Anime has always had the label of being “overly dramatic” attached to it, especially so among those who have only watched shonen series. The iconic potato chip scene from Death Note, characters yelling while attacking while fighting, and villains monologuing and explaining their powers in the middle of a showdown are some of the things that further this belief.
So it is no surprise that the presumptions about the genre itself apply to its main characters as well. Anime protagonists are prone to be driven to emotional extremes and their emotional natures become the trigger for their decisions and their overall character arcs.
But once we step out of the boundaries of mainstream action series, there are several series, ranging from action to drama to comedy, with stoic or unemotional protagonists.
Series which prove that unemotional main characters don’t define anime
1) Mob Psycho 100
Mob Psycho 100 is a dramatic shonen anime with an emotionally repressed main character. At first glance, Mob seems to remain completely unfazed by anything and everything tossed at him, be it compliments, criticism or insults.
It is only after we progress with the series that we realize that he is unemotional but stoic, bottling it all up until it overflows and explodes, sometimes quite literally.
Kiznaiver is another series that focuses on the importance of pain and emotions by showcasing an unemotional protagonist. Agata Katsuhira seems to feel no emotion and experiences barely any pain, despite being relentlessly bullied for his demeanor.
But the facade threatens to fall apart when he and five other teenagers are forced to become “kiznaivers,” participants in a system where the they are linked together by pain.
When we think of sports anime, we expect energetic characters who are motivated to win and prove their skill. But Free! protagonist Nanase Haruka, a quiet high schooler and swimming prodigy who is rarely interested in anything but swimming, is an anomaly.
He is depicted to be akin to still water, undisturbed and stoic, but in no way does it make the anime boring. Instead, his obsession with water makes for a handful of hilarious scenarios.
4) Death Parade
Death Parade is an anime where the stoic, unemotional personality of the protagonist is what defines his role. Decim is an arbiter, detachedly judging souls’ lives after their death to determine what their destination is to be. His unemotional nature makes sure there is no bias in his judgment but this is the very notion that is challenged in the show.
5) Violet Evergarden
Violet Evergarden is a series that pulls on the viewers’ heartstrings like no other. The anime follows Violet, who slowly recovers from the trauma of war and loss, while learning how to truly be human again.
She begins off as almost a living puppet, following orders without question. She admits that she does not understand emotions, but her journey is anything but unemotional.
6) The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
Diving into the genre of comedy, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. follows the deadpan humor of Saiki who is rarely affected by much and at most, is just mildly annoyed by things. It is specifically his unemotional, monotonous commentary describing the events of his everyday life that makes the anime funny.
7) Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto
Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is an anime where the protagonist Sakamoto appears unemotional and stoic, but in a cool suave way. The slice-of-life comedy follows Sakamoto as he navigates the unexpected hurdles of his everyday life with finesse and more dramatically than the most expressive of characters.
8) Tanaka-kun is Always Listless
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless is another comedy show on this list, and as is clear from the title, follows the protagonist Tanka, whose defining factor is his laziness. Tanaka is too lazy to even bother to feel emotions, and the show uses his listlessness not just as a comedic trope but also what furthers the plot of the show.
There are several other types of unemotional characters in anime, with villains like Makishima Shogo from Psycho Pass and deuteragonists like L Lawliet from Death Note making the list. Even Eren Yeager in Attack on Titan season 4 part 1 fits into this list.
But even if characters seem unemotional on the surface, it does not mean they do not actually feel anything as is seen by the socially anxious Komi in Komi Can’t Communicate who comes across as aloof and cold just because she is unable to express herself.