The 21 Saddest Shonen Protagonist Backstories, Ranked

Over 1.4K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The 21 Saddest Shonen Protagonist Backstories, Ranked

Shonen anime is known for its badass fight scenes and cool powers. But while the genre has those things in spades, the best shows aren't exclusively about the action - they also have characters with complicated and interesting backstories. Sometimes, those backstories will make you cry like a baby. While tragic backstories can crop up with any character, for this list we'll be focusing on the suffering of the protagonists. 

Perhaps the best-known example of a protagonist with a miserable backstory is Naruto Uzumaki. Shunned by his village after losing his parents on the first day of his life, he grew up so lonely and isolated that the first person he related to was someone whose entire clan was destroyed. But there's also lesser-known characters like Chise Hatori, whose was abandoned by her father and then nearly destroyed by her mother, all because her powers were too difficult to deal with. 

Vote up the saddest shonen protagonist backstories on the list - that is, if you can stop crying long enough to find the button. 

Latest additions: Denji

  • 1
    536 VOTES

    Hyakkimaru - Dororo

    Before Hyakkimaru was born, his father traded his body to a group of demons in exchange for the prosperity of his land. This meant that Hyakkimaru was born without skin, limbs, eyes, and many other body parts. He was abandoned under the assumption that he would soon pass away, but he survived, got stronger, and started fighting demons to get his body back. 

    536 votes
  • 2
    518 VOTES

    Koro-sensei - Assassination Classroom

    Koro-sensei - Assassination Classroom
    Photo: Lerche

    Before he became a tentacle monster made of anti-matter, Koro-sensei was actually a human being who took to assassination in order to survive life in a dangerous slum. The one time he ever trusted anyone, he was betrayed and captured by a scientist who performed dangerous, unethical experiments on him, permanently changing his body. He could have easily stayed bitter and villainous, but meeting a young teacher changed his perspective completely.

    518 votes
  • 3
    683 VOTES

    Edward & Alphonse Elric - Fullmetal Alchemist

    After their mother passed away from an illness, Edward and Alphonse Elric used alchemy to try and bring her back to life. This failed spectacularly - not only did their mother not come back, Edward lost an arm and a leg, while Al lost his entire body and had to stick his soul in a suit of armor. The recovery process was brutal, but eventually the two began searching for a way to get their bodies back. 

    683 votes
  • 4
    849 VOTES

    Tanjiro Kamado - Demon Slayer

    Tanjiro Kamado - Demon Slayer
    Photo: ufotable

    When Tanjiro returned from selling charcoal to support his family, he discovered that his mother and most of his siblings had been destroyed by demons. The sole survivor was his sister Nezuko. Tanjiro dedicated his life to trying to change her back.

    But even before the demon attack, things were tough for the Kamado family. They lived in poverty, the patriarch had passed away, and day-by-day survival was a struggle. 

    849 votes
  • On the first day of his life, Naruto lost his parents. In order to save their village from an attack by the Nine Tailed Fox, they gave up their lives to seal the beast into their newborn son. After that, he was unilaterally shunned by the village. He grew up almost totally alone except for the occasional visit from the Hokage or members of Anbu. That's just his backstory - things geta whole lot harder for him after that. 

    790 votes
  • Gintoki Sakata - Gintama
    Photo: Sunrise

    Gintoki Sakata grew up so poor that he had to scavenge bodies in order to avoid starvation. He finally found a home in a tiny school run by Shouyou Yoshida, but that didn't last long. After his teacher is arrested and his school is burned down, he and his classmates are forced to fight in the Jouei War in order to save their teacher. Gintoki is ultimately faced with a painful decision - save his classmates, or save his teacher?

    When he chooses his classmates, he earns the ire of one of them, Shinsuke Takasugi. Plus it turns out that there was a whole lot more going on with the teacher than anyone could have imagined. Is it any wonder that Gintoki struggles to lead a normal, healthy adult life?

    363 votes