18 Anime Characters With Tragic BackstoriesThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
If there’s one thing anime has taught me, it’s that when a flashback is about to go down, I’m either going to be very bored or cry my eyes out.
That’s because anime really doesn’t hold any punches when it comes to writing extremely tragic characters who got a fist to the face from life in their youth.
But which ones are the most tragic of all? Join me as we count down some of the deepest anime characters with truly tragic stories.
Reader’s Note: Major spoilers ahead.
Anime: Assassination Classroom
This is probably the flashback that made me cry the most. Probably because Koro-Sensei is such a goofy and lovable character.
First we learn that he grew up in the slums all alone, not knowing his own birthday or name.
Then we see he becomes a ruthless assassin who never loved or was loved.
He gains a single student, only for that person to betray him and have him locked up. In confinement he gets tortured for a year and experimented on, only to learn that in a year’s time he’ll explode.
But the cherry on the depression cake was the fact that in confinement he does learn how to love, only to have that very woman die in his arms.
If you can watch the entire flashback without crying you’re as cold as ice.
Anime: The Promised Neverland
You know how they say that ignorance is bliss?
Well Ray never got to experience that blissfulness. He was painfully aware of the wretched world around him his entire life.
“But how bad can it be?”, asks a person who hasn’t seen the show.
Well Ray is aware that all of his friends are livestock who will eventually be sold to aliens that will eat their brains. He also knew that his fate was no different, and that age thirteen is as far as he can go.
But worst of all, he knew that the person delivering his friends to the monsters was his very own mother.
So he might not have been tortured, but man did that way heavily on him.
16. Naruto Uzumaki
Anime: Naruto: Shippuden
If you’ve watched the show, you can already see the empty swing and hear the subtle violin.
Naruto was out of luck the second he was born, as both of his parents died protecting him. But that wasn’t bad enough.
So the beast that killed his parents was also sealed inside of him, resulting in the entire village looking at him like a monster and completely ostracizing him.
The man came to an empty home every day and lived on take-out.
It also doesn’t help that he wasn’t particularly talented as a ninja either. So he even got mocked in class.
Anime: The Seven Deadly Sins
Compared to Meliodas and Elizabeth, Romeo and Juliet got away with a slap on the wrist.
This is because these two lovers were basically cursed by gods.
The curse stated that Meliodas is immortal, and that Elizabeth is bound to endlessly fall in love with Meliodas and then die soon after she regains the memories of her past life.
So Meliodas just had to watch the love of his life die over and over again. There was no way to stop her death, and no way to avoid her and their love. It was just torture that lasted for centuries without an end in sight.
14. Johan Liebert
Monster as a series is based in reality, so there is no endless torture. But even then, Johan can unfortunately hold his own on this list.
His sister Anna wasn’t much better off. But because of the way the story goes, I’m going to stick to Johan.
He was born as part of an experiment. His mother had to give one of them away to be examined further, and thus he was separated from his sister.
The two are then left alone, wandering a desert half-dead, then get saved only for Johan to go into another experimental facility where they orchestrate a massacre, then they run some more, then he gets adopted, murders his new parents, gets shot by his sister…
There isn’t enough space on here to explain everything this kid and his sister went through.
13. Killua Zoldyck
Anime: Hunter x Hunter (2011)
This is our second assassin on the list, and let’s say he wasn’t really better off.
Being that Killua is part of a famous assassin family, things like love and compassion were obsolete.
He was continuously tortured in order to strengthen his body. And I really do mean continuously, the man doesn’t even flinch at getting whipped because he’s so used to it.
His brother also programmed him to be the perfect little assassin, so Killua doesn’t even have that sweet luxury called free will.
Seeing his sister get locked up in a dungeon probably wasn’t very fun either.
If we’re talking about a difficult start in life, I think no one can match Hyakkimaru.
This is because his father literally sold him to the demons, and he was born as a pile of flesh with a pulse.
He only survived because of the mercy of a few, but still had to wait a decade or more before he could even start his track of becoming human.
I mean, he had no limbs, eyes, skin, taste, hearing, anything. And if all of that wasn’t bad enough for his psyche, he also has to fight his own flesh and blood. And most of the people he meets along the way end up dying.
The man is a walking tragic drama.
11. Lelouch Vi Britannia
Anime: Code Geass
It’s easy to understand Lelouch’s resolve in creating a better country once you learn the things he’s been through.
He witnessed the assassination of his own mother, and the crippling of his beloved sister.
And unlike a few people on this list, Lelouch was not a baby at the time. So he was fully aware of what was happening.
His father then abandons him and he goes from being part of the nobility to living under a foreign rule.
It might not be as shocking as the previous entry, but man would that scar any regular person.
10. Shouto Todoroki
Anime: My Hero Academia
Although this is an anime about superheroes, Shouto’s troubles are unfortunately very human.
It was just a case of severe, and I mean severe domestic violence.
He wasn’t allowed to talk to his siblings, he was made to train all day even if his body gave out, and his father never showed any warmth towards him.
But the real kicker came from the fact that he knew his mother was abused as well.
Not only that, but his mother, being terrified and full of resentment towards her husband, even maims Shouto on one occasion and gets sent to a hospital shortly after. And then Endeavor wonders why a certain son of his ended up the way he did.
Anime: Dragon Ball Z
Vegeta’s backstory is very brief, but I feel like people downplay how tragic it was.
I mean, Frieza literally blew up his entire planet and wiped out his species, or at least so he thought.
And if the feeling of complete isolation and loneliness wasn’t enough, Vegeta also worked for the same person that did all of this to him.
And lastly, to really squash any remaining pride Vegeta had, he learns that there’s another Saiyan alive. And that this other guy is way more powerful than him.
Vegeta couldn’t even get a bone thrown to him with his whole “Prince of all Saiyans” schtick. Is it really surprising that it took him this long to become one of the good guys?
Anime: Elfen Lied
No one appreciates being picked on. But what Lucy went through is far beyond that.
The other kids couldn’t stop at just calling her names. So they also murdered her dog in front of her.
She loses all empathy towards humans, as one does in this situation, and starts her killing spree.
But then she gets captured and used as a lab rat, so more of that sweet sweet torture that keeps popping up on this list.
As one could have guessed, the level of mental trauma this girl has is beyond belief.
7. Itachi Uchiha
Do you remember when we all thought Itachi was this super evil antagonist? How foolish we were.
Let’s run through the list:
Itachi sees the terrors of war at a very young age, then sees the death of his best friend, and then in order to maintain peace he has to murder his entire clan including his parents and the girl he loved.
But even that wasn’t enough.
So of course his only living relative hates him, and Itachi comes down with a terminal illness but has to keep going on to protect the Hidden Leaf.
The amount of sacrifices this man has made, very few can ever come close to.
6. Shinra Kusakabe
Anime: Fire Force
Set-up wise, Shinra is pretty standard: dead family and bullied.
However, the writers really went to town with how these two plot points would manifest.
For the dead family, they decided that he actually doesn’t get a father, as he had a virgin birth, his mother turned out to be a Demon Infernal who suffered to her dying breath, and his brother was taken to a death cult. Fun, isn’t it?
And for the bullying, they had Shinra have this tick where he smiles when he’s filled with strong emotions. So naturally everyone thought he was a literal Satan spawn and avoided him constantly.
5. The Elric Brothers
Anime: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
There are three key moments that marked the tragedy of the two brothers.
First, their father just abandons them. Okay, that a person can deal with.
But then second, their mother dies from sickness. Pretty bad, but maybe they can bounce back.
And third: they try to revive her, yet not only do they fail, but even more is take away from them, with one brother losing his entire body and being confined to a metal suit, while the other loses an arm and a leg.
How they managed to keep going after all of that is beyond me.
Anime: My Hero Academia
Eri is probably the best example of why a Quirk can be a curse just as well as a blessing.
She accidentally makes her father disappear, and then gets disowned by her mother. Her grandfather takes her in, but is quickly put into a coma by Overhaul.
And then Overhaul just tortures her day and night, draining her blood and basically having her go through death and then reviving her just to do it all over again.
This left her with such strong trauma that it takes a while for Eri to even remember how to laugh, and blames everything bad on herself for quite some time.
3. Levi Ackerman
Anime: Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan is pretty morbid as it is.
But I think Levi had it the worst backstory-wise.
He was born by a prostitute in the slums and never even met his father. His mother passes away and Levi nearly starves to death by her side.
His uncle does come and saves him, but this leads him to a very violent life where he had to fight in order to stay alive.
The worst part of it all is that even when things got better, they weren’t all that dandy. I mean, he still had to fight giant human-eating monsters after all.
Plus, he had to fight the man that saved him.
2. Kakashi Hatake
Anime: Naruto: Shippuden
Naruto just has way too many tragic characters. But I honestly felt the most sorry for Kakashi.
His father commits suicide and leaves young Kakashi alone.
He then goes into the ugly world of war and has one of his friends die in front of his eyes, and is made to kill his other comrade with his own hands.
Then his master also dies, because why not at this point?
Even later on in life, he has one of his students become a rogue ninja and finds out that his childhood friend survived… but then has to fight him to the death.
Life just didn’t go easy on this man.
If you only watched the anime then you might think that this is an okay pick. But if you read the manga then I’m sure you know this is an essential pick.
I’m just going to go over a few things this guy has lived through before the age of ten.
First, he was literally born from a corpse as his mother was lynched to death.
He gets saved and the woman who saves him also dies in front of his eyes a few years later.
He joins a mercenary group and looks up to its leader like a father. But woops, that leader sold Guts to another soldier for a shiny nickel, and Guts gets *ahem* touched, to clean it up for the censors.
Even this is just a small portion of what he went through, so I can confidently say that he’s the most tragic character to ever be written in all of anime.