15 Best Romance Anime Protagonists (Male + Female)

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Who’s your favorite couple in anime?

What about your favorite main character in a romantic series?

See, stories of love (or aspirations of love) need compelling characters. They need distinct, well-written individuals to make a relationship worth rooting for. Likewise, there’s no appeal in watching a romantic harem anime if none of the guys or girls are interesting enough.

Who are the romance MCs that go above and beyond to make viewers feel butterflies in their stomachs, yearn for love, and share their heartaches?

I’ll be recognizing some of the better protagonists of romance anime who effortlessly carried their shows with their unique personalities, aspirations, developments, and how they celebrated not only love, but also life itself.


15. Takaki Toono

Takaki Toono from 5 Centimeters Per Second anime

Anime: 5 Centimeters Per Second

Some of you may wonder why Takaki is here when he only appears in a one-hour movie and doesn’t talk much.

But that’s the power of this Makoto Shinkai masterpiece from 2007:

5 Centimeters Per Second allows viewers to see Takaki grow in life and love, even if it ultimately breaks hearts.

At the start, Takaki is a boy cherishing his days with his dear friend and first crush, Akari Shinohara. She moved to a faraway home and a new school, but they try their best to maintain their communication.

The first part of this movie ends on a strong note, one that showcases Takaki and Akari displaying the purest kind of affection.

Then the next two parts happen…

These are equally as beautiful to look at as the first part, but Takaki’s changed.

He’s grown.

But there’s a palpable sense of longing and emptiness in his eyes and overall demeanor.

Viewers will never know everything that happened (and didn’t happen) between Takaki and Akari during their teen and adult years, but it doesn’t matter.

It only takes one look at him to see his development — and its realism amidst the vibrant backdrops is heart-wrenching.


14. Hirotaka Nifuji

Hirotaka Nifuji in Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku

Anime: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku

For once, there’s a competently produced romantic comedy centering on working adults — and thefour MCs are all otaku.

My favorite MC in Wotakoi is Hirotaka Nifuji, the bespectacled dude who made Narumi Momose a huge fan of all things otaku in the first place.

Usually, people joke that someone is too smart or reads a lot when they have glasses.

But in Hirotaka’s case, it’s because of his undying love of video games, which is certainly relatable in the age of Minecraft, blockbuster titles, and Twitch streams.

And while being an otaku is viewed by some people as socially undesirable (especially in Japan), Hirotaka isn’t ashamed to call himself one — and that’s admirable.

He loves his anime, manga, and video games, but he never lets his interests ruin his productivity at work.

Lastly, he’s adorably romantic in his own otaku way. Aside from being dependable in the usual ways, he’s also willing to actively support Narumi’s hobbies.


13. Katarina Claes

Katarina Claes from My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!

Anime: My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!

Yes, it’s amusing that she’s on my list of protagonists when she was reborn as an antagonist in an otome game.

Seriously though, Katarina Claes is a refreshing MC in an equally refreshing take on the saturated isekai genre.

First, she finds herself in a harem that involves both men and women.

Since she’s designed to be the villain in the game, Katarina has to challenge the system itself to ensure her survival and success in her new life.

Granted, Katarina can be dense like your regular male harem protagonist, but she’s undoubtedly lovely from one episode to the other.

From her design and character development to the diversity of her harem and the unique mechanics of her isekai situation, Katarina has cemented her status as one of the best new MCs in romance anime.


12. Izumi Miyamura

Izumi Miyamura Horimiya anime screenshot

Anime: Horimiya

Despite its surprising controversy in how it was directed (and which chapters were covered), Horimiya turned out to be one of my favorite shows of Winter 2021.

And as much as I applaud this show for having such instantly appealing and supporting characters, I know that it’s Izumi who kept me watching each week.

From a character design perspective, he sets himself apart from many teen male MCs by having tattoos, piercings, and shoulder-length hair – although he cuts his hair short soon afterward as a sign of growth.

As both an individual and a partner to Kyouko Hori, Miyamura is inspiring.

He had a traumatic experience at school when he was younger, almost always alone and in a negative headspace. Even when he had Kyouka and new friends, Miyamura still felt skeptical about his positive social development.

But he persevered and fought his demons, slowly but surely accepting the truth that he’s deserving of genuine human connection, of love and friendship.

Also, you can’t go wrong with a guy whose family runs a beloved local cake shop.


11. Yuuta Takemoto

Yuuta Takemoto from Honey and Clover anime

Anime: Honey and Clover

This classic josei series has five complex and realistic young characters.

Yet somehow, Yuuta Takemoto never fails to be the most impressively written.

Yuuta is taking up architecture in college. But he’s anxious about the long and unknown road ahead.

In contrast, he knows he’s in love with Hagumi Hanamoto, but he struggles with confessing his feelings for her.

And when he finally mustered up the courage to do so, Yuuta didn’t receive a concrete response.

Here’s someone who’ll resonate with anyone who’s felt uncertain about themselves, their chances in love, and their future, especially when those around them are confidently building the foundations of their future.


10. Hachiman Hikigaya

Hachiman Hikigaya in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

Anime: My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

Hachiman and the whole Oregairu franchise have been praised as masterful, but also derided as edgy and lacking in ‘real’ substance.

Given his placement on my list, Hachiman has clearly made me a fan.

And it’s not like he’s a totally new kind of teen protagonist.

It’s just that Hachiman has gone through significant character development throughout the spectacular run of the series — and his progression completely feels natural.

At first he was this cynical, unsociable dude who’s skeptical of girls when they’re kind or give attention.

Eventually he learns to accept the fact that he does actually care about other people more than he cares to admit – especially when he becomes a solid member of the Volunteer Service Club.

For someone who had a negative perception toward women, Hachiman built wondrous bonds with not only the two main girls (Yukino Yukinoshita and Yui Yuigahama), but also with Saki Kawasaki and Shizuka Hitasuka, among others.


9. Arata Kaizaki

Arata Kaizaki ReLIFE anime screenshot

Anime: ReLIFE

ReLIFE is a blessing not only as a romance series, but also as a reminder that it’s never too late to change for the better.

Arata Kaizaki had a rough start in his adult life.

Once he left his first job after just three months, it was difficult for him to develop his career. At 27 years old, he felt hopeless.

Then Ryo Yoake appeared and gave him an extremely rare opportunity — become a 17-year-old again (at least in appearance) and rebuild.

As he spends more time with teenagers, Arata realizes and further develops his strengths while working on his weaknesses.

He makes new friends, approaches matters with maturity and a keen sense of justice, and finds Chizuru Hishiro, a lovely funny girl with a mysterious background.

Furthermore, Arata is an amazing protagonist because he pays it forward, yearning to help those in a similar situation, the same way Ryo did for him.


8. Megumi Noda

Megumi Noda from Nodame Cantabile anime

Anime: Nodame Cantabile

These days, it’s hard to find a relatively long romance anime that continues to impress with each sequel – especially one with a nuanced and mature couple as Megumi Noda and Shinichi Chiaki.

Unlike Shinichi, Megumi’s musical talent is unusual:

She prefers to play by ear — and her overall approach is less professional and more whimsical, although there’s a very good reason for this.

Megumi also doesn’t have a prestigious family like him.

She’s usually looking for food, but her cooking skills have yet to improve.

Despite all this, she’s head over heels for Chiaki, calls herself his wife, and is already quite dependent on him.

But life can’t be as easy-going as she wants it to be.

Megumi has to confront her past, her future goals, and how her perception toward music can affect her relationship with Chiaki who’s much more serious about music.

Her development as a musician and as a person in the series is one for the books. And it’s what makes her relationship with Chiaki all the more enchanting.


7. Taiga Aisaka

Taiga Aisaka in Toradora! anime

Anime: Toradora!

Taiga Aisaka packs an emotional punch as one of the most popular tsundere girls in anime — and that’s the beauty of the classic school romcom Toradora.

Otherwise known as “Palmtop Tiger” because of her aggressive and emotional demeanor, Taiga has great command of the viewers’ attention.

Yes, she’s terrifying except for two people – one of whom is her crush, Yusaku Kitamura.

But Taiga doesn’t have a typical family situation:

Her parents were divorced. And she was upset at how her father was okay with her moving out and living alone because she didn’t like his new wife.

These familial troubles have consequences on her behavior and outlook in life, and her struggles in love aren’t helping.

So when Taiga grows into a better person, rejecting the idea of simply running away from her problems all her life, and also finds love (the kind that’s reciprocated) along the way, you can’t help but be proud of her.


6. Tomoya Okazaki

Tomoya Okazaki Clannad: After Story anime screenshot

Anime: Clannad: After Story

Clannad: After Story is perhaps the most beloved romance drama anime in history.

Its various degrees of pain, hope, and love are universal — and Tomoya Okazaki bears all these emotions.

As you might expect, Tomoya starts out as a cynical teen male protagonist in the first part of Clannad.

By the time After Story kicks in, however, he’s already more likable and develops a positive outlook in life.

Unfortunately, the series isn’t so kind to him.

To say that what Tomoya goes through in After Story is heartbreaking would be an understatement.

He’s sent into a spiral of depression and anguish not once, but twice, and it feels unfair after the development Tomoya’s gone through.

But that’s life — full of unwanted surprises yet brimming with humanity and hope that people cherish the time they have with the people they love, with the knowledge that nothing lasts forever.


5. Kyoko Otonashi

Kyoko Otonashi from Maison Ikkoku anime

Anime: Maison Ikkoku

Along with the sequel film, the 96-episode Maison Ikkoku is a certified seinen romance classic that more people should watch.

Yusaku Godai is a wonderful fellow to watch as he grows to be a better man — and Kyoko Otonashi is one of a kind.

Kyoko has a natural beauty and charm to her. So it’s easy to see why Yusaku fell in love with her at first sight, even though she’s two years older than him.

But there’s one big issue:

The new 21-year-old manager of Godai’s boarding house is a widow.

In particular, her husband passed away a mere six months after they got married.

Understandably, finding new love isn’t on her mind. And she believes that no one can heal her broken heart.

This is something that both of them have to work on, and it’s why I really admire Kyoko.

Yes, she found love early in life and lost it just as quickly. But that didn’t deter her from trying again.

It’s a slow and emotionally taxing process, but Kyoko successfully opened herself up again to love and new opportunities in life.


4. Kaguya Shinomiya

Kaguya Shinomiya in Kaguya-same: Love is War

Anime: Kaguya-same: Love is War

Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen is already considered a modern classic by many anime fans — and I can see why.

The titular protagonist is absolutely brilliant.

Kaguya Shinomiya is a well-written character that’s been exquisitely adapted in animation.

Granted, she’s another MC who excels at everything she does (although love is proving to be a challenge), comes from a rich family, and has trouble socializing because of her background.

But she’s always cute and highly entertaining.

The scenarios that develop because she and Miyuki Shirogane don’t want to be the first to confess to the other are hilarious and creative.

Moreover, her character design is effortlessly striking.

I love her quirks and how the series portrays her Id, Ego, and Superego debating one another constantly.

The manga source material has been on a roll, and I’m confident that the third season of Kaguya will further elevate her status among the best female MCs in anime, romance or not.


3. Kraft Lawrence

Kraft Lawrence from Spice and Wolf anime

Anime: Spice and Wolf

Here he is, Kraft Lawrence.

The highest-ranking male romance protagonist on my list.

And why wouldn’t he be the best man here?

The 25-year-old merchant is a relatively flawed yet competent, lovable, and admittedly good-looking guy.

However, Kraft didn’t have the benefit of growing up in a rich family. In contrast, he spent his childhood in an impoverished village.

And so he learned the ways of being a merchant early on.

By 18 years old, Kraft was a traveling merchant and began to build his business network and improve his craft (pun intended).

One day, he meets Holo.

It’s in their journey together that viewers learn how Kraft is much more mature than other men, and that he isn’t that familiar with how women communicate their feelings and intentions.

Still, their chemistry is undeniable.

As Holo gives him a different perspective on many things, so does Kraft let her see the world (and money) in a whole new light.

Lastly, I applaud Kraft for always striving to be a man of his word. And for being there to comfort Holo in her moments of depression, telling her that it’s not so bad that people no longer depend on her being a deity.


2. Hitagi Senjougahara

Hitagi Senjougahara from Bakemonogatari anime

Anime: Bakemonogatari

Hitagi Senjougahara is one of the all-time best girls in anime.

Anyone who’s watched Bakemonogatari will applaud her character progression.

This is a woman who had it rough.

Sure, she was impeccably smart and athletic when she was young — and everyone loved her despite her family’s significant wealth and all her achievements, because she was humble.

Basically, she was perfect.

Then she got a mysterious sickness.

This was the start of her living nightmare.

Without revealing the specific details here, her family lost all their money, her mother abandoned them, and she was left traumatized.

And since she didn’t want anyone to find out about her disease, she changed her demeanor, avoiding interactions with everyone and adopting a rather undesirable tone of speaking.

Nevertheless, Hitagi is sincere, always.

Bakemonogatari perfectly illustrates her pain, allure, and development. It’s heartwarming to see her recover from her trauma.

Hitagi’s scene featuring Araragi, the starry night sky, and her knowledge of astronomy will forever be a masterpiece.


1. Tohru Honda

Tohru Honda Fruits Basket anime screenshot

Anime: Fruits Basket

One of the best things in anime in recent years is the new anime adaptation of Fruits Basket.

This time, it’s adapting everything in the manga right to the very end – and it has catapulted Tohru as my favorite romance anime protagonist.

Like a few other entries here, Tohru’s family life wasn’t ideal:

Her father died when she was just three years old. Then her mom got into an accident and passed away.

This is how Fruits Basket begins, with Tohru becoming orphaned just as she’s about to enter high school, living in a tent.

Thankfully for her, she unknowingly set the tent on the property of the Sohma family, and Yuki and Shigure take her in.

And you can’t help but love Tohru.

She’s unbelievably kind, positive, and will do anything and everything for others.

But that’s the problem:

Tohru carries everyone else’s troubles and faces everything with a smile because she’s hiding something.

Yes, she genuinely cares about the people she loves.

However, she’s using her selflessness to keep herself busy and not face the harsh reality that her mother, who she values the most, is already gone.

Understandably, she has abandonment and self-esteem issues.

Yet Tohru perseveres, overcoming her past and improving herself each day.

She might be described as naive and an airhead sometimes, but make no mistake:

Tohru is an inspiring woman who’s consistently empathetic and perfectly human.

It’s no wonder then why many guys from the Sohma clan like (and love) her so much.

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R. Romero

Millennial introvert on the lookout for slice-of-life anime, world cinema, and European music. Follow on Twitter @notspencer08