Mental breakdowns, or nervous breakdowns, are unfortunately quite common. While the name is not a medical term, it's the moment when stress is so high that our brains simply stop working. It's the human equivalent of the blue screen of death on a computer, although it can have many faces: crying, explosive anger, or simply shutting down.
In real life, they are a very serious situation and if you have suffered one, you should seek professional help because it could be a one-time thing or a symptom of something else. But in fiction, it's a completely different story: we usually have a first-row seat to see why the characters reach that moment, and sometimes we even can enjoy seeing how they break.
With that in mind, we’re counting down the best mental breakdowns in anime history. Just remember, there will be spoilers.
10. Major Alex Louis Armstrong from Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
- Episodes: 64
- Aired: April 2009 – July 2010
It’s really hard not to love Major Armstrong from the first time we see him meet the Elric brothers. Besides his penchant for hugging people and then taking off his shirt to show off his muscles, the Major has a big heart and is one of the very few people who seem to remember that Al and Ed are teens and treats them according to their age, while also acknowledging that they’ve seen very hard times and shouldn’t be babied. He is also a comic relief character in a very dark story, so he’s the last person you expect to break down as he mostly seems to be in his own head.
But the truth is that behind his obfuscating stupidity, there are deep scars: He was part of the military during the Ishvalan war and fought as hard as every other soldier. He committed many atrocities, ordered by his superiors. The breaking point comes when, after being ordered to create a wall to box the Ishvalans for execution, he let two women escape. However, they were killed by Kimblee and this left him so traumatized, so broken, that he was discharged from active duty.
9. Ganta Igarashi from Dead Man Wonderland
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2011 – July 2011
Poor Ganta has very good reasons to feel anxious. His whole junior high class got horribly murdered by a floating man in red, he got blamed by the crime, and sent to the private prison known as Deadman Wonderland with a death sentence, and then he found out he had blood-based powers that got him sent to the darker part of the prison in order to participate in deadly gladiator matches. Yet, none of that caused him to break down, he kept going, trying to remain positive somehow.
That is until an escape attempt got thwarted, his friend and mentor Nagi got killed, and he was sent to isolation to heal from the wounds he got from that fight. Unlike other times, when we saw him cry, hit walls or scream, he came back emotionless. Not only that, but he couldn’t even taste his food, and simply seemed to have lost all his will to live. While not as explosive as other examples of a mental breakdown, Ganta’s worst moment is eerily reminiscent of suicidal ideation and depression, which makes it really hard to watch.
8. Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto Shippuden
- Episodes: 500
- Aired: February 2007 – March 2017
No one can deny that Naruto Uzumaki had a difficult life, but Sasuke Uchiha wasn’t in a bed of roses either. After witnessing his beloved older brother kill everyone in the Uchiha clan, Sasuke decided to dedicate his whole life to training and getting revenge. Growing up, he was the best student at Konoha and quite popular among his peers, but he didn’t care about any offered friendship. All he cared about was getting stronger, which is why he joined Orochimaru when the opportunity came. And thus, he finally managed to kill his brother.
But his triumph was very short lived. As soon as Itachi’s body fell, Tobi told Sasuke the truth behind the Uchiha Incident: The only reason Itachi killed their clan was to protect Konoha and Sasuke himself. Upon learning this, Sasuke began to hyperventilate because he realized that he had killed the only person who really cared about him and the last member of his family. He mercifully passed out, but even when he woke up he couldn’t really deal with the world and he seemed to remain in a daze for a long time.
7. Suzaku Kururugi from Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch (Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2006 – July 2009
When Suzaku was a child, at least according to his childhood friend Lelouch, he was a very selfish brat. This changed after the Britannian Empire invaded Japan and subjugated all Japanese people as second-class citizens and Suzaku was forced to kill his own father in order to prevent more innocent deaths. The fact that he managed to keep going after such a traumatic experience and still remain a seemingly outgoing and positive person said volumes about his will power and made us wonder if there would be anything that could break him down.
The answer to that was: Nuking Tokyo under a Geass command. The young man had tried his hardest to save lives and ended up causing the death of millions of innocent Japanese citizens. Once that happens, he just stands in the center of the crater, looking at the destruction. For a moment, it seems that he will just stand there, unmoving and uncaring, until he breaks down laughing. It's a terrifying sight, even more as the story continues and we realize that he never quite recovers from his breakdown.
6. Dilandau Albatou from Tenku no Escaflowne (The Vision of Escaflowne)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 1996 – September 1996
It’s easy to argue that Dilandau doesn’t belong on this list because he’s always one step from the edge between sanity and madness, and that’s without going into the complex backstory of his life and true identity. However, the leader of the Dragon Slayers does have a grip on his senses. He’s sadistic, cruel, and a megalomaniac who seems to care more about his face than about anything else, and most of the time, he is under complete control of his mind.
But when Van manages to kill every other Dragon Slayer, Dilandau truly snaps. His fragile mind seems to be unable to cope with the loss of his men, and he begins babbling incoherently, while he’s assaulted by multiple hallucinations. After that, he only lives for battle, spending the rest of his time in a complete daze, as if his reason to live had been destroyed.
5. Reiner Braun from Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2013 – September 2013
Braun Reiner was always in a tight situation: as one of the infiltrated Titans inside the Walls, he had to keep the façade of being a good soldier and an ally to those he had also tried to kill. And he was very good at keeping that image: he graduated 2nd in his class as a cadet and joined the Scout Regiment. He also was considered very honest and likable by all his classmates, who even thought of him as a big brother who could get them out of any situation, no matter how dangerous.
But once everyone discovers that he was the Armored Titan, things change. Because we get to see the high cost of living a lie for so long, to the point that Reiner not only becomes shell shocked, he also develops a borderline personality disorder and starts suppressing his memories to try to maintain his sanity. As a result, sometimes he doesn’t even remember being a Titan. And when that fails him, he even asks to be killed, unable to cope with what he has done.
4. Sayaka Miki from Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul 2016 – Sep 2016
Being a Magical Girl in the world of Madoka Magica is being literally one mental breakdown away from becoming an interdimensional monster. As the Incubators use the emotional energy created from the most terrible despair in order to stop the universe entropy, it’s quite expected for the viewer to see terrible breakdowns from all the main characters. However, none is more devastating than the one that Sayaka suffers.
She only wanted to help the boy she loved, and while she did, she also ended up isolated from her friends, with her soul trapped outside her body; and with no one who cared if she died or lived—or so she thought. It all ends when she takes a ride on the subway, her eyes glazed over and with no sign of her past cheerfulness, listening to two guys brag about breaking a girl's heart. That's when she reaches true despair and becomes a witch.
3. Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1995 – March 1996
Shinji has good reasons to be depressed: his father is completely absent from his life and whenever they talk, it’s only for Gendou to mentally abuse Shinji. His mother is dead and he’s being taken care of by an employee of Gendou’s who has her own problem that she tries to drown with beer. He has few friends, and those tend to end up dead during angel attacks, or are also child soldiers who have as many traumas as he has. He has literally no one who he can confide in or who can help him see the good in the world. Except maybe Kaworu, whom Shinji is forced to kill because Kaworu was actually an Angel sent to infiltrate NERV.
What follows is a very raw and honest depiction of a mental breakdown from a very unusual point of view: The inside of the mind of the person suffering the breakdown. The story seems to stop as Shinji is in a complete blank void, where he doesn’t even have a body at first, and he starts contemplating exactly why everyone hates him, including himself. Given that the series came out as Hideaki Anno was suffering from depression, this honest scene rings very true to many people who have lived similar events.
2. Tetsuo Shima from Akira
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: July 1988
Any mental breakdown is terrible, but when the person suffering it happens to be a superpowered telekinetic and telepathic emotional teenager who doesn’t have full control of his powers, the consequences are literally cataclysmic. And there’s not a better example of this than when we see Tetsuo Shima’s mind completely break down in the climactic ending of Akira. We are warned that it will happen, as it's obvious that Tetsuo's mental state is not really stable; and the drugs given to him so he can control his powers don't help matters at all. But nothing can prepare us for the actual moment when Tetsuo's mind simply breaks.
The reasons behind his breakdown are very clear: He is hearing other people’s thoughts, he just discovered that the one he thought could help him was dead and cut into pieces kept by the army in secret, and despite being super powerful, he is still inferior in his mind to his friend Kaneda who is coming to kill him. And then, he loses control of his powers and starts mutating into a giant human amoeba, killing his girlfriend by accident as he begs Kaneda for help. It’s heartbreaking and horrifying at the same time and it results in a second explosion that almost destroys Neo Tokyo completely.
1. Mikami Teru from Death Note
- Episodes: 37
- Aired: October 2006 – June 2007
At first glance, Mikami Teru was a perfect citizen and someone you could trust. He graduated from Kyodo University and worked as a prosecuting attorney, due to his belief that justice is the most important thing in the world. Unfortunately, this also meant that when Kira started killing those guilty of crimes, Mikami became a fervent follower of the new “God”. This made him a perfect pawn for Light when he needed a new proxy to avoid suspicion from Near, and he was glad to be chosen in order to kill those he deemed undeserving of life.
The problem with Mikami was that he was extremely fanatical. He thought that justice, and more precisely, his version of justice, was all that mattered. So when he saw Light for who he really was at the site of the final confrontation between Light and Near, Mikami loses his faith in him completely. He sees Light as a pathetic man who wasn’t really fair or righteous and thus decides to kill himself by piercing his own heart with the same pen he had used to kill hundreds of people in Kira’s name.
As we said at the beginning, no two mental breakdowns are the same. Some are silent moments where the person just stops interacting with the world, others are explosions of anger. But in fiction, they all have something in common: they’re the perfect way in which we can finally understand what makes a character tick, as we get to see what really matters to them.
So, we want to know your take on them. Which anime character’s mental breakdown really got to you? Which one seemed more true to life? Is it on our list? or, do you have more suggestions? Please, let us know in the comments below.