Who are the best anime characters of all time? Anime has made us cry, laugh, and scream a number of times. While the stories and worlds do play a part in this medium’s overall appeal, let’s be honest, the reason we love anime the way we do is thanks to all of the memorable characters we have met over the years on our screens.
From the loveable fighters of the best anime series to the charming sweethearts in romance anime, there are plenty of stellar protagonists and animated villains who’ve captured our hearts and are firmly stuck in our memories. But, in the vast sea of content, franchises, and sagas, who is the best of the best in this genre?
While everyone has their personal favorites, we here at The Digital Fix have consulted the anime gods to answer that big question. Leaving none of the best shows or best anime movies unwatched, we’ve put our faves to the test to see who takes the crown. So take a seat, relax, and enjoy! Here is our list of the best anime characters of all time.
17. Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop)
OK, let’s get this straight: few series are as cool as Cowboy Bebop. So it shouldn’t shock you to learn that its protagonist is downright smooth and has earned a place on our list. If charm was a person, it would be Spike Spiegel, the space bounty hunter with a big appetite and a mysterious backstory.
When we first meet Spike, he does appear to be our typical kind of shounen hero. He is hyper-focused on a hotdog, is bubbly, and loves a good fight. However, as Cowboy Bebop unravels and we learn more of his backstory, this character reveals a depth no one expected. Here is a man haunted by the ghost of his past, who has loved, lost, been betrayed, and double-crossed those around him.
As you watch the series, you’ll be faced with the reality of Spike’s true nature and join him as he confronts a well of trauma and longing. Spike is a prime example of never judge a book by its pilot episode, and we love him for it.
16. Shoko Komi (Komi Can’t Communicate)
Komi is one of the newer characters on our list. However, despite her anime only debuting in 2021, she has successfully captured all our hearts. Heroes in TV (anime or otherwise) tend to be loud extroverts who befriend everyone they meet.
However, Komi is a rare protagonist who is devastatingly shy. Although she is praised as the stoic beauty of her class and admired by her peers, Komi is extremely lonely and struggles to speak with others due to a severe communication disorder. Completely unaware of her popularity, she is lacking in self-confidence but is still determined to make friends.
Komi constantly tries her best, facing her social fears with every episode. Her bravery and determination to connect are heartwarming, and it is impossible not to cheer her on. Anxiety and fear are something everyone has faced, and seeing Komi constantly brave her biggest fears makes her one of the most resilient and likable characters in media today.
15. Shotaro Kaneda (Akira)
Shotaro Kaneda, aka the iconic guy with the red motorbike from Akira, may seem an odd pick for this list considering his impetuous attitude and criminal past, but Kaneda’s rough exterior belies a sensitive soul who wants the best for his fellow gang members, The Capsules. When you combine his empathetic personality with his undeniable style, you’ve got a recipe for a pretty awesome anime character.
14. Ichigo Kurosaki (Bleach)
Ichigo Kurosaki started off like so many Shounen anime protagonists when he was blessed (or cursed) with the incredible power of a Shinigami. Still unlike his contemporaries Naruto and Luffy (Both of whom sought power for their own ends), Ichigo is motivated almost purely out of a sense of bravery and selflessness, which makes his battles against the likes of Aizen and the other Bleach villains all the more entertaining.
13. Ash’s Pikachu (Pokémon)
Pikachu, we choose you! Of all the Pokémon Ash Ketchum caught as he battled to become a Pokémon Master (Whatever that means), none have been as loyal as Pikachu.
That said, the incredibly powerful electric mouse and Ash didn’t get off on the best foot, and it took a Spearow attack for the two to get over their mutual dislike, but since then, they’ve formed an unbreakable bond. It’s apt then that it was Pikachu who took down Leon’s mighty Charizard to win Ash his first World Championship Trophy.
12. Naruto Uzumaki (Naruto)
Whatever your thoughts on Naruto as a series, it’s undeniable that Naruto Uzumaki is one of the greatest modern anime characters of all time. He’s basically Goku for kids who grew up in the 2000s (He’s even got the same orange jumpsuit), complete with a love for battle, a cheerful attitude, and a tendency to turn his enemies into friends.
Unlike Goku, though, Naruto wasn’t born a prodigy. He had to work hard to become strong and become Hokage, all of which made watching Naruto go from an inexperienced student to a literal god an incredibly satisfying experience. If you’ve never seen it, check out how to watch Naruto in order here, or we have a guide listing our favorite Naruto characters here.
11. Saitama (One-Punch Man)
Saitama’s not your typical anime protagonist. Unlike his counterparts, Saitama isn’t trying to become the strongest fighter, King of the Pirates, or a god of some kind. All he’s trying to do is relieve his boredom for a bit.
You see, Saitama’s what happens when the lead of a shounen anime series achieves their ultimate dream before their series even begins. Specifically, in Saitama’s case, he achieved his dream of becoming the strongest being in the universe, and now he can defeat any enemy with a single punch.
The only problem with that is that without an enemy to challenge him, Saitama’s incredibly bored. Maybe when the One-Punch Man season 3 release date rolls around, Saitama will finally find someone to challenge him… but we doubt it.
10. Monkey D Luffy (One Piece)
Listen, when it comes to your typical shounen anime type, you can’t do much better than the aspiring king of the pirates, Monkey D. Luffy. The rubber-limbed One Piece character is packed with charm thanks to his constant smile, big appetite, and love for fighting. But once you pull back his straw hat, you will see that Monkey D Luffy offers so much more than what could be mistaken as a simple-minded protagonist.
At his core, Luffy is a testament to determination and willfulness. Constantly seeking to improve and fulfill his dreams, he’s a character you can easily get behind and cheer for.
He has gone through loss and extreme heartache, but despite every obstacle thrown his way, he always manages to survive and keeps pushing on. There’s a reason why One Piece is so beloved and hasn’t grown stale after its 1000-plus episodes, and it’s thanks to this leading man.
9. Asuka (Neon Genesis Evangelion)
Now, there is no denying that Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of, if not the, best anime series of all time. But when it comes to the best characters in the show, Asuka just takes the cake. Yes, I know many of you are probably giving me a Shinji scream right now for saying that, but hear me out.
Asuka is one of the most relatable characters on the show, constantly striving for validation, purpose and a meaningful connection. She is also a constant source of conflict, making each episode exciting and pushing Shinji into action without fail. Asuka also comes with a deep backstory that feeds into her psychologically complex characterization and, to be frank, just has one of the best character arcs on TV.
Love or find her annoying, facts are facts, and when it comes to irreplaceable protagonists, Neon Genesis’s significance wouldn’t be what it is today without her.
8. Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)
What? Vegeta is on this list, but not Goku? Yes, you read right; the Prince of the Saiyans and widow-peak icon Vegeta did manage to beat Kakarot at something! Goku may be the heart of the Dragon Ball franchise, but he is a character with few flaws. On the other hand, Vegeta is prideful, constantly angry, and has an inferiority complex. In short (no pun intended), he makes for quality entertainment.
First, he was a villain who we all loved to hate, and then he turned into a frenemy who never failed to make us smile with his brash personality. Since his big debut in Dragon Ball, Vegeta is a Dragon Ball Z character that proved himself to be unforgettable and basically irreplaceable to the formula of the show.
Seeing his constant battle to surpass Goku and all his failures pile up makes every win he receives sweeter and more monumental than most of the elaborate fight scenes in the series. So yeah, we here at The Digital Fix are big fans.
7. Levi Ackerman (Attack on Titan)
Putting Levi Ackerman on this list of the best anime characters of all time should come as a shock to no one, given his overwhelming popularity and fanbase. Yes, the Levi love may be partly fueled by some thirsty anime fans who can overlook him being a killing machine (you do, you boo), but let’s not forget that what truly makes Levi stand out in Attack on Titan isn’t his looks or cool demeanor.
Everyone can’t stop singing Levi’s praises, thanks to his complex backstory and intriguing characterization. A true definition of an anti-hero, Levi is calculated, brutal, and a strategic mastermind who will forsake clear-cut morals if he must in order to pursue his goals.
Every fight he is in with a giant Titan is a brilliant spectacle to behold, and as you watch the show, it is easy to see how he represents the struggle humanity faces in opening up, trusting, and surviving in a post-apocalyptic and cruel world.
6. Nezuko Kamado (Demon Slayer)
While every Demon Slayer character has their merits, Nezuko stands as a powerful and tragic powerhouse. Turned into a demon after her family is slaughtered, Nezuko joins her brother Tanjiro on his quest to find a cure for her new affliction.
Although she doesn’t really speak much, Nezuko’s ability to overcome her demonic urges for the sake of love and family is nothing short of tear-jerking. She is constantly struggling to hang onto her humanity and will do anything to save the people she cares about. Every time Nezuko appears on the screen, you root for her, and every time she isn’t, you are waiting in anticipation for her next scene.
Also, can we appreciate how cool she is on a physical level? With her super strength and demonic power, Nezuko is a force to be reckoned with and has saved the butt of many an ally while also vanquishing every evil force in her wake.
5. L (Death Note)
While Light is an amazing protagonist in the anime series Death Note, one of the most intriguing and mysterious figures in the beloved show is the insomniac and no-shoes-wearing detective L. After Light, going by the name Kira, starts killing off morally corrupt people via supernatural means, L, a world-renowned mastermind, is brought onto the case and works to expose Light’s identity to the world.
If you haven’t noticed already, I have a soft spot for characters who offer a challenge and conflict to their stories, and oh boy, when it comes to the cat and mouse game seen in Death Note, L delivers on both drama and tension. Calm, eccentric, and every bit as smart as Light, L is incredibly likable, making viewers root for him despite him being the real protagonist’s enemy at the end of the day.
The best scenes in the series have L there, and no one can deny that this is the character who kept us all hooked.
4. Guts (Berserk)
Critically praised and known as one of the most iconic figures in both manga and anime, you know we couldn’t write a best-of list without including the beefy anti-hero of Berserk: Guts. When you first watch Naohito Takahashi’s horror anime Berserk, it’s easy to misjudge Guts as merely a violent fighter with a sharp jawline and a terrifying great sword.
But Guts is never what you assume him to be. The more you learn about him, the more he proves himself to be a deeply complex and existential character who has buckets of humanity, compassion, and willfulness left to spare. But what truly makes him stand out is how we see his personality change drastically as his story continues.
Every belief Guts has is challenged after each trial he faces, with his ideologies shifting and developing with his experiences. Oh, also, he was born from a corpse that was left hanging from a tree, which is pretty metal, so extra points!
3. Nobara Kugisaki (Jujutsu Kaisen)
Jujutsu Kaisen has established itself as a shounen anime must-watch. It’s packed with action, has a gripping story, and, most importantly, it has one of the best-written female characters in the subgenre yet. That’s right; we’re talking about Nobara, the grade 3 jujutsu sorcerer who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules.
While we see some typical tropes of the Shounen gal pal archetype come out with her brash attitude and love for her own appearance (and, of course, shopping!) Nobara ultimately breaks expectations and proves herself to be a unique individual first and foremost. She unapologetically likes what she likes, isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, and never backs down from a fight.
On an action level, Nobara has overshadowed every other protagonist multiple times, too, thanks to her intriguing weapons: a hammer and nails that can strike enemies with cursed energy. Nobara is ultimately a testament to breaking cliches and has no trouble stealing the spotlight.
2. Usagi (Sailor Moon)
Speaking of female anime characters, it is time to talk about every ’90s kid’s favorite animated show, Sailor Moon. Let’s start off by being frank, Usagi is a walking stereotype of femininity. She dreams of romance, her favorite class/ the only one she is good at is home economics, and she is a self-proclaimed crybaby too. But, we can forgive these eye-rolling traits, thanks to her growth and enduring nature in the series.
Usagi, once she realizes her power, becomes charming, funny, and oddly relatable. She’s a teenager who is forced into responsibility and must grow and develop into a badass leader as a result. Usagi’s likability has made her one of the most internationally recognized anime characters today and one of the most popular female superheroes.
She showed us that you can still be ultra-feminine while also kicking butt as a powerful warrior. Even while bawling her eyes out, Usagi has unquestionably cemented her name in history and on our list.
1. Lelouch Lamperouge (Code Geass)
Lelouch Lamperouge is the main protagonist of the action anime series Code Geass and is a character who you won’t be able to forget anytime soon. If you are a fan of Shakespeare or ancient Greek tragedies, his journey is one of the closest you’ll get to those experiences in anime form, period.
Like many other great figures in media, Lelouch has some daddy issues and a deep hatred for his royal family that ultimately drives him into the category of a dark anti-hero. When it comes to enemies, he is cruel to the tenth degree, but he is also the type of guy that will protect his loved ones at any cost.
Throughout Code Geass, we witness how Lelouch crafts himself into a symbol under the guise of Zero and learns how to manage a revolution and bring about world change. He is a mature yet tragic character whose downfall and poetic redemption are peak storytelling.
For more quality picks, here is our list of the best anime villains. For more on the small screen, be sure and check out our list of the best TV series ever made. Plus, to see what’s on the horizon, check out our guides to the Baki Hanma season 3 release date, Demon Slayer season 4 release date, and Uzumaki anime release date.