The anime series Ghost in the Shell has a Japanese name which can be transliterated as "Mobile Armored Riot Police"; from Wikipedia:

Ghost in the Shell (攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku Kidōtai?, literally "Mobile Armored Riot Police")

It's clear to me that the English name of "Ghost in the Shell" is far, well, cooler than "Mobile Armored Riot Police". But why was this particular name chosen? What are its origins, and what significance does it have in the series (if any)?


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Within the show, the word "Ghost" is used to refer to someone's consciousness while a "shell" is the cybernetic body, much like the situation with Major Kusanagi. The Wikipedia page Philosophy of Ghost in the Shell has a lot of insightful concepts to add to this:

Referring to the Laughing Man and Puppet Master:

Yet, as those criminals are revealed to have more depth than was at first apparent, the various protagonists are left with disturbing questions: "What exactly is the definition of 'human' in a society where a mind can be copied and the body replaced with a synthetic form?", "What exactly is the 'ghost' —the essence— in the cybernetic 'shell'?", "Where is the boundary between human and machine when the differences between the two become more philosophical than physical?", etc.

More specifically with the original film, there's this article:

The director has the main character state “Who am I?” The Major, the Main character, wonders if she is a real person or a program. "Major Motoko Kusanagi barely exist in her original human form, retaining only a small portion of organic grey matter inside an almost totally robotic, titanium body or"shell." (Dan Dinello, page 276, Anime and philosophy) The title of the anime supports this, “Ghost in the Shell” likely refers to the phrase “A shadow of your former self.” The main character has a cybernetic mind and body, which leads her to question her existence, whether or not she is still alive. If one states that the difference between a human and a machine is that the human has a soul, what then, is a cyborg, such as the Major? “

A lot of these concepts and themes are tackled within the manga/anime.

See also, the in universe origins of the terms "Ghost" and "Shell". I don't know if these terms were invented by Masamune Shirow or if he borrowed them from SF tropes.


Masamune Shirow has stated that he had always wanted the title of his manga to be Ghost in the Shell, even in Japan, but his original publishers preferred Mobile Armored Riot Police. He had chosen "Ghost in the Shell" in homage to Arthur Koestler's The Ghost in the Machine, from which he also drew inspiration.

Shell rather than Machine because, well, system shell is becoming the second body for many of us even today.


I am not sure how the name got to the staff of Ghost in the Shell, the user Anatoly Roschenya says that Masamune Shirow wanted to pay homage to Arthur Koestler's book "The Ghost in the Machine".

The phrase "Ghost in the machine" comes from the famous/infamous philosopher Gilbert Ryle in his work "The Concept of Mind". The phrase is meant to describe the dualism of Rene Descartes and how he tried to find the relationship between the mind and the body, the mind being the ghost and body being the machine, this being "the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine". Ryle criticized this position for thinking that the two are of the same category. If these two are not in the same category, then trying to find a relationship between the two as if they were must fail.


I don't know much about this anime, but when I first read the title: "ghost in the shell", I thought it was referring to the shell (application) of a computer; And the full meaning was something like some form of ghost (hacker) that was illegally accessing to the shell


The title is derived from Gilbert Ryle's concept of the ghost in the machine, from his book "The Concept of Mind". It is disappointing that the writers draw upon Koestler instead of Ryle, as Ryle described and outlined the theory eloquently summarised above. Koestler simply expanded upon it by explaining how this occurs in a modern context.

Sorry, but this "shell of his former self" line of enquiry is nonsense. A rudimentary understanding of Ryle's work alone would allow viewers to hone in on the concepts Shirow was toying with: humanity, the permeance of the soul (if such a thing exists), where it would lie and how impacted it is by the vessel that contains it. Would a human soul be the same as one that exists in the future and is subject to interference from external influences such as technological advances?

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    This is already mentioned in an answer from 2019, albeit without the unnecessary rudeness.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 9:37

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