Since the early days of Japanimation, anime has manifested itself from being something of an ‘underground phenomenon’ that’s only known to a select population, to the huge boon that it has become today. Some may say that its upward surge in popularity all started from pioneering titles such as Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, but that’s not all it took for this niche medium to make it way towards the limelight.
If you ask any fan what their favorite shows or characters are, you’ll probably get a list of at least 10-15 different shows/characters. The one thing that makes anime stand out from western cartoons is its complex plots and deep characters. Anime has indeed changed over the years as it has made us laugh, cry, rage, and actually feel something for these two dimensional characters that we’ve come to know, and love.
Which brings us to this question: What makes a good anime character?
This question can be dissected in a number of different ways. For many of us it could be the various tropes that a lot of anime fans are already familiar with; such as the ‘underdog protagonist’ who fights for a dream that he has his heart set out on, or the overpowered badass who the world doesn’t take seriously – but proves them wrong every time. This is one of the most complex questions that every anime fan has in the back of their minds, and so far, there hasn’t been a really good (full) answer to this question.
For a question like this there’s not really a right or wrong answer, but this one can be based on the creators intent. Anime brings us into a world that can be similar to our own, or it can be something that will take us away from the headaches and struggles that we face in the real world. Like us anime characters come from all walks of life, and some of them have grasped us in a way that has helped us overcome our own challenges in life; especially if you’ve been bullied in school. Many anime characters that we’ve looked up to for motivation and inspiration have come from the likes of Goku (DBZ), Naruto Uzumaki (Naruto), and Deku (My Hero Academia). Some of their traits include that ‘Never Give Up!’ attitude and confidence to press forward when all hope seems lost, that has helped a number of us in our own lives when we felt down and melancholy.
A good anime character can be someone that you can relate to based on what they may have gone through in their own lives. Take the Prince of all Saiyans for example; we remember the kind of person he used to be when he fought against Goku for the very first time. Vegeta started off as a ruthless saiyan prince who looked down on the weak and felt superior to others, but it wasn’t until the end of the Majin Buu saga that he openly admitted that his rival, Goku (aka Kakarot), was better than him. Now a father of two, Vegeta still has his prideful nature, but at the same time has some respect for Goku.
Its hard to truly define what makes a really good anime character, but with the vast amount of shows that are at our fingertips, we can come up with our own answers to that question. To us a good anime character is someone who is on the path of discovering who he (or she) is, and what their true purpose in life may be. For Luffy it could be becoming one of the greatest pirates in the world. For Vegeta it could be protecting his family while continuing to train and stay on pace with his rival. Many good anime characters are either goal-oriented (although most are protagonists), are on the road to self-discovery, are wrestling with their demons, are atoning for their mistakes, or just want to make the world a better place.
The definition of a good anime character can mean a number of things, but that’s what makes them so compelling in the various storylines that the creators put them in. It’s one of the things that pulls us (the viewer) into their world/lives as we discover what drives them, what motivates them, what their goals or aspirations are, and what kind of person they are on the inside. At the end of the day it all depends of what you’re looking for in a good anime character, but at the same time there’s always room to evolve and elevate that concept in to something that could possibly blow our minds.