What makes a sad anime series so sad?
“Everyone bears pain in their heart.” – Erza Scarlet from Fairy Tail
Anime is sophisticated entertainment, with elaborate stories, amazing settings, and a wide variety of interesting characters. Sounds pretty intense, doesn’t it? It is no surprise that there are several anime series that are notorious tearjerkers. So, what makes these tearjerker anime so sad?
Story, setting and characters combine to create an anime tearjerker. What if you have a story with a sad premise, or a dreary setting? You are destined to curl up into a sobbing ball of mush. What about the characters? If a character has a particularly sad backstory, and he spends the entire anime trying to fix his broken past, you are in for an incredibly whiny character, or one hell of a sentimental sob fest.
Maybe they are haunted by a moral dilemma. Think about Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul. What if something random happens to a character? Kaneki doesn’t deserve his fate, but it changes the course of his life forever. An anime might not be sad overall, but we can’t help but cry over the character’s misfortunes.
Relationships can also make an anime sad. No anime fan could forget how they laughed, smiled, and cried when they watched the growing relationship between Nagisa Furukawa and Tomoya Okazaki from Clannad, and Clannad: After Story.
The death of your favourite character is also sure to start the waterworks.
We have all been hit by the “feelings train” as anime fans. It’s frustrating, infuriating, tragic, sad, and heartbreaking, all at the same time. Now that we know what makes an anime series sad, let’s explore why fans and critics praise the following 20 popular anime series as both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
All ranking information was taken on the date of publication.
MAL Rated 8.39, Ranked #158 | Aired Fall 2007 | Produced by Kyoto Animation
MAL Rated 9.11, Ranked #7 | Aired Fall 2008 | Produced by Kyoto Animation
What better way to start our list of sad anime than with the two of the most notorious tearjerkers of all: Clannad and its highly-praised sequel Clannad: After Story. Clannad is a raw, emotionally engaging anime. It starts out typically, with a depressed guy who attends a new high school and finds himself in a harem situation. This show truly shines through its characters. They all have sad, realistic and sympathetic backstories. They begin to form strong relationships which help them all to mend. However, and this is where Clannad is unique, the characters move on. They grow up. They are thrown apart by life. That’s right. Clannad, but mainly, Clannad: After Story explores the ups and downs of characters’ lives after high school. In particular though, the growing relationship between two very special characters really makes our hearts melt.
MAL Rated 8.47, Ranked #114 | Aired Spring 2010 | Produced by P.A. Works
Ever watched Angel Beats? The story focuses around a group of teenagers (of course), but the setting is truly unique. The high school serves as a place for souls of people who have passed, but can not give up lingering attachments to life and loved ones. In other words, they can not rest in peace; they have to learn to let go. Already sounds sad doesn’t it? As if the setting wasn’t enough, the characters’ constant grief and pain make the show almost unbearable to watch. The characters’ sad situations and unlikely friendships will definitely bring out those tears.
MAL Rated 8.93, Ranked #13 | Aired Fall 2014 | Produced by A-1 Pictures
The anime, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April), explores life, the importance of love and friendship, and the joy of music. Arima Kousei is a young piano prodigy. His mother’s death causes intense psychological trauma that prevents him from playing the piano, or from hearing music the same way. An encounter with the talented violinist, Miyazono Kaori, begins to slowly set him back on the path to music. This one has heartbreaking illness, beautiful character relationships, and music. This series was a wake-up call from the anime industry saying ‘I’m still here, and I’m still a beautiful thing.’
MAL Rated 8.56, Ranked #76 | Aired Winter 2011 | Produced by Shaft
Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica) is hard to explain… It is not your typical magical girl anime series. It is dark as hell. With its broken characters and a setting beyond depressing, this is a spectacular series. If you’re expecting a happy-go-lucky magical girl series, you will not find it here. Watch Madoka Magica fully prepared for the dark and sad setting. Prepare to cry!
MAL Rated 8.67, Ranked #45 | Aired Spring 2011 | Produced by A-1 Pictures
AnoHana (The Flower We Saw That Day) features broken characters whose past mistakes create an unbearable burden. The story centers around a group of friends in their teenage years. A tragic accident separates them. They spend their days trying to shake off individual guilt. The characters’ intense emotions tug the core of your heart and don’t let go til the very end! After you watch this anime, just hearing the ending song will bring you to tears!
MAL Rated 8.21, Ranked #291 | Aired Summer 2009 | Produced by Bones, Kinema Citrus
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 centers around a rare anime topic – the pain and destruction of natural disaster. The story explores the aftermath of an 8.0 earthquake and how it would affect innocent individuals. This is a depressing portrayal of real-life tragedies; a heartbreaking story about the pain and grief caused by a force entirely outside the characters’ control.
MAL Rated 8.18, Ranked #316 | Premiered Feb 11, 2007 | Produced by CoMix Wave Films
5 Centimeters per Second (Byousoku 5 Centimeter) is about two close friends torn apart by life. It is difficult to stay in touch, despite their efforts. Eventually, they almost completely stop talking. Over time, their cherished memories come back. They both pray for a chance to see each other again. This story is sad because it is so common. Viewers relate to losing contact with a close friend. We can’t help but pray for the two to reunite. The story is universal and sentimental. Let the tears flow!
MAL Rated 9.18, Ranked #2 | Aired Spring 2011 | Produced by White Fox
Steins;Gate is a popular suspense anime. The blossoming relationships between intensely desperate characters as they surpass overwhelming obstacles can be too much to handle! Similar to The Future Diary, it isn’t really classified as a ‘sad’ anime, but its characters and their situations have the power to bring us to tears.
MAL Rated 8.60, Ranked #64 | Premiered Apr 15, 1988 | Produced by Studio Ghibli
Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies) was directed by the brilliant Isao Takahata. It focuses on two siblings in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragic bombings. This film is sure to bring tears to the eyes of any human being with even half a heart. The setting in a post nuclear world, the characters and their unimaginable situation brings out the waterworks during this film.
MAL Rated 7.65, Ranked #1104 | Premiered Jul 18, 1998 | Produced by Oriental Light and Magic
This movie is probably nostalgic for many viewers. Featuring the first anime appearance of Mewtwo, it tells the story of how he invites a group of Pokemon trainers including Ash to an uninhabited island to allegedly do battle with him. What follows are some of the most touching scenes between pokemon and trainer you’ll see anywhere in the series. I’m crying a little just thinking about it!
MAL Rated 7.83, Ranked #761 | Aired Fall 2003 | Produced by Gonzo
This anime about the adventures of an exorcist nun and her (benevolent) demon sidekick seems innocuous at first, but this show is about so much more than just cool supernatural combat! Everything from the character’s goals and motivations to their bonds with each other will bring tears to your eyes.
MAL Rated 7.85, Ranked #743 | Aired Fall 1999 | Produced by AIC
This anime is a little older, but it’ll still have you crying! Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku Is about a young boy who is transported to a different world or time period. Shu’s new world is a dystopia, where water is scarce, and females are captured for breeding (sound familiar, Mad Max fans?) The similarities don’t just end there, however. Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku also covers the same themes of morality, war, and slavery. It’ll make you think and give you the sniffles at the same time!
MAL Rated 7.74, Ranked #936 | Aired Spring 2014 | Produced by Brains Base
Basically the (superior) anime equivalent of Adam Sandler’s 50 First Dates, One Week Friends shows the difficulties of making friends, or falling in love, when your memory doesn’t last long enough to make lasting bonds. Kaori’s amnesia affects not only her, but her well-meaning classmates as well. People who had a hard time fitting in in school will find this sad, yet hopeful anime especially relevant.
MAL Rated 8.10, Ranked #407 | Aired Spring 2002 | Produced by Studio Deen
All twelve year old Mitsuki wants to do is become a singer so she can see her one true love again, but she only has one year left to live. With the help of Takuto and Meroko, two messengers of death, she tries to make the most of her time on Earth. Although this is a shoujo anime, its themes about first love, dreams, and mortality at such a young age are sure to touch anyone’s heart!
MAL Rated 8.10, Ranked #409 | Aired Fall 2002 | Produced by Radix
The girls in Haibane Renmei resemble angels, but it’s unclear what they really are. All we know is that one day, cocoons appear in the Old Home, and sooner or later a child or young adult pops out of it. Rakka is the newest addition to the grey winged family, and through her eyes you’ll see what it’s like to be one of the grey-winged living on the outskirts of a human village. Like other shows in this list, Haibane Renmei covers mortality, guilt, and the journey of moving on from past traumas.
MAL Rated 9.25 Ranked #1 | Aired Spring 2009 | Produced by Bones
While this is an action anime, there’s no doubt it’s also one of the saddest shows of all time. The Elric siblings live with one goal in life: to fix what the grave mistake they committed as children when they forgot about the ultimate rule of alchemy: you must sacrifice something of equal value in order to get what you want. Love for family, friends, humanity, and even true romance make an appearance in this show.
MAL Rated 8.86, Ranked #18 | Premiered Jul 21, 2012 | Produced by Madhouse and Studio Chizu
By the director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki starts off adorable, but really punches you in the gut with its feels. A human girl falls in love with a werewolf, and has two kids. Unfortunately, she ends up having to raise her children alone. Those with single parents or are single parents themselves will understand Hana’s plight, even if Hana’s troubles are part-canine. Aside from showing how deep a mother’s love can go, this tearjerker is an emotional coming of age film, showing how the two half-wolf children change as they mature.
MAL Rated 6.91, Ranked #659 | Premiered Spring 2015 | Produced by Doga Kobo
Yes, this anime is full of cute girls, but it’s suprisingly sad. I mean, said cute girls are Giftia robots, and they only have lifespans of a few short years. Mortality and what it means to be human are themes of this show. The main character Tsubasa Mizugaki is human, and he works in what is basically a retirement facility for run-down Giftia. He doesn’t think he’ll get too attached, because after all, they’re robots without feelings of their own, right?
MAL Rated 8.58, Ranked #70 | Aired Spring 2006 | Produced by Madhouse
On the surface, Nana is a charming, funny show about two girls who are complete opposites, and rock music! And it is about these things, to some extent. However, it soon becomes apparent that this show digs much deeper than exploring the powerful friendship the two Nana’s share, and having an awesome soundtrack. Humans are imperfect, and everyone carries luggage of their own, and that’s what Nana highlights. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and maybe you’ll even clench your fists in frustration. Nana is a must-watch not just for music fans or shoujo lovers, but for anyone who loves great character writing.
“A half moon. A bright half and a dark half. Just like me.” – Gasai Yuno from Mirai Nikki
Different anime make different people cry. Some cry more. Anime has a habit of running us over with the feelings train. An anime that is not classified as ‘sad’ can still make us cry like babies! Look at Attack on Titan. It has scenes that will make us cry. Even the conclusion of our favourite series could make us cry. Watching these shows will definitely further your anime knowledge and teach you a thing or two about the ups and downs of life in general. So grab your tissues, sweatpants, chocolate, ice cream and crying pillows, and prepare to cry like a three year old with these amazing series!
Need a pick-me-up after crying so much? Check out these anime to make you happy!