12 Days of Anime #9: How to Make a Strong Main Character

2013 hasn’t been a particularly flattering year for me and main characters. To me, a great deal of these characters I’ve seen are just hard to get behind. 2013’s absence of great main characters has prompted me to make my own list of what I feel a main character needs to have in order for an anime to be good. Basically, I feel a strong main character should fit the following descriptions:

1. Main character must be likable.

2. Main character must be interesting.

3. Main character must be relatable.

4. Main character must have proper motivations.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m just going to talk about the main characters I’ve seen this year. I’m not going to say that I’ve seen every show airing this year, because the truth is that I have not. 2013 might actually be the year I’ve seen the least amount of shows while they were currently airing (thank you, various responsibilities).

Just follow these simple 4 steps in your writing, and you’ll know that you have made a strong main character!

1. Main character must be likable. Good lord, how hard is this one? I put it as number one because I feel this is the most important. If we don’t like the main character of the anime, we most certainly won’t care about the situation he/she is thrown into. Many of you know that I am watching and blogging about Golden Time. You might also know that I give the main character, Banri, a very hard time. Guess why? He’s one of the most unlikable characters I have ever talked about! Another show I blogged, Sunday Without God, had an unlikable main character, Ai. This was mainly because she didn’t really have a character to begin with. Plus, she wasn’t a very smart character (despite her age, 12 year olds aren’t that oblivious), so that helped make it hard to like her. Would you be more inclined to like a smart character or a not-so-smart character? My bet is on the former.

2. Main character must be interesting. This isn’t some throwaway, nameless, exposition-spouting character who will only be known for three minutes in one episode; this is the character we have to watch the show with. Because we’re stuck with the main character, they better be written well because if they’re not, then why would we want to stick around with a character who doesn’t interest us? You wouldn’t want to be friends with a boring person who never has anything to say, would you? Some of the best shows are the best because of how the main character intrigues us! One good example of a main character (who I admit, had some serious flaws) when it comes to the intrigue was Hajime from the excellent show Gatchaman Crowds. Even though she was too optimistic for my taste, she was one of the most interesting characters I’ve even had to talk about. Her fearless nature and her acceptance of the crazy situations that happened around her gave me so much interest as to why she acted that way. But as we all know, none of that was explained in the end of the show. But the point still remains; I liked that show a lot more because of just how interesting her character was.

3. Main character must be relatable: This point, in my opinion, isn’t as crucial as the others I’ve stated. However, it is a nice touch. One aspect that give any type of character a greater impact is how we normal people can relate to them. When you can look at a character and have a certain level of empathy for them, they become stronger for you personally. Now, sure, not everybody is the same, and everybody will have different reactions to characters. But writers need to try to connect to their audience to have a better understanding of what the common viewer is like. For this to happen, characters need to be grounded in reality. Even if the anime is a fantasy, they still need to be realistic to some extent so a normal audience will look at them and have a stronger connection.

4. Main character must have proper motivations: Basically, they have to make us want to like them. Even if a character is likable, interesting, and relatable, it’s hard to be on their side if they don’t make the right decisions. Going back to Banri from Golden Time, even if he was likable, interesting, and relatable, he constantly makes the wrong decisions. Even if you love Banri as a character, even you would have to admit that when he constantly acts submissive to Kouko, it starts to make you like him just a little less every time.

There's something about her obliviousness nature that makes me feel there's something more to her background
There’s something about her obliviousness nature that makes me feel there’s something more to her background

Sometimes, main characters can make or break a show. Imagine if Cowboy Bebop was the same as it is, but all of the characters were bland and stereotypical. Imagine if Durarara!! had transparent, one-dimensional characters who you don’t give a damn about. In my opinion, those shows would be completely ruined because of that. It just goes to show that writers need to give more care and attention to making strong main characters.

Every single character in Durarara!! is well written and has some level of mystery. Take that away, and it would be so hard to watch
Every single character in Durarara!! is well written and has some level of mystery. Take that away, and the show would be so hard to love

Maybe it’s my fault for picking the shows that I did in 2013. I haven’t seen any main characters this year who have fit all those descriptions for me (as I said, I’ve only seen a very small number of 2013 anime). As a result, 2013 hasn’t left as great of an impact on me as I feel it should have. Some might say my standards are too high, but I don’t feel that way at all. I know, it takes time to create a strong main character. Some people don’t want to put in the effort, and that’s a real shame. Now that I’ve outlined my thoughts on how a main character should be written, there should be no more excuses! If you follow these steps, I can guarantee you that you’ll at least have one fan of your work, no matter what.

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21 year old university student studying journalism by day, snooty anime blogger by night! I have high standards for anime, but I also keep an open mind when it comes to shows outside my comfort area, which usually includes dialogue-heavy drama. Always happy to have a discussion.

2 thoughts on “12 Days of Anime #9: How to Make a Strong Main Character

  1. I must say I completely disagree. I don’t think a strong main character needs to have any of your four characteristics. I only think it is necessary for the audience to care about what happens to the character and how s/he affects the world they are in and vice versa. The characters that draw your attention and investment the most where that is concerned are strong main characters. While those four things you mentioned do make it easier to be invested in a characters struggles and their fate it isn’t necessary.

    I have seen many strong main characters who I didn’t like and in some cases hated but I found their decisions and their journey compelling. Also I have seen no end of characters, largely from action movies, who aren’t interesting at all, nothing more than a cliche and yet the situation they find themselves in makes them compelling. There are also many main characters I cannot relate to or strongly disagree with their life philosophy. That does not stop them from dominating the scenes and making me interested in their fate. There are also lots of strong main characters whose motivations are ill defined or poorly explained if at all.

    Your criteria are fine for likeable, understandable, relate-able main characters but it isn’t necessary for strong main leads unless you define them to be the same thing.

    • You say that it’s necessary for the audience to care about what happens to the characters, but how can we have any investment in the characters if they don’t meet any of these basic points? In that way, we’re caring more about the situation than we are the character. I’m stating that I care more about how the character reacts to the situation than the situation itself.
      Maybe I should have stated that a character doesn’t have to be “good” to be likable. Case and point; recently I’ve been playing Borderlands 2. The villain, Handsome Jack, is one of the biggest asshole characters I’ve ever seen, yet I find him likable because of his reactions to his environment. So good good job calling me out on that, I should have stated it more clearly!
      As for action movies, don’t get me started! Of course most action heroes aren’t going to be interesting or relatable, but most of the time, they have proper motivations and they are likable.
      I would just like to reiterate that a strong main character does not need to meet all of these criteria. These elements are just what I like to see in my characters. I find all of these elements to be crucial to some degree. But again, that’s just my opinion.
      Nevertheless, thanks for the reply and the interesting insight!

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