Even though its just a bunch of colored pictures given sound and motion, anime can make us feel just as happy or sad as any movie or drama, and it’s especially good at giving us some grief. So for all those people that think anime begins with the sparkles ANGEL BEATS and ends with kittens in K-On!, here are the 20 most depressing anime of all time.
And, as with any article about a show’s story, this may contain some micro-spoilers so tread lightly.
“Angel Beats!” (2010)
The series actually follows the protagonist of “Angel Beats!” during his time in the afterlife and it’s only about halfway through that we find out how and why he died. Having just recently dedicated his life to becoming a doctor and helping people in honor of his late sister Hatsune, Otonashi finds himself trapped underground after a train accident with several other survivors. Being their pillar of strength, he takes care of their wounds and helps ration their food. In his final moments, he fills out his insurance card to become an organ donor, allowing his example to pass on to the rest – but he passes away as soon as they are being rescued.
#19: Eren’s Mother
“Attack on Titan” (2013)
This one scene alone thoroughly introduced us to the horrifying world of the Titans. Trapped, and unable to escape the ambush herself, Eren’s mother made sure her kids would not also fall victim to the giant humanoid creatures. Eren didn’t only lose his mom that day, but also had to watch as she was severed in two and eaten by one of these insidious monsters. There was no greater sense of helplessness experienced as when we watched Eren being pulled away while simultaneously crying out for his mother.
“One Piece” (1999-)
The passing of a family member is tough, and that’s no exception when it comes to anime. After being successfully rescued by his brother Luffy and his gang, this prideful pirate turns back to face his captor, Akainu. Once Luffy gets caught in his crosshairs, Ace shields him like the good older sibling he is, but receives a smoldering hot fist through his chest in the process. As the Whitebeard Pirates’ second division commander utters his last words, the expressions on the crew’s faces are too much to bear.
#17: Ushio Okazaki
“Clannad After Story” (2008-09)
Some deaths are simply inevitable. In the continuation of the first “Clannad” anime series, Tomoya has to learn this cold hard truth when his only daughter is diagnosed with the same fatal disease that took his wife’s life. Ushio passes away while headed on a trip promised by her father. And the scene is made particularly hard to watch because Tomoya had just recently accepted his past and finally decided he was ready to truly raise his daughter. Witnessing the death of the two loves of his life soon leaves him, understandably, in a bottomless depression.
“Naruto Shippuden” (2007-)
It’s usually taken as a sign of honor when the student surpasses the master. In this case, it only left us in tears. When encountered by the villainous Pain, Jiraiya tries his best to thwart the Akatsuki leader’s plans. Unable to stop him, and foreseeing his near end, the Hiruzen Sarutobi student uses the last bit of his strength to encrypt a message about the secret to defeating Pain onto the back of his toad Fukasaku. Naruto’s reaction to Jiraiya’s death served to solidify the passing of this timeless character in the sequel series to the “Naruto” anime.
#15: Nina Tucker
“Fullmetal Alchemist” (2003-04) / “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” (2009-10)
Despite only knowing this character for one episode, the tragedy that befalls this little girl in “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” left us with our jaws open. It isn’t just Nina’s actual death that cuts deep, but the context behind it that really gets your blood boiling. Nina’s father had performed an unethical Human-Chimera experiment, fusing her with her own dog in the hopes of keeping his license as a state alchemist. When the Elric brothers are unable to undo Shou Tucker’s dark deed, Scar kills her as a means of mercy to save her from her tortured future.
#14: Nagisa Furukawa
“Clannad After Story” (2008-09)
This tear-jerking love story ends with a bittersweet conclusion. Nagisa has never been that strong when it comes to her health, as she has suffered from chronic illness her whole life. Once she and her husband Tomoya decide to have a baby, the stress on her body proves too much to take. And, in the middle of childbirth, it finally gets the better of her. Once their baby Ushio is delivered, Nagisa immediately slips away and the mortified stare of her husband coddling their motherless newborn couldn’t have been more agonizing.
“Death Note” (2006-07)
Being the sole symbol of justice within the series, and the main character’s adversary, one might have mixed feelings about this genius detective’s passing. On one hand, you end up rooting for L to stop the mass murderer Kira, but still want to see Light, the protagonist, avoid capture. Nevertheless the way L went left the rest of the series dry and hollow. Moments before his death, L had a notion it was his time, and it hurt most that it had to come from the person he considered his first and only friend.
#12: Lelouch vi Britannia
“Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion” (2006-07)
In an age full of war and hatred, Lelouch devises a master plan he calls the “Zero Requiem”, in which he plays the role of a wicked ruler before he is publicly assassinated to provide peace to the world. As the world’s scapegoat, he is despised and willingly allows himself to be killed by none other than his best friend Suzaku. As he falls to his death, only his sister mourns over his body as the rest of the crowd celebrates, not knowing about his ultimate sacrifice.
#11: Maes Hughes
“Fullmetal Alchemist” (2003-04) / “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” (2009-10)
This death takes the top spot on account of this character’s standup nature. Maes was just impossible not to love. His unconditional sympathy toward others made his passing all too unfair. After he uncovers secrets of the Fuhrer’s motives, Hughes is murdered by the Homunculus, Envy. For once Envy shape-shifts to the form of his own wife, Maes is unable to defend himself. We wish he were still here just so he could show us pictures of his little daughter one more time.
1) Slam Dunk
The anime that made basketball popular in Japan, Takehiko Inoue’s masterpiece follows Hanamichi Sakuragi, a ridiculously tall guy that was rejected by 50 (that’s Five-Zero!) girls in junior high, and so he decides to join his high school’s basketball team to impress the (latest) girl of his dreams. Along the way, he becomes part of the underdog team that makes it to the national championships. Sounds awesome, right? Unfortunately, after 101 DBZ-paced episodes of struggle, the show ends without letting us know how the championships go. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the manga afterwards tells you they don’t win the championships either. Teardrop.
2) Noaki Urasawa’s Monster
Dr. Kenzo Tenma sacrificed his career to save a child’s life. The child grew up and became a serial killer. If that already doesn’t feel like a kick in the old pantsu, there are plenty more tear-jerking moments as Tenma travels across post-WWII Europe and sees atrocities like child abuse, racial hatred, and entire families destroyed for no reason. And there’s also a really sweet guy who is always smiling—he grew up in an abusive orphanage, his son died, and his wife left him. Yeah…happy stuff.
When Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki met on a train to Tokyo and ended up moving in together, it looked like they would be best friends forever. And even though Nana O. always kept reminding us things would get worse, we never believed a friendship so sincere—a bond so deep—could be broken. And, boy, was it broken. If you have ever had a friend you loved and lost, this is an anime you need to see. Bring Kleenex.
4) Honey and Clover
This show lies to you; it tricks you into thinking it’s a comedy about the zany antics of five art school students. And then, in just a couple of episodes, the very real problems come out. Takemoto’s mom is struggling to fit in with her new husband’s family, Mayama loves his widowed and damaged boss, Hagu has to survive outside her grandmother’s house for the first time in her life, Ayumi feels obligated to marry someone she loves like a brother and Morita has problems only Morita would have. There are happy moments, sure, but seriously…stop pretending to be a comedy when you’re going to make people cry!
5) Hikaru No Go
This show has a beautiful message: the strength you looked for outside when you were growing up was really within you. But Hikaru No Go is still a really sad show because it doesn’t just convince our hero to grow up—it forces him to grow up. When Hikaru finally abandons his “imaginary” friend, you realize what it means—we must all abandon our childhood and face the world alone. And here I wanted to watch a few more animes while I was still young….
6) House of Five Leaves
Our hero Masa is an incredibly skilled samurai, hired as the bodyguard for the “chivalrous gang” called Five Leaves. And while it may sound like traditional samurai anime fare, this show has absolutely no action. Instead, what the show focuses on is how every single member of the group is haunted by their past and unable to move on, even though they want to live good lives. Watching all twelve episodes of this show is like skinning an onion for three years; the tears will come.
7) Hajime No Ippo
On its own, this show is an inspiring tale about the rise of Ippo Makonouchi, a loveable young kid with a natural gift for boxing. Unfortunately, Ippo is not the only struggler. In fact, the people Ippo beats often have even sadder lives and even more reasons to win, so it really hurts to see them fall. If you always felt like you knew exactly who to root for in a movie or drama, watch this show and get your alliances thrown out of whack.
8) Samurai Champloo
Easily the best mix of hip-hop and feudal Japan ever (eat it, Afro Samurai!), Samurai Champloo hates happy endings. Every single episode usually ends with good people losing someone they love. At least it wraps up each adventure nicely and keeps our heroes going forward in their search for the samurai who smells of sunflowers. And yes, I repeat, a show about samurais that smell like a summer field is going to make you cry.
9) Flowers of Evil
Possibly one of the coolest looking animes ever, this ongoing series explores the moral destruction of middle school student Takao Kasuga. Not only do you see a perfectly nice kid go down the wrong path in life, you also see a very sweet girl repeatedly get hurt because she loves him (well, as much as any schoolgirl loves someone). It’s sad how a good life is thrown away but, more importantly, its even sadder how messed up kids today are. Whatever happened to riding bikes and trading Pokemon cards?
10) Death Note
There simply can’t be a list of sad stuff without mentioning this muddled mess of a mystery. Kira—who betrays his father, manipulates the orphaned fangirl that loves him, and kills the guy who considers him his only friend—is the most heartless scumbag in history (yes, he’s worse than Frieza). This egomaniacal douche kills so many but, even then, his horrific end is kind ofsad. Death is ugly—and the ugliest was reserved for the sickest scoundrel on the show.
11) Bonus: 5 Centimeters Per Second
This is just a bonus because, technically speaking, nothing sad happens. Takaki and Akari were good friends but Akari moved and that was that; it’s something we’ve all faced when moving. But there’s still a feeling that things could have been different—that they still could have been friends. Maybe it’s more unfortunate than depressing, but when their paths cross again across train tracks and they just look at each other…it gets you right in the childhood. I miss that fourth grade friend I used to have that I wouldn’t recognize if I saw today….
So what are your favorite sad stories of anime? Be sure to share them in the comments below.