That post title took me forever to come up with. Yes it did!!! I actually gave up and just used the post outline instead. But I tried for a long time before that.

Some of you may remember that I generally prefer character driven narratives to plot driven ones. This means I can enjoy shows that are objectively boring or bad if I happen to like a character enough. It also means that I will be harsher than most on brilliant stories that use their characters in service to the plot. By the way this is very different from having bad or underdeveloped characters, but that’s not today’s  topic.

blonde that likes video games? – best show ever!

What’s worse, is that I’m a sucker for relatability. I will self insert in a lot of my favourite stories so if I personally resonate with characters on some level, the show immediately gets extra points. Obviously this makes me the best possible candidate to review shows….

It also brings up some troubling questions when you consider my fondness for less than virtuous characters. This ultimately bought up an issue I’ve been wondering about ever since. Are we more drawn to characters we identify with (we honestly think are a lot like us) or characters we admire.

I’ve decided to set aside biases and illusions of grandeur from this little exercise. I’m talking about characters we think are like us, no matter how accurate that belief may be or what our friends say. or family members…

The few psych texts I remember reading in school would suggest that we naturally gravitate towards people who display qualities we want to emulate. (Unless you are so insecure you can’t bear to be close to anyone that makes you feel inferior in any way, or you’re such an egotist you think you’re the best at everything). This should hold true for fictional characters.

anime egotist
but what if you really are perfect?

On the other hand, relationships are built on common ground. Close knit groups often resemble each other in many ways. We find the familiar comforting. If we consider this, we are more likely to gravitate towards characters we see ourselves in. So which is it?

Based on super unscientific anecdotal evidence, I think that it depends mostly on the viewer. Let me be clear, I’m making this up as I go along. First I believe that people who put more weight on plot tend to prefer characters who are important to said plot. Often you will see that the most popular characters in high action narratives (that don’t dwell too much on development) are often the protagonist. After all the story doesn’t exist without the hero, it stands to reason they should be awesome.

In a subset of this, romantics who particularly enjoy stories of love (and or deep friendship that could be more, cough), seem to often resonate more with the main love interest than the main character. This makes sense to me. When you get smitten by someone, everything becomes about that other person, not about you. If the protagonist is the audience surrogate, then the character you care about is the other person. That’s who you want to know every single detail about, and who will make or break the story for you. Maybe I’m just trying to explain away the trend of bland harem protagonists.

This is probably stretching this… what’s a less official word for theory? Nonsense? Whatever this thing is. I think we can also have a category for the ADD folks. The ones that love a fast paced narrative and have little patience for drawn out exposition or character building. These folks tend to go for the flashy types. The supporting characters that always make a big Bang and radiate their personalities all over the place. You know the ones you can figure out in their first minute on screen.

I know everything I need to know here…

But what about those of us who like characters for who they are, regardless of their roles? Well that’s a bit trickier. This is where you have to wonder whether balanced realistic and relatable characters are better than exotic and unique. it’s a trick question, there’s no actual answer. A well written character will be appreciated no matter what.

A quick google search of “most popular anime characters” revealed a few things. The most frequent and usually highest rated caharacter is L from Death Note. A few other common contenders to round off the top 5 were Naruto, Kakashi, Goku, Light and Lelouche.

Other than telling me that Death Note and Naruto were both popular anime (shocker!) I do notice a few things. I guess Naruto and Goku could be counted as fairly relatable. They are both sort of derpy and dorky in their way. Ultimately though, they are also protagonists of action oriented series and unbelievably powerful in  their own right.

The others though are specifically written to be outlandish. You are not supposed to relate to any of them. You’re not even supposed to know anyone like them really. The fact that they are “exceptional” is a defining trait. There’s another interesting element here, even though they are mostly protagonists (debatable about Light), half of them have openly shaky morality. So even though they possess desirable traits and skills, they’re not exactly admirable characters.

Or maybe the world is a much scarier place than I thought.

healthy friendship!

They are almost all leading characters though. Hmmmm. I’m not going to pretend to read people’s minds. I’m sure you all have personal standards for your favourites. But let me share mine.

A short forray through the favourite character section of my reviews shows that I almost never pick MCs. Even my beloved Natsume has not made the list. I’ve touched on the fact that supporting and minor characters that can easily be removed from a storyline benefit from a lot more freedom of conception. As such, they are more likely to be weird archetypes we rarely see. That’s the characters which writers can afford to get real creative with…

I’ve been vocal about both my horrendous tastes in anime characters and my love of trolls so I was sure to have a healthy amount of antagonists in these but turns out that only a handful of minor or secondary baddies made the cut. I guess I m not as much of a lost cause as I thought. I do tend towards characters that are less enmeshed with the plot and can not be clearly categorized as either *good* or *bad* from the story we get.

I can say that for the most part these characters are not much like me. Often stoic, they tend to be uncompromising and very true to their characters. I find I enjoy internal consistency in imaginary people. I myself am highly adaptable and tend to be flexible. I definitely don’t want anime full of people just like me. I would find that tragically boring. But I also don’t want anime full of perfect infallible heroes either.

If anything, I would say I like anime full of folks I would want to go out for a drink with. Not necessarily become friends, some of these guys sound exhausting, but that I could have a great conversation and an evening’s worth of fun. So do I prefer characters which are relatable or those that are remarkable? Neither I guess. Interesting trumps them all! What about you?

Karneval - 02-4
google image search for interesting anime character gave me this!

39 thoughts

  1. Well, I like relatable characters more. That’s because I have similar traits to them and maybe similar experiences, so it’s easier to understand and empathise with them, particularly during the emotional arcs.

  2. This is a fantastic question! In my case, I enjoy both types of characters but I think that relatable ones score slightly more points with me. 😊 That being said, I love getting to know characters in depth. So the more complicated and intriguing they are, the more interested I’m going to be.

  3. For me, it really depends on the character because I’ve taken a liking for both types. And seeing how I am such a interesting character myself I can’t say I’ve related to many characters on a personal level. So it can go either way to be honest. Between your Irina pretends to know thing tag is hysterical. LOL

  4. Great post. J like characters that are remarkable. I like to get away from my world and dive into another world. So I need my characters to be different than real life. That’s why I love L from death Note because he is remarkable and not relatable to anyone in real life.

  5. Neither also. If they’re well written I can like any kind of characters, even the hateful ones. For me, I can relate to both Light, and Lelouch. I can see my cold devious nature in Light Yagami, and being emotionally very attached like Lelouch at the same time. Flip flopping between both sides in a given situations. However, what I see in both is their insistent of crossing a certain moral line to accomplish their goals. I do something similar, but within the law rest assure yourself XD

    I also see myself in Kaiji Itou from Kaiji Ultimate Survivor in the sense in falling into a recurring pattern of bad behavior. Luckily I never had to cut my own ear for anything hahaah

  6. It’s all about the boobs! End of!

    Nah, just kidding. 😛 Everyone else has already said it, a well written, fleshed out character that defies convention and undergoes a believable journey will always make any anime infinitely more enjoyable. Sadly, they are too rare in this day and age.

  7. “A well written character will be appreciated no matter what.”

    True! I love me a well written villain.

    I fall for the category of relatable characters. I insert myself in the role of the hero and if I would try do the same thing the hero tries, I would love the character. My waifu’s tend to be women who show traits I’d want in a woman. My waifus tend to be nonstandard. I have yet to see a male waifu with the right traits.

    There is a special place in my heart for the injured, for the underdog and for the unpopular. If the arc includes soul searching and healing, I’ll fall for them. Senjogahara for example. Damaged but doing her very best to heal. Zero Two is another. She wants to become human while retaining her fundamentally wild self.

    OTOH, I am utterly unable to find any use for Shinji in my life even though he is psychologivcally injured, an underdog and unpopular. I feel compassion for many other characters in Evangelion but not him. Instead, I want to start Shinji on a course of testosterone enhancing drugs. If he weren’t such a wimp, he could easily have any of the major females characters he wants.

    1. It’s funny how much hate Shinji gets when he is literally written to be the archetype average anime watcher. I am one of the very few people that has always liked Shinji.

  8. I guess for me there are 3 categories: relatable (I’m them), remarkable (I want to be them) and…hot (I’m just chasing after them because I like chasing after side characters with nice character designs and/or cool powers/skills). Then again, the categories can have some overlap…

    The mentality behind this last category is that because side characters appear less, so when they do appear it’s more rewarding, at least for me.

      1. I have a terrible time visualising stuff that isn’t a story of my own invention, so basically unless it has illustrations beyond the front page or an adaption into a visual/semi-visual medium, I’ve never really had that problem…

  9. I think I prefer characters who are relatable. They can be remarkable, but if I can’t empathize or sympathize with them and their motives, it’s probably going to be a drag.

  10. Relatablility is plus, but it’s absence is not a minus. If a show shows me a lot of situations I recongise from real life, though, the characters probably shouldn’t remind me of ones that were a pain to deal with. I might actually like the same character type that makes me profoundly uncomfortable in a slice-of-life show in an adventure show. Take this season’s Grand Blue. The show is full of characters that try to trick you into drinking alcohol. I don’t mind that sort of behaviour in a RPG party member for example, but the set-up here is that the new guy has to find his footing among this people, and has to live there. I finished the episode and then never came back (well, I tried to give it a second chance because I don’t like hating shows friends like, but I couldn’t get past the cold opening…). I struggled with similar problems in Daily Life of Highschool Boys, but to a much lesser degree, so I could sit through the frustrating parts to get at the few moments of pure genius that are worth it all.

    Characters who are horrible to each other can sastisfy my inner brat, provided the overall atmosphere I feel is one of warmth (i.e. they get along with each other to the degree that they don’t worry about being horrible to each other). Konosuba is a pretty good example of this. This season’s Jasshin chan Dropkick ended up my third favourite show this season (but more because I successively lost interest in nearly everything else; it really is a fun show, but it takes a rather bad to season for it to make the top 3). It’s basically the CGDCT gore version of Road Runner and Coyote with a side dish of dysfunctional relationships, but somehow it never felt meanspirited (and the final episode confirms it, I think).

    I also get taken in by voice actor performances, this season Chio in Chio’s School Road, for example. It’s the performance of Ozora Naomi that made me look her up, and what do you know, her voice acting has actually been the main attraction of another anime, Tsugumomo, a rather avarage ecchi harem, and a surprising number of her performances are among the best characters in their respective shows. It seems I really can’t underestimate the effect of voice-acting.

    I, too, often love the odd-balls that float around the margin of the show and I often wish they hade a five-minute short spin-off all to themselves. A good example would be Asebi Inoue from Ben-to, the extremely unlucky girl who always looks at the bright side of life and wears a really fun outfit.

    I very nearly never even wonder about whether I’d like to meet those characters in real life. All those internet games (most recently the create a harem tag) don’t mean much to me: I draw a blank. There’s such a clear division between fiction and life, such an emotional barrier, that I have trouble playing games like these. (It’s actually not only fiction-real life; I have a very similar problem with mixing characters from different shows, though less pronounced – there’s just some sort of dissonance in my head.)

    1. I find that I have gotten *better*(?) at considering fictional characters as real people since I’ve gotten to know so many people from their online presence alone.
      As far as I know those are fictional personas as well….

  11. I really enjoy watching characters I can relate to in some way (so Rei from March Comes in Like a Lion and Yuri from Yuri on Ice are two characters I really enjoy) but I’m very much about stories so characters that don’t have anything to do with the main plot tend to just be background noise to me. Still, it doesn’t matter how good the plot is if the characters in it aren’t interesting in any way. Finding a balance is kind of important. That said, I tend to find larger than life characters or flamboyant characters really annoying (Lelouch is a notable exception to that rule because I found him quite interesting).

  12. Firstly, I’d say “relatable” and “remarkable” are not mutually exclusive. 😉

    Second, the mixture of the two tends to provide my favorite characters. I could actually relate a bit to L, for instance, but he was also a greater version of myself, worth emulating. the same holds true for Luffy, Usopp, Zoro, and others. Goku and Naruto, not so much, and certainly not Light.

    1. of course they would be to remarkable people!
      I guess I was going from my own point of vue. I don’t tend to think of myself as exceptional. its awesome that you do! more people should feel that way

      1. I may think of myself as “unique” (and I love it!) but not “exceptional.” That’s a bit of a trap, thinking you’re special in some way. But one does not need to be special to be remarkable, like you. 😉

  13. Slice-of-life is my favorite genre, so it’s no surprise that I prefer relatable characters.

  14. Hmm…I fall in love with relatable characters too easily too, but I think in most instances, there must also be something remarkable in them for me to truly love them (or else they have to be shrouded in mystery, so that I can imagine whatever I want of them).
    Protagonists are designed to be available for self-inserts to some degree, but people don’t usually fall in love with them. They must go through some sort of respectable character development or have some other unique trait about them that’s cool. E.g. Shu Ouma from Guilty Crown is not cool despite his relatable existential crisis because he doesn’t do anything without being pushed (I’m sure that’s relatable to many), but Akane Tsunemori is quite likable because while she has a lawful, more neutral attitude towards the society she’s in (like the typical person?), she is able to act on her beliefs and becomes much stronger by the end of the season.
    And unrelatable characters that are just cool (I.e. Makishima) are…just cool. So in sum, you can like both relatable and remarkable characters, but relatable characters also have to be something more, to me anyways.

    1. As you write about self insert protagonists I realized that I deeply relate to Kazuma (KonoSuba)… I’m not sure if I should go on…

  15. Since you like trolls: whose the bigger troll? Washu or Mihoshi?
    Since you suggest people who you would enjoy getting drunk with, I think it would be great fun to hang out with Haruno from SNAFU, but the lady teacher is the one I’d take home.

    Another good character to hang out with is the photographer-reporter from Full Metal Panic who is friends with the heroine. She’s a sort of accidental war correspondent and would have good stories.

    As much as it would be fun to observe the camping joy of Yurucamp, the older sister who drives them would be more fun to share a tent or hot spring with.

    Finally, I’d love to spend time with the mother of the Psychoelectric Girl, who is 40, sexy, and hilarious fun.

    The blonde captain in charge of the music fort in Sora No Woto, who makes her own apple brandy and sells it to pay their wages, would totally benefit from my company.

    Misato Katsuragi is still hung up on Ryoji Kaji, though he’d probably be great fun at the bar or a dinner party. If you want to include males to hang out with who aren’t broody and uptight, the coach from those not-motorcycle sports mecha would be a cool guy to hang out with. Also Jesus-biker from Bakuon because he’s Jesus. And rides a motorcycle. And can make wine any time you start to run out. Also, loaves of bread and fishes. If you have a grill and butter and garlic you would be set for hosting. You might even argue that Jesus would run an izakaya, which Mary Magdalene would drive to wherever he ends up for the day. Even Jesus needed a girlfriend. The calligrapher from Kamichu and the calligrapher from Barakamon might be the same person, which is why the guy from Barakamon never dates on the island: he’s already married to the storm goddess, after all. If that were true, he’d have hilarious stories at a dinner party. I’d probably want the office lady from Kawai Complex there. She’s going to drink herself sick and punch someone before the night is out, and then feel humiliated and desperate for the rest of the week, but that’s how she is.

    So yes to characters.

    1. I’ve mentioned it a few times here and there but I really did not like SNAFU, mostly because the characters are props.
      I would think Washu is the bigger troll?

      1. Washu is a magnificent troll, to be sure. However, Mihoshi trolls Washu, who can’t seem to realize that Mihoshi is her great granddaughter despite living in the same house. So who’s the greater troll? The Troll or the troll that trolls them?

  16. Hmm, this is a very good question (no suprise really as you always have good questions lol). Honestly, it’s hard to say for me. I think I have said quite often that there if there is one thing I find important in any kind of medium it’s characters. Even though a story might be weak, it can be saved by having it be populated with interesting and fun characters. Sometimes I can enjoy characters that I don’t even remotely find relatable. (I’m looking at you Makishima Shogo). But a character I could relate a lot with for instance was Naho from Orange. Basically because she was pretty much the female version of me. Her shyness especially when it came to going after the person she loved, was something I could relate to very much. Hell, some of the situations she found herself in have happened to me.
    But when it comes to my favorite alltime anime character The Major from Ghost in the Shell, it’s someone who is not reletable, but who I do find remarkable. Because she is. So, to make another long story (erm comment) short (sorry for always rambling so much), I think the answer for me would be: both. As long as an anime has characters that are fun, strong and have qualities in them that are interesting, an anime for me gets extra points😊 As always: wonderful post! 😀

    1. Thanks for sharing Raist and it’s never too long. Having a chat with you through the comments like this always makes my day a bit brighter!

Leave me a comment and make my day!