Have you ever sat down to watch a pleasant anime about wholesome family antics or cute girls doing cute things or the like... and then suddenly, it dawns on you that this show has a tragic undercurrent with a very real possibility of destroying you emotionally? We’re not talking about bait-and-switch shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magica or Made in Abyss that use cute art styles to hide their gruesome true natures, but normally lighthearted anime that sprinkle in bits of sadness without warning. Here are 5 adorable anime that you’ll never expect will break your heart!
5. Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun (Toilet Bound Hanako-kun)
Hanako-kun is the spirit of the old school building’s bathroom and the leader of the Seven Wonders of Kamome Academy. He’s a mischievous boy who loves pushing his assistant Nene’s buttons, but he’s also loyal to a fault and clearly loves her. However, the fact remains that he’s a ghost... so how did he die at such a young age? And why does the mere presence of his twin brother Tsukasa cause him to seize up in fear? Hanako-kun’s backstory is one of the first truly somber moments in the show, but it’s far from the last. As this anime is quick to remind us, there’s nothing glamorous or enviable about being a ghost...
Spring 2020’s Kakushigoto spends most of its time being a sweet little comedy about a father trying to hide his career as a risqué manga artist from his innocent young daughter, but the flash-forwards at the end of each episode gradually reveal that the now-teenage daughter has been left to find out her father’s secret all by herself. Is he dead? Did he disappear? Why do his assistants seem hesitant to even mention him? This final secret isn’t fully explained until the very last episode, but it’s absolutely worth it to get there. We just want to see her smile with her father again!
3. Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (A Place Further Than the Universe)
Cute girls do Antarctic exploring – that sounds positively precious! And it is, for the most part, but the reason four high school girls sail to the bottom of the Earth in the first place is because one of them desperately wants to find her missing mother. The girl’s mother was a scientist who never came back from an Antarctic expedition, but the girl has been writing her emails regularly since then and wants to experience the wonder of the frozen continent so she can be just like her. But will she ever find her mom? Is she even really trying to? This lingering sense of dread hides just under the surface of every cute scene and finally comes to a head in the final episode. You’ll just have to watch to see what happens...
2. Somali to Mori no Kamisama (Somali and the Forest Spirit)
Somali and the Forest Spirit is a father-daughter story just like Kakushigoto, focusing on an orphaned human girl and her adoptive dad, a forest golem who tries to protect her in a world where humans are an endangered species. Somali and Golem share an adorable relationship and they meet some genuinely amazing friends along the way, but sometimes unscrupulous people take advantage of Somali’s naivete and very nearly kill her. Golem does everything in his power to keep his daughter safe, all the while facing the reality that he’s nearing the end of his natural lifecycle. He hides his crumbling body from Somali so she doesn’t worry, but this delicate dance can’t last forever...
1. Clannad: After Story
The original Clannad was a cute slice-of-life/romance story set in high school, where handsome delinquent Tomoya woos a variety of girls but ultimately ends up with the sweet and shy Nagisa. After Story takes place years later and tells the tale of Tomoya and Nagisa’s domestic life with their daughter Ushio. Unfortunately, Nagisa’s chronic illness catches up to her and she dies, leaving Tomoya a broken man who can’t properly care for his daughter. The tragedies keep piling up from there, to the point that many fans consider After Story to have one of the most heartbreaking endings in anime history. Viewers who tuned in for cute family antics certainly weren’t expecting that!
We also want to highlight Anohana, Violet Evergarden, and Kino’s Journey for their beautifully heartbreaking moments, although viewers are admittedly a bit more prepared for them since these anime are explicitly marketed as dramas. But did we forget any of your favorite unexpectedly sad anime? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!