Anime is a great thing.
And I don’t mean that purely as a memetic statement, I think it’s great that Japan embraces animation as a means of expression. Cartoons in America are exemplified by Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, with a mainstream focus on kids, rather than adults. Even the animation geared towards adults in America are comedies, like the Simpsons and Family Guy. However, over in Japan, we can get stories that are, without a doubt, on par with the best TV shows America has to offer. Through animation, it has become possible to tell thematically intricate, powerful stories- stories that have the ability to touch the hearts of those who watch them.
There are many, many such stories, too many for any one person to watch all on their own, but as someone who’s watched a decent amount, I’d like to share the anime that made me teary-eyed at points. There’s too many to name, and more waiting to be discovered, but this won’t be a comprehensive list. This’ll just be a quick list of some of the best (in my opinion) anime to get those emotions stimulated!
1. Angel Beats!
We’re gonna start off this list with a classic- a great show to get into if you’ve never watched an anime, my very first actually – Angel Beats! Starting off its life as a Visual Novel, the anime adaptation has gained notoriety as a prominent anime, that many people point to if they have to recommend a tearjerker. The premise is this: Yuzuru Otonashi find himself in an afterlife where a group of teenagers go to a strange school, stuck in some strange limbo. Otonashi ends up working as part of a group called the SSS led by Yuri Nakamura, the sole purpose of which, is to fight against a God who seemingly cursed the members with unfair lives. The mysterious girl “Angel” is their one physical opponent, and so, they put their all into fighting her, going on missions, hoping to do something to disrupt the limbo they live in. Little do they know, their regrets are actually the reason why they exist there, and in order to be free, they must finally come to terms with their deaths, and the dreams they wished they could have fulfilled in life.
With such a premise, you KNOW it’s going to be an emotional journey. Delving into the tragic pasts, desperate dreams, and innermost desires of a relatively engaging cast of characters gives a lot of room for tears, after all. For any first-timers to anime, Angel Beats! is a great, short 13 episode series that really shows what the medium is capable of, showcasing an intensely personal look at the tragedies and regrets of individual characters that plays into a common theme- the need to accept tragedy and keep on hoping for more. It’s an anime that I have very fond memories of, and if you’re looking for a relatively short series that you can get emotionally invested in, this would be my recommendation for you!
2. Your Lie in April
A personal favorite for me, Your Lie in April is a great, emotional anime, that touches the heartstrings in a relatively different way: through music. If you’re someone that appreciates the emotional impact that music can have, then Your Lie in April will be a great anime for you. It centers on Kosei Arima, a 14-year old piano prodigy who can no longer play, can no longer even hear the piano properly, despite perfectly functioning hearing. Dubbed “The Human Metronome” from a young age due to a combination of his exceptional skill and his mother’s excessively strict training, her death led to him having a mental breakdown, abandoning the piano altogether. However, meeting a perky, free-spirited violinist named Kaori Miyazono changes all that, as their friendship leads to a series of events that not only brings him back to the piano, but shows him that music can be more than just rigid structure- that it can be expressive, mold-breaking.
This anime is unique in the way it uses music. Unlike other anime that offer a great soundtrack, to be sure, Your Lie in April uses music as a centerpiece, offering character commentary that shows just how expressive it can be. During such musical scenes, the emotional nature of the performance is emphasized to a huge degree, making their performances in-universe feel like a performance to the viewer as well. These moments, combined with a legitimately tragic story, elements of romance, and characters that feel warm, growing throughout the series in their own ways, make Your Lie in April one of the most emotionally powerful anime I’ve ever watched, and one that I’d recommend to any music/anime lover!
3. Plastic Memories
For the most recently released entry on this list, we have Plastic Memories, a story that differs from the previous two in that, rather than more relatable tales of personal hardship and regret, we have an almost purely theoretical scenario. Despite the purely theoretical nature of it, it provides interesting questions, and makes for some very emotional moments. In the world of Plastic Memories, androids known as Giftias are produced for multiple purposes- office help, assisting the elderly, and other such duties. They act human, provide human-like conversation and mannerisms, and can even feel emotions, but there’s a catch: after about nine years, they pass an expiration date, after which, they suffer memory loss, violent behavior, and the disintegration of personality. As such, a Giftia (marksman)/human (spotter) team is employed by the company that distributes the Giftia, in order to retrieve Giftia near the end of their lifespan, and erase their memories. In this story, we track a spotter/marksman duo, Mizugaki Tsukasa, and the Giftia Isla, who is herself, only about three months away from her expiration date. As feelings develop, and Giftia are torn away from their owners, Tsukasa has to confront the reality of the nature of Giftia, and come to terms with feelings that were doomed from the start.
Plastic Memories is interesting to me from many angles, emotionally, philosophically, and psychologically, but as far as emotional turmoil, the anime does a great job of messing with you. Romance is a large focus of the 13-episode series, and with such feelings, emotional questions tend to be asked, especially considering the nature of Giftia in the series. Pursuing love with someone who is fated to die, someone who, by all rights, shouldn’t even be someone, is the question, and although it is a very specific situation, it is very effective in bringing up deep questions regarding human emotion as a whole. When it wants to, the show can be beautiful, and provide memorable moments that, even if predictable, tug at the heartstrings regardless.
Second-to-last, there’s Toradora, debatably the best Rom-Com anime of all time, featuring a tsundere done so, so right. Despite being a romantic comedy, Toradora is certainly a great anime with both extremely heartwarming moments, and huge tearjerkers. It follows the romance between the intimidating-looking Ryuuji Takasu, and the feisty, “Palmtop Tiger” Taiga Aisaka who, humorously, find out that they actually like each other’s best friends. In their efforts to help set each other up with their respective crushes, they end up getting closer and closer despite their initial distaste of each other. They, along with their friends, get into crazy, fun situations, and, of course, are forced to confront their own feelings and personal demons, making for some quite emotional moments.
I personally have never seen Toradora on any person’s emotional anime list, and that actually surprises me quite a bit. Is it because it’s a romantic comedy? Well, perhaps this anime is much more light-hearted than the other anime on this list, but that doesn’t stop it from hitting hard when it wants to. Thanks to a stellar cast of characters that all have much deeper personalities than they let on, the emotional struggles they face have great impact, without actually trying to be explicitly tear-inducing like other anime. You grow to enjoy and care for the characters presented, and it is due to this care that the problems they face can be relatable, even in between their comedic antics. Toradora is a bit of a fringe pick for me, but if you’re not in the mood for drama and pain, and tears everywhere, but still feel the need for some emotional investment, I believe that this anime would be a great recommendation.
To finish off this list, we have many people’s, mine included, most emotional, tear-jerking anime of all time: Clannad, and its second season, Clannad: After Story. It has a huge reputation, and I’m sure many of you already know what the anime is about, but for the sake of consistency, I’ll quickly go over the premise. Tomoya Okazaki is a high schooler who feels rather apathetic about life in general. He’s a smart guy who can work hard if necessary, and does care about people, but overall goes through life without much of a purpose. That changes due to his interactions with a host of female friends, and as he helps them with their personal problems and issues, he ends up more involved than ever in his high school life, and even finds love. Such love guides him even after graduation, as he experiences what the real world is like- dealing with the trials and tribulations that come with it, as well as the good that it can bear.
Clannad for many is one of, if not the most relatable anime of all time, for a universal tale of growth. Unlike many similar anime that restrict the romantic aspects to a high school setting, we get to see a lot more to the world than that, and boy, is it done well. The struggles of each character in the first season can find broad appeal of course, as the backstories of each individual female love interest are explored, varying greatly in the specific trials they have to face, but in the second season, we explore even broader problems, real life situations that are portrayed with care, storytelling that doesn’t beat you over the head with drama, but rather, simply shows you. That storytelling aspect- simply presenting scenarios regarding ove and personal pain that, I feel, can be universally felt and empathized with, is something that many anime have tried and failed to do. Clannad and Clannad: After Story earn their place here as my personal most emotional anime of all time for these reasons, displaying both technical and storytelling prowess that consistently touches the heart, in a way that not many other forms of media have been able to do.
So yes. This has been my personal top 5 emotional anime, and I hope that you found some enjoyment out of the list! Comment down below, any anime that made you feel the feels!