There are times when everyone needs a good cry, a cathartic release to help get through difficult circumstances. Some people turn to sad songs, soap operas, or even comic books. But the truth is, some of the most tragic tales exist in anime.
There are countless amazing anime that deal with the unfairness of death, the permanence of mistakes, and the pain of learning to live with loss. All the best plot points to create true tragedy. In need of a good cry? Here's a spoiler-free round-up of the saddest anime movies and TV shows that guarantee a good sob.
10 Angel Beats
Angel Beats takes place in a limbo-type afterlife, and the characters are all deceased teenagers who passed away with unfinished business. Initially masquerading as a comedic slice-of-(after)life anime with supernatural elements, in time, the show dives into the trauma various characters faced in life. It explores what is preventing them from being able to move on and how they let go. That's when the tears start to flow.
At just 13 episodes, Angel Beats doesn't quite live up to its full tragic potential. It doesn't give the audience enough time to really know the characters or their pain. However, many anime fans can cite Angel Beats as their first "sad anime." While certainly not the first anime to deal with tragic themes, the supernatural premise and general light-hearted humor helped make Angel Beats something of a transitional series for audiences who might be surprised to learn that an anime can make them cry.
9 Rascal Does Not Dream Of A Dreaming Girl
A movie follow-up to the 2018 TV series Rascal Does Not Dream Of Bunny Girl Senpai, Rascal Does Not Dream Of A Dreaming Girl comes in with a very different tone than its predecessor. The TV series opens with the main character meeting a girl dressed as a Playboy bunny in a library. What follows is teen comedy and self-discovery.
The movie involves difficult choices, time paradoxes, and no small amount of lost love. The unexpected shift in tone is only part of what makes Rascal Does Not Dream Of A Dreaming Girl such a tear-jerker.
8 Assassination Classroom
Assassination Classroom is classified as a science-fiction comedy. A powerful creature takes over as the teacher of a class of misfits and warns that he will destroy planet Earth if he is not killed by the end of the year. The creature, dubbed Koro-sensei, begins teaching the students how to kill him, while also teaching them self-acceptance. Ultimately, the show is about the impact a good teacher can have on their students' lives.
The admittedly wacky premise suggests that Assassination Classroom doesn't belong on the list. But as the creative, original story progresses, the class and the audience realize there's more to Koro-sensei than meets the eye. Mysteries unfold, and the ending is heartfelt and powerful. Once audiences know the full story, it's hard to go through a second viewing without getting emotional.
7 Clannad After Story
Sequel to the acclaimed slice-of-life anime Clannad, Clannad After Story follows it's high school characters into adulthood. What comes next is a series of joys, self-discoveries, and devastating disappointments.
The anime is full of heartbreak, and the ending manages to be tragic, wonderful, and confusing all at once. This is due in part to the fact that Clannad is based on a visual light novel of the same name. Ultimately, Clannad After Story asks, "It is really better to have loved and lost than to never love at all?" Whatever the answer, audiences will always cry.
6 Your Lie In April
A masterwork of colors and music, Your Lie In April explores how tragedy can unfold under our noses and why that's not an excuse to stop living. Kousei is a piano prodigy who suffers from a devastating mental block after losing his mother to a terminal disease. He meets Kaori, a free-spirited violinist who helps him embrace music and life again.
Music and loss are at the heart of the series. The time someone has with their loved ones is limited. Like a song, it will be over before they know it. But we never forget the melody.
5 A Silent Voice
A Silent Voice can be difficult to watch. The movie deals with the effects of bullying. Many early scenes involve a young boy, Shoya, bullying his deaf classmate, a girl named Shouko. Eventually, Shouko changes schools, and Shoya's remaining classmates quickly turn on him. Years later, Shoya begins a challenging journey to make amends.
A Silent Voice explores the emotional aftermath of bullying—both for the victims and perpetrators—and the difficult path to redemption.
4 Banana Fish
Banana Fish is the story of a young gang leader investigating a mysterious drug. Fans of the series will readily admit to shedding tears during the final episode, though these tears tend to be from rage and sorrow in equal measure.
Banana Fish, with its dark themes and complex character relationships, is an emotional roller coaster all the way through. At its core, Banana Fish deals with the devastating events that lead a person to believe they are not worthy of love, and the healing potential of unconditional love.
Naruto isn't an anime most folks consider when they think of sad anime, but this shonen series about magic ninja manages to hit emotional beats that most "tragic" stories never reach. For all its jokes and action, Naruto dedicates most of its long run to building its characters, both the heroes and the villains.
For this reason, betrayals cut deeper, deaths carry more weight, and the losses experienced by the characters feel like personal losses to the fans. While some sad anime only claim tears during the last episode, Naruto succeeds in marking its audience ugly cry all the way through.
2 I Want To Eat Your Pancreas
Unusual title aside, at first glance, I Want To Eat Your Pancreas looks like another entry in the melodramatic, terminal romance genre. The movie is about a detached boy whose popular, upbeat classmate, Sakura, is dying of a pancreatic illness. As the only person outside of her family to know about Sakura's condition, the boy — who refuses to reveal his name — and Sakura become close. The boy helps Sakura cross things off her bucket list; conversely, Sakura helps him open up to other people.
I Want To Eat Your Pancreas is a tear-jerker but not in the way audiences would expect. There are some twists that help the movie subvert its genre. What makes I Want To Eat Your Pancreas remarkable is how it deals with the idea of chance and the choices we make when we no longer have a say in our fate.
What if you could write a letter to yourself from 10 years ago? What would you change? Orange explores this premise when sixteen-year-old Naho starts receiving letters from her future self. The letters urge the younger Naho to make decisions that will not lead to future regrets. As the plot progresses, it's clear that future-Naho's biggest regrets involve Kakeru, one of young-Naho's friends who is no longer alive ten years in the future.
Orange asks its viewers to examine their past regrets and ask if those regrets weigh more than the happiness they enjoy now.