My 8 Favorite Anime Character Types
I did a list of anime character types I dislike. Tsunderes annoy me for being one-dimensional, androcentric, and for their bullying behavior. Bratty lolis also bother me. The protagonists of most shounen (teen boy demographic) shows are not my thing. An so on.
But what kind of characters do I actually like? Well, quite a few. I found it hilarious that someone would take the aforementioned list as evidence that I hate anime. Obviously there are types of anime characters I do like. Or I wouldn't spend so much time watching and writing about anime.
8. Otaku, Nerds, and NEETs
This is when anime has a little bit of fun at its own audience's expense. This character is either a teen or young adult, but they will either neglect school or work, or both, to play video games, read manga, watch anime, and/or take part in other stereotypical "nerdy" activities. Some may be closet otaku, like in Himouto! Umaru-chan, where the protagonist tries to keep up a facade of being a perfect, non-geeky, cute girl. Usually, they sometimes try to blend in with normal diurnal humans, and fail hilariously, as is often the case in Watamote.
- Geek interests (obviously).
- Social awkwardness/isolation. May have social anxiety and/or extreme discomfort with the opposite sex, or even discomfort around attractive members of the same sex.
- Usually has poor hygiene, bad sleep habits, and a less-than-spotless living space.
- Can be single-minded in their pursuit of something they're obsessed with, such as getting a certain score in a video game.
- Are usually bad at a lot of things outside their specific area of interest.
- May get poor grades, or miss a lot of school, but may also be just so darn good at school they don't need to study, or have great attendance, to keep their grades high.
Why I Like This Type
Well, you have to be able to laugh at yourself. Even though I like my intelligence, word wizardry, and I love all my geeky hobbies, I also realize I'm not perfect, because no one is. Seeing myself in these characters, albeit a comedic exaggeration of myself, is funny because I relate to it, and that keeps me grounded. It's also fun to me to see a socially awkward character learn something important about navigating difficult social situations. It makes me believe there is hope!
In more dramatic examples of this trope, like Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion or Subaru from Re:Zero, I see a struggle that's easy to relate to. I mean, everyone wants to be a big hero and be tough and reliable. But the thing is, not everyone can do that, no matter how hard they try sometimes. Characters like that help me figure out how to deal with things like weakness, failure, and fragility.
It might not always be pleasant to see a main character get his ass handed to him, but it shows how suffering builds character, and development doesn't happen instantly. Subaru from Re:Zero is about never giving up. Shinji is more about how it's normal and human to feel fear, sadness, and despair. The main difference is, Shinji doesn't really overcome his struggles, not until the very end of the series, but Subaru is determined to use his "return by death" power to become more competent and save the people that he loves. Subaru offers us one thing rarely seen in this type of character: hope.
7. Amazons and Action Girls
Whether she's muscle-bound or slender, I like girls who can swing a sword or give orders in a battlefield. I know it's kind of unrealistic to show small women wielding huge weapons, or take on guys much bigger and stronger than they are, but it's fun to watch. And as I'm a girl and somewhat physically fragile/sensitive, it's a form of escapist entertainment for me to admire characters like this.
- Does physical combat, is physically strong.
- May or may not have magical powers, but they augment her physical strength, rather than being a replacement for a lack thereof.
- Tough attitude, may be a 'tomboy', may use the boys' pronoun 'boku' when referring to herself. Ie, a masculine personality (usually, there are exceptions).
- Is sometimes paired with a wimpy male character whom she fiercely protects.
Why I Like This Type
There's something I find sexy about them, for one.
I also like it as a contrast against the perception that all women are dainty and helpless. This is exemplified by tropes like the 'damsel in distress', which shows women as passive victims in need of rescue by male heroes. Sometimes, that's fine. I'd never say all women need to rage at the sky while decapitating enemies. If all female characters were the same, it would be boring! And some female characters are more traditionally feminine (shy, modest, passive) without necessarily being badly written.
But, the badass action girl trope is a fantasy wish fulfilment for me.
Interesting Subversions/ Favorite Examples
My favorite example of this type is Ryuko Matoi. She's full of spunk, and not shy about her beef with authority, and never afraid to speak her mind.
Another example I really like is Motoko in Ghost in the Shell. She's perky, sassy, and almost always on the ball.
Rei Ayanami could be seen as a criticism of this type. Evangelion, being the show that it is, almost all the characters are examples of anime character types taken to dysfunctional extremes. In Rei Ayanami's case, she has the "fiercely protective" thing down. But she is protective of Gendo Ikari, a man so cold and abusive to so many other characters, but especially to his son Shinji, that this fiercely protective attitude towards him comes across as creepy.
Rei's "maternal Amazon" vibe is contrasted against her pale, sometimes lifeless, appearance and physical fragility. She seems to oscillate between being the damsel in distress (such as in the first episode, when her suffering is used to manipulate Shinji) and being a competent fighter who protects Shinji. This builds dimensionality to Rei's character type, by showing the vulnerability we rarely see in more straight examples of it. She has a complex relationship both with Gendo and with Shinji, sometimes the protector, sometimes the protected, sometimes defeated, sometimes strong.
The magical girl genre is noteworthy for the entire genre being about girls who fight, but without getting their sparkly pink skirts dirty or acting like a gutter-mouthed tomboy. This shows that girls can be feminine and pretty, and still fight evil and protect people. That whole genre is a subversion of, or alternative to, this trope.
6. Sexy Villains
As a bisexual, I have the fun of being drawn pretty equally to male and female versions of this trope. I love a villain who is having fun with it. High on the power, they have over others, they act so tough, dominant, and cool that you almost want to see them succeed. Some shows have silly or campy villains, like Team Rocket from Pokemon. Sailor Moon has the heroes and villains be sexy in different ways; the heroes tend to be cute and beautiful in an innocent way, whereas the villains are more sexualized and appear older and less innocent. This is also common in classic Disney stories like Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, where the "innocent young maiden" heroine is contrasted with the darker, and more sexual, femininity of the older female villain.
So there is a sexism issue with this trope, or at least the idea that female villains are usually coded as openly sexual, while female heroes rarely are. It's wrong to show sexy people, especially of the older or more exhibitionist/dominant/queer/promiscuous sort of sexy people, as entirely morally evil. But it remains that rarely are they morally good characters. There's a long history of portraying sexually open people as evil seducers, who are there to tempt people to sin, and possibly murder them, which implies that having any sort of sex drive makes you evil, or a sexual predator.
Why I Like This Type
For me, it's not all doom and gloom. I enjoy these characters primarily because they're fun. I also like the way these characters, though villainous, represent alternative, free, and open forms of sexuality, that are rarely allowed for heroic characters. Since villains are by definition outside boundaries set by normal society, they can be a little more experimental and deviant.
For example, in Kill La Kill, it's mostly only villainous characters that are shown indulging in sexual pleasures. Ryuko isn't comfortable with the skimpiness of the senketsu suit, which needs to show skin to be powerful. Similarly, part of the redemption of Satsuki's character is due to the fact that she doesn't enjoy dominating the school, but needs to and is being forced to by her molesty mommy, who is the real villain behind the villain. Said molesty mommy, the only character with an active sex drive, is also the most undeniably evil and reprehensible character in the show.
I really like Frank N. Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. You can see him as a gender minority icon, even if he is villainous. It's all in good fun! I have to say that I like Ragyo from Kill La Kill as well. She's horrifyingly evil and twisted, but she has a hell of a stage presence.
5. Magical Girls
Whether they're idols, mermaids, mermaids who are idols, princesses from another dimension, witches, or just regular little girls, I have a soft spot in my heart for this type. Maybe it's because some of my first anime were Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, which I saw on TV before I knew how anime was different from a regular western cartoon. I was impressed by how easy it was to relate to the characters in these shows.
In western media, women who use magic or have magical powers are often evil witches, cast as villains. For example, consider The Wizard of Oz. The main thing that separates Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the West is innocence and the fact that Dorothy does not use magic consciously, while the Witch consciously controls her powers, and that makes her a threat to the order of society that must be dealt with, ie, taken out. Wicked, which re-imagines the story from the witch's perspective, points out how unfair this is.
So it's great to me that anime does not seem to limit female characters in such a way. There's good magic and bad magic, and good people do good magic. In non-anime, magic is usually seen as devious and tricky, so it's almost always wielded by bad people for bad reasons (like how voodoo is portrayed in The Princess and the Frog). The closest thing to an exception is Cinderella, but even that is a use of magic that is deceptive, and the main character doesn't dirty her hands by wielding magic for herself. The cool thing is that more recently, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is taking a cue from magical girl anime and showing how magic is a tool girls can wield for themselves, not just something used by evil old witches.
A magical girl is a well-defined character type in anime.
- Princess theme or fairy tale motifs popular.
- Young, and embodies cultural ideals of purity and innocence in young girls.
- Feminine. We rarely see a tomboy magical girl. Even the most notable example, Haruka from Sailor Moon, is introduced as a Rival character, who is seen as suspicious and morally questionable, rather than a main hero, and still wears feminine attire as a magical girl. This shows that the character type is feminine, even if the personalities of individuals within the type are masculine.
- Female (with a few exceptions).
- Magical (duh), but her powers will rarely be the scary kind. They're most likely to be waves of sparkly, colorful energy, or elemental magic. NOT the kind of thing you'd see as a power in X-Men or some other adult-oriented, gritty sci-fi comic. (Is the title character from Stephen King's Carrie a magical girl?)
- Not only morally good, but a symbolic representation of moral goodness and purity.
Why I Like This Type
I kind of like how Puella Magi Madoka Magica has made it cooler these days to subvert the traditional magical girl tropes and to question the overarching narrative of the genre. But, I like the genre to begin with because it promotes true equality between the sexes. Women or young girls are not seen as less capable, less intelligent, or less competent because of their femininity. They are fighters and leaders, without having to either become masculine or rely on men too heavily to accomplish things. They show that femininity does not necessarily mean passivity or weakness. These shows also talk about the power of love and friendship, and show how people with diverse personalities can unite as a team to defeat evil. As someone who comes from a kind of lonely background, it's sort of wish fulfilment for me to see shows with squads of really close friends who really care strongly about each other. It makes me feel good.
Not just Sailor Moon, but other Sailor Scout characters, I like all of them (except for Chibi Moon). I like the Madoka characters, even though as a subversion, you don't see the happy togetherness that I like in more straight examples of a magical girl story. But as unique individuals, these characters really stand out.
4. Cute Ditzy or Clumsy Girls
This may seem like a sexist trope. When boys are clumsy or awkward, it's not seen as endearing, funny, or cute, but rather annoying, by audiences, most of the time. And doesn't this kind of romanticize weakness or fragility of some kind in women, but not in men? Well, I do happen to find it endearing and cute, at least in small doses. I like that not every female character has to be hyper-competent. I like when characters make mistakes. It makes them more human and feel more warm and approachable.
In anime, weaknesses like being clumsy, socially awkward, shy, or flaky are known as 'moe points', they make a girl cuter. You see this with certain female characters in western media too, such as Anna from Frozen. Something about our responses to these kinds of characters may be a biological "big sibling" drive to protect, support, and nurture people like this. It can be overdone, but I generally like characters like this. Because like I said, the alternative, a character who is just a mega badass, doesn't feel as realistic or human.
Millie from Trigun is a bit of a space cadet, but she radiates genuine humanity and warmth, and is admirable in her strength of willpower when she becomes determined to right wrongs.
Mey-Rin, the maid in Black Butler, is a charming bit of comedic relief. It's cute how clumsy she is, and how she has a crush on Sebastian that makes her adorably awkward around him.
Excel from Excel Saga is adorably clumsy and incompetent. Since the overall tone of the show is comedic, this works well.
3. "Older" Wild Women
I say "older" in quotation marks, because these characters are usually young adults, only considered "older" because they're adults in a show aimed at teenagers. Known as the cougar, the bottle fairy, the Christmas Cake (in Japan, a woman is considered "too old" for marriage and a loser if she's still single at age 25), etc.
This is an adult lady (in high school-oriented shows, it's usually a mother or teacher) who is single, wild, down to party, and who makes lewd comments and inappropriate innuendos to minors. This trope is often used for teachers in a comedy, ecchi, or harem show. The normal expectation for teachers is that they behave very strictly and professionally. So characters like this are a playful subversion of the usual expectation that teachers are unfunny, prudish, boring types who adhere to the rules at all cost.
Why I Like This Type
Rule of funny. Sure, it implies that if an "older" or even 25 year-old woman is single, it must mean because she's nuts,a raging alcoholic, or too hypersexual to have a monogamous relationship, I do find this character type funny. Maybe it's because I had to deal with so many uncool adults growing up that the "cool adults" were people I cherished very much. I always think highly of someone who manages to rebel against the role imposed on them by society. This lady is out of control and doesn't care what you think!
The lewd teacher from Mahoromatic is what, in my opinion, saves that show from being boring. She's so over the top! They have a similar character in DearS, but she is more disgusting and off-putting, and less funny, for some reason.
Misato from Evangelion is a character I like because I think she actually is a competent leader, despite acting this way, especially in the beginning of the show. She is perceived negatively because she lives in a culture of slut-shaming and shaming women for failing to live up to the standard of feminine domesticity. So again, thanks Evangelion for the fabulous deconstruction. I talk more about Misato here.
2. Badass Old People
Anime is heavily oriented towards teenagers. So it's fun when they not only include older people, but have them totally kick ass as well. Often, they are in the role of a teacher or mentor to the younger protagonist/s. It's so much fun when they show an old person who is underestimated by the villains because of their age, and then they open up a can of whoopass. Wee! Fun! That's so satisfying!
I love Genkai from YuYu Hakusho! The oldest and best-known examples are probably Master Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Master Roshi from the Dragon Ball franchise. I like them too. But to me, nobody compares with the lovably badass granny Genkai.
I don't like the "-dere" character types that much, because they're so often repeated, lack originality, and are defined in an androcentric way (by their relationship to or reaction to the male protagonist). BUT, I have a kind of soft spot for violent, insane girls. The yandere is basically an action girl with a screw loose somewhere. This character takes the idea of "protecting people you love" and distorts it to mean, obsess over a random guy (for like, literally no reason) and kill anyone you see as a threat to him, a threat to your relationship, or both. So you get cute little girls who rack up quite the kill count for someone who (usually) doesn't use a gun.
- They usually are small, cute, feminine, and have the aforementioned "moe points".
- They have Jekyll and Hyde personalities, that swing from being "moe" to being murderous and psychopathic, and back, very quickly.
- They are usually driven by lust or obsession with the male protagonist, and kill to eliminate love rivals, to protect their love interest, or both. Often their love is unrequited, and they think their murder-sprees will somehow make the person they crush on theirs or make him love them back.
Why I Like This Type
I'm fucked in he head.
Favorite Examples/ Interesting Subversions
Higurashi is a subversion because the girls in it murder, but not, as you may expect, for the love of the protagonist. It's because they're crazy.
Yuno Gasai from Mirai Nikki is the most well-known example, and I consider her one of the best. I like her because her insanity is fun to watch, and livens up a story with an otherwise dull and cliché anime plot (Battle Royale). I also like the way the art style changes so drastically to reflect her changing moods.