Avid anime fans have had to learn to live with the reality of one consistent theme throughout just about every single show. From “Angel Beats” to “Fullmetal Alchemist”, death is often the main theme. The creators of this particular entertainment medium seem to be competing with each other on who can come up with the most unusual modes of violence and the saddest possible death scenes. And, many of those intensely heartbreaking deaths have been accompanied by an equally somber funeral, as in the case of Fullmetal Alchemist’s Maes Hughes. It’s hard for fans to watch his little girl when his casket gets lowered into the grave and she simply doesn’t understand what’s going on.
And, the fact is that anime deaths are responsible for not only changing the way that other characters on the show live their lives and envision their ultimate futures but, in some ways, they also had a tendency toward making some viewers see just how important the relationships in their lives can be and how everything in life can change in an instant. Even in real life, so many of us never get a chance to say goodbye and that’s why we have to spend our lives making the very best of every single moment that we have with our loved ones. Anime characters show us that we need to spend our lives caring about and cherishing them, making sure that we let them know how we feel every day. Let’s face it, just like in anime, life is a winding road that’s chock full of adventures that we can learn from, as well as people who need our love and understanding. We can learn from many anime shows about not letting life go by without enjoying every minute of this beautiful gift.
So, we compiled a list of the 20 Saddest Anime Deaths of All-Time. This list does not rank the shows and subsequent deaths in any particular order since they’re all pretty devastating. We took into account how the characters reacted to the deaths and how the show felt overall after the deceased was no longer on the canvas. They’re all quite impactful and filled with some serious despair on the part of the surrounding characters, so it’s pretty hard to decide which are really the absolute saddest.
Otonashi- Angel Beats
When Otanashi loses his sister, who happens to have been the final living member of his family, he starts falling into despair. It looks like he’s going to simply live the rest of his life with no real goals for his future, stuck in a dead-end job. But, instead, he starts studying and pursuing a medical career in her memory. He desperately wants to have the ability to help anyone else who may have been as ill as his beloved sister. Following a horrible train accident, however, he ends up in a situation that forces him into surviving by living in a cave. Inside the cave, he encounters a very small group of people and minimal resources. Otonashi has been seriously wounded in the crash and keeps losing consciousness. However, he manages to help everybody that he can until he can’t move any longer.
So, he simply lies down to wait for the end to come. But then, he decides on signing his organ donor card first. He wants to make sure that, if he’s ever found, his body parts can help someone else in need. This beautiful selfless act inspires other people who are trapped in the cave to follow suit. At the same time, they can hear rescuers drilling into the cave to save them. Many of them survive, however, Otonashi isn’t one of them. In true anime death fashion, he passes away just as the rescuers get the cave opened up. He was a true hero who was completely unselfish to the end and his death results in a lot of tears from viewers.
Shirley discovers all of the memories that she had been forced to forget at her protagonist’s hand, as well as the fact that he was ultimately responsible for her father’s death. She’s still prepared, however, for the task of understanding and supporting him. Unfortunately, a very jealous Rolo decides to take her life because the possibility of someone else having our Code Geass hero, Lelouch, is simply too unbearable. Therefore, an exceptionally heartbreaking scene shows Lelouch finding Shirley bleeding to death on the floor. He wants desperately to be able to command her to stay alive, but she comes to the realization that she has only a few moments left for spending with him. She proceeds to tell him everything she knows and how she also is well aware that, even if it were to be in another life, she would undoubtedly still end up falling hopelessly in love with him over and over again. Then, of course, she dies and it’s utterly just as soul-crushing as it is unexpected.
Most fans will, of course, be thinking that it’s Nagisa’s death that belongs on this list, but we felt that it should be Ushio’s. OK, so when Nagisa died, it destroyed Tomoya, as well as a lot of fans as well. But, everybody accepted it in time because it was obvious that she would have ended up dying during childbirth anyway due to her sickness. So, we got a grip and came to terms with Tomoya raising little Ushio. There is a feeling of new beginnings and happiness building up in the series following that rather dark turn of events. That’s pretty short-lived, however. Soon little Ushio gets the dreaded diagnosis that she suffers from the exact same illness that her mother had. She’s only a small child living with the understanding that she’s unwell. However, she is expecting to be healed. Meanwhile, Tomoya is trying desperately to keep looking forward and making something out of this terrible situation. But, following many days stuck inside their apartment, all she really wants is a chance to go outside and take a trip with Daddy like before she took sick. She’s also losing every bit of her remaining strength, so Tomoya becomes painfully aware of this harsh reality and knows there’s absolutely nothing he can do other than trying to make her happy just one more time. So, they end up going outside and start moving slower and slower every minute. Then, she collapses in her Daddy’s arms and says her last four words, which are, “I love you, Papa.” As fans cried and felt completely overwhelmed by grief, this series that seemed to promise happy moments earlier on, got really dark and way too sad.
Kamina-Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
After suffering serious injuries in a battle against the enemy fleet, Kamina just keeps going, only stopping to rest after the battle has ended. Viewers naturally assumed that he would be healed and get better, so his death was quite unexpected. He is, after all, one of the series’ main characters. And, even more importantly, hadn’t he recently promised love and eternal happiness to Yoko? Well, in spite of all that, he died, forever changing the entire atmosphere of the series. As loyal viewers and fans of anime, we have had to learn that the creators definitely aren’t afraid to kill off a beloved character and then see just how the remaining characters deal with the big hole they leave in their lives.
Maes Hughes-Full Metal Alchemist
This character was a loving husband and father who gets marked for death after he digs just a little too deep into a homunculi investigation. He ends up being murdered by a shapeshifter named Envy, who got close to him by shifting to look like Hughes’ wife before attacking. Needless to say, his untimely death was difficult for viewers to watch but then, to add insult to injury, it just became more and more painful by the minute. During his funeral, his young daughter wasn’t able to understand why they were burying Daddy and throwing dirt on him when what he really needed to do was go to work. It was heartrending and truly tear-jerking for viewers who are haunted to this day by his death.
L- Death Note
This character’s death was quite painful for fans plus it came out of the blue. L was the quintessential antagonistic-hero in this story. He strived at defeating Kira and bringing him to justice. In a shocking turn of events, however, L is killed by Kira, and it was really quite brutal. It also became the untimely end of an amazing character, and hard to swallow even though it may have been needed for the overall storyline.
Asuna- Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online produced an amazing couple that fans grew to love, Asuna and Kirito. They managed to live through numerous hardships together, always staying by each other’s side. They promised to finish the game and meet in real life. But, then things go downhill very quickly during the final battle against the game creator. Kirito comes to the realization that he’s going to have to engage in a fight to the death if Asuna is going to ever have a shot at living in the real world. However, in an instant, that all changes when she dashes in front of him just before Heathcliff can kill him. She shatters into pieces and Kirito is broken up and enraged because Azuna was the only one who was able to keep him sane throughout everything.
Gasai Yuno- Mirai Nikki
There were a number of controversies in this series regarding whether Yuno was good or bad, however, going through everything she did and ultimately doing everything for love made her death even sadder. All she wanted was the chance to be with Yukki forever so, rather than driving a dagger through her true love, she instead took her own life. This was a sad but necessary death that paved the way for a much better life for Yukki and her other self.
Mrs. Ryoko- Tokyo Ghoul
Ok, let’s face it, the entire concept of dealing with having to eat human flesh and the grief that comes from hunting and taking innocent lives is pretty gruesome. And, throughout it all, Mrs. Ryoko was just attempting to protect her offspring from the intense hatred that the humans felt towards ghouls like her. It was horrifying watching her as she was awaiting the end at the hand of Mado. All the while, all she worried about was the fact that she wouldn’t be able any longer to protect her beloved daughter.
In spite of the fact that it became rather obvious that Menma was dead right from the start of the show, the entire series still struck fans as being pretty sad, especially when she tried so hard and managed to make the best of her terrible situation. Fans knew deep down that everything wasn’t going to get better miraculously but her plight of not being able to be with all of her friends anymore didn’t dawn on most viewers until the beginning of the last episode. But, in the end, she’s leaving on a good note when she allows those friends to go on with their respective lives and not look back on the bad memories but think happy thoughts of her to make them stronger.
Spike Spiegel -Cowboy Bebop
As the protagonist in Cowboy Bebop, Spike Spiegel won 1st place in the category of a male character in the 1998 and 1999 Anime Grand Prix. Viewers and avid Cowboy Bebop fans all felt that his death was not only one of the saddest but also one of the most amazing endings ever in anime. The general consensus about Cowboy Bebop is that that the characters, especially Spike Spiegel, were truly phenomenal and that this particular show always made them feel like they were members of the crew on this very deep show. That being said, there has been a great deal of controversy among fans regarding whether Spike officially died in the ending of Cowboy Bebop or not. Let’s face it, in anime, when you say ‘bang’ and the character falls down, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dead. Some fans like to think that maybe he just lost consciousness. But frankly, when he falls over during the final scene, panning up to the sky and a star fading out pretty well seals his fate.
Itachi Uchiha- Naruto
As a popular character in the series created by Masashi Kishimoto, Itachi is Sasuke Uchiha’s older brother. He’s also responsible for the deaths of all of their clan members and the only one that he spares is Sasuke. Itachi appears to be the bad guy for the majority of the series, but we later discover that he only slaughtered everyone in his clan for the sole purpose of preventing a coup d’état that surely would’ve resulted in a major war. Many fans and critics were unhappy with Itachi’s death scene because it resulted from a fatal disease rather than Sasuke killing him. Still and all, Itachi was named by IGN as the #5 best Naruto character.
Lelouch Lamperouge- Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
His given name is Lelouch vi Britannia, and in the series, he’s a former prince of Britannia. He received the power of the “Geass” from a witch named CC. He became the resistance movement leader via the use of the Geass, as well as his intellect that was genius-level. Through the use of his alter ego, Zero, he and The Black Knights set out to destroy the Holy Britannian Empire but Lelouche ends up dying at the hand of Suzaku. He does, however, make a brief comeback, albeit it from the afterlife, to say goodbye to his friends.
Himura Kenshin- Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Taika-hen
Kenshin is an anime character who is always wandering the Japanese countryside to offer his aid and protection to people in need. His motivation is to atone for all of the murders that he committed back when he was an assassin. When he goes to Tokyo, he ends up meeting a lovely young woman named Kamiya Kaoru and is invited to live with her. She knows all about his past but falls in love with him anyway. He continues throughout the series with establishing many lifelong relationships and some of them are with former enemies. He later contracts an unknown fatal disease that is similar to leprosy. Kamiya wants to share her lover’s pain and convinces him to give her the disease by having sex with her. And, in true anime style, everybody dies.
Jiraiya- Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations
Jiraiya is introduced during the first half of the series as one of the legendary Sannin and a student of Hiruzen Sarutobi. He’s quite the playable character in the majority of the video games from the series, as well as the wide range of merchandise based on his character. Jiraiya’s character is generally considered to be one of the strongest of this series. After he trusts Naruto with the Kurama’s seal key, Jiraiya starts to investigate Pain, who is the Akatsuki’s leader. During that investigation, Jiraiya ends up fighting Pain and is brutally killed in this epic battle.
Setsuko- Grave of the Fireflies
This is a devastating commentary on the high cost of war in human lives and it follows a teenager named Seita who is taking care of his little sister, Setsuko. When a World War II American firebombing finds the two children separated from their parents, their tale of survival becomes just as heartbreaking as a story can possibly be. They’re completely reliant on each other while struggling against all odds to stay alive and together. This anime is so sad that even the well-known critic, Roger Ebert, admitted that it moved him to tears. This is a truly memorable anime film and it’s based on actual events. The two children’s mother is horribly wounded and dies and they get sick and die a slow death as well. They do, however, have a really tender and amazing reunion in the afterlife.
Nina Tucker – Fullmetal Alchemist
One of the saddest things about her death will always be the fact that her best friends, Al and Ed, couldn’t prevent it. Maybe they could’ve if Ed had only come to the realization a lot sooner regarding Shou Tucker’s misguided experiments. So, what in the world could possibly be more horrifying than having to see an adorable young girl as she’s turned into a crazy experiment? Well, how about if her little dog is experimented on, as well, plus her own father is responsible for the abomination? Her sweetness and innocence, even in death, left Ed and Al, as well as fans, scarred for life.
Kaori Miyazono – Your Lie in April
The saddest thing about Kaori’s death is how much viewers grow to love her eternal optimism and boundless energy. That’s why, when we start learning that she’s so terribly sick and has a very short time to live, it feels like getting hit by a freight train. Poor thing, dying so young! Yes, Kaori’s death leaves viewers feeling sadder every time that they think about it. It’s also, however, considered to be one of the most inspiring anime series ever and it shows viewers a great deal about me the true meaning of music and how it brings people so much closer emotionally.
Nicholas D. Wolfwood – Trigun
Wolfwood spent his entire life doing whatever he could for keeping children from having to suffer the way that he did when he was a child, even killing for their sake. Unfortunately, he dies with many regrets. He sustains multiple injuries and collapses in a church, reflecting on his many sins and regrets. His final words are that he didn’t want to die that way. As his eyes slowly close in death, his hand dramatically drops to the ground. He lived his life being many things to many people. He was an assassin, as well as a priest. But, he was most of all a good man with a huge heart, and seeing him die filled with so many regrets had fans sobbing uncontrollably.
Marco Bodt – Attack on Titan
Marco knew that there was a good chance that he wouldn’t make it out of the war alive, but he was an exceptional leader and seemed to get along with just about everybody. His death forced many of the trainees to come to the realization that anybody can suddenly die. That’s exactly why they had to keep right on fighting the good fight. Marco’s sudden death shocked many fans because he had so much potential and amazing leadership skills that it made it even more heartbreaking at the end when his body was burnt.