Who doesn’t love betting on an underdog? Anyone can invest in multi-million dollar corporations but it takes real cojones to invest your life savings into a penny stock. An underdog is someone thought to have little to no chance of achieving victory or success in a fight, competition, or life in general.
Despite this, many underdogs rebuke these expectations and proceed to defy them. Starting from number ten, ranked until the number one anime underdog, these selections were ranked based on popularity among fans. So, who do you plan on rooting for when their back’s against the wall?
10. Haruyuki Arita from Accel World
In our world of anime, filled with muscular titans of combat, peacocking their rippling biceps and fighting prowess with each passing breath; here, we are met with a protagonist who is not so conventionally attractive. Similar to anime like Ore Monogatari, Haruyuki—an overweight and bullied middle schooler—is ridiculed because of his appearance. Despite such ostracization, Haruyuki never lets the torment change him as a person and, together with Kuroyukihime, he attempts to track down the creator of Brain Burst and uncover the true purpose of the brain accelerating program.
Haruyuki remains a kind-hearted character. He constantly tries to save those who would do him harm, while going above and beyond to protect those he cares about (doubly so for Kuroyukihime). Where the entire student populace and majority of Brain Burst players saw him as an absolute failure, he proves them wrong by conquering several incredibly tough opponents and winning the affections of his senior.
9. Amano Yukiteru from Mirai Nikki (The Future Diary)
You have no fighting ability. You cry after a light scratch. You’re lucky to be alive post-episode one. You have a thing for pink-haired p̶s̶y̶c̶h̶o̶p̶a̶t̶h̶s̶ girlfriends. If this describes you, you may be Amano Yukiteru’s long lost twin sibling. Yukiteru is every bit the cry baby just detailed. While the other diary owners competing in this survival game all have some level of fighting ability or a keen sense for tactical espionage, Yukiteru relies on his c̶r̶a̶z̶y̶,̶ ̶k̶n̶i̶f̶e̶-̶w̶i̶e̶l̶d̶i̶n̶g̶,̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶l̶k̶e̶r̶ loving and supportive partner, to rescue him in almost every fight.
After facing down such enemies as a terrorist bomber and a murderous five-year-old child, Yukiteru manages to prove himself fairly resilient. ‘He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day’, so to speak. While Yuno is the star of the show in Mirai Nikki’s battle royale world, Yukiteru continues to defy expectations. Possessing all the traits of the first victim in a horror movie, Yukiteru’s death is all but a certainty. However, in true underdog fashion, he powers through to the bitter end alongside h̶i̶s̶ ̶m̶a̶n̶i̶c̶,̶ ̶e̶r̶r̶a̶t̶i̶c̶,̶ ̶o̶b̶s̶e̶s̶s̶i̶v̶e̶,̶ ̶k̶i̶n̶d̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶c̶u̶t̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶r̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ ̶l̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶o̶u̶g̶h̶,̶ ̶v̶i̶o̶l̶e̶n̶t̶,̶ ̶d̶e̶r̶a̶n̶g̶e̶d̶.̶.̶.̶ Yuno.
8. Shirahama Kenichi from Shijou Saikyou no Deshi Kenichi (KenIchi: The Mightiest Disciple)
Shirahama Kenichi embodies the dreams of weaklings across the globe! Long have they been subjected to torment at the hands of their oppressors but no more! Kenchi is at the forefront of this revolution for karmic retribution. Starting out as no different than you or I, Kenichi dedicates himself entirely to not only mastering one martial art but several. Learning from the studious masters of the Ryozanpaku dojo, Kenichi studies Muay Thai, Karate, Chinese Martial Arts, and Jiu-Jitsu - ultimately combining all of them to forge his style.
Kenichi is thrust headfirst into a world of martial arts of which he knows very little. Forced to do battle with martial arts prodigies and long-term students, Kenichi is the underdog in almost every battle he takes part in. However, due to his rigorous determination, the undying support from his teachers, and a cute girl with blonde hair and blushing blue eyes cheering him on, Kenichi surmounts all of his strength to topple any adversary.
7. Rock Lee from Naruto
Where most ninjas are versed in both Ninjutsu spell creation as well as Taijutsu martial arts, Rock Lee - a supporting character in the Naruto franchise - is only capable of performing the latter. Many believe this to be detrimental to Rock Lee’s capabilities. On the contrary; Rock Lee accepts his shortcomings and hones the skills in which he excels - mastering Taijutsu to such a degree that he can fight on equal grounds against other skilled ninjas. After his loss to Gaara, he realizes just how outmatched he is when pitted against a Ninjutsu user. Not one to mope however, he quickly bolsters his confidence and makes his way after Naruto, saving him just in time from the Sound Five’s Kimimaro.
It’s easy to become depressed at your imperfections when others your age are headlining concert halls and five-year-olds make double your annual salary by unboxing Minecraft lego sets. Compared to such people, why would anyone believe in you to be as successful? Nobody believed Lee could go toe to toe with a real ninja. Yet, with the power of youth and the bushiest of eyebrows, Rock Lee proved all those naysayers wrong. Why can’t you?
6. Makunouchi Ippo from Hajime no Ippo (Fighting Spirit)
Ippo isn’t that big, he isn’t that strong and he isn’t that skilled (yet). However, what he lacks in stature, he makes up for in heart and determination. After punching his bully’s photo attached to a punching bag, he hears the cry of the boxing ring call out to him. Ippo is constantly fighting opponents seemingly stronger than him. Fights against true boxers. Fights where every spectator in the stands expects him to lose. Yet, he never lets that affect his mindset. He wants to be the best and no-one is going to stand in his way.
The nature of being an underdog has people counting you out before you even step into the ring. The reason people love underdogs (aside from the ridiculously high payout you get for betting on one), is the satisfaction of proving those haters wrong when you eventually reign victorious. If you enjoy watching the little guy that nobody likes finally stand tall, Hajime no Ippo is a great watch.
5. Agatsuma Zenitsu from Kimestu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba)
We are first introduced to Agatsuma Zenitsu, during the demon slayer initiation trial. Unlike Tanjiro who is kind but strong-willed or other demon slayers like Inosuke who seem to have more courage than brain cells, Agatsuma Zenitsu is overtly cowardly, querulous, and values his own life above all else. People often scold him for not living up to the expectations of a demon slayer. It isn’t until Zenitsu becomes so terrified that he loses consciousness, where we bear witness to his true potential. After succumbing to his instinctive urge to faint, Zenitsu awakens as a lightning-fast warrior, capable of decimating his enemies in a single strike.
Truly nobody thought Zenitsu was capable of such feats. It was baffling how he made it through the demon slayer exam, but upon witnessing his Thunder Breathing style in action, the answer becomes clear. While impressive, Zenitsu’s true underdog status is cemented from a later bout with Inosuke, where he receives a beating while protecting Nezuko. Nobody thought he could surmount as much selflessness as Tanjiro, but he proves that his cowardice is negligible when protecting people important to him.
4. Usopp from One Piece
Let’s list some of the kick-ass members of Luffy’s Strawhat crew. A katana-wielding pirate hunter named Roronoa Zoro, a chef named Sanji who fights with the power of his strengthened legs, and...a slingshot user who...makes smoke bombs and...tabasco grenades and...you get where I’m going with this. Usopp is the weak link when juxtaposed against such powerhouses (often pictured whimpering in the background). Despite this, Usopp is no stranger to a fight; clutching victories against several strong opponents. This leads us to his fight with Luffy.
Luffy and Usopp clash due to Usopp’s refusal to replace their weathered ship. Luffy, up until now, has stood unrivaled as the strongest member of the Strawhats. We assume Usopp would be defeated in a single punch. However, he survives Luffy’s onslaught for several minutes before eventually falling. Usopp cements his position as a member of the Strawhat crew, proving that he shouldn’t be taken lightly while protecting his loved ones. Even if those loved ones are giant hunks of rotting wood.
3. Shouyou Hinata from Haikyuu!! (Haikyu!!)
Hinata is much shorter than the average volleyball player. Inspired by volleyball legend ‘Little Ace’ but having yet proved his worth, he struggles to find a key role in any team formation. However, it is by learning to work with his rival and ‘King of the Court’ Tobio Kageyama, that Hinata grows as both a player and a character. Sports anime are where true underdogs are made. In sports anime, we do not have to wonder about the supposed power levels of rival combatants. Here, we have stats, win-loss ratios, and character summaries to aid in our investigation.
Competitions with roaring crowds give way to some of the most memorable moments in all of sports anime. In Haikyuu!, it is the matches where one point is the difference between victory and defeat. No one expects Hinata to be able to perform advanced-level techniques like feints. Moreover, no-one expects Hinata to be able to win the game for his team. However, he proves his team and the opponents wrong by executing such techniques flawlessly and scoring the winning point on multiple occasions.
2. Midoriya Izuku (Deku) from Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)
One of the most definitive underdog characters of all time. Should you scour the dictionary for word’s definition, Deku’s picture would be smiling back at you. Once Quirk-less and doomed to a life of normalcy but now having received immense power from the number one hero All Might, Midorya Izuku struggles to control himself at first. His peers, having had their powers since birth, are all fairly well-versed in the intricacies of their respective Quirks. Yet, Midoriya does not let this deter him. He goes to his training sessions, he breaks his bones; all in an attempt to fill his mentor’s shoes.
No one gave Midoriya a second glance when stacked up against his peers. Next to the son of the number two hero Endeavour, Todoroki Shoto and top percentage scoring and certified genius Momo Yaoyorozu, who would willingly move all of their chips onto Deku’s pile? It is so rewarding when we see Izuku’s hard work flourish in a slew of victories - besting his rival Bakugo in a mock battle or stalling a powerful villain long enough for backup to arrive. Truly an inspiration to underdogs everywhere to never stop trying.
1. Yato from Noragami (Noragami: Stray God)
While not experiencing an as bombastic ascension from the gutter as some of the other characters on this list, Yato never stops trying. Surely, many of you have worked jobs you didn’t enjoy - stomaching the horrible hours, relentless customers, and strict management, due to the inevitable paycheck waiting for you. Now, imagine if that paycheck amounted to nothing more than several grains of rice. Like Yato, a minor deity with no shrine of which to speak of, he spends his days completing odd jobs for five yen’s worth of compensation. To aid in his quest of eventually gaining millions of worshippers, he is joined by Hiyori, a young girl who can detach her soul from her body, and Yukine, a boy whom Yato uses as a katana in combat.
Many previous entries had redeemable traits or fought for virtuous reasons as opposed to Yato who uses several underhanded means to get what he wants (extorting his supposed girlfriend Kofuku, for example). Everyone berates Yato, claiming this behavior as the reason he has no shrine and never will. However, after helping Hiyori to such a degree, she, in turn, repays him with his first. Not a large victory, but a step in the right direction. Proving that he can gain worshippers, Yato is an underdog in chasing his physical dreams and his character reformation.
Underdogs in anime come in various shapes and sizes. Be it a projected tournament loss or a predicted behavioral pattern, these ten anime underdogs rose to surpass any preconceived expectations society placed on them.
Who is your favorite anime underdog? Were there any amazing anime underdogs that we forgot? Any anime underdogs featured who didn’t belong on the list? Let us know in the comments below.