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To all the anime boys we’ve loved before

A Valentine’s Day tribute to the Best Boy material

Grid featuring 6 different male characters from Anime Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

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It’s Valentine’s Day, so we’re all obviously thinking about one thing: anime. Right?

Specifically, we’re thinking about the anime we love — and even more specifically, the anime characters we love. And to narrow it down even further, the anime boys we love. The best boys of anime. As it turns out, there are a lot of Best Boys. So many Best Boys that we became overwhelmed and really had to think about what defines a Best Boy.

When we tried to find a singular answer to that question, we fell flat. The typical definition according to anime fans usually lends itself to a wholesome do-gooder type, but y’know… sometimes the universally acknowledged Best Boy of a series just isn’t your Best Boy. In fact, it’s impossible to define what a Best Boy is, because it varies drastically between fans. It’s not just a favorite character, it’s someone you personally find particularly compelling and intriguing, someone you care for because of specific personality facets. Or maybe, depending on your speed, it’s just someone you think is hot.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, three Polygon staffers came together to reflect on what they see as Best Boy material, and single out some of the anime boys who defined what that means for them.

Petrana Radulovic’s boyz

Personal definition of Best Boy:

For me, a Best Boy is a compelling character. For whatever reason (you can psychoanalyze me later), the characters I find most interesting tend to be little shits with secret hearts of gold — or inversely, nice fellows who have a mischievous or edgy streak. There are some exceptions, but usually, it comes down to the way I like boys who are much more than they appear. My shortlist:

Sugawara from Haikyuu!!

sugawara from haikyuu!! Image: Production I.G.

Suga probably fits the archetypical description of Best Boy (ie; good, wholesome) more than anyone else on my list, but I cannot emphasize enough that he’s also a cheeky little shit. It took a bit for me to zero in on him as my favorite character, but the minute I realized there was more nuance to his niceness, I knew he was the one. He’s basically the Team Mom of the Karasuno High School Volleyball team, providing emotional support and encouragement to the players — while also teasing his teammates and performing embarrassing cheerleading moves for them. Sugawara also personally resonates with me because his experience on the team reflects my own athletic experiences.

Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle

howl guides sophie across the rooftops Image: Studio Ghibli/GKids

I loved Howl before I loved any other anime boy. Howl’s Moving Castle was my first Ghibli movie, and even my first foray into anime, so you could really say that for this gal, it all begins with Howl. He’s suave, smooth, and incredibly powerful, but also pretentious, fixated on his personal appearance, and cowardly. But by the end of the movie, he grows the courage to protect the people he loves. There’s the heart of gold I love! That beautiful hair! The fashion! The Christian Bale voice! The scene where he swoops in to save Sophie from some pushy soldiers and then they fly across the city together lives in my head rent-free.

Shigure Sohma from Fruits Basket (2019)

shigure smirking Image: TMS Entertainment

OK, yes, manga readers, I know there’s something suspicious about Shigure, but… I still love him. He absolutely fits the complete-little-shit vibe too. He may not have a heart of gold, but he does have hidden depths, and he knows more than he lets on. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ayame and Hatori, his two BFFs, though, because really, it’s the trio dynamic of flamboyant costume designer, flirty scheming author, and stoic, serious doctor that is just [chef’s kiss].

Miyuki Shirogane from Love is War

shirogane in love is war Image: A-1 Pictures

My favorite part of Shirogane’s design is the deep lines he has under his eyes, because my boy is just so tired. The class president seems like a reserved hardass, but he’s actually easily embarrassed and just a total sweetheart on the inside. He gets very excited about space! He overanalyzes every social interaction he has with vice president Kaguya! He tries very hard all the time, and he just needs to rest! He only deserves good things.

Mikoto Mikoshiba from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

mikoto saying something flirty Image: Doga Kobo

Mikoto is the type of guy who says embarrassingly forward, flirty things to girls, then immediately regrets it because of how stupid they sound out loud. I respect that energy. He’s actually incredibly shy behind that annoying playboy facade. Mikoto also plays a lot of dating sims, so I feel like we’d get along IRL.

Kurapika from Hunter x Hunter

kurapika about to slay people with his CHAINS Image: Viz Media

I don’t even know where to begin with this one, because frankly, when I started this list, I had loudmouth-jerk-with-secret-heart-of-gold Leorio on here for Hunter x Hunter. But as I’ve watched more of the show, stoic and noble Kurapika’s quest for complete vengeance in the name of his murdered people is just really vibing with me! Like Suga before, I originally overlooked him because he seemed too Reserved and Cool, but he grew on me when I realized how snarky he was. Now he’s absolutely my favorite character because of the desperate measures he’s taking to achieve his goal, spiraling deeper and deeper… It’s the tragique backstory for me.

Ana Diaz’s boyz

Personal definition of Best Boy:

My list definitely skews toward boys I would categorize as “aggressively earnest.” For the most part, I like the kind of character who wears his heart on his sleeve, and isn’t afraid to show it. However, there are a couple curveballs in this list that fall more on the “flawed, chaotic mentor” side. Regardless, I think they’re all net good, and I could see myself being friends with any of them at the end of the day.

Tanjiro Kamado from Demon Slayer

Tanjiro sweetly holding the hands of his friend. Image: Funimation

Tanjiro Kamado from Demon Slayer is not just a “best boy” for me, he is also the goodest boy I have seen in anime, ever. Tanjiro is the epitome of the boy you want to take home to meet your parents. He’s genuine, loving, and kind: his commitment to saving his little sister is unwavering, and it inspires the best in those around him. That he does this while bearing the weight of his mother’s and siblings’ death makes him all the more upstanding. He is truly a main character befitting of the title “hero,” regardless of his actual power level.

Shoyo Hinata from Haikyuu!!

Shoyo Hinata looking excited. Image: Sentai Filmworks

Hinata Shoyo from Haikyuu!! shines — literally. When he jumps up to spike the ball, the spotlight is all on him, and for good reason. He’s amazing at volleyball in spite of his short stature. He’s so earnest that it makes me cringe, and I love him because of that. When all seems down, Hinata’s excitement and genuine love of volleyball cuts through the tension of the most intense game, and grounds his entire team.

Toru Oikawa from Haikyuu!!

The anime volleyball player Oikawa waving. Image: Sentai Filmworks

Haikyuu!! fans might be wondering what Toru Oikawa is doing on this list, and to that, I say, “You don’t get it.” A moody pretty boy, Oikawa is a far cry from the previous two entries on my list. Yes he bullies other characters, but here’s what I’ll say about Oikawa: He’s actually one of the more emotionally complex characters on Haikyuu!!, and that endears him to me tremendously. As a setter, he is known not for his skill, but for his ability to bring out his teammates’ strengths. He’s arguably one of the series’ most developed characters, and he’s certainly my favorite. (Sorry, Hinata.)

Killua Zoldyck from Hunter x Hunter

Killua Zoldyck from Hunter x Hunter. Image: Madhouse/Viz Media

Why isn’t Killua Zoldyck the main character of Hunter x Hunter? Seriously, I would rather watch the show with him leading it. While Killua is written to help the audience see why the main character, Gon, is so great, his loving view of Gon just endears him to me even more. Yes, he’s an assassin, and yes, he’s likely killed hundreds of characters canonically, but we catch him just as he’s turning away from all that. Killua is breaking from generations of trauma and forging his own path. Even though he’s strong, all I want to do is protect him.

Tamaki Suoh from Ouran Host Club

Tamaki Suoh looking lovingly into the distance. Image: Bones Inc.

Everytime I hear the name Tamaki Suoh, I can’t help but think of how he refers to himself as “Daddy,” since he’s the founder of his school club. Overbearing, annoying, and difficult, Tamaki is an absolute child. The thing with Tamaki, though, is that he’s able to grow. I actually do appreciate how much he admires Haruhi Fujioka, his love interest, and how willing he is to follow her and let her lead. While he cares about shallow things like looks or money, he cares about Haruhi and his friends more than anything.

Satoru Gojo from Jujutsu Kaisen

Satoru Godo from Jujutsu Kaisen. Image: MAPPA

Satoru Gojo is a new fan favorite for Jujutsu Kasien viewers, and for good reason. He’s goofy! I don’t know what it is, but something about the most powerful characters being some of the most down-to-earth really resonates with me. He’s a wonderful mentor, even if he’s clumsy at times — he cares about the kids and is a good role model. If I was going through tough times, he’s the kind of character that I could turn to.

Kisuke Urahara from Bleach

Urahara tipping his bucket hat upwards. Image: Studio Pierrot

Kisuke Urahara was the first e-boy. There, I said it. He wears a stupid bucket hat and keeps his hair long, and like Miyuki Shirogane above, he also looks tired all the time. He’s super shady and an asshole, but he also isn’t afraid to cut through the nonsense and do what is morally right. Do the ends justify the means? Urahara would probably say yes. And while he puts Ichigo Kurosaki through some real bullshit, he is also ultimately responsible for kicking off Ichigo’s journey. He could stand to care about others more, but things somehow always work out according to his plan.

Julia Lee’s boyz

Personal definition of Best Boy:

These are just boys I think are neat. I do have some boys in here that are good boys. They’re pure, they’re guys I would feel comfortable setting my friends up with. But some of these boys are not good boys. Even so, I would still like to hold their hands while they presumably try to rip my arm off.

Steven Stone from Pokémon

Steven Stone holds up his arm before challenging a trainer Image: The Pokémon Company via Bulbapedia

I love every iteration of Steven Stone from the various Pokémon media, and I have since I was young, but I want to specifically speak about the version from Pokémon Adventures, the manga. He’s got red eyes and a powerful set of steel-type ’mons. He wears a gaudy “champion’s cape” that signals, yes, he’s the best around in the Hoenn region, and he proves he’ll sacrifice himself to protect said region.

Legoshi from Beastars

A anthropomorphic gray wolf leans down to help a small anthropomorphic white rabbit Image: Orange/Netflix

Call me a furry. Do it. I don’t even care anymore. Legoshi the wolf is a good boy, you know it and I know it. I would die for Legoshi. He cares so much about his friends and his rabbit crush Haru. He goes through so much just to protect her, including from himself. He’s a loyal doggy boy, and I love him.

Trafalgar Law from One Piece

Trafalgar Law smirks behind some crossed swords Image: Toei Animation

When Law first showed up in the One Piece manga, flipping off the reader, my heart throbbed. I love a stupid bad boy, but Eiichiro Oda has also done an excellent job of making him into something of a goof. The Strawhat Pirates pick on him and poke at him for fun, turning him into a really likable character beyond being a cool ally. He’s also a surgeon who has a talking bear as a companion, and pilots a yellow submarine. What isn’t to like?

Jin from Samurai Champloo

Jin’s profile against a fish textile Image: Manglobe

Samurai Champloo does a good job of making all three of the main characters really likeable. When I watch Mugen and Jin in combat, the animation is so good, I can’t help but to form a little weird crush on them. But the episode where Jin helps Shino escape her fate and run away? Yeesh, I’m ashamed to talk about how far I fell at that point.

Kotetsu Kaburagi from Tiger & Bunny

Kotetsu poses with his fist up, with his superhero alter ego Wild Tiger standing in the back Image: Bandai Namco Pictures

I don’t have too much to explain here. Kotetsu is a hard-working guy who is trying his best to impress his daughter and also stay in the loop among the other young heroes. He’s also a super hot dad.

Tatsu from The Way of the House Husband

Tatsu explains who he is to two bewildered cops Viz Media

Tatsu is literally the ideal man. He knows how to meticulously clean a house, cook good food, fight for bargains at the grocery store, and everything else you would expect from a functioning adult. But he also knows how to fight and intimidate people just by existing. The former yakuza has truly won my heart, because not only is he a great house husband, he’s ride-or-die for his lucky wife — and that’s yakuza loyalty.

Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez from Bleach

Grimmjow slashes his sword on a grey backdrop Image: Bandai Namco/Klab

Man, I did not have a Bleach phase as a teen. I knew about a lot of the characters, and knew which ones I found hot, but given how polarized the takes were about the ending, I never cared to read it. Coronavirus quarantine got me to read Bleach. And as predicted, I fell madly in love with Grimmjow. His stupid jawbone? Good. His undying attachment to Ichigo? Good. The little jumpsuit he gets in the final arc? Good. He’s also voiced by Junichi Suwabe, which did not help me not fall for him. Even if the ending of Bleach was bad, Grimmjow is good.


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