30 Sad Anime Series To Watch: Our Top RecommendationsThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
With its constant thrills and fun, anime is a treasure trove of stories I’ve grown fond of since I was a kid.
Still, it’s not always about the good vibes.
Anime has its fair share of sad stories — and stories that aren’t generally sad but nonetheless evoke the same sense of melancholy in its viewers.
Below are the top shows that have caused me gloom for far longer than usual, with their most impactful moments remaining crystal clear in my mind to this day.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
30. Assassination Classroom
This two-season, 47-episode series really surprised me. Given the title and the previews, I thought this was going to be a combination of cartoony violence and hilarity.
And I was right, but not completely.
Assassination Classroom wasn’t like other shows that were content with having an interesting premise.
It slowly but surely went beyond showcasing assassination attempts and Koro-sensei’s many ridiculous abilities.
So while I didn’t care much for most of the cast in the first season, it was difficult for me to let go of the show by Season 2, having already witnessed how much the students changed and deepened their bonds with each other — and with Koro-sensei, most importantly, whose backstory was more than affecting.
29. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day)
Easily one of the most popular sad anime series of the past decade, anohana doesn’t end with the death of a major character. No, not at all.
Instead, it starts the other way around:
One member of the main group is already dead. And her ghost is what pushes Jinta and the rest to begin the arduous process of healing.
Anohana is a story of tragedy. But also of the bittersweet reality that people sometimes do grow apart.
Here, the five MCs drifted away from each other soon after Menma’s terrible fate. It’s unfortunate, yes, but completely understandable.
Yet the series knows that you can’t always sweep things under the rug and deal with tragedy by yourself.
Sometimes, you must confront the past (and the painful emotions attached to it) with the help of others.
A single death changes the lives of many. But so can the many find solace in one another as well. Perhaps in doing so, those who continue to live can help the dearly departed find eternal repose.
28. Bokura ga Ita (We were there)
To say that We were there had a plain aesthetic would be an understatement. Yet the series is still one of my all-time favorite romance anime partly because of its clean & bare visuals present in the source manga as well.
We were there has 26 episodes. But without a second season, many of us who grew up watching it won’t ever feel complete (unless we read the manga).
I’ve seen this series at least four times. I know how it begins and ends, and yet I’m left downtrodden with each viewing.
There’s something about their character design, the way their eyes reveal that they’re hiding a secret, or that they’re longing for (or desperately trying to forget) someone.
Everyone from Motoharu and Nanami to Masafumi and Yuri does their part well, and the shoujo tropes are properly executed.
Yes, tragedy is involved.
But We were there is also a fine story of teenage love, all with its familiar joys and pains — and it has soothing yet sad tunes too.
27. White Album 2
Don’t worry, you don’t need to watch White Album because this and that have two different characters and stories.
So what’s it about?
Well, White Album 2 is about the love triangle that forms when Haruki recruits school idol Setsuna and mysterious piano prodigy Kazusa to his band.
Haruki and Setsuna eventually become an official couple, but not all things are what they seem. I could sense something was brewing, but that wasn’t enough to shield myself from the engulfing misery once the revelation took place.
Were they flawed characters from the very start? Did they think their intentions were good or were they aware of their deception and the price to be paid for it?
Also, White Album 2 has many amazing tracks that elevated the emotions Haruki, Setsuna, and Kazusa were going through at the end, and I’m not sure if I want a second season or not.
26. Death Parade
Death Parade is an original anime originating from the short film Death Billiards. If all you knew about it was its viral OP, you’d think it was a gleeful show with people who love to dance all day.
In reality, the 12-episode series concerns itself with unmasking people and their true nature.
Think about it:
You just died and you meet a bartender who wants you to play a game against another dead person. You either become reincarnated (i.e. have another chance in life) or get sent to the void.
Are you willing to disappear forever or would you fight for reincarnation? What if you were a scumbag when you were still alive and the other participant was practically a saint?
Do redemption and repentance mean choosing to live a second life — or taking away that option from yourself?
Death Parade often feels heavy, but I wouldn’t want it in any other way.
25. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April)
Is it a grave sin to put Your Lie in April on the lower half of the list? Look, I know many people (and many friends of mine) love this to bits, but their No. 1 sad anime series isn’t my No. 1 as well.
Still, I acknowledge the strengths of this critically acclaimed A-1 Pictures adaptation.
Your Lie in April is undoubtedly well-animated, even (and especially) during the music performances. It’s quite a sight to behold when Kaori and Kousei get in the rhythm and relish their music.
The series beautifully illustrates the wonderful things in life (like music, youth, and companionship). And it’s the drive of one particular character to live their life to the fullest no matter what that makes the end as potent as it is.
24. Full Moon wo Sagashite (Searching for the Full Moon)
Whatever mistakes Studio Deen made over the years, you can’t completely hate them. After all, they gave anime fans this 52-episode heartwarmer (and tearjerker) in 2002.
Searching for the Full Moon is about a young girl named Mitsuki Kouyama. She wants to be a singer, and she made a promise with her childhood friend (and crush) Eichi Sakurai that they’d reach their dreams.
But she has throat cancer, and the shinigami that came by announced she only had a year left to live.
Given the premise I thought this was going to be a predictable, heavy-handed, tragic story.
Yet Searching for the Full Moon went above and beyond expectations. It bravely confronted death (and even suicide).
More than just making viewers sad, it made them experience a full spectrum of emotions, all the more making her journey more meaningful.
23. Kuzu no Honkai (Scum’s Wish)
Is Scum’s Wish scummy? Well, it does feature a whole lot of cheating, lying, and sexual acts that involve more last than genuine love.
But I don’t think it’s pure trash.
On the contrary, Scum’s Wish is one of my 10/10 anime. In my eyes, it’s one of the best romance dramas in anime history. One that embraces the filthier, more complicated side of desire and affection.
It’s sadness is distinct.
These characters are interestingly flawed. They make iffy decisions because of their adolescent (or adult) feelings, and I can’t help but be more empathetic rather than angry.
It’s frustrating when their situation isn’t improving and they commit the same mistakes again and again, as if they’re actively keeping themselves stuck in a rut.
So when you see even a mere sliver of hope and positive character development, you can’t help but be proud of them. Scum’s Wish is a bittersweet experience, and I’m glad Studio Lerche made it one of the best ever adaptations of a manga.
22. Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (Rumbling Hearts)
For the love of all things anime, please give this series a chance. Where else can you find a series with 14 episodes instead of the usual 12 (or 11)?
But seriously, Rumbling Hearts unfurls itself by episode three. So if you only watch the first two, it would appear like another generic high school rom-com.
As you’ve probably expected, the anime does involve a tragic event to complicate matters of young love — and the predicament here is truly something else.
Takayuki is torn between two women:
One is Haruka, his ex-girlfriend who got into an accident that Takayuki blames himself for. The other is Mitsuki, the girl who set them up in the first place, and who he falls in love with after Haruka’s accident.
It’s a very difficult situation. None of them mean ill toward one another, but they have to face the reality. If it’s any consolation, a four-episode OVA presents a lighter what-if story to heal your broken heart.
21. Made in Abyss
Kinema Citrus has its fair share of decent anime series.
But Made in Abyss is its crowning glory, a triumph in high-fantasy storytelling.
Made in Abyss follows the human child Riko and her humanoid friend Regu as they descend to the Abyss — hoping to find Riko’s mother at the very depths of the mystical chasm.
It’s a show that looks and sounds like a well-made open-world fantasy RPG. I’ve sung praises of the OST, and the world of Made in Abyss is simply awe-inspiring.
But Riko and Regu (and Ouzen and Nanachi) aren’t in a game of pure fun and adventure.
In the flick of a switch, Made in Abyss enters a grim foreboding territory. You may want to go back to the lighter side of the journey, but you have to keep watching, if only to keep the characters company.
20. Wolf’s Rain
I’ve only seen Wolf’s Rain once, and that was well over a decade ago. So while I no longer remember the specific details, I still know how emotionally taxing its last four OVA episodes were.
Seriously, don’t stop at Episode 26. The conclusion is found in the OVA.
Now that I’ve clarified what needs to be watched, I can tell you that Wolf’s Rain can feel like breaking up with a long-term partner — except you experience it one right after another, with no room to breathe.
And I don’t mean that like with how Attack on Titan often kills its precious characters every few episodes or so.
What I mean is that its heartbreaking moments are piled on top of each other at the end, when they are in their final destination, and you want nothing else but for Kiba and the rest of the pack to find paradise.
19. Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance)
Coincidentally, the soundtracks of Wolf’s Rain and Terror in Resonance were composed by the legendary Yoko Kanno, and that’s a big deal. These shows would never be as harrowing if they couldn’t weave their themes and emotions into their music.
Anyway, I personally feel that melancholy is embedded in the DNA of Terror in Resonance.
From the first episode, with its cold filmic aesthetic and cinematography, and the look of Nine, Twelve, and even Lisa, I couldn’t shake off the unease.
It wasn’t always at the forefront. But it was never absent.
And that’s what I love about this show.
There’s a great degree of consistency in its characters, story, and visual and aural style. I’ve felt sad just by looking at Nine’s teary eyes in the last episodes or hearing his anguish.
The beloved motorcycle scene is liberating yet bittersweet, as if the ride was nothing but a reprieve to the inevitable tragedy. Then there’s the anxiety-inducing Ferris wheel scene.
Terror in Resonance is absolutely a sad anime.
The question is when (and which of) its elements will cause your gloomy mood.
18. Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (A Place Further Than the Universe)
Like Wolf’s Rain and Terror in Resonance, this Madhouse masterpiece is an original anime that proves producers and studios should continue to support entirely new stories.
The poster for A Place Further Than the Universe made me think this was another CGDCT series, with a journey to nature in the mix. Like Yuru Camp but with big ships and the ocean.
But I was wrong — and I’m glad I was. It was more than that.
A Place Further Than the Universe features fully realized, believable characters whose bonds develop in equally believable ways.
It’s through these girls (and their hard-earned trip to Antarctica) that viewers are reminded to keep on chasing dreams, taking risks, and making the best of what you have, even if things don’t go your way.
17. Angel Beats!
Jun Maeda is synonymous with sad anime stories. Sure, he hasn’t had an amazing creation in recent years. But fans can always go back to his best works, one of which is Angel Beats.
I didn’t even know what this was about when I got a copy.
With each passing episode, I found myself not only laughing at Yuri Nakamura’s shenanigans with the Shinda Sekai Sensen, but also hoping they find peace in themselves. Just so they may finally move on from the afterlife.
I was already emotional because of Masami and Yui’s backstories. Needless to say, I was in shambles by the time Kanade revealed her remaining regret to Yuzuru.
16. Bokura no (Bokurano)
Kids shouldn’t have to feel like the fate of the world is in their hands — but that’s exactly the position Jun and the rest are in.
For each enemy, one of the kids who accepted the contract with Kokopelli must pilot the robot Zearth. If they win (and save Earth from peril), they die.
Yes, you read that right.
In exchange for using Zearth, the mecha will feed on the life force of its pilot. It’s a sacrifice that no one, especially kids, should make. Do they even want to save everyone, including someone who may or may not have sexually abused them?
But that’s Bokurano for you. It puts children in traumatic situations, which then reveals their perspective in life and what they value the most.
15. Nihon Chinbotsu 2020 (Japan Sinks: 2020)
This is a controversial pick for sure. Just take a look at the reviews and reactions on forums, and it’s clear that even people who liked the series overall felt this was a rocky ride.
Yet Japan Sinks: 2020 deserves this spot because it went beyond the disaster, examining socio-political elements that are actually long-standing topics of debate in Japan.
There are several ways Japan Sinks: 2020 can hurt.
It can elaborate on just how devastating an earthquake can be. It’s not just about one big quake (and tsunami, if it’s under the sea). There are aftershocks, and possible landslides, fires, vehicular accidents, flooding, and even deadly stampedes.
The first two episodes alone are horrifying because they perfectly show how unforgiving the world can be. How death can be just around the corner, and the people you love may not even have the time to grieve.
Then the anime shows the terrible side of humanity as well by exposing discrimination, racism, and how people can hurt or betray others if it meant they (or their family) could survive.
14. Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop remains to be Shinichiro Watanabe’s most beloved and acclaimed anime series.
Through it, many anime fans (now considerably old like I) from the late 1990s were introduced not only to his vision, but also to Yoko Kanno’s god-tier music, proving she knows her jazz and blues.
Like most entries, the series involves tragedy.
But Spike Spiegel is a distinct main character, someone who’s in a conundrum. He looks like he doesn’t care much about life and just does bounty hunting when he really has to, but underneath this veneer is someone coping with his painful past — and how it shapes his present and future.
It’s a lovely work of art. And while Spike’s final line “Bang!” is worthy of its classic status today, I hope viewers think and rethink about his other famous line, and what it means not only for Spike but also for the audience:
“You’re gonna carry that weight.”
13. Violet Evergarden
Kyoto Animation really took things to a whole other level with Violet Evergarden — and it’s not like fans didn’t already love their detailed character design and animation before.
But I’m not complaining.
Violet Evergarden is unbelievably gorgeous and is a guaranteed 10/10 in its technical aspects. Yet the series shines even brighter because its visuals complement the story (or stories, given Violet’s line of work).
And the titular character is like that as well: She’s undoubtedly beautiful, but it’s her journey, filled with memories of war and chaos, and of understanding what makes us human, that has captivated people all over the world.
All of its episodes are wonderful, but prepare extra tissues for EP 10.
12. Serial Experiments Lain
This isn’t the only work of fiction that predicted the rise of computers, or of how the digital world would take over the world, shaping businesses, communication, and everyday life as we know it.
But I always think back to Serial Experiments Lain when someone asks for anime that examines digital technology (and it helps that the English opening theme song is a classic).
Serial Experiments Lain features the titular girl being thrown into a philosophical ride — and it’s not as pleasant as you’d expect.
As Lain grapples with familiar but nonetheless difficult concepts of self-identity, social connection, and determining what’s real in the first place, she also has to grapple with loneliness, family, and issues that continue to pester Japanese society (and other societies) to this day.
If you spend most of your everyday life in front of a computer screen as I do, this should resonate even more.
Did I make a mistake? This isn’t a list of the best slice-of-life and CGDCT anime series of all time, right?
Here’s the thing:
As much as K-On brings me peace and happiness in all its mundane interactions (often with sweets from Mugi), it’s also adept in evoking the fleeting nature of emotions — and life itself.
You can’t always be sad, but you also can’t always be happy.
In particular, you can’t always spend your days with your dear friends from school or the neighborhood. Everyone eventually has to grow up — and that means taking more responsibilities and changing certain paths in life.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the careful warmth of the character design, animation, music, and backgrounds.
In Yui and the girls’ fun and light-hearted moments, there’s always a tinge of impermanence, that people should cherish their moments (whether ordinary or one of a kind) because they can never go back — all they’ll have are memories of it, memories that highlight, replace, and modify the pieces of the past.
I’ll always love (and cry to) Episode 24 of Season 2, specifically when Yui and the band perform “Tenshi ni Fureta yo” for Azura in the club room, as a farewell to her and the club because they’re graduating.
10. Fruits Basket
The 2001 anime adaptation of Fruits Basket was already quite good.
But the new adaptation that began in 2019 and ends in 2021 is surprisingly much better.
I know, the title doesn’t sound like it’s sad, especially when you realize it features people who turn into Zodiac animals.
Yes, it’s cute (and not just because of Yuki) and funny. But it treats everyone as flawed individuals, which is how humans are in reality.
And don’t take that as a bad thing. It’s in humanity’s imperfection and misgivings that people learn not only to improve but also to seek help from others — without feeling guilty or that they’re wasting their time.
The new adaptation suggests that Fruits Basket, with how it patiently portrays and examines everything from parental abuse to social isolation and hopelessness, will be one of the first masterpieces of the new decade. And I cannot be more proud.
9. Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan – Tsuioku-hen (Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal)
The 94-episode TV series Rurouni Kenshin has many heartfelt moments to complement all the action, but it’s this OVA that carries a wallop of fear, regret, and anguish — all in a lean, four-episode package.
Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal gives viewers a comprehensive look at the beginnings of Kenshin Himura.
It recalls the gruesome events in his early years that led to him becoming the feared Hitokiri Battousai.
Here you’ll meet Enishi and Tomoe Yukishiro, and more importantly, witness the one personal tragedy that forever changed his life, convincing himself to never kill again. Ultimately yearning only for peace and justice.
8. Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku (Now and Then, Here and There)
Now and Then, Here and There is now a 20-year-old series.
Yet the events that transpired here have yet to leave my memory.
In just 13 episodes, the series from Studio AIC illustrated one of the bleakest environments and stories in anime history. Seriously, it’s equally disheartening and inspiring to see the MC Shuuzou Matsutani get on his feet again and again despite the overwhelming pain and sorrow in the desert world he’s thrown into.
Now and Then, Here and There has young characters, but this is hardly for kids:
The show has torture, murder, violence, and all the horrors humanity unleashes upon itself.
These acts are abhorrent and widespread. And you can’t really blame the others for giving up on hope — and even becoming instruments of terror themselves.
But in this dystopia is the beaten yet defiant Shuuzou. In a world where evil in humanity reigns, a speck of hope matters more than ever.
7. Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin (Rainbow)
Rainbow is a brave show that highlights the need for prison reform and prisoners’ rights, especially when it comes to teenaged lawbreakers.
This is a cruel anime. But it needs to be that way.
As much as people want to believe that prisons always serve their purpose, this is far from the truth. It’s why several documentaries focus on the prison system whether in developed or developing countries.
Thanks to Rainbow, viewers are reminded of reality:
Figures of authority can abuse their power to attain more political, social, or even sexual power, and not every person behind bars is a broken, irredeemable human being — some are morally better than guards and doctors tasked to reform them.
6. Haibane Renmei
Haibane Renmei is one of the more unorthodox takes on slice-of-life anime, adding elements of fantasy and psychological and philosophical inquiries like the critically acclaimed iyashikei series Mushishi.
But while Mushishi has these strange lifeforms, this series features characters with halos and wings, but they’re not here to preach about any religion whatsoever.
It’s purportedly just a stylistic choice, but you can also find meaning in the visuals of Haibane Renmei, from its calming (or dreary and muted) colors and backgrounds to the character design.
And all of these contribute to the rewarding viewing experience.
Everything seems to progress slowly in Glie. But as you put the puzzle pieces together (or try to make sense of a few things), you start thinking about life, about existence, friendship, guilt, repentance, and before you know it, you’re in the process of introspection.
It makes me sad. But people need that kind of sadness sometimes.
5. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Some say that Evangelion shouldn’t be here because it’s “not sad”, arguing it’s more like a full-blown descent into depressive madness and a ton of symbolism (or pseudo-symbolism).
But it is sad.
This highly influential series, even without the End of Evangelion movie, has been the subject of many long-form essays on human existence. With a particular strength on capturing the foibles of youth.
There’s nothing wrong with making memes about Shinji not getting in the robot or being a coward, but his character’s struggles aren’t encased in the realm of fiction — and the same can be said for both Rei and Asuka.
As apocalyptic and confusing (or seemingly meaningless) Evangelion can seem, aspects like its framing and choice of letting certain moments linger in silence are indicative of a show that understands human sadness, in how it takes form and persists.
4. Clannad: After Story (Clannad ~After Story~)
Angel Beats was tear-inducing enough, but Clannad: After Story is Jun Maeda’s most painful work yet.
Now the first season of Clannad is set in high school. And you can watch the second season without it.
But seeing it is essential if you want the full waterworks, since you’ll have a better understanding of the characters in After Story.
You see, the second season takes place when the characters have already graduated from high school.
This time, the story focuses on Tomoya Okazaki — but this isn’t your standard cute slice-of-life series.
Tomoya will go through so many hardships that I don’t even know if I could handle, and it’s the fact that it’s the kind of pain you become more familiar with as you transition from youth to adulthood that gets me emotional.
Life seemed slow when I was a kid. And I couldn’t wait to grow up and have a career and family. But then you graduate from college, and suddenly the years seem to go by so fast, taking you further and further from your youth, that time when you could be reckless and nothing seemed impossible.
Here Tomoya learns what it’s like to have a family, to be a father, to lose someone who’s the light of his world, to see himself as a big failure, to cry and grieve and persevere.
The ending has been a subject of controversy for many years now. But After Story is a perfect example of the whole being better than the sum of its parts.
Based on an award-winning manga, Nana is an antithesis to the fluffy romance and lighthearted drama series in anime. It has no intentions of having a happy ending just to appease viewers (and producers).
Nana is very much a shoujo anime in its character design and a few tropes here and there, but it’s also a more realistic, adult take on the lives of two young women.
The two titular MCs (yes, they share the same name) do have funny and lovely moments, but Nana is also concerned with the more dreadful elements of adult life.
Like many people in real life, the two Nanas struggle in their careers (or in finding a job in the first place) and in their relationships whether with friends or a lover. Relationships can be reassuring and comforting — but it can also be the source of abuse, toxicity, and self-doubts.
These characters feel all too human.
And Nana can hurt a lot if you’re in a bad headspace or a similar situation. Then again, this punk-rock story dripping with angst and boiling emotions can help you move forward.
2. March Comes in Like a Lion (3-gatsu no Lion)
Similar to Nana, March Comes in Like a Lion comes from an award-winning manga — and I didn’t expect Shaft to go all out with the two-season adaptation.
The first season focuses on Rei Kiriyama.
There’s something wrong with him: a highly-skilled teenaged shogi player, but it’s easy for others to view it as mere adolescent angst.
Yet Rei’s depression didn’t come out of the blue.
Just like in real life, March Comes in Like a Lion treats mental health problems with the utmost care, understanding that psychosocial elements can significantly change lives for better or worse.
Moreover, Shaft’s artistry is evident here.
Somehow the studio translated what the characters were emotionally and mentally going through into visually astounding sequences.
And then you move to the second season, which is even better (i.e. more powerful and emotional) than the first.
This time, the anime steps back a little from Rei (though he’s still there and he’s now in a better state) to focus on the struggles of other characters.
Many fans will remember Season 2 the most for its look into bullying — and for good reason.
Instead of just spending time with the bullied individual, the show also delves into the reasons why someone may bully another, that they may have been victims themselves, turning to bullying to cope with the pain.
March Comes in Like a Lion tackles many other painful, emotional facets of life. And as much as I keep crying to the episodes, they’ve also been deeply rewarding.
1. NHK ni Youkoso! (Welcome to the NHK)
We laugh, cry, and get angry at different things.
On my end, I’ve done all those three again and again, because of this anime.
This 24-episode series from Studio Gonzo feels too personal — and that’s okay.
I’m not a hikikomori. But I’ve been very close to being one, and I can’t even confidently state to this day that I’m fully resistant to the idea.
And that’s just the painful truth of life for many people. The kind of people you don’t see on TV or huge billboards unless they’re portrayed as exotic, pitiful individuals that parents should warn their kids about to make them behave well.
As you may sense by now, Welcome to the NHK concerns itself with a NEET. His name is Tatsuhiro Satou, and he’s all but given up on life — or being in the “real world”.
He meets Misaki, and so begins his agonizing but ultimately necessary journey toward positive individual change.
Look, I can still binge-watch anime shows. But this is one of those series where I can’t help but take a breather after one episode, or even just after an emotionally taxing scene.
Welcome to the NHK is a tough watch. But everyone needs to see it, not just NEETs or people like me.
Hopefully it inspires NEET and NEET-like people to try and get out of their cages, brought about not just by themselves, but also by systemic social issues.
And I hope this anime could help anyone to be more compassionate and empathetic toward one another.