Anime is full of iconic protagonists, from Edward Elric to Tanjiro Kamado. These are heroes who capture the imagination of the audience by becoming symbols of what can be achieved if a person works hard and perseveres enough to overcome the obstacles that face them. Often the best part of an anime is watching these characters change on their journey.
However, there are also characters who feel just as serving of that kind of hero arc as the main character, side characters that somehow manage to be as memorable as the protagonist despite their limited screentime — Near in Death Note springs to mind. Even with their marginal status, these side characters deserve their moment in the anime sun.
Kenya Kobayashi – Erased
He may only be 10 years old for most of the events in erased, Kenya Kobayashi manages to seem more mature and level-headed than Satoru, even though the main character is technically a lot older. Kenya is a charming member of the group of friends Satoru finds, winning people over with his intelligence and friendliness.
Underneath this, Kenya possesses a strong sense of justice and is consistently on the lookout for things that don’t seem right. As a result, he manages to often be at the center of things, coming up with plans and getting the best out of the people around him. Compared to Satoru, Kenya could have made for a more confident and assertive main character.
Giyu Tomioka – Demon Slayer
Tanjiro’s bright attitude, loyalty to his friends and family, and determination to get stronger to overcome the demons made him the best character in Demon Slayer. However, Giyu is one character who could rival him for main hero status. He is already a Hashira when he finds Tanjiro and Nezuko, having worked hard to reach the highest level of recognition for a demon slayer.
While he could have shown off his incomparably strong combat skills, Giyu ends up showing kindness to the pair of them. This is a key trait of his and an important part of what gives him the aura of a main character. Giyu is mysterious and brooding, but he is also consistently one of the kindest and most empathetic of the demon slayers.
Ling Yao – Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Though he is only a side character, the parallels between Yao and the real protagonist of Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward Elric, are significant. Both around the same age, the two have a lighthearted outer persona that masks their inner determination to achieve their goals.
While Yao’s goal of procuring the philosopher’s stone to secure his reign as a leader in his home nation doesn’t perfectly align with Edward’s, the two still end up as close comrades. This is no surprise as Yao has pure intentions and enough charisma to easily be the main character of his own show — even if he does have a conniving side.
Jibril – No Game No Life
A side character whose backstory is largely unknown until the events of No Game No Life: Zero, Jibril still manages to be one of the most intriguing characters of the series. Jibril is the strongest of the Flügel race but spends her time occupying the National Library of Elkia, a collection of millions of books that she helped amass.
Jibril is understandably skeptical of humans’ potential in a world full of more powerful species. However, her willingness to change and commitment to her ideals are befitting an anime protagonist, and are just another reason that she has the energy of one.
Reinhard Van Astrea – Re:Zero − Starting Life In Another World
Though Subaru’s unique personality as a protagonist is a part of what sets Re:Zero apart from other Isekai anime, it is also true that he doesn’t quite match up to what a viewer may expect from a typical main character. In contrast, Reinhard is almost the epitome of what an Isekai protagonist is supposed to become — confident, charming, powerful, and fiercely loyal.
Even when Subaru is at his lowest in a show that contains some of the saddest moments in Isekai anime, Reinhard continues to be a true friend both to the protagonist and to his fellow knight Julius even when the two are in bitter conflict. Even in appearance, Reinhard looks every bit like the Isekai hero Subaru is trying to be, and he would be a very good fit for the role.
Ryota Watari – Your Lie In April
The protagonist of the musical-themed drama anime may have been the former piano prodigy Arima Kousei but compared to the quiet, attempted boy, Ryota Watari has far more main character traits. Athletic and fit, Ryota often steals the scenes that both of the characters feature in, drawing attention with his charm and laidback attitude.
Ryota is also a good friend to Kousei though the two could easily have ended up at odds with each other, willing to be helpful and provide insight that the other character needs at important moments.
Xingke Li – Code Geass: Lelouch Of The Rebellion
Fierce and determined, Xingke Li shows himself to be as loyal and committed to the Chinese Federation and his Empress as Lelouch is to overthrowing the Britannian empire. Xingke comes across as more mature than Lelouch and similarly willing to do whatever it takes for his cause, almost putting the two at odds with each other despite their common enemy.
Xingke is also strong and willing to put himself in the thick of combat, making him feared among the Brittanian forces he faces. He is a force to be reckoned with, much like Lelouch, but with his more honest and hardened edge, he could have made for just as compelling a protagonist.
Shunsuke Otosaka – Charlotte
The older brother of Charlotte‘s real protagonist, Yuu, Shunsuke’s story and personality suggests that main character energy is something that runs in the family. Possessing the ability to time leap as long as he retains the ability to see, Shunsuke’s vision worsens every time he is forced to utilize the power, and he is completely blind when the siblings reunite.
While this alone is a dramatic enough backstory for a fascinating main character, Shunsuke is also shown to be extremely caring and despair when he can’t protect his friends or his younger siblings. As a result, Shunsuke seems like a total main character.
Throw – Fate/Zero
Originating from Irish mythology, the Lancer category hero resurrected for the Holy Grail war in Fate/Zero is Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, whose tragic legend forms Lancer’s backstory in the series. In sharp contrast to his arrogant summoner, Lancer is every bit the honorable, fair, and loyal hero figure that would suit an anime main character.
With his striking appearance and the unique dual spears he wields, Lancer also looks a lot like a main character. As a result, his status as a brief side character in the series is a surprise. Ultimately, his commitment to fairness backfires when his enemies are the likes of the ruthless protagonist Emiya Kiritsugu.
Nate River – Death Note
Similar to Light and L, Nate, known simply as Near, was a prodigy, destined from a young age to be the best at what he did. In Near’s case, like L, this was to be a detective, and even at such a young age, he has no problems taking over the case to bring Kira to justice. Not much is established about Near in Death Notewhich is a shame because he could have been just a good fit for the main character role as L.
While he features in far fewer episodes, Near shows himself to be determined in bringing Kira to justice and willing to use unconventional methods. Near’s intelligence and mysteriousness also make him as fun to watch as any main character and it’s unfortunate that his conflict with Light is underdeveloped, a flaw that many Death Note fans choose to ignore.
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