The Most Well-Written Anime Characters Of All Time (Ranked)

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There’s a fair bit of anime that foregoes all semblance of good writing in favor of flashy visuals, tons of fanservice, and gratuitous violence.

But there are definitely a few gems out there that have authentic literary value.

A lot of this depends on whether the show’s characters are well-written themselves. It’s their trials and tribulations that make up an anime’s story, and with enough care, a single incredible character may elevate a whole show.

Some shine because of their character development, while others are just completely instrumental to telling a show’s story.

If this is what you’re after then here are some of the most well-written anime characters you love to learn about.


20. Joe Yabuki

Joe Yabuki Ashita no Joe anime screenshot

Anime: Ashita no Joe

Joe is the ultimate underdog story.

He was an orphan who grew up bouncing around in the orphanage system until he decided to escape and become a fighter. Since then, his life has hinged on his fists.

Joe has a pretty irreverent personality, and he’s quick to anger.

But once you consider his upbringing, it’s only fair. Throughout his life he had to punch up if he wanted to survive.

By the end of the anime, every one of Joe’s movements carries the weight of all his past experiences. It makes everything much more meaningful, and several times more exciting.


19. Kiritsugu Emiya

Kiritsugu Emiya from Fate/Zero anime

Anime: Fate/Zero

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And few anime characters can tell you why better than Kiritsugu Emiya.

As a child, Kiritsugu witnessed how his father’s experiments destroyed an island community and turned a girl he cared about into a monster.

Since then, he swore to himself he’d never let that happen again.

While his pursuit of the grail was to ask for an altruistic wish meant to protect people, his involvement in its creation and later destruction made him responsible for countless deaths in the Fuyuki City Fire.

In the end, he had become like the mages he sought to destroy.

Eventually he’d find redemption in Shirou – the child he rescued from the fire.

Being a loving father and leading a relatively normal life gave his soul some respite.


18. Shiki Ryougi

Shiki Ryougi in Kara no Kyoukai

Anime: Kara no Kyoukai

Shiki Ryougi is a remarkably well-handled case of a character with a double personality.

Her body is shared by an aggressive and bloodthirsty male SHIKI, and the female Shiki we see whenever she’s acting “normal”.

The writers gave lots of care to their interactions, and how their desires and impulses bleed through into the other. She ends up being a profoundly believable and interesting character.

You kind of have to remind yourself of the Shiki/SHIKI dichotomy, though. Otherwise, she just comes off as a total psycho.


17. Meruem

Meruem from Hunter x Hunter anime

Anime: Hunter x Hunter

Meruem is easily one of my favorite villains in Hunter x Hunter’s long history.

The King of the Chimera Ants started as a ruthless and violent leader who felt no sympathy toward anyone, including his subordinates (and maybe even himself).

He maintains this personality until he meets Komugi, a human girl he grows to care about a lot.

Valuing someone made him realize there was most likely value in other individuals, helping him develop a more merciful outlook.

This change probably led to him eventually perishing… but the kindness he felt from Komugi was enough to justify his wretched life.

This is some Dostoyevski stuff right here.


16. Killua Zoldyck

Killua Zoldyck in Hunter x Hunter

Anime: Hunter x Hunter

Another fantastic and well-written character from Hunter x Hunter is Killua Zoldyck – Gon’s best friend and one of the biggest bad-asses in the HxH universe.

Killua was raised from a young age to be the perfect hitman.

And by the time he was 11, he was already a serial killer.

Fed up of this life, he escaped to take the Hunter exam, where he met Gon.

Through his friendship with the adventurous spiky-haired boy, Killua was able to open up and learn how to live for himself and his friends rather than to kill. Understanding himself and having real motivations also made him a stronger hunter.


15. Akemi Homura

Akemi Homura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Anime: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

The show may have Madoka’s name in the title, but Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s real protagonist is the tragic time-traveling bad-ass Akemi Homura.

Throughout the show (and the PMMM: Rebellion film), we get to see Homura’s trajectory from a regular shy girl, to someone who obsessively defies the laws of space and time over and over again for probably decades – just to save the friend she loves.

Unfortunately for her, Madoka’s selfless nature still caused their separation. Even when Homura managed to protect her life.

After Madoka ascends to become the pink and frilly god of their world, Homura’s transformation into a demon feels like watching a car crash in slow-mo.


14. Yuki Nagato

Yuki Nagato in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Anime: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Yuki was probably my very first real anime crush – and I’m not alone.

This adorable but mysterious alien (well, Humanoid Interface. It’s complicated.) is the walking proof that sometimes less is more for character building.

She’s just as defined by what she doesn’t do, as by what she does.

She can say a lot with just a few words.

And it’s amazing watching Kyon grow to understand her as she opens up.

During the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya film, everything the show had been setting-up for finally unravels as Yuki takes reality for a spin (literally). It’s a well-written movie centered on a well-written character.


13. L

L from Death Note anime

Anime: Death Note

The world-renowned detective known only as “L” is one of the best portrayals of a savant I’ve ever seen in anime.

His use of subterfuge, misinformation, and other forms of manipulation in the service of “justice” makes him a fantastic foil for Kira.

They both hold great power and intelligence. But the way they use it to interact with the world couldn’t be more different.

L is well-written in the sense of being a fleshed-out, appealing character that brings a lot to the show.


12. Rintarou Okabe

Rintarou Okabe from Steins;Gate anime

Anime: Steins;Gate

Despite seeming completely delusional at first glance, Steins;Gate’s main character is actually quite sane – even if acting like the mad scientist Hououin Kyouma doesn’t let that come through.

The irony of the situation is how, against all odds, he ends up falling right where he pretended he was.

His lab creates a mad scientist-level invention, which makes him a target for a dark organization. So he’s always sneaking around and fighting for his life.

This interplay between Okabe’s delusions, and the crazy reality he slowly falls into, adds much to the whole sense of disinformation felt throughout the show.


11. Tsubasa Hanekawa

Tsubasa Hanekawa in Monogatari Series

Anime: Monogatari Series

Bakemonogatari is a fantastic anime with some seriously fleshed-out characters.

Among the girls, Tsubasa is by far my favorite.

She seems like the sanest person in the entire series at surface level – but that’s far from the truth.

In fact, she’s just repressing most negative feelings not to be a nuisance to others (due to her upbringing and current family situation not being the best).

This makes her a great target for oddities. Which leads to the birth of Black Hanekawa and Kako.

It’s only by assimilating them and accepting herself during the Tsubasa Tiger ark that she can solve this.


10. Subaru

Subaru from Re:Zero anime

Anime: Re:Zero

Some of the best characters are those that show us the worst aspects of our own personalities, in a person that manages to deal with them and achieve happiness.

None of us have problems stemming from being transported to another world.

But Subaru is still defined by very normal feelings like anxiety, selfishness, and the fear of not being good enough.

His fall from being super-enthusiastic about this new world to total emotional breakdown through countless repetitions and brutal deaths is 100% believable.

And we can’t help but deeply care about Subaru’s fate.


9. Holo

Holo Spice & Wolf anime screenshot

Anime: Spice & Wolf

Holo shines as a character thanks to her incredibly human personality, despite being a seemingly immortal god.

She’s selfish, impulsive, and entitled.

But isolation can really mess with your personality.

She spent countless years serving as the harvest goddess of a tiny village, where she was slowly forgotten and set aside as time went by.

This left her with some serious separation anxiety, and a paradoxical personality that hides her weakness under a thin layer of pride and haughtiness.

She continuously succumbs to pushing Lawrence away because she intuitively foresees the pain of inevitably losing him in the future.


8. Kira Yoshikage

Kira Yoshikage in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable

Anime: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable

Kira Yoshikage is, in a way, the perfect psychopath.

It’s not that some childhood trauma changed his perception of the world and turned him into a killer, but that he was always a little different than the other kids.

If you separate him from his heinous acts, he really is just a normal person pursuing the nice things in life.

But the one thing that’s not normal about him, also makes him a serial-killing monster.

His strange normalcy makes him a very relatable character. And you might even find yourself rooting for him as you watch the show.

And he’s a fantastic villain in general.


7. Shogo Makishima

Shogo Makishima from Psycho-Pass anime

Anime: Psycho-Pass

Shogo Makishima is one of the best-written anime villains of the past few years.

He’s the key to unraveling the mystery and moral implications of the Sybil System, and he’s a fantastic foil to Enforcer Shinya Kogami.

In a way, he’s a byproduct of the system.

Realizing the Sybil System couldn’t properly judge him, Shogo became isolated from society.

He felt invisible and became obsessed with overthrowing the system that erased him.

As the main antagonist of the first season of Psycho-Pass, he makes a fair case for dismantling the Sybil System, even if his methods aren’t the most civil.


6. Akane Tsunemori

Akane Tsunemori in Psycho-Pass

Anime: Psycho-Pass

In contrast to Makishima Shogo, Inspector Akane Tsunemori is sort of the Sybil System’s golden girl – at least when it comes to her psycho-pass color.

It’s always a healthy bright hue in the entirety of the series – meaning she’s far from becoming a latent criminal.

What distinguishes the two is that Akane isn’t impossible to judge.

She just has extreme mental fortitude that keeps her from straying from what she believes to be justice.

She sticks to her justice as she grows from her initial child-like naiveté, into a bad-ass who questions everything.

Her entire existence stands as an affront against everyone who’s been corrupted by society and perpetuates its cruelty to oppose it.

She doesn’t need to hurt anyone to live her truth.


5. Guts

Guts from Berserk anime

Anime: Berserk

The protagonist behind the brutal story of Berserk is a complex character that explores how trauma can affect someone’s personality.

The Black Swordsman had a difficult childhood filled with violence and shady characters.

He even had to kill his father figure after he sold Guts to a fellow mercenary. An event that would scar him for life.

The hard world of Berserk has made Guts into a hotpot of past traumatic experiences far worse than the average villain origin story – and yet, he keeps moving forward and fighting to protect those he cares about.


4. Deishuu Kaiki

Deishuu Kaiki in Bakemonogatari

Anime: Bakemonogatari

Kaiki is probably my favorite character in Bakemonogatari, thanks to his hilariously bleak outlook on life and unique personality.

He’s cynical, mischievous, and literally makes a living using subterfuge and manipulation to his advantage.

This has given him a really unique view of the world, which we get to explore at length during Koimonogatari.

With Kaiki as a narrator, things play out quite differently than they do from Araragi’s perspective.

The way it’s represented visually in the anime – like Senjougahara’s disguise looking like a big plastic nose with a funny mustache and glasses – is also fantastic.


3. Shinji Ikari

Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion

Anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Evangelion’s storyline was profoundly influenced by psychoanalysis and Freudian concepts.

And the old Sigmund would probably find Shinji Ikari to be a fascinating character.

The pilot of the EVA-01 reflects the indecisive adolescent self we all house somewhere deep within us.

He avoids responsibility and often shrinks away from his problems before somehow being forced to face them.

His emotional fragility makes him retract into a bubble, unless something major pulls him to action.

One of his main motivations to actually get in the robot is to get his father’s appreciation, something Freud spoke about at length. Gendo Ikari was clearly a fan, as he exploited his son’s psyche like a master of puppets.


2. Eren Yeager

Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan anime

Anime: Attack on Titan

Eren may not be the most well-liked anime protagonist. But he’s definitely well-written.

His obsession with defeating “the enemy” and violent way of interacting with the world, all explores the birth of megalomaniac monsters.

This is made doubly interesting once we see the influence that housing the Attack Titan actually had on his psyche.

Once he’s fully connected to the Eldian hive-mind, Eren himself understands this. And chooses to actively become an avatar of the Attack Titan’s will, so to speak.

This transformation is hinted at subtly throughout the series, so the reveal packs a punch.


1. Watashi

Watashi in Tatami Galaxy anime

Anime: Tatami Galaxy

Watashi is written in a way that makes him embody all of those not-so-good parts about ourselves that we try to ignore and laugh off.

He’s a bit of an asshole.

But he’s an asshole in the same way we’re all assholes.

His fear of failure, anxiety, and sometimes his extreme worries about appearances (and his concept of a “rosy campus life”) cause him to hurt those around him.

And primarily himself.

The way he slowly comes to the realization that he’s become stuck in time, weighing the possibilities of his university-life decisions, is the moment he can finally set himself free by making a choice and sticking with it.

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Nelson Chitty

Nelson Chitty is a Venezuelan expat living in Argentina. He’s a writer and translator passionate about history and foreign cultures. His ideal weekend is spent between leisurely playing games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.