Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Characters with a Tragic Backstory

Tuesday's Top 5

Are there any anime protagonists who have a happy backstory? Because that might be something a bit different given the sheer number of characters who come from a past of misery and despair. Okay, I hadn’t really thought about what I was in for when I started drafting this list and to be honest, it was a bit of a nightmare thinking about whether having your parents burned to death after being sewn together was more tragic than having your entire country torn apart by war and to be honest, those kinds of decisions really can’t be made objectively. This list is definitely based on how emotional I became while watching the characters’ tragedy unfold rather than any kind of definitive measure.

Which anime character has a tragic back story that hit home for you? Let me know in the comments below.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: The entire cast of Angel Beats and Lelouch from Code Geass.

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Number 5: Vash (Trigun)

The guy can’t catch a break in the present with everyone wanting to get the bounty on his head and he’s blamed for so many different disasters. He just wants love and peace. But his current circumstances come directly from the tragedy in his past and while it is pretty much impossible to talk about without spoilers, there’s definitely an evil twin brother involved. Regardless, Vash’s pacifist attitude is almost a protest against the horror that his life has been.

Number 4: Gray (Fairy Tail)


The entire cast of Fairy Tail should probably be on this list as well, though I haven’t really watched far enough along to the know the details of all of them. But fairly early on in the series we have quite the extended arc that delves in Gray’s past and his training by his teacher and to be honest, that was pretty heart breaking. While Gray came out of it better than his fellow student did, there’s still some pretty deep scars and emotional turmoil there. If we think back even further, the reason he was with the teacher was because of the tragedy with his parents so to be honest we’re just kind of lurching from one disaster to the next when we look at Gray’s childhood.

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Number 3: Scar (Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood)


What is more cliché than tragic backstory? Tragic backstory that leaves a visible scar. Despite making fun of it, Scar’s story is really quite horrific no matter how you want to look at it. As a survivor of a war that was more of an extermination than a fight and as someone who was forced to carry a power he found repulsive, Scar’s general anger towards everything kind of makes sense. Still, the nightmare doesn’t end as he goes out for revenge. It kind of prolongs the misery of this story.

Number 2: Ciel (Black Butler)


Child with dead parents cliché? But this one is so much better than just that. Set in the Victorian era a conspiracy of monumental proportions brings down the family that serve the Queen and the child, tormented and humiliated, decides that the perfect solution to this is to take them all down even if he has to sell his soul to the demon who becomes known as Sebastian. The real tragedy here is that even if Ciel succeeds at his plan, his young soul is going to be devoured so he has no future. This isn’t just a tragic backstory. This is a living and breathing tragedy.

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Number 1: Yato (Noragami)


While we haven’t yet heard all of Yato’s backstory, the pieces the audience have seen don’t exactly paint a great picture. Known as a god of calamity who would take on any wish isn’t exactly something that seems like it would be a pleasant existence. Couple in some real daddy issues with the as yet unseen string puller and Yato’s past is complex and has some fairly far reaching consequences. For those who know the silly facade Yato puts on in the presence, even they can see that there’s some deep pain buried underneath. I’m hoping when we finally get the whole story it manages to match the build up but to be honest, a lot of the time seeing Yato’s past makes me want to bring him home and feed him cookies.

And that’s my list but I’d love to know what would make your list.

Thanks for reading.

Karandi James


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35 thoughts on “Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Characters with a Tragic Backstory

  1. Yato!! I agree with you there. Though his full backstory has yet to be revealed, the little pieces are enough to see the pain of his past and the scars they left on him. Hopefully we get a season 3 because I really want to see what happens next!

    1. Yes, the whole story isn’t there yet, but the bit we’ve seen is incredibly painful and I also really want that season 3.

  2. I was surprised to see Ciel not topping this list, but seeing that it was Yato that beat him I think I’m inclined to agree.

    Himura Kenshin I think deserves an honorable mention, especially after seeing the prequel OAV

    1. Ciel’s is more of an ongoing tragedy than a backstory anyway when I think about it. Very tragic but a lot of the tragedy is wrapped up in his current circumstances.

  3. Well, i don’t about that tragedic heroes u’re talking about but i think one of them must be Kaneki from TG. They doesn’t show in the anime (Studio pierrot or Studio trash) but if you read manga , you will see what im talking about . But if you read it then post this to your blog I think i need to watch the animes you are talking about 🙂

  4. I agree with Vash and Scar on this list. Some of my honorable mentions for anime characters with tragic backstories…

    Chizuru Honda from Bokurano
    Tokiko “Key” Mima from Key the Metal Idol
    Kurapika from Hunter X Hunter

  5. I vote Asuka Langley Soryu. Her backstory devastated me.
    SPOILERS FOR 30 year old show…Not only having to watch your mom go insane, treat a doll as if it was you, kill herself but also hang the *you* doll all while you’re still a child…I mean…I’m gonna go curl up and rock back and forth under my desk now.

  6. Kagari doesn’t have a pretty backstory, in fact he had a pretty shitty childhood

    Fushimi too he backstory is not one of the happiness either.

  7. Aw, Vash! Dude had a rough life!
    It’s always funny reading lists like these, because what I think of is really different compared to most ppl.
    Like, to me, I think Koyomi Araragi, and almost everyone else from Monogatari, is a tragic character- on a very small scale.
    I love stories with big dramatic plot twists- but I feel that some of time the grandness of a plot can compromise the smaller, and more intimate personal tragedies that make you care.
    It makes me think to the war stories I read in English a few years back- not everyone has to have witnessed their family’s death, or been disowned by their parents to deal with regret or feelings of insecurity.
    I guess it’s a subtlety thing to me.

    1. I probably agree with this point. While the stories here are tragic, Rei from March Comes in Like a Lion is a character I have far more sympathy for. His family died but otherwise there’s been little in the way of tragedy and more in the way of set-backs and minor conflicts with others. It is a more relatable kind of situation then some of the out-there tragedies that are sometimes constructed for characters.

  8. You don’t have Evangelion on there. Or Ruroni Kenshin aka Samurai X. Or Full Metal Panic. Or any number of others, but this is a top 5 list of shows you’ve seen. I agree with Trigun being on this list. Vash’s backstory is very tragic.

    As for your question of if there are characters without tragic backstories: yes, but they are comedy shows. Dramas pretty much require tragic backstories. It is part of the genre. Rune Soldier Louie has a HAPPY backstory. So does Slayers. Lina Inverse had a good childhood but she’s still terrified of her older sister, who is a waitress at the family inn. Those Who Hunt Elves had good lives back in Japan and no tragedy, just annoyance in the fantasy world. The comedies don’t have to be all mopey childhoods.

    1. Thanks for adding your list of shows where characters have tragic backstories.
      And the first question was rhetorical but thanks for providing some examples of characters with non-tragic backgrounds.

  9. One could argue that it’s the tragic backstory that sets the MC apart and makes them interesting… as well as providing the necessary motivation to get the plot started.

    The tragedy/bad things don’t even have to necessarily have to happen to the MC. Consider the case of of Oumae Mamiko (Sound Euphonium) – it’s seeing her give up her dreams due to parental pressure that sets Kumiko on her path.

  10. Dear sweet Yato. I bawled when she made a little shrine for him. This is still on my list for hope that there may be a season 3. In the end if there isn’t I will need to get the manga asap.

  11. I’m not familiar with Trigun, but I definitely agree on the rest of the list. I’m not sure I can think of any mroe off the top of my head, but i’m sure a few will come to me once I hit ‘post comment’.

    1. That’s usually how it goes. I publish the list and then read a comment or two and suddenly realise I could have had half a dozen or more other characters.

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