21 Anime Heroes Who Had Brutally Sad Childhoods

Tough childhoods are a staple in the world of anime. In fact, this trope is so common that it's hard to find a series without a single character it applies to. In some series with larger casts, it applies to almost everyone. 

No subject is too horrific for a tragic backstory. You'll find anime characters who suffer from homelessness, abuse, starvation, slavery, war, disease, human experimentation, and just about every other conceivable problem that could befall a person. In many cases, an individual character will have to deal with multiple tragedies at once. Sometimes it impacts them realistically, changing their personalities and their outlooks on life - but in other cases it's hard to see what the impact was. Among these anime characters with sad childhoods are popular characters like Raphtalia from The Rising of the Shield Hero and Kakashi from Naruto, as well as lesser-known characters like Yoshio Kobayashi from Trickster.

Which characters' backstories caused you the most grief? 

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    Guts - 'Berserk'
    Photo: GEMBA

    Guts's life is one of the most insanely horrifying ones in the world of anime. While many of his most traumatic moments take place during his adulthood, his childhood certainly didn't make those any easier to deal with. As a newborn, he was found underneath the remains of his hanged mother. After that, he's found by a mercinary named Gambino who ends up adopting him, only to blame him for everything that goes wrong in his life due to Guts's birth being a bad omen

    What does Gambino do because he thinks Guts is ruining his life through bad karma? Beat him black and blue, expect him to feed himself at age six, use him as a mercenary tool, and rent him out to child predators willing to pay big bucks for time alone with him, and flat out trying to eliminate him. This might account for some of Guts's difficulties with intimacy in later life - although his friendship with Griffith might also have something to do with it. 

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    Hyakkimaru - 'Dororo'

    As a newborn, Hyakkimaru's father traded his skin, eyes, ears, limbs, and a variety of other body parts to a group of demons in exchange for the prosperity of his land. A servant was asked to take his life, but she took pity on him and left him to pass on his own. 

    But Hyakkimaru survived. He was discovered by a man who gave him multiple prosthetics and taught him to fight. While this insured that he'd be able to restore his body, the emotional and physical pain he endured can't be understated.

  • Kakashi is far from the only Naruto character to have a devastating childhood, but his is definitely top tier misery. His suffering begins when he becomes a ninja at the tender age of five, forcing him into a life of warfare at a time when most kids can't even spell their own names. Later, his father is shunned by the village for prioritizing the lives of his comrades over the success of a mission, and he takes his own life when the ostracization becomes too much to bear - thus leaving Kakashi to his own devices. 

    As a teenaged orphaned jounin, things get infinitely worse. His teammate Obito is crushed by rocks during a mission, and very shortly afterwards he's forced to eliminate his other teammate Rin after a tailed beast is sealed into her body. Things continue to suck for Kakashi long into his adulthood, but he ends up adopting a relatively chill attitude about it. It's obvious he's deeply depressed and traumatized, but hey, at least he can make jokes about it. 

  • Levi Ackerman - 'Attack on Titan'
    Photo: Wit Studio

    If you've ever wondered why Levi Ackerman is so grouchy all the time, it might be because of his rough childhood. 

    Levi was born to a woman named Kuchel who was making her living as a sex worker. Because she lived in a brothel and had little control over her life, it wasn't a great environment for a young child to begin with. In fact, it's likely that it explains his obsession with cleanliness later in life.

    Things got infinitely worse when Kuchel passed away, leaving Levi to sit next to her corpse, slowly starving. He was ultimately rescued by his uncle Kenny, who kept him alive and taught him to fight, but provided no familial warmth whatsoever. 

  • Erza Scarlet is far from the only Fairy Tail character to endure major childhood hardships, but she sure did have it rough. Erza was actually concieved 400 years in the past, but was forcibly kept in her mother's womb until she could use magic to take human form via her daughter. When this failed, she was swiftly abandoned. Later, her village was attacked by a Zeref-following cult, and although she was able to protect her friend Kagura from being captured, she was taken herself. 

    After that, she became a slave, forced to build the Tower of Heaven. After years of toil, she and a group of friends attempted to escape, but they were caught and Erza was punished with torture. She nearly passed away, and lost her eye in the process. All of this happened before she was eleven years old, and it certainly wasn't the last terrible thing she'd experience. As an older teen, she has a hardened, strict personality, perhaps due to what she suffered as a youth. 

  • Eri's childhood isn't over yet, but so far it's definitely been abysmal enough to qualify her for this list. As a toddler, Eri accidentally used her quirk on her father. Her quirk, Rewind, allows her to turn any living thing or object backwards in time. While this can be helpful for things like healing injuries, it can also rewind somebody so far backwards that they cease to exist. 

    But Eri's trials don't end there - her quirk is also useful for Kai Chisaki, aka Overhaul. Chisaki subjects her to brutal human experimentation, taking vast quantities of her blood in order to use it for create quirk destroying drugs. As a result, she's still visibly traumatized.