The theme of sadness is fairly omnipresent in almost every anime. However, some anime like to take it even further by introducing characters who are primarily defined by one thing: their own inherent sadness.
These characters have a solemn air about them and pain clearly hidden behind their eyes. They also often tend to have some tragic backstories and tear-jerking moments. In short, they exist to remind us that it’s okay to feel negative emotions sometimes.
Depending on the show you’re watching, these characters and their depression could be turned into a running gag. Or, conversely, they could become poignant vessels for exploring this dark – yet very real – human emotion.
Today, I’ll be taking a deep dive into the world of anime to find you some of the more profound sad anime boy characters, each of whom I believe captures the different shades of sadness perfectly. Be prepared to shed some tears!
What Qualifies Someone As a Sad Anime Boy Character?
When we think of a sad anime boy, it’s usually a character who has undergone a traumatic incident that has left them feeling some variation of:
The truth is, though, that sadness has many varying degrees to it. Furthermore, each and every one of us showcases it in different ways, so it can be fairly difficult to fine-tune a definition of who a sad person is.
For this list, in particular, I settled on looking at characters who are canonically sad or depressed for a majority of the show’s episodes. Since this list is focused exclusively on sad characters, I wanted to take a look at shows that are focused on representing this emotion to its deepest nuances.
The characters in this list were included based on:
- How long their sadness lasted in the show. I wanted characters who were sad for at least one season. That way, the whole experience of being depressed could be explored in greater depth.
- The overall quality of the writing. I wanted to see how well depression and intrusive thoughts (and their other aspects, such as their effects on one’s self-esteem) were portrayed on screen.
- I also looked for variety. Because of that, I tried to include characters with varied experiences and responses to the misfortune they faced. I wanted to see how that led them to become the way they are.
Important: Remember That It’s Always Okay To Ask For Help
A far disclaimer before I begin, I wanted to take this opportunity to gently remind you that sadness is a real, human emotion. It’s something that we all feel from time to time. What’s important, though, is that we learn from it and overcome it.
Watching the struggles of a sad anime boy can be therapeutic, but if you find yourself feeling sad more often than you’d like, it’s alright to ask for help. No matter how small or insignificant you might think your troubles are, talking it out with a qualified therapist will help you gain a deeper insight into your own mind.
In turn, hopefully, you can emerge on the other side feeling better than ever before. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, period. Even if you’re not entirely sure if you need it or not, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and send out feelers to friends or trained professionals.
Now, let’s dive into the tragic anime world of sad male protagonists. Keep your tissue boxes ready, friends!
A Spoiler Warning!
A brief warning before I begin: there might be some heavy spoilers ahead, so please skip over the shows and movies you plan on watching in the future. Also, since I am talking about sad characters, there will be mention of some topics that could be triggering. Please use your own discretion before proceeding.
Shoya Ishida (A Silent Voice)
One of the most impactful movies dealing with the themes of guilt, depression, the effects of bullying – and how they carry into adulthood, and the emotional toll that people with disabilities suffer from – is the 2016 movie, A Silent Voice.
While each character in the movie has emotional troubles that they’re battling, the movie brought to us an incredibly real and fleshed-out sad anime boy in the form of Shoya Ishida. Ishida started out as a little boy who bullied a deaf girl in grade school. In turn, he became a bullying victim himself after his antics were discovered.
We see the once playful Ishida grow into a depressed high schooler bearing the burden of what he did to the little girl back in grade school. Moreover, he suffers from crippling depression and anxiety that once led him to almost take his own life. This has left him unable to look people in the eye any longer.
A Silent Voice takes us on a journey of witnessing Ishida grow as a person and finally overcome his guilt and inhibitions. It’s a heartwarming (and also ultra-tearjerking) tale of friendship, kindness, and healing, and deals with the themes of depression with utmost sincerity.
Jinta “Jintan” Yadomi and Atsumu “Yukiatsu” Matsuyuki (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day)
Anohana is arguably one of the most heartfelt and tear-jerking shoujo anime of all time, and it’s labeled so for all the right reasons. The series looks at the guilt of our childhood actions carrying over to adulthood and shows the repercussions of trauma that hasn’t been healed.
At its core, however, Anohana is mostly a tragically beautiful tale of a group of friends who – despite their differences and personal issues – love each other very much. Going back on the track of sad boys, though, Anohana is fundamentally about the experiences and journey of Jintan.
Once a happy and bright little boy, Jintan’s world flips upside down after witnessing the death of his childhood friend and crush Menma. He blames himself for it, becoming a recluse. Jintan skips school, stays home playing video games all day, and doesn’t find the strength in himself to live normally as he once did.
Although he has many people around him who deeply care for him, he chooses to live in the past and refuses to emotionally let go of what happened. Contrasting him almost completely is Yukiatsu, a childhood friend of Jintan and Menma.
While Jintan seems to have let go of everything, Yukiatsu instead pours himself into his studies. He emerges as one of the brightest students in his grade, availing an admission into an elite high school whose entrance exam Jintan fails.
In a twisted turn of events, however, we find out that Yukiatsu is still completely distraught over Menma’s death. Rather, he only steels through with his strong front and an image of being successful.
He still keeps a sundress identical to the one Menma was wearing the day she died and goes out into the forest wearing those and a wig pretending to be Menma’s spirit. We also find out that he blames herself for Menma’s death as he was the last person to speak to her before she died.
Both these characters embody different versions of trauma, and being two characters whose arcs were major focal points in the show, their stories were very different yet equally moving as we watched them unfold.
Yes, both characters suffer a lot, there’s no question about that. But Jintan punishes himself for it by denying the things that bring him happiness, and Yukiatsu pretends that he is strong and has moved on, letting his guilt and trauma fester inside him.
Kousei Arima (Your Lie in April)
Your Lie In April is a tearjerker on multiple levels, one where just when you think that things are starting to get a little better, a twist is all it takes to snatch the happiness away. The story starts through the bleak, monochromatic lens of a prodigious classical pianist Kousei Arima.
However, unlike other prodigies, it has been years since Arima has touched the piano. In fact, he resents it to the point where playing the piano gives him anxiety and makes him feel as though he’s drowning.
The events kick in with Arima’s mother dying, which leaves him with deep trauma, one he is unable to recover from until much later. Arima was trained harshly by his mother to play as perfectly as possible so that he could win competitions.
After losing his ability to play perfectly, he spirals downwards, considering himself to be worthless. It’s pretty apparent that at this point that Kousei is quite depressed and has pretty much no one who can help him overcome his trauma and regain his love for music.
However, things take a turn when it comes to the fun-loving and rather reckless Kaori Miyazono. Her unique melodies and perspective on music and life in general help Kousei get back to playing the piano.
The two get close in the process, and before he knows it, Kousei realizes he’s in love with Kaori. However, he can’t quite reveal his feelings to her because of her apparent lingering feelings towards her ex-boyfriend, who happens to be Ryota.
Before his relationship with Kaori can progress, however, an ugly truth surfaces: Kaori doesn’t have much time left because her illness has worsened. This propels Arima to become stronger and help the girl who was once his source of motivation.
The anime is sure to get into your feels, especially if you’re into music or are a sucker for romance anime in general. Be aware, though, that things will get terribly sad and you are going to shed some actual tears when you watch this anime.
Kakeru Naruse (Orange)
Orange brings us another heartwarming tale about the power of friendship and human connections – as well as a sad anime boy who will make all of us shed some tears. The story involves two main characters:
- Naho Takamiya: A high schooler, from which the perspective of this anime is shown
- Kakeru Naruse: A severely depressed teen struggling to find the will to live and be happy after his mother’s suicide
Kakeru blames himself because he wasn’t there for his mother when she needed him most, causing her to commit suicide. It’s also hinted that the two had a falling out before his mother’s death, which only adds to his guilt.
Kakeru immensely struggles to resume his normal life. Moreover, being in a new school, his social dynamics have also changed and he finds it difficult to allow new and unfamiliar people into his life, no matter how warm they are to him.
In a timeline during the beginning of the show, Kakeru is unable to take it anymore and decides to end his life. Tragically, after a series of untold truths and unconfessed feelings, his friends are too late to help him.
Each member of the friend group is left with a lot of guilt and a sense of responsibility for his death. So, they decide to write letters to their past selves in hopes that in an alternate timeline, they’ll be able to save Kakeru and act the way they previously weren’t able to.
Throughout the series, each character struggles to get out of their comfort zone and follow their future self’s instructions. The anime will make you rethink all your decisions and make you wonder what would’ve happened if you had done those things you weren’t able to back in the day.
The anime leaves you with the message that you’re better off without having regrets about the thing you could’ve done. It reinforces the understanding that the future is always a blank canvas and, if your gut tells you to do something, it’s probably for the best.
As uncomfortable and thought-provoking as it is though, it leaves you with a sweet resolve to help you forgive yourself, and it relays a simple message of not being afraid to express kindness when your heart pulls you towards it. Ultimately, you’ll eventually be glad you did it.
Eren Yeager (Attack on Titan)
Attack on Titan is probably the most noteworthy anime of the past decade. With the highly anticipated final season already on air, I’m sure that this anime will be remembered for decades to come.
AOT is all about:
- Its unique story
- Iconic and lovable characters
- The remarkably choreographed action sequences
- Levi Ackerman (the squad captain)
- And, more recently, Eren Yeager (the main protagonist)
Eren’s journey has been a really unique one, quite different from any other mainstream shōnen protagonist. He’s never had it easy, with even the series starting out with Eren witnessing his mother get eaten by a Titan. Deeply traumatized by this event, he swore to kill every single Titan there is.
However, his journey is riddled with extreme grief and loss. He loses many people whom he loved, and people who loved him. But having the truth of his world and existence turned around and having the dark secrets behind his family revealed were quite enough to give him some psychological scars for a lifetime.
It is quite obvious that with all the things he has been through, Eren becomes extremely depressed in the later seasons. He is desperate, vengeful, and filled with wrath against the people who have been oppressing him to the core.
Watching the young boy with bright, shimmering eyes that Eren once was turned into an empty shell of a person will really tug at your heartstrings. No doubt, you’ll grow to appreciate Hajime Isayama’s work on a much deeper level.
Izumi Miyamura (Horimiya)
Horimiya is the hottest new addition to the romance anime genre. The show is peak comedy, complete with a really charming cast of characters. Among them, the male protagonist Izumi Miyamura definitely takes the cake for probably being the show’s most popular character.
Although the show is pretty light-hearted, it features some hard-hitting themes, and Miyamura embodies a lot of these aspects of the show. Most of it is caused by his extremely tragic backstory, one that scars him deeply and leaves him with crippling issues of self-worth.
From the get-go, Miyamura starts out as a little bit of an introvert and is bullied in junior school because of this. The bullying leads to him becoming wary of people, and he even starts contemplating whether his life is worth living.
He finds solace in tattoos and piercings, but since they aren’t allowed in school, he assumes the identity of a hostile otaku with long hair that covers his whole face when he’s at school. Outside, he feels more like himself by wearing clothes that freely show his tattoos, and ties his hair up to show his piercings.
Despite all of this, Miyamura’s experiences as a child leave him scarred and he is afraid to approach people. He remains isolated even when he gets into high school, and strange rumors about him being gloomy, nerdy, anti-social, and rather strange.
Although this is the complete opposite of his true self, Miyamura does nothing to open up to them, fearing that they’ll treat him the way his bullies did back then. Things change, however, when he meets Kyouko Hori, they quickly bond over their inhibitions and become friends.
They fall in love pretty fast, too, but Miyamura is afraid of letting her know about his feelings since he feels that Kyouko would never like someone like him. He also doesn’t want to lose his new friend Ishikawa, who has a very obvious crush on Kyouko.
As the series progresses, you can see Miyamura grow out of his shell and learn to let people in once again. He learns that he’s worthy of the love he wants too, and his journey of acceptance – both of himself and his peers – is a heartwarming journey and is sure to leave you feeling a lot more optimistic.
Kaneki Ken (Tokyo Ghoul)
Tokyo Ghoul is one of the most well-known anime series out there and is an introductory series for many fans, too. With its rich legacy, you can only expect it to have some memorable characters and feature incredible character growth too.
There’s nobody else who can embody that statement more than the series’ protagonist, Kaneki Ken. Kaneki started out as a kind young man, shy and reserved, with only his books by his side. He had a non-confrontational approach to life, often getting taken advantage of because of this.
He was heavily influenced by his mother’s beliefs and became terribly lonely and afraid of losing the people in his life after she died. Kaneki was only 10 years old then. After being turned into a ghoul against his will, Kaneki became extremely depressed, often expressing his hatred towards his ghoul side and refusing to eat meat.
As he grew more used to his new identity, however, he still felt stuck, unable to figure out his identity as a half-ghoul. After a traumatic experience of being tortured brutally, Kaneki realized that his ideology of being hurt instead of the one who hurts others would never be able to get him far.
He had to assume a new persona, one that was much more cruel and violent than the gentle side he used to have. He had to twist his moral code and become someone he truly wasn’t, just to live amongst his new peers in this strange new world and protect the ones he loves.
Ultimately, Kaneki felt like he didn’t belong anywhere and desperately tried to fit in. His whole journey is about self-acceptance and not losing a part of him to strengthen another, and you’ll be sure to love every minute of it.
Shoto Todoroki (My Hero Academia)
My Hero Academia doesn’t fall short of depressing character backstories. We already know about Izuku’s struggles about being a quirkless boy and getting bullied because of it as a child. But there’s another set of characters in the show with some really heartbreaking backstories, and they’re the Shoto brothers:
- Shoto Todoroki
- Toya Todoroki
Toya is Shoto’s oldest brother, and he is popularly known as the supervillain Dabi. One can say that both Shoto and Toya’s tragedies began from the day they were born as children of Enji Todoroki, or Endeavor. His obsession with creating the new Number 1 led to him seeing his children merely as their quirks.
Toya didn’t have the quirk his father wanted, which led to him pressuring himself to the point where he actually wound up losing himself. His scars and immense hatred for both his father and younger brother led him to become Dabi, a villain who only wishes to exact revenge on his family for mistreating him.
Meanwhile, Shoto was the favorite child with a desirable quirk, but his father only pressured him further. He didn’t have the perfect childhood, either, as his father constantly forced him to train and isolated him from his other siblings.
But perhaps one of the saddest moments of his childhood was when his mother poured boiling water over him because he had started resembling his father too much. This left him with a permanent scar on his face.
Both Shoto and Toya were victims of Endeavor’s abuse. What makes their story even sadder though, is the fact that they genuinely loved each other when they were children… but their paths led them to a clash in the end.
Tomoya Okazaki (Clannad: After Story)
Clannad: After Story is one of the saddest anime out there, and it simply exists to make you cry – especially if you’re a Clannad fan. The series follows the two main characters from Clannad, the lovebirds Tomoya and Nagisa a few years after they’ve graduated high school.
Early in the story, Nagisa becomes pregnant. However, the married couple’s happiness is short-lived, because it is soon revealed that Nagisa has a rare illness and will probably not be able to survive the birth of her child. Tomoya quits his job and starts caring for Nagisa, whose illness seems to get worse with every passing day.
As anticipated, Nagisa dies quickly after her daughter, Ushio, leaving a distraught Tomoya behind. Tomoya becomes extremely depressed and, as the years pass, his relationship with his daughter only falters. Ushio seems quite distant from him, as well.
When the two head out for a trip to visit Tomoya’s grandmother, a series of events encourage Tomoya to become a more caring father for Ushio. Just when their relationship seems to improve, however, tragedy strikes again.
Ushio is diagnosed with the same rare illness as her mother. Tomoya cares for her as her health falters, and even takes her out to play in the snow. While playing, however, Ushio’s condition becomes worse and she dies in her father’s arms.
Tomoya, unable to bear this, passes out in the snow as well, and it is hinted that he died alongside Ushio there. If you want to cry uncontrollably throughout every episode of an anime, Clannad: After Story is precisely the anime you need.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: There are plenty of sad anime characters out there who have their own struggles they deal with. If there’s one character that I’d have to label as the saddest, though, that would be Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan.
Eren’s world was flipped multiple times, and he had to endure hell, losing many people whom he held very dear to him. He had to watch his own parents and friends die before his very eyes and had his beliefs shattered, growing up to become a broken yet strong man. Overall, his journey and growth were a very depressing ordeal.
Answer: Tomoya Okazaki from Clannad has to be one of the most broken-hearted anime characters. I truly feel the pain and emotional and mental turmoil he has to go through, not only losing the love of his life but the only person who brought some form of joy to him after her passing – his daughter.
What’s even sadder is that since they both had the same illness, Tomoya could only watch helplessly as their health deteriorated and the cycle kept on repeating itself. He had to watch the both of them die right in front of him, with his daughter dying in his very arms. The amount of heartbreak and regret this one man had to go through is unimaginable.
Answer: Most characters have had their moment of pure suffering, but Kaneki Ken, Eren Yeager, and Izuku Midoriya are three iconic characters who have had it really rough. Let’s go ahead and break down the exact reasons why:
Kaneki not only had a rough childhood, but his terrible experience of becoming a half-ghoul and getting kidnapped and tortured was truly painful to watch.
Meanwhile, Eren’s journey of finding freedom at the cost of his loved ones and the mental and physical strain he had to go through was astronomical.
Midoriya’s experience of being a lonely little boy who could never achieve tugged at our heartstrings, and the countless grueling hours of training and painful injuries that he suffered from are enough to humble anybody.
Answer: An underrated but extremely painful anime death was that of Gin in Hotarubi no Mori e. The death was absolutely crushing, especially because we saw Gin finally opening up and expressing his wish to finally be happy with the person he loves. Hotaru was also so close to finishing school and moving closer to the forest so that she could be with Gin.
However, in a cruel twist of fate, Gin was fatally reminded of how delicate his existence was. Our only consolation lies in the happy memories he made with Hotaru and how he went to touch her before he completely disappeared. And no, we’ll never forgive that kid.
Answer: If you’re in the mood for a tearful movie night, we’d definitely recommend starting out with A Silent Voice. If the anime’s sad premise wasn’t enough, things only get sadder as you follow the story because the writers are simply amazing at showcasing the non-linear process of healing.
If you want a more subtle, sad, and romantic anime, though, 5 Centimeters Per Second might be perfect for you. The story also ends on a realistic yet sad note, and will definitely leave you with an aching heart.
Answer: Your Lie In April is extremely sad. Starting out with the themes of anxiety, depression, and self-loathing, the series throws in a cruel twist of one of the main characters being terminally ill just when things start looking up.
The ending is a bittersweet one, but all the events that lead to it are bound to make you shed some tears. Be sure to have plenty of tissues on hand when you decide to watch this one.
My Final Thoughts
Sad or tearjerker anime is a subgenre of its own because hey, people like to cry sometimes, too. There’s something incredibly cathartic about it, and there’s always something that you can take away from a series – whether it has a happy, a sad, or even a bittersweet ending.
These anime sad boys bring a healthy (and sometimes even an unhealthy) amount of sadness to their respective series. If I had to pinpoint one of them as the best sad boy character there is, it would be quite hard, simply because sadness simply cannot be measured.
Purely out of our personal bias, we’ll nominate Shoya Ishida from A Silent Voice as the ultimate best sad boy anime character. His journey of battling his guilt while trying to learn to accept and forgive himself was a beautiful and painful experience that I don’t want anyone to miss out on.
Whether you agree with our final pick or not, I sincerely hope that these characters are able to fill the void in your heart or help you learn something new about life. Happy watching – and of course, bawling your eyes out!
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