What Does Canon Mean? [In Anime, Star Wars, and Other Meanings]

Canon is a common term that many see in movies, anime, or other sources; however, they aren’t sure what it means exactly. There are various meanings to the word “canon” that you may not know. What does canon mean?

The dictionary defines canon in various ways:

  • A general rule or principle by which people judge a work 
  • A church decree or law or a foundation text of religions
  • A list or collection of sacred books adjudged as genuine
  • The part of the Catholic Mass with the words of consecration

In fiction, whether it be anime, movies, comics, or other stories, canon is the original body of work that fan fiction comes from. The canon is used as the basis for works of fan fiction. It is the material accepted as officially part of the story in the individual universe of that story.

Canon also has slightly different meanings in anime, comics, and movies. Read on to learn more about the many definitions of canon and how the term evolved throughout the years.

What Does Canon Mean?

what does canon mean

The origin of canon started when the Bible initially used the term ‘canon’ to refer to texts derived from Biblical canon. The Bible canon is a set of books also called the scripture. 

Also, analysts referred to canon when referring to original novels and stories. The dictionary defines canon as follows:

1. A General Rule 

This item can be a law, tenet, principle, or standard by which people judge a material. People may consider the work canon or non-canon based on whether people accepted it as official or not.

2. A Church Decree

The church was one of the first organizations to use the term ‘canon’ to denote a law or a foundation text of religions. The term ‘canon’ originated from a Hebrew-Greek word meaning ‘measuring rod’ or ‘cane.’ Christians used canon to mean ‘rule’ or ‘norm.’ [1]

3. A-List or Collection of Sacred Books 

The church uses Canon to refer to a collection or list of sacred books that people accepted as genuine. This concept was adopted by non-religious organizations when using canon with certain materials. 

4. The Catholic Mass’ Consecration Words

Canon also refers to the consecration words during a Catholic mass. The priest utters the words when the priest prays for converting the bread and wine to the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The priest consecrates the mass offering.

What Does Canon Mean in Anime?

Fans and creators use the term ‘canon’ when they officially recognize events happening in the story. The original story created by the author is typically referred to as the canon to the story. 

If the story changes, the story is referred to as non-canon. However, fans can consider the revised story as having its canon. Many revised manga stories stick to the original characters and settings. They are still considered canon due to the story’s continuity.  

The content of the anime and the manga that inspired it may develop simultaneously. Yet, the format that came first is typically considered the canon or the official sequence of the story. So, the adaptation of the original story is non-canon, and the original story is canon.

What Does Canon Mean in Comics?

The same concept of canon in anime applies to comics. The officially accepted comic characters, story, or history is referred to as canon, while the adaptations are usually considered non-canon. 

As the adaptation evolves, just like in films or TV shows, the non-canon story may become official canon and vice versa. This event occurs when the creator and fans recognize it as such.

Examples are Marvel DC’s Spider-Man storyline. Post-Crisis DC stories got rid of several stories from the original version by citing them as imaginary stories. So, the New DC 52 has reset the DC canon. [2]

What Does Canon Mean in Movies?

In fiction movies, canon means the accepted and official events of the story in that particular universe. Sometimes, fan fictions use it as a basis to create their own fiction. An example is a movie Star Wars.

Creators adapted the Expanded Universe throughout the 6-movie series. There is continuity and consistency in the story, events, characters, and settings.

What Does Canon Mean in Star Wars?

In Star Wars, the canon is the fictional universe of this movie that pertains to the original series from 1 to 6. Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU) is closely tracked by Lucasfilm so that the continuity and canon of the story remain and there are no contradictions.

When Disney acquired the Star Wars franchise, Lucasfilm declared the EU released before the acquisition as non-canonical legends. This label did not include the first six films, the TV series, and The Clone Wars 2008 film. 

The Original Six Films Were: 

  • Star Wars: A New Hope
  • Star Wars: The Empire
  • The Return of the Jedi- Star Wars
  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones- Star Wars
  • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Material released after the Disney acquisition has a separate timeline from the original films, yet the Lucasfilm story group still supervises all the story developments.

The Star Wars creators categorize the movies/stories into two timelines, Canons and Legends. This happened because Disney did not use all the materials of the original Expanded Universe. 

So, creators labeled the stories ‘Canons’ after the Lucasfilm acquisition and the stories before the acquisition as ‘Legends’ (before April 2014). [3]

Star Wars Canon Are As Follows:

  • All comics and books released after 2014
  • Films from Episodes I-IX, Rogue One, Solo
  • Star Wars video games
  • TV shows: Rebels, The Clone Wars, The Mandalorian, Resistance 

What Does Canon Mean in Literature?

In literature, the word ‘canon’ refers to the writer’s original works who created specific characters and settings for a particular narrative or story. Fandoms could consider the works of other writers using the same setting and characters as canon too.

Sometimes, an author cannot refer to his work as canon, but original publishers can. This case may happen because the copyright belongs to the publisher and not the author.

How Did the Canon Company Get Its Name?

what does canon mean in anime

The company’s name ‘Canon’ originated from ‘Kannon,’ a Buddhist term. Later, it became Kwanon or Kuanyin. The company then produced Kwanon, the first-ever Japanese prototype camera.

Since then, the company converted Kwanon to English as Canon. The company’s name changed from Precision Optical Industry Co. Ltd. in 1937 to Canon Camera Co., Inc. in 1947. The company shortened the name to Canon Inc. in 1969.

Canon was a trailblazer in the camera business. The company manufactured SLR cameras, photocopiers, still cameras, single-lens SLR, and the first movie camera with zoom lenses.

What Does Non-Canon Mean?

Non-canon means the creator or fans do not generally accept the material (story, movie, book, TV shows, comics, anime). The material is not accurate to the work’s original Expanded Universe. 

When a new creator inserts an event that is not part of the original story, that portion is non-canon. The material must be an official part of the story. For example, in anime, the story that does not appear in the original manga is non-canon.

What Does Non-Canon Mean in Anime?

In anime, non-canon refers to a storyline, idea, or material not part of the source. An anime may or may not have non-canon endings as compared to the manga. 

Fans and the original creator may regard the modified anime ending as canon, but without acknowledgment from them, that portion will remain non-canon.

The meaning of non-canon in anime is the same as that of non-canon literature: canon is accepted material, and non-canon is not. 

What Is Canon in the Context of Fandom

Canon are sources accepted and considered genuine by fandoms. The material could be a novel, film, TV show, concert tour, or comic book. Canons may be different even within the fandom as individuals may vary in their preferences.

Canon could extend to props, as prop canons, and characterizations. The plots or stories should not only be consistent but also the traits of the characters. 

Examples of prop canons are birth certificates; they should show the exact dates of birth in episodes where they appear.

Characters in the story should also stay true to their form. An example is that Harry Potter cannot act as Voldemort and vice versa. They have their own canon characters to portray.

Unless the author creates a plot explaining the change, the characters’ traits must also be canonical for the specific characters in their Expanded Universe.

What Are Fanon and Headcanon?

Fanon is a widely accepted idea within fan communities, while headcanon is a fan’s personal interpretation of a fictional universe. [4]

This gray area is where diversity comes in, and the material remains neutral. If the fandom decides to accept the story, then it can become canon.

What Is the Difference between Canonical and Official?

Fans of the artwork can consider an author’s work as canon, but not the author’s statements, as these are opinions. Fans could also differ in the things they consider canon.

Some fans may consider unofficial materials as canonical. Note that officially recognized materials by the author and the fans are always regarded as canonical. Yet, fans generally view unofficial materials as non-canonical.

What Is the Difference between Closed and Open Canon?

what does canon mean in movies

People consider a canon closed when there are no additional forthcoming materials, such as books, movies, or episodes. People believe the TV series ‘The Walking Dead’ is a closed canon as there are no forthcoming series.

Consequently, people consider a canon open when the creators still produce materials, such as books, movies, and episodes. Examples are the films “Mission Impossible” and ‘James Bond.” The creators will undoubtedly continue to create the next series for these films.  

What Is Canon-Based Real Person Fiction (RPF)?

RPF strikes a balance between real and fictional events. The method is the same as writing historical fiction. The events refer to an actual event, but creators may intersperse some of the details with fiction. In this case, not all fans agree to regard specific works as canon. [5]

How Do You Establish Canonicity?

Creators must know how to assign different levels of canonicity to their multiple works. This method will prevent confusion among the creators’ fandom or readers. 

Before Disney has purchased the franchise to Star Wars, Lucasfilm categorized the canonicity of each work. This method ensured that there is continuity and unity with newer pieces. They have solved the problem using two timelines and labeled the materials’ Canons’ or ‘Legends.’

The process will guarantee that fans can refer to the old narrative any time they want to. Star Wars creators solved this issue in their unique way. Please refer to the Star Wars explanation as mentioned above for more information.   

Conclusion – What Does Canon Mean?

What does canon mean?

In fiction, whether it be anime, movies, comics, or other stories, canon is the material that is accepted as officially part of the story in the individual universe of that story. It is the original body of work that fan fiction comes from.

Canon has several meanings, such as:

  • A general law, rule, standard, tenet, or principle by which people judge a material
  • The part of the Catholic Mass with the words of consecration
  • A church decree or law or a foundation text of religions
  • A list or collection of sacred books regarded as genuine
  • A camera company name

In general, the term ‘Canon’ is of religious origin. The term denotes an accepted law or material. The canonicity of works or materials depends on their sources. 

People recognize the works of original creators as canon. Likewise, fans may regard the following stories of other authors that follow the same Expanded Universe of the original creator as canon. 

This rule applies provided that the other authors do not deviate from the events, props, settings, and character traits of the original work. If they differ from these aspects, then the changed scenario is non-canon.