My 8 Least Favorite Anime Character Types
Anime sometimes suffers from characters being stereotypes that hit the same note over and over again. These characters lack the psychological complexity that makes characters interesting and human-feeling. In literature, these are called flat characters. They're seen as "2 dimensional" because they're not very life-like, much like how a sculpture of a person can look more real to us than a painted portrait. Like a sculpture, a "round" character is detailed to the audience from many different perspectives. The Joker from Batman is a round character, for example, because he is complex, changes over time, and can be interpreted in many ways. He's like a sculpture in the round, that can be seen in different ways from different angles.
Flat characters certainly have their place. Unimportant supporting characters don't need to be complicated to be effective, because their role in the narrative is more limited. A work of fiction can get kind of weighed down if it tries to make every character round (Les Miserables does this, for example, making the book excessively long). But, generally speaking, it's good for at least the main protagonists and antagonists to be round characters with a lot of complexity to their identity.
A bad flat character can often be a cliche or stereotype. In anime, there are numerous recurring character tropes. Sometimes, these can be used effectively and as stepping stones to creating interesting, dynamic, complex characters. Other times, they're just a hack's way of writing, making boring, unlikable characters that seem like a stack of tropes rather than an actual person we can sympathize with, or get to know in an organic way. If we know everything about a character in the first few seconds based on superficial details like their height, breast size, gender, hair color, eye color, hair style, clothing, eye shape, body language, and voice, it's probably not a very interesting character. And that kind of character instantly alienates the avid anime viewer from the show, because they recognize the cliche as cliche and realize quickly that these creators have nothing original to add, they're just basically using cookie cutters or templates to give us a story.
And here are my 8 least favorite of such anime cliche character types.
8. The Mary Sue Senpai
Basically, she's the object of the "notice me senpai" protagonist's desires. So perfect, you seriously wonder if she even poops. She's an unrealistically swan-like presence in a school full of more realistically awkward teenagers/kids.
- Tall in stature, usually with an elegant silhouette.
- Long, straight hair, usually black or purple, but may also be blonde or silver. (Or she will have a very precise, elegant hair style, like princess curls, pigtails, braids, etc.)
- Often will either be the student council president or go to an elite school of some kind.
- Usually from a rich and/or well-connected family.
- Speaks very polite Japanese and has refined manners.
- There will be tea.
- Usually very pale-skinned, as per traditional Japanese beauty standards.
Why I Dislike This Type:
Basically, she's too perfect. She hardly ever seems like her actual canonical age. She seems almost like a very elegant and refined 30-something infiltrating the high school or middle school setting. It glamorizes richness by making it seem like rich people are totally flawless god-like beings. It also seems like such a cheap way to create drama, by having the totally average male protagonist (which I get to later) fall for the "dream girl" who is way out of his league.
He is often by the end of the anime rewarded with affection for basically spending the whole anime as her dog, doing whatever she wants, and constantly white knighting for her. I get that it's a thing because it's a wish fulfillment fantasy, but in real life, people like that are just annoyingly snooty.
But most importantly, this kind of character is just rarely interesting. You know she's going to be heavily restricted by the bonds of propriety and honor, playing the "straight man" in contrast with wilder characters' antics. She's too honest and pure to do anything truly "outside the box". In other words, she's usually a Mary Sue and a Purity Sue type of character, too flawless to be genuine and human.
- Satsuki from Kill La Kill, who shows that being this kind of character is not all it's cracked up to be, especially if you have a psychotic mom.
- Ai from Shin Chan, a parody of this character type that points out its inherent classism.
- Ayame Kajou from Shimoneta, who only originally looks like she's this type of character, but turns out to be a "dirty joke terrorist".
- Rei Hino/Sailor Mars from Sailor Moon, who seems like this type at first, but has a lot more depth and complexity revealed about her as the series progresses.
- Homura Akemi from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, who resembles this character type superficially, but is much less passive and a lot more complex of a character, the more you find out about her.
7. The Cute Comic Relief Mascot Talking Animal
A fairly common anime staple, this character is always at the hero's side. Often, they give info dump exposition, or just more subtle guidance to the main characters. They're cute, they're charming, and they move merchandise and keep up brand awareness of the show by being memorable. But they can also be annoying, because they ruin serious moments by inserting bad comedy, because their catch phrases and associated running gags quickly get stale, or because their blunders make things harder for the protagonist. A bad one is like Navi from Ocarina of Time, annoying, intrusive, and repetitive.
- Always happy and upbeat.
- Has running gags and/or a catch phrase.
- Is associated with comedy, and breaks up dramatic tension with comedy.
- Helps or guides the main character(s).
- Is an animal, but usually with supernatural powers and unusual characteristics.
- Usually able to talk and intelligent on a human level (some may act more animal-like though).
- Sometimes is the source of the hero's power or can become a walking deus ex machina.
- Constantly refers to what kind of animal they are, or their non-human status is often milked for comedy.
- Gives a lot of the exposition.
- Cute appearance, often acts child-like.
Why I Dislike This Type:
It's not always done so badly, but it's annoying to me because, for one, I find comic relief annoying in general, and also because this type of character is often annoying when the writers are clearly trying to make it be likable and funny. It's like a little kid following the main characters around, their ignorance is presented to us as "cute", and their incompetence is supposed to charm us.
It's also overused as an exposition device and source of knowledge. Since these characters are supernatural or magical, often they have helpful advice to give. But it can be overdone if they're telling the audience a lot of things about their world, instead of it being shown.
Finally, I dislike these characters because of how often they come to the rescue at the eleventh hour. Basically, if this kind of character exists, be prepared to see them do a lot of saving people at the last minute, either directly by using their own powers, or indirectly by getting help or giving the main character powers.
And the ones that give the main characters their powers always raise the question; why didn't they just use this magic for themselves instead of giving it to the protagonist? Many of these characters, if you think about it, are powerful enough to be their own heroes. They shouldn't even need some half-baked anime girl or guy to fight their battles for them.
- Some Pokemon and Digimon have moments of this, but don't end up being so annoying about it. And Pokemon mostly don't talk, so they can be cute without having that annoying child-like tendency of talking too much or saying stupid things.
- The main subversion is Kyubey from Puella Magi Madoka Magica. He acts like this character type, but is actually cunning and manipulative.
6. The Adult-Acting Child
Usually female, this character is usually a side character. Other people have called this one the "deadpan loli", but I don't like referring to these characters as "lolis" because the reference to "Lolita" implies that they're being treated like sex objects, which is very much debatable and up to audience reaction (unless there's obvious erotic scenes with them, which is rare). I just really am a bit uncomfortable using a term that implies the sexual fetishizing of little girls so casually.
But unfortunately, the sexualization of these characters is probably the reason why there are so many who are not only a bit smart for their age, but who completely act like mental adults. And it makes them annoying. Child prodigies are smart, sure, but not every child is a prodigy, but many anime like to make the excuse that the "loli" is there because of her intelligence, and we've all known people who were able to move up a grade or two in school, but many of these examples are a bit extreme.
Some go as far as to give weird, convoluted magical justifications for these girls showing up in a high school with older girls; Sailor Moon's Chibiusa, or "little Usagi", is really the main character's daughter, from the future. And that's not the weird part! The weird part is, she's actually hundreds of years old but never quite got the hang of this whole "growing up" thing. So all that fan art you have of her? Just explain to the feds that whole "future child from the moon" story and no worries about shower time with the other inmates for you!
For one thing, it bothers me that these girls often just exist to be sexualized by the fans, because the anime industry is not so much about selling anime as it is about selling merchandise. Japanese culture also seems to be a bit more relaxed about portraying children in a sexual way than American culture. I'm fine with non-sexual child nudity, such as in the context of bathing (in Japan, family members of the same sex often bathe together and it is not pedophilic). But having a whole character type just designed to appeal to pedophiles in the anime's audience is... creepy.
Plus, in the story itself, the characters are often annoying because, as prodigies, they know a lot, but as children, they still act like conceited brats.
A related character trope I dislike is when older teens, aged 14-18, are drawn short and flat-chested, as if the artist is trying to make them look 11-13. This happens in "slice of life" comedy shows like Lucky Star to make the girls look cuter, but it just kind of bothers me that they don't really look their ages. In some anime series though, this will be a lone character, who is "really 16" or whatever but drawn petite, again, in order to market the character to fetishists of that kind of thing.
Why I Dislike This Type:
They are usually bratty, arrogant know-it-alls. Still being children, they tend to still have chaotic mood swings, and can immaturely over-react to slights and misunderstandings. This is portrayed as funny, but gets a bit old quickly. They tend to be very prideful and very protective of their personal pride. Which gets annoying often. This character can usually be described as "flustered" or "frustrated" because they have a huge psychological complex built around feeling inferior to everyone else because of their age.
So they can act like the typical aloof, bitchy, tsundere princess pretty often (and I deal with the tsundere later because it is also one of my least favorite types). So when these characters show up (usually they pop in halfway through the anime like an unwanted guest), you can expect them to challenge the main character, but usually over issues that are completely shallow and meaningless. Expect them to hold their heads high and never admit they're wrong, even when they are. Ever have a child you just wanted to punch? How "kawaii"!
They just don't add anything new to the show. They create drama and conflict, but rarely do they contribute meaningfully to the resolution of it.
- I really can't think of that many. Usually, a loli-brat is annoying, it's just a matter of degree, some being less annoying than others.
- Banba from Princess Jellyfish either is or appears like she is a little girl, but she's not in any way sexy; instead, she's an otaku who likes trains and who has an eye for picking out the best meat in the grocery store. Her acting is subtle, and she doesn't do what I see many other adult-like children in anime do, which is go out of her way to challenge and belittle adults or older teens. Maybe she is an adult (her age is ambiguous).
5. The Tsundere
This is a character type who's usually smacked into the anime with all the subtlety of a bolt of lightning, and one of the most overplayed mass-produced character types in anime. It gets its name from "tsun-tsun" meaning aloof or standoffish, and "dere-dere", meaning love-struck. So the idea is that the character goes from aloof and bitchy to warm and loving.
This happens in a lot of anime, but a lot of times, they're more "tsun-tsun" than "dere-dere", and don't undergo the character change associated with them. Also, because "dere-dere" implies romantic interest in the main character, these "-dere" characters are all defined by their relationship to the protagonist, and as such fall short of seeming like real people, because real people have personalities for their own reasons, not just as reactions to a single person that their whole being revolves around. (Technically, Asuka Langley Sohryu is not a tsundere, because she has the harsh "tsun-tsun" part, but probably doesn't actually use that behavior to mask a crush on the protagonist, and she never actually softens towards him.) This character is supposed to be about how people bully people they like, but it ends up giving girls a "tsundere card" to basically act like annoying, stuck-up cunts most of the time.
- Pigtails, or hair pinned up, is common.
- Red or blonde hair is common, but other (usually bright and warm) colors can happen as well.
- Eyes are drawn in the cat-like style, less rounded than more innocent characters.
- Tend to blush a lot whenever anyone dares to imply that they have feelings for the main character.
- Has signature ways of huffing, sighing, and turning away angrily.
- Often known for frowning and scowling.
- Has a ball-shriveling yelling voice.
Why I Dislike This Type:
Like I said before, the tsundere is so overdone. When I see an angry bratty girl with pigtails, I know I'm not getting substance or depth in that character right off the bat. She's the typical "lady doth protest too much" character, acting harshly towards a character she likes, beacause she likes him, and while this might be a fantasy wish fulfillment for some guys, it really just means putting up with a girl who constantly berates you until you are eventually for inexplicable reasons rewarded with affection... for putting up with all of it? There are easier ways to get laid, guys! (And talk about unrealistic expectations.)
Basically, a tsundere is just a narcissistic, conceited, lady-jerk who is occasionally tamed by the main character's penis. What's to hate?
- Like I said, Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion only appears like a tsundere at first, but then you learn about her past and realize that she's a bully because of her traumatic history: Asuka was the daughter of a mom who committed suicide, and she always tried hard to impress her step-mom after that who didn't love her, and she always seemed like she was never good enough to be either her real mother's "doll" or her new mother's daughter in a real sense. Therefore, her personality is interesting and her reasons for being a bully are far deeper than just wanting to mask her raging girl-boner for Shinji.
- Tora Dora has a female lead who is often called a tsundere, but she's not as flat of a character as a badly written tsundere.
Read This Article on the Psychology of Being Attracted to Tsundere Characters:
4. The Happy Magical Slave
The Japanese place less of a value on freedom than Western culture does, and it shows in characters like this. Usually a magical girlfriend or magical housewife character, these characters, like the loli and tsundere, are sex objects that exist for the titillation of the audience, and are often not very interesting beyond the fanservice.
Basically, she's a goddess, alien, or other supernatural creature, with powers far beyond a normal human's. But she's incredibly ignorant and naive about the world, relying on guidance from the bland male protagonist. She's meant to be a kind of "manic pixie dream girl" character, or can be a nurturing "Yamato Nadeshiko" or Japanese housewife archetype. It's a harmless wish fulfillment fantasy, but the underlying tones of slavery and subjugation that are usually present in the story are what bother me.
Why I Dislike This Type:
Basically, I dislike it for the whole "happiness in slavery" thing. Never do we see these magical women rebel or revolt against their masters. It's just assumed that the male protagonist is good, even when he's a complete jerk. And that goodness is supposed to be such that it justifies the condition of happy slavery, and I just don't buy it. It makes it seem like coming of age as a man means learning how to manage and educate a slave. It also seems to be sending the message that domestic, sexual slavery is morally justified by whatever supernatural bullshit the writers can think of (like a life debt, magical wish, etc.), yeah, no. That stuff belongs in porn, but doesn't have a place in regular entertainment. And even if it's not a sexual relationship per se, like with Sebastian in Black Butler, or when sex is offered but not accepted, it's still a bit weird to see a being with immense supernatural powers be subjugated and treated like a servant or slave by an ordinary human.
- Ai no Kusabi is a short Sci-Fi OVA series that explores real-feeling sexual slavery and all of its emotional consequences. It also shows the problem of having to choose between being an abused "pet" for a rich person's amusement or being free to be poor and starving, in a world with a dramatic gap between the rich and the poor.
- In Revolutionary Girl Utena, the slavery of the "rose bride", Anthy Himemiya, is not taken lightly at all. Much of the drama of the show revolves around Utena, a newcomer fighter in the duels, fighting for Anthy's honor and dignity as a person.
3. The Unrealistically Cheery Survivor Girl (Sometimes Boy)
This type of character can be male, Hayate from Hayate the Combat Butler is an example. But it's usually a teenage girl. She has cancer. Her mother died. Her father was an abusive drunk. A gang of rival ninjas ritually sacrificed her dog to Cthulu, who also came and ate her legs. She's been living in a ditch by the side of the road and only getting out once a week to scavenge for rotten apples and roadkill. People regularly come by her hole in the ground self-made hovel to beat her up, spit on her, steal her roadkill meat, and call her names.
But she's SO HAPPY! She has a face that just lights up with joy. She's not letting the struggle get the better of her! She's overflowing with milk and honey, no matter how mean everyone is or how tough she has it! She's a survivor!
Yeah, that's a... little unrealistic? People who go through intense traumas and grief in life shouldn't be expected to just put on a fake smile all the time. I'd rather have an "angsty" character, because at least they are feeling something that makes sense relative to the bad things that happened to them. It just doesn't make sense to have a character like that, it's unrealistic. It's also kind of a slap in the face to people who have experienced traumas, like we're supposed to just "get over it" and not let it affect us. I know it's a great ideal to be like that, but it is just that, an ideal. And its use in anime to sort of cutify the suffering girl character is pretty annoying.
Why I Dislike This Type:
If I met someone like this in real life, I would think they had a serious mental illness (kind of like many character types on this list). It's not normal to be so happy when life is bad, no matter what religion or philosophy might tell you otherwise. I get that Japan is very much a "grow a thicker skin" culture, and they respect people for having a strong, unbreakable spirit.
I get that. But it's not good to tell victims of circumstance to just "suck it up, buttercup" all the time, either. Sometimes, people need nurturing, support, and validation of their suffering that can't come from repressing it. Some people need closure in the form of justice. Others just need a shoulder to cry on. The "plucky girl" tells real girls in real life that their suffering and traumas are erasable with a little positive thinking. Positive thinking is ok, but we can't act like it solves everything.
Also, this character's plight is often a string of almost comically exaggerated bad events designed to pull at our heartstrings. It comes across in the worst examples as calculating and manipulative, like showing us a baby bird with a broken wing. Like, of course I sympathize with it, but using things we're all naturally predisposed to sympathize with (basically, a sad little girl) feels sort of like cheating.
2. The Clueless Jerk Guy
Basically, the male version of the tsundere.
Hey, dumb crybaby! You're a girl! Girls are weak and stupid. You should be like me and play sports karate action ball! Feelings are bad! Grr!
*female characters swooon*
Whatever, I have work to do, out of my way, ladies!
Yeah, I've taken shots at many female character types, but there are bad male character types too. They may not be as noticeable as the overly theatrical girl types like the yandere and tsundere, but these can be annoying too. This type is someone who shows up a lot in comedy, shounen, action, ecchi, harem, and romance shows. He is a total jerk who is indifferent to girls' feelings, and/or totally oblivious to their expressions of said feelings. And the panties drop for him anyway. In real life, this happens, and it's just proof that Satan is in control of everything and there's nothing any of us can do about it. Or proof that biological drives to mate with "alpha" guys linger in human girls from a forgotten time when that would have conferred a reproductive advantage on women who did that. Either way, it's a sick, sad world.
I think maybe it's because a certain amount of jerkiness in the Japanese male is tolerated or even encouraged; they are supposed to treat women like children, who need their authority and guidance in the form of punishment for bad behavior and occasional rewards for being good. Usually, this punishment is in the form of indifference or withdrawal, the girl is desperate for the jerk to notice her, and he can use this to get her to do something he wants, or to get her to stop doing something he doesn't like, or to win an argument.
I said they're the male tsundere but they can have a touch of male Mary Sue-senpai as well, often being very handsome, tall, and/or wealthy. Often, like the Mary Sue-senpai, he has refined manners and is elegant. Like the Mary Sue-senpai, their love interests fawn all over on them while they barely notice.
- May or may not be a jerk with a heart of gold.
- Does not recognize love advances, either intentionally or unintentionally. Does not have much sexual interest, if any.
- Focuses on one thing so much that women are not a distraction to them.
- Unintentionally hurts girls' feelings for comedy or drama in the story.
- Sometimes can have an immature "girls are icky" attitude.
- Likely to be a red oni character type.
- Not usually as malicious as they are just aloof and indifferent.
- Cannot catch feels, at least, not until later in the anime series (much like the tsundere).
- Like the tsundere, will often make "I was just in the neighborhood" claims whenever they do something nice, chivalrous, charitable, or when they rescue a female love interest from danger.
- Often tells an emotional girl to calm down, but in a mean way, like "you're ugly when you cry".
Why I Dislike This Type:
While it's not terrible per se, it's bad because it can be an abusive relationship dynamic portrayed as a romance (like with sexy slave characters), because these kinds of characters are boring, like their counterpart the Mary Sue-senpai, but mainly because in real life, as hard as this is for many people to believe, women do prefer considerate men.
If they don't like "nice guys" it's because a self-described "nice guy" is usually a loser who thinks that his self-diagnosed niceness is the key to getting you between the sheets. I'll pass. So while women are sometimes attracted to dominant, powerful men, they don't want men to be wholly inconsiderate to them either. Some healthy balance between being self-interested and being interested in the other person is where it's at. I hear many, many more women complaining that their boyfriend or husband is "inconsiderate", a "jerk", or that he "doesn't care" than I ever do that he is a "softie" or a "wimp". It's important to me to challenge this stereotype that women go after jerks, because it will just mean boys will get the message that they have to act like jerks to be attractive. Let's face it, these anime bishounen princes are attractive for other reasons (looks, grades, popularity, refinement, status, charisma), not because of their cold aloofness bordering on sociopathy.
(Although there may be something in the above link about the appeal of tsunderes that applies to males who act that way too.) It's basically exaggerated; women want a powerful, leader-type man, true. But if he's too indifferent, she's just going to, in real life, read the indifference as genuine disinterest in her, and be indifferent to him back. I just want to be as clear as possible in making sure guys don't think aloofness is a way to score, because it could easily backfire in real life and that would suck for them.
- The Genius Ditz: Oh my God how quirky and charming! NEXT!
- The Hot-Headed Shounen Fighter: Why get meaning out of the conflict or experience character growth, when you can just punch walls until you feel better?
- The Yamato Nadeshiko (traditional housewife type): Yeah, that's what I fantasize about, a girl who will do my laundry and yell at me for forgetting to take off my geta in the house.
- The Overly Optimistic Girl: Makes me want to puke. (Except for Sailor Moon.)
1. The Generic Male Protagonist
New from Kawaiicorp! It's Protagonist Boy! He has brown hair, no glasses, no hobbies, no special interests, and no defining characteristics! He's basically Bella Swan with a penis! He's as dull as dirt, but hot alien babes want to have his babies anyway! Say hello to the best protagonist you won't have to write about or think about! Call now!
Eeyeah. I internally fume whenever I see a new anime pulling this crap. And it happens at least once every season. He's an ordinary high school boy, and.... that's it.
- Middle school, high school, or (more rarely) in college.
- Brown or black hair (occasionally some other color, usually dark).
- Brown eyes (again, with occasional exceptions).
- Does not have supernatural abilities or powers of his own, if there are other people in the school who do.
- Not usually exceptionally skilled or passionately interested in anything.
- Led around by the balls by female characters, be they tsunderes, yanderes, Mary Sue-senpais, or even complete psycho killers (like in Higurashi).
- Has to have everything explained to him in expository info dumps by said female characters (which is why they're usually written as a "transfer student" or freshman).
- Will have the infamous anime cliche spot next to the window in the classroom.
- Is going to be the "straight man", the only person who's not insane in the room, etc.
Why I Dislike This Type:
Basically, they're boring. Their personalities are a blank slate. Like many female sex-object characters, their entire being is shaped by other characters' actions. Calling them "the protagonist" is sometimes iffy, they're better described as the main character or main viewpoint character. I'll explain. A "protagonist" is supposed to be the character who makes the story happen, whose desires, goals, wishes, and ambitions drive the story. For example, Ash in Pokemon is the protagonist because everything that happens in the anime is caused by or linked to his desire to become a Pokemon master. But these characters are passive and weak. Rather than making the plot, it just sort of feels like a thing that happens to them or around them. They're reactive rather than active.
Accel World subverts the usual trend of the protagonist being average by making him short and chubby.
Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion is essentially a deconstruction of this character type. Says something that this trope was already getting old when NGE first came out. Shinji shows the problems of having a very passive character as the main viewpoint character, and how that can be frustrating for the audience.
Well, it feels good to vent. Now, I'd like to say, there are exceptions and many of the above characters I use as examples are still characters I like. It's just hard to see these patterns and tropes get abused so much that they become cut-and-paste shortcuts for creating a new anime.
And to be honest, the presence of a lot of the above annoying cliches in episode 1 of an anime will make me much, much less likely to click on episode 2. For example, recently there was a new anime called Re: Zero: Starting Life Again in a New World or some other crappy long title that I will shorten to Re: Zero from now on. Re: Zero starts off with a first episode that seems cliche as hell. You have a bland protagonist (1) get put into a parallel dimension, much like in Sword Art Online or the dozens of other "ordinary kid sucked into fantasy world/video game" shows. Then, you have a heroic Mary Sue-senpai girl (8) save him from some street thugs (also a cliche), and guess what, she has a TALKING CAT (7). It took me a long time to make myself watch more Re: Zero, and I mostly watched it because I wanted to know just why such a cliche-infested anime could be rated so highly by reviewers on My Anime List. So, I gave it a chance, and I found out that the first episode of Re: Zero is actually a kind of mask, and after that the mask comes off, and the reality of the anime is revealed. It's definitely worth checking out, I haven't finished it, but I'm definitely going to. And now, I know why everyone's talking about it. But if I hadn't stuck around for episode 2, I probably would have written it off as another cliche-filled blockbuster that appeals to the masses but not to experts and critics like myself.
So, if you want to write your own manga story, books about "how to draw manga" usually tell you how to draw these repeating character types, but they're not fun at all for the seasoned manga reader. Basically, play around with it and make sure your characters are unique, not cliches, but fully developed beings who feel real and human to us (even the non-human ones!). Putting a lot of thought into your characters is one of the most important aspects of writing, so don't half-ass it!
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