I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t usually have time for child characters in any form of media, but I find that child characters in anime usually range from forgettable to absolutely headache inducing. However, there are a handful of them that break this trend and lift the rest of the cast up with them. Used well, these kids can even become the emotional core of the show.
Here are some of my all-time favourite child characters in anime, including traumatic classics and more modern examples of how kids can still have agency and drive in fiction.
Nanako Dojima in Persona 4: The Animation
The moment Nanako appeared on screen for the first time in Persona 4, I rolled my eyes and hoped that she would play a minimal role in the rest of the game. I was wrong to think this, though, both because she becomes one of the central characters in the plot and because, by the end, I would have died for that little girl.
Nanako portrays the subtle trauma of a neglected child better than most fictional characters I’ve seen, but the game also gives you multiple opportunities to build your relationship with her in a really organic, natural way.
While Nanako might be best known for her appearance in Persona 4’s original video game incarnation, I am including her not just because she’s a great character — but because one of the anime-only moments, where she assumes the identity of Magical Detective Love Line, is just glorious.
Anya Forger in Spy x Family
Spy x Family has exploded in popularity recently, even among our staff, and with good reason. Not only are both Yor and Loid legit snacks, but the show also has one of the best child characters in anime with little Anya Forger. This telepath with a still undisclosed past and an overactive imagination is the real star of the show, with everyone else fighting for what bits of the spotlight are left over when she is done.
More than anyone else, Anya is the driving force behind the show. She is the one who brings Loid and Yor together. She is the one who bears the responsibility for Operation Strix succeeding or failing. She has to survive Yor’s cooking. All while she continues to be one of the most unhinged and chaotic characters of this anime season. Anya Forger is fantastic.
Eri from My Hero Academia
One of the worst tropes is when a child character in anime becomes a McGuffin to be either killed or saved depending on the actions of the good guys for dubious plot reasons. And that is really what Eri appears to be during the fourth season of My Hero Academia. She is very cute, yes, but she doesn’t do much aside from simply being something for the heroes to rescue. Though she does help Deku unlock the Infinite 100% One For All form that made the climactic fight of that arc one of the best the series has offered.
That is, until the second half of the season when the School Festival is underway. Eri sticks around, and we see the heroes try to unpick the trauma that she has suffered at the hands of Overhaul through the years. As a result, she goes from being something that exists only to serve the plot to a small person with a lot of baggage.
It’s such an effective turnaround that seeing her smile during the musical performance in this arc is one of my favourite moments in the show thus far. There is a sense of realism in the way the show depicts both her suffering and her slow recovery that elevates her above most child characters in anime.
Honorable Mention: Nina Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist
Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Still too soon to discuss this one for me.
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