AI, or artificial intelligence, has been a hot topic recently. Huge advances in AI technology have started to disrupt several industries and raise philosophical questions as to its safety and ethics of use for different applications. Ultimately, only time will tell what the full impact of AI will be on the world and humanity but there's definitely both great promise and great danger in the technology.
Artificial intelligence, along with robots and other technology, seems to have fascinated the Japanese for quite some time and has appeared in manga and anime practically since the beginning. AI characters in anime often blur the line between artificial life and humanity which can make them really interesting as characters. With this list we're counting down our picks for the best AI characters in anime in terms of their uniqueness of character, impact on their series, and/or ability to spark questions as to the nature of AI and humanity.
10. Sibyl System from Psycho-Pass
- Episodes: 22
- Air Date: Oct /2012 – Mar/2013
Set in the 22nd century in Japan, Psycho-Pass is a futuristic sci-fi anime that follows police officers Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami of the Public Safety Bureau's Criminal Investigation Department. In this future, all citizens have a titular Psycho-Pass which is an official ranking system for their intent to commit crimes that is determined by the Sibyl System. The Sibyl System is supposed to be completely objective and accurate and uses a nationwide network of psionic scanners to monitor the psycho-passes of the entire country to determine stress levels in certain areas, dispatch officers, and effectively run all of Japan with an iron fist.
While, originally, the Sibyl System was a fully artificial intelligence, it is revealed in the series that its true nature is not completely computerized, with its core being made up of a series of 247 linked human brains from criminally asymptomatic people. This hive mind is the bulk of what makes the system able to perform its extensive monitoring of citizens, determining criminality along with deciding which jobs they can have, who is elected to public office, and more. While technically not an entirely artificial intelligence, Sybil System's strange nature and importance to Psycho-Pass's story and setting make it one of the most memorable and interesting AI characters in anime.
9. Gantz from Gantz
- Episodes: 13
- Air Date: Apr/2004 – Jun/2004
Adapted from the best-selling manga of the same name by Hiroya Oku, Gantz is one of the most intense anime with graphic depictions of violence, gore, rape, and the darker side of humanity. In the world of Gantz, death is not the end, as teenager Kei Kurono soon finds out. After being hit by a train and summoned into a room by the titular Gantz, he is forced to take part in a series of missions called “the game” where he has to fight against bizarre alien and robot monsters. Depending on how well they do, people participating in the game will earn points which can be used to get better equipment and much more from Gantz.
Gantz is very mysterious in the series with seemingly infinite god-like powers. It is revealed that Gantz are actually strange bald men residing within the Black Spheres and the only ones that can completely control the powers of the technology, which appears to be at least partially alien in nature. It is also unclear as to how separated the humanoids and the spheres are from each other but it is revealed that the men inside the Gantz are clones of some unknown person. The Gantz that Kei encounters has a dark and acidic personality, frequently calling him and others bad names and making fun of their performance within the game. Gantz really is an enigma and a very memorable part of this unusual series that lands it our #9 spot on the list.
8. Love Machine from Summer Wars
- Episodes: 1 (Film)
- Air Date: Aug 1, 2009
Mamoru Hosoda's Summer Wars is a light sci-fi film with elements of comedy and drama and a strong theme of family. In Summer Wars, many parts of everyday life are tied to a massive social network called OZ. In OZ, people can explore the virtual world with highly customizable avatars that reflect their personality and can take part in sports, shopping, chat, and other activities. Thanks to OZ's seemingly unbeatable encryption software, many crucial systems are managed through OZ, even things like bank accounts, traffic signals, firefighting, and space satellites.
As you might have guessed, things start going quite wrong after OZ's security finally gets compromised. The ultimate culprit is eventually revealed to be a military AI that was released into OZ as a test of its capabilities called Love Machine. By stealing the accounts of OZ users, Love Machine is able to access control of more and more systems and eventually threatens massive destruction by crashing an exploratory spacecraft into the Earth. Love Machine is a great AI character because of their interesting visual design that grows larger and incorporates the look of the various avatars it takes over, its sadistic, creepy personality, and only weakness: its love of playing games.
7. Agumon from Digimon Adventure
- Episodes: 54
- Air Date: Mar/1999 – Mar/2000
Bandai's Digimon series spans a wide variety of media ranging from the original Tamagotchi-like virtual pet toys to card and video games, to its probably most well-known anime series. Digimon, or Digital Monsters, are a wide variety of virtual life-forms that exist within an artificial reality called the Digital World. Digimon have different forms and named power levels (such as Rookie, Champion, and Ultimate) that they can change between. Many are intelligent and capable of speech and some form strong bonds with humans as partners.
One such bond in the original Digimon Adventure anime series is with Agumon and Taichi “Tai” Yagami after they meet, along with the rest of the main cast, in the Digital World after being transported there by technology called Digivices. Agumon and Tai share many adventures together, fighting evil digimon and ultimately saving the world together. Agumon is a short, orange dinosaur-like digimon with a very brave but laid-back personality and is very fond of jokes. Agumon parallels his partner Tai in being the leader of the group for the digimon and also serves as something of the mascot for the Digimon series as a whole. Agumon's iconic design and lovable personality easily puts him on our list of best AIs in anime. As an added tidbit, we'll mention that the first Digimon Movie and Summer Wars share a very similar plot and were directed by Mamoru Hosoda.
6. Ritsu "Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery" from Ansatsu Kyoushitsu (Assassination Classroom)
- Episodes: 22
- Air Date: Jan/2015 – Jun/2015
After a huge chunk of the moon is lost in a show of force by a mysterious alien, Earth is scrambling with what to do. Bizarrely, the creature decides to give humanity a chance; he will delay the destruction of the Earth for one year to teach a middle-school class. Referred to as Koro-sensei (meaning unkillable/indestructible teacher), he becomes the teacher of class 3-E of Kunugigaoka Middle School, teaching his students how to improve their combat skills. Assassination Classroom is an eccentric action comedy focusing on the bizarre alien teacher and his equally strange students.
Ritsu is one of the members of Koro-sensei's class and one of the most unusual, as she is actually an AI from Norway. “Her” body consists of a rectangular box full of various types of weapons, an advanced 3D printer, and a video screen that displays her face. This appearance and her initial robotic, non-emotive personality is changed drastically after Koro-sensei modifies her with a bigger screen that shows her whole body and a cheerful and friendly attitude that lets her work together with her classmates better. Ritsu is a very fun character that feels surprisingly human despite literally just being an image on a screen on a metal box and one of our top picks for best AI characters in anime!
5. Aura from .hack//SIGN
- Episodes: 26
- Air Date: Apr/2002 – Sep/2002
.hack is a multimedia franchise mainly consisting of several anime series and RPG video games set inside of an MMORPG called The World. .hack//SIGN specifically tells the story of Tsukasa, an amnesiac who wakes up in The World without any knowledge of their life beforehand. The lonely wavemaster cannot log out and explores The World with minimal contact with others in search of answers.
Aura is an AI made by genius programmer Harald Hoerwick, the creator of the Fragment, the precursor to The World. She was designed to be “the ultimate AI” by Harald, who based her on the daughter he wished to have with Emma Wielant. In .hack//SIGN, Aura is kept asleep by the malevolent AI Morganna Mode Gone which runs The World after it discovers that Aura's awakening would make her obsolete. Aura is interesting for her unusual backstory, amazing power, and importance to the .hack series as whole. She also appears in .hack//Tasogare no Udewa Densetsu, .hack//Gift, .hack//G.U. Trilogy, .hack//Quantum and on our list at #5!
4. Chamber K6821 from Suisei no Gargantia (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet)
- Episodes: 13
- Air Date: Apr/2013 – Jun/2013
16-year-old Ledo is a lieutenant of the Galactic Alliance fighting against the Hideauze, a mollusk-like alien force bent on destroying humanity, in the distant future. After an accident in battle, Ledo is thrown into space. He eventually lands on Earth after traveling immensely far, put into the suspended animation-like state of REM Hypnosis Education. He awakens finding himself aboard a fleet of scavenger ships upon a vast ocean. With severely limited social skills, Ledo must learn how to live in this new world and begins to discover the mysteries the world has in store.
Ledo is assisted by Chamber, a type of AI called a Pilot Support Enlightenment Interface System, that resides within a large, robotic mech body assigned to Ledo. Chamber was responsible for monitoring Ledo's condition in their travel to the Earth and is considerably more advanced that any other technology on the blue planet. Chamber exhibits a great degree of intelligence and autonomy but has some problems understanding things like emotions and is also fiercely loyal to the ideals of the Galactic Alliance. Interestingly, Chamber's personality begins to change along with Ledo's and by the end of the series appears to have developed full sentience. Chamber snags our #4 spot because it is a well-developed character that experiences change through the series, has strong ideals, and goes beyond what the typical operating system of a mech would be in an anime.
3. Rundellhous "Rudy" Kode from Log Horizon
- Episodes: 25
- Air Date: Oct/2013 – Mar/2014
Similarly to .hack//SIGN, Log Horizon deals with people who have become trapped inside a fantasy MMORPG after its latest update prevented them from logging out, but in this case they number around 30,000. Among them is Shiroe, a socially awkward graduate student who has been playing Elder Tale since middle school and has encyclopedic knowledge of all the game's complexities and details. Along with the trapped gamers, the world of Elder Tale is inhabited by monsters and native AI non-player characters called the People of the Land that populate the cities and villages, give quests, and serve as town guards. Strangely, the People of the Land will die permanently if defeated, unlike human Adventurers which respawn.
Rundellhous is a brash, flamboyant, and somewhat narcissistic sorcerer . He is one of the People of the Land but idolizes Adventurers and tries his best to act like one but because of his naivety often makes mistakes that give away his true nature. Despite this, Rudy is actually quite competent, a diligent worker trying to improve himself and others, and heroic. After he sacrifices his life to save Choushi Town, Shiroe is able to bring him back through a new world-class spell that makes Rudy into an adventurer. Rundellhous is a fantastic AI character that works extremely hard to achieve his dreams and puts himself above others, ultimately achieving his goals through noble self-sacrifice.
2. Yui from Sword Art Online
- Episodes: 25
- Air Date: Jul/2012 – Dec/2012
Sword Art Online is yet another “trapped-in-an-MMORPG” anime; this time, the game has the titular name of Sword Art Online, with the world being called Aincrad. SAO also ups the stakes; if you die in the game, you die in real life. Protagonist Kazuto Kirigaya, nicknamed “Kirito,” is a beta-tester for the game and one of the first people to become trapped inside. Along with Asuna Yuuki, a healer and leader of the Knights of the Blood guild, and others, Kirito tries to complete all one hundred levels of the game in order to escape.
Yui appears to be a simple, cheerful girl when she is found in the forest by Kirito and Asuna on the 22nd floor of Aincrad. Having lost her memories, she becomes close to Kirito and Asuna when they act like she is their daughter. It is later revealed that Yui is, in fact, an AI originally created as a Mental Health Counseling Program who fell into despair over the years when the death game began because she was unable to help the people she was monitoring. When she sees Kirito and Asuna's happiness together she disobeys her programming to investigate what led to her memory being corrupted. This eventually leads to the development of her own intelligence. Yui is a strong AI character because of her tragic backstory and development into her own self.
1. Albedo from Overlord
- Episodes: 13
- Air Date: Jul/2015 – Sep/2015
Oh boy, yet another MMORPG isekai! When virtual reality game Yggdrasil is set to close, veteran player Momonga decides to see the last minutes of the game that he has spent many hours in, but to his surprise, when the clock strikes midnight on the final day, the game persists and the NPCs seem to have developed personalities of their own far beyond what was present before. The dark, skeletal wizard Momonga takes the name of Ainz Ooal Gown and leads his guild of the same name to try to take over the world and discover why Yggdrasil has persisted and changed.
Albedo is one of the chief officers in Ainz Ooal Gown and is the Overseer of the Floor Guardians of the guild's base, the Great Tomb of Nazarick. One of Ainz's final acts was to use his guild administrative privileges to edit Albedo's character history to be “madly in love” with him, leading her to be extremely affectionate toward him and insanely jealous of anyone else that tries to get close. Albedo is quite the looker with shimmering, long black hair, an angelic face, and a voluptuous figure. She typically wears a white dress with a golden spiderweb design necklace and has short, curved horns and large, black-feathered wings protruding from her waist. Albedo is a fascinating character with her own hidden motivations, she is beautiful, calculating, and dangerous, a special treat especially for fans of yandere!
Artificial Intelligence is all around us and anime is no exception! AI characters can challenge our ideas of what it really means to be sentient and help us to better understand ourselves. Once more, they are fascinating in-and-of themselves because of their artificial nature and the varieties of forms they can be, ranging from friendly human-like individuals to bestial game monsters to giant mecha operating systems and more!
AI characters play a special role in anime and make for some of the most memorable parts of many series and we might not have gotten your favorite in our list. Let us know if with missed something special from your favorite series in the comments below! Perhaps in time, AI will have progressed enough to create its own anime, what do you think that would be like? Stay 01100011 01101111 01101111 01101100 00100001