Anime can hit us deep in the feels in many ways, from the devastating deaths of our favorite characters to redemption moments full of remorse and forgiveness. And, of course, tragic romance.
Despite being fictional and animated, anime has given us some of the most tragic love stories of any narrative medium, and these stories punch us in the gut as they make us feel the pains of characters who cannot have their happily-ever-after endings.
Tragic romance is a commonly used plot device, not just in romance anime but in pretty much all anime series. In fact, when tragic love is incorporated into elements of fantasy, horror, and war, the impact is often that much more devastating.
Here are my picks for the best anime characters with tragic love stories and why their unfortunate romance narratives stand out.
15. Zero Two and Hiro (Darling in the Franxx)
Zero Two is one of the cutest female characters in anime; together with Hiro, they make one of the best couples. They're unstoppable when fighting aboard the special mecha Strelizia.
However, in their final battle against the horde of aliens, they sacrifice their lives to destroy VIRM's base and their heroism ensures humanity's continued existence.
But their ends aren't totally tragic. They're given a chance to meet again through their reincarnations who were born thousands of years after their heroic deaths.
14. Gin and Hotaru (Hotarubi no Mori E)
Hotarubi no Mori E features the relationship between the human Hotaru and the supernatural former human Gin.
Though it may appear to be a simple fantasy love story at first glance, there's a heartbreaking twist behind this relationship: Gin can't touch a human or else he'll disappear forever.
Gin's condition is what keeps their love story always just inches apart, and that condition is what makes the climax so much more impactful than most romantic climaxes.
13. Utakata and Hotaru (Naruto Shippuden)
There are several tragic love stories throughout Naruto Shippuden, from its main storyline to its various filler arcs and movies. The story between Utakata and Hotaru stands out as a notable one.
Utakata is host to the Six-Tailed Beast and that makes him hesitant to accept Hotaru as his student. But when he witnesses the conflict between her and the people who want a hidden power in her, Utakata finally accepts her as his student.
Sadly, though he promises to return to Hotaru, Utakata never comes back—because he crosses paths with the Akatsuki's Six Paths of Pain, who kill people like him to extract their Tailed Beasts.
12. Princess Emeraude and Zagato (Magic Knight Rayearth)
Tragically, the plot of Magic Knight Rayearth wouldn't have happened if the people of Cephiro knew how Princess Emeraude really felt.
Even more tragically, Zagato—the only one who really knows what the Princess wants—becomes the villain so he can save her from her self-induced fate of death (via the Magic Knights she summons).
As the Pillar of Cephiro, Princess Emeraude has the duty to pray for the safety of Cephiro and its population with all her heart. Her falling in love with Zagato marked the destruction of Cephiro, as she can no longer fully dedicate her heart and mind to her prayers.
11. Yahiko and Konan (Naruto Shippuden)
Another tragic love story from Naruto Shippuden centers on Yahiko and Konan, the founding members of the original Akatsuki.
To save Konan from Hanzo's grasp, Yahiko sacrifices himself and lets himself be killed by Nagato per Hanzo's demands. It's a bitter sacrifice as Hanzo doesn't keep his side of the bargain, which leads Nagato to giving him a taste of his Rinnegan powers.
10. Sanji and Pudding (One Piece)
Though it seemed that there'd never be romance between the Straw Hat Pirates, One Piece gave us an exciting "against all odds" relationship in Vinsmoke Sanji and Charlotte Pudding.
Big Mom's ultimate reason behind the arranged wedding between Sanji and Pudding was to acquire the scientific advancements of the Germa from Sanji's family. But over time, the two truly fell in love with one another (despite Pudding denying it several times).
Eventually, Pudding switches sides to help the Straw Hats. In their final moments together, she uses her Devil Fruit ability to erase some of his memories of her so that he'd step away and aid his comrades, leaving her heartbroken and alone.
9. Escanor (The Seven Deadly Sins)
Most fans of The Seven Deadly Sins assumed that Escanor and Merlin would end up together with a happily-ever-after ending, and so it came as a surprise when that wasn't how their story ended.
In their battle against the Demon King, Escanor burns up his life force so he can match his opponent's overwhelming presence.
At the end of the battle, Escanor stands still as he waits for his fate to catch up to him—and during that time, Merlin grants him a kiss and makes it known to him that his love was never unnoticed.
8. Pokkle and Ponzu (Hunter X Hunter)
The relationship between Pokkle and Ponzu isn't highlighted that much in the series, but we see a glimpse of them working together to repair the engine in the 1999 version of Hunter X Hunter.
Later, in one episode during the Chimera Ant Arc of the 2011 series, they're seen closer to one another. They look good together, and that's why they're a popular ship in the fandom.
However, that was their last time together because they met their brutally gruesome deaths at the hands of powerful and ruthless monsters. Truly a tragic end for these two.
7. Kasumi and Mechamaru (Jujutsu Kaisen)
It wasn't detailed very much in the series, but Mechamaru (i.e., Kokichi Muta) and Kasumi Miwa make for a great couple as they exhibit a close relationship that's deeper than mere friendship.
The saddest part between Kasumi and Mechamaru is when she talks with the latter and expresses her feelings, not knowing that Kokichi Muta is out fighting a truly dangerous opponent.
Kasumi burst into tears after she gets to talk with him one last time through Kokichi's mini version of Mechamaru.
6. Makoto and Chiaki (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)
Time is something beyond our control, but not so for Makoto Konno and Chiaki Mamiya, who can travel through time. This power eventually leads to one of the most heartbreaking romances in anime.
To save their friends from an impending accident, Chiaki uses his last remaining time leap, causing him to disappear. To make things right, Makoto jumps back to the past to when she just finds the device and thus returns Chiaki's last time leap.
This bittersweet alteration of the timeline results in not just one but two very painful goodbyes, making The Girl Who Leapt Through Time one of the saddest anime movies ever.
5. Kaori and Kōsei (Your Lie in April)
Kaori Miyazono and Kōsei Arima are two characters who are bonded together by music. Though they play different instruments, their musical styles complement one another beautifully.
At first, Your Lie in April seems to go in a bright direction for these musical prodigies, but Kaori's deteriorating health gives their story a sharp downhill turn towards the inevitable.
Despite its devastating ending, Your Lie in April never disappoints, giving us a final stage on which both our beloved musicians can play their pieces together one last time.
4. Mitsuha and Taki (Your Name)
Love and fantasy always seem to elevate one another, resulting in a unique story that's extraordinarily appealing. Your Name is one of the greatest examples of this in anime, with its elements of love and fantasy elevated even further by a thrilling disaster.
Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana live in separate time periods but are tied together by a supernatural event that causes them to switch bodies whenever they fall asleep.
They're able to learn about each other on an intimate level, and they develop feelings for each other through this unusual premise that makes the impossible possible. But when Taki learns the truth behind their situation, our hearts shatter in the worst way.
3. Gennosuke and Oboro (Basilisk: The Kouga Ninja Scrolls)
In Basilisk: The Kouga Ninja Scrolls, Gennosuke and Oboro are like Romeo and Juliet: lovers from rival ninja clans, whose feud only worsens after they're caught up in a political struggle during the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
You just know there's no happy ending here. But in a twist that's worse than Shakespeare's tragedy, Gennosuke from the Kouga Clan and Oboro from the Iga Clan are forced to face each other in a final deathmatch, with both of them taking their own lives.
2. Eren and Mikasa (Attack on Titan)
One of the best parts of the Attack on Titan anime series is that, despite its dark themes and gratuitous blood, it still features a one-of-a-kind love story between Eren Yeager and Mikasa Ackerman.
However, in the final parts of the story, Mikasa ends up having to choose between the two worst options she's ever faced: let the Rumbling continue or kill the one she loves the most.
We can't help but feel down because we've followed Eren and Mikasa's story from the day they were together on the hill up until she laid his remains to rest in that very same place.
1. Guts and Casca (Berserk)
Looking for a tragic love story that's exceedingly traumatizing? Look no further than the story between Guts and Casca!
To become one of the God Hand, Griffith sacrifices his Band of Hawk (including Guts and Casca) to the demons. However, it's not enough that he does that; he has something even more evil in mind.
Griffith violates Casca in front of Guts, who was pinned down and immobilized by several demons. He can't do anything but curse and watch helplessly, and it's too much even for us viewers.