You know what they say: behind every good hero is an even better backstory. If you look back to some of entertainment's biggest icons, you will find rich lore propping up their appeal. Characters like Iron Man are awesome, but it is the grit behind Tony Stark's personal failures and triumphs that makes him relatable.
So, why would anime and its heroes be any different?
When it comes to anime, there are hundreds of heroes out there with truly compelling origins stories. The fandom may give the medium's popular characters a hard time for being cookie cutter, but heroes like Naruto keep fans interested for a reason. Their underdog upbringings, tragic pasts, and unapologetic outlooks on life make them impossible to root against.
Here at ComicBook, we are breaking down ten anime heroes with truly interesting backstories. So, grab some tissues and make sure your subscription to Netflix is still in effect. After you check out the slides below, you will have some new anime series to binge!
Did your favorite anime backstory make our list? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @MeganPetersCB to talk all things comics, k-pop, and anime!
You may think life is easy when you’ve got royal blood, but Lelouch vi Britannia is here to correct you. The guy is the lead of Code Geass, and he has the crazy backstory to prove it. From being a war prisoner to a powerful vigilante, Lelouch did plenty on the show to solidify his star status.
Lelouch’s life began with him as a prince of the Holy Britannia Empire. The boy was seventeenth in line for the throne before his mom was assassinated and sister crippled. Furious, Lelouch renounced his title to the throne in a fit of rage. The boy was banished to Japan where he was used as a political hostage, and Lelouch decided he would find the truth behind his mother’s death. So, of course, he became a vigilante named Zero and created a rebellion against the Holy Britannia Empire.
Rurouni Kenshin is a long-heralded series, and its hero has become one well-known samurai as such. The red-headed hero preaches about the joys of peace, but there is plenty of dark history hiding behind Himura Kenshin that he wishes would disappear.
Born to a humble farming family, Himura was made a slave at a young age once his parents died of cholera. The boy managed to escape his captors when he’s saved by a swordsmen named Hiko Seijuro. Himura studied under the man until they came to a pass, leaving the lead to become an assassin in Kyoto. However, once Himura learns the error of his bloody way, the swordsmen puts down his weapon and roams the Japanese countryside protecting those who cannot help themselves.
Attack on Titan has a whole slew of characters, and most of them have complicated backstories. However, there are several who stand above the rest, and Mikasa is one of them. The heroine may be heralded for her ability to fight, but fans know she draws her strength from her childhood with Eren Jaeger.
The girl was born to a white father and Asian mother, one of the few left of the race. They were raced inside Wall Maria peacefully until human traffickers kidnapped Mikasa to sell her. The criminals killed Mikasa’s parents to take her away, but she was saved when Eren interrupted the crime. Mikasa moved in with Eren’s family after the event, and she vowed to follow Eren as they grew up — even if that means joining the Survey Corps and fighting Titans.
Given its complex lore, there is no way The Seven Deadly Sins wouldn’t have some good backstories propping it up. The anime is best-known for its magical action, but its main cast features some interesting heroes. However, none of them have a past quiet like Ban.
The devilish character may seem shallow on the outside, but Ban is surprisingly complicated. As a child, Ban ran with a gang who stole from others, and he met his mentor Zhivago after being sent to Aberdeen Prison. Ban was eventually abandoned by his teacher, leaving the boy to become Bandit Ban and seek immortality. The character searched for the Fountain of Youth and fell in love with its overseer. Their romance ended when Eliane died protecting Ban from an attack but not being saving his life by making him immortal. However, with his love dead, Ban is left alone and unable to get over the sacrifice Elaine made for him.
There are a lot of gods in the anime realm. The industry has a thing for mythical pantheons, and dozens of shows have created its own gods to pad out action-filled stories. That is exactly what Norimgami did with Yato, and the god’s backstory is twisted enough to give any fan a bit of whiplash.
When audiences meet Yato, the guy is easy enough to understand; He is a little self-absorbed and narrow-minded, but Yato has a good nature overall. Determined to become a beloved God of Fortune, Yato does menial missions to raise his status, and he is aided by his friends. However, Yato has a past he would rather his comrades never learn about. As the lore goes, Yato was created to be a God of War who brought calamity and depravity upon the world. So, when Yato’s past comes to revisit him, he does his best to atone for his sins and protect those he loves.
The longer the series, the better chances you have of finding some truly special backstories. Shonen titles may thrive off action, but they put a lot of stock in giving their characters proper motivation to fight. So, Itachi Uchiha must have been a focus for Masashi Kishimoto because his origin story is all sorts of sad.
For much of Naruto, fans heard of Itachi through others only. The man was a cold-blooded villain who up and murdered his entire clan just to test himself. Leaving his younger brother alive just for fun, Itachi betrayed the Leaf Village and joined an organization of rogue ninjas. However, fans learned that story was not quite true. As it turned out, Itachi was forced into killing his clan by the Leaf Village after the Uchiha planned a coup, and Itachi survived the traumatic ordeal in the hopes Sasuke would lead the family to a brighter future.
Growing up in an indoctrinated home is no fun, and Killua Zoldyck would kill you for disagreeing. The white-haired kid is one of the leads of Hunter x Hunter, and his eccentric personality hides one horrifying past.
Fans meet Killua when the wannabe Hunter shows up to the Hunter Exam which Gon Freecs takes. The pair become instant friends and tag-team the test together, and fans were amazed by Killua’s lethal skills. As it turned out, the boy was raised to become an assassin as the Zoldyck clan is known for the deadly trade. Killua was seen as an exceptional killer by his parents and forced to train starting at the age of three. However, the boy grew bored of his fate and rebelled. Killua ran away from home to become a Hunter for fun, but the scars left over from his childhood cannot be run from so easily.
In the world of anime, anything can happen, but Fullmetal Alchemist showed fans there can be limits. Magic might be nice, but alchemy is just as good if you know how the Law of Equivalent Exchange works. That is a truth which Edward Elric found out the hard way.
When audiences meet Edward, the boy is a child living with his mom and younger brother Alphonse. The two are very close and want to be top alchemists, but their lives are upturned when their mother dies. Determined to revive her, the two brothers perform a forbidden Human Transmutation to bring their mom back, but the deal doesn’t work. Edward has two of his limbs taken from him while Alphonse loses his body, leaving his soul to be sealed in a suit of armor. Edward vows to get his brother’s body back since he cajoled Alphonse into his poorly thought scheme, but their journey to find the Philosopher’s Stone is not an easy one.
You might not think it from his looks, but Sanji isn’t just a lady-loving pervert. Yes, the One Piece pirate is a flirt, but there is way more to the man than meets the eye. When Sanji pulls his fringe back, there is a surprising backstory just waiting to be picked apart.
Sanji is the chef of the Straw Hat pirates, but he is also a royal. The boy was born North Blue as the third son of the Vinsmoke family. Sanji developed his love of cooking as he cared for his sickly mother, but he had little time to pursue the interest growing up. Sanji and his siblings were forced to train to defend the throne, but he could not keep up. After being imprisoned by his father, Sanji managed to escape on a ship called the Orbit, and he became a cook on the high seas. So, when Sanji meets Monkey D. Luffy, he is ready to head on the next leg of his culinary adventure.
There is a lot of drama in the shonen genre, but few series match the scale of Naruto. When the story was whipped up by Masashi Kishimoto, the creator could not have known how complex it would get, and much of the series' layering is thanks to its characters. Heroes rarely have happy childhoods, and Naruto Uzumaki proved that truth still stood with his horrifying backstory.
Naruto is a lot of things, but well-adjusted is not one of them. The boy was introduced as a loudmouth who sought attention from his peers, but his obnoxious behavior was all a front. Naruto was born on the day of a deadly attack on the Leaf Village. His father was the Hokage at the time, and his mother became a victim of the attack early on. Before the village could be destroyed, Naruto's parents managed to ease the threat the Nine-Tailed Fox presented to their home, but they could not let him run amok. As such, they sealed the demon into Naruto with their last breaths and hoped he would be treated as a hero. However, once word got out that Naruto held the bloody beast, the village saw the boy as an unwanted pariah.