The Fifty Greatest Japanese Animated Characters

We all love animation, whether American, Japanese, or otherwise. (And if you don't, then I don't like you anyway. So there!) What follows is an extremely subjective list of the greatest Japanese animated characters in history. I also have an American list, which can be found here. Although you will probably disagree with a few most of the rankings, I hope you will enjoy the list. Where applicable, I used the American-release title for the series, rather than the original Japanese.

A couple of notes regarding eligibility for the list: First, this is specifically animated characters. Manga characters and merchandising mascots are excluded, although their anime adaptations are of course eligible (without regard to the originals). Second, I limited the roster to one listing per title, though I occasionally bent that rule. Basically, any two characters who appeared together regularly either must be a single item, or cannot both appear. So that may explain some exclusions.

Also, please note that the debut year listed specifically refers to the character's earliest widely-distributed appearance in an animated format, and does not necessarily refer to the best-known incarnation of the character. Thus, different debut years may be valid for some characters.


Name: Ruri "Kuroneko" Goko
Primary Seiyuu: Kana Hanazawa
Title: Oreimo
Debut: 2010

Even though she's not one of the series' main characters, Kuroneko makes the list for one simple reason: likeability. A full-on goth-loli otaku, her seriousness and her dry, deadpan barbs have endeared her to legions of fans. She was so successful that the show was even able to send the ostensible star, Kirino, away for a quarter of the series run. So long as Kuroneko was around, the fans were happy.


Name: Lynn Minmay
Primary Seiyuu: Mari Iijima
Title: Robotech
Debut: 1982

Lynn Minmay was a typical girl-next-door: cheerful, playful, with dreams of a singing career. And boy, did she achieve those dreams. She went from a talent competition to a recording contract to fame among all humanity . . . and among spies from the alien Zentradi. It was their fandom of her which led to communication and then peace between the two races. It has been said that music brings people together. Yet how often does it end an interplanetary war?


Name: Sawako Kuronuma
Primary Seiyuu: Mamiko Noto
Title: Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You
Debut: 2009

Everyone loves an underdog, which means that everyone loves Sawako. Very quiet and serious, with no understanding of how to express herself properly, she wound up being misunderstood by her classmates and nicknamed "Sadako," after the protagonist in The Ring. Yet the most popular boy in school, Kazehaya, noticed her, and realized that she was not only sweet, but also cheerful. With him cheering her on, she was able to get friends. With friends (and fans) cheering her on, she was able to get Kazehaya.


Name: Sugar
Primary Seiyuu: Tomoko Kawakami
Title: Sugar: A Little Snow Fairy
Debut: 2001

As an apprentice Season Fairy, Sugar was given the task of collecting "twinkles" so that she could grow up and make beautiful snow. Too bad nobody told her what twinkles are, only that they could be found around the rare humans who could see her. It didn't help that she acted like an ADHD kid on a candy high. Still, her innocence and wide-eyed wonder not only helped her succeed, but also helped bring joy and simplicity to the life of her human friend. Waffo!


Name: Nino
Primary Seiyuu: Maaya Sakamoto
Title: Arakawa Under the Bridge
Debut: 2010

Nino was that one person who was almost freakishly weird, who you absolutely could not ever figure out, but who you secretly admired. Houseless - but not homeless - this possible Venusian lived in a box under a bridge, in a community with people even weirder than she. She was a forgetful but dependable girl who had little love for worldly goods. After saving a rich boy's life, she rejected all offers of material rewards, only asking that he let her experience love. We could use more weirdoes like that.


Name: Sazae Fuguta
Primary Seiyuu: Midori Kato
Title: Sazae-san
Debut: 1969

Sazae has always been a devoted wife and mother, but don't think that she's a throwback to more sexist times. She was always an independent woman, and was an early member of Japan's feminist movement. Although her character seems tame and old-fashioned now, that is due to changes in society, rather than in the character. And society has had plenty of time to change: at over 40 years and over 2,000 episodes (and counting!), Sazae-san is by far the longest-running animated series in history.


Name: Monkey D. Luffy
Primary Seiyuu: Mayumi Tanaka
Title: One Piece
Debut: 1999

What happens when a young boy gains the power to stretch but loses the ability to ever swim? He becomes a pirate captain, of course! Fortified with no money, no crew, no knowledge of the sea, and a boatload of optimism and guts, Luffy set out to assemble a fierce pirate crew and become king of the pirates. Naturally, he had to stop along the way to right wrongs, fight the evil variety of buccaneer, and beam his mile-wide Gum-Gum grin.


Name: Honey Kisaragi / Cutie Honey
Primary Seiyuu: Eiko Masuyama
Title: Cutie Honey
Debut: 1973

Sometimes she's a biker, sometimes a cameraman. But in reality, she's the swordwielding champion of justice, Cutie Honey! Honey was the first magical girl heroine aimed at male viewers, and the first to bring a significant amount of sex appeal to the genre. With multiple remakes of the series, she has become one of anime's most iconic characters.


Name: Yawara Inokuma
Primary Seiyuu: Yuuko Minaguchi
Title: Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl
Debut: 1989

The granddaughter of one of Japan's most legendary judo-ka, Yawara appeared destined to become an Olympian. There was just one problem: she didn't want to! She wanted to spend time with her friends, and maybe even find a little bit of romance. Yet as 1992 approached, she found herself drawing ever closer to Barcelona.


Name: Leo (Kimba)
Primary Seiyuu: Taeko Kawata
Title: Kimba the White Lion
Debut: 1965

Born in a cage, Leo escaped only to be raised by humans. After returning to the wild, he became an early advocate of human-animal peace. An early anime character, Leo is one of the few animal protagonists in the medium. Yet his greatest influence was not in Japan, but in America, as most people not employed by Disney believe he was the true inspiration for Simba in The Lion King.

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