Best Anime Characters of 2021


Ikari Shinji (Evangelion 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time)

For as many strong and unique characters as there were this year, there’s really only one right choice for me.

Shinji was never my favorite Evangelion character. However, seeing his transformation from the original TV series all the way to the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie feels nothing short of profound. It’s almost unfair to compare him to other characters because of this long arc of this through multiple versions, but the way he finally comes into his own after 25 years of being the poster child for emotional and psychological turmoil in anime makes what was already a lasting impression into something even more enduring. The boy became mythology in the most unexpected way.


Laura (Tropical-Rouge! Precure)

In the Precure franchise, there are rarely characters of Laura’s disposition. A mermaid with ambition to become the next queen of the seas, Laura is a haughty and proud sort whose closest equivalent is Milk from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. One part of what makes her work as a character is that she fluctuates between earned and unearned confidence, and her friends are there to teach her when the latter occurs. 

But what I think seals the deal for Laura is the fact that she overcomes one of the most common pitfalls of mid-season Cures, which is losing much of her original identity once she joins the team proper. While she gains legs and learns how to live in human culture, her mermaid origin still plays a significant role and gives an extra facet to her character. Laura has to navigate the worlds of both land and sea, and that process is both endearing and hilarious.

Final Thoughts

There was no shortage of strong characters this year, but in the end, I felt that both Shinji and Laura both showed an immensely satisfying amount of growth in their own ways. For Shinji, it’s arguably unfair to be tapping into something with as much history as the Evangelion franchise, but it really feels like Eva has the closure it needs, and it comes courtesy of the Third Child(ren) himself. Laura meanwhile all but perfects the “unusual sixth ranger” by making sure the show doesn’t forget what made her an interesting character in the first place. 

I won’t say who they are, but a few characters got real close to taking the top spots. Some of their stories are still ongoing, so we’ll see if they make it to the top of the list in 2022.

The Passive Protagonist

I’ve learned that many, many people do not like passive protagonists. They are seen as weak-willed, indecisive, unpleasant to watch, and just plain too passive. There’s nothing I can do to stop people from feeling this way, but it makes me wonder why I, for example, like the passive protagonist whose life is changed by circumstances beyond his control.

The second most hated anime protagonist of all time is everyone’s favorite human male Evangelion pilot Ikari Shinji (thanks, Itou Makoto for taking the position of most hated). Shinji is a very passive protagonist who, while capable of taking action, only does so as a reaction to things happening around him. It’s not because he’s poorly written, or that he’s necessarily a surrogate for the viewer. Shinji is the way he is, and his passive nature is a direct result of the events in his life, as well as his inability to truly take action for himself.

I can’t fault Shinji for that. I can’t even fault him for never quite getting over it, just as I can’t really fault people for not liking Shinji’s character. But it makes me think of the sheer difference two lives can experience to the point that one person will connect to a character such as Shinji while the other will immediately reject him. And of course, one may turn into the other as we accumulate more experiences in our lives.