Even though the calendar might claim that we’re into the 2020s, I am still mentally processing 2011 and am therefore extremely lost.
But why move forward when you can live off that nostalgia high forever?
We’re taking a look back at the 2000s – the shows that started anime’s climb towards the mainstream, and more specifically the 2000s characters that we can all recognize from a mile away.
This is my list of some of the most iconic anime characters from the ‘00s.
15. Natsu Dragneel
Anime: Fairy Tail
I am going to start the list off with Natsu because my dude barely made the cut. Considering that Fairy Tail started airing in late 2009 and all that.
But since Fairy Tail quickly became one of the staple foods of any shounen-enjoyer’s diet – I still had to give it some credit.
You take one look at Natsu and you already know that he’s an anime protagonist. From the spikey hair to the chiseled abs and talking mascot friend, Natsu was built for success.
He also took our understanding of nakama power to a whole new level, with more friendship speeches than we have ever seen before!
Overall, Natsu rocked the dragon aesthetic, (arguably the coolest aesthetic there is) acted like a goof for some good comic relief, and gave us some really good fights. So even though he was a bit late to the party, he still deserves the iconic status.
14. Hitagi Senjougahara
The Monogatari series is honestly just some top-tier stuff. So even though only a few parts were released during the 2000s, I had quite some trouble deciding which character was the most iconic overall.
Because Araragi gets the most screen time, Shinobu plays the loli trump card and Hanekawa easily captivates anyone who has ever used UwU in their life.
But in the end, I landed on Senjougahara, as she was basically a unicorn of her time – being a well-written female anime lead.
Throwing shade aside, Senjougahara is just beyond lovable.
Her iron-clad character combined with just the right amount of sarcasm and fan service made her one of the most recognizable heroines of the 2000s.
13. Nana Osaki
To be blunt, there are going to be a lot of shounen shows on this list.
So I want to shout out at least one shoujo heroine that absolutely stole the show.
As a show, Nana was simply brilliant and gave you some of the best drama the anime industry has ever seen.
The issues are real, the characters are fleshed out and your heart is beaten up and trampled upon every two episodes or so.
And even though there’s another Nana in the show, this punky lady definitely carries a lot more weight.
She looks like the embodiment of Tumblr (but in a good way), her story is tragic, and her personality is likable.
So get your simp pants on if you plan on watching this show.
12. Johan Liebert
Although Monster’s art style aged like fine milk, you mustn’t underestimate the presence this show once had.
The story is absolutely gripping and it’s all because of this young lad – Johan.
When it comes to well-written antagonists, very few can stand in the ring with this man. Even just him showing up at a location made shivers go down my spine.
He doesn’t have any superpowers or weapons of mass destruction – but rather a keen intellect and a complete disregard for human life – which makes him quite a force to be reckoned with.
I can’t overstate the emotional rollercoaster that will take place once you get to know this character. And it’s a tragedy that so many people won’t give this show a chance because of its art style.
Anime: Samurai Champloo
Loving anime is basically a guarantee that you also love samurai. And Samurai Champloo simply scratched both of those itches.
Plus it gave us that “by the book” and “wildcard” dynamic that we’ve seen so many times in cop movies. But it then elevated it either further.
I mean, Mugen basically starts break dancing when he’s fighting. And he’s definitely not above spitting in your eyes if it means earning the victory.
His design was just very wild, his personality was the highest of all moods, and watching him fight was equal part exciting and relaxing.
Plus the show had such a banging soundtrack it basically put all other shows of that time to shame.
10. Ichigo Kurosaki
I did warn you that the shounen meta is going to take over, and this is but the first step.
As part of the original big three, Bleach (and therefore Ichigo) is an absolute anime GOAT. And that’s just a fact.
His design is cool as all hell. And to this day you will be hard-pressed to find a show with fights as consistently exciting as in Bleach.
Plus Ichigo himself is basically dripped out of his mind – with every new transformation initiating at least five new waves of notebook doodles and battle fantasies.
Overall, Ichigo was just extremely likable and fueled my power fantasies all throughout the 2000s. And statistically speaking, I wasn’t alone in that fantasy either, so that’s why I have to include him in my top ten at the very least.
Anime: Hellsing Ultimate
Alucard is simply cool as all hell (pun intended) and the go-to when it comes to badass nightmare creature fantasies.
The red getup, the gun, the Satanic powers, everything about this guy is dangerous and really fun to watch.
The fact that his personality is also all over the place while his approach to life is a fat mood only further helped his relatability and made him every teenager’s poster choice.
Overall, if you were even 1% goth or edge-lord, Hellsing was like the holy anime grail and Alucard was the sweet wine you first got drunk on.
And let’s be honest, there were a lot of us roaming the web even back then.
8. Taiga Aisaka
Like it or not, very soon entire historical periods will be tied to a single waifu as the beacon of modern culture – as weebs make every historian turn in their grave.
And when it comes to the 2000s, I think only one other female character could compare to the absolute presence that Taiga had.
Like seriously, you couldn’t go two clicks without running into one of her pouting pictures plastered proudly as if it was the new one million dollar NFT or something.
Plus, Taiga is a tsundere – so she automatically had a loyal army prepared to go to the ends of the earth to protect their abusive and emotionally constipated queen.
Being sympathetic, adorable, and really interesting was merely fluff material that only made Taiga’s reign even stronger and fiercer.
Anime: Gurren Lagann
You kind of have to give it to Kamina – he managed to speedrun the iconic status like it was nobody’s business.
Like seriously, he isn’t even the main character throughout most of the show, and yet he’s so undeniably the best.
His glasses alone represent the entire show while his unyielding charisma just made Gurren Lagann special beyond words.
My dude was a motivational speaker without even trying. He could give Ted himself the talk and we’d all listen! Plus, he was a badass fighter and a great leader.
Even a decade later we get to see some remnants of Kamina in Pewdipie’s collection. And if that isn’t proof of one’s iconic status, I honestly don’t know what is.
6. Monkey D. Luffy
Anime: One Piece
I had no idea where to put Luffy, as he’s honestly omnipresent at this point.
We will live through the death of the Sun before we see the end of One Piece – so saying that it was “around during the 2000s” would be a huge understatement.
Having started airing in 1999, the 2000s were when Luffy started hitting his stride and making more people question what piracy actually was – more than even Johnny Depp.
From his endless stomach to his brick-like social skills, Luffy was just the everyday Joe character that everyone could love. While also giving you just enough action scenes and drama to fully hook you in a lifetime commitment to watching this show.
5. Edward Elric
Anime: Fullmetal Alchemist
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was the number one rated show for over a decade, only now being slightly contested by Attack on Titan.
That’s a pretty clear sign of its influence and quality.
The Elric brothers were an immediate hit. Their backstory hit us right in the depression and their fighting styles actually went beyond just friendship monologues and really strong punches.
And even though the world keeps forgetting this fact – Edward is still the older brother in that dynamic. Consequently, he also carried the show quite heavily if you ask me.
4. Lelouch Lamperouge
Anime: Code Geass
If Code Geass came out today, I probably would’ve given it a pass.
A mech anime with lanky characters all over the place? Sounds pretty bad when you put it like that.
But god bless my young self being less of an art style elitist because it’s one of the best shows the anime community has ever seen. With Lelouch undoubtedly being a pioneer when it came to anti-heroes in anime.
The show had one of the best endings an anime could ever get, and Lelouch definitely came out as one of the OGs after the finale.
He’s brilliant, passionate, fierce, and puts his money where his mouth is – so how can you not love him?
3. Light Yagami
Anime: Death Note
You can’t really talk about Lelouch without also mentioning his anti-hero brother, Light Yagami.
And if you remember the show more through L – just substitute his name for Light’s in your head.
From the infamous potato chip scene to the many meltdowns he would have throughout the series – Light was definitely quite the memorable fellow.
Being a super genius with a god complex tends to stick out among the crowd. Who would’ve thunk it?
And considering that Death Note was a gateway anime for tons of people – Light just became anime Saint Peter. Welcoming all the normies with his diabolical plans and his crazy laugh.
That’s how I came into this community and I have never regretted it. So Light has to be top three material for sure.
2. Haruhi Suzumiya
Anime: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
This one might seem a bit weird if you weren’t around at the time.
But trust me, Haruhi was basically a god.
In fact, do yourself a favor and go down the rabbit hole of the 2000s Haruhi craze – just so you can see the limits to which humanity can go for this anime character.
The dance, the costumes, the pouts, the poses, the whacky adventures, and the terrifying existential equivalence of “what if god was one of us” – Haruhi had it all and the community acted appropriately.
It wasn’t even a waifu war as much as it was a waifu genocide.
And I don’t think any female lead will ever see as much universal and single-minded praise as Haruhi did back in the day – which makes her position in the number two spot an absolute no-brainer.
1. Naruto Uzumaki
I’ll honestly be surprised if anyone fights me on this one.
We named an entire style of running after him. Changed our general perception of swing sets. Made more AMVs than the world objectively needed. And memed his “believe it” like there was no tomorrow.
The dude just had an impact.
The show was literally everywhere, and even though everyone fangirled over Sasuke (or later on Itachi), Naruto was still the most iconic among the bunch.
His name being the literal title of the show definitely helped with that last point.
Yes, he came off as a bit annoying at the beginning. But his first Nine Tail appearance sent shivers down the spine of humanity. And “Sadness and Sorrow” became the modern Mozart if you ask me.
So, needless to say, I loved the show quite a bit.
And Naruto easily claims the title of the most iconic character from the 2000s anime era.