15 Best Seinen Anime Characters & Protagonists Of All TimeThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
To this day, many still equate shounen as anime (or manga) featuring only big battles and superpowers.
On the other hand, seinen is incorrectly viewed as any show focused on dark, violent, or psychological themes — but this is completely wrong.
Seinen is any work primarily marketed to older teen guys (as compared to the young male teens for shounen) and adult men.
Thus, such an anime series can be violet or full of comfy, cute goodness.
Now, there are a lot of great seinen characters in anime. But the following individuals are my all-time favorites.
Anime: Hellsing Ultimate
I did say that seinen isn’t always about dark, violent stories.
But Hellsing Ultimate has such an amazing MC. In a world where evil runs rampant and is adamant about the decimation of humanity, a vampire becomes the main weapon of hope.
Alucard isn’t your ordinary vampire (or evil-looking protagonist):
Also known as The Impaler and Son of the Devil, he’s considered the strongest living vampire — and no one in the show can match his power level.
He’s cruel, but there’s also a more vulnerable side to him.
Lastly, his character design is iconic to the point that an MMORPG I play has custom equipment inspired by his look, particularly his orange sunglasses.
14. Shotaro Kaneda
These days, it’s common for people to first know about the “Tetsuo!” and “Kaneda!” lines before they see the legendary 1988 film they came from.
Akira stars Shotaro Kaneda, gang leader of the Capsules, a notorious group based in Neo-Tokyo that’s always up against the Clowns.
But this isn’t just about Kaneda’s gang activities and his motorcycle (that’s been part of pop culture for decades now).
The film showcases just how much he values loyalty and the important people in his life, that he’s not just a prideful, courageous, and often reckless teenager.
13. Arsene Lupin III
Anime: Lupin III
Lupin III is one of the longest-running and prolific seinen franchises in anime.
It was released in 1971, so we’re pushing past 50 years.
So what’s to love about Arsene Lupin III?
He’s the greatest gentleman thief there is.
Lupin III often looks like he has no idea what to do, but that’s just a disguise for his brilliant ways. He’s always eager to use all sorts of gadgets and scientific knowledge to stop the truly violent and appalling criminals.
Granted, he still gets into trouble because of his attraction to Fujiko Mine, but that’s really his only major flaw.
12. Shinichi Izumi
Anime: Parasyte -the maxim-
Madhouse these days isn’t the sought-after studio for action-heavy anime adaptations. Seven years ago, however, the studio surprised everyone with Parasyte, which has a source material dating back to 1989.
The central character is Shinichi Izumi, a 16-year-old guy who becomes Migi’s target.
Unfortunately for the parasitic alien, he couldn’t completely overtake Shinichi, leading to an unusual path to coexistence.
In 24 episodes, Shinichi undergoes so much character development that I’d argue is one of the best developments of all time.
If you’re looking for a seinen MC who can deliver in both character and capacity to defeat deadly extraterrestrial foes, all the while contesting philosophical issues, Shinichi is your guy.
Anime: Hozuki’s Coolheadedness
The series itself has been volatile in its production: Wit Studio adapted the first season, but Studio Deen and Pine Jam came into play for the second season and the OVA.
Nevertheless, Hoozuki was consistently entertaining.
Who knew that being a deputy for the king of hell could be so interesting?
Hoozuki is a lean, sadistic, and relatively attractive entity. His wit is unmatched in hell — the authority figures he puts to shame develop a fear of him Hoozuki.
And even though he can be violent (both physically and mentally), Hoozuki loves animals, is a gentleman, and a highly reliable negotiator.
10. Kaguya Shinomiya
Anime: Kaguya-sama: Love is War
Kaguya-sama: Love is War is considered one of the new big three in anime alongside Re:Zero and Attack on Titan — and the female MC is a big reason why.
As the vice president of the student council, Kaguya Shinomiya is popular among the student body. Just as much as the SC president, Miyuki Shirogane. Everyone thinks they’re the perfect couple.
But there’s a problem:
They’re not yet a couple, and Kaguya will only date Miyuki if he confesses first.
I love how the series presents her complex thought process (sometimes by court cases taking place in her mind), and it’s delightful to witness how Kaguya becomes more trusting and accepting of how she feels.
One cool trivia fact about Kusuriuri (or the Medicine Seller) is that his first appearance was in the 2006 anime called Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror.
But if you really want to know him better, check out Mononoke.
In the series, you’ll see how different he is — even compared to other anime protagonists.
His design alone is distinct: pale white skin, a hint of purple on his lips, a teal kimono, a golden amulet, and sharp blue eyes.
Mononoke won’t show the full history of the protagonist, which is ironic given that Kusuriuri needs to deeply examine the nature and very being of mononoke before he can exorcise them with his sword.
If that’s not cool enough, the usually calm Kusriuri can transform into an intimidating, white-haired, and golden kimono-wearing entity.
Plus, he has a collection of feudal erotic art, which he’s ashamed about.
There are other anime characters synonymous with despair and suffering: Shinji, Eren, and Subaru are all guys who live a life of pain and regret.
However, I’m sure many Berserk fans will argue that Guts wins the MC-in-despair content by a mile.
Lackluster CGI ruined the potential of the 2016 Berserk adaptation. But even there, Guts remained to be a formidable warrior and protagonist.
Like Akira and Lupin III, he’s one of the most popular seinen MCs out there — and the best thing is that his journey is far from over.
This brawny, complex, and cynical yet compassionate man is well worth the attention and admiration.
7. Jean Otus
Anime: ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.
In 2017, Madhouse released its adaptation of ACCA, an anime that barely got attention from the general anime community — but it was something made for fans like me.
Jean Otus, with his alluring blue eyes, just oozes coolness and mystery.
Thanks to the color palette, background art, and consistent animation quality, ACCA made Jean so fun to watch even when he’s only looking afar, smoking again and again, which actually matters in the story.
And I’m a big fan of his character design.
It’s rare to see a protagonist like him in anime. Someone who plays the role of an MC well, but also doesn’t appear like he’s desperately clinging to it.
6. Renge Miyauchi
Anime: Non Non Biyori
If someone tells you that seinen is all about the dark side of life, point them to Non Non Biyori, one of the all-time best slice-of-life seinen titles out there — and its MC is the small, ultra-adorable girl Renge.
The anime proves that young adult men also need a show that can help them relax and find reprieve from work, school, or family.
Renge is an ordinary kid living in the Japanese countryside.
And sometimes, you deserve to be reminded of the more peaceful days. Of your childhood, when the world was big and everything piqued your interest.
If anything, Renge helps me remember that growing old doesn’t mean you have to get rid of childlike wonder. Maybe that life is all the better when you still appreciate the small, mundane moments and ordinary things.
5. Satoru Fujinuma
A-1 Pictures really hit it out of the park with the adaptation of ERASED in 2016.
The way the first episode changed its aspect ratio by the end made everyone eager for the next episode — and Satoru Fujinuma is a deeply inspiring individual.
Whether he was in the present or past, he was always pushing himself to help others (thankfully, others do the same for him as well).
ERASED has two of my all-time favorite emotional moments in anime, and both feature Satoru choosing to see wrongdoing and fighting against it rather than turning a blind eye.
His life probably didn’t turn out the way he wanted. But I’m sure he’s happy with his decisions.
4. Johan Liebert
Yes, the main antagonist of the 74-episode masterpiece from Madhouse is one of the best characters in seinen history.
Johan Liebert is truly a monster. Someone who represents the evil humanity is capable of.
I don’t think Monster would be as captivating as it is without a well-written villain like him.
You can’t help but be impressed (and terrified) of his cunning, evil ways — Johan is a master manipulator.
He’s the embodiment of nihilism, conveniently wrapped by his charismatic and bright facade. I know the series is old and hard to come by, but Johan Liebert’s presence alone is a big reason to look for Monster.
3. Motoko Kusanagi
Anime: Ghost in the Shell
Out of all the “classic” figures in seinen anime (i.e., those who are from old shows), Motoko Kusanagi is my favorite.
Like Akira, she quickly comes to mind the moment someone mentions Ghost in the Shell.
Major Matoko is a unique cyborg with top marks in hacking, physical combat, and leadership. Due to her completely cybernetic form and the crime-filled world she’s in, she’s also confronted with the nature of life, identity, and purpose.
Sure, the CGI ONA from Netflix last year embraced 3DCGI and lost some of the brilliance of the better GitS entries… but it’s nice to know that the franchise is well and alive — with Motoko still at the helm.
2. Rei Kiriyama
Anime: March Comes in Like a Lion
March Comes in Like a Lion only came out in 2017. But those 44 episodes (as of this writing) have shown how exceptional Rei Kirimiyama is as a fully realized person, not just a mere fictional 2D guy.
Thanks to the top-notch source material and Shaft animation, Rei’s internal struggles and deep anxieties in life are clearly illustrated with the utmost respect.
He’s a flawed person, and it’s so heartwarming (and sometimes, heartbreaking) to see him fight against the tide of childhood trauma, social exclusion, and pessimism. No matter how difficult it is.
Rei has made me reflect on my own troubles, and I can’t thank him enough for it.
At the end of the day, it’s Ginko who stands at the top of my seinen characters list.
Similar to Non Non Biyori, Mushishi is a slice-of-life iyashikei seinen series — except that it has supernatural and mystery elements.
Like Renge, Ginko serves as the viewer’s guide to life.
Instead of just celebrating the wonders of childhood and comforting mundanities of daily life, however, the goal has a more philosophical nature.
Through Ginko’s adventures in trying to decipher the nature of the various mushi, viewers also begin to contemplate on existence, on human existence in relation to other lifeforms. And overall, to contemplate nature and the universe.
Ginko is sort of the arbiter between humanity and mushi.
And each episode makes you think about every living being’s basic need to survive and coexist in an ever-changing world.
I love his laid-back personality and underlying wit and empathy.
He’s one of a kind, like everyone else — and it’s a nice feeling to be special-yet-ordinary at the same time.