Anime, or Japanese-inspired animation, is very popular around the world. Since the 1960s, Japanese animators have produced tens of thousands of anime series and movies covering a wide array of genres. Anime has also been embraced by Americans, with animated series like Pokemon and Dragon Ball being big hits in the US. Similar to American animation, anime is known for its memorable protagonists. Many anime characters have become cultural icons both in Japan and elsewhere. In this article, I will offer my list of the greatest anime characters of all time.
1) Son Goku – Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Ball Z and its prequel were among the first anime series to achieve success in the United States. Son Goku, the chief protagonist in the series, was inspired by the famous Monkey King from the Chinese novel Journey to the West. American fans of the anime, however, often liken Goku to Superman from DC comics. Similar to Superman, Goku is gifted with supernatural abilities. In Dragon Ball Z, the anime character is depicted as an omnipotent force who simply couldn’t be beaten. But like the Man of Steel who often falls victim to the dreaded kryptonite, Goku also has critical weaknesses-his strange monkey tail and worldly naiveté. These two weaknesses serve the purpose of humanizing the character, creating many comical moments. In short, Goku is the carefree version of Superman.
Doraemon is Asia’s most iconic cartoon character. The anime, which is also of the same name, has been ongoing since the 1970s. The fact that the cartoon has survived for nearly 4 decades is a testament to the anime character’s enduring popularity. In the series, Doraemon the Robot Cat is sent back in time to turn around the fortunes of his owner’s ascendant Nobita. Nobita is somewhat of a wimpy kid, who often gets into trouble and needs Doraemon to bail him out with his hi-tech gadgets. Unfortunately, Doraemon’s futuristic gadgets often exaggerate the problems rather than solving them. What makes the character so compelling is the fact that he embodies different things to different people. To some, Doraemon is the ultimate friend who sticks with you through thick and thin. To others, he is a wish-fulfiller who can make one’s dream come true.
Samurais and ninjas are enduring symbols of feudal Japan. Consequently, many anime series and movies feature these two types of characters. Naruto, the blond-hair titular protagonist, is the most famous ninja character of the bunch. The celebrated ninja epitomizes the typical Japanese anime character. Naruto is a highly rash but determined teen, who is severely lacking in talent and discipline. The character starts out as an unteachable novice, but enjoys progressive improvement in his ninja skills due to hard work and perseverance. Naruto’s amazing resolve gains him many friends (who were initially his foes) as well as his elders’ respect.
4) Sailor Moon
Female protagonists are a bit of a rarity in anime. The title character Sailor Moon is among the exceptions. In the anime, Sailor Moon is the eastern equivalent of Supergirl. She is the leader of a group of magical girls, who use their special powers to fight evil forces threatened to destroy their world. In her regular life, Sailor Moon is a typical teenager who experiences the same turbulences endured by her peers. What attracts people to this character is the big void of strong female character in anime and animation in general. Sailor Moon fills this void quite nicely.
Honorable mentions: Ichigo Kurosaki (Bleach), Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop), Pikachu (Pokemon), Ryoma Echizen (Prince of Tennis), Inuyasha, and Roger Smith (The Big O).