In this article:
- Many anime tropes fall into two categories: hits or misses. While a well-executed trope helps streamline the story and fleshes it out, badly executed tropes can be cliche at best and embarrassing to watch with other people at worst.
- Though many of these anime tropes are found in other forms of media, anime is especially known for them because of how exaggerated the tropes are played out.
- Wherever possible, this list includes examples of anime shows with good and/or fresh takes on a trope.
You don’t have to know that tropes exist to notice them. If you watch enough shows, read enough books, or play enough games in a certain genre, you’re bound to notice patterns in the way a story is told.
These patterns are called tropes, a narrative template that acts as a shorthand to tell us something about a character’s personality, how their fictional world works, and what story beats we can expect while watching.
Because of how commonplace they are, some fans think that anime tropes are inherently bad and take away from a show’s originality. That said, anime tropes are just tools for telling a story and their inclusion in a show doesn’t necessarily mean that show is bad.
Popular Anime Tropes (And the Shows That Do Them Well)
1. The Self-Insert Protagonist
Anime with self-insert protagonists: Amnesia (2013), Sword Art Online (2012), Fushigi Yuugi (1995)
Relatable male protagonists are the bread and butter of shounen anime, but in recent years, the lovable underdog has been steadily replaced by the self-insert protagonist.
A common fixture in isekai anime, the self-insert protagonist is such a bland template that seeing an unassuming male character with dark hair in an anime is a dead giveaway that you can expect gratuitous fanservice
What makes a character a self-insert boils down to how other characters interact with him, what his personality is like, and his outlook on life. The quintessential self-insert anime character is a social outcast who has no skills and is either mildly depressed or a carefree slacker.
Despite his lack of charm or any overt redeeming qualities beyond being “nice”, he ends up surrounded by a bunch of women who are out of his league and yet are interested in him because plot reasons.
The self-insert female protagonist isn’t much better. Instead of being a social outcast, she’s often either a shy girl or a happy klutz. Either way, she has a habit of eating too much and thinking she’s ugly – a problem that’s only fixed when men start fighting over her.
Kakegurui (2017) gets around this by letting the self-insert character blend into the background so that other characters can shine. My Dress-Up Darling (2022) could have had a self-insert protagonist if not for Gojo’s intense passion for making hina dolls.
2. The Omnipotent Student Council
Anime with omnipotent student councils: Revolutionary Girl Utena (1999), Kakegurui (2017), Angel Beats (2010), Best Student Council (2005)
The omnipotent, or at least, very powerful, student council is one of the most common anime tropes for shows set in high school.
Typically, the omnipotent student council’s members are the school’s “best” students and excel in academics, sports, art, or gambling. It’s not uncommon for them to be rich and/or be descended from prestigious families.
When an anime has a powerful student council, teachers and other staff are functionally non-existent and don’t participate in operating the school. Instead, it’s the student council president whose word is law.
The trope admittedly doesn’t make sense in many shows, but in Revolutionary Girl Utena (1999) the plot only works if the student council is unbelievably powerful since the council acts as the show’s main antagonists.
Kakegurui (2017)’s student council works because its members are part of rich and politically influential families and graduated former council members help them enforce Life Plans.
3. Suddenly Powerless Damsels
Anime with suddenly powerless damsels: Sword Art Online (2012), Fushigi Yuugi (1995), Naruto (2002)
Some anime tropes are harder to pin down and the useless female love interest is one of them. This trope comes in multiple flavors.
First, you have the female character who starts out strong but later becomes useless because the show needs to make the male lead look good by giving him a chance to save her.
You can see this in Sword Art Online (2012) where Asuna starts as one of the strongest swordsmen in the game until the arrival of Kirito who needs a reason to be her savior.
Another variant is the female love interest who’s useless from the start. This overlaps more with the self-insert female protagonist since it’s a very passive role. Fushigi Yuugi (1995)’s Miaka Yuki’s only skills are breathing, eating, and ending up in dangerous situations that her reverse harem has to save her from.
This trope is wonderfully subverted in the Black Butler anime and manga when Elizabeth Midford is revealed to be a fencing prodigy who only hid her “true self” from the male lead because he flat out tells her that he hates women who are stronger, taller, and, generally speaking, better than him.
The reveal comes after he routinely mocks her girly behavior.
4. Tiptoeing Around the Romance
Anime where they drag out the romance: Special A (2008), Toradora! (2008), Your Lie in April (2014), Kaguya-sama: Love Is War (2019)
High school romance animes are cute, but what isn’t fun about them is how long it takes for the characters to acknowledge the fact that they like each other.
So, in shows like Toradora! and Special A, the lead male and female characters act like they lowkey hate each other despite the palpable romantic tension in the room.
In shows where the romance drags, the characters only confess to each other when another character becomes a romantic rival or they learn by some other accidental means. This is typically done to maximize tension so that when they finally admit their feelings, the audience is left shouting in relief.
But in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War!, the convoluted romance is all part of a game.
Shirogane and Kaguya already know they like each other. It’s just a matter of who confesses first. Neither side wants to admit defeat so both of the leads are waiting for the other person to crack first.
This makes every romantic interaction they have even funnier than it would be if they just had the typical tsundere dynamic.
Speaking of tsunderes, next up is the short tsundere.
5. Short Tsunderes
Anime with tsundere: Toradora! (2008), The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006), Shakugan no Shana (2007)
Short tsundere girls are another anime staple that can’t seem to die. These anime girls are characterized by their cold demeanor toward the protagonist which ranges from standoffish to demeaning.
You’ll sometimes see them beating up the male lead for being a “pervert” or “idiot” and telling them, in the rare instances that they do something nice, that “It’s not like I like you, baka!”
The appeal of the tsundere lies in their cuteness, which is why they’re often short, and the way they seem to present a challenge for the male protagonist without actually putting them down.
It’s done well with Bakemonogatari (2009)’s Hitagi Senjougahara, a self-proclaimed tsundere who has a real no-nonsense personality instead of just being your typical tsundere girl trope.
6. The Power of Friendship
Anime with “the power of friendship” moments: Most shounen anime
The situation is bleak and the Big Bad Evil Guy is about to defeat the anime’s main protagonist.
But just when we think all is lost, his friends show up and help him either by fighting alongside him, sharing their powers with him, or giving him the courage to continue fighting.
If you’ve seen an anime with a scene like this, you’ve borne witness to the power of friendship.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (2019) compares its demon antagonists with its human protagonists by highlighting how human friendships, an example of their humanity, makes them stronger as a group than any of the demons are on their own.
While the demons organize themselves in a hierarchical order based on power, the human Demon Slayer Corps learn to synchronize their fighting styles and cover for each other’s weaknesses.
7. Thinly Veiled Incest
Anime with incestuous elements: Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai (2010), Imouto sae Ireba Ii (2017)
How do you even start unpacking this trope? Out of all the anime tropes, this one is among the most divisive and is right up there with loli tropes on the list of “Things In Anime That I Hope No One Sees Me Watching.”
Or maybe not considering how averse otaku culture is to saying anything that can be taken as “bad” about anime as a medium.
The siscon trope often appears alongside self-insert protagonists. It attempts to make all the female protagonists waifu material to the audience with the added bonus of being mildly creepy because some of these girls are the main character’s sister or mother.
8. Transformation Sequences
Anime with transformation sequences: Sailor Moon (1992), Pretty Cure (2004), Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch (2003), Card Captor Sakura (1998)
Transformation sequences are one of the premier anime tropes of magical girl anime shows. Regardless of whether they’re transforming into mermaids, witches, fairies, or Sailor Scouts, if it’s a magical girl anime, it needs a transformation sequence.
The transformation sequence is typically initiated with a magical item. The item can be a piece of jewelry, a magical artifact, or a make-up compact.
Sailor Moon has the most easily recognizable transformation sequence in all of anime. The moment you see her pigtails, you know Usagi Tsukino has become Sailor Moon.
Transformation sequences have gone mainstream since Sailor Moon popularized them. It appears in the Power Rangers franchise and in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
9. Questionable Camera Angles
Anime with questionable angles: Several of them, but most commonly in shows with self-insert male protagonists and harems.
Or as it’s commonly called: Fanservice.
Many anime shows contain fanservice even if the anime doesn’t really need call for it, either because it just destroys any suspension of disbelief or because the anime isn’t necessarily in a genre where fanservice is expected.
Anime shows that feature questionable camera angles typically do it by focusing the “camera” on certain body parts, conveying that we’re supposed to feel attracted to the character on the screen.
While it can be fun, it’s not surprising that a lot of fanservice comes off as kind of icky.
And then, there’s My Dress-Up Darling (2022).
My Dress-Up Darling has its fair share of fanservice but what sets it apart is that it feels so natural.
Marin, the female lead, actively provides the “fanservice” as she tries to flirt with Gojo so when it’s implied that he may have thought about the photo she sent too much, Marin isn’t embarrassed and smiles as if everything went according to plan.