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20 Anime Heroes Who Had Brutally Sad Childhoods

Updated December 7, 2020 24.6k votes 4.5k voters 91.0k views20 items

Tough childhoods are a staple in the world of anime. In fact, this trope is so common that 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? 

  • 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. 

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  • 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. 

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  • 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. 

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  • 4

    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.

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