5 shonen anime protagonists that get all the sympathy (and 5 that don't)

Deku from My Hero Academia is an example of a sympathetic shonen anime character (Image via Studio Bones)
Deku from My Hero Academia is an example of a sympathetic shonen anime character (Image via Studio Bones)

There are plenty of shonen anime protagonists that evoke some measure of sympathy, whether it is due to their backstories, circumstances, or their overall goal in life.

However, some don't draw out sympathy no matter what they say or do. Put simply, with every Tanjiro that wants to save his sister, Nezuko, there's a Light Yagami who wants to play God.

This list will document five cases of shonen anime protagonists that get all the sympathy from fans and five that get little to none.

Disclaimer: The article contains major spoilers and solely reflects the author's opinion. There's also a content triggering warning for child abuse and implied s**ual abuse.


5 sympathetic shonen anime protagonists

1) Edward and Alphonse Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist)

The Elric brothers are indeed worthy of sympathy since their mother died when they were young. They tried to bring their mother back through human transmutation, leading them to sacrifice their bodies and still did not succeed. So, trapped with a missing leg, arm, and soul in armor, Ed and Al quest to get their bodies back.

It's never easy being a State Alchemist in the shonen anime Fullmetal Alchemist. The government is controlled by literal demons like the Homunculus Wrath/King Bradley. The duo face all manner of horror and adversity at every turn, such as the monstrous Shou Tucker and the vengeful Ishvalen Scar.

Both brothers garner sympathy for having to grow up way too quickly due to their mom's death and father's abandonment.


2) Tanjiro Kamado (Demon Slayer)

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Continuing from the lost family trope, Tanjiro from the shonen anime Demon Slayer is the center ground for sympathy because of his family slaughter by Muzan. Nezuko and Tanjiro were the last survivors.

Even worse, Nezuko got turned into a demon. The series sees Tanjiro go on a quest to save her. He is forced to dodge hunters and demons along the way.

Tanjiro's motivation is to save his sister, and he does so by training to fight in order to be an impressive demon slayer. As for why he's sympathetic, it's because of his sense of justice that never leads him astray or into a cynical path.


3) Izuku Midoriya (My Hero Academia)

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Izuku Midoriya was a boy who started off being bullied and feeling worthless until his attempt to save Bakugo brought him to the attention of Number One Hero All Might.

However, even after gaining One for All from All Might, Deku's heroic journey as the shonen anime protagonist of My Hero Academia didn't get any easier. It's one thing to get that kind of power; it's another to be able to use it well.

Deku gets hurt by his powers repeatedly since he initially can't control One for All. That struggle, plus his attempts to get along with Class 1-A and become his own person, makes him sympathetic.

Working through growing pains is never easy, and neither is breaking yourself just to prove you rightly belong in a place.


4) Shinji Ikari (Neon Genesis Evangelion/Rebuild of Evangelion)

Shinji Ikari is one of the most relatable protagonists in a shonen anime, even if there were fans who weren't sympathetic to his depression.

Frankly, going through the kind of trauma Shinji went through would wreck anyone. Shinji is barely 14 years old at the start of both the original NGE and Rebuild.

The young teen has been pushed away by his amoral father and forced to battle giant monsters with zero training. No wonder he winds up as bad as he does, wanting to run away and shut himself off from society.

Shinji is also a great example of an individual who can't shut themselves down and expect to succeed. He ultimately had to open up and make connections in order to get better as a human being in both NGE and Rebuild.


5) Norman, Emma, and Ray (The Promised Neverland)

Ray (Center) overenthusiastically hugging Emma (Right) and Norman (Left) (Image via CloverWorks)
Ray (Center) overenthusiastically hugging Emma (Right) and Norman (Left) (Image via CloverWorks)

Norman, Emma, and Ray of horror shonen anime The Promised Neverland hardly knew each other at the start. They were just orphans at the orphanage run by their kind and caring "mama" Isabella. This changes when they decide to see their friend Conny off as she's being adopted.

As it turns out, "adoption" means being fed to the many demons that roam the land as Norman and Emma find out. The trio is introduced as being genius strategists and planners (Norman), highly intellectual and cunning (Ray), and the best, most optimistic athletes around (Emma).

They're all kids trying to escape being sacrificed, so the sympathy tends to go everywhere, especially when Conny's death sends Emma into a traumatized state.

Beyond that, it's very clear that the trio must work together and with the other kids if they're ever going to escape.


5 unsympathetic shonen anime protagonists

1) Sasuke Uchiha (Naruto/Naruto Shippuden)

Sasuke Uchiha was traumatized by the Uchiha Clan massacre and did ultimately become a good person. That doesn't excuse the fact that he had a way out of his trauma with Team 7 but refused to communicate his trauma to his team in shonen anime Naruto.

Sasuke's massive jealousy toward Naruto also didn't help, as he felt his teammate being stronger than him was a mistake. His arrogance was also a contributing factor to fans' unsympathetic reaction to him.

Sasuke's list of crimes is long and includes betraying his village and trying to kill his friends, teammates, and all the other village rulers.

Sasuke was far too revenge-obsessed by the time of the raid on the Five Kage Summit, throwing away his new team Taka at a moment's notice. He not only abandoned Jugo and Suigetsu when they were under attack, but nearly killed his medic Karin to get a kill shot on Danzo Shimura.

While Danzo was the architect of the Uchiha Clan Massacre, Sasuke felt justified in his tunnel vision-like approach and ignored all else in favor of it.

Sasuke then ruthlessly tried to kill his former teammates from Team 7 when they tried to stop him. He insanely laughed at their attempts to help him and promised to kill every last person in the Hidden Leaf.


2) Casval rem Deikun/Char Aznable (Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin and everything thereafter)

Casval was the victim of repeated assassination attempts by the Zabi family as a child, which would normally garner tons of sympathy.

However, Casval's desire for revenge overrode his compassion. It caused him to steal the real Char's identity via a trap meant for him. He also killed Char's real best friend via friendly fire. Despite the friendly psychic Lalah Sune's warnings, he still moved forward with revenge, which resulted in her death.

Zeta Gundam saw Char let go of his revenge quest. However, after being almost killed by corrupt Federation special operatives, he became cynical enough to try to destroy Earth in Char's Counterattack.

Char's reasoning is this: if people from Earth continue to war against space-born humans, then there shouldn't be an Earth. Whatever sympathy or likability Char may have had, it evaporated after such an act and declaration.


3) Light Yagami (Death Note)

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Light Yagami from the thriller shonen anime Death Note is the son of a Special Defense Force officer. He wants to become a God to punish criminals.

Light went off the deep end relatively early, using Death Note recklessly. It quickly got on special investigator L's radar after he killed a public official.

Light's body count upon attaining the Death Note started with hardcore criminals that got off on technicalities but quickly escalated to government officials and SDF officers.

Light also charmed and manipulated prosecutor and longtime fan Teru Mikami and actress and Light/Kira worshipper Misa Amane to act as his will while he evaded detection.

However, Light's scheming to render judgment on the world was wasted in the end when he died cornered and gasping pathetically in the manga.

The shonen anime may have softened Light's death, but he still died in the end with his goals unachieved.


4) Satō Matsuzaka (Happy Sugar Life)

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If Yuno Gasai, the protagonist of the shonen anime Future Diary, taught audiences anything, it's that Yanderes are very scary.

Satō Matsuzaka, of the shonen anime Happy Sugar Life, is a good example. Satō's backstory is sympathetic enough: she grew up with a very negligent aunt, who forced Satō to witness acts of s**ual assault from various suitors that twisted her definition of love.

The problem is her resulting actions toward the object of her affection, Shio Kōbe, included kidnapping and imprisonment out of her own sense of "love."

Satō appears to be a kind girl, always being friendly to anyone needing help. However, that personality is a façade.

Satō is a manipulator, willing to go to any lengths to keep Shio locked in her apartment with her forever. This involved emotionally manipulating a fan into thinking she loved her, killing her best friend when she got too close to the secretive relationship and attempting to kill her landlord.

Satō harbors no illicit or ill will towards Shio, as her "love" appears to be very genuine. However, it’s a twisted, possessive form of love that relies heavily on Shio's naivete as to who the real Satō is.


5) Seto Kaiba (Yu-Gi-Oh!)

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Seto is a beloved rival to Yugi Moto in the shonen anime Yu-Gi-Oh. He would be very unsympathetic before and after the fateful duel with Yugi that started his change of heart. In the manga, Seto cruelly berated his younger brother Mokuba after failing to kill Yugi with poisoned food.

Seto likewise hosted an elaborate series of games in the manga to try to kill Yugi and his friends. These include lethal laser tag against professional assassins (that shocks the loser) and a deadly Tetris-style game where the blocks weighed tons and could crush Yugi flat.

Since the shonen anime excised this, Kaiba nearly drove Yugi's grandfather to have a heart attack just to get his Blue Eyes White Dragon card.

In the Duelist Kingdom arc of the shonen anime, Seto proved his willingness to win and see Yugi lose via threatening suicide. He stood on a castle's ramparts so the explosion from his loss would throw him off and kill him.

Seto was supremely arrogant about his dueling skills and was unprepared for Pegasus' mental reading abilities. Even then, he still didn't accept help and wouldn't until after his soul was stolen.

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