Japanese animation is usually defined by how well the story is written along with the quality of the animation production. Often these factors will make simply a name recognizable to millions of people around the world. Action anime is arguably one of the most popular genres and one can easily be sucked into these intense plot lines.
By the same token, various memorable characters from action anime have left their imprint in history. This list is more than simply a popularity contest. Rather, the characters chosen have not only displayed epic feats of action, but also have left a lasting impression in our minds.
Let’s have a look at the breakdown below:
10. Pikachu from Pokemon(Pocket Monsters)
- Episodes: 893+ Ongoing
- Aired: April 1997 – Ongoing 2015
Now I know exactly what you are thinking... Pikachu?! Well at first thought, it may seem a bit comical to put this little yellow fur-ball on the top 10 action anime character list, however lets step back for a moment.
Pikachu is the superstar of what was once 151 pocket monsters (only god knows how many exist at this very moment, be it 721+ Pokemon and counting...). Pikachu is known not only by anime enthusiasts but also by common folk spanning around the world.
Pikachu has brought high voltage action scenes from the very first episode of this series. Accompanied by his trustworthy Pokemon trainer, Satoshi, better known as Ash Ketchum in the west, Pikachu has traveled across distant lands to battle, train, and encounter both enemies and foes of all shapes and sizes.
Undeniably, this cute and cuddly character has left a legacy through the intense Pokemon battles that we all know too well. Even after almost two decades have passed, simply humming the old-school battle theme gives nostalgic chills down my spine.
Pikachu, well done.
9. Future Trunks from Dragonball Z
- Episodes: 291
- Aired: April 1989 – January 1996
Dragonball Z is not only a classic series but it is a ground breaking animation that set the bar for many action anime that would be released in later years. The fast paced battle sequences, action packed story-line, and unforgettable characters transforming into super saiyajin fighting machines, make Dragonball Z one of the ultimate action anime of all time.
This concept, simply put, is badass. The anime itself is filled with so many great characters that it makes it difficult to single out anyone in particular. Goku, Vegeta, and Gohan, clearly are on the top when it comes to Dragonball Z level power. They have trained, transformed and hit limits exceeding so many foes stacked up against them.
However on this list, I have no choice but to give respect where respect is due.
Time traveling from the past, Trunks is a character who lived in a world much more dark than the main setting of Dragonball Z. The luxuries of reviving fallen friends with the help of the dragon balls, was an unrealistic concept. The world he knew was shattered by the Androids and Cell. Even his best friend Gohan was brutally killed on his watch. This back story is what fueled his rage and passion to become stronger and save the world in his time line.
Aesthetically speaking, he is the only character to wield a sword, and doesn't wear the generic gi-style clothing. In the Dragonball Z world, I'd have to say that's considered bad-ass.
Additionally, He is one of the few characters that defeated major villains single-handedly. On his first appearance from the past he made minced meat of Freeza and upon returning to his time, he ended the terror of imperfect cell.
This number 9 spot goes to Future Trunks.
8. Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist
- Episodes: 51
- Aired: October 2003 – October 2004
Within a world where alchemy is common practice and the first law of equivalent exchange is a concept portrayed as logical, the dramatic and action packed story of Full Metal Alchemist unfolds.
Edward Elric is considered a young prodigy in this trade, and after a horrible mishap violating defined laws of alchemy, his brother loses his human body and himself a couple of limbs.
Edward isn’t nearly as mature as many other action characters, but the reasons behind his struggle and the constant fight and hope for reviving his mother and recovering his brother’s lost body make his efforts unforgettable.
One factor that makes Edward a remarkable character is that he is a natural at alchemy and can perform transmutations without the conventional circles. The battle sequences are so epic combining the best of raw action and science fiction. Simply a clap of Edward’s hands unleashes unbelievably imaginative transmutation spells.
It’s easy to get lost in the magic and alchemy of this story, but at key moments we are reminded of the heavy-duty automail prosthetics that Edward had surgically inserted to his body. Not only is he skilled with alchemy, but he can unleash a behemoth of ass-whooping simply with his new body.
Despite his small stature, Edward is a beast, and he deserves a spot on this top list.
7. Hajime Saito from Rurouni Kenshin(Samurai X)
- Episodes: 94
- Aired: January 1996 – September 1998
Saito Hajime, known as Mibu no Okami (The Wolf of Mibu), is by far one of the most striking action anime characters. His presence is at many times intimidating and mysterious. He is a seasoned ex-member of the Shinsengumi, turned police offer. Even in the post revolutionary period, he holds the anti-imperialist mentality as the ultimate truth and lives to crush all evils that reside from that historical event. Since Himura Kenshin, the legendary Battousai, was a hired assassin from the government during the revolution, he holds more than a grudge against the sin atoning Rurouni (wandering swordsman).
Throughout the story, Saito is portrayed as both foe and friend. He always has such a stoic face and his true emotions and mentality are always unclear. This is what makes him such an interesting character.
Dare I say it, Saito Hajime's fighting style “Gatotsu” is probably one of the most exhilarating in the entire series. This style has three main forms with very dramatic poses and thrusts, usually leaving his opponent in shambles. We get to see the ultimate form of the Gatotsu, named “Gatotsu Zeroshiki” unleashed one time in the series. Saito's fight scenes coupled with his fierce dramatic lines are unbelievably awesome to watch, I never tire to re-view them time and time again.
I must tip my hat to Hajime Saito, and give him a place on the top 10 list.
6. Kirito from Sword Art Online
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: July 2012 – December 2012
HP gauges, magic spells, ridiculous hack and slash dual sword wielding madness...it may just be the J-RPG fan boy inside of me trying to escape, but I have to definitely give an honorable mention to the efforts of Kirito from Sword Art Online.
This series concept is everything a game and anime lover could dream of. There are so many references to little things like leveling up, grinding, beta testing, and co-op strategy to defeat floor bosses. You really have to control yourself not to get too excited (at least in my case). The fact that the users had their log out function disabled by the game's mastermind and being told that if they die in the game they will die in the real world, made this story so intensely satisfying.
The main character Kirigaya Kazuto, user name: Kirito, was one of the lucky beta testers for the Sword Art Online virtual software. This heads up experience and knowledge made him known and hated by many of the other players, thinking that the beta testers had an unfair advantage.
Kirito's personality is very likable and it was great to see him change from a guild friendly character to a solo “beater”, as they called him. The action sequences are unbelievably exciting and fast paced. The slash combos from Kirito as he thrashes various grotesque floor bosses are almost reminiscent of Final Fantasy limit breaks.
My eyes were glued to this anime and it is definitely because of the glorious action-packed scenes that Kirito brings to the table.
5. Light Yagami from Death Note
- Episodes: 39
- Aired: October 2006 – June 2007
The pen is mightier than the sword...at least that's true if you write in the Death Note.
Light Yagami, is a very intelligent student who once had faith in the social justice that existed. Interesting enough, his father Soichiro Yagami, is the police force head. However, after observing various crimes go unpunished in society, Light begins to question the effectiveness of this “system of justice”.
Strangely, Light stumbles upon a book, the Death Note, that we later find out was dropped by a Shinigami (God of Death). He jokingly tests out the rules of the Death Note, and before he knows it , godly power has proven itself to be real just at the end of his pen tip.
Unlike many other action anime characters, Light Yagami performs most of dramatic moves in the comfort of his own room, without breaking a sweat. He is a mastermind, a genius if you will. Nicknamed “Kira” by his cult-like following of internet fans that approve of his new age justice.
Light is such an interesting character that loses himself in his newly attained power, even perceiving himself as a new god. Many may view “L” as a good choice, but in my book L doesn't quite cut it. He is an essential part of Death Note as the intellectual rival to Light. However where he falls short is in character depth.
With Light, we see the evolution of his mentality and his psychological manipulations come to life in brilliant and nerve-racking action scenes. We can feel the situation as he tries to create a new world and a new justice. Even in his ultimate failure, I am still clapping..
Bravo Light, bravo.
4. Mikasa Ackerman from Attack on Titan
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2013 – September 2013
Beautiful face, built feminine body-lines, and breathtaking titan-slaying goodness. That sums up Mikasa, well partially. There is more to Mikasa than meets the eye. Actually, it's easy to get caught up on just the aesthetics of this lovely lady. She is easily one of the best designed characters from the Shingeki no Kyojin world and can kill a titan more skillfully than most of the other men in this series.
Through Mikasa's traumatic past, she has come to terms with the cruelty that exists in the world. This may explain her unusual emotionless attitude at times. However, her ultimate stimulus is evident when danger or trouble comes to her adoptive brother, Eren Jaeger.
Initially saving Eren as a child and taking the life of their kidnapper, Mikasa has proven herself as an action heroine even before handling her first 3D maneuver gear. Her composure as a character and utter fearlessness even in hopeless situations grants Mikasa a shining spot on this top 10 list.
3. Naruto Uzumaki from Naruto
- Episodes: 220
- Aired: October 2002 – February 2007
The word “action” and the series Naruto really go hand and hand. The anime offers endless scenes of action and numerous characters to give every fan boy and fan girl a handful of favorite characters to choose from.
In addition, there are more action-packed attacks and transformations in the Naruto series than in your run of the mill fighting game. In fact, the naming systems and magnitude of jutsu get progressively more complicated as the series continues!
Naruto Uzumaki, himself is the embodiment of the role model action hero. As an outcast Naruto was shunned by those around him and seen as something to fear and ostracize. He could easily have taken the path to evil, as many other characters tend to do. However, being the straight shooter that he is, Naruto relied on his own determination and of course his inherent potential to rise above all the hurdles in his path.
Naruto has achieved a lot over the long series span and should be admired on the top 10 list for action anime characters!
2. Kogami Shinya from Psycho Pass
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: October 2012 – March 2013
Kogami Shinya is one of those characters that immediately radiates the feeling of “bad-ass”. He simply has an awesome presence right from the get go. Fueled by the desire for revenge on Makishima, the story's antagonist, Kogami is inflicted with a “clouded” Pyscho Pass criminal coefficient. This blacklisting by the futuristic quantitative technology, has him demoted from detective to lowly “enforcer” status. He is seen as simply an attack dog useful for apprehending other clouded criminals within the society.
Regardless of the bad situation that Kogami is in, he seems to be the type who focuses only on that distant prize. He recklessly ignores orders, engages in awesome hand to hand combat, and uses the dominator like a true pro. I can't help but smile to myself whenever I watch his awesome scenes. Also he isn't just some brute, he is an intellectual match for Makishima. Kogami's psychological warfare is just as impressive as his physical strength. It's a shame how little he was featured in season 2 of the series.
Kogami Shinya takes takes spot 2 on the top 10 list.
1. Asuka Langley from Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1995 – March 1996
Plug suit anyone? …
Ah yes, Asuka Langley one of the legendary Evangelion pilots, unit 02 to be precise. She is just as unique and in many ways just as strange as her counterparts Shinji and Rei, the other 2 main pilots of the series.
You may ask the question, why is she being singled out? Well, to be frank this one could go any of the 3 directions depending on how you make the argument.
Since we are focusing on the best action characters and the select few that create those scenes that are unforgettable in our minds, I cannot help but recall the most intense anime action scene I have ever watched in my life. I can still see it in my mind, when Asuka piloting her EVA unit 02 battles ferociously against the mass produced angels.
She seemed to have the upper hand in the fight, only to lose the situation completely to lack of time and the appearance of the Spear of Longinus replica. The atmosphere quickly shifts from exhilarating to nightmare inducing when both Asuka and her EVA are devoured by the vulture-like angels...
Evangelion's animation techniques were far more old school than by today's standards. However, the impact of this scene and Asuka's character were greater than anything I have ever experienced.
This scene was much more than action...much more. The emotional impact delivered by Asuka is incomparable and gives her the number 1 spot on my top action anime character list!
Much can be said about the characters in action anime. We are drawn to some naturally, while others grow on us. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a highlight of some of the best action characters that have brightly shined in the history of Japanese animation.