The main character is often one of the most important components of an anime. This is even more true if they have a dark past or a mysterious background that serves as an introduction to the story.
This trope is easily deployable in many anime as it fits well into many psychological and deep shows.
You will find many popular entries on this list but hopefully, we can provide something new for you to watch.
These are the best anime starring the main character with a dark past according to us.
Table of Contents
22. Utawarerumono – Hakuoro
This anime premiered in 2006 and it begins with a girl called Eruruu who rescues an injured man and welcomes him into her house. He doesn’t even remember his name so he begins to be called Hakuoro.
Nobody knows anything about him, his past and his name are a mystery and also he doesn’t have any ears or tails like everybody else in the village. Hakuoro even wears a mask that cannot remove.
Hakuoro starts to get used to his new life but soon a conflict strikes the village and he is forced to protect the people he loves and also unveil the mysteries of his past.
This franchise was born from a videogame so many characters engage in combat with swords and powerful abilities that are carried into the anime adaptation.
It is a very good adaptation and you should watch it, especially if you played the games.
21. The Fruit of Grisaia – Yuuji Kazami
The Fruit of Grisaia is an anime from 2014 based on the light novel by FrontWing. It’s psychological and dramatic so it’s not for the faint of heart.
The Mihana Academy is a special school that accepts students with special backgrounds and educates them away from the outside world.
Joining this school will be Yuuji Kazami, a former murderer with a dark past who wants to leave his past behind. Here he will find five other female students, making Yuuji the only male in the academy.
The Fruit of Grisaia will be based on the past of these 5 girls, who will gradually open up to Yuuji, confiding in him, who will help them overcome their traumas.
If you want to see an anime where the boy goes to an all-girls school in a psychological and dramatic key, this is excellent advice.
The animation style is also interesting and beautiful to look at, echoing the style of the visual novel from which the anime is based, as well as the narrative structure.
20. Elfen Lied – Lucy
Based on the seinen manga of the same name, Elfen Lied is one of the most talked about works of the 2000s, for better or worse. It’s certainly marked by its visual elements, both violent and sexual.
The story begins in a base, where experiments are conducted on beings called Diclonius. Beings capable of creating vectors, weapons that resemble arms capable of destroying a human being’s body from the inside.
In one of the labs, a guinea pig manages to escape from captivity by exploiting the incompetence of the guards.
But just as she is about to leave the base for good, she receives a violent blow to the head, causing her to fall from a cliff jutting out to sea.
Elfen Lied is a courageous work, which does not mind being raw and violent without putting any censorship on itself.
This is mainly because Lucy, the protagonist with powers, when loses control, and she does so in a big way, using her powers to commit real carnage. And this was certainly because of her dark past, given the terrible experiments that were being done on her.
But even in such a work, there will be no lack of a touch of romance, making it pretty much complete.
19. Classroom of the Elite – Kiyotaka Ayanokoji
Classroom of the Elite is a popular anime released from 2017 onward in multiple seasons.
This anime is set in a seemingly regular school called Koudo Ikusei Senior High School. This particular school has its students ranked in classes from A to D, encouraging them to compete for better positions.
Our main characters are placed in class D, meaning the lower tier. This sparks in them a sense of revenge and motivation to rise to the ranks of the school.
But while this peculiar school system pushes students to want to improve and challenge themselves, inevitably we also have certain side effects.
Students in the lowest ranks end up being bullied and ostracized, contributing to their lack of confidence and dark past material situations.
Other than that, Classroom of the Elite is an anime that makes its fresh and innovative story its strong point while having a more classic school setting.
18. Orange – Naho Takamiya
Orange is a Sci-Fi themed anime combined with romance and the usual psychological elements characteristic of this list, such as depression and social anxiety.
Naho Takamiya receives a letter from her 10-year-old self in the future. At first, Naho thinks it’s a joke, but changes her mind when the events in the letter happen, including the transfer of a new student Kakeru Naruse.
The boy is the main theme of the letter where the request is to treat him with as much love as possible because 10 years from now the boy will lose his life.
The discourse this time is quite intricate, as the character from the dark past is indeed Naho, but from the future, who suffered greatly from Kakeru’s death.
As you may have already well understood, Orange is a real punch in the gut, especially for its finale that spares nobody.
17. Naruto Series – Naruto
No long introduction is needed for Naruto, one of the iconic Shonen Jump big three and one of the most important anime ever.
The events narrated are those of budding ninja Naruto Uzumaki, who carries the burden of being the vessel of the nine-tailed fox, which destroyed the village years earlier.
Because of this, he is ostracized and treated with contempt by the villagers, making his past extremely dark and painful.
His dream is to become Hokage, the leader of the village, and be respected by all.
Naruto is one of the milestones of Japanese animation that everyone should see or at least know about.
It is still to this day one of the archetypes and landmarks for the battle shonen genre, and one of the best anime to watch for beginners, and always will be.
16. Golgo 13 – Golgo
Golgo 13 is the story of an infallible sniper, able to hit any target from almost any distance.
Golgo 13 is the alias the protagonist uses in his work as a hitman. A series of different, often unrelated missions show us his coolness in taking lives. But like any self-respecting story of the genre, Golgo has suffered greatly in his past, making him the cold, taciturn person that he is.
Although the anime focuses more on depicting the incredible abilities of the main character, violence is a recurring theme.
But there will also be very frequent romance moments, making it a very good violent anime with romance.
Golgo 13 is a cult and is ideal for those who love vintage anime, especially those ’80s ultra-violent anime that are now a distant memory.
15. March Comes in like a Lion – Rei Kiriyama
March Comes in like a Lion is a pretty recent anime that came out in 2016 and takes inspiration from the manga written by Chika Umino.
This anime tells the story of Rei Kiriyama, a 17-year-old genius shogi master who decides to live alone in a Tokyo apartment.
Rei is depressed and isolated from the rest of the world given his dark and sad past, and his status in the shogi world contributes to increasing the pressure he receives.
After meeting a trio of sisters, his life will radically change as they will help him to fight his personal battle.
March Comes in Like Lion is a great example of coping with depression and dealing with your emotions and feelings. It is an extremely introspective anime, with beautifully written characters and incredible depth to make other anime envious.
Kiriyama, like other characters, will have tremendous development throughout the story, which will always remain engaging.
It relies a lot on shogi also, with real matches where we will be shown real game techniques, but the real focus is the psychology of the characters, which will also take center stage during the matches.
14. Black Butler – Sebastian Michaelis
A fairly well-known anime consisting of multiple seasons and a large number of episodes. Sebastian Michaelis is the protagonist, a butler of the ancient and powerful London house of the Phantomhive.
He can boast such qualities as a perfect education, good manners, knowledge of martial arts, and other talents in every other area imaginable.
He will be placed in the employ of Ciel Phantomhive, a wayward boy who nonetheless harbors a great secret as will be evident from the succession of strange events that occur.
And Ciel is precisely the character who has a dark and mysterious past, which you will discover as you watch this anime.
The anime is set in an atmospheric alternate Victorian London with dark fantasy elements mainly given the presence of demons to defeat.
Add to this some excellent action scenes, an apt soundtrack, a very appealing character designs, and the entertainment is ready.
13. Bungou Stray Dogs – Atsushi Nakajima
Bungo Stray Dogs is a mystery manga with supernatural elements written by Kafka Asagiri and drawn by Sango Harukawa.
Atsushi Nakajima, the main character, is an orphan boy with a sad and dark past who lives with others like him in an orphanage. After being kicked out of the same, however, he finds himself wandering homeless.
And it is at this time that he rescues a man attempting to commit suicide, one Osamu Dazai, a strange detective who together with his partner Kunikida is part of a detective agency that is peculiar, to say the least.
Indeed, both are endowed with supernatural powers and deal with cases deemed risky for the police force. It is clear that Atsushi’s fate is now linked to that of the 2 investigators.
He thus joins them in solving the particular cases to which they are assigned.
Bungou Stray Dogs is an underrated anime that can offer an excellent combination of investigation, action, and supernatural.
And another of its merits is that, without being a crude or overly mature story, it presents a plot that goes smoothly, without exaggeration or plot armors.
12. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood – Edward Elric
An absolute masterpiece of the battle shonen genre and one of the best fighting anime of all time. Based on the manga written in 2001 by Hiromu Arakawa, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is the animated series that most faithfully deals with the plot told in the original work.
Edward and Alphonse Elric are 2 brothers who live in a world where alchemy reigns and is used for a variety of purposes, whether war, medical, or even related to everyday life.
The siblings have a very specific purpose, which is to regain their lost bodies because of a dark mistake in their past.
When they were young they tried to bring their late mother back to life using alchemy, and it went wrong, since as powerful as this magic is, it can’t go against the laws of nature.
One of the most complete and best anime in general, with a good story, competent MCs, and enviable action scenes completed by very psychological moments.
If you have not seen it yet, this totally is your call to do so, as this is one of the anime that everyone should experience.
11. Chrono Crusade – Chrono
Chrono Crusade is set in the 1920s in New York, with America just emerging from WWI. On the way to apparent prosperity, evil lurks in the shadows in the form of hellish demons.
The Order of the Magdalene, a military organization, was founded to fight this menace. Priests and exorcist nuns are charged with fighting such demons to protect the public order and the world.
The two main characters are Chrono and Rosette, who go steady in this eternal struggle against evil. The particularity? Chrono is a demon, and Rosette is a nun.
It may seem like a simple and light-hearted anime on the surface, focused on action, but it is not at all.
Chrono Crusade hides a sad story of love and loss which will for sure captivate you. Both characters also, with their dark and suffering-filled pasts help contribute to this aspect.
Chrono, as can be guessed, being a good demon unfortunately ends up being ostracized and looked down upon.
Rosette, on the other hand, as it turns out is a demon hunter to find her missing brother, an event that caused her great pain in the past.
10. Trigun – Vash
Dating back to 1998, Trigun stars Vash the Stampede, also known by the dreaded title Humanoid Typhoon. He is a wanted man throughout Gunsmoke, the planet where the events are set.
He is running from the law because he is believed to be behind the destruction of July City, giving him a mysterious vibe and a somewhat controversial past.
Vash, however, is far from a criminal, but instead uses his keen skills to defend those in need, killing only on rare occasions and when strictly necessary.
Trigun is an excellent mix of action with a sci-fi twist, in which masterly developed characters fight strenuously for their ideals.
In addition, its ’90s atmosphere and animation style makes it one of the best anime to watch if you are a fan of vintage.
9. Rurouni Kenshin – Kenshin Himura
A great classic when it comes to samurai-themed anime is Rurouni Kenshin, a 95-episode anime based on the manga of the same name by Nobuhiro Watsuki.
In this drama for proud Japanese warriors, stories of love and conflict evolve that are rare nowadays and make us say this is one of the best historical romance anime.
The protagonist of the series is Kenshin Himura, a legendary warrior who, after helping to depose the Tokugawa shogunate, lives his life protecting people from injustice, and searching for atonement.
In fact, Kenshin is extremely remorseful about his dark past, where he brought extreme violence and bloodshed.
One of the merits of this anime definable as one of the fathers of modern shonen is the realism in the fighting, which takes place without plot armor or friendship powers.
You will feel like you are watching a real samurai fight of the time, clean and honorable.
This anime can be regarded as one of the father of all samurai-themed battle shonen, and the nomination is extremely well deserved
8. Noragami – Yato
An action and fantasy anime with supernatural elements composed of two seasons of 12 episodes each.
The story follows the bizarre duo of Yato, a minor god, and Hiyori Iki, an average schoolgirl. One day, Hiyori saves Yato from a car accident, taking the hit instead of him.
The girl’s soul is not stable anymore and she cannot return to her body and that’s exactly when Yato will start to make everything he can to set things right and save the girl.
If you want some romance and great action, this is the anime for you, even though the setting is nothing special, as it’s used very often in the anime medium.
Yato is the star of the show. He is charismatic and hilarious but we sometimes get a glimpse of his dark past which will each time add a piece to his sad and complex backstory that we do not want to anticipate.
But despite this, we are 200% sure when we tell you that it is a very enjoyable anime that can be very balanced.
7. Mawaru Penguindrum – Shoma, Tanba & Himari Takakura
Mawaru Penguindrum is an anime that came out in 2011 and comes after a decade of absence from the scene for Ikuhara, so it marks a significant turning point for the author.
If someone extremely dear to you were to pass away, what would you do if he or she came back to life, but possessed by another entity that promises to bring your loved one back to life in exchange for a favor?
The initial premise reflects on Shoma and Kanba Takakura, 2 brothers who lose their beloved little sister Himari to an illness. Their surprise is then justified as they see her come back to life via a bizarre penguin-shaped hat.
The girl will not be her in spirit as she is possessed by the Princess of Crystals, who promises the brothers to bring their little sister back to life in exchange for their help in finding the Penguindrum.
Mawaru Penguindrum is an extremely underrated anime, but one with the potential of a true cult following if given the proper recognition.
It shows us a story of loss and finding, with extremely believable brotherly love combined with excellent psychological and action moments and one of the best dominant female leads in the fantasy genre.
All of this is surrounded by a mysterious dark past that connects the 3 siblings together.
6. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures: Golden Wind – Giorno Giovanna
The 5th part of the world-famous anime Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures is set in the city of Naples in Italy and it focuses on Giorno Giovanna and his climbing to the top of the ranks of the Italian Mafia.
His goal is to get to the head of the gang in order to make his beloved city free of drugs and all kinds of underworld, as he has suffered greatly in the past from the mob that ruined his family.
Giorno is one of the most well-known main characters of our time and his Italian roots make him a feared and powerful protagonist. His past wasn’t one of the best as he is the son of Dio Brando and never met him.
But beyond that, JoJo’s entire oeuvre is something that if you haven’t watched yet, you absolutely must catch up on.
His recognizable style even from a single frame, his unforgettable moments, some of the best fighting scenes ever, and of course his quirky being earned him this deserved nomination.
Without exaggeration, JoJo is one of the icons of the anime industry.
5. Gintama – Gintoki
Gintama is one of the most popular and unique anime in recent years, consisting of 357 episodes and based on Hideaki Sorachi’s manga of the same name.
The series follows the adventures of Gintoki, Shimpachi, and Kagura, three boys who make up the Yorozuya handyman agency.
The whole story is set in a world where an alternative ancient feudal Japan has been conquered by aliens and is now confronted with a major technological advancement imposed by the invaders.
Gintama makes demented comedy its strong point, basing entire sagas on utterly silly pretexts and never failing to throw in the laughs. But every now and then, to break the seriousness, we will also have serious, action-packed story arcs.
And trust us when we tell you that although it is 90% comic, when Gintama gets serious, it does it perfectly, with some of the best fighting scenes you’ll ever see.
And these action scenes are often linked to the dark past of Gintoki, one of the legendary samurai linked to the legendary conflict against aliens.
He was known as the white demon, feared and respected by all for his extreme violence. Past that Gintoki, however, wants to leave behind.
4. Hellsing Ultimate – Alucard
The name of the series comes from the homonym secret organization Hellsing, whose duty is to hide the existence of Vampires and to keep the population safe.
It’s financed and supported by the British government and its current leader is Integra Hellsing.
The main character Alucard works for Hellsing as a vampire exterminator, being himself a member of the vampire race. He is supported by his new assistant Seras Victoria, a former policewoman whom he saved in the past.
Integra Hellsing, the current leader of the organization, is worried about a new wave of vampire attacks and the problem seems much bigger than she expected.
The mysterious group called Millenium is plotting to throw England into disarray, and maybe threaten even the entire world.
But why does Alucard fight vampires even though he is a vampire himself? This answer is related to his dark past, which you must discover by watching this anime with your own eyes.
Hellsing Ultimate is an anime recognized by the masses as a small masterpiece. The great representation of London is one of the reasons why it deserves a spot as one of the best anime set in England.
And this is certainly because of its excellent action, its gorgeous and recognizable settings, an excess of gore but that works, and one of the best evil MCs ever.
3. Katanagatari – Shichika Yasuri
Katanagatari is a masterful work by Nisio Issin about samurai and swords, telling the story of a swordsman and a strategian to retrieve the most powerful 12 swords in Japan during the Edo period.
The protagonist Shichika Yasuri is the 7th head of the Kyotōryū family, renowned for its combat style which consists of being able to counter and fight against swords totally with bare hands.
However, Yasuri had to undergo a dark and painful past in order to learn this particular technique. He was viciously trained on a desert island, and even had to kill his father to protect his little sister.
A truly underrated anime, which has enormous potential, given his excellent action moments, stunning style and animation, and incredible OSTs.
2. Berserk – Gatsu
A masterpiece of the dark fantasy and sword and sorcery genres by the notorious mangaka Kentaro Miura, which changed the media forever. Its 1997 anime adaptation is famous for its vintage style and its fitting setting.
Few other works can match this one due to the complexity of its characters and for starring two incredible personalities: Gatsu and Griffith.
The story doesn’t start in the happiest of ways, but it gets even worse as the protagonist Gatsu has a fateful encounter with Griffith, the leader of the Falcons.
Berserk is a milestone in Japanese art and the progressive suffering of Gatsu, a cursed MC which starts from his extremely dark past, is what makes it more realistic and relatable.
The whole plot makes even more sense once you reach a certain point in the story, and you can understand why the background of some characters matters.
The anime relies mainly on its incredible world-building and its very deep psychological side, but the action, when present, will also play its part very well. So the nomination in this list is totally deserved.
1. Cowboy Bebop – Spike Spiegel
Surely Cowboy Bebop doesn’t need much introduction, as we are taking about one of the best anime ever.
It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where Earth is uninhabitable and follows the story of some bounty hunters aboard a spaceship called Bebop.
What makes it even more enjoyable is its worldbuilding, which encompasses almost all of the Solar System.
The adventures of Spike Spiegel, one of the best male leads in a fantasy series ever, and his fellow bounty hunters will show us what we can only dream of, accompanied by a soundtrack that many consider the best ever.
This anime literally has everything. Action, comedy, psychological, deep moments, and badass as well.
But one of the main aspects of this anime, if not the main one, is the deep psychological aspect related to the characters who are members of the crew.
We will see an in-depth look into the dark past of each character, each with their own traumas and skeletons in the closet, which will give incredible characterization to everyone.