ften, male anime leads play a major part in any anime’s narrative appeal. Why bother when the one character getting the most screen time grinds your gears or is deathly boring, right? The most lauded anime series are usually helmed by the great protagonists — the badass, the comedic weirdo, or even the morally dubious. Here are some of our favourite anime male leads, our reasons to live. I mean, reasons to watch anime.
Joseph Joestar | JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Personally, it’s very hard for me to strongly relate to most characters. We might share one or two traits, sure, but I can never fully see myself in others. This is especially the case with my favourite anime genre. Most shonen protagonists are strong fighters who are very forgiving and constantly get power-ups. Basically, they’re often not very realistic.
Meeting Joseph Joestar was the first, and probably only time, in which I could completely relate with a character. In case you don’t know him: Joseph Joestar is the personification of all the memes you see going around the web. Complaining about responsibilities and calling them his worst nightmare? Check. Slacking off at any given opportunity? Check. Giving completely realistic reactions to incredibly weird anime situations (asking himself what the hell is going on)? Check.
To be frank, Joseph’s greatness is something that can’t be captured in mere words. If you’ve watched JoJo, you will know – Joseph is what happens when a smart comic relief character takes center stage. Not only is he one of the funniest anime characters you’ll meet, but he’s also among the most charming. This legend pulls off the goofiest shit in battles and somehow looks like a genius while doing so.
Whenever things get hard, always keep in mind the Joestar family’s secret technique. Nigerundayo!!!
Light Yagami | Death Note
Yes, I have to include Satan himself. Where do I even start – Light Yagami is simply an amazing lead. Believe it or not, it’s thanks to him that Death Note is such a successful anime. It’s not frequent for the main character to be the bad guy, and shows that attempt to pull this off constantly fail to impress. This concept has a lot of potential but it’s underused or wasted. Thankfully, Death Note employs this concept masterfully – the series presents a truly intriguing battle of wits between our twisted protagonist and the brilliant detective, L.
As a watcher, you’re aware that Light is fucked up. What starts as a morally grey quest to eliminate all criminals and create a perfect world ends up leading to the deaths of any innocents who try to oppose Light’s ideologies. Despite all of this, he’s so interesting to watch that you can’t help but root for him in a way. Honestly, I really wanted Light to succeed.
Especially when annoying Near popped into the picture.
Leaving aside what each of us wanted the ending to be, Light is brilliant and the dangerous game he played with L was breathtaking. The logic that went into every single move he made always had watchers on the edge of their seats. You could never be entirely sure that the outcome of his plans would be successful. Let’s be real, Light is so interesting that even an entire episode of him walking next to a woman (Naomi Misora) is gold. The episode is basically 20 minutes worth of inner monologues and ideas on how to kill this woman, yet it’s so damn good.
Lelouch Lamperouge | Code Geass
I wouldn’t dream of listing my favourite anime male leads and not adding Lelouch Lamperouge. This man? Beautiful. Perfect. Stunning. Gorgeous. Intelligent. Capable. Cunning. I absolutely love Lelouch in every sense of the word.
In a way, Lelouch is similar to Light. Both of them make morally twisted decisions to achieve their goals. And both make sure to plan every little detail before making a move. Still, there’s a fundamental difference between the two: Light is convinced that his ideologies aren’t wrong, that they can’t be wrong. He doesn’t regret what he does and refuses to acknowledge anything other than his own opinions.
On the other hand, Lelouch vi Britannia is a cunning character who is self-aware. He knows that his actions lead to the death of many, that objectively, they can be horrifying. In spite of this, he pushes forward with his plans — he does what he wants to do, what his own beliefs tell him he must do. Thus, while Light moves with the conviction that he is absolute, a god who can do no wrong, Lelouch has a working moral compass and moves with full knowledge of his sins.
There’s a lot to say about Lelouch vi Britannia, and the complexity of his character would allow me to write an entire analysis of his development throughout Code Geass. However, what I mentioned above is what I wholeheartedly believe is the most important aspect of Lelouch’s character. It’s what makes him so great and refreshing. You see someone human committing atrocities, and he’s capable of seeing that too. But does that make him stop? It doesn’t.
Lelouch Lamperouge is an icon who lives in the hearts of many. Honestly, he’s immortal in mine.
Alibaba Saluja | Magi
Many Shonen series have main characters that are practically similar to each other, which makes it hard to pick a favourite anime male lead. Magi follows two main male characters, Alibaba and Aladdin but I find that Alibaba will probably be relatable to most for being a pushover in the beginning.
His upbringing was quite weird, to say the least. When he was younger, Alibaba lived in the slums with his mother (Anise) who happened to be a harlot. Anise used to be a maid at the palace but once she gave birth to Alibaba, she moved to the slum. Though when she passed away from an illness that was spreading around the slum, King Rashid took Alibaba under his wing. That’s when Alibaba found out he was the illegitimate child between King Rashid and Anise, technically making him the third prince of Balbadd.
Alibaba was introduced as a person who didn’t stick up for what he actually believed in. He often flattered the wealthy merchant since that’s where he’s getting his pay from and laughed along when spoken down to. Meeting Aladdin was probably the best thing for him, even though he tried to use him in the beginning. I think Alibaba needed that reality check that he’s not doing himself any good lying to himself all the time.
Since then, he’s been dedicated to helping everyone but he can be a bit hard-headed sometimes. Mainly because he’s someone who would rather settle something himself. That may be due to him not having really close friends until he met Aladdin and Morgiana. He’s still very loyal to them nonetheless. The only weakness that I can think of is that Alibaba can get influenced easily. It was pretty prevalent in the first season. I found Alibaba really likable for his personal growth and wanting to better himself.
Seishū Handa | Barakamon
Now, Barakamon is one of my favourite comedy slice of life series I’ve watched so far. Seishū Handa, in the beginning, was someone who can be very stubborn along with being easily irked and frightened. If you watched the prequel Handa-kun, you’ll see where that came from.
Handa is someone who takes pride in his calligraphy, he’s always been called a prodigy. During an exhibit, Handa couldn’t keep his temper when a critic called his work unoriginal thus punching him. Handa’s father punished him by sending him to a countryside island off of Kyushu so that Handa could find some inspiration and cool down. Handa, being the city guy he is, had a hard time adapting to the way of life there.
That’s until he meets Naru, a 7-year-old kid who is the complete opposite of him. Handa ran into Naru when she was using the house he was moving to as a secret base. Naru lives with her grandfather on the island, and since Handa took her “base,” she’s been visiting him daily. Naru can be pretty energetic and curious, which annoys Handa to the max, but he learns to get over it the more he spends time in the island.
Handa’s series of trips and interactions with characters such as the students and townsmen made him realize the best in life. It also gave him the inspiration to create a calligraphy work that comes from the heart. I find Handa’s characteristics to be quite related in the sense that he’s always timid and not that open about himself.
Sakata Gintoki | Gintama
It’s hard to think of anime comedy without acknowledging the immense impact that Gintama has had on the genre. If I were to narrow down this absurd show’s best trait, I would have to pick its characters. Each one has his/her own bizarre and endearing traits. From a young boy whose fun fact at parties is probably, “I wear glasses”, to a young man whose struggles for self-identity and freedom mean that he must be labelled a terrorist, Gintama is full of rich and relatable characters.
Perhaps the richest of them all is the main protagonist, Sakata Gintoki, a former warrior who now spends his days as an Odd-Jobs sort of guy, doing anything and everything he can to survive. He’s immature, unmotivated, crass, without a sense of decorum. And yet he’s sweet, gentle, and able to be a father figure, brother as well as a friend when those close to him need a shoulder to lean on.
Gintoki is also a rather interesting and somewhat bizarre take on a medieval knight errant. Of course, the feudal Japanese samurai was not all that similar to the medieval European knight, but Gintoki’s arc serves as a very complex take on what a knight of old would be like if he were suddenly thrust into an alien world – literally. Gintoki’s failures and successes may be exaggerated for comedic purposes, but they quite wonderfully show the struggles of a former warrior who has been forced to make do in a world that doesn’t need his skills anymore and even scoffs at them. This is most evident in Gintoki’s insistence on carrying a wooden sword on his person, despite the Amantos’ ban on samurai.
Gintoki is the best example of a well-written and nuanced main character. Not only does he enhance the plot, but he amplifies the narrative and thematic significance of those around him. It’s so refreshing to see a male anime lead who isn’t the typical ‘Good Guy’. There’s more to him than just the desire to save people. It’s Sorachi’s greatest achievement that his main character can stand on his own when measured up to the leading men of other franchises. With his memorable wavy, silver hair, his disgusting nose-picking habit, his amazing skill with only a wooden sword, Gintoki is the absolute GOAT!
Kageyama Shigeo | Mob Psycho 100
Whereas Gintoki is rash, sometimes senseless and full of dark, absurdist humor, Mob Psycho 100’s male lead is the most wholesome male character in shonen anime – probably. The idea of an overpowered male protagonist is as common as water in anime and very few manage to make the leads interesting characters outside of their overwhelming strength.
Enter Mob Psycho 100 (and to some extent One Punch Man – which is worth a mention as it was written by the same author), and the idea of an invulnerable, masculine superhero comes crumbling down. Kageyama Shigeo is a middle schooler with god-like esper powers but he has little self-esteem, can’t run to save his life, and just wants to be popular so he can talk to his childhood crush.
There’s something so sweet and endearing about watching Mob acknowledge that just because he is the most powerful being in the universe doesn’t entitle him to everything. In fact, he doesn’t just acknowledge his shortcomings, he acts on them. He realises that he is incredibly out of shape, so he joins the Body Improvement Club. He knows that he has ‘relationship problems’ so he unwittingly manages to join a Happy cult. Later, he makes the all-powerful master of said cult his pet. The simplicity of Mob’s psyche makes him a great character. Not only do his awkward ticks make for some incredible humor, but they allow him to develop and grow. Anyone who has not watched Mob Psycho 100 must do so immediately, if only for the sweet goodness that is Kageyama Shigeo.
Satou Kazuma | Konosuba + Saiki Kusuo | The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
I realize that all my picks here are from shonen comedies, but I absolutely cannot write up a list of my favourite anime male leads without including these two riots. I’m technically supposed to pick only three, but I love Kazuma and Saiki for much of the same reasons that it felt weird to include one but not the other.
Both spearhead gag series. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. is a gag anime that makes fun of the overpowered fantasy genre while Konosuba pokes fun at the absurd slew of isekai anime that have come up in recent years. Both Kazuma and Saiki serve as the straight men – in some way – to a slew of over the top side characters. They also have sarcastic streaks that make their respective series even funnier.
Kazuma’s painfully average straight-man routine does a great job to undercut the more over-the-top side characters in Konosuba. His arc is made even better by the fact that he is surrounded by a harem of nutty and unreasonable women, without turning the anime into a love-tetrahedron cringefest. He copes by giving sarcastic commentary on the stupid actions of his colleagues, all the while keeping the main story beats in check.
Saiki, too, has a harem of his own, but his harem takes a very different form. Where Kazuma’s harem works to amplify his strengths, Saiki’s drives him to near madness. His is not an alliance of mutual gain; he’s constantly being pestered by a group of people who will not leave him alone. Even then, he finds himself caring about them and going out of his way to solve their problems – as absurd and annoying as they are. Saiki and Kazuma are like Gintoki in the sense that their strengths and weaknesses are boosted for comedic effect, but they still manage to stand on their own as characters.
Sakata Gintoki | Gintama
Very few anime male leads rank among my favourite characters. In fact, these three are pretty much the only ones I actually care for, so they’re the greatest anime male leads ever to me.
Yes, our ol’ pal Gintoki is in this article twice. So why do we love Sakata-san so much? Gintoki is uncouth, unhygienic, and constantly at loggerheads with my actual #1 favourite Gintama character, Hijikata. Where is the logic there?! Simple. I love him for those traits. Uncouth? Relatable. Unhygienic? Also relatable. Constantly at loggerheads with Hijikata? I’d fight Hijikata too. At the heart of it, Gintoki is an unconventional male hero, with surprisingly relatable human qualities and emotional center, who constantly keeps me guessing at every turn, so it’s hardly ever boring with him. I can actually imagine Gintoki smugly boasting about making it onto this list so many times. On top of that, here he is, defying the odds, and making someone like me love an anime male lead – how great is that?!
And let’s be real, Gintoki’s right about the Shinsengumi. They really are tax revenue robbers. These are the facts, Hijikata-san.
Matsuoka Rin | Free!
I’m well aware that my boy Matsuoka Rin is an acquired taste for many, especially in Free!’s early days. Still, I loved him instantly. It’s true that Rin was unnecessarily hostile to others, many of whom didn’t deserve any of his cruelty. But, for me, his flaws and struggles made him all the more compelling. He just reminded me of an injured animal, lashing out mostly because he’s hurt and afraid. What can I say? I’m a huge sucker for angst. On top of that, the writers also gave him hands down the best character development arc in the series. From high school to college, we’ve seen him grow from that angry kid to a confident leader who shows strong faith in his friends, especially his
lover childhood friend Sousuke. What’s not to love?
Saitama | One Punch Man
I think it’s obvious there’s a common pattern among my favourite anime male leads. All three are varying degrees of ‘cynical asshole’, even if Rin does grow out of it. Saitama‘s particular brand of ‘cynical asshole’ is born out of bored indifference, perfect for underlining One Punch Man’s parody of the shonen genre. Like Gintoki, it’s hilarious, but it’s not all there is to either of them. All of them are also just as capable of showing tact and compassion. I mean, a lesser man would have already torn Speed-o’-Sound Sonic to shreds or snapped when a whole city ungratefully turned against him. I know I would’ve because Speed-o’-Sound Sonic was incredibly annoying, and those citizens were the worst. But he didn’t. Simply put, I just have this tendency to love cynical, chaotic characters.
What do y’all reckon? Do any of these picks resonate with you or do you lack taste and hate our faves?