Living lives characterised by the belief that everything is meaningless, nihilists are numerous in anime and have featured in some fairly dark material. However, like any other character archetype, the nihilist can be found in pretty much any genre and their mindset is one of extreme cynicism and there are characters who stand out. Here we are bringing out appreciation for the characters who don’t think anything matters. So, off we go, Top 10 nihilist anime characters.
10. Shiro/Wretched Egg – Deadman Wonderland
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2011 – July 2011
Igarashi Ganta’s class was supposed to have an amazing day at Deadman Wonderland, the local prison amusement park, where prisoners do dangerous activities for the entertainment of the masses. However, everything falls apart when every single one of Ganta’s classmates is killed by a man in red. Framed for the murders, Ganta is sentenced to prison in the very Deadman Wonderland his class was supposed to visit. In Deadman Wonderland, Ganta is exposed to a reality of sadistic inmates and the emergence of strange powers all in a ruthless environment where he must participate in deadly games, find the “Red Man” who killed his friends and clear his name.
Shiro is the strange girl who became attached to Ganta almost upon arrival. While she recognises Ganta, Ganta doesn’t recognise her at first. Spoilers ahead. It turns out that they are childhood friends while Ganta’s mother, a scientist, performed various experiments on Shiro throughout her childhood and the ordeal led to a split-personality: Shiro and the Wretched Egg, her alter ego, Ganta’s “Red Man”. That is the aspect of Shiro that bears a bleak outlook on life and wanted to end her own suffering and gave Ganta the Branches of Sin to do just that.
9. Jellal Fernandes – Fairy Tail
- Episodes: 175
- Aired: October 2009 – March 2013
In the Kingdom of Fiore, magic is a regular part of human life and at the core of magical activity are the magic guilds – wizard groups which are much like lobbies where members can find and tackle job requests together. One of the top guilds in the land is the legendary Fairy Tail, which is seen as a great place of strength and family values. 17-year-old Lucy Heartfilia is a mage looking to become a fully-fledged wizard by joining Fairy Tail. After being tricked by a man claiming to be from the infamous guild, Lucy is saved by Natsu Dragneel, a powerful wizard who is a notable member of Fairy Tail, who then invites her to join him at the guild, where she meets a number of eccentric characters and alongside the other members, battles the forces of evil.
Jellal Fernandes is a character who sought to revive the Dark Mage Zeref, using the R-System to do it. However, before executing his plan he was a member of the Magic Council under the alias “Siegrain”, he had been possessed and became incredibly evil. After being defeated and revived, he lost his memories. The returning memories made him loathe himself, believing himself to be deserving of justice, no matter how it shall be meted out. As an evil mage, Jellal sees life as a simple game, one where the loss of life means absolutely nothing to him, not even his own.
8. Makishima Shogo – Psycho Pass
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: October 2012 – March 2013
In the 22nd century, law enforcement has changed, particularly in Japan where the Sibyl System is enforced. The system is an objective means of observing the mental state of each citizen for signs of criminal intent, and hence determining their level of threat to society – their Psycho Pass. Inspectors are law enforcement officers who subjugate individual who display any level of ill-will, at times using lethal means. Inspectors work alongside Enforcers who are former inspectors turned criminal who are spared in exchange for doing work for Inspectors. Young Tsunemori Akane is a woman with an admirable sense of justice, but as she performs her duties alongside Enforcer Kougami Shinya, she begins to notice imperfections in Sibyl’s judgments and begins to doubt whether or not Sibyl can truly mete out justice.
Makishima Shogo is the antagonist of Psycho Pass, a stoic character who committed heinous crimes in an attempt to flip the Sibyl-reliant society on its head and free Japan. He believes that the Sibyl System creates a nation of non-thinkers. Despite all his intentions and actions, his Psycho Pass remains unclouded, which makes him impossible to subjugate on any level and it is this which makes it easier for Makishima to carry out his plans. As a result of Sibyl not being able to recognise him, Makishima goes through life as a non-entity but he is wholly enamoured by humanity and human society, loving the darkest, cruellest parts of humanity, claiming that humanity under the Sibyl System is worthless.
7. Shigaraki Tomura – Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2016 – June 2016
With the sustained appearance of superpowers called “Quirks” in human beings, society rapidly becomes superhuman, bringing to the fore the profession people could only dream of and read about in comics: superheroes. With 80% of society having some sort of special ability, a fifth of people lack such powers, including Midoriya Izuku. Despite lacking a Quirk, Izuku has always wanted to become a hero like his idol, the number 1 hero, All Might. Izuku’s dedication to his dream has him taking notes of all heroes whenever he can. When he meets All Might, he soon learns of All Might’s inheritable power and to make things better yet, All Might sees Izuku as his successor. After several months of gruelling training, Izuku enrolls at UA High, famous for its hero training program, beginning his journey to becoming the best hero.
One of the primary antagonists of the series, the enigmatic Shigaraki Tomura is an individual who is of the mind that the current structure of society with heroes being so highly regarded is one that should change. Harbouring an immense level of contempt for heroes and the society that idolises them, Shigaraki aims to create a world without All Might, one which will shake the very core of justice in society. He doesn’t care for anyone’s life, not even his own and will do anything to accomplish his goals.
6. Ikari Shinji – Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1995 – March 1996
The year is 2015 and humanity stands on the brink of destruction at the hands of the Angels, the creatures bringing about Earth’s ruin. The only hope is NERV, a special organisation under the United Nations which possesses the Evangelions, giant robots capable of defeating the Angels. The organisation seeks pilots who are compatible with the Evangelion, allowing them to realise their true potential. 14-year-old Ikari Shinji’s life changes forever when he brought to NERV as the one who will pilot Evangelion Unit-01. With mankind’s fate on his shoulders, can Shinji accept his new destiny and become a legend?
One of the most recognised characters in anime, Ikari Shinji’s outlook on life is incredibly gloomy as a result of the feelings of abandonment he harbours from his childhood. He is in a constantly fragile emotional state and as a result, he chooses to shut out the world. He constantly blames himself for not being good enough to make his father, Ikari Gendou, stay with him. Shinji’s self-loathing is incredibly profound and is a major locus upon which his perception of reality is based.
5. Johan Liebert – Monster
- Episodes: 74
- Aired: April 2004 – September 2005
Dr Tenma Kenzou is a Japanese brain surgeon living and working in Europe. Hailed by his peers as a great mind in the field of neurosurgery, Tenma’s life exudes all the accents of a successful life in that field. However, his life changes one night when he is forced to choose between saving the life of a young boy and that of a town’s mayor. Forfeiting the mayor, the surgeon is plunged into a dark mystery as murders start happening around him, with the evidence pointing towards the young boy he saved. Dr Tenma hence embarks on a journey to find out the true identity of the child he saved, coming to other significant realisations along the way.
Johan Liebert, the youngster saved by the efforts of Dr Tenma, is an incredibly intelligent individual with the desire to manipulate others and cause suffering and destruction. He wishes to be the last one standing at the end of the world and believes that there are no rules to living life. He believes that life is insignificant and without purpose, seeking only the destruction of society.
4. Hikigaya Hachiman – Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy ga Machigatteiru (My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2013 – June 2013
Hikigaya Hachiman is an apathetic high school student with intense narcissistic and nihilistic tendencies. His extreme pessimism makes him believe that joyful youth is nothing more than just a delusion. As punishment for writing an essay mocking social relationships, Hachiman’s teacher forces him to join the Volunteer Service Club, a club dedicated to helping any student who asks for their help. With the cold Yukinoshita Yukino being the only other club member, Hachiman ends up being the frontman of the club, having to listen to other people’s problems. Can Hachiman’s pessimistic view of human beings be useful in his new environment?
Hikigaya Hachiman – a case of extreme pessimism borne out of personal experience. He believes that human social dynamics are a farce and expects the worst out of people. In that line, he also doesn’t spare himself any of the negativity. His characteristic “dead fish” eyes are markers of a markedly apathetic individual and his pessimistic way of solving problems leads others to call him “twisted”. He is openly hated by other characters and well, he doesn’t care. He doesn’t see any worth in himself and therefore doesn’t feel bad about becoming the scapegoat in a situation, or being hated, for that matter.
3. Dazai Osamu – Bungou Stray Dogs
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2016 – June 2016
18-year-old Nakajima Atsushi’s orphanage is consistently under threat when a mystical tiger only he is aware of causes a series of strange incidents. Thought to be behind the occurrences, Atsushi is kicked out of the orphanage and left to fend for himself. While starving on a riverbank, Atsushi saves an eccentric man from drowning. The highly suicidal Dazai Osamu is a supernatural detective investigating the tiger that has been plaguing Atsushi’s life and eventually solves the case. The resolution of the case leaves Atsushi with no choice but to join Dazai’s firm of supernatural investigators as they take on cases that are unusual, alongside Dazai’s eccentric colleagues.
Deliberately named after the Japanese author Dazai Osamu, Dazai is a suicide enthusiast as a direct nod to real-life Dazai Osamu’s numerous attempts at suicide throughout his life and his overall long-lived desire to die. As a nod to the author’s life, the character Dazai will lose no opportunity to find himself caught up in comical attempts to end his own life that never seem to go as he’d want. The comedy serves as an initial mask of the nature of the gaping hole that Dazai feels in his existence, one which causes him to seek meaning for his life.
2. Uchiha Obito – Naruto: Shippuuden
- Episodes: 500
- Aired: February 2007 – March 2017
Two years after Uzumaki Naruto leaves the Hidden Leaf Village for intense training, the Akatsuki group of rogue ninja are rapidly approaching the execution of their plan which puts the shinobi world at risk. Despite growing older and somewhat wiser, Naruto is still the same kid who wanted to become Hokage with an emboldening desire to protect his friends and the village. The story of the boy who wished to become the strongest ninja in the Hidden Leaf Village continues.
Caring not for himself, for his village nor for any ideals he once bore, Obito becomes an empty person after the death of Rin. He focuses everything on the execution of Madara’s plan, believing it to be a just and that every crime committed as a result was a necessary evil. He was willing to sacrifice himself as well as his allies without a second thought. Despite all this, deep down Obito’s persona was a reaction to avoid coming into contact with the debilitating harshness of reality.
1. Ulquiorra Cifer – BLEACH
- Episodes: 366
- Aired: October 2004 – March 2012
15-year-old Kurosaki Ichigo is a high school student who has always had the uncanny ability to see and interact with ghosts. When a woman in a black kimono named Kuchiki Rukia suddenly appears in his room one night, she introduces herself as a Soul Reaper, an entity which exists to guide souls to the afterlife and purge evil spirits known as Hollows. Soon after Rukia’s arrival, a Hollow attacks Ichigo’s home and wounds Rukia, who offers Ichigo her powers so he can save his family. After the encounter, Ichigo is forced to take over Rukia’s job as a Soul Reaper and his life from then on is never the same again.
Ulquiorra Cifer tops our list of anime nihilists because of the simple fact that Ulquiorra’s existence as a character in Bleach is as the very embodiment of a nihilistic mindset. He is nihilism given form, seeing no meaning or worth in anything, not even his own life. This is particularly evident in his death as after suffering defeat at the hands of Ichigo’s Hollow form, he demands that Ichigo kill him, to which Ichigo obliges. As a Hollow, Ulquiorra felt alone and lamented his very existence long before becoming an Arrancar and a member of Aizen’s Espada.
Nihilism is an element which makes its way into several different types of anime as a result of the sheer number of characters who can portray nihilistic tendencies. These characters often serve as interesting explorations into human morality and values, while also serving as extremely cynical expressions in and of themselves. Some of these characters have been integral to some amazing stories. Sayounara Zetsubou Sensei (Goodbye Teacher Despair)’s Itoshiki Nozomu is one character we felt needed an honourable mention for his sense of despair. Are there other anime nihilists we’ve left out? Drop a comment below and let us know all about them!