The 11 Saddest Anime Shows and Movies

Anime That Bring You the Full Five-Hanky Experience

Not every anime has to have a happy ending — in fact, some of the best ones are designed to be sad. Japanese animators — and, indeed, Japanese culture — have long had a fascination with death, the morose and dealing with anguish and sadness, often yielding beautiful works of art shared and cherished by children and adults alike.

The following list of sad anime might just bring on the tears for reasons other than just broken hearts — although there are plenty of those, too! Explore these great shows and movies featuring some of the most tragic plots and scenes in cinema.

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"Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day" (2011)

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
Courtesy NIS America, Inc.

Jintan's childhood (girl)friend Menma died years ago, and both Jintan and the circle of friends he had at the time, now dissolved, quietly blame themselves for what happened. Now Menma's ghost has returned to Jintan's life — a ghost only he can see, and whose presence demands that he re-establish his old friendships and put her spirit to rest once and for all.

What starts off as a silly comedy about the mechanics of having a ghost for a girlfriend turns by degrees into a story determined to break our hearts, and it more than gets its way by the time it's over.

After its release in 2011, the 11-episode series was followed by a film adaptation in 2013 and a live action television series in 2015, all of which became fan-favorites. Apparently, crying was in back then! 

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"Basilisk" (2005)

The story of "Basilisk" tells the story of "Romeo and Juliet" by way of supernaturally-empowered ninja clans. In this case, the star-crossed lovers in question are the scions of the warring factions, Kouga and Iga, each decked out with a terrifying array of death-dealing abilities.

But the show isn't just about ninja on ninja action; it's also about the way each side has its own loves and loyalties, and how all tenderness and humanity is cruelly destroyed by the war they fight. The live-action adaptation of the same story preserves the doomed romance as well, although the anime expands on it in a number of ways — including showing how more than one generation's chances for happiness have been destroyed.

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"Berserk" (1997)

One of the grimmest and most effectively downbeat anime titles ever realized — and all the more heartbreaking for it — "Berserk" adapted from an equally bleak and powerful manga series.

In it, a lone swordsman named Guts joins the mercenary army known as the Hawks under the command of a charismatic and ambitious young man called Griffith who will do anything to achieve his dream of creating his own kingdom — even if it means making a Faustian deal with the underworld and sacrificing his own friends in the process.

The three-way relationship that unfolds between Guts, Griffith and Griffith's right-hand-woman Casca is among the very best of its kind in anime, and also one of the saddest. 

Awesomely enough, the show returned for its second iteration in 2016 as a sequel to the title's "Golden Age Arc" film trilogy. So if you're still in the mood for some sad anime after you finish the original run, tune in to the first season of the new show!

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"5 Centimeters Per Second" (2007)

A cherry blossom falls at approximately five centimeters per second and in this film, it's used as a way to evoke the subtle distances that appear between people who thought they were close. This one-hour animation by director Makoto Shinkai interweaves three stories about love and loss in the modern world. 

Paired with Shinkai's trademark gorgeous imagery and understated storytelling, the tragedy isn't entirely without reward. There are emotional payoffs throughout, but the biggest hammer drops at the end, and if that one doesn't bring tears, very little will.

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"Grave of the Fireflies" (1988)

Studio Ghibli is typically synonymous with sunny, upbeat entertainment suitable for all ages, but "Grave of the Fireflies" is a wrenching exception. Adapted from Akiyuki Nosaka's quasi-autobiographical novel, it deals with a boy and his little sister who flee to the countryside in the last days of World War II when the firebombing of Tokyo destroys their home.

However, they are not suited to surviving on their own, and the indifference of their fellow man soon takes its toll on both of them. "Heartwrenching" doesn't begin to sum it up. And to think this sobering meditation on the horrors of war was originally planned as a double feature with the sweetness-and-light of "My Neighbor Totoro!"

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"No Longer Human" (2009)

Osamu Dazai's bleak, quasi-autobiographical novella "Ningen Shikkaku" — "No Longer Human" or "Disqualified from Being Human" in the English literal translation of the title — has been a nonstop bestseller in Japan since it first appeared in 1949, shortly before the author's suicide.

Commissioned as one of a number of recent anime adaptations of classical Japanese literature in the anime series "Aoi Bungaku" ("Blue Literature"), the four-episode series combines an evocation of Japan in the 1920s and '30s with phantasmagorical imagery.

A good point of reference for this story might be the American film so anyone looking for a happy ending should steer clear. But as far as downer experiences go, it's one of the most effective and stylishly-visualized out there.

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"Now and Then, Here and There" (2002)

This show has the basic outlines of an adventure romp: a scrappy kid is transported into a parallel world where life is hardscrabble and violent. But the tone of the show is startlingly dark and downbeat. This may be one of the bleakest anime made for a mainstream (i.e., non-art-house) audience.

Well worth the ride with some remarkable animation and production design, you most likely will need to be in a very good mood to survive the whole, grim thing.

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"Rurouni Kenshin: Seisou-hen" (1999)

This standalone feature film, set after the events of the TV series, does one thing and does it well — it takes the characters from the show and subjects them to a story of such unremitting tragedy that it borders on cruel and unusual punishment.

It's best for existing fans of the show who don't mind being given anything but a happy ending, but to that degree, it works, and the film operates with merciless efficiency.

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Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen (1999)

Where "Seisou-hen" was a sequel, "Tsuioku-ken" is a prequel that's also known to U.S. audiences as "Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal." The story tells how Himura Kenshin became Battousai, the emotionless assassin of the anti-Shogunate revolutionary forces of premodern Japan.

It is a devastating story in every respect, where a man with no heart finds he has one, only to realize that to have a heart means you now have one more thing that can be wounded. Or cut out of you entirely.

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"Shiki" (2010)

"Shiki" is nominally a horror series — and rightfully so. It's hard to see what other labels you could apply to a story about a family of vampires who settle in a little town nestled away in the Japanese countryside and turn it into their playground. 

What's most surprising is how the show evolves from a basic Gothic horror setup into full-blown tragedy, in part by toying with our sympathies. By the end of the show, we've witnessed an astonishing reversal: the "innocent" townsfolk being preyed on turn out to have just as much capacity for evil as the vampires do, and the "monsters" are revealed to be more sympathetic than we might believe. 

The end result is not just horror — although there is a lot of that, be warned) — but sadness as well. This is remarkable in that it's something far more nuanced and moving than most horror anime ever achieve.

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"Texhnolyze" (2003)

Easily the bleakest and saddest anime ever made, "Texhnolyze" was first released in Japan in 2003. It's set in a giant dystopian city where an underground prizefighter loses his limbs after insulting a crime lord and has them replaced with artificial substitutes that turn him into a one-man vengeance machine — inasmuch as getting vengeance in their world would actually amount to anything.

Unremittingly sad, but not unrewarding, this series has a beauty to its darkness, and you can't say the ending, for all its hopelessness, doesn't also contain a measure of redemption. We would not, however, recommend binge-watching this series — it really is quite sad!