Anime shows are never short of characters with amazing powers. Depending on the genre, you could be watching a show about a ditzy lead who happens to be a chosen one or a super genius who can’t seem to get social interactions right. Anime likes to temper its cool leads with a “relatable” personality that often misses the mark because of how awkward and incompetent the characters end up being.
Not these male characters, though. These cool male leads are reason enough to watch their shows. While many of them are super strong or super smart, what makes these cool male leads amazing is their determination, their personal philosophies, and overall mental strength. Sure, they’re not all saints, but they are some of the most badass male leads in anime. Definitely check these anime out if you haven’t seen them. Some of them are even available on Netflix.
1. Code Geass (2006)
Cool may as well be Lelouch Lamperouge’s middle name. It’s been nearly two decades since Code Geass (2006) came out, but the show’s cool and collected lead remains a favorite at cosplay conventions and is still constantly recommended by fans to fellow anime watchers. He’s also most certainly some people’s anime crush.
The show’s main lead, Lelouch, is a master strategist with a megalomaniac streak. Lelouch takes it upon himself to use his intelligence and newly found mind control powers to mount a rebellion against an imperial England that’s occupying Japan.
If you’re thinking Lelouch is going to be a rebel hero, think again. As the show progresses, you’ll be left wondering how much of the rebellion was really him sticking to his principles and how much was actually him just seeking vengeance.
2. Erased (2016)
Erased’s events happen at a much smaller scale, but it doesn’t take away from the brilliance of its male lead. An adult Satoru Fujinuma is haunted by the memory of his mother’s murder in a breaking-and-entering incident. When Satoru realizes he’s somehow gained the ability to send himself back in time by returning to a younger age, he makes it his mission to discover his mother’s killer and find out who kidnapped the three children he was friends with in elementary school.
Aside from his hyper-specific time-traveling powers, Satoru doesn’t have any special abilities. He has to rely on his wits to piece together clues that can lead him to whoever kidnapped his friends and killed his mom. He’s not a super genius like Lelouch either, which makes him even rarer among the male lead characters in this list. Satoru has to go through a lot of trial and error as he tests his theories about the killer’s identity.
3. Samurai Champloo (2004)
Samurai Champloo (2004) doesn’t have just one, but two cool male leads. Set in Edo-era Japan, the show follows the adventures of Fuu, Mugen, and Jin. Mugen is a Han Solo-type character, a rough-mannered outlaw with a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Jin is a disgraced samurai with no master who’s trying to live a life in accordance with his own ethical views. Their vastly differing personalities put Jin and Mugen in constant conflict with each other, but the fact that they genuinely do want to be good people keeps the entire group together.
The two’s contrasting senses of morality also function in the narrative as a microcosm for the way their individual views come into conflict with what the rest of society deems moral. For example, as a disgraced samurai, Jin is technically a bad person for killing his own master. But we later learn that he had good reasons to disobey his master.
4. Overlord (2015)
The 2015 anime series Overlord was a critical hit when it first came out. The premise is similar to many post-Sword Art Online anime shows in that it’s also about a guy getting transported to a video game world. Instead of being focused on how the male lead becomes a world-saving hero, though, Overlord spends its time showing us how Ainz Ooal Gown acclimates to his new world and starts to lose himself in it.
At first, there are many of your usual isekai anime hero tropes, but Ainz the Video Game character starts to come to the forefront and changes the personality of our previously human protagonist. Shenanigans ensue.
5. Berserk (2016)
Berserk’s male lead is about as cool as it gets when it comes to the fantasy genre. Guts is a super-strong swordsman who’s become completely jaded with life after he and his girlfriend are betrayed by his mercenary guild leader. The incident drives his beloved insane, leading Guts to decide that he’s going to hunt down the person who did this to them and get his revenge.
The rest of the anime – and the amazing manga it’s based on – grapples with whether revenge is worth it, what justice really means, and how you can grow past life-shattering trauma and see beauty in the world again, no matter how bleak your personal circumstances are.
6. Death Note (2006)
Death Note is about as famous for its black notebooks as it is for Light Yagami, the show’s cool male lead with a god complex. Light has always been obsessed with ideals of justice and order, but his idea of justice wouldn’t exactly fly in even the most dumbed-down legal ethics class. As far as he’s concerned, justice and order can be achieved by forcing everyone to follow his whims and whatever it is he decides is ‘right’ at the moment, all while giving no thought to the ethics of his actions.
So why does he make the cut? Because frankly, it’s entertaining to see him come up with complex plans to evade the Japanese police and investigators trying to put a stop to his extrajudicial killing shenanigans. It definitely helps that he has a psychopathic view of the world that lets him keep a cool and detached demeanor, even in instances where he nearly gets caught.
7. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
If you liked how chill Mugen is in Samurai Champloo, you’ll like Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel, a former hitman turned bounty hunter who can best be described as a lovable rogue. His nonchalant attitude hides the fact that he’s haunted by his past and losing the woman he loved.
If Spike’s not your idea of a cool male lead, there’s also Jet Black, an older gentleman who serves as the group’s father figure. Imagine a nastier Uncle Iroh in space, and you basically have a good mental image of what he’s like.
8. Black Jack (1993)
You might think you’ve seen it all before in anime, but Black Jack’s medical drama meets film noir detective plot will have you both enthralled and slightly confused by the show. It follows its titular character, a doctor, as he tries to save the life of his patients from medical emergencies and crime syndicates alike.
It’s hard to go into detail about this anime without giving away the most suspenseful parts, so just check it out if you need a palate-cleanser show.
9. Black Butler (2008)
The somewhat dark anime Black Butler has a cooler male lead than other most other animes. Black Butler’s obvious cool male lead is Sebastian Michaelis, a suit-clad butler with housekeeping skills that are just as good, if not better, than his fighting skills. But the real cool guy in the show is his master, Ciel Phantomhive. Ciel has three main powers in the show: his privilege as a landed noble, the demon butler he can order to fight for him, and his own wits. While he relies a lot on the first two, they’re really just tools that would be useless to him if not for his own intelligence.
Ciel, who’s just a kid in the show, has to solve murders, bust crime syndicates, and uncover threats to the state with just his brain cells. He also has to do this while trying to cope with his personal traumas and protecting the few loved ones he has left. If you’re interested in seeing a younger Lelouch work for England, this is the show to watch. Plus, the main antagonist, Grell Sutcliff, is just so iconic.
10. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)
Fullmetal Alchemist’s Alphonse and Edward are a pair of brothers traveling the world to learn the secrets of alchemy and right a very big wrong: using alchemy to bring their mother back to life. The ritual backfires and destroys Alphonse’s physical body, forcing his soul to take up residence in a suit of armor.
Despite the harrowing circumstances, Alphonse doesn’t lose his childish innocence. He’s not a pushover, he’s actually the stronger brother between the two, but he manages to stay kind to everyone he meets. It’s less obvious with Edward, the hotheaded and stubborn older brother, but he also has a heart of gold that he doesn’t lose, no matter how people try to tell him that being in the real world means becoming jaded and cruel.