With its constant tension and fun, anime is a treasure trove of stories I’ve loved since childhood.
But it’s not always about good vibrations.
Anime have their share in sad stories – and stories that are usually not sad, but always evoke the same feeling of melancholy in the viewer.
Here are the shows from above that made me swoon much longer than usual, and of which the most impressive moments remain clear in my mind to this day.
Disclaimer : Spoilers ahead.
30. Training room
This two-episode series, 47 episodes, really surprised me. Given the title and the previews, I thought it would be a combination of caricatural violence and hilarity.
And I was right, but not quite right.
Class Murder is not a series like the others who are satisfied with an interesting starting point.
It has slowly evolved beyond demonstrations of assassination attempts and Koro-sensei’s many ridiculous abilities.
So, although I didn’t really like most of the actors in the first season, I found it difficult to break away from the series in the second season, after seeing how much the students had changed and deepened their bond with each other – and especially with Koro-sensei, whose story was more than impressive.
29. Ano Hee Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. (Anohana: the flower we saw that day)
Certainly one of the most popular sad anime series of the last decade, Anoana does not end with the death of the protagonist. No, it’s not.
Instead, it starts the other way around:
A member of the core team is already dead. And it is their spirit that drives Jint and the others to begin the difficult healing process.
Anohana is a tragic story. But also about the bittersweet reality that sometimes causes people to split up.
This is where the five MCs helped each other shortly after Menma’s terrible fate. It’s unfortunate, yes, but perfectly understandable.
But the show knows that you can’t always just sweep things under the rug and face tragedy.
Sometimes you have to face the past (and the painful feelings associated with it) with the help of others.
A death changes the lives of many. But many can also find comfort in the others. Perhaps in this way those who are still alive can help the loved ones to find eternal rest.
28. Bokura ha Ita (We were there)
Saying we have a simple aesthetic would be an understatement. Still, the series remains one of my favourite romantic anime, partly because of the clean, naked images that are also present in the original manga.
We’ve had 26 episodes. But without the second season, many of us who grew up with the series will never feel complete (unless we read a manga).
I’ve seen this show at least four times. I know how it starts and ends, but I still get depressed every time I look at it.
There is something in their character, in the way their eyes reveal that they are hiding a secret, or that they long for someone (or desperately try to forget).
From Motoharu and Nanami to Masafumi and Yuri, everyone does their job well, and the shoujo-tropes are carried out correctly.
Yeah, it’s a tragedy.
But we also had a beautiful teen love story, with familiar joys and sorrows – and it has soothing but sad melodies.
27. White Album 2
Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch The White Album because this one and this one have two different characters and two different stories.
So, what’s going on?
Well, White Album 2 is about a love triangle that arises when Haruki incorporates the high school idol Setsuna and the mysterious child prodigy Kazusu into his band.
Haruki and Setsuna eventually form an official couple, but not everything is as it seems. I felt that something had gone wrong, but that was not enough to protect me from the devouring suffering that followed the revelation.
Were these characters flawed at all? Did they believe their intentions were good, or were they aware of their deception and the price they paid?
In addition, White Album 2 contains many songs that reinforce the emotions that Haruka, Setsun and Kazusa ultimately feel, and I don’t know if I want a second season or not.
26. Death Parade
Death Parade is an original anime based on the short film Billiards of Death. If you only knew about the viral OP, you’d think it was a brilliant show with people wanting to dance all day long.
In fact, the twelve-episode series is meant to expose people and their true nature.
Think about it:
You just died and you meet a bartender who asks you to play a game against another dead man. Either you reincarnate (i.e. you get another chance to live) or you find yourself in the void.
Are you ready to disappear forever or are you going to fight for reincarnation? What if you were an asshole when you were alive and the other participant was practically a saint?
Does repentance and repentance mean that you decide to live a second life – or does it mean that this decision is taken away from you?
The Death Parade is often tough, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
25. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your lies in April)
Is it a serious sin to put your lies in the bottom half of the list in April? Look, I know a lot of people (and my friends) like it a little bit, but their sad anime series isn’t my number one.
Still, I recognize the strengths of this acclaimed adaptation of A-1 images.
Your April will certainly be lively, also (and especially) in the music shows. It’s an interesting sight to see Kaori and Kusei moving to the rhythm of their music.
The series beautifully illustrates the amazing things in life (e.g. music, youth, communication). And it’s a character’s desire to live life to the fullest that makes the end just as strong.
24. Full Moon or Sagashit (search for full moon)
Whatever mistakes Studio Dean has made over the years, you can’t completely hate them. After all, they gave anime fans this heart (and tear) break 52 episodes in 2002.
Finding the Full Moon tells the story of a young girl named Mitsuki Koyama. She wants to become a singer and has promised her childhood friend Aichi Sakurai that she will make their dream come true.
But she has throat cancer, and the shinigami who came to tell her she only has a year to live.
Considering the property, I thought it would be a predictable, heavy and tragic story.
But the search for the full moon has exceeded all expectations. He has bravely faced death (and even suicide).
Not only did she make the audience sad, but she also let them experience a whole range of emotions that gave meaning to her journey.
23. Kuzu no Honkai (Riff-raff desire)
Is the lust for scum awful? Well, there’s a lot of deception, lies and sexual acts that involve more than true love.
But I don’t think it’s pure crap.
On the contrary, Desire for Scum is one of my 10/10 anime. For me, it’s one of the best romantic dramas in the history of anime. One that embraces the more complicated and messy side of desire and attachment.
Grief is a peculiar thing.
These characters are interesting because of their weaknesses. They make questionable decisions based on their adolescent (or adult) feelings, and I can’t help being more sympathetic than angry.
It is frustrating when their situation does not improve and they make the same mistakes over and over again, as if they are actively in a rut.
So if you see even a little hope and a positive development of your character, you can’t help but be proud of them. Desire for Scum is a bittersweet experience and I’m glad Studio Lerche made one of the best manga adaptations ever.
22. Kimi ga Nozomu Eyes (Growling Hearts)
For the love of the anime, give this show a chance. Where can we find a series of 14 episodes instead of the usual 12 (or 11)?
But seriously, Rumble of the Heart begins in the third episode. So if you only look at the first two, it looks like another normal high school romance.
It is not surprising that there is a tragic event in anime that complicates things for young lovers – and that is something quite different.
Takayuki is torn between two women:
One of them is Haruka, his ex-girlfriend who was involved in an accident Takayuki blames himself for. The other is Mitsuki, the girl who brought them together and with whom he fell in love after Haruka’s accident.
It’s a very complicated situation. Neither means the other is sick, but they have to face reality. If it’s any consolation: The four episodes of OVA offer a lighter story to heal your broken heart.
21. Done in the abyss
Citrus cinema has its share in good anime series.
But Made in the Abyss is the crowning glory, a triumph of a great story.
Done in the abyss, the human child Rico and his humanoid friend Regu follow as they descend into the abyss – hoping to find Rico’s mother deep in the mystical abyss.
This series looks and sounds like a well made outdoor fantasy role-playing game. I spoke highly of OST, and the world of Made in the Abyss is simply breathtaking.
But Rico and Regu (and Uzen and Nanachi) are not a game that is all fun and adventurous.
At the touch of a button, Made in Abyss enters the territory of dark performances. You may want to go back to the lighter side of the journey, but you have to keep looking, if only to keep the characters company.
20. Wolf Rain
I’ve only seen Wolf Rain once, and that was over ten years ago. So, even though I can’t remember any specific details, I still remember the emotional charge of the last four episodes of OVA.
Seriously, don’t stop at episode 26. Conclusion found in the AGM.
Now that I have made it clear what you need to pay attention to, I can tell you that Wolf Rain may feel like he’s breaking up with a long-term partner – only you’ll experience it little by little, without being able to breathe.
And I’m not talking about how Attack on Titan often kills his precious characters a few episodes apart.
I mean the heartbreaking moments pile up at the end when they reach the finish line, and you want nothing more than Kiba and the rest of the pack to find paradise.
19. Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance)
By the way, the soundtracks of Wolf Rain and Terror in Resonance were written by the legendary Yoko Kanno, and that’s a big problem. These performances would never have been so tortuous if they had not woven their themes and emotions into their music.
In any case, I personally think that melancholy is well rooted in the DNA of horror.
From the first episode, with its cinematographic aesthetics and cold cinematography, and the appearance of Nine, Twelve, and even Lisa, I could not shake off the fear.
She wasn’t always at the top of the list. But he never left.
And that’s what I love about this show.
There is a great coherence in the characters, the plot, the visual and tonal style. It made me sad when, in the last few episodes, I only saw or heard Nine naughty glances.
The scene with the beloved motorcycle is liberating but bittersweet, as if the ride is just a delay for the inevitable tragedy. The Ferris wheel is also disturbing.
Terror in Resonance is an absolutely sad anime.
The question is when (and which of the elements) will put you in a dark mood.
18. Sora yori mo Tui Basho (A Place Beyond the Universe)
Like Wolf’s Rain and Terror in Resonance, this Madhouse masterpiece is an original anime that proves that producers and studios need to keep supporting brand new stories.
The poster for A Place Beyond the Universe reminded me of another CGDCT series, with a journey to nature in the mix. Like Camp Yuru, but with big boats and the ocean.
But I was wrong. And I’m glad I did. It was more than that.
A Place Further Than the Universe has fully realized and credible characters whose relationships develop just as credibly.
It is because of these girls (and their hard-earned trip to Antarctica) that viewers must continue to pursue their dreams, take risks and make the most of what they have, even if things don’t go the way we think they will.
17. Meeting of the angels!
Jun Maeda is synonymous with sad anime. Of course, he hasn’t had any extraordinary creations in recent years. But fans can always return to his best work, including Angel Beats.
I didn’t even know what it was when I got a copy.
In each successive episode, not only have I mocked Yuri Nakamura-san’s shenanigans with Shinda Sekai Scythians, but I also hoped they would find peace within themselves. It’s the only way they can finally leave the afterlife.
I’ve already been moved by the story of Masami-san and Yui-san. Needless to say, by the time Kanade told Yuzuru what else was regrettable about him, I was completely confused.
16. Bocura No (Bocurano)
Children should not feel that the fate of the world is in their hands – but that is exactly the situation June and others find themselves in.
For each opponent, one of the children who has accepted the contract with Kokopelli must control the robot Zeart. If they win (and save Earth from danger), they die.
Yeah, you read it right.
In exchange for the use of Zearth, the sword feeds on the life force of his pilot. It’s a sacrifice no one, especially children, should make. Do they even want to save everyone, including those who may or may not have been sexually abused?
But it’s Bocurano for you. It places children in traumatic situations that then reveal their perspectives on life and their values.
15. Nihon Chinbotsu 2020 (Japan Moiki: 2020)
It’s certainly a controversial choice. Just look at the reviews and reactions on the forums, and it’s clear that even people who generally liked the show, felt that it was a horse race.
Yet Japan collapses: 2020 deserves this place because it goes beyond disaster by examining the socio-political elements that have actually been debated in Japan for a long time.
There are many ways Japan is sinking: 2020 could hurt.
He can explain how devastating an earthquake can be. It’s not just a big earthquake (and a tsunami when it’s under water). There are aftershocks and possible landslides, fires, traffic accidents, floods and even fatal injuries.
Only the first two episodes are terrifying because they show perfectly how ruthless the world can be. How close death can be, and the people you love may not even have time to mourn.
The anime then shows the scary side of humanity through discrimination, racism and how people can hurt or betray others if it means they (or their family) can survive.
14. Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop remains Shinichiro Watanabe’s most popular and best-known anime series.
Thanks to him, many anime fans (now much older than me) have been able to discover not only his vision, but also the divine music of Yoko Kanno, who turned out to be a connoisseur of jazz and blues.
As with most entries, there is tragedy in this series.
But Spike Spiegel is a great protagonist in the mystery. It seems as if he doesn’t care about life and only chases away heads when he really needs them, but beneath that façade lies someone who accepts his painful past – and how that shapes his present and future.
It’s a beautiful work of art. And if the last line of Spike Bach! is worthy of its status as a classic today, I hope viewers will reflect on the other famous line and wonder what it means not only for Spike, but also for the viewers:
You’re carrying that weight.
13. Violet Evergarden
With Violet Evergarden, Kyoto Animation has really reached a whole new level – and it’s not that fans didn’t like the detailed character design and animation before.
But I’m not complaining.
Purple Evergarden is incredibly beautiful and is guaranteed a 10/10 for its technical aspects. But the series shines all the more because the visuals complement the plot (or the plots, given Violet’s work).
Just like the character in the title: She may be beautiful, but it is her journey, filled with memories of war and chaos and an understanding of what makes us human, that has captivated people all over the world.
All his episodes are great, but he’s got extra tissue ready for EP 10.
12. Woollen length tests
It is not the only fictional work that predicted the arrival of computers, or how the digital world would take over the world and change business, communication and everyday life as we know it.
But I always think of Serial Experiments Lain when someone asks for an anime about digital technology (and it helps that the opening song in English is a classic).
In Lain’s series Experiences, the seated man is thrown into a philosophical merry-go-round – which is not as satisfying as one might think.
While Lane struggles with the familiar but complex concepts of personal identity, social connection and defining what is real, she also struggles with loneliness, family and the problems that plague Japanese (and other) societies to this day.
If you spend most of your daily life in front of a screen, like me, it should resonate even more.
Am I wrong? That’s not a list of the best anime series of all time, is it?
Here’s the deal:
Although K-One brings me peace and happiness in all his interactions with the world (often with Mooga candy), he has a gift for evoking the fleeting nature of emotions – and of life itself.
You can’t always be sad, but you can’t always be happy.
Above all, you don’t always have the opportunity to spend the days with your dear friends from school or the neighbourhood. In the end, everyone has to grow, which means we have to take more responsibility and change certain paths in life.
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the attentive warmth of the character design, the animation, the music and the decors.
There is always a hint of transience in the light, fun moments of Yui and the girls, who need to be cherished (whether they are ordinary or unique) because they can never go back – all they will have are memories, memories that underline, replace and change parts of the past.
I will always love (and mourn) episode 24 of season 2, especially when Yui and the band Tenshi ni Fureta play yo for Azura in the clubhouse as a farewell to her and the club before graduation.
10. Fruit basket
The adaptation of the anime Fruits Basket in 2001 was already very good.
But the new adaptation, which began in 2019 and ends in 2021, is surprisingly much better.
I know the title doesn’t sound sad, especially when you know that people turn into animals of the zodiac.
Yeah, it’s cute (and not just because of Yuki) and funny. But he treats everyone as imperfect individuals, which is the reality of people.
And don’t take it as a bad thing. In the imperfections and concerns of humanity, people learn not only to improve themselves, but also to let others help them – without feeling guilty or wasting time.
The new adaptation suggests that Fruitmand, with its depiction and patient exploration of everything from parental violence to social isolation and despair, will be one of the first masterpieces of the new decade. And I couldn’t be prouder.
9. Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan – Tsuyoku stallion (Samurai X: Confidence and betrayal)
Rurouni Kenshin’s 94-episode series contains many touching moments that complement the action, but this particular OVA contains a whole mix of fear, regret and suffering, all in one package of four episodes.
Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal gives viewers an extensive overview of Kenshin Himura’s origins.
He remembers the horrible events of his early years that led him to become the dreaded Hitokiri Battusai.
There you will meet Enishi and Tomoe Yukishiro, and above all you will witness the one personal tragedy that changed his life forever and convinced him never to kill again. At the end of the day, they are the ones who only strive for peace and justice.
8. Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku (Occasionally, here and there)
Here and there, here and there, the show is now 20 years old.
Yet the events that took place here have not yet left my memory.
In just 13 episodes, the Studio AIC series illustrated one of the darkest environments and stories in the history of anime. Seriously, it’s just as disturbing and inspiring to see MC Shuuzou Matsutani recover despite the overwhelming pain and sorrow in the dark world he was thrown into.
Sometimes there are young characters here and there, but it’s not really for children:
The spectacle is accompanied by torture, murder, violence and all the horrors that await mankind.
These actions are disgusting and widespread. And you can’t really blame others when they lose hope – and even become instruments of terror themselves.
But in this dystopia there is the Shuuzu, rough but boisterous. In a world where evil rules over mankind, the touch of hope is more important than ever.
7. Rainbow: Nisha Rockubow no Sichinin (Rainbow)
Rainbow is a courageous show that underlines the need for prison reform and prisoners’ rights, especially when it comes to juvenile delinquents.
It’s a violent anime. But that’s the way it has to be.
As much as I want people to believe that prisons always serve their purpose, it’s far from the truth. That is why several documentaries deal with the criminal justice system in developed and developing countries.
Thanks to Rainbow, the viewer is reminded of reality:
Leaders can abuse their power to gain more political, social or even sexual power, and not everyone behind bars is a broken and incorrigible human being – some are morally better than the guards and doctors in charge of reforming them.
6. Haibane Renmei
Haibane Renmei is one of the most unorthodox anime, adding elements of fantasy and psychological and philosophical research, such as the acclaimed Iyashikei Mushishi series.
But while Musisi has these strange life forms, this series has characters with halos and wings, but they are not there to preach any religion.
This is apparently a stylistic choice, but you can also give meaning to Haibane Renmei’s visuals, with soothing (or nostalgic and deaf) colours and backgrounds for the characters’ drawings.
And all this contributes to a pleasant viewing experience.
Things seem to be moving slowly on Glee. But when you put the pieces of the puzzle together (or try to understand certain things), you start thinking about life, existence, friendship, guilt, regret, and before you know it, you’re in a process of introspection.
It makes me sad. But sometimes people need that kind of grief.
5. The Neon Gospel Genesis
Some say Evangelion shouldn’t be there because it’s not sad, arguing that it’s more like a real descent into hell of depressive madness and a ton of symbolism (or pseudo-symbolism).
But it’s sad.
This highly influential series was the subject of many long essays on the human condition, even without the film The End of the Gospel. Seize the weaknesses of young people with particular strength.
There’s nothing wrong with mime players about Shinji not being hit by a robot or being a coward, but his character’s struggle is not rooted in fiction – the same can be said of Rei and Asuka.
However apocalyptic and confusing (or seemingly meaningless) the gospel may seem, aspects such as its framing and the decision to leave a few moments of silence indicate a spectacle that understands human suffering in the way it takes shape and continues.
4. Clannad: After The Story (Clannad ~ After The Story~)
Angel Beats was already in tears, but Clannad..: After history, this is Jun Maed’s most painful work.
Now, Clannad’s first season starts in high school. And you can watch season two without him.
However, it is very important to see it if you want a complete set, because then you have a better understanding of the characters in After Story.
You see, the second season takes place when the characters have already graduated from high school.
This time Tomoya Okazaki is at the centre of the action – but it’s not the usual beautiful show.
Tomoya is going through so much that I don’t even know if I can handle it, and the fact that she’s going from puberty to adulthood is the kind of pain that makes me emotional.
When I was a kid, life seemed slow. And I was looking forward to growing up and having a career and a family. But then you graduate from university and suddenly the years seem to pass so quickly that you get further and further away from your youth, the time when you could be reckless and nothing seemed impossible.
Here, Tomoya learns what it is like to have a family, to be a father, to lose someone who is the light of his world, to see himself as a great failure, to mourn and to persevere.
The end was controversial for years. But After Story is an excellent example of how the whole is better than the sum of its parts.
Based on the award-winning manga, Nana is the antithesis of the soft novels and the light drama series of anime. He doesn’t intend to make a happy ending to appease the public (and the producers).
Nana is a very shoujo anime in the conception of the characters and a few tropics here and there, but it is also a realistic and mature take on the lives of two young women.
The two sitting MC’s (yes, they have the same name) have their funny and pleasant moments, but grandma is also worried about the terrifying elements of adult life.
Like many people in real life, both Nanas are struggling with their careers (or finding work) and managing their relationships, whether with friends or a lover. Relationships can be comforting and reassuring, but they can also be a source of abuse, toxicity and self-doubt.
These characters feel too human.
And grandma can’t stand it when you’re in a bad headroom or a similar situation. This punk rock story, dripping with anger and shivering emotions, can also help you get ahead.
2. Imports in March as lion (3-gatsu without lion)
Like Nana, March Comes in Like a Lion comes from an award-winning manga – and I didn’t expect Shaft to start a two-season adjustment.
The first season is dedicated to Rei Kiriyama.
Something’s wrong with him: He is a very gifted teenage shogi player, but for others it is easy to see him as a teenage fear.
Yet Rei’s depression didn’t come out of nowhere.
As in real life, March comes in Like a Lion deals with mental health issues with extreme care, realizing that psychosocial elements can make a significant difference for better or worse.
Shaft’s art is also exhibited here.
Somehow the studio has translated what the characters experience emotionally and mentally into striking visual sequences.
And then we move on to the second season, which is even better (i.e. stronger and more emotional) than the first.
This time the anime takes a step back from Rey (although he’s still there and in the best condition) to focus on the difficulties of the other characters.
Many fans will remember Season 2 because it was a movie about bullying – and for a reason.
Instead of dealing with the bully alone, the program also examines the reasons why a person would bully another person, that he or she may have been a victim himself and has turned to bullying to deal with the pain.
March comes in Like a Lion covers many other painful and emotional aspects of life. And although I cried about those episodes, they were also very worthwhile.
1. NHK nor Youkoso! (Welcome to NHK)
We laugh and cry and get angry about different things.
I did all three of them over and over again because of that anime.
This 24-episode series from Studio Gonzo is too personal – and that’s normal.
I’m not hikikomori. But I came very close to the idea, and to this day I can’t even say with certainty that I am completely resistant to the idea.
And that’s just a painful truth of life for a lot of people. The kind of people you don’t see on television or on big billboards, unless they are depicted as exotic and pathetic people whose parents have to warn their children.
As you may already feel: Welcome to the NHK doing NEET. His name is Tatsuhiro Satou, and he has practically given up life – or being in the real world.
He meets Misaki, and thus begins his painful but ultimately necessary journey towards positive individual change.
I can always watch an anime series. But it’s one of those shows where I can catch my breath after an episode, or even after an emotionally intense scene.
Welcome to NHK – Rough Watch. But everyone needs to see it, not just NO or people like me.
Hopefully this will inspire people like NO and NO to try to get out of their cages that are not only caused by themselves, but also by systemic social problems.
And I hope this anime will help everyone have more compassion and empathy for each other.