Flashy fights and panty shots are all well and good – but an anime needs good character writing in order to make an actual impact.
So in this listicle we’re looking into character development!
This is my personal ranking of the anime characters that really put in the work and grew over the course of their series.
20. Katsuki Bakugo
Anime: My Hero Academia
I’m going to start things off with Bakugo as his character still has a long way to go. Sure, Deku has that zero-to-hero storyline going for him – but I was always more interested in this hot head.
And that’s because throughout the show he has to learn humility. He has to accept the fact that Deku is catching up to him and that he isn’t the strongest hero around.
Sure – most of the time he just screams all of his problems away. But the scene he had with All Might after fighting Deku was just heartbreaking.
He’s more aware of himself than we might’ve originally thought. And now, he’s even actively helping his former rival to become stronger.
A heavily underrated character arc, if you ask me!
19. Sei Handa
Sei walks a pretty similar path as Bakugo. Although he once thought that he was God’s gift to mankind when it came to calligraphy – he quickly evolves.
With the help of the human gumball named Naru, Sei remembers what art is all about. He learns how to let go of his pride and let the people around him into his life.
The final scene (spoiler alert) even has him accepting a mediocre review with stride – as the piece itself meant something to him.
If you’re an artist of any kind – I’m sure that you can relate with Sei. And his character arc might be the very same lesson we all need to relearn.
Anime: Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
A character overcoming trauma is a very delicate and difficult character arc to execute. However, I think the writers did pretty well with Morgiana.
In fact, they went kind of ham on the symbolism – with Morgiana literally using the chains that once shackled her in order to fly and become truly free.
And, of course, her personality slowly changes as well. From an ice queen with no real motivation to one of the most caring characters in the entire show – we can see her opening up bit by bit.
Anime: Dragon Ball Z
Vegeta is one of the OGs when it comes to the “antagonist turns good” trope. And I still think he’s one of the better examples as well.
For one, it didn’t happen overnight.
This old man needed to be taught this lesson many times, over hundreds of episodes in order to finally get it.
But that honestly made it feel natural and earned. When he finally started being one of the good guys, we all knew how the transformation occurred.
Plus, his evolving relationship with Bulma was the best part of the entire show. Therefore, his character arc has to be in my top twenty of all time.
16. Akane Tsunemori
Psycho-Pass is just a brilliantly written show.
So it only stands to reason that it has some banger character arcs as well.
Akane was by far my favorite simply because of how genuine it came across. She was just this law-abiding, naïve cop that wanted to make the streets safe.
But then life repeatedly punched her in the mouth with heavy doses of morbid reality. And with each punch, you could feel her becoming tougher and more cynical.
By the end, it feels like a full Heisenberg experience – and that’s probably the highest praise you can get in terms of character development.
15. Kageyama Shigeo
Anime: Mob Psycho 100
The thing I love about Mob is that his character arc doesn’t follow the usual trope. It was never about him “accepting his power by defeating tons of bad guys and saving the world”.
In fact, one of the things that helped him out the most was being accepted into a group of gym bros. Not only did that catch me by surprise but it also made Mob feels a bit more real.
And then there’s his battle against trauma – as he blamed himself for the pain he had caused his brother when they were young. It truly goes in-depth and makes you understand how heavy a burden Mob is lugging around.
Sure, Mob in episode one and by the end of the second season don’t feel like completely different people.
But watching his journey of self-acceptance was an absolute blast.
14. Hiroshi Odokawa
Anime: Odd Taxi
Fair warning – I can’t gush about this character without going into severe spoiler territory. So go watch this masterpiece if you already haven’t.
Odokawa initially comes off as quite unassuming. He has a dry sense of humor and doesn’t showcase his emotions all that much.
But the more you learn about his backstory, the more you see just how deep this rabbit hole goes. Or walrus hole in this case.
Not only do we see him deepening his relationships with the people around him, but we also learn that he’s been suffering for quite some time.
With his entire worldview being based on trauma – seeing him finally come out of the other end was a beautiful moment.
It also made for one hell of a plot twist!
13. Miyuki Shirogane
Anime: Kaguya-sama: Love is War
Although Kaguya objectively went through a much more significant character arc, I want to focus on Miyuki. After all, he made the one change we’d all been waiting for – he swallowed his pride.
To say that the Kaguya-sama fanbase was going wild over the season three finale would be the understatement of the year. And personally, it felt earned from beginning to end.
Throughout the entire show, we got to see Miyuki consider confessing to Kaguya more and more – until he finally accepted that he was running out of time.
Just by virtue of being a character in this show, he was already going to make it onto my list – but seeing how he gave us the ultimate payoff, I had to give him extra respect.
12. Obito Uchiha
Anime: Naruto Shippuden
As one of the biggest shows to ever hit the anime community, you already know I had to include at least one Naruto character.
And while most people would probably give this spot to Naruto himself or Sasuke, I found Obito’s story to be a lot more compelling.
After all, he was basically Naruto at the beginning. But where Naruto found friends and support (alongside an OP demon fox), Obito found pain and manipulation.
And his fight against Kakashi, where it constantly switches between them sparring as children and now fighting to the death as adults, is probably one of the best scenes in the entire series.
Sure, he predictably does see the error in his ways by the end, but I still loved his story from beginning to end.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Hyakkimaru was given the worst hand in life. However, throughout the show, we get to see him reclaim his humanity one body part at a time.
That in itself gives the anime a really nice sense of progression.
But the more interesting aspect of the story is seeing how his mental state shifts from episode to episode. As you could imagine, he wasn’t really the emotional type at the beginning.
However, through the people he meets (and more really messed up family reunions), he starts to realize that humanity is more than just a bunch of flesh and nerves.
Leading to a really satisfying ending where Hyakkimaru seemingly lets go of all the rage he’d been carrying around since birth.
A rather simple story beat, but a very satisfying one as well.
10. Hitagi Senjougahara
Anime: Monogatari Series
Although the Monogatari timeline makes character arcs quite difficult to follow, each one is incredibly well-crafted. And Senjougahara is by far my favorite.
Like a few characters on this list, Senjougahara was initially defined by early childhood trauma. This made her extremely cold and extremely dangerous with school supplies.
Even after dealing with her affliction, it takes a while before she can truly open up to Araragi (let alone the rest of the gang).
But, as I’ve mentioned before, this only makes her development feel more concrete. Her issues didn’t magically disappear, but rather she slowly learned how to carry on with them.
It also helps that her character is extremely well-written in all regards – always keeping an air of mystery and complexity about her.
9. Rudeus Greyrat
Anime: Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
Okay, let’s get this out of the way immediately – Rudeus is not meant to be a likable character. Especially if you think about his mental age while watching the show.
And while he never really becomes a saint, you can see him slowly becoming a better person. It also helps that he’s the only isekai MC that actually carries trauma from his past life.
He has to learn about this new world he’s been dropped in – and that’s the easy part. But learning how to deal with his new parents, how to carry actual responsibility, and how he shouldn’t groom children – those are toughies.
Overall, he has a long road ahead in order to become a decent person.
But because he’s starting off so low, I found myself absolutely hooked on the series.
Anime: Hunter x Hunter (2011)
Although Meruem’s arc wasn’t all that long, it’s one of the best.
He starts the show off as a very basic bloodthirsty antagonist. He then shows interest in the human world and wants to beat humans at every game imaginable – a bit more creative.
But then he meets Komugi and I start crying. Through this one sensitive girl, Meruem has a complete glow-up. In fact, by the end of the series, he’s the most human character in the entire cast.
He learns how to love and dedicates his life to maintaining peace. He was even willing to give up a good fight and just talk it out instead.
And his final scene is probably one of the saddest and most powerful moments in anime I’ve ever seen.
Ten out of ten, would google what Gungi is again.
Anime: Gurren Lagann
I’m pretty vocal when it comes to the fact that Kamina is one of the best characters in anime. But man – Simon’s character development hit like a truck.
From being the small drill dude in need of constant emotional support, he became a very confident leader who can also destroy entire galaxies.
I’m pretty sure that’s what character development is supposed to look like.
Jokes aside, seeing Simon gain confidence and perspective after every single hurdle was extremely inspiring. And he definitely had to earn every inch of progress that he made along the way.
Sure, his TedTalk skills never truly reached Kamina’s, but he became a beacon of hope in his own way.
6. Violet Evergarden
Anime: Violet Evergarden
Although the character arc of “emotionless person learns about emotions” isn’t exactly fresh anymore, I still think that Violet Evergarden is the best in the game.
First off, her cold demeanor always made sense – not only was she a child soldier but she was also treated as a tool by most of her superiors.
Secondly, every interaction she has with the rest of the cast seems genuine. She doesn’t immediately understand what love is – but it’s obvious that she was kind from the very start.
Thirdly, this show made me cry a bunch of times and that’s my metric for well-written tragic characters.
5. Tatsuhiro Sato
Anime: Welcome to the N.H.K.
When it comes to deep dives into the human psyche – few shows can compete with Welcome to the N.H.K.
Sato is genuinely experiencing severe anxiety and feels hopeless in the outside world. So, the entire anime follows him as he tries to bridge this gap.
To say that there were a few hurdles along the way would be an understatement.
In fact, it gets extremely morbid at times.
But he does persevere and succeeds at the most difficult task we humans have – finding his self-worth. Absolutely phenomenal writing and one of the most realistically human characters I’ve ever seen.
4. Lelouch Lamperouge
Anime: Code Geass
The thing that made Lelouch’s character development so interesting was the fact that the stakes couldn’t be higher.
My man was out here leading an entire war that could define the future of millions of people. Did I mention that he’s also still in high school?
But this made his arc so interesting to watch.
At first, he came off as your typical angsty teen who just wanted to lash out at a world he thought was unjust.
But by the end, he almost seemed like a saint – constantly looking for a way to better the lives of everyone regardless of his own future.
Although Beastars didn’t really have world-altering stakes, it more than made up for it with some excellent writing. This is because it’s one of the very few shows that realistically tackled topics such as power dynamics and prejudice.
Legoshi, being the main character and all, was by far the most interesting example (although Louis was a very close second).
He constantly tackled with his own strength and his instincts. Being a pacifist at heart, he never wanted anyone to fear him.
However, he soon learns that doing nothing with the power you’re given can be just as damaging as abusing it.
And don’t even get me started on his relationship with Haru. It just felt so raw and so real that I constantly had to remind myself that these were drawings of humanoid animals.
2. Shoya Ishida
Anime: A Silent Voice
When it comes to real human drama – this movie is the peak most writers should strive for. Everything is so raw and unfiltered that you can actually hear your own heart slowly being ripped in two.
And Shoya is at the center of it all.
At first, he’s just some brat that thinks bullying others will make him seem cool. Of course, he gets his comeuppance and most of the class turns on him – nothing we haven’t seen before.
But the fallout from his punishment is where things get interesting. Unlike the stereotypical bully, he becomes timid and carries this feeling of loneliness for years after the fact.
Even when his victim forgives him, he can’t help but constantly doubt himself and all those around him. And let me tell you – it truly do be like that sometimes.
1. Eren Yeager
Anime: Attack on Titan
As much as I love A Silent Voice for its realism, Attack on Titan blew my head away.
And I’ll never quite be the same again.
I honestly expected nothing from Eren when the show started. He seemed as generic as an anime protagonist can possibly get.
But the final season just shifted everything I ever knew about character writing. It dwells into character motivations that literally surpass space and time itself.
And (unless you’re a manga reader) you didn’t see that plot twist coming – even though it kind of made sense in the grand scheme of things.
Overall, Isayama isn’t human and his work through Eren Yeager will probably go down in history as one of the best written characters of all time.