You know the feeling. A season of your favorite anime ends, and you sulk about while clicking around looking for new content. Finally, you stumble upon a promising series. The episode starts. The plot seems compelling; characters, decent enough; and the art style looks nice. Then, ten minutes into the episode, the main male protagonist trips on nothing and inexplicably lands with a hand on a girl’s chest. One of the worst anime tropes rears its ugly head, and the anime instantly becomes annoying.
Most anyone who has watched anime for a while will recognize situations like these. All genres of television follow patterns, yes, but anime is different. Within the broader category, there are hundreds of other sub-categories. Under those sub-categories are then hundreds of anime, many with multiple seasons. Due to the massive amount of shows out there, certain actions tend to repeat. Sub-genres like shonen or seinen have common themes and tropes. Many of these can be incredibly positive, like appeals to honor and justice. Others, like the example above, add little value to the show. In fact, they often show up as cheap jokes to fill screen time.
I’ll be going over ten of the most egregious anime tropes. This list is sure to make you wince as you remember anime guilty of these. Let’s see how many you can remember seeing, shall we?
Where are the Parents?
The first time I noticed missing parents was as a little kid playing POKÉMON. Later on, I started to constantly notice it. Keep in mind, this isn’t in reference to orphan characters or characters old enough to live alone. This is the high school student whose parents are just “on a business trip” or “vacationing.” While having an empty house gives protagonists some degree of accountability, it deprives shows of some realism. Teenagers are usually rebellious, especially in anime. Parents and family act as a reasonable check on that rebellious nature. At the very least, the presence of parents creates a contextual barrier between the home and school. For anime like CHARLOTTE that mainly take place in a few places, this can add essential depth to the series.
Beyond that, having characters across different age groups simply makes for better character development. Like teenagers in real life, adolescents in anime have to be able to grow up. Once parents are involved, character development doesn’t just occur internally. Anime tropes like this don’t allow characters to transcend the emotional crutch their family might initially play. Especially when their parents recognize their growth as individuals, this is even more noticeable.
Among anime tropes, this one probably isn’t the absolute worst, but it’s one of my most hated. Villains in shonen anime never stay bad. They almost always have some sort of tragic or confusing backstory. Yet, some way or another, they end up being a good guy or a victim in the end. NARUTO SHIPPUDEN is one anime guilty of this; they literally talk the villains good again. In the middle of a fight, often with multiple dead bodies around them, two characters chat. They scream and yell about feelings, inevitably leading to flashbacks. Then, this previously irredeemable mass-murderer seems faultless. The reasons for this vary, but, usually, a flashback will involve someone close to the villain dying. The grief, as these anime have it, corrupts otherwise decent characters and makes them murderers. Seems legit.
In most cases, turning a villain into a last-minute ally muddles entire arcs. It’s not entirely clear what the protagonist is fighting against when every enemy along the way turns good. In those instances, it’s logically the very last villain in an arc that undergoes the biggest redemption. However, the excitement of the series stems from a sense of opposition. Fans put themselves in their favorite heroes shoes and get excited at the prospect of the villain losing. So once the villain doesn’t lose, those feelings feel cheap and worthless. In many cases, the villain will die after their redemption, making the entire arc a sort of final penance. However, there are also times where a character lives, faces no punishment, and just goes about their business. Just because.
Terrible Power Scaling
This form of shonen anime tropes is the result of giving main characters flashy powerups too often. When the main character is strong, the villains they fight must also be strong. Otherwise, the hero would never struggle and fights would be incredibly boring to watch. However, as result of heroes being involved in more fights than side characters, there are really only a few people getting stronger as the plot progresses. Then, when the show decides to finally use these side characters, they are incredibly weak relative to the enemies they fight.
What some anime will do to handle this is incorporate time skips or have weak side characters fight the main villain’s weaker henchmen. But other anime just randomly make side characters stronger with no logical explanation.
Anime tropes similar to this make stories confusing and annoying. When fights don’t make sense, it’s hard to derive any meaning from them. For example, if a hero loses to a villain, but then his sidekick defeats that villain under similar circumstances, how can the sidekick be weaker than the hero? Repetitions of this inconsistency compound upon each other and can make shows more and more frustrating over time.
Random Sibling Romance
This one is probably the creepiest of all anime tropes. Incest in anime is often coupled with a lack of parents. Rather than simply, I don’t know, have siblings be friendly and love each other as family, plenty of anime roll a bizarre sexual component into the mix. The issue is, most anime seem to have at least realize that normalizing incest isn’t good. Otherwise, the romances would be even less subtle than they already are. Siblings very rarely act on their desires, but they constantly flirt or end up in relatively intimate situations. In the abstract, these situations might seem rather standard. However, like I said earlier, anime often repeats itself. The situations and scenes siblings end up in are indistinct from scenes that two love interests would be in.
These kinds of relationships are almost never remotely central to the plot. Even when they are, they are easily replaced with standard sibling relationships to set a context of trust. As they are now, they add significant discomfort to even the best of anime. This is especially true when there’s a major age gap. When something contributes zero benefits to a series and only scares viewers away, there is no reason to keep it.
White Knight Syndrome
White Knight Syndrome is typically understood as a male protagonist’s fixation on ‘saving the girl.’ This fixation is generally both a product of plot and character design. A male protagonist might be a crime fighter by way of plot, for example, but somehow is constantly saving one particular girl. This is usually a means to end meant to create the requisite pretexts for romance, but it’s incredibly bland. Moreover, it destroys female characters, especially leads.
In slice-of-life shows like NISEKOI, women tend to lose their individuality and power in this arrangement. They may start off as their own character, but they eventually get twisted into various dangers just so the male protagonist can save them. This could be something as basic as being bullied in school, or some emotional trauma. In shonen like JOJO’s BIZARRE ADVENTURE or FATE STAY/NIGHT, the ‘savior’ aspect is a lot more direct. Due to the action-heavy context of many shows, female leads are introduced as someone comparably strong to the main character. But, in order to be consistently saved, they, by necessity, have to be weaker than villains. Simultaneously, the male protagonist has to be able to beat said villain. So transitively, the female lead has to be weaker than the male lead even if she started off strong.
Having representation of female leads in shonen is rare enough as is. There shouldn’t be a constant devaluation of those characters when they exist in an anime. This is one of the worst anime tropes because many fans like it, not the reverse. If anime is to take any small step away from problematic norms, it needs to start with how it handles female characters.
Ah yes, the famous ‘super secret training method’ that only the main character can do. Even though every other character is at least loosely aware of said method, and the person teaching it never uses it. Makes sense.
Shonen manga and anime are super guilty of this particular tropes like this one. Oftentimes, new villains are incredibly strong. This creates a crisis wherein the hero has limited time to get a lot stronger. Instant training refers to situations where the time crunch is added for dramatic effect, but the actual speed and method with which the character gets stronger make little sense.
Sometimes, this method makes perfect sense despite being unorthodox. A classic example of this is Master Roshi’s training in DRAGON BALL. Rather than have a teenage Goku and Krillin fight, lift weights, or practice forms, he makes them work. Like legitimately work on farms. They’re forced to wear heavy (50 pounds!) turtle shells on their backs while delivering milk and tilling land without tools. They run all over the place and get so used to the weight that their base speed improves. This is the better form of speed training.
Then there are shows where people are gifted godly power and just somehow know how to use it as effectively as possible with barely any exploration. The list could go on and on. But suffice to say, this is again a function of shows focusing on a good looking plot rather than a logical one. Ultimately, logical plots give shows longevity. Even if one arc has slightly fewer powerups, it’s very much worth keeping things reasonable if there are many arcs to follow.
The Overpowered Transfer Student
This one is just funny. I hate it, but it’s sort of hilarious. Every anime with this trope involves a school in some regard. The main character is a transfer student to this usually magical or supernatural school. This protagonist is almost always male, has some strange, dark past, amnesia, and is good looking. On his first day of school, he somehow gets into a fight with the strongest student, needs a brief explanation of the weapons used in fights at the school, yet manages to pummel the strongest student anyway. Following that, they train for all of 3 seconds and immediately become the new top dog.
Let’s just list the anime I can think of in 5 seconds with this horrible trope. ASTERISK WAR, BLADEDANCE OF THE ELEMENTALERS, THE IRREGULAR AT MAGIC HIGH SCHOOL, KNIGHTS AND MAGIC, HUNDRED, WORLD BREAK: ARIA OF CURSE FOR A HOLY SWORDSMAN. I’ll stop because there are so many.
After having seen so many shows like this, anime tropes even remotely similar to this one are instant deal breakers for me. I cannot sit through hours of an overpowered protagonist with a harem of girls obsessing over his fake-edgy Hot Topic storefront brand personality. Unfortunately though, because so many anime follow this design, new ones do too. It’s a sort of anime isomorphism that likely would stop if just one show decided to shatter the mold. As things are now, many plots are wasted on poor characters.
I should never be able to stop watching an anime for over a year and not actually miss anything. I understand the need to let manga stay ahead of a weekly anime, but there’s a limit. Filler in anime is generally defined in two ways. Usually, it denotes episodes that are original to the anime and not drawn from the manga. Occasionally, however, filler is a more detailed version of a minor story from the manga. Anime like NARUTO and CASE CLOSED currently hold the records for longest filler arcs. For other shows, like RANMA 1/2 or SHUGO CHARA, there is less filler, but the episodes are way worse. Filler is often either common and barely tolerable, or sporadic and awful.
Filler can be good under certain conditions. It needs to either be funny, compelling, scarce, or some combination of the three. For comedic filler, it can be a nice break from an otherwise serious show. Usually, pure comedy filler arcs are one or two episodes long lest they get stale. For other good filler, it explores an aspect of the plot that was undercovered in the manga or otherwise inconsequential to the main plot. What this means is that good filler bases itself on something that is important and entertaining, but not impactful. This can be a character’s backstory or some kind of training arc. Where anime mess up is when they introduce a bunch of new characters with no development whatsoever.
For many fans, there is a preference for no episode rather than a bad one. The anticipation that builds as you wait for a filler arc to just end can be terrible. Why this is so hated is entirely understandable
The ‘Power of Friendship/Bravery’
The first examples that come to mind with this are the anime-only ending to SOUL EATER and most fights in FAIRY TAIL. Against all odds, a protagonist will somehow power up beyond his limits. He’ll scream about friendship and launch a super move to save the day. It’s a lazy way to make villains lose and invalidates the buildup across an arc. There is no strategy involved, the powerup is extreme, and the victory isn’t gratifying.
Friendship, if it is the ‘reason’ behind a victory, should be the impetus, not the method. An example of this is a massive powerup that requires a sacrifice, as with HUNTER X HUNTER. In that case, protagonist Gon Freecs sacrifices his powers in exchange for one moment of strength that lets him kill his friend’s murderer. This makes more sense, as it gives emotional depth to the moment. If the bond to a friend is so powerful that a character defined by their power is willing to toss everything away, that is a proper powerup. Or, in shows like MOB PSYCHO 100, where the suffering of a friend inspires a timid protagonist to go all out. Personally, I would prefer it if the power of friendship had no place in anime. But if it does, it needs to be done properly.
Fan Service. Yes, all of It
Now, I know some people enjoy fan service, but you’ve got to be honest here. It is completely unnecessary, usually sexist, and ruins shows. Exhibit A is the egregious flashes of underwear or the quintessential skirt in the wind. This anime trope, coupled with the extreme reactions that follow, completely derail what could otherwise be good scenes. Why waste five minutes on fan service when you could show literally anything else? This also extends to beach/spa/hot spring episodes. In the case of shows like GAMERS!, this is often a last episode of the first season. Anime producers make these episodes pornographic to entice some people into buying the uncensored DVD.
This is harmful to anime for a few basic reasons. For one, it’s distracting and usually unexpected. I literally will not watch new anime with friends because I have no idea how much fan service is in it. Usually, it starts with something minor, but before you know it, it’s there every five minutes. Secondly, those distractions detract from the story and give otherwise serious plots sexual overtones. Panning the screen over a woman’s chest while important conversations happen makes it quite obvious the anime doesn’t care much about the conversation.
But finally, the gratuitous sexualization of non-male, or even just non-masculine, characters simultaneously shuts out a host of potential viewers and normalizes bad storytelling for the rest. If someone wants to watch a show that revolves entirely around sexual themes, let them go do that. But keep it out of anime with better scenes to show that actually contribute to plot.
Abandon Terrible Norms!
These terrible anime tropes are common. But the commonality of something bad is no excuse for not getting rid of it. In fact, I would say that these tropes being so ubiquitous is the perfect reason to not want them. If producers would stop making every show semi-pornographic, they actually would avoid creeping out new watchers and probably make more money in the long run. Beyond that, I would like to be able to watch anime on my laptop around others without the constant fear that something unexpected will fill the screen.
Have other tropes that you hate seeing? Let us know in the comments!
Featured image from Crunchyroll.