Anime movies are always great if you want a good cry. While there are plenty of happy, whimsical, and action-packed anime films out there, there are also tear-jerking ones that won’t leave a dry eye in the room. One of the reasons for this is likely because anime is a unique form of storytelling that bears witness to the depths of the human soul in ways that other forms don’t or can’t do. It approaches a wide variety of subject matters and issues, including pain and loss, and is usually accompanied by emotionally moving scores. A lot of times these emotion-packed films are juxtaposed with whimsy and a reflection of the good in life. This builds upon the emotional development of the film, thus creating a bigger impact when the sad or moving parts arise.
The following list contains eight of the most powerful, tear-jerking anime films of all time. They are in no particular order, as they are emotional for different reasons. Check them out and see if your favorite tear-jerking anime made the list (be aware that many of the descriptions include mild spoilers).
The Wind Rises
This is a beautiful movie by legendary anime studio Studio Ghibli. It’s not the typical Ghibli film full of fantasy and wonder, but it does show the beauty in life, as well as love and heartbreak. To anyone who has loved someone with a fatal illness, this movie hits home even more. We watch the protagonist, Jiro, fall desperately in love with a woman with tuberculosis. We see how they navigate their lives with him creating the infamous Zero fighter plane while still trying to spend as much time with Nahoko as he can before she passes away. The ending is so sadly sweet that it’s hard not to cry by the time the credits roll around. Also, the fact that the movie is based on a true story makes it even more heartbreaking.
This movie isn’t as sad as some of the others, as it has an implied hopeful ending, but it is a huge tear-jerker nonetheless. We follow the lives of two star-crossed lovers who start out as being the unlikeliest of pairs. Their story starts with each of them waking up in the other’s body. When they finally want to actually meet face to face in their own bodies, they realize it may not be possible. They keep each other in their hearts as the future unfolds, not knowing if they’ll ever see the other again. The soundtrack in this movie is powerful too and adds to the beauty of the film.
Weathering With You
The latest of Makoto Shinkai’s anime masterpieces tells the story of a teenaged boy named Hodaka, who tries to make it on his own in Tokyo after running away from home. He is struggling immensely until he meets the “sunshine girl”–a girl named Hina, who can manipulate the weather. The two of them embark on a complicated journey in adolescence and on the troubles teenage-hood can bring. The ending isn’t as hopeful as Shinkai’s Your Name, to say the least, and will make the viewer cry in a whole different way.
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
This is arguably the most ugly-sob-inducing anime film of all time, especially for any parents out there (mothers in particular). The film’s protagonist, Maquia, is part of the lorphian race–beings who live far longer lives than regular mortals (likely centuries, though it is never specified in the film) and retain a youthful appearance throughout their lives. When Maquia gets stranded from her home during a war on her peaceful home, she finds a crying human baby boy who’s lying in his dead mother’s arms. She chooses to raise him as her own, knowing full well that she will live long after he dies. (Cue sobbing here.) The ending of the movie even includes an emotional montage of their lives together that is completely heart-crushing.
This is one of the saddest, most bittersweet movies out there. It tells of a young single mother who not only has to deal with caring for her children without their father but has to figure out how to raise kids who are half-wolf and half-human. She is a human who fell in love with a man who goes between being a wolf and a human. When her husband dies at the beginning of the film, she is forced to live a life full of fear and distress, not knowing how to raise this unique kids. She strives to do her best in raising them, and while she manages to do so, she realizes she can’t hold onto them forever. This is another film that is even harder to stay dried-eyed in if you’re a parent.
5 Centimeters Per Second
This movie is heartbreaking but also allows for a bittersweet ending upon contemplation. Throughout the film, we follow a boy and girl with strong feelings for one another as they grow up and correspond with each other, despite the distance between them. The movie is only an hour and fifteen minutes long, but it’s packed with scenes that leave us feeling melancholy and wanting the best for the protagonists in the story. The ending does not turn out how many would like it to, but there is a message that can be seen and internalized upon processing the movie afterward (especially after allowing a good cry session or two). Perhaps one of the reasons this movie is so emotional is that the ending comes so abruptly and with a disapointing turn of events.
Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light
This film, often just referred to as its Japanese title, Hotarubi no Mori e, is another anime that is often brought up in conversations about the most tear-jerking anime movies out there, and for good reason. The story follows a young girl named Hotaru as she is saved by a spirit named Gin in a forest she gets lost in. After Hotaru visits him for the remainder of her summer, she promises to visit Gin each summer from then on. As she does this,over time, their friendship grows. While Gin doesn’t appear to age, Hotaru does, and when she’s a lot older, they start to fall in love. However, the catch to all this is that if she touches him, he’ll go away forever. Needless to say, the film doesn’t end without a good cry.
Grave of the Fireflies
If you’ve made it this far on the list, you’ll likely know this one was coming. Grave of the Fireflies is often called one of the most depressing films of all time, inside and outside of anime. While there are plenty of other tear-jerking anime films out there, including the ones on this list, this one is probably the most heartbreaking. The reason that this one could take the cake of “most depressing anime movie” is because it’s based on a horrendously tragic, true story. It follows a young boy raising his small sister in the aftermath of the atomic bomb that fell on Japan at the end of World War II. Throughout the movie, Seita is faced with death after death and then ultimately dies himself. This is definitely not the type of feel-good movie Studio Ghibli is known for, but it is one of its most powerful pieces to date.
Which film on the list made you cry the most? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter.