Not every anime has a happy ending, and sometimes it is the ones with the sad ending that have the most fulfilling effect. One of the most concrete ways to end a story to kill off the protagonist. After all, there is no more final ending than death. Quite a few series utilize this, and at times it may seem like a cop out, there is no arguing the impact it can have when you kill a protagonist that the audience has spent a full series bonding with.
Very obviously, spoilers are abound in this article. If you wish to get the recommendations, but not the specific spoilers, just read the headings and not the text below.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is a story that spans generations, and as such, the Joestar family line has some problems staying alive. In some arcs, they die tragically to save the world. In others they live to an advanced age, but no one is immune from time. Each arc usually focuses on a new member of the blood line, in a way to pass the torch. As such, as long as they keep breeding, they can keep this story going.
Madoka dies throughout the series a number of times, though the catch is she does so in different timelines that are shown through Homura’s flashbacks. The ultimate goal of the series, through Homura’s point of view, is to prevent that outcome. However, the true end of the series still has Madoka dying in a way, though she becomes more of a god on a higher plane of existence in order to prevent the inevitable death that all magical girls face.
In Brotherhood, the series doesn’t end with the death of the true main character, just Hoenheim, who is more of a hidden main character. However, the 2003 anime deviates strongly from the source material. It sees Ed killed by Envy and Al, who has become a philosopher’s stone, sacrifice himself to revive him.
Regardless of if you view L or Light as the true “protagonist,” (Light being more of an antagonist), they both die in the end. L’s death comes at the half way point of the series, finally defeated by Light’s trickery while Light dies at the very end after being discovered and gunned down by the law enforcement team he once worked alongside. We all knew that Death Note would likely end this way as Light became increasingly unstable.
Space Runaway Ideon
While an older and somewhat lesser acclaimed mecha series, Space Runaway Ideon is by far one of the most brutal of the mecha genre. It has no qualms about killing everything from children to main characters in horrible ways. As a series that centers around the space conflict between two races, really the only concrete ending was the destruction of both races, and that’s just how the series ended.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Unlike the above Space Runaway Ideon, Mobile Suit Gundam and its many series generally are pretty easy on their protagonists, except for Iron-Blooded Orphans. It is notable for being the first series in recent memory to kill off the protagonist at the end. Of course, it is a heroic death with his final thoughts drifting to all those he held dear.
Wolf’s Rain is full of both suffering and symbolism. The whole show is a race between wolves that have occasionally hidden themselves in human form and actual humans to reach and open paradise before the world they are in finally ends. Of course, the main characters, the wolves, all die pitifully trying to reach this place until it is only the main character. Everyone dies in the end, but paradise is opened to them. The last seconds of the ending are meant to show Kiba, the leader of the wolves and last wolf standing, being reborn. There is ten tons of speculation about this ending, but everyone in the show died in some form anyway.
Akame ga Kill
This series is one that notably deviated from its manga source material by killing the protagonist at the end of the anime run. Throughout Akame ga Kill, it is made abundantly clear that everyone is fodder, no one is safe, and every character you even like will die. Unfortunately, that also includes the main character who died killing the Emperor of the Empire they were fighting in the entire series.
In Bokurano, the protagonists would be the children that pilot the robot. As such, the show has a lot of protagonists, and guess what? You get to watch them die, one by one, battle by battle. Since the robot is powered by the pilot’s life force, the pilot – thus a protagonist – dies at the end of each battle. Some go out nobly, others not so much. However, where in the manga everyone dies, the anime took a slightly lighter route by letting the youngest female of the group live.
Romeo x Juliet
You can pretty much guess how this one ends by the name alone. While it is a more action-based, sci-fi retelling of the classic Shakespearean tale, it is still a retelling with the same tragic outcome.
While the deaths of the main protagonists in Chrono Crusade aren’t shown, you know they are coming. It is discovered that the source of Chrono’s powers is Rosette’s life force. Thus, every time he uses them, she is closer to death. After the final battle, Rosette only has months to live. As Chrono will disappear when she dies, they both move out to a cabin to live out the rest of their short lives.
Although not as obvious in title as Romeo x Juliet, make no mistake that Basilisk is a reimagining of that same tragic story, but with more ninjas. You have star-crossed love between two enemy clans that becomes even more complicated when it becomes a clan vs clan battle royale for supremacy. For the main star-crossed lovers, it doesn’t end happily.
The end of Cowboy Bebop is left up to heavy interpretation. After his final battle with Vicious, is Spike climbing the stair way to heaven or is he still alive? We may never know, and the creator likes it that way. However, it is pretty safe to assume that he did indeed die.
What are some other anime series where the main character dies at the end? Let us know in the comments section below.
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