A person’s childhood can often explain a lot about the people they later become. And unfortunately, it isn’t always a happy tale.
This goes double in the anime community since every good hero needs an adequately tragic backstory.
And for this ranking, we’re going to dive into the best examples (or should I say worst examples) of tragic childhoods.
20. Shoya Ishida
Anime: A Silent Voice
This is definitely the least morbid take on this list – so it’s a nice way of easing into the depression.
Admittedly, Shoya was kind of a prick growing up. He bullied Shoko and thought he was the bee’s knees in life. But that only made things more difficult once the script got flipped on him.
Not only was he the one getting bullied now but he also had to endure the hatred of all his former friends. And that type of betrayal definitely leads to trust issues later on.
It even culminates to the point of Shoya no longer wanting to be alive.
The fact that this was the least morbid pick should be some indication of how the rest of these are going to go.
Anime: Dragon Ball Z
This one might be a bit controversial, but I’m going to talk about it anyway.
Although looking back at Piccolo’s first attempt at being a babysitter is nostalgic now, it was kind of messed up from Gohan’s perspective.
His parents aren’t around anymore, and his father’s former enemy is now here chucking him into mountains and yelling at him.
Not to mention the fact that all of this was leading up to a big fight where young Gohan was supposed to be the carry. Not really the type of pressure you’d want to put on a little kid.
Overall, I blame this trauma for his costume-wearing days.
18. Johan Liebert
As a grownup, to call Johan despicable would be an understatement. The dude would definitely be top dog in the Minions universe.
And that’s due to his childhood being nothing short of messed up.
From different rich psychopaths manipulating him to good old parental neglect – Johan has seen some stuff. In fact, he basically becomes a psychopath himself before even being eligible for high school.
I don’t want to give too much away (as his backstory is the main driving force for the series) but just know that it’s pretty terrible.
Anime: Gurren Lagann
Without going into spoilers, Simon’s childhood was rough. Just like every human in those days, he had to live underground and constantly fear for his life.
With earthquakes and random debris signing obituaries when you least expect it – I’d imagine it wasn’t an ideal upbringing.
But it gets worse if we venture into spoilers.
After all, Simon had to see Kamina (his only family in the world) die right in front of him. And then he also had to step up and lead an entire war.
That’s quite a lot of pressure to put on a dude who can’t even reach most shelves.
16. Killua Zoldyck
Anime: Hunter x Hunter (2011)
As the prominent edgy character in Hunter x Hunter, you already know that Killua had his fair share of struggles.
We already know that the Zolduck family has no qualms with torture, and it seems like Killua was a frequent punching bag. In fact, he doesn’t even seem to care by the time the series rolls around.
And it’s not just physical torture that his family subjects him to. His brothers mentally berate (or even control him) on multiple occasions. Plus, he has to watch as his younger sister is treated like an object by the rest of the family.
Overall, it makes a lot of sense that Killua is so nonchalant about murder – because suffering seems like a cornerstone of his entire childhood.
Anime: The Promised Neverland
People always say that ignorance is bliss and Ray could probably vouch for that.
None of the kinds in Promised Neverland grew up in ideal circumstances (being that they all get eaten and all that) but at least they didn’t see it coming.
Ray on the other hand knew what was going on. This means that he just had to sit back and watch as his family members were sent to their deaths one by one.
And this isn’t even mentioning the fact that his own mother was the one sending the kids away.
Therefore, just like with the second season of the show, things would’ve been a lot easier if we could just wipe our memories clean.
14. Erza Scarlet
Anime: Fairy Tail
Since it’s the 21st century, I think we can all agree that slavery is pretty bad (I’m very brave, I know). And child slavery is even worse.
Well, Erza definitely knew the full extent of that as she was forced into manual labor from an incredibly early age. And then forced to fight soon after.
And it always hits a bit differently when such a strong character is revealed to have such a tragic backstory.
Like damn, you were really out here carrying the entire show while having a childhood like that?
13. Zora Ideale
Anime: Black Clover
It doesn’t take a psychology degree to take one look at this dude’s design and infer that he has been through some stuff.
To be more precise, a lot of classism.
Not only did he spend his entire childhood hearing how he isn’t worth anything because of his lineage, but he saw his dad getting the same treatment as well.
And if that wasn’t enough, his father also gets murdered. Mind you, even after his death, everyone still openly cursed his father out while Zora just had to sit there and listen.
Overall, his childhood was following the “how to make a villain” playbook to the letter, but somehow still made him a hero.
12. Alphonse Elric
Anime: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
At this point in the list, seeing your parent die doesn’t even make you special. However, there are some added factors that make things worse.
For one, the Elric brothers had to see that abomination when they tried to bring their mother back to life.
Secondly, Alphonse literally lost his entire body and had to be merged with a suit of armor.
I don’t know about you, but literally losing your body sounds like a pretty bad experience. Especially when you’re still just a kid.
Add to that all of the messed-up things the Elric brothers saw while on their adventure (a certain terrible father comes to mind) and you can see why Alphonse’s childhood is a certified tragedy.
Anime: My Hero Academia
If we’re talking about physical abuse in early childhood, Eri got it the worse.
With Overhaul having the power to both dismantle and repair anything, Eri experienced life-shattering pain on a pretty frequent basis.
Not only that but she was also mentally abused and told that if she were to escape, innocent people would die. Not the most ideal approach to parenthood.
Add to that the fact that she also feared her own power and you get quite the trauma.
Honestly, most of the characters in this show had a pretty messed up upbringing, but Eri stood out in terms of raw pain.
Anime: Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
Morgiana’s story is honestly way too similar to some real-world events.
So you already know it’s going to be tragic.
For one, she was a slave. With shackles around her ankles, she was forced to do manual labor with no hope of ever freeing herself.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, she was also subjugated to a lot of racism. With the Fanalis being hunted down all over the world, Morgiana didn’t really have any place to call home.
Overall, she felt on her skin some of the worst practices in human history. The fact that she managed to come out of it all with a sense of optimism and joy is nothing short of a miracle.
9. Violet Evergarden
Anime: Violet Evergarden
Although we don’t know much about Violet’s life before joining the army, we can infer that it was less than ideal.
After all, she was basically treated like an animal or a tool, never being given her basic human rights. And while Gilbert did want to help her, there was only so much he could do.
She was still exposed to danger constantly and had to see many people die. In fact, she had to kill quite a lot herself – ultimately making her emotionless and cold.
So when even Gilbert (the only good guy in her entire upbringing) was taken away from her, the tragedy reaches a crescendo.
Oh, and she also lost her arms in the ordeal.
Because why not add insult to injury at this point?
8. Kakashi Hatake
Anime: Naruto: Shippuden
This show has a lot of messed-up stories.
Honestly, Naruto being an orphan and being ostracized doesn’t even crack the top 10 worst childhoods in this show alone.
Kakashi on the other hand really had it rough.
First off, he went through a similar situation as Zora, seeing his father be ridiculed and ultimately die. But that’s not where things got better for Kakashi.
He saw one friend die in front of his eyes, then had to kill the other himself, and lastly even lost his teacher.
Meanwhile going to the frontlines and fighting for his life on a daily basis.
So yeah, he’s the one that deserves the lonely swing and violin music treatment, not Naruto!
7. Shinra Kusakabe
Anime: Fire Force
Shinra’s story doesn’t have as many nuances as the previous one, but it’s still rather gut-wrenching.
He saw both of his parents die and was then accused of killing them. This accusation carried over for quite some time, with many believing that he was basically the devil.
Losing your parents is bad enough on its own but when you also have the world pointing the finger at a child – that’s a whole different level.
And since his “creepy smile” stayed even in young adulthood, making friends was an uphill battle for quite some time.
Anime: Vinland Saga
It’s one thing to lose your father. But it’s way worse if it happens in front of your eyes.
Then again, he isn’t the first one on this list that had to go through that.
However, what makes him special is that he then hung around his father’s killer for a few years. And while they were hanging out, he also went into battle and killed countless people.
All of this leads to him eventually developing some twistedly wholesome feelings for the man who murdered his dad. Like Stockholm syndrome but somehow ever weirder.
He then watches his new dad also get brutally murdered. My dude just can’t catch a break.
5. Levi Ackerman
Anime: Attack on Titan
Although the show didn’t dwell on it all that long, we saw that Levi had quite a childhood.
And by that I mean he was so poor and malnourished that he almost died of hunger at his mother’s bed.
You know it’s morbid when things getting better means fighting everyone that looks at you funny. But that’s exactly what Levi had to do in order to survive in the slums.
It really puts into perspective how he could shrug off immense tragedies by the time season one rolls around. He has seen the worst of humanity and not much can affect him now.
4. Tomura Shigaraki
Anime: My Hero Academia
I know I said that Eri’s childhood was the most brutal in terms of physical pain, but I think Tomura had more going on mentally.
After all, he literally killed his entire family by accident.
And the guilt associated with that must’ve been quite immense. After all, the dude is literally sporting severed hands in order to never forget that day.
But you also have to account for what happened afterward – as he basically became homeless. In fact, if All for One hadn’t shown up, Tomura probably would’ve just died on the street.
Anime: Elfen Lied
Straight off the bat, Lucy was just full-on tortured for quite some time. That alone (to put things lightly) doesn’t make her life all that ideal.
However, even before she was put into a laboratory, she went through quite a lot.
At first, it was just your usual bullying routine. And while that is also quite sick, it’s nothing compared to what happened next.
The kids in this show were so cruel that they literally killed Lucy’s puppy in front of her.
This then leads to Lucy killing anyone who ever wronged her.
And since this show is old school and brutal, you best believe that she has plenty of reason to be angry at the world.
Being born with some physical defect or illness can always make life seem a bit more depressing. But Hyakkimaru really got the worst possible start in life.
After all, he was a literal blob of flesh. He couldn’t see, hear, speak, feel… He didn’t even have a proper body but rather had to do his best Pinocchio impression!
And let’s not forget that he was also left to die upon birth. So, it’s not like he had any parental support during his childhood either.
In fact, he later finds out that it was his parents (his dad to be more precise) that made him like this.
Overall, I can definitely see why he developed some anger/trust issues during the middle part of the series.
If you know anything about Berserk, you know that it wins every morbid contest on this planet.
After all, Guts couldn’t get a W even while being born – with his mother being already dead and everyone thinking that he’s some sort of demon.
And things somehow still managed to get worse after that point.
Sure, anime-only watchers will probably never know the full extent of Gut’s awful upbringing. But I think they could take a wild guess.
After all, the 1998 version perfectly showcased just how cruel the world can be towards Guts. And let me tell you, his early childhood is somehow just as brutal.