Anime protagonists come in all shapes and sizes, but the (usually teenage) male lead is the most recognizable. And in 2019, we saw some standout men among the bunch. Whether they were confident leaders, nervous kids, or brooding anti-heroes, they brought a special charm to their respective shows that made them memorable enough to celebrate at the end of the year. Let’s take a look at five of our favorites!
-- Spoilers Ahead! --
5. Naofumi Iwatani from Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari (The Rising of the Shield Hero)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: January 2019 – June 2019
Naofumi starts off as your average light novel protagonist—cheerful, trusting, and excited about his upcoming adventures in another world—but when a sociopathic princess falsely accuses him of sexual assault, turning him into a pariah in the eyes of the entire country, his idyllic dreams are shattered and he turns into a vengeful outcast. However, through his interactions with Raphtalia, Filo, and the other friends he meets in the new world, he slowly regains the warmth that he lost and is able to face the princess with renewed emotional fortitude. That’s the spirit, Naofumi!
4. Thorfinn from Vinland Saga
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: July 2019 – December 2019
Thorfinn was once a happy child who dreamed of becoming a strong Viking warrior like his father, but when an unscrupulous man named Askeladd kills his father in cold blood, Thorfinn becomes consumed by a burning desire for revenge (it sounds like he has quite a bit in common with Naofumi). He serves in Askeladd’s army for the next ten years, desperate to kill the man in a fair duel, even though his pacifist father had tried to teach him otherwise.
Rarely is a “troubled teen” character written this well, but Thorfinn’s conflicting loyalties and tunnel vision thought processes make him a realistic, relatable protagonist. We can’t wait to see what he gets up to in the next season!
3. Mafuyu Satou and Ritsuka Uenoyama from Given
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: July 2019 – September 2019
What’s nice about Mafuyu and Uenoyama is that, even though they seem to fit into the standard seme-uke yaoi character archetypes, they’re actually much more complex than that. Mafuyu feels trapped by trauma in his past that prevents him from expressing himself emotionally, while Uenoyama is the guitarist who he idolizes and who gradually rejects his egotistical ways to help Mafuyu come out of his shell through their shared musical experiences. Their friendship—and later romantic relationship—grows naturally over time and feels shockingly realistic, and there’s just not much more we can ask for in a yaoi anime than that.
2. Legoshi from BEASTARS
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2019 – December 2019
Legoshi the wolf lives in a society where he’s viewed as a vicious predator, so he does everything in his power to downplay any aggression or strong emotions at all in an effort to fit in. But when his friend Tem the alpaca ends up dead and he’s suspected of the crime, he really starts to struggle with his place in the world. Through his growing relationships with Haru the sexually promiscuous rabbit and Louis the emotionally manipulative deer, Legoshi becomes a compelling and relatable character unlike anything we could’ve expected from a show like this.
1. Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama from Mob Psycho 100 II
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2019 – April 2019
Mob has always been a compelling character—unlike his predecessor Saitama from One Punch Man, he has little control over his devastatingly powerful abilities and must bottle up his emotions so that he doesn’t hurt anyone. Nevertheless, he’s still a kind kid who tries his best to help others, and he’s surprisingly perceptive about other people’s feelings.
So that’s why it’s so rewarding to see Mob come out of his shell in this season! Watching him form better relationships with his friends (especially his mentor, Reigan) and confidently fight for them is just the kind of catharsis we needed this year.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention some other men who made their mark on this year in anime: Senku from Dr. Stone taught us that science can be way more fun than fighting, Tanjiro from Demon Slayer was the best big brother a demon loli could ask for, and Natsuo from Domestic Girlfriend just wanted to make his step-sisters happy... in the lewdest way possible.
Who were your favorite male leads in 2019 anime? Did we miss anyone you particularly love? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!