Not all anime arcs wrap up with a totally happy ending. In series’ darkest moments, insurmountable obstacles often appear, and some issues can only be resolved if beloved characters gets hurt. Many anime heroes die trying to solve such problems, and it takes a particularly brave spirit to walk knowingly into mortal peril.
While a lot of heroic anime sacrifices involve a loss of life, some characters survive, but surrender something of equal importance to get the job done. While Madoka Kaname of Puella Magi Madoka Magica gains power after she become a deity, the transformation obliterates her closest relationships, as she loses all ties to the human world.
Whether they occur in action-packed shonen stories or heart-wrenching romances, the best anime character sacrifices feature high stakes. The fate of the world often hangs in the balance, but it can be just as exciting to watch a character give up everything to protect the person they care the most about.
Neji Hyuga Throws Himself In Front Of His Cousin In ‘Naruto’
Out of all the heroic sacrifices in Naruto, Neji Hyuuga’s is perhaps the most jarring, as he gives up his life to save his family and friends.
During a battle against the Ten-Tails, Naruto is nearly impaled by a vicious attack. With the show’s hero down for the count, Hinata comes to his aid, determined to defend Naruto until the bitter end.
Neji isn’t ready to see his cousin perish, so he stands in front of her and takes brunt of the beast’s attack. As he dies, he tells Naruto to appreciate Hinata’s dedication, and alludes to the time Naruto helped him overcome some problems he’d had with the complicated Hyuuga family.
Neji’s death is devastating, as it’s legitimately heroic and totally voluntary. Neji could have easily escaped while Ten-Tails had its way with Naruto, but he instead chose to give up his life so his friends might live on.
Portgas D. Ace Dies Shielding Luffy In ‘One Piece’
During a battle with the Marines, Portgas D. Ace finds himself in a fight he can’t win. Although his fire abilities make him largely resistant to burns, he can’t stand up to magma, which flows freely from the wicked Admiral Akainu.
From the first moments of their battle, Ace knows he’s outmatched. However, when Akainu turns his attention to Ace’s adopted brother Luffy, the pirate sacrifices himself to protect his family.
As Akainu hurdles towards Luffy, Ace steps into the line of fire, and a magma fist goes straight through his torso. He survives just long enough to thank his fellow pirates for loving him. His death marks one of the saddest moments in One Piece.
Vegeta Self-Destructs To Try And Save The World In ‘Dragon Ball Z’
Midway through the Majin Buu Saga, Vegeta sacrifices his life to try and take down his horrific pink adversary. At first, Vegeta attempts to defeat Buu by beating him to a pulp. When he realizes Buu is far too powerful, he decides to end things using Final Explosion, a self-destruction technique that kills its user.
Vegeta’s suicide marks one of the most painful moments in Dragon Ball Z. At the start of the series, Vegeta is totally evil, so his sacrifice shows just how much his character has grown and matured. Before he goes off to meet his demise and save the planet, he hugs his son Trunks for the first time.
Unfortunately, the explosion he causes isn’t enough to permanently kill Buu, who soon regenerates and continues wreaking havoc on the planet. While Vegeta’s sacrifice didn’t save the day, he tried his best, and his efforts are truly courageous.
Greed Learns To Be Generous In ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’
While anime heroes regularly sacrifice themselves for the greater good, the same can’t be said for villains, who are typically self-motivated or narcissistic. This is doubly true when the antagonist is the living embodiment of avarice, which is exactly why Greed’s final moments in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are so impactful.
For most of the series, Greed lives like a parasite inside Ling’s body, and uses him to do whatever he wants. The two start off as enemies, but slowly develop a friendship, and shockingly, Greed seems to genuinely care about his human host.
When Father, another homunculus, tries to kill and absorb Greed in order to gain his power, Greed severs his physical connection to Ling so he doesn’t get consumed as well. Had he not expended energy saving Ling, he might have been able to fight Father off. Instead, he prioritizes saving his companion’s life in a bizarre act of generosity.
Lelouch Lamperouge’s Master Plan Is A Sacrifice In ‘Code Geass’
The entire plot of Code Geass is one long heroic sacrifice on Lelouch Lamperouge’s part. His goal is to protect his helpless younger sister Nunnally, and create a world where she can be happy and safe.
Lelouch gives up his comfortable life as a student at Ashford Academy to engage in dangerous terrorist activities. His goal is to take down the Brittainian government and return control of Japan to the Japanese people.
As the fighting intensifies, Lelouch makes a terrible choice. He becomes a tyrant who both nations can hate, in hopes that the two sides will come together to destroy him, then live in harmony. He sacrifices his own happiness, and his life, for the prospect of peace.
Lucy Heartfilia Cuts Ties With Her Childhood Friend In ‘Fairy Tail’
Ever since she was a child, Lucy Heartfilia has been close with Aquarius, who is a Celestial Spirit and one of the 12 Golden Zodiac Keys. When she was little, Lucy summoned the spirit to play with her, but as an adult, she calls her forth to help out in battle.
While taking on Tartaros, a group of Fairy Tail villains, Lucy realizes she can only defeat them if she summons the Celestial King. To do that, Lucy has to smash the celestial key that preserves the bond between her and Aquarius.
Destroying the key will ensure victory, but Lucy will never be able to see Aquarius again. While no one dies, Lucy’s decision to permanently end her friendship for the greater good is remarkably heroic.
Hannes Stops Mikasa And Eren From Being Eaten In ‘Attack On Titan’
Hannes doesn’t fit into the conventional anime hero mold, but he puts his life on the line when it matters most. Before the Titans commenced their attack on the town of Zhiganshina, Hannes spent most of his time drinking, and was little more than a societal leech.
However, when Hannes sees a Titan going after Eren, Mikasa, and Carla, he does everything he can to ensure their survival. He can’t save Carla, who is trapped under the debris from her destroyed house, but he does manage to get Eren and Mikasa out of harm’s way.
Hannes prioritizes their safety over his own, which leaves him open to attack, and he’s soon eaten by the ravenous Titan. Death is a daily reality in Attack on Titan, but his unexpected sacrifice deserves special acclaim.
Yuzuru Otonashi Dies Saving Other People In ‘Angel Beats’
In the final moments of his life, Yuzuru Otonashi never stops to consider his own wellbeing. After he’s gravely injured in a train accident, he uses the remainder of his strength to help as many of the other crash survivors as he can.
This noble act comes at the cost of his own convalescence, and before long, he’s passed on into the afterlife setting of Angel Beats.
Otonashi’s final act of selflessness isn’t truly felt until after his death, as before he perishes, he signs a waver that allows doctors to harvest his organs. In Japan, it’s extremely rare for people to agree to organ donation. Whether it was his parents choice or his own, overcoming cultural reluctance to save lives is a major act of heroism.
Madoka Kaname Gives Up Her Humanity In ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’
Most of the time, Madoka Kaname sits back and watches while her friends risk their lives fighting witches. She can’t decide if she wants to be a magical girl, as she doesn’t know what she’d wish for in exchange for her service, and she’s not sure the perks justify the inherent danger.
After repeatedly seeing her friends suffer in the pursuit of witch-killing, Madoka sacrifices her humanity to put a stop to the main antagonists of Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Madoka becomes a magical girl, and wishes for history to be rewritten so that witches never existed. In doing so, she becomes a god-like being, but permanently loses her status as a normal human. She may be powerful, but she’ll never be able to interact with her friends and family again.
Rem Allows Herself To Be Tricked In ‘Death Note’
As a shinigami, Rem is not allowed to intentionally extend a human’s life, as it’s an offense punishable by death. However, when Light Yagami puts Misa Amane in danger, Rem breaks this rule by killing L and Watari to save her.
Light is counting on Rem’s feelings clouding her judgment, and the shinigami’s decision to intervene plays right into the self-proclaimed god’s hands.
When Rem dies, she’s fully aware of Light’s manipulative actions, as he routinely tries to control pretty much everyone in Death Note. She could have easily let Misa die, but she willingly sacrifices herself out of love for the human girl.
Killing L and Watari isn’t necessarily heroic from a plot perspective (since they’re both working for the good of society), but Ren’s sacrifice is still inarguably noble, as she gives up her life to protect a loved one.
Kittan Bachika Volunteers For A Suicide Mission In ‘Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann’
During the Anti-Spiral War Arc, Kittan and the rest of Team Gurren become trapped in a dense space sea produced by the Death Spiral Machine.
In order for them to escape, someone or something needs to go out and destroy the horrific device. This is easier said than done, as the machine is surrounded by a near-impenetrable force field.
After an outward assault fails, Kittan volunteers to fly inside the Death Spiral Machine’s defenses, destroy the shield, then launch a missile at its core. Even if the space sea’s extreme gravity doesn’t kill him, the resulting explosion definitely will (and does).
When anime characters are faced with their immanent demise, they typically use their final moments to deliver flowery emotional speeches. During his departure, Kittan subverts this trope by remarking, “I ain’t gonna say some showy crap like, ‘Later buddy!'”
Kittan dies on his own terms, and saves most of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann’s other heroes in the process.
Yukishiro Tomoe Protects Her Husband In ‘Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal’
When Yukishiro Tomoe first meets Himura Kenshin, she intends to spy on him so she can one day exact her revenge. When Kenshin was still a blood-thirsty warrior, he killed her fiance, Akira, and Tomoe aims to settle the score.
While she’s plotting Kenshin’s death, Tomoe ends up falling in love with him, as he has changed his ways prior to the start of Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal. However, Tomoe’s superiors expected her to fall in love with Kenshin, and hoped his love for her would soften him up and make him easier to kill.
The group tries to take Kenshin out on several occasions, and during the final battle of the show, it looks like they might succeed. Just when all seems lost, Tomoe stops the leader of the assassins from landing a killing blow. Sadly, she is murdered in the process.
Ichiro Inuyashiki Blows Up A Meteor (And Himself) In ‘Inuyashiki’
At first, the elderly Ichiro Inuyashiki is an extremely unlikely protagonist. However, that all changes when his consciousness is uploaded into a robot that comes equipped with alien weaponry. Before the transformation, he focused on his job, his family, and his cancer diagnosis, but soon after Inuyashiki begins, he’s forced to contend with epic space battles.
As a meteor careens towards Earth, Ichiro realizes the only way to save the planet is to use his self-destruct function. For perhaps the first time ever, society appreciates this meek salaryman, as his sacrifice allows human life to continue.
Chiriko Takes His Enemy Out With Him In ‘Fushigi Yuugi’
Chiriko is only 13 years old, but his sacrifice demonstrates a degree of courage that’s notably absent in many of the show’s adults.
When a Seiryuu warrior named Miboshi takes over Chiriko’s body using a summoned beast, the two become physically linked. At first, Chiriko is forced to attack his allies, but he eventually breaks the cycle by attacking his own body, as his self-mutilation also harms Miboshi.
In the world of Fushigi Yuugi, healing magic exists, but Chiriko knows any aid he receives will also benefit Miboshi. Because of this, he refuses treatment, and dies along with the villain.
Armin Gets Burned To A Crisp To Distract The Colossal Titan In ‘Attack On Titan’
Due to his quick-thinking and intelligence, Armin is able to come up with a plan to defeat the Colossal Titan during the Return to Shiganshina arc. But it came with a gruesome sacrifice. In order to weaken his body and allow Eren the chance to take him down, Armin attaches himself to the Colossal Titan’s teeth while he emits heat from his body. During that time, Armin suffers a painful sacrifice as the searing heat scorches his body. No one would have the guts to do what Armin did, making him one of the bravest heroes on Attack on Titan.
Erwin Gives Up On His Dreams To Defeat The Beast Titan In ‘Attack On Titan’
During the Uprising arc, it is revealed why Erwin Smith joined the Survey Corps in the first place. Feeling guilty for the death of his father, he yearned to get closer to the truth about the titans. His end goal was to get to Eren’s basement and finally uncover the truth about their world. But in a battle against the Beast Titan that seemed destined to fail, he sacrifices his life-long dreams to give humanity a chance at winning. Although he died before finding out what was in the basement, he became the Survey Corp’s most honorable and heroic commander.