For all their reach and popularity, not all anime series follow lovable, or even likable, characters. Anime thrives by providing viewers with complex, difficult personalities, but even this jaded genre can’t help but give the viewers beloved anime characters everyone loves. In a world of annoying kids and truly loathsome villains, the most universally liked anime characters bask in the love of legions of fans, who rarely if ever slander their beloved faves. Their attractive qualities make them excellent candidates for anime characters who deserve spinoff series.
Sometimes villains, sometimes the good guys, each of these well-liked anime characters are developed, nuanced personalities who can’t be described with just one or two attributes. Even their flaws stand to make them all the more enjoyable. What truly makes a character great is when they feel like a real person – except, of course, when they’re Pikachu. As always, be warned that this list contains SPOILERS.
Maes Hughes – ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’
While most of the characters in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood boast pretty large followings, no one stands out like Maes Hughes and his family. In his professional life, Hughes works as a soldier, but his private life shows him in a much more sympathetic role. Hughes absolutely adores his wife and three-year-old daughter, so much so he happily shows off photos of them to anyone who will look, and spends half his time on screen talking about how happy they make him. The anime community loves any and all amazing dads, especially the ones who risk it all in the line of duty.
Kakashi Hatake – ‘Naruto’
Who would Naruto Uzumaki be without his jounin instructor, Kakashi Hatake? He sure as heck wouldn’t be the hokage. Kakashi teaches Naruto the basics of being a ninja. While his Ninja Academy teacher, Iruka, is the first person to treat Naruto like a child, Kakashi is the first one to treat him like a professional ninja. Kakashi expects his students to achieve great things and wield their powers with skill – just as he does. The man boasts spectacular command over his electric abilities and his sharingan – something you never expect based on his relaxed character design.
For all his seriousness, Kakashi often comes across as a jokester – the running gag about what’s hidden under his face mask is a great example. His stoic personality also works for this deeply tragic character, whose unfortunate childhood would leave most people paralyzed with grief. Kakashi contains multitudes, which is part of why people like him so much.
Spike Spiegel – ‘Cowboy Bebop’
Is it possible to watch Cowboy Bebop without thinking about how awesome Spike Spiegel is? Probably not. A spectacularly cool dude whose fighting style evokes that of Bruce Lee, Spiegel takes down his enemies with the same ease as when he exchanges witty banter with the rest of the Bebop crew.
Not only does he Spiegel himself appear cool, he’s also extremely well-developed in terms of the plot. His past with the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate impacts his personality and behavior in ways that are sometimes subtle, and sometimes the focus of the episode. While Cowboy Bebop excels great for many reasons, it’s Spike who happens to be many of said reasons.
L Lawliet – ‘Death Note’
One of Death Note‘s major strengths lies in the anime’s ability to make even the most loathsome people somewhat likable, or at the very least, enjoyable to watch on-screen. Light Yagami, the protagonist, is an honest-to-god serial killer, but plenty of people, including even readers, still find him charming. Despite his charm, Light still attracts a lot of haters – but L, the hunched over, cake-eating detective trying to bring Light down, is almost universally loved.
People find L awesome for a multitude of reasons. For one thing, his idiosyncratic behavior sets him apart not just from Death Note‘s other geniuses but other anime series – you’ll find few, if any anime characters who look and act like L. Though intellectually brilliant, L never pretends he comes without any flaws. He takes poor physical care of himself (though still gives Light a run for his money at tennis), and his ethics when it comes to solving cases are questionable at best. Still, he comes across as an underdog in pursuit of justice, and what anime fan isn’t into that?
Erza Scarlet – ‘Fairy Tail’
Want to watch a totally gorgeous heroine beat the living sh*t out of her enemies? If that sounds enticing, you should check out Fairy Tail, focusing specifically on Erza Scarlet, an S-Class mage whose fighting abilities are unparalleled. More than just strong AF, Erza offers an excellent balance of strictness and kindness. You never want to mess with Erza, but you definitely want to be her friend. That’s why she’s one of the most beloved characters in Fairy Tail.
Tsuyu Asui – ‘My Hero Academia’
With such a likeable cast, My Hero Academia features all sorts of beloved characters – but Tsuyu Asui, the girl whose superpower is “being a frog,” stands out. Tsuyu encapsulates everything a viewer wants from an anime character. Adorable, but not in a cloying way, Tsuyu’s cuteness is spiked with just the right level of strange. Her powers sound ridiculous but actually become super useful – she uses her tongue the way Spiderman uses his webs! Best of all, she takes no crap from the show’s resident pervert, Mineta, but remains willing to be his – and everyone else’s – friend.
Levi Ackerman – ‘Attack On Titan’
Even if you pay little attention to Attack on Titan, you still probably like Levi Ackerman; at the very least, you’ve heard of him. This guy goes to hell and back, suffering the loss of his comrades, serious personal injury, and Titan-based trauma. Even after enduring unimaginable trauma, Levi still fights against the Titans – not for himself, but for the teenage soldiers in his care. The contrast between his touching altruism and his gruff attitude comes across as totally endearing and certainly plays into why he’s such a well-liked character.
Saitama – ‘One Punch Man’
For anime fans who are sick of standard shonen heroes, Saitama arrives like a godsend. His extraordinary powers certainly entitle him to brag about his chances at winning, but Saitama never bothers. He simply lets his powers speak for themselves, preferring to focus on more important things in life, such as cheap prices on seafood at the grocery store. Yet for all his laidback demeanor, Saitama never strays from his workouts or his sense of duty, showing viewers that even gods must work for their glory. His refreshing attitude combined with his ability to kick butt makes him one of the best anime characters to appear in recent years.
Yoruichi Shihouin – ‘Bleach’
Part feline, part fighter, part trainer, and part jokester, Yoruichi Shihouin encompasses almost everything you love in an anime character. She starts out the series as a talking cat, only to reveal her true identity in the most anime fashion ever: nude in a cloud of mist in front of a brash-headed youth, Ichigo. As skilled with her mouth as she is with her fists, she ensures never a dull moment passes while on-screen.
Though she hails from what would be considered Soul Society royalty, Yoruichi gives it all up to rescue her friend Kisuke Urahara, whom she technically promotes to the level of captain (meaning she, at least at some point, was more powerful than one of Bleach‘s most formidable characters). Beauty, brains, and a genuinely fascinating backstory all come together in Yoruichi, and Bleach remains much the better with her presence.
Haruhi Fujioka – ‘Ouran High School Host Club’
When Ouran High School Host Club debuted in 2006, shojo anime featuring hyper-feminine protagonists dominated the scene. There was nothing inherently wrong with these shows, but when no alternatives exist, they can get stale. Haruhi Fujioka offered something new to anime audiences, and for that she remains a fan favorite to this day. Neither hyper-feminine nor especially masculine, Haruhi just does whatever she wants to do. Sometimes, that means wearing pants and a stained sweater for comfort while she studies; sometimes it means looking cute in a sundress. No matter the occasion for the outfit, the intention is always to assert her own boundaries and sense of self in a way Haruhi deems fit for herself.
Pikachu – ‘Pokémon’
Even people with absolutely no knowledge of Pokémon, much less anime, know about Pikachu. In fact, for many people this adorable electric mouse provided their gateway into anime fandom. More than just cute, Pikachu also possesses a personality – they loath their Poké Ball or the idea of evolving into a Raichu unless they want to. While Pikachu isn’t necessarily everyone’s favorite Pokémon, few people would say they dislike them.
Portgas D. Ace – ‘One Piece’
Portgas D. Ace emerged as one of the most universally loved characters in all of One Piece, and for good reason. Whereas Luffy’s lovable demeanor is at times a little too light-hearted and silly, his adopted older brother Ace comes across as a little more serious, and a lot more badass. This guy could fight toe-to-toe with nearly any opponent, but he also has integrity – for example, he turns down an illustrious position as a shichibukai, despite the power and financial gain that such a position would bring. Like a true pirate, Ace refuses to work with disingenuous, government-aligned institutions.
Ace teaches Luffy how to fight, and in one of the most heroic sacrifices ever made by an anime character, sacrifices his life to save his brother. It’s hard to get more impressive than that.
Vegeta – ‘Dragon Ball Z’
An anime character need not be a good guy to be well-liked by the community. Yes, Vegeta starts off Dragon Ball Z with the intention of destroying humanity, but he eventually gets over it and joins the good guys. Actually, his change of heart makes him so appealing – watching the arrogant prince discover he actually likes humans and can form meaningful relationships with them is a delight. He’s an example of genuine character development, something DBZ don’t really get from the protagonist Goku. An added bonus, Vegeta is one of anime’s premier bad boys, and everyone loves a bad boy.
Gintoki Sakata – ‘Gintama’
Gintoki Sakata is one of those rare anime characters who looks fantastic from every angle. Ostensibly a lazy. selfish good-for-nothing who spends his days trying to rustle up odd jobs, Gintoki proves again and again that more to him exists than meets the eye. An incredible fighter, Gintoki in battle-mode makes the more action-oriented episodes all the more exciting. His dry, witty sense of humor carries more humorous episodes, yet his serious side also shows when the plot calls for it.
Towards his former fellow soldiers or his little found family, the Yorozuya, Gintoki constantly shows affection, even as he pretends not to. He not only moves the plot along, he also provides a fascinating character study, and this makes him such a treat to watch on screen.
Lelouch Lamperouge – ‘Code Geass;
The true nature of Lelouch Lamperouge remains the subject of major debate within the anime community to this day. Is he a villain protagonist, or did he sacrifice his own happiness to save the people of Japan from the iron grip of the Brittainian Empire? Is he a power-hungry megalomaniac, or is he simply trying to create a safe and happy existence for his disabled younger sister Nunnally?
Though Lelouch’s motives never fully come to light, the many layers to his character make him difficult not to love. Unlike the extremes of a heart-of-gold Goku or Hellsing‘s monstrous Major, Lelouch falls somewhere in-between both good and evil, a place most average people feel they fall too.
Ginko – ‘Mushishi’
Mushishi lacks the renown of many anime, but to those familiar with the story, the protagonist Ginko is almost universally loved. Through his eyes, viewers see the wonderful world of mushi, powerful beings who are basically “life in its purest form.” Mushi do anything from granting psychic powers to forming sentient swamps, and Ginko must learn as much as he can about these beings to help them coexist with humans. His personality is relaxed enough to take a backseat to the magical world around him, but when viewers do get glimpses of his past, it broadens and deepens the story as a whole.