How good is anime? Over the past two decades, this Japanese creation has really taken the world by storm. There are hundreds of different shows to watch, each featuring complex stories and incredible animation. But it’s the anime characters we want to look at with this article.
There have been some memorable anime characters created over the years. Some are witty heroes like Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop. Others are evil such as Light Yagami from Death Note. No matter whether they are good or bad, these characters resonate with people. They become popular thanks to fans and quickly take on a life of their own.
So we’ve decided to put together a little list of the most popular anime characters of all time. These characters have all made an impact in the shows they star in and have compelled fans to keep watching. While you might not agree with the order or characters chosen, we are sure you will understand why they made the list.
18. Sakata Gintoki – GinTama
GinTama is a wild anime. The show is set in Japan during the 1860s after an alien invasion. Unfortunately for humans, the aliens won and have now taken over. Sakata Gintoki is a samurai who once fought against the aliens but now works for them as a bounty hunter. A mysterious character who lives by the samurai code, Gintoki goes on many adventures with his samurai apprentice Shinpachi Shimura and the alien girl Kagura.
A great swordsman with a sweet tooth, Gintoki often uses trickery to defeat his opponents. Still traumatized from seeing many of his friends killed in the war, he only resorts to violence when absolutely necessary. This adds another element to his personality that makes him some sort of tortured antihero. As well as being a great character, the animation in this show is worth mentioning. It’s fantastic.
17. Rintaro Okabe – Steins;Gate
A self-proclaimed mad scientist, Rintaro Okabe is an eccentric lab worker who has a lot of anime fans. He is the man behind the Future Gadget Research Establishment. He’s also extremely bizarre, which is part of his appeal. He thinks there is a secret society out to get him and often spends his time talking to himself on the phone. He also has a hysterical cackle that you can’t help but laugh at, while his relationship with Kurisu helps ground Okabe in reality. His character development in the second half of the series is also something to behold. A surprising choice for some, but I love Okabe and every moment he is on screen is a blessing.
16. L Lawliet – Death Note
L Lawliet is the mysterious detective pursuing Light Yagami in the hit series Death Note. While he’s a bit of an eccentric, Lawliet spends much of the show trying his best to expose Yagami for the serial killer that he is. This forms the basis of the show as the two battle it out to one-up the other and discover each other’s true identity.
The addition of Lawliet in the show helps add something different to the series and gives Yagami a suitable person to come up against. The relationship between the two, which starts as enemies and evolves into a strange respect, is even more impactful when you consider the way Death Note ends.
15. Astro Boy – Astro Boy
For many readers, Astro Boy probably isn’t a familiar name. Created by Osamu Tezuka and first appearing as a manga character in the 50s, it wasn’t long before the character Astro Boy got his own animated TV series. For many in the West, this was the first taste of Japanese anime, and it left them wanting more.
Created by the ‘father of manga’ Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy is a wild take on the classic story of Pinocchio. Dr. Tenma builds Astro Boy to replace his dead son. But he soon abandons Astro Boy and sells him to a circus. The robot is eventually rescued by Dr. Elefun and shown love and care. Astro Boy then uses his powers as a crime fighter. There’s a lot going on with this anime.
As well as being hugely popular with young kids, Astro Boy is an important show for the themes it often tackles. The character of Astro Boy often confronts heavy themes about death, society, and human nature, guiding viewers through the issues with relative ease and without throwing it in your face.
14. Erza Scarlet – Fairy Tales
A fan favorite, Ezra Scarlet is an S-Class swordswoman of the wizard guild known as Fairy Tail. Not only is she a great fighter, but Scarlet is the guild’s most powerful female wizard. Despite a rough upbringing – Scarlet was enslaved at the Tower of Heaven at age 11 – she is possessed with confidence, charisma, and unbelievable strength.
Easily recognizable due to her red hair, Scarlet is an iconic anime character who continues to grow and learn through each season of Fairy Tales. She goes on many adventures with her fellow guild members and becomes rather close to them all.
13. Saitama – One-Punch Man
Saitama is the most powerful man in the universe. Known as the One-Punch Man (because he can defeat his enemies with one punch), Saitama helps others out as a hobby. Soon growing bored of this, he joins the Hero Association and tries to put his powers to good use.
What makes Saitama such a great character is his jaded view of things. As he is almost indestructible, he finds everyday life mundane and is on a quest to find a strong opponent to test him and make him feel alive again. He’s also a decent bloke who is just trying his best to survive in a crazy world.
12. Ken Kaneki – Tokyo Ghoul
Looking like something from your nightmares, Ken Kaneki is another iconic anime character who has made his mark. While he doesn’t consider himself the protagonist of any great novel, Kaneki is the driving force behind Toyko Ghoul. When a one-eyed ghoul is transported into his body, Kaneki finds himself with duel personalities and caught up in a war between humans and ghouls.
He has somewhat of a tragic past that helps garner sympathy for Kaneki and his actions. Over the course of the series, Kaneki suffers many horrible events but continues to change and grow as a person, signified by his ever-changing hair color that goes from back to white. It’s this journey that he experiences that makes him such a fascinating character and is the reason Tokyo Ghoul is so loved by anime fans.
11. Killua Zoldyck – Hunter x Hunter
Based on Yoshihiro Togashi’s Hunter × Hunter manga, this is a great modern anime with a slew of terrific characters. For mine, Killua Zoldyck is the standout. The best friend of Gon Freecss, he can be quite an aggressive hunter who also happens to have a sweet tooth. He also has the ability to shoot lightning bolts out of his hands, which is pretty neat!
Zoldyck’s relationship with Freecss is what makes this show, with Freecss often helping Zoldyck control his emotions so his violent tendencies are much more reserved. This helps Zoldyck grow throughout the season, which is great for fans watching.
10. Lelouch Lamperouge – Code Geass
Many anime characters a fueled by vengeance. For Lelouch Lamperouge, it’s avenging the death of his mother and the blinding of his sister. At one time a royal, Lamperouge gives up his title so he can seek revenge against those who have wronged him. He gets caught up with some bad people and is gifted the ‘Power of the King,’ the mythical power of Geass. This gives him the ability to make people obey his direct commands. Lamperouge uses this power to kill those responsible for his mother’s death, but things get out of control when the Geass takes over his body, resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent people.
While this might not sound like a character people would be keen on, the Geass makes Lamperouge a layered creation. Smart, honest, and charming, watching Lamperouge succumb to the Geass is tragic and hard to turn away from. The downfall of a character is often as interesting as their redemption.
9. Roronoa Zoro – One Piece
One Piece is the show that just keeps on giving, Still going after two decades on the air, the swashbuckling pirate anime features a colorful cast of characters, none more so than Roronoa Zoro. The swordsman is a total badass and one of the main characters on the show. Easily identifiable thanks to his green hair, Zoro is handy with a blade and can always be relied upon by his other crewmates to get the job done, whatever that entails.
Even though he has a terrible sense of direction (a running gag throughout the series) and a friendly rivalry with Sanji, Zoro has his head screwed on. He is always striving to learn as a fighter and provides fans with plenty of laughs due to his antics.
8. Goku – Dragonball Z
He might not be the best character in the Dragonball Z series, but Son Goku is a revelation when it comes to Japanese anime characters. A mainstay throughout all the series, movies, and manga, Goku is one of the few protagonists who has grown up on our screens. Most anime characters don’t change physically, but Goku has evolved from a child to a man.
Goku might not win any popularity contests within the Dragonball Z universe, but everyone can admit the impact he has had on the series. He has been involved in many of the major storylines and is a great warrior, despite often being a little gullible. His influence on anime can also not be dismissed, with the creators of One Piece citing Goku as having a big effect on the protagonists of their show.
7. Edward Elric – Fullmetal Alchemist
A popular anime character with fans is Edward Elric. As the main protagonist of Fullmetal Alchemist (an incredible anime), he is somewhat of a different shonen anime hero. Possessed with a brilliant mind, a passionate attitude, and just enough ego to make him charming, Elric experiences all the highs and lows during Fullmetal Alchemist.
He lost his left leg trying to save his mother and his right arm in exchange for saving his brother’s soul. He wears prosthetics in place of his lost limbs and goes on many adventures that involve Elric and his brother battling other alchemists. The Philosopher’s Stone also plays a major role during the original series. He’s a well-balanced character who is always trying to do his best for himself, his family, and the world.
6. Guts – Berserk
Tragic heroes seem to be a staple of anime, and Guts is no different. The protagonist of the hit series Berserk – based on the manga series of the same name – Guts is a mercenary with no care about who he kills or how. Death and destruction are just part of his everyday life. But when he is sacrificed, along with his team, by their leader Griffith, Guts finds himself on a quest for vengeance.
A lot happens to poor old Guts. While his past is fairly shady, after Griffith caused the Eclipse and became one of the God Hand, Guts lost his left forearm and right eye and almost went mad. Joining forces with the elf named Puck, Guts heads off looking for the God Hand to bring about their end.
Guts is another well written character with many layers to his personality. Everything he has suffered has made him the man he is today. And despite all the evil he has seen (and been a part of), he still has somewhat of a positive outlook.
5. Light Yagami – Death Note
Light Yagami is somewhat of an anti-hero. He starts off doing good but soon finds himself consumed with power. Discovering the mysterious ‘Death Note’ book, Yagami uses his powers for good at first. He sets about killing criminals and nefarious types. But when he begins to fall into madness, no soul is safe as Yagami indiscreetly takes out innocent people.
He is a very interesting character whose battle against detective L is at the core of Death Note. Although he is a maniacal serial killer responsible for the deaths of hundreds, Yagami believes he is doing the right thing. This is what makes him such an intriguing character and why he is so high on this list.
4. Monkey D Luffy – One Piece
The captain of the Straw Hats Pirates is a well-liked character who possesses the power of elasticity. After devouring the Gum Gum Fruit, he found he could stretch his body, something he finds useful when fighting enemies. The main protagonist of One Piece, Monkey D Luffy is on a quest for the titular One Piece, a legendary treasure.
Hardly ever seen without his straw hat, Luffy is a fun-loving pirate who only gets serious when he fights. While many of his enemies think he is dumb, Luffy is much smarter than he makes out. He never puts his crew at risk and is very loyal to the men who travel with him on the high seas. It is his captivating and good-natured personality that makes Monkey D Luffy such a memorable and much loved anime character.
3. Levi Ackerman – Attack On Titan
Another one of the great shonen hero characters in anime is Levi Ackerman. While he might not have the coolest name in the world of anime, he is a tremendous character loved by many. Based on the character of Rorschach from Alan Moore’s Watchman graphic novel, Ackerman is humanity’s strongest soldier.
Obsessed with cleanliness, there are few who can match Ackerman in battle. As the head of an elite squad in the Survey Corps, Ackerman can throw down with the best of the Titans. He is the heart and soul of Attack On Titan and one character you would not want to meet in a deserted alleyway.
2. Spike Spiegel – Cowboy Bebop
Forget the terrible Netflix live-action version. The original Cowboy Bebop is easily one of the greatest animes of all time. This is thanks in no part to the main character Spike Spiegel. He’s not only one hell of a cool dude, but he has some pretty handy martial arts moves and is a skilled bounty hunter. He’s also a charming romantic haunted by lost love and his past as a member of the Red Dragon Syndicate.
It’s the introspective moments throughout the series where Spiegel discusses his past or shows his tender side that make him such a relatable character. The ambiguous end to Cowboy Bebop is also heartbreaking, with Spiegel’s fate unknown after his attempt at revenge for love.
Special mention must all be made of voice actor Steve Blum who instills a laidback coolness in Spiegel.
1. Itachi Uchiha – Naruto
While many might lean towards Kakashi Hatake or Naruto himself, for mine, Itachi Uchiha is the best character in Naruto. Even though he features much less than other characters, there is something about Uchiha that draws you in. It could be his mysterious past that isn’t explained until towards the end of the series. Or it might be his ass-kicking fighting powers.
At first, seen as an antagonist, Uchiha’s dark past is slowly revealed as the audience understands his motivations and his real purpose. He is one of the great anti-heroes who always captivates your attention when he’s on screen. Not only does he look cool, but he’s an incredible fighter who is almost unstoppable. He is a complex, well written character whose story arc intersects with his elder brother Sasuke Uchiha’s, creating some memorable moments.
While I won’t spoil the end, just know that there is a reason why Itachi Uchiha is beloved by anime fans.