There's never been a better time to be an anime fan. The days of paying $50 for a VHS of three episodes of your favorite show are long gone. The proliferation of streaming services and the popularity of anime have made it a golden age for fans to enjoy new and old anime.
Which brings us to this list. Being able to watch all of our favorite series makes us think about the best anime characters of all time, from favorites to classics that shaped anime as we know it.
Before we get to our list, here are some ground rules on how we came up with this pick. Each character was chosen for their lasting impact, place in anime history, and of course, how much we here at IGN love them. Picking just 25 was one of the hardest tasks we've taken on, but that's the kind of sacrifice we're making for you (many favorites just missed this list, from Shotaro Kaneda to Char Aznable to Alucard). Our anime experts have come together and made the tough decisions so we can celebrate the best of the best.
So keep reading or scroll through the slideshow to see our picks for the 25 best anime characters of all time! You can also see our guide atthe best anime seriesof all time for more.
25. Astro Boy (Astro Boy)
One of the oldest anime characters in existence, Astro Boy first appeared on television screens in 1963, helping to launch the phenomenon known worldwide today as anime. Created by Osamu Tezuka, the "father of manga", the original Astro Boy was a mix of the classic Pinocchio story with the science and fun of the postwar atomic age (in Japan, Astro's name is Tetsuwan Atom). In the original story, Astro was created by Dr. Tenma to replace his own son who died in a car accident. Out of this grief was born a brilliant robot boy named Astro, who was then destined to use his x-ray vision, rocket booster legs, and 100,000 horsepower weapons to protect humanity from itself.
The design of the Astro Boy is quite childish and there is no doubt that it appeals to children. But beyond those long eyelashes and that sweet smile, there's a character who portrayed the stories of Japanese children who saw war (even Astro's "father," Dr. Tenma, went mad with grief over the loss of his son). Astro, a boy who was both more than human and less than human, guided children through complex moral stories in which characters had complex motivations, social problems did not always have easy solutions, and people had the ability to do great deeds of good and evil.
24. Vash the Stampede (Trigun)
Always a reluctant fighter, Vas was a living contradiction. He is gifted with superhuman martial skills, but also with a superhuman capacity for compassion and kindness. He is a character who has suffered countless scars and wounds on his body to protect others, even the villains he was trying to stop, and his vow to never take a life provides plenty of drama for Trigun as his enemies use his virtue against him.
They call you the "anthropomorphic hurricane" because utter destruction follows him wherever he goes, and there is a huge bounty on his head. But in reality, he is humanity's secret guardian angel on the far, wild planet of Gunsmoke. As 'The Plant', he is a being of power that few can fathom. He is the greatest gunslinger on the planet and all the criminals he faces don't stand a chance against him. But Vash's real challenge is to save the world from his "brother" Knives, and this conflict reveals Vash's true heroism. The childhood story of Vasha and Remo's mother is a great story, as is the story of how Knives ended up being Vasha's complete opposite. Although Vash is often portrayed as a childish goofball, he is actually a very complex and tortured character who goes out of his way to save people who never know what he has done for them.
23. Lelouch Lamperouge (Code Geass)
Lelouch was one of the best examples of a hero gone astray. As often happens in dramatic stories, his good intentions led him to a dark place. The words "the end justifies the means" was his mantra, but his desire to right wrongs and create a better world for his sister led him to become the despot he was trying to fight against. His rise and fall is almost Shakespearean in nature as his own pride and arrogance cloud his judgment and he misses what really matters.
But at least he did it all with a sense of drama! His alter ego Zero, complete with mysterious helmet and billowing cape, was an iconic tool for securing a place in the psyche of his enemies and followers. But it wasn't just a suit. slowly Zero becomes a persona for Lelouch until eventually the optimistic boy he was begins to fade. In the end, Lelouch's plans succeed, though not in the way anyone expected.
22. Light Yagami (Death Note)
Devilish, calculating and determined to remake the world in his own image, Light Yagami was the driving force behind The Death Note and made it a phenomenon. The manga was incredibly addictive. it was absolute can't put down material (mainly due to writer Tsugumi Ohba's masterful use of cliffhangers). The story relied heavily on Light's intelligence and the layers of his designs. Light started out as a good kid, doing well in school and leading to a brilliant career in law enforcement like his father. But when he comes into possession of the Death Note, he begins an incredible transformation into a disturbing mind that becomes judge, jury and executioner for the entire world.
But Light's character remains complicated throughout the story. His ultimate goal is to make the world a happier and safer place. a noble goal but perhaps wrong. His idealism and nobility still shine when he doesn't have Death Note. When he temporarily relinquishes possession of the Death Note to throw L off his trail, Light loses all of his memory and reverts to his normal personality. He regains his sense of morality and shows more compassion for those around him. He even refuses to use Misa Amane to get information from her when L asks him to. These qualities help create a complex character who ends up being a despicable villain, yet you root for him to emerge victorious from this story. The evolution of light in the series is characterized by its brilliance. He has a mind that would make Machiavelli jealous, and the power of the Death Note gives him an anesthetic that makes him free to use people in any way necessary to achieve his goals. It's a lot of fun watching his intricate plans come to fruition. But Light's ego is as big as his brain, and that arrogance eventually leads to his tragic downfall.
21. Dio Brando (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure)
Arch nemesis of the Joestar family and the first of two JoJo entries on our list, Dio Brando is a delightfully loathsome villain. Raised by an abusive father, Dio dedicated himself to destroying the Joestar family at a young age after being detained as an orphan. From torturing his family to torturing their pets, Dio's evil only grew when he found the Stone Mask, a relic that turned its wearers into vampires -- a fate he would later meet himself. At one point Dio even used it to create an undead army of followers, including diabolical figures like Jack the Ripper, showing just how evil he really is. One of the biggest antagonists in the anime, Dio also later became a user of the Stand, adding to his terrifying and formidable power.
See our guide for thatthe best vampire animeof all ages.
20. Gon Freecss (Lovac x Lovac)
Father figures loom over some of our favorite anime characters, namely Gon. The boy's life is defined by the absence of his father, Gingo, and this inspires his quest to become a hunter and sends him on an epic quest when he realizes that his "dead" father is actually alive. Raised in the forest by his aunt, Gon is close to nature and animals, making him a skilled hunter. But despite these skills, he is still just a child who can be impatient, dusty and grumpy. This rarely gets in the way of his determination to become the best hunter he can be. This juxtaposition of coming-of-age story and fantasy makes Gon and Hunter X Hunter one of the most relatable and entertaininganime series– and the protagonists – always.
19. Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in the Armor)
Major Motoko Kusanagi is the driving force behind the Ghost in the Shell franchise. The story often devolves into long dialogues full of political drama, but Motoko keeps things interesting. She is not only involved in all the political intrigue, she is the mastermind, proving that there is more than a pretty face behind a gun. She is also a highly skilled detective, often going it alone to root out the truth behind the cases she works on. And she does it all while surrounded by a male-centric cast. Motoko was an amazing example of a strong female character who didn't need her feminism to make a statement. She was who she was and everyone respected that without a doubt. But its greatest use is as a platform to discuss the nature of humanity in the technological age. She's a human mind stuck in an artificial body since childhood, and her life and trials raise the age-old question, "What does it mean to be human?"
18. Levi Ackerman (Attack on Titan)
Although he is seen by those in his closed worldAttack on TitanAs a hero, Levi Ackerman's brutality isn't just about the giant monsters he hunts. It makes sense that he is the complex character that he waswith a templateone of pop culture's most infamous – and violent – anti-heroes: Rorschach from Watchmen. A strategic superpower, Levi is one of the most intelligent and clinical thinkers in anime history. It's no exaggeration to say that Attack on Titan was something of a cultural phenomenon, but Levi is the only character to make our list. That's because his strength, dedication to protecting his people, and complex yet morally driven heroism make him an unforgettable addition to the anime canon.
17. Kakashi (Naruto)
It's hard to top a main character in his own series, but Kakashi managed to do it and often topped Naruto in polls. He's a complex character, with an iconic design and laid-back attitude that just oozes cool. He is the kind of teacher everyone would want: smart, approachable, cool and completely devoted to his students. He saved Naruto's bacon countless times during his journey to adulthood, and where Naruto himself was stereotypical and predictable, Kakashi had a few surprising traits that helped him steal the show (including his romance novel habit). Kakashi has a storied history full of sorrow, loss and redemption. Some of the most touching stories from Naruto lore involve Kakashi's past. From the story of Kakashi's father's suicide, to the story of how he got the Sharingan and the scar on his eye, Kakashi has always proven that he has plenty of stories to tell despite his calm demeanor. It has an interesting enough story to have its own series (which many Naruto fans will no doubt love).
16. Guts (Berserk)
The horror/fantasy/action anime Berserk is set in a harsh fantasy world so terrifying it makes Game of Thrones look like a playground. A brutal place needed an equally brutal hero, and that man was Guts. Born from a corpse hanging from a tree, his life didn't get any easier from there. Guts goes through so many trials and tribulations that it's hard to watch. He sees his friends and loved ones tortured or killed (or both), and ends up losing an arm and an eye. You have to be spoiled to survive in this world, and you can guess who Guts chose.
But what makes Guts really great is that even though he's just waving his greatsword around most of the time, he's actually a thoughtful person. He uses a lot of tactical thinking in many fights, and in those rare moments between fights, Guts does a lot of talking and listening, and we see the story through the eyes of a man who has every reason to despise the world, but still fights to protect the good in it. Guts served as a role model for many heroes who came after him. The ridiculously large sword he wields in the Berserk manga probably started the trend of large swords in anime, which spread to characters like Cloud Strife and Ichigo Kurosaki.
15. Arsen Lupine III (Lupin III)
In the early 70s, anime was still gaining ground as a legitimate and profitable form of entertainment. It was still seen as a vehicle for drama or children's stories, but Lupine brought animated comedies to the fore for adults. Although its adult-oriented themes took a while to catch on, eventually its risqué antics and relaxed handling of epic heists brought adults firmly into anime and proved to Japanese studio executives that this type of title could make money From Rome, to Paris, to Rio, Lupine has traveled far and wide in search of prey... of both kinds. Lupin's love of women and dirty mind were what provided much of the show's comedy, and it was the first time strong humor found its way into a popular anime.
But the best part about the anime version of Lupine is that he is much more chivalrous than his manga counterpart. The anime version of the character was much more appropriate for the era and played up his role as the anime's leading man. Lupine was considered the world's greatest thief and with his band of friends he stole the most valuable things in the world. But he enjoyed stealing much more than keeping, and often just gave the stolen things away. And he wasn't a thief just for the sake of stealing. He often used his skills to help people in need and right wrongs. It was almost like a modern Robin Hood in a way, but with a lot more style and charm.
14. Jotaro Kujo (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusader)
The influence of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure cannot be understated, which is why more than one actor made our list. Jotaro Koju is a particularly notable addition to Hirohiko Araki's fictional series, as he is the first of the heroic family to meetcabin. Superpowers (which are visual manifestations of the possessor's soul) would later play an important role in the larger story of JoJo's bizarre adventure, and Jotar Kujo's Star Platinum Stand helped make him a vital character. Like the rest of the Joestar family, Jotaro Kujo is a dramatically elegant figure who has become a fan favorite, and is also the most recognizable member of the cast of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.
13. Roronoa Zoro (One Piece)
Is there a cooler character than Roronoa? It's hard to remember many, since he's basically a samurai pirate with green hair, epic scars, and his trademark three swords. But that's only part of the reason why it made our list. One of the Straw Hat Pirates' most feared fighters, he is also Luffy's loyal advisor. His reserved nature hides a serious and sincere soul that will stand by his leader. But that doesn't mean he'll always be happy about it. The character's signature overkill marks the only time he really relaxes, except of course when fighting. Like the best characters, Roronoa has a sweet side that often comes out when it comes to helping those in need – even strangers.
12. Tanjiro (demon slayer)
Like many of the most impressive heroes, Tanjiro's story begins with a great tragedy. When he was a boy, his life was destroyed when the Demon King killed his entire family... well, almost everything. At the last moment, his sister turned into a half-demon. He then vowed to become a demon slayer, heal his brother, and defeat the demon king.
Even in the face of his difficult past, Tanjiro is compassionate and sweet, and his heroism is driven by love as well as revenge. His compassionate nature gives him an advantage as he can find relationships even with the monsters he kills. Although Demon Slayer is a relatively new series, it became an almost instant hit, mainly due to the dynamic, good and heroic character at the center of the story.
See our guide for thatthe best anime like Demon Slayer.
11. L (Death Note)
Every good protagonist needs a challenge, and L provided the contrast that the Death Note series needed to win over fans. L is a weirdo, of course, with messy hair, a disdain for shoes, and a penchant for slouching in chairs and eating junk food. It's not exactly a picture that conjures up a "chief detective", but geniuses are often quite eccentric, and L is certainly a good contrast to Light's sociopathic personality and the mask of perfection he wears. L is weird, a little creepy, and in dire need of some sunshine, but he's a good boy, and it's the nice boy who tries to kill everyone. L is just as brilliant as Light, and the battle of spirits between the two created dramatic tension that only kept fans hungry for more.
10.Himura Kenshin (Rurouni Kenshin)
Arguably a role model for other characters on this list, like Vash, Kenshin brought a unique quality to the anime scene: he was a killer who would kill no more. After years of being a hired sword and killing countless enemies, he vows to never die again. But his oath is put to the test again and again as less virtuous men threaten the peace of the land.
Kenshin was a refreshing change in the samurai genre of its time. He was quite feminine, often mistaken for a woman by uninformed viewers. He was also one of the kindest characters in anime history, often putting others before himself and speaking to them with the utmost respect and patience. On the surface, he's a good guy, the kind of person you'd expect to be a teacher or a florist, not a warrior trying to atone for years of bloodshed. But woe betide those who continue to push his buttons, for beneath that calm exterior resides a ferocious beast. When Kenshin's hand is forced, he can go to a dark place and return to the habits that made him known as the most feared swordsman in the world. While Kenshin's current mistakes make him completely evil and set the stage for some of the most epic sword fights ever animated, he always reverts to his sweet self once the danger is gone. But in his lonely, calmer moments, he is haunted by his greatest fear - that one day he will revert to his old ways forever and become a killer again.
9. Shinji Ikari (Evangelion)
Heroes are often what we should be: strong, capable, beautiful, confident, selfless, and with some carefully added flaws that make them recognizable. ButShinji was different; he was not what we wanted to be. Instead, it gave an uncensored look at who we are. They hate him because he's a coward—scared, grumpy, creepy, and desperate. But what 14-year-old wouldn't deal with that? He's a character that challenges the audience without giving them the superficial, vicarious power fantasy of many other anime films. It's pathetic, but that's what makes it great – and a true work of art.
Hideaki Anno, screenwriter and director of the Evangelion series, went through severe depressionwhile he was performing, and like a true artist, he transferred all that emotion and despair into his work. Each of these characters is a piece of him at his worst, immortalized in the media. And no character represents their emotions more than Shinji. Through the boy Shinji, who is tasked with defeating giant demons trying to destroy his world, we get an intimate look at the man behind the production trying to defeat his own demons. Shinji is a mirror of all the things depression teaches a person to hate about themselves. It is not an exit door to the land of fantasy. There's nothing wrong with escapist fantasy, but that's not the only thing anime can be used for, and Shinji's legacy is that he may have been the most emotionally real character in anime history.
8. Sailor Moon (Usagi)
For many American children, Sailor Moon was one of the first anime characters they encountered, and her influence has never waned. Maybe it's a combination of her memorable catchphrase "In the name of the moon, I'll punish you!" and her delightfully distinctive costume, but Sailor Moon (or Usagi, in her non-magical form) has become one of the most beloved anime characters of all time. She is strong, witty and incredibly relatable. The reluctant teenage heroine can be found snacking and napping as often as she's busting her worldly ass, which is part of the reason she's found such a longtime fan following. It doesn't hurt that creator Naoko Takeuchi has designed some of the coolest and most dynamic characters in all of animation history – led by Sailor Moon.
Check out our listthe best magical anime for girlsall the time for more like this.
7. Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)
Prince of the Saiyans, but was forced to play second fiddle to Goku because his Google Glasses told him that Goku's power levelOver 9000!, Vegeta has often been a real outlet for creator Akira Toriyama's creativity. Goku's path as the ultimate hero and shining light of goodness was simple enough, but Vegeta took a different path with many twists and turns. He started as a typical villain, but during his story he switched sides and became first a reluctant ally, then a brake, and also a loving father. However, he couldn't stop being a bad turkey and there were times when he reverted to his old ways. But at the heart of his evil deeds was a deep-seated inferiority complex. he was a saiyan prince and yet goku overshadowed him at every turn. His selfishness didn't last for years, until he finally matured and realized that he shouldn't define his life that way.
See our guide for thatthe best dragon ball characters.
6. Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop)
Combine the martial arts of Bruce Lee, a bit of Lupine III, a large dose of film noir and a dose of cool, and you haveSpike Spiegel. Spike was an amalgamation of influences, and the result was a creation greater than the sum of its parts. In a show like Cowboy Bebop, which itself was a mix of cultural influences from around the world, Spike was at the heart of the story. Voice actor Steve Blum took his career to new heights when he gave the performance of a lifetime in the English dub of the series, giving Spike a sense of smooth, easy composure that many claim surpassed the original Japanese version. Spike proved to be a multi-faceted character. He was an excellent pickpocket, a speedster who worked on his own spaceship, a smart detective, a badass fighter, and even a bit of a philosopher. But what made Spike more interesting was his past as a gangster - and a man hopelessly in love. His relationship with Julia and the tragic end of that relationship haunts him throughout the series and shows us what has been important to Spike all along. When Cowboy Bebop reaches its mighty end, Spike emerges in a blaze of glory unmatched in all anime.
5. Goku (Dragon Ball)
Arguably the archetype of modern anime protagonists, Goku was a somewhat innovative creation in his time. When big, pint-sized kid Goku first appeared in Dragon Ball, the trend for male heroes was to have larger-than-life muscular heads (which Goku ironically turned into as an adult). Speaking of which, Goku actually grew up, which was another drastic change at a time when characters rarely changed much.
But Dragon Ball Z is where Goku really rose to fame. Goku isn't even the most popular character in DBZ at times, but he's the foundation of the series. His heroism, strength and dedication make him the perfect core for a children's show where the themes have to be quite simple. He may not be the most complex character in anime history, but he's perfect for the goal he was meant to achieve. But Goku doesn't rank as high here for both complexity and impact, that can't be denied. He was, in many ways, a character who broke the trends of his time and set the direction of shonen manga/anime for decades. The creators of Naruto, One Piece and many other manga/anime have openly admitted that Goku has greatly influenced their stories and character designs.
4. Johan (Monster)
Often referred to as the greatest villain in anime history, Johan was a serial killer who would fit well into any blockbuster thriller. Monster told the story of a man who became truly monstrous - a charismatic, intelligent sociopath who had no other goal than to kill everyone else in the world. He didn't just kill people, he turned others into monsters like him. This capacity for corruption first emerged in his youth when he used stories to convince the other boys at his orphanage to kill all the staff – and each other.
Johana is often compared to Light Yagami from Death Note, but the two are quite different. Light's fatal (and genius) flaw is his own ego, which leads him to put his life above all else, even his goal to change the world. But Johan is not afraid of death. He welcomes it. He is perfectly willing to put his life on the line, and one of his traits is how he dares people to shoot him. Johan is also a master operator. Where Light had to resort to supernatural means to get what he wanted, Johan simply used his own wits and knowledge of human nature. It is more terrifying because it reveals the vile human nature of its victims. Johan is almost entirely to blame for Monster's extraordinary history.
If you belong to a certain generation, Naruto was synonymous with anime. Massively popular and so influential thatit even inspired her running, the story of the titular young ninja desperate to gain acceptance and support from his community has been a fan favorite for years. And actually because of Naruto himself. The ramen-loving orphan is one of the most recognizable characters in anime. Although he began his journey – like many of us – as a beginner struggling to find his footing, his dedication made him a mighty ninja. Never mind that he can access the chakra of Kurama, the legendary nine-tailed beast that surpasses Naruto's abilities. Despite his connection to the powerful creature, Naruto also worked hard to become one of the best ninja of all time – and turned out to be one of the best anime characters ever.
2. Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist)
Wildly ambitious, cunningly intelligent, and wise beyond his years, early Edward Elric burst onto the scene with a fresh take on the modern anime hero. Unlike those who came before him, he was not a lovely but small-minded guy with a heart of gold. He was smart, calculating, arrogant and the size of a shrimp. But most audacious of all was the fact that Edward is technically disabled, having lost both an arm and a leg in a tragic accident fueled by love and hubris. In Edward, we had a character that was really multidimensional. He could be a comedian and take wild shots and looks. It could be set in the most tragic circumstances and portray the deepest kind of grief. He could be a complete jerk, but he could also be the nicest guy on the planet. And most of all, we saw Edward discover hard truths about the world – and learn that he doesn't know nearly as much as he thought he did.
1. Monkey D. Luffy (One Piece)
In 2022, One Piece becamebest selling manga of all time. So it's no surprise that the main character of such an important title and its massively successful anime adaptation are at the top of our list. Many children in the 2000s discovered One Piece – and Luffy – thanks to the series' inclusion in FoxBox's programming block, introducing a generation to the joys of anime. With his instantly recognizable straw hat, blue pants and red jacket, the young leader of the Straw Hat Pirates is a strong fighter and comes from a rebel lineage. His courage and recklessness challenge and endanger those around him. But it also makes him such a mischievous pirate and so successful in his epic adventures. For all these reasons and more, Luffy is our number one pick when it comes to the best anime characters.
Note: This story was updated on 17/08/2022. Originally published in April 2018.
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