There’s something about anime that makes it more enticing than many other forms of media- movies, TV, even books. It’s often filled with fantastic characters that take on amazing tasks in extraordinary ways in a style that makes the heroes of other media pale in comparison. Many people who started in anime as kids, like myself, looked up to these protagonists as heroes. Names like Goku, Naruto, Ichigo, and many, many others inspired hope in young fans, like myself. Even today, names like Kyoma (Dimension W), Saitama (One Punch Man), or Luffy (One Piece) inspire hope and bravery as I keep up with anime. However, it is rare to see characters that look like me, a Black man (more specifically a 1st-generation Nigerian-American), in one of my favorite medium.
Typically, “Black” characters in anime are either very stereotypical, so parodied that they don’t look like Black characters anymore, or are very ambiguous to where they don’t represent a certain race. And oftentimes, the few Black characters that exist are relegated to bum or bit roles that reinforce negative stereotypes: gangster/gangsta, criminal, etc. This has left a lack of heroes and role models that we in the Black community can look up to. However, I wanted to show off a few Black anime characters- whether they are explicitly Black, descendants of Africans, or even dark-skinned and with African features- that merit being looked at.
This piece is an opinion piece of an employee of Funimation. This list is by no means comprehensive of all of the Black characters that exist in anime. I hope that you enjoy the comments and ideas shared here!
Let’s kick off this list with one of the most arguably badass characters in all of anime. Afro is a wandering samurai who fights enemies constantly in order to protect the “number two” headband he wears in order to face off against the wearer of the “number one” headband, the man who killed his father- the previous “number one” headband owner. Afro means a lot as he is an explicitly Black character who isn’t a stereotypical figure, he is the main character, and he is one of the coolest characters in all of anime.
Michiko & Hatchin takes place in a fictional South American country which is very much based on Brazil – Portuguese as a main language; a mixed-race population; and a varied topography of favelas, jungles, cities, and more. Many important characters are of African descent and are done with justice. Characters like Atsuko, Rita, and Satoshi have many Black features but are three-dimensional characters that have you excited for their every step.
Even though she is not a Funimation character, I would be remiss in not talking about her. As a past captain of the Soul Society, she leads main character, Ichigo, as a mentor. Although her race is more ambiguous than other characters in this list, it is striking to see a dark-skinned character as an important foil for the main cast. She’s a powerful woman who often aids the main cast and has been shown to be a leader that people look up to.
The races of these characters aren’t explicit either but the portrayal of characters with dark skin and dreadlocks was much appreciated in the form of these characters. Even though they come from rough backgrounds as either mercenaries, gangsters, or prostitutes, they are characters with deep stories, emotions, and even powers as they contribute to much of the overall story.
Another dark-skinned character (and heck whole race) that I’d be remiss to ignore would be Killer Bee in Naruto Shippuden. Even though he can be more stereotypical (a rapping dark-skinned character) he has been a character that fans look up to with powers that rival the main cast. Rather than a parody, he is a true force to be reckoned with that fans and rivals can look at with respect.
Even though there aren’t many (if any) explicit characters of African descent, the story of the Fishmen in the Fishmen Island arc (episodes 520-570) warrants talking about. The cast that ignites the conflict in the arc, Fisher Tiger and Queen Otohime, are (loosely on the part of the author) based on the stories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Both characters are leaders that fight for their race -fishmen and mermaids- to be accepted by normal humans. The Queen fights peacefully with diplomacy and unification of the races. Fisher Tiger, a runaway slave, fights slavers and encourages past slaves to fight against humans; he also fights for segregation of the races in order to build up the fishmen and sea people (as well as other humans who have been enslaved). Both leaders fight each other’s philosophies but try to work together for the good of the sea people. However, both leaders are assassinated which puts the sea people in hostile tension with humans. The vacuum of the leaders causes fishmen and mermaids to be second-class citizens or in open conflict with humans.
A last example of a character I like is Koorogi of Dimension W. Although we haven’t seen much of him as of the present moment (episode 4 at the time of this post), he has shown himself to be a character I’m excited to see more. He is a talented hacker and intelligent and witty kid who works behind the scenes to aid the collectors in their search for illegal power sources (coils) in this future world. Even though he is ambiguous in his race, it is always nice to see dark-skinned characters in a positive light.
Like I’ve said before, this list is by no means comprehensive or representative of the views of all Black people. I’ve missed many other characters like Dutch from Black Lagoon, Kilik in Soul Eater, Casca from Berserk, and many more. However, I did want to share examples of characters that made us excited to be people of color in real life. I’d love to hear your comments or other characters that you’ve enjoyed within anime!