The most popular and coolest anime characters of all time
Curating a list of the most popular and coolest anime characters of all time isn’t easy. Over the years, anime has become more than just an art and animation style, it’s grown into a global cultural movement, capturing the attention of fans around the globe.
Today, there are countless iconic anime shows and movies to choose from, each featuring unforgettable characters, powerful storytelling, and incredible levels of creativity.
Cool anime characters distinguish themselves from the “cartoon” illustrations many people in the Western world are familiar with, utilizing bright colors and interesting features.
Today, we’re going to be looking at a selection of some of the most popular characters in the anime world, exploring everything from main characters to complex side protagonists.
If you’re a fan of anime, or you’re just looking for some cool anime characters to draw yourself, you’re in the right place. Let’s dive in.
An introduction to Japanese anime characters
While anime series are popular for more than just their character design, it’s worth noting that intriguing, eye-catching characters are one of the most significant draws of most of these programs.
The artists behind well-known anime classics use character design, combined with personal branding techniques, to help highlight the unique qualities of a character to viewers.
The realm of anime is home to some of the most intriguing characters in the animation industry. Japanese anime characters appeal to viewers due to their distinct look and feel.
Their appearance distinguishes them from many of the characters we might know in the western world, with many featuring large eyes, fantasy-style features, and colorful hair styles.
Anime brings a wide variety of personalities and characters to life, from hardcore powerful characters to shy and withdrawn protagonists.
Though anime characters often have limited movements and expressions, the way they’re drawn helps them to connect emotionally with viewers around the world.
The coolest anime characters throughout history
Obviously, opinions on the coolest anime characters are likely to vary depending on your personal taste. While there are many great examples of character design in the anime world, your preferences are likely to vary depending on the style of anime you like, and your artistic proclivity.
For our list of the coolest characters in anime, we’re focusing on a selection of complementary and lead characters throughout the anime world, with the most popularity and cultural impact.
Specifically, we’re looking at characters that have captured the attention of viewers across the globe, becoming household names for animation fans.
1. Light Yagami (Death Note)
It’s hard to find anyone inside or outside of the anime culture unfamiliar with Death Note, and the character of Light Yagami. Considered one of the greatest anti-heroes ever created, Light Yagami initially appears just like any other boy in his series.
Unlike many other famous characters, there are no hints to Light’s personality in his appearance at first.
Light is defined by his phenomenal intelligence, and somewhat egotistical nature. Once he earns possession of the famous “Death Note”, he gradually transforms into a disturbing antagonist, who begins killing people worldwide based on his own set of morals.
Light’s everyday appearance, combined with his idealism and nobility make him a highly complex character.
2. L Lawliet (Death Note)
Similar to Light, L Lawliet is defined by his intelligence. However, his appearance is the exact opposite of Light’s. Though considered one of the world’s leading detectives, L maintains a relatively withdrawn and sloppy appearance throughout the entire series of Death Note.
This contrast between his appearance and his incredible intellect makes him quite an interesting character.
One of the most interesting features of L’s design is the dark shadow beneath each of his eyes, showcasing his commitment to his work and his inability to sleep. He also walks around barefoot most of the time, and hunches over while walking, giving him an unassuming appearance.
L takes on the challenge of bringing Light to justice for his crimes, and has become one of the most popular and coolest characters in anime of all time for his unique characteristics.
3. Itachi Uchiha (Naruto)
Itachi Uchiha shows us that a cool anime character doesn’t necessarily have to be the most powerful character, or the main protagonist in a show. Defined by his unique eyes, which feature a swirling vortex, instead of a basic pupil, Itachi is a complex character with a unique backstory.
He’s known to many as the “Batman of anime”.
A martyr and a hero, Itachi is thrown into the world of Naruto after witnessing a World War at the age of 4, which made him into a dedicated pacifist. Part of what makes this character so compelling is the strange sadness that surrounds him.
He’s defined by his somewhat mysterious image, and has become one of the most interesting characters in anime over the years.
4. Naruto Uzumaki (Naruto)
We can’t mention Itachi on our list of the coolest anime characters without also drawing attention to the main character of one of the most popular anime series.
Naruto is one of the most well-known characters in the world. He’s the exact opposite to Itachi, with a brash and loud personality, and a relatively unique way of communicating with others.
Naruto is determined personified, and he follows a unique code of honor which makes him instantly likeable to fans. One of the most interesting parts of Naruto’s design is the presence of foxlike elements, which come from the nine-tailed malevolent fox spirit sealed in his body.
Naruto is a colorful character, with a funny personality and an exciting fighting style.
5. Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop)
One of the most unique examples of Japanese anime characters on this list, Spike Spiegel is the main protagonist for the show Cowboy Bebop. If you’re looking for cool looking anime characters with a vintage, film noir appearance, this is the character for you.
Spike is essentially an amalgamation of various influences from the film and movie landscape, such as Bruce Lee.
He’s a relatively versatile character, with a number of unique skills, from pickpocketing to engineering. He’s also an amazing fighter, a detective, and a little bit of a philosopher from time to time.
His history as a gangster clearly shows through in his appearance throughout the entire Cowboy Bebop series, giving him an edgy appeal.
6. Levi Ackerman (Attack on Titan)
Levi Ackerman, sometimes referred to as Captain Levi, is the squad captain for the Special Operations Squad within Attack on Titan. Though relatively small in stature, this character is capable of incredible things.
Although he has a relatively short temper, and an irritable personality, he’s a steadfast and empathetic character, with a great deal of popularity in the anime space.
Perhaps the strongest character in the Attack on Titan series, Levi takes an interesting approach to challenging the concept of “perfection”. He’s a flawed individual, but he’s committed to constantly expanding his potential, which is part of what makes him so relatable.
7. Saitama (One Punch Man)
Otherwise known as the “One-Punch Man”, Saitama is a particularly unique character in anime history.
Considered by many to be the strongest character in the anime world, Saitama has gone through years of rigorous training, reaching a point where he can now withstand any blow, and defeat virtually any enemy with a single punch.
Though he looks a little unusual on the surface, with his bald head and his calm demeaner, Saitama is a truly interesting and full character. Interestingly, his supreme strength and power have left him relatively depressed, as he feels that he no longer has any challenges in his life.
Saitama is a man of few words, but he’s still one of the best anime characters in the space.
8. Portagas D Ace (One Piece)
Though not the main character of the One Piece anime, Portagas D Ace is still one of the most compelling people in the series. Earning the nickname “Fire Fist”, he’s the sworn older brother of Sabo and Luffy, and the biological son of the late pirate king.
The character has a fantastic appearance on screen, with his flaming fist and tattoos.
He’s a character with multiple dimensions, showcasing both a loyal and goofy side to his companions on a consistent basis. This is a guy who will never back down from a fight, and his love for his brother means he’s always ready to fight on his behalf, even if it means his own death.
9. Monkey D. Luffy
Another amazing character belonging to 2022’s best-selling manga of all time, Monkey D Luffy, usually referred to just as Luffy, is one of the most memorable characters in anime. He’s instantly recognizable for his blue pants, red jacket, and straw hat.
From a young age, Luffy has developed his skills as a powerful fighter, showcasing a combination of recklessness and bravery.
Luffy is something of an unwilling leader in the anime world, attracting followers thanks to his endearing qualities, whether he likes it or not. He’s also a relatively powerful individual, and has successfully fought against some of the most powerful pirates in the series.
10. Meliodas (The Seven Deadly Sins)
Combining elements of magic and fantasy with a historical setting, the Seven Deadly Sins is an anime show that’s soared to popularity in the last couple of years. Each of the characters in the series has their own unique qualities, and comes from different backgrounds or “races”.
The main protagonist, Meliodas, comes from the demon race, and occasionally shows his demon side throughout the series.
Though somewhat small and often referred to as “cute”, Meliodas has an incredible level of strength and power. Part of what makes Meliodas so compelling is his unique personality.
Despite his demon background he appears to have a kind heart, and a deep love for his friends. He’s also a relatively funny character, often making crude and vulgar jokes.
11. Shoto Todoroki (My Hero Academia)
Shoto Todoroki is one of the most memorable characters in the popular series “My Hero Academia”. While there are plenty of examples of cool anime characters in this series, each with their own unique powers and quirks, Shoto has one of the most interesting stories and appearances.
He’s the son of one of the biggest heroes in the My Hero Academia world, and has grown up resenting his father due to years of abuse.
Part of what makes Shoto so interesting is the duality of the character. He has a combination of powers, taken from the ice quirk of his mother, and the fire quirk of his father.
He has a relatively stoic personality in most cases, but appears to be relatively awkward and compassionate too. His emotions show significantly in the use of his powers.
12. Killua Zaoldyeck
As the second protagonist in the Hunter X Hunter franchise, Killua Zaoldyeck may occasionally be overlooked by newcomers to the series. This male character has a fantastic backstory. He built his skills from a young age, becoming an assassin, and a powerful hunter.
Killua is a highly emotive and relatable character, who tackles his inner struggles regularly, and focuses on preserving the relationships he creates throughout his life.
Despite undergoing years of brutal training and even torture, Killua captures the hearts of anime viewers with his ambition and commitment to pursuing a better life. This well-written character teaches all about the power of endurance and heart.
13. Goku (Dragon Ball Z)
Probably the most recognizable entry on our list of the coolest anime characters of all time, Goku is the leading protagonist of Dragon Ball Z, one of the world’s most popular anime series. He’s a “Saiyan warrior”, sent to earth by his parents.
Throughout the Dragon Ball series, viewers watch Goku grow up, learn about himself, and expand his talents.
His strength, dedication, and heroism make him a delightful and compelling character, ideal for a kids show where the themes are relatively straightforward.
Though Goku doesn’t have the backstory or complexity of some of the other characters on this list, he’s still memorable, particularly when his demeaner and appearance changes as he enters his “Super Saiyan” form.
14. Ken Kaneki (Tokyo Ghoul)
A slightly more disturbing character than some of the other cool anime characters of this list, Ken Kaneki is the protagonist of Tokyo Ghoul.
The story of Tokyo Ghoul introduces us to a world where strange murders are happening throughout Tokyo, which leads to the discovery of unusual creatures known as “Ghouls”.
Ken started off living a relatively normal life in Japan before he was transformed into a one-eyed ghoul through a transplant. This transformation altered his appearance and personality drastically.
However, Ken remains a likeable character, committed to protecting his friends and loved ones from the threats throughout Tokyo.
15. Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist)
Also known as “Ed”, Edward Elric is the protagonist of the highly popular Fullmetal Alchemist series.
The plot of the story focuses heavily on a blend of magic and science, which gives the series a particularly unique appeal. After attempting to bring his mother back from the dead, Edward’s leg and his brother’s body are entirely destroyed, sending them both on a mission of redemption.
Edward introduced a new style of character to the anime world. The character is smart and calculating, and even technically disabled. This truly multidimensional character shows everything from guilt and sadness to humor and compassion throughout the series.
Edward’s growth as a person makes the manga extremely emotional and engaging.
16. Lelouch Lamperouge (Code Geass)
One of the most interesting characters in the anime world, Lelouch Lamperouge is the perfect example of a hero that loses his way. Despite good intentions, Lelouch ends up in a dark place, following the mantra of “the end justifies the means”.
His desire to create a better world for his sister led him to becoming just the kind of enemy he was fighting against.
Lelouch was chosen as the most popular male character of 2006, 2007, and 2008, during the Anime Grand Prix. He’s a dramatic and handsome character, with a stoic personality, and a great deal of intelligence.
Despite his aggressive and cold nature in battle, Lelouch can be quite a compassionate person to his loved ones.
17. Dio Brando (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure)
A character brimming with ambition, Dio Brando, otherwise known just as “Dio” is the primary antagonist of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Despite his low birth, Dio has always striven for greatness, which has led him to become a wonderfully interesting villain.
After being raised by an abusive father, Dio dedicated himself to destroying the Joestar (protagonist) family.
Dio is a character that anime viewers love to hate, and his unique design just makes him more detestable, with its almost arrogant flair. Dio becomes progressively more terrifying through the series, tormenting the protagonist’s family and even torturing their pets.
18. Tanjiro Kamando (Demon Slayer)
The lead protagonist of the Demon Slayer franchise, Tanjiro is defined by his traffic backstory. As a young boy, the king of demons killed most of Tanjiro’s family, leaving only his sister alive.
Unfortunately, Tanjiro’s sister is transformed into a half demon, which pushes Tanjiro to begin a search to cure his sibling and defeat the king of demons once and for all.
Even despite his unfortunate past, Tanjiro manages to be a highly empathetic and relatable character. His heroism is driven not just by a quest for vengeance, but the love he has for his sister and his family.
His empathy is part of what gives him the upper hand against the monsters he kills. Although Demon Slayer isn’t as well-known as some of the anime on this list, its approach to creating cool anime characters has earned it an excellent reputation.
19. Sailor Moon
Perhaps a character brimming with nostalgic appeal for some anime lovers, Sailor Moon is one of the better-known characters in the anime world.
Known for wearing a school uniform most of the time, and her amazing hair style, Sailor Moon inspired many of the most famous female characters in anime in the decades to come.
She’s the guardian of “love and justice” in the series, and the main protagonist, for both the show and manga.
As reincarnation of “Princess Serenity”, Sailor Moon is a playful and sweet character. She’s powerful, funny, and incredibly relatable. She takes an interesting approach to showcasing the personality of teens throughout Japan, with her laid-back, but passionate nature.
Who is the most famous character in anime?
As you can see from this list of the coolest anime characters in the animation landscape, there are plenty of fantastic creations to discover in the world of anime.
The answer to the question of which character is most famous is difficult to define, as it really depends on your location in the world, and your anime preferences.
However, most people do agree that Goku from Dragon Ball Z is probably the best-known character in the anime landscape.
Hopefully this roundup of the most cool looking anime characters of all time has given you some much needed insight and inspiration.
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