It’s impossible to tell a compelling story without a strong protagonist. In any genre, the protagonist is the character that leads the story, providing context and goals for the story itself. Without them, all you would have are random supporting characters and an antagonist in a saga that doesn’t have any real direction, thus leaving you with an anthology of stories that will take you on a bumpy ride without delivering you to any real destination.
This is the case in any genre, including anime. Luckily, most anime, if not all, employ strong protagonists to carry their stories. One of the things that makes every anime unique is its colorful assortment of leading characters, ranging from the timid to the rambunctious. Let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable anime protagonists to grace our screens so far.
For a boy who wasn’t born with superpowers, Midoriya sure has the heart of a hero. Living in a world where almost everyone around him had some type of unique ability (known as Quirks), Midoriya had always longed to be part of the superhuman race. Not having a Quirk has made it hard even to consider the possibility⏤that is, until his idol and one of the most powerful heroes in the world, All Might, changes his life forever by choosing to transfer his own Quirk to the young boy.
Thanks to the order of his circumstances, Midoriya is one of the kindest, most helpful, respectful, and humble rising heroes in My Hero Academia, even though he has the physical potential to be the strongest hero of his generation.
Dragon Ball‘s Goku is the most legendary protagonist on this list and the surrogate father to many protagonists from the new wave of anime. Generally outgoing and charismatic, Goku’s love and dedication to martial arts have inspired many to train diligently to reach their physical goals in both anime and real life. Usually exuding the youthful exuberance and mentality of a teenager, at 42 years old (in anime years), Goku is a wise martial artist. His only flaw is that he allows his opponents’ many chances to get the upper hand just for the sake of a good fight. Unfortunately, this usually ends up becoming a big mistake since those same opponents are traditionally trying to destroy him and the planet.
But Goku is never worried. He’s been going by the same formula for decades, and somehow, he always comes out on top. Forever optimistic and always looking forward to the next fight, Goku embodies the essence of most anime protagonists.
Unlike Goku, Ichigo Kurosaki doesn’t necessarily look for the fight, but he won’t shy away from it, either. Strong-willed and usually the voice of reason, Ichigo is always quick to defend those who can’t protect themselves. His loyalty and love for his family and friends drive him to fight even harder against antagonists aiming to upset the balance of peace that he cherishes.
However, Ichigo doesn’t like being powerless, and it’s that fear of helplessness that pushes him to level up every time to overcome the obstacles thrown his way. Always ready to join the fight for the greater good, Ichigo’s perseverance is an inspiration to all.
Anyone who thinks that “superheroes are ordinary people just like us” has to be referring to Saitama. The popular OP character was once a regular guy living in a world of superheroes and honestly wasn’t interested in fighting or hero work until he had a brief skirmish with a monster attempting to attack a young boy. That first fight led Saitama to train his body with a daily routine of 100 sit-ups, push-ups, squats, and a 6.2-mile run, which somehow turned him into the most powerful fighter on the planet.
Saitama can now defeat any enemy with one punch thanks to that training, earning him the nickname One-Punch Man. Unfortunately, being so powerful, Saitama hasn’t really had an exciting battle where his life is on the line, leaving him pretty bored most of the time. Now he largely sits at home, watches TV, and waits for something exciting to happen (like many of us during the Covid-19 pandemic). Nonchalant and usually concerned with the latest shopping discounts at the local market, Saitama is one of the most relatable anime protagonists so far.
The most powerful of the Seven Sins, Meliodas is one of the most unassuming anime protagonists you’ll ever see. For the most part, young Meliodas (who is centuries old) is a happy-go-lucky, pervy, outgoing boy who just wants to get drunk and have fun. Hiding just under the surface of that personality, Meliodas is a powerful demon whose voice changes when he taps into that side of himself to defeat his opponents.
Despite his story being one of violence, villainy, and destruction at one time, Meliodas has done his best to live the rest of his life full of love and support for his friends. Never hesitant to reveal his demon side as a last resort when the situation calls for it, Meliodas is a good inspiration for anyone trying to leave their unsavory past behind and change themselves for the better.
When it comes to crawling from the depths of adversity, Edward Elric is a shining example of a human’s innate will to overcome everything. After losing his mother, Ed and his brother, Alphonse, attempted to resurrect her through forbidden alchemy. As a result, Ed lost an arm and leg, while his brother Al lost his entire body. Determined to keep his brother’s soul by his side, Ed attaches Al’s spirit to an empty suit of armor and resurrects him back into the world as a colossal knight.
With a new mission to return their bodies to normal, Ed trains to become a State Alchemist in hopes of finding knowledge that will help him to reverse the process he’s ultimately responsible for. And he’ll stop at nothing to achieve that goal, even when it seems like all hope is lost. Intelligent, strong-willed, and hot-tempered, Edward Elric is quick to stand up against any who would use their alchemy for unsettling reasons.
This guy is a little different than your typical protagonist. Eren Jaeger has lost everything to the Titans: friends, family, freedom, and even his own mind. His anger towards the life that humanity has been forced to live thanks to the Titans has made him driven and determined to do whatever it takes to fight back, even if he has to do things that may make him seem villainous to achieve his goals. However, that line gets easily blurred once he begins to learn the truth about the Titans and the governments that have manipulated their power as a means to control the world.
In these days of revolutions and rebellion against our own governments, Eren is an example of how lies and oppression can transform a relatively good person into a cold-hearted monster. His story is that of the tragic hero who fought long enough to see himself become the villain, a tale so common nowadays that it’s almost to be expected. However, out of all the anime protagonists on this list, Eren Jaeger is the most relatable character in the modern age of anime.
Just like Midoriya was Quirkless at one point, Naruto Uzumaki didn’t have access to ninja chakra initially. Over time, his determination to become Hokage drove him to train rigorously, and along the way, he found mentors and teachers who were able to draw out his true potential. Unfortunately, his true potential was tied to the infamous Nine-Tailed Fox⏤a powerful and dangerous tailed beast is known for its destruction. For most of his life, Naruto is forced to fight against not only the pull of the beast’s aggressive nature, but also the fearful perception that his fellow villagers have of him. Regardless, Naruto continues to keep an optimistic and determined outlook to prove his worth to the world.
Gon Freecs is the happiest and most naive character whose refreshing childhood personality always made him a favorite with his fellow Hunters. Despite losing friends and having to experience traumatizing combat situations, Gon’s disposition rarely changes, and it’s that outlook on his life that infectiously inspires others to change their views on the world as well. Like Goku, Gon is always enthusiastic to test his fighting skills against stronger opponents and, over time, he has proven to be an impressive fighter for his age, earning both respect and fear as a rising star in the Hunter Association.
Though he has a strong code of ethics, Gon accepts everyone for who they are and believes in their potential to be good, even when they’re the worst of people. A fighter ready to throw down anytime to protect those he cares about, Gon is a great role model for both young and old anime fans, proving that you can be a great leader and protagonist no matter how old you are.