Watching static anime characters go through a new adventure each episode makes for a relaxing, if safe, viewing experience - who doesn't have a soft spot for Ash Ketchum? But when it comes to characters who truly stick with you, they tend to be well-developed anime characters: protagonists and supporting characters who change and grow over the course of a series. Anime characters with great development arcs add another reason to engage in a particular movie or series. Sometimes, even a supporting character surpasses the protagonist with a more compelling arc than the man character's.
Such characters undergo major changes in their personalities, approaches to life, and their relationships, emerging as different people by the finale. Anime characters with excellent character development appear across genres. You might remember Dragon Ball Z as a mindless fighting show, but Vegeta exemplifies the change from villain to hero by the end of the show. Great development also occurs in more realistic storylines - Seishuu Handa goes from an anxious workaholic to a relatively well-rounded person over the course of Barakamon.
Sometimes, it's not the journey or the destination that make an anime great, but the characters who carry you through them.
Vegeta is one of the most renowned anime characters in any genre, and that's largely because of his character development. Over the course of Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta undergoes a drastic transformation. He enters the series an angry, self-serving villain who kills anyone who displeases him, even his allies. When it comes to emotions, he feels none beyond anger and smug satisfaction.
Things change dramatically as he spends more time around the Z-Fighters. Vegeta forms genuine bonds with other people, including a romantic one with Bulma and a even mutually respectful friendship with Goku. He fathers two children for whom he cares deeply. Not only that, but he actually shares moments of emotional vulnerability - he talks about how losing his entire race and enduring childhood abuse at the hands of Frieza impacted him.
The man he starts as would have murdered the man he became, but the man he became was far better than his former self could ever understand.
The homunculus Greed arrives in the world with the sole purpose of serving Father, an extraordinarily powerful being who fancies himself a god. Greed embodies the deadly sin he's named for - he wants everything from money to power, and doesn't care what he must do to get it. He takes over Ling's body without sparing a single consideration for Ling as an individual.
But as he and Ling get to know each other, Greed actually finds himself caring about something other than his own appetites and desires. This is totally foreign to his nature, but he eventually cares about Ling so much that he allows himself to be absorbed and killed in order to protect Ling from dying too. His is a journey from subservient selfishness to free self-sacrifice.
At the beginning of The Ancient Magus' Bride, Chise, stuck in a deep depression and with nowhere else to go, willingly sells herself in a slave auction, not caring whether the person who buys her treats her kindly or awfully. She is taken in by Elias, a mage who initially wants her for her incredible as a Sleigh Beggy, but comes to care for her as an individual.
Chise also finds herself growing closer to Elias, as well as plenty of new friends who support her growth as a person. She gains confidence in her magical abilities, and grows to believe in her inherent worth as a human being. She develops her own set of morals - which sometimes clash with Elias's - and becomes sure enough of her place to disagree with him and even directly defy his wishes when necessary. Despite their disputes, Chise also learns to talk things through with him and come to a mutual understanding.
Underneath all of the Celtic mythology and lush scenery, Chise's emotional growth provides the backbone of The Ancient Magus' Bride.
When viewers meet Yona, she's a pampered princess a wealthy kingdom. This princess fails to realize, however, that her Kingdom of Kouka isn't as peaceful as it appears from her protected palace view. When her cousin suddenly assassinates her father, her life is in danger, and she's forced to flee.
As she learns more about life outside the palace, she discovers the mass injustice her people contend with while stripped of her own lavish lifestyle. At first, she struggles without the luxuries to which she'd grown accustomed, but she eventually pulls herself together and gets to work trying to help fix the corruption, poverty, and other problems that plague her kingdom. Where she was once a spoiled child, she becomes an altruistic and effective leader determined to reform the institutions harming her citizens.