The art of creating a good main character is quite tricky.
Even the smallest mistake can really ruin a show. Like when the entire anime community collectively hated Black Clover just because Asta was too annoying initially.
But what about all the anime MCs that deserve praise?
Well that’s what we’re looking in this list: golden examples of main character development across the anime world.
30. Hitagi Senjougahara
Senjougahara is one of my favorite female characters, since the writers finally found a balance between a character being so in love that it’s their defining feature, and a complete kuudere who doesn’t care about anyone.
She’s cool and collected, and she knows when to be wholesome and nice, or when to shove a stapler in your mouth and tell you to shut up.
She never seemed to revolve around Araragi, and her dry wit was definitely a high point of the show.
Take notes, shounen anime makers. No more Sakuras please.
29. Izaya Orihara
Even though this show spends most of its time on the feud between different gangs (and on Masaomi’s and Mikado’s emotional constipation), I was mostly watching for Izaya.
Even though he’s technically the antagonist, I found it really difficult to hate the dude.
He had a very believable charisma. And his schemes were always larger than life.
He was also a complete badass who could take out most people in a one-on-one.
And to really put the nail in the love coffin, he had the most aggressive bromance with Shizuo. I ship it.
Anime: Assassination Classroom
I was torn on this since all the main characters are S-tier, with Karma being the coolest, Nagisa the most interesting, and Koro-Sensei the most lovable.
I did opt for Koro-Sensei strictly because his backstory somehow made him even better.
The dude is just a big goofball who tries his hardest to prepare his students for life, and for murder, I guess.
He always has a smile on his face, and he has created some of the most wholesome and/or sad moments in anime history – which is why I just had to include him.
27. Kazuma Satou
Kazuma has one of the highest relatability ratings in all of anime. No part of his personality is idealized in the slightest.
And that’s what honestly gives him his charm, as it can feel like you’re watching yourself in the anime world.
I can’t really relate to someone who’s willing to die in order to save a wounded demon lord. But I can definitely relate to getting ticked when someone’s in his face, so he returns a sucker punch.
Kazuma is far from ideal.
And ironically, that makes him a somewhat irresistible main character in my eyes.
26. Osamu Dazai
Anime: Bungo Stray Dogs
If you’ver watched Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei and thought to yourself “hm that Zetsubou dude should really be a main character in a shounen series…”
Well, here you have it.
Dazai is a dude who’s constantly looking for a way to die, and is extremely nonchalant about the whole thing. Which just immediately sets off alarms in my head that the dude must have a good backstory.
And I personally wasn’t disappointed.
His design is sick, his power is really cool (and kind of broken), and whenever he’s faced with his past, I get extremely hyped.
Anime: Magi: Adventure of Sinbad
There are a million power-fantasy protagonists out there, all so overpowered that it feels like you’re looking at a literal god.
However, they’re usually quite bland personality-wise.
Not Sinbad though.
Although he’s undeniably overpowered, his personality always remained his most important characteristic, as he knew how to seduce (or terrify) those who opposed him.
He had a loyal following and was genuinely striving for greatness.
Plus, he blew up a mountain in order to prove a point. Which gives him all the badass points.
24. Izuku Midoriya
Anime: My Hero Academia
I’ll be honest: Deku is far from the best written character ever.
In fact, I think conceptually Todoroki, Uraraka, and even Bakugou beat him out.
However, I have never been as motivated to root for a character like I am for Deku.
Not only is he one of the few dandere protagonists, but he also just has a heart of gold. The Overhaul arc in particular sold me on Deku being an amazing protagonist, as his interactions with Eri always seemed so genuine and touching.
The tale of Hyakkimaru is arguably one of the biggest underdog stories ever, as I find it hard to imagine that anyone in the anime universe was dealt a worse starter hand than this dude.
Since his father valued his own position and the prosperity of the land over his son, Hyakkimaru was born without any physical attribute that would make one human – besides conscious thought.
He could not see, speak, feel, or move, and yet he managed to tough it out.
He loses his way a few times. But looking at this guy’s journey has never felt boring in the slightest.
22. Shigeo Kageyama
Anime: Mob Psycho 100
Although this show initially seemed like a One Punch Man rip-off, it’s leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to character writing.
Mob especially was a delight to follow, as his narrative was no less than a coming of-age-story.
Between all the chaotic battles and epic soundtracks, we saw Mob trying to be a normal kid and having normal issues like the rest of us.
He didn’t know how to stand up for himself, and he was carrying a lot of guilt on his shoulders because of his powers.
And that’s why he’s on this list, and Saitama isn’t, as I truly do feel that some substance needs to be given between all the big bangs and gags.
21. Rudeus Greyrat
Anime: Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
Rudeus has a very similar appeal to me as Kazuma, but on a deeper level.
Just like Kazuma, Rudeus got the old isekai treatment after death.
However, instead of just appearing there, he was reincarnated. And the thing is, Rudeus is a completely garbage person.
Like really, really terrible.
However, bit by bit he starts learning what it means to be good in the new world, and he actually becomes quite likable.
There are still some scenes that are questionable at best. But for some reason I just can’t help but love this type of story arc. It’s like the TLC of anime.
Legoshi is just expertly written, and his personal mental battles have been one of the most realistic ones I’ve seen in years.
He’s born as a predator: a big bad wolf with sharp claws and teeth. And yet his nature is quite the opposite.
He feels ashamed of who he is, and is constantly battling with his own instinct to make the people around him feel safe.
He gets some fantastic character development in this series, and his personality is that of a badass saint. So there was no way I could skip over him for this list.
Anime: Dr. Stone
If you were ever the smart kid in high school, or just sometimes go on Reddit, then Senku might be close to your role model.
The guy is putting on his best Ben Shapiro costume and spitting straight facts as he uses science to bring back society as we know it.
He doesn’t like dealing with emotional stuff, and always has his eye on the future, while also thanking God that workers’ rights don’t exist in the stone age.
All jokes aside, he’s a pretty inspirational dude that even got someone like me, a filthy English major, to be interested in science and math.
So, he must be doing something right.
18. Kakashi Hatake
Anime: Naruto: Shippuden
Even though the spotlight is usually on Naruto and Sasuke, I always cared way more about Kakashi.
The dude has one of the most tragic backstories in the series (if you don’t believe me look it up), and yet he has never fallen to darkness like Sasuke.
He also never talked his way out of a fight like Naruto. Rather he remained an example of a truly capable ninja.
Plus, whenever he’s with Guy, the bromance wholesomeness just overwhelms me.
Anime: Vinland Saga
Both Askeladd and Thorfinn did what Sasuke could not: be an evil good guy consistently and believably.
Askeladd especially blew me away, as he was given far more depth than the first few episodes suggested.
I’m not going to spoil anything, but his backstory was a genuinely brilliant twist. And his performance at the very end of the series was legendary in all aspects.
So even though Thorfinn brought us way more good battles, Askeladd’s complexity was the true highlight of the show.
Anime: The Promised Neverland
Writing a 300 IQ character is always a hit or miss. But the main trio of The Promised Neverland all hit the mark in their own way.
However, I found Norman to be the most interesting, as it always seemed like he was a great puppet master pulling the strings of the story.
He wasn’t blindingly optimistic like Emma, nor a realistic edgelord like Ray.
He was just rational and believable.
However, this only applies to season one. As I’ve mentally erased the second season out of my memory for good.
15. Subaru Natsuki
Anime: Re: Zero
This dude is one of the most admirable characters anime has to offer, strictly based on the fact that he isn’t in an insane asylum yet.
The amount of mental beating he has taken over the course of the series is nothing less than terrifying. So the fact that he still has a gleam in his eye and a willingness to keep trying is both extremely inspiring, and a bit worrying.
He never gave up on his best girl, and he has even proven himself to be quite the tactician, so quite a few sides to this seemingly forgettable dude.
14. Joutarou Kuujo
Anime: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
If the concept of a badass ever needed a spokesperson, Joutarou would be the most obvious candidate.
This includes the way he’s designed to the fact that this man has only two emotions(both of which are somehow flattering). At some point it becomes really difficult to ever keep your eyes off this dude.
He dominates every scene just by being in it. And his deduction skills make every fight a treat to watch.
Especially as it usually ends in the most glorious displays of mudas.
13. Giorno Giovanna
Anime: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind
I wanted to keep the JoJos close on this list, as I adore them for very similar reasons.
Giorno is a whole different type of badass. He usually just looks friendly and elegant, but can still do things even Joutarou couldn’t.
The prime example being cold-blooded murder with a banana, and yes that does actually happen.
Whenever his theme comes on, you just know that you’re about to groove out while some dude gets punched to death.
And I just can’t imagine the franchise coming out with a better JoJo than Giorno.
Anime: Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
I’m honestly fascinated that Morgiana hasn’t gotten her own spin-off yet. I think she could bring in just as many people as the big bad wolf Sinbad himself.
This is because she threads that thin line of being an adorable waifu you would want to protect, and of a badass who would most likely be the one saving you.
And with her thunder thighs somehow helping out both of these categories, and her personality being irresistible, I just had to include my girl Morgiana.
11. Akane Tsunemori
Honestly, if it were just the first season, I would have picked Shougo or Shinya since they seemed way more interesting and complex.
However, the second season really made me adore Akane on a fundamental level.
She just became a badass.
Not because she could kill twenty armed men or track someone down like a hound. But rather because her views of law and order were so fascinating to see.
And again, I love me some strong independent female characters!
10. Eren Yeager
Anime: Attack on Titan
It took Eren a long time to grow on me, to be honest. As I was always way more interested in what Levi or Erwin were up to.
However, the fourth season just blew me away and allowed Eren to reach celebrity status with how good the show got.
I mean, it was always good. This was just the first time that I not only found Eren interesting, but also legitimately wanted to put his picture as an avatar on Twitter. Which is the highest appraisal any anime fan can give.
So because of the first three seasons, I can’t put him that high up… but the finale at least pushed him into the top 10 for this ranking.
9. Nana Osaki
If you know me, then you know how much I love this series.
It has some of the most believable and moving drama that I have seen in any anime. And I think it only gets better the older you get.
Out of the two Nanas, I always preferred the Rock Queen, as she was just fascinating to watch.
She had a good balance of strong traits and believable insecurities/sensibilities that really made her stand out.
I can’t say that she’s flawless, or an ideal person. Quite the contrary: she’s so believably flawed that I fell in love with her just a few episodes into the show.
8. Zoro Roronoa
Anime: One Piece
Even though Zoro was always second in command, he was the first in my heart!
I just couldn’t get attached to Luffy’s optimistic ideal as much as I could to Zoro’s undisputable badassery and drip.
The dude just screams cool.
He’s a master at the sword, and is a prime example of why you never mess with the dude who can wield a blade with his mouth.
His endurance and commitment are also pretty crazy, as the famous “nothing happened” scene will probably go down in history as the biggest audience hype moment that anime has ever produced.
Anime: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
No character has ever left an impression on me as quickly and as effectively as Kamina.
Within just an episode or two, I was already looking for his signature glasses on eBay.
And after you-know-what happens, I was a step away from becoming an alcoholic.
The dude is just insanely charismatic. So much so that even the audience gets inspired whenever he gives a pep talk to Simon.
And I don’t mean the usual “oh this is so touching” level of inspired, I’m talking about taking 100 selfies, writing a book, and asking your long-term crush out level of inspired.
6. Gon Freecss
Anime: Hunter x Hunter (2011)
I can’t say that Gon is all that creative when it comes to his writing. In fact, he follows most of the tried and true stereotypes of a shounen protagonist…
But with a few little tweaks.
For example, he has that same gleam in his eye and idealistic outlook on life, just like other shounen protagonists do. But he actually does a lot of killing when you actually think about it.
And it’s not like he’s killing the ultimate supervillain to save the world. Sometimes it’s just a worker ant that dared to cross him.
So there are definitely still some surprises to be had with this little dude.
5. Edward Elric
Anime: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Just like Gon, Edward may seem like a rather bland shounen protagonist.
But upon closer inspection, he turns out to be nothing of the sort.
The most obvious difference is that the dude is not a muscle-head, but rather he uses his wide array of knowledge to secure a victory. He’s also a pacifist who actually fears death, which is something we don’t see that often in shounen.
He can still be kick-ass rockstar when he needs to. But he’s far more human than many of his counterparts.
4. Light Yagami
Anime: Death Note
Light is just fascinating to look at.
The dude is brilliant by any accord, and his God complex is the central narrative device pushing the story forward.
He can be calm and calculated one second, and then laugh maniacally on your grave the next.
The cat and mouse chase that he and L had was one of the best in anime history. And their characters were just as important to each other, much like the terrific writing.
Light is far from a hero. But as a main character, he did wonders for the show. And will certainly be remembered for generations to come.
3. Rintarou Okabe
I wanted to insert Okabe into my hall of fame psycho genius trio – and you’ll see what I mean by that in the next two entries.
But the dude deserves some serious respect.
The writing team balanced him perfectly between being the most lovable goof on the planet, and being a time traveling mad scientist.
We’re shown plenty of his flaws throughout the show, but we also get to see how committed he is to the people he loves, making him feel three-dimensional and oddly idealistic.
Kurisu is also a very strong contender for this spot.
But I like my mad scientist just slightly more.
2. Johan Liebert
Johan is arguably one of the best written antagonists of all time, as he manages to capture the audience for 74 episodes with the prospect of understanding him.
He actually doesn’t have as much screen time as one would think. But his influence is felt in each and every scene, as every word from his lips becomes the Bible of some darned soul.
And the best part is that even he doesn’t truly understand himself, allowing for the writers to make twists and turns in his psyche while we’re all strapped in and screaming on the sociopath rollercoaster.
1. Lelouch Lamperouge
Anime: Code Geass
To conclude my psychopathic trio, we have Lelouch, the king of all anti-heroes.
Out of all the characters on this list, Lelouch not only had the strongest hold on my attention, but also the most satisfying character arc.
I believe the ending to his personal journey, and the series itself, is one of best (if not the best) that anime has to offer.
And it would have hardly been possible if he was written any other way.
He’s a genius like Johan and Light, but not nearly as cold or psychopathic. Rather he’s a true leader at heart, that happened to gain the power he needed to bring about change.