functionally, they can be divided into four categories: how the Death Note is used, how the ownership of the Death Note works, how the eyes of the shinigami work, and the rules that govern the shinigami themselves. This last category is the most difficult to understand simply because the shinigami themselves are reluctant to reveal so much of their nature to the individuals with whom they interact.

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in death note, Light Yagami, a young genius, encounters a strange notebook that allows him to kill anyone who knows his name. He uses this power to rid the world of everything he sees as evil in an effort to create his own perfect world and make himself a living god. The notebook is owned by a Shinigami, who can be understood as either the god of death or the reaper of souls depending on the translation. He gains allies who also deal with the Shinigami, and faces clever enemies who seek to stop his insane pursuit.

Related: Death Note: Why The Light is one of the smartest anime characters of all time


Relationship with the owner of the Death Note

The owner of their Death Note is hunted by the Shinigami, so they must become visible to that human within 39 days of first use. Interestingly, the shinigami are not obligated to explain how the note works, although they often do. They also have nothing to do with the deaths caused by the note. Therefore, if the Shinigami somehow dies, the note will not lose its power.

Shinigami, although they are able to see humans’ names and ages, are not allowed to tell the owner of the note. They are also not allowed to be in the human world for longer than 82 hours unless a human has their warrant. There is also a strange respect for human life among these grim reapers, as they can’t hand their note to a child under 6, and they can’t kill the note’s owner unless they were the ones who handed that human the note in the first place. The Shinigami cannot reveal the owners of the other notes, and can only recover their notes by killing the human who owns them.


Shinigami can only return to their world once the original owner of their note dies and their name is written into the note, or if they need to find the note’s owner using the observation slots.

Use Death Note

While humans can only shorten life with the Death Note, by writing human names into the note, a Shinigami actually extends his or her life with whatever stolen life a human has. Shinigami should always keep one death note for themselves. This means that when they loan someone, it’s a second note that they somehow get.

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Another way in which humans differ from a shinigami is by using observation for revenge. Any Shinigami who uses the note to take revenge or to save the life of any individual he prefers will die, however, a human can do so without danger. Interestingly, too, while Shinigami should always keep at least one note, it’s not a character and can easily be swapped between Shinigami as seen in the show with Light’s main plans.

Shinigami life

While Shinigami can die, it is extremely difficult to kill them because they are immune to human physical attacks. The easiest way to kill a Shinigami is Punishment in the Shinigami Kingdom. Punishment can occur at nine different levels, from the extreme level to the eighth level. Anything of level 3 or less is lethal to a Shinigami. If a Shinigami kills a human without using the Death Note, he will be automatically punished at the extreme level.


Shinigami also does not need sleep and considers it pure laziness. Likewise, while a Shinigami can be male or female, they cannot interbreed with humans or other Shinigami. Finally, any Shinigami who knows a human’s name and age, by seeing his face, can find that human using an observing gap in the Shinigami realm.

Over the death noteLight uses the rules he knows about shinigami to his advantage, and sometimes against the shinigami themselves. At one point, he cornered a Shinigami to kill himself to save his main romantic interest. Seeing Light manipulate the rules as he does makes sense that the Shinigami are very reluctant to reveal the inner workings of their community. Moreover, it makes sense that when they do they try to make it as complicated as possible to prevent their own demise and disenfranchisement.

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