8 Anime Characters Who Crush Archetypes

"Musical Minori" | Art by shainabear. Used with permission.
Archetypes are a defining feature of anime. They’re part of what makes the medium familiar to fans and what separates it from western animation. These archetypes include characters, like student council presidents and goth girls, portrayed differently than they might be in American television shows, and chuunibyou, hikikomori, and magical girls playing major roles when they don’t even exist here! But even though fans generally know what to expect of these types, every so often, a character will break from the mold and reveal herself to be deeper—and ultimately more interesting—than what viewers originally expected. These are eight of my favourites.

1. Minori Kushieda, Toradora
Archetype: Genki Girl

At first, Minori seems to be a typical genki girl, the phrase used to describe a character with never-ending energy and enthusiasm: she captains the softball team, works a half-dozen part-time jobs, and says and does the craziest things. But as the classic romantic comedy, Toradora, progresses, Minori demonstrates that her outward cheerfulness is a veneer. Feeling guilty about an attraction she develops toward her best friend’s love interest, Minori acts out in strange ways, even hurting others as her bitterness and jealousy grows. This unexpected arc helps drive the plot of Toradora forward and, as Minori learns to be more genuine with herself and others, becomes one of the most fulfilling parts of this classic series.

2. Kyubey, Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Archetype: Cute Mascot

Kyubey looks the role of a traditional magical girl mascot—he’s a little white creature that appears to be a cross between a cat and rabbit, and spouts wisdom while resting on the girls’ laps. But in one of anime’s most surprising twists—spoilers ahead—he reveals himself to be the central villain of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, continuing to look the part of a cute animal while persuading young girls to relinquish their souls in exchange for wishes he grants. While many fictional characters may look more devilish, few fit the role better than Kyubey, who demonstrates that evil indeed comes in all forms.

3. Hayato Hayama, (My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, As I Expected)
Archetype: Mr. Popular

Soccer team captain Hayato Hayama is popular, charismatic, and rich. He’s also a good friend, going to any length to keep his friends happy and prevent them from hurting each other and drifting part. But as he reveals to Hachiman, the ostracized protagonist of My Youth Romcom, Hayato isn’t as altruistic as he seems. He employs his charm and wit to arrange relationships in a way that make him comfortable, and feels inferior to the sullen Hachiman, who genuinely and self-sacrificially gives to others, helping to change them for the better. Through the course of the series, Hayato develops an unusual relationship with him, at once envying, protecting, and struggling with him.

4. Kyoko Mogami, Skip Beat
Archetype: The Innocent One

Skip Beat begins innocuously enough—Kyoko has moved to the big city to be the secret caretaker for her childhood friend, Sho, who has become a famous musician. Naïve, submissive, and homely, her love for Sho is unreciprocated, as he uses and deceives her. One night, she catches him making a pass at another girl, at which point Sho openly maligns her—and that’s when Kyoko shows her true colors. Fueled by vengeance and a surprising amount of rage, Kyoko decides to pursue a career in show biz herself to one-up Sho. This different side of Kyoko is a permanent fixture in the series, adding a quirky and sometimes dark element to this show, which demonstrates that not all romcom heroines are kind and sweet.
5. Suzu Hojo, In This Corner of the World
Archetype: Airhead

Suzu, a young woman who marries into a family living near Hiroshima during WWII, is good-natured, a little eccentric, and quite ditzy, a frequent source of laughter and joy for her husband and their family. But as the war draws near home and casualties occur that pull her and the family into despair, Suzu reveals that her silly manner belies complex emotions, intelligence, and the fighting desire to live on when the tragedy surrounding her threatens to take away even the motivation to rise out of bed each day.
6. Vash the Stampede, Trigun
Archetype: Goofy Action Hero

In between dodging bullets and stealing donuts, Vash the Stampede loves to exclaim the mantra, “Love and peace!” Usually giddy and clumsy, Vash sometimes becomes deeply serious, especially when trying to protect bystanders or dealing with pain from his past. And the pain runs deep—unlike many anime heroes, who find the strength within themselves to rise, at his moment of greatest defeat, Vash subverts the “inner strength” stereotype and becomes utterly despondent. He weeps, screams, and even lets himself be beaten and dragged nearly to death. It’s no easy feat for Vash to recover and return to being a hero. He has the tenderest of hearts, and when its punctured, the audience has to wonder if he’ll ever be able to stand up and move forward again.
7. Aoba Tsukishima, Cross Game
Archetype: Tsundere

The tsundere may be anime’s most famous archetype: an unfriendly character who deep inside has a warm heart for her loved ones. The very nature of this type reveals depth, so how can a tsundere demonstrate more than that? In the case of Aoba, there’s more to her—much more. Cross Game, in a sense, is the story of a tomboy who, after suffering traumatic loss, goes through the process of standing side by side with a boy whose very existence reminds her of the painful past. She learns not only to deal with those emotions inside of her, but to care for him as well. There are no Jekyll and Hyde scenes, no eureka moments, just a girl slowly dealing with loss and trying to get her heart from a place of rejection to where she wants it to be.
8. Homura Akemi, Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Archetype: Cool and Silent Girl

Revisiting Madoka Magica, our last character is unusual in that she transverses archetypes, starting as one and moving to another. From the very beginning of the series, Homura is calm and collected, strong and unwilling to bend, and at first the only one who knows Kyubey’s true nature, hunting the cute creature down mercilessly. But in another twist—more spoilers ahead—its revealed that Homura was at first very different, fitting the shy, bespectacled girl archetype. She entered a time loop, repeating events over and over and she tries to save a friend, and failures cause her to become cold and calloused, with little hope, paving the way for one of anime’s most hopeful endings.

Charles Sadnick

Charles Sadnick

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Converted from the moment he first heard Han Solo reply, “I know,” Charles resisted his nerdy urges until Hayao Miyazaki, Spike Spiegel, and Evangelion Unit-01 forced him to confront the truth of his inner geekery. Baptized into otakudom, Charles masks himself in the not-so-secret identity of TWWK as he blogs endlessly about anime and faith.

He can also be found, however, feeding his other nerd habits, including A Song of Ice and Fire. Charles also remains hopelessly stuck in the 90's, maybe best demonstrated by his unexplainable passion for The Phantom Menace.

A historian and director at a government agency by day, Charles joins in the work of college and digital ministry is his off-time, while growing each day in the round-the-clock charge of being a husband and father.
Charles Sadnick