5 anime protagonists who lost their families (and 5 who never had one)
Anime protagonists usually have tragic backstories or have gone through something very difficult that inspires them to achieve their goals. This is a very common trope in a lot of mediums of storytelling, as it gives the character motivation and the reader can empathize with the protagonist's experiences.
In anime, such experiences often revolve around the central character losing his or her family. Whether it's Lelouch vi Britannia losing his mother in Code Geass or Tanjiro Kamado losing almost his entire family to Muzan in Demon Slayer, these moments cement the motivation of their characters and inspires them to take initiative, eventually shaping them into beloved protagonists.
Disclaimer: This list has spoilers for all anime mentioned. It is subjective and ranked in no particular order.
5 anime protagonists who had families but lost them in tragic ways
1. Edward and Alphonse Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist)
Edward and Alphonse Elric, the main characters of the Fullmetal Alchemist series, are a very unique case when it comes to anime protagonists, because they tried to bite more than they could chew, and it ended up punishing them. Their father had left for reasons that were explained later in the story, and their mom had recently died due to disease, leaving them orphans.
They then decided to do alchemy to bring their mother back from the dead, but it only ended up taking parts of Edward’s body and losing the entirety of Alphonse’s. As a result, the brothers had to resort to trapping the latter's soul in a giant armor so he could still live. This began their unique journey, which is one of the best that any manga and anime series has ever seen.
2. Tanjiro Kamado (Demon Slayer)
Tanjiro Kamado is one of the most popular anime protagonists these days, and Demon Slayer is one of the most-known anime series at the moment, so he was of course going to be on this list.
His motivation is very simple: one-day Tanjiro’s family was assassinated by a demon called Muzan Kibutsuji, who happens to be the main antagonist of the series. He survives, along with his sister Nezuko, who was turned into a demon, and now Tanjiro’s entire motivation in the series is to get strong enough to defeat Muzan and to find a way to turn Nezuko back into a human.
It is shown throughout the story how much the loss of their family impacted both Tanjiro and Nezuko, highlighting how important family was to them.
3. Eren (Attack on Titan)
Eren is a character that is hard to simplify or boil down to basics, but there is no denying that the death of his mother at the hands of the Titans was something that changed him forever. There is a strong argument to be made that the entire Attack on Titan series wouldn’t have happened without this event.
In that regard, he is one of those characters whose motivations are strongly linked to his family, and that is something that was proven throughout the story, which is worth taking into account.
4. Lelouch (Code Geass)
Anime protagonists don’t always have the level of complexity that Code Geass’ Lelouch has, but there is no denying that he is one of those characters that come only a couple of times per decade. And part of that comes from his motivation.
He was the son of Charles zi Britannia, although he originally didn’t come from a royal family background due to his mother Marianne, whom he loved very much. Marianne was assassinated in the palace one day, leading his sister, Nunally, to lose her sight and ability to walk. Since Charles refused to search for the ones that killed Marianne, Lelouch decided to leave the empire of Britannia and look for revenge against his father and his empire.
Lelouch’s drive would be motivated by the rage and hatred he felt because of the death of his mother and the suffering Nunally went through, which is shown throughout the majority of Code Geass.
5. Thorfinn (Vinland Saga)
Anime protagonists have a lot of variety, but there are very few with the progression and growth that Thorfinn from Vinland Saga has had over the years.
Thorfinn’s dad, Thors, was a powerful warrior who decided to retire and form a family in Iceland. However, Askeladd, a skilled assassin, was hired to take his life and he did so through cheating, which traumatized Thorfinn and filled him with resentment, leading him to become a capable assassin to avenge his father and kill Askeladd.
All of Thorfinn’s motivations and reflections come from the lessons he learned from his father, which highlights the strength of their bond and how much his death meant to the main character. Very anime protagonists have such a deep and fascinating relationship with a deceased father figure, and it plays a huge role throughout the series.
5 anime protagonists who grew up without a family
1. Giorno Giovanna (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure part 5: Golden Wind)
Anime protagonists come in all shapes and sizes, but there is no denying that Giorno Giovanna, the main character of Golden Wind, the fifth installment of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, had it particularly rough when it comes to family structure.
The son of villain Dio Brando in the body of Jonathan Joestar, thus being a JoJo, Giorno grew up practically without a mother as she was never around, leaving him unfed and cold every night as a baby. She was married to an abusive husband who beat Giorno, to the point that the most life lessons and support he ever got during his formative years was from a gangster he helped save.
Such was the detachment of Giorno from his family that author Hirohiko Araki never even bothered to show what happened to his parents, indicating how little they meant to the protagonist after everything he went through, making it akin to having no family.
2. Kenshiro (Fist of the North Star)
Fist of the North Star is one of the most impactful franchises in all of manga, and Kenshiro is one of the most influential anime protagonists out there, but there is little emphasis on the fact that this is a man who grew up from a very early age without a family.
Sure, Kenshiro was adopted and trained by Ryuken, but there is no denying that that was never his ability, especially as his adopted brothers, who later on became major villains in the series, were all envious and ready to kill him for the title of the Hokuto Shinken master. This led to a lot of discord and animosity amongst the people that should have been Ken’s new family.
3. Goku (Dragon Ball)
Other anime protagonists cannot compare to Goku’s levels of popularity and cultural impact, but there is no denying that his backstory usually doesn’t get a lot of analysis.
Goku was one of the last survivors of the Saiyan race after Freeza destroyed their planet, and he ended up on Earth, where he was raised by Grandpa Gohan, who taught him all he knew about martial arts by the start of the original Dragon Ball. However, one full moon night, Goku turned into a giant ape and killed Gohan by accident, which left him on his own for an undisclosed amount of time.
During a lot of his formative years, Goku never had his parents or his father figure, which is a side of his character that is not brought up very often.
4. Guts (Berserk)
Very few anime protagonists have gone through the hardships and traumatizing experiences that Guts, the main character of Berserk, has gone through, and it all begins with his non-existent family structure.
Guts was born from the dying corpse of his mother after she was hanged, and a prostitute from a band of mercenaries took care of him. They later died because of the plague. He was then taken care of by a man named Gambino, who trained him as a mercenary, berated him, abused him, and then sold him (without him realizing it) to a guy named Donovan, who assaulted Guts as a kid.
This constant abuse would leave lifelong scars in Guts’ heart, which he still suffers from even to this very day in the manga. He ended up killing Gambino, and walked off, leaving as a wandering mercenary for a few years until he met Griffith, Casca, and the Band of the Hawk.
All of this clearly makes him one of the most tragic anime protagonists out there.
5. Naruto (Naruto)
Anime protagonists very rarely reach the level of cultural importance and popularity that Naruto has enjoyed for decades now, and that is a testament to his quality as a character. And his backstory is often one that creates a lot of empathy with people.
Naruto’s life is fairly known: His parents, Minato Namikaze and Kushina Uzumaki, died when Kurama attacked Konoha under the control of Obito Uchiha, and the creature was eventually sealed inside Naruto. He lived his entire childhood on his own, without any friends and constantly feeling isolated from the rest of the village.
All of this made Naruto’s struggles and progress during the series all the more inspirational, as he went from a nobody without a family to a hero and Hokage for the entire village.
There are a lot of anime protagonists with tragic backstories, especially when it comes to their families or lack thereof, but there is no denying that these elements often make them stronger and help them learn a lot of things along the way, becoming more complete characters in the process.