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.
- Photo: Studio Bones
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.
- Photo: Toei Animation
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.
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Meruem Goes From A Ruthless King To A Sympathetic Character In 'Hunter x Hunter'Photo: Madhouse
For a character who killed and ate a child's brain, it's amazing that the series can turn Meruem into a sympathetic antagonist. But almost every viewer cried during his death scene because of his convincing character development. He went from a ruthless, arrogant king with no concern for others' lives to someone who questions why he kills others. Komugi helps him to understand his human side.
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Gaara Goes From Villain To Kazekage In 'Naruto'Photo: Studio Pierrot
When we're first introduced to Gaara, he is one of the main villains in the "Chunin Exams Arc." Because of his tragic past, he grew up only looking out for himself and vowed that he would kill anyone who was stronger than him. After being defeated by Naruto, he gains a new perspective and tries to emulate Naruto's way of thinking. By the end, he becomes a compassionate person willing to help others. He is appointed as Suna's Kazekage and gains the village's love and respect.