These 30 Anime Characters Make Up The Best Of The Medium

Japan has produced some of the most memorable and influential characters in pop culture through anime.

Toei / Via Giphy

They've given us giant mecha pilots, warriors with enormous swords, and cute and powerful Pocket Monsters that have long been etched into our memories. If you're a hardcore anime fan, you will definitely enjoy my list of the 30 most iconic animated characters.

30.Arsène Lupin III — Lupin III

Lupin III in "Lupin the 3rd Part II"

Thanks to his remarkable skills and intellect, Lupin III went on to become the world's greatest thief. While his manga counterpart has engaged in some especially questionable behavior, the gentleman thief presented in anime managed to charm his way into our hearts and has thus had a lasting effect on pop culture.

TMS Entertainment

29.Shōtarō Kaneda — Akira

Shōtarō Kaneda riding his bike in "Akira"

Leader of a biker gang known as the Capsules, Kaneda is thrust into an epic war in the futuristic city of Neo-Tokyo after his friend Tetsuo develops psychic powers. That shot of his sliding on his bike alone made him a pop culture icon. However, because Akira brought greater attention to anime worldwide, Kaneda has become one of anime's most recognizable heroes.

TMS Entertainment

28.Ichigo Kurosaki — Bleach

Ichigo standing in front of a wall with a hole in it in "Bleach"

Even though he could already see ghosts, Ichigo was a regular high school kid before gaining the powers of a Soul Reaper. Standing in for the Reaper who gave him his powers, Ichigo fights to protect others from the evil Hollows while guiding good wholes to the spirit world. With his giant sword and cool design, Ichigo has long been a recognizable figure in shonen anime, but his heroic nature is what helped keep this Reaper alive in the eyes of fans.


27.Kirito — Sword Art Online

Kirito wielding dual blades in "Sword Art Online"

This swordsman helped jumpstart the isekai trend. Trapped in a VR game where game-over means literal death, Kirito fought to return to the real world, leveling up until he became the strongest player in SAO. Many people have understandably taken with Kirito being overpowered and somehow winning the hearts of every girl that crosses his path. However, Kirito's tragic backstory, outstanding skills, and likable character still make him an enthralling protagonist. You also gotta love his sick outfit and dual blades. Stand aside, Neo.

A-1 Pictures

26.Yugi Muto/Yami Yugi — Yu-Gi-Oh!

Yami Yugi in "Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions"

If you played Yu-Gi-Oh! growing up, you'll definitely remember this duelist and his unforgettable hairdo. Carrying the spirit of an Egyptian pharaoh in his necklace, Yugi masters the art of Duel Monsters and becomes the King of Games. Whether he's playing with Dark Magicians, tiny Kurbiohs, or the Egyptian Gods themselves, Yugi always has the Heart of the Cards on his side.

Toei Company

25.Izuku Midoriya/Deku — My Hero Academia

Izuku in a stadium in "My Hero Academia"

Though he was born without a superpower in a world full of supes, this young lad still aspired to become a superhero like his idol, All Might, who passes his power onto him. As a child, we all wished we could become a superhero, and Deku embodies that child who finally had his dream come true.


24.Rem — Re: Zero-Starting Life in Another World

Rem in "Re: Zero-Starting Life in Another World"

Rem has been consistently labeled one of the greatest waifus in anime, if not the greatest. Audiences fell in love with this blue-haired maid due to her cute and supportive nature, and so they were left utterly heartbroken that the protagonist chose Emilia over her. Rem was the loving friend Subaru needed in his new life of dying time and time again, and anyone would be lucky to have their own Rem in their lives.

White Fox

23.Kamina — Gurren Laggan

Close-up of Kamina in "Gurren Laggan"

This legendary hero taught us all what it truly means to be a man. Motivating his buddy Simon throughout their adventures on the surface, Kamina became a source of inspiration for him and many fans of this mecha classic. So it was a shock to everyone that the series killed Kamina after just eight episodes. While he may have died, the impact he left on his friends has made him and his macho spirit eternal.


22.Rei Ayanami — Evangelion

Rei smiling in "Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone"

This mysterious EVA pilot has entranced fans since she first appeared. Born with the DNA of both Shinji's mother and the Angel Lilith, Rei acts as if her only purpose is to pilot the EVA, rarely speaking or doing anything social with other people. We can all relate to Rei, as every one of us longs for meaning and companionship in our lives, so watching her find joy and purpose with her new friends is so heartwarming to watch.

Studio Khara

21.Akira Fudo/Devilman — Devilman

Akira Fudo in a dimly lit room in "Devilman Crybaby"

After overcoming the demon spirit Amon, Akira gains the power of the devil while retaining his human heart. As demons rise up around the world, Akira uses his evil powers to violently fight them all, but he is eventually forced to face the humans he tried to protect. Akira Devilman has become most well-known due to the recent series on Netflix, but this fiendish hero has influenced anime for decades due to his extremely dark and tragic tale.


20.Astro Boy — Astro Boy

Astro Boy flying through space in the intro to "Astro Boy" (1980)

Created by a scientist to replace his dead son, Astro is later sold to a robot circus before being adopted by another professor. Known for his adorable appearance and red rocket shoes, Astro became a benchmark superhero whose popular 1960s TV show became the first anime to reach the US.

Tezuka Productions

19.Sailor Moon — Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon posing with the full moon behind her in "Sailor Moon Eternal"

This savior in a sailor suit gave rise to the magical girl genre. While she grew up on Earth as Usagi Tsukino, she eventually learns she is the reincarnation of the princess of the Moon Kingdom. Gifted with a brooch that can transform her into Sailor Moon, she assembles a team of fellow Guardians and uses her powers to defend her adopted planet from the forces of evil. Not only is she one of the most influential characters in anime, but she is also one of the greatest female superheroes in pop culture.


18.Totoro — My Neighbor Totoro

Totoro in "My Neighbor Totoro"

Since the film's release, this giant fuzzball has acted as the mascot for Studio Ghibli, making it among the most recognizable creatures in anime. On par with Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh, this massive cat-like spirit became a beloved animated icon to audiences worldwide, capturing the sense of childhood innocence and wide-eyed imagination in its purest form. What kid wouldn't want to play with this cuddly cat-like spirit?

Studio Ghibli

17.Saitama — One-Punch Man

Saitama in "One-Punch Man"

This guy isn't your average Man of Steel. After training so hard to become a hero, Saitama had gotten so strong that he could take down any foe with a single punch. As a result, he could no longer find any enjoyment in what he does and became indifferent to almost everything. Even so, he still uses his unstoppable power to protect the people of Z City, which all makes him one of the most unconventional shonen heroes out there.


16.Eren Yeager — Attack on Titan

Eren Yeager in "Attack on Titan"

After watching a Titan eat his mother, Eren vows revenge against these colossal invaders and joins the fight against them, eventually learning to become a Titan himself. Though he starts out as a hero, Eren becomes more callous and murderous until he vows to protect his people by exterminating all other life. Thanks to his complex character and the show's massive popularity, Eren has gone on to become one of the most iconic protagonists and antagonists in anime history.


15.Lelouch Lamperouge — Code Geass

Lelouch sitting on a throne with red eyes in "Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion"

Formerly a prince of Britannia, Lelouch becomes gifted with the power of Geass and leads a rebellion against the Holy Britannian Empire as the head of the Black Knights. While his narcissism and extreme methods don't make him the most likable character, but the bonds that he forges with his allies have made him a compelling antihero.


14.Motoko Kusanagi — Ghost in the Shell

Motoko Kusanagi in "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex"

With her brain inhabiting a cybernetic body, Major Motoko Kusanagi investigates crimes in Japan in this classic cyberpunk anime. You do not want to mess with this purple-haired policeman, as her strength, skill, and intellect have proven her to be a force to be reckoned with. At the same time, the way questions her humanity and identity as a cyborg has made her one of the most compelling and thought-provoking figures in science fiction.


13.L Lawliet — Death Note

Close-up of L in "Death Note"

This strange but intelligent detective was the perfect adversary for Light Yagami. After the latter begins his worldwide murder spree with the Death Note, L enters a game of cat and mouse with Light as he tries to bring the killer to justice. This eccentric genius really made his mark on anime fans, as he has been ranked high on many people's lists of anime's greatest heroes, partially thanks to Alessandro Juliana's acclaimed performance as the voice of L.


12.Vegeta — Dragon Ball

Vegeta as a Super Saiyan Blue in "Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F'"

While Goku was a pretty standard upright hero, Vegeta had a long and winding journey from being a genocidal villain to a loving husband, father, and overall hero. For years, Vegeta's ego was dominated by his desire to surpass Goku, but after getting left in the dust time and time again, the Saiyan Prince was forced to rethink his purpose in life. He eventually accepted his limitations and began fighting for peace and love instead of just pride.


11.Light Yagami — Death Note

Light Yagami frowning in "Death Note"

After gaining the power to kill anyone he wants with the Death Note, Light Yagami seeks to become the god of a new world by eliminating those he feels deserve to die. While Light is a manipulative and cold-hearted villain, audiences worldwide have become drawn to him as a character who believes he's doing what's best for the world.


10.Levi Ackerman — Attack on Titan

Levi Ackerman staring to the side with bars in front of him in "Attack on Titan"

Considered humanity's strongest soldier, Levi leads an elite squad in the Survey Corps in their war against the Titans. This stone-faced fighter has been repeatedly ranked as the series's most popular character, and I can see why. Calm, cool, and capable of some killer moves on the battlefield, Levi swung his way into all of our hearts with his epic battles, dry wit, and heartwrenching origins.


9.Asuka Langley — Evangelion

Asuka wearing an eyepatch in "Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance)

This EVA pilot is a textbook example of the tsundere archetype. Though she is derisive to almost everyone around her, especially Shinji, she grew to like and respect him as they worked together to fight the Angels. At the same time, Asuka faces monsters of her own as she sinks into depression. Having dedicated her whole life to piloting the EVA to validate herself in the eyes of others, she loses the will to live after becoming too weak to fight, forcing her to confront her own past trauma. As a result, Asuka has remained one of the most popular and complex characters in anime history.

Studio Khara

8.Guts — Berserk

Close-up of Guts in "Berserk" (1997)

To say this mercenary has had a rough life would be a massive understatement. In this dark fantasy anime, Guts is forced to endure countless hardships throughout his life, but being forced to fight alongside the Band of the Hawk, he begins to grow out of this darkness and become the anti-hero that audiences know and love.

OLM, Inc.

7.Edward Elric — Fullmetal Alchemist

Edward Elric in "Fullmetal Alchemist"

In an attempt to revive their mother, he and his brother, Alphonse, suffer from alchemic dismemberment in a failed ritual, literally costing Edward an arm and a leg. Donning some prosthetic limbs, he and Alphonse travel the world to find the Philosopher's Stone and restore their bodies. Walking a fine line between smart and stubborn, Edward has grown to be a strong and heroic alchemist as he and his allies take on the dreaded Homunculi.

Bones Inc.

6.Naruto Uzumaki — Naruto

Close-up of Naruto in "Naruto Shippuden"

Though he was rejected by his village for housing the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox in his body, Naruto aspired to become their leader to gain their respect. This ninja hero has been worldwide for his energetic character, outstanding development, and his distinctive style of running. Don't pretend you haven't tried it out at least once in your life.


5.Monkey D Luffy — One Piece

Close-up of Luffy's face running in the intro to "One Piece"

It's hard to find an anime fan who doesn't know about this hero. After eating the Gum Gum Fruit, Luffy gains the power to stretch his body. Setting sail across the Grand Line with the Straw Hat Pirates, Luffy seeks out the legendary One Piece to become the King of the Pirates. Like many shonen protagonists, this happy-go-lucky pirate isn't always the sharpest knife in the drawer. However, he has proven himself to be a brilliant fighter and a true hero as he has repeatedly risked his life to protect his crew, and after two decades, he still comes out on top.


4.Ash & Pikachu — Pokémon

Ash and Pikachu smiling in "Pokémon Journeys"

I picked both of these best friends for this one because there is hardly a time when they're apart. Aspiring to become a Pokémon Master, Ash Ketchum ends up getting Pikachu as his first partner, and the two have been inseparable ever since, fighting countless Trainers and collecting Gym Badges to become a champion. Though Ash has caught and trained many strong Pokémon in the last 20 years, Pikachu will always be his number one partner.


3.Shinji Ikari — Evangelion

Shinji smiling in his plug suit in "Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone"

While he might not have been the courageous, optimistic, and moral protagonist audiences wanted, that's what made him such a great character. Shinji embodies the Evangelion creator's struggle with depression as he struggles to find acceptance and overcome his self-loathing in the backdrop of his war with the Angels. Shinji gave audiences to gaze into the darkest depths of the human psyche as they watched him question his purpose in life, making him the hero that audiences needed, but not the one they deserved.

Studio Khara

2.Spike Spiegel — Cowboy Bebop

Close-up of Spike pointing a gun at the screen in "Cowboy Bebop"

A bounty hunter traveling across the Solar System aboard the Bebop, Spike takes part in many cosmic adventures with his ragtag crew of galactic misfits. While he may act like a chill guy, Spike is haunted by his past as a member of the criminal Red Dragon Syndicate and his long-lost love, Julia. Nevertheless, Spike has long been viewed as one of the coolest characters to come out of anime, and even he faced death, he literally knew how to go out with a bang.


1.Goku — Dragon Ball

Goku as a Super Saiyan in the intro to "Dragon Ball Z Kai"

This Saiyan warrior is the quintessential shonen hero, having inspired many iconic anime heroes that followed him. Sent to Earth as a baby to destroy humanity, Goku ends up becoming its greatest protector. While this muscle-headed alien might not always do what is right or even logical, Goku will stop at nothing to protect those around him from evil. With countless transformations and some hella strong pipes, Goku has stood as one of the most legendary heroes in all of anime.


Who would you add to the list?