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13 Fantastic Anime That Tackle Mental Health Issues

Updated April 2, 2019 2.9k votes 856 voters 31.5k views13 items

List RulesVote up the anime that does the best job depicting mental illness.

One of the great things about anime is that it's a medium capable of taking on any topic, even the most complex. This includes mental health issues, something that many people face, but not everyone wants to talk about, and not every piece of media is willing to grapple with.

Anime about mental health can deal with the subject in a wide variety of ways. Sometimes, a mental health issue crops up briefly, like with Death The Kid's obsession with symmetry in Soul Eater, while at other times it's a major plot point. Yuri!!! on ICE uses its protagonist's anxiety to drive the story and deepen the character. It can be addressed with humor, like in Comical Psychosomatic Medicine, a short anime themed around educating the public on psychological concepts using jokes, or it can be quite serious, as with Rei Kiriyama's struggles in March Comes in Like a Lion. 

Specific mental health issues are frequently not named - perhaps to let viewers come to their own conclusions, or perhaps because mental illness is heavily stigmatized in Japan. As such, it's rare to see an anime character with a clear-cut diagnosis or one who is undergoing treatment. Still, the symptoms can be quite apparent and can play a major role in the story. 

 

  • Perfect Blue
    Photo: Madhouse

    In Perfect Blue, director Satoshi Kon uses surrealist imagery to tell the story of Mima Kirigoe, a former J-Pop idol who is trying to reinvent herself as a more serious actress. Unfortunately, one of her fans is so obsessed with the former image that he starts stalking her and sets up a website impersonating her. As Mima's public image conflicts with her private self in increasingly aggressive ways, she loses the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

    While she's never specifically diagnosed with anything, her issues with reality cause her just as much hardship as the stalker himself. Also, while one can't assume that aggressive behavior is due to mental illness, the stalker's failure to distinguish Mima from his image of her implies that he may be dealing with the same issue.

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  • Neon Genesis Evangelion
    Photo: Gainax

    From the outside, Neon Genesis Evangelion is about fighting aliens using mecha, but as any fan knows, its true theme is a deep dive into the characters' psyches. While no one is officially diagnosed with any kind of mental illness, Shinji Ikari, in particular, seems to have some issues. He regards most areas of life with neutrality or misery and sees himself as worthless. He doesn't want to get close to other people because he's afraid of getting hurt, but remains desperately lonely and wishes he could reach out - but his attempts to protect himself lead others to reject him. 

    Shinji's struggle to connect with others is at the heart of this classic anime, but he isn't the only character to struggle with mental illness. Asuka's mother took her own life after struggling with mental health. Processing her mother's untimely demise caused Asuka to harden her heart, become aggressive, and reject the possibility of forging meaningful connections with others.

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  • Yuri!!! on ICE
    Photo: MAPPA

    There's a villain in Yuri!!! on ICE, but it's not a person - it's mental illness.

    The series opens with Yuri sobbing in the bathroom after performing terribly in a major ice skating competition, the Grand Prix. Rather than get fired up to do better the next time, he becomes convinced that he's a failure and holes up in his parents' house, where he stops maintaining his strength as a skater and is about to give up on his career. Despite his misery, he's ultimately able to forge a healthy, successful relationship with Victor Nikiforov, who sees a powerful, attractive, intelligent version of Yuri that he can't see in himself, and wants to not only train him to take on the Grand Prix again but also date him. Through the process of training with Victor, Yuri regains his sense of self.

    Yuri isn't the only one who struggles with mental illness - in the final episode, JJ Leroy has a panic attack in the middle of a performance. It's unclear whether this is something that happens to him regularly - the fandom is divided on that point. Yuri notes his distress and reflects on how far he's come since he last felt that way. 

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  • In popular culture, OCD is depicted as an obsession with cleanliness, coupled with a fear of contamination. Though the illness can certainly express itself in this manner, it's not a defining trait of the condition. What OCD is really about is a persistent pattern of intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts and obsessions, or a set of behaviors and rituals that the person feels compelled to act on.

    It's cool to see a manifestation of OCD that breaks from the media standard. One of Soul Eater's major characters, Death the Kid, isn't super focused on cleaning - he cares about it as much as anyone else does. Instead, he has a much rarer obsession - symmetry. Whether it's someone else's outfit, the room he walks into, he gets extremely upset when things aren't symmetrical, and he feels compelled to try and fix it. This doesn't stop him from being just as capable a fighter as those who don't deal with the same preoccupation, but it's obviously using a lot of his mental energy. 

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