Insert every dark joke about 2020 being awful here. We’ve all heard them and in truth, this has been a lot of people’s worst years. For me, I lost my grandmother, my parents are struggling because of job loss due to the pandemic, and my mental health has taken a beating. It’s been a year of grief and guilt that honestly has no end in sight. But, while leaned on some video games to help me ground my anxieties, I’ve turned to anime to help me process my grief.
While grief is a theme in a lot of media, from horror to comedy, anime that showcase grief as a central theme just hit your raw grieving nerves differently. Some stories showcase how you can channel your guilt to change the past while others teach you to shed your guilt altogether. Others still push you to process the grief you didn’t know was there and others teach you to keep moving through it. While there is a vast number of anime with grief at their core, I’ve chosen the seven that I have used to confront, process, and pack away my own, including grief I didn’t know I carried with me from years ago.
The series follows a group of four students in an amateur rock band and the dual romantic relationships that form among them between vocalist Mafuyu Satō and electric guitarist Ritsuka Uenoyama and between bassist Haruki Nakayama and drummer Akihiko Kaji. Given is a love story, but it’s also a grief story. In this anime, Mafuyu seeks out music after his boyfriend takes his life. The series plays out like a typical shonen-ai, with Mafuyu and Ritsuka slowly falling in love over time and Ritsuka learning about his sexuality for the first time. That said, the series takes on a whole new meaning in episode 9 when Mafuyu sings. It’s then that you realize that he’s carried grief and guilt with him since his boyfriend’s passing and is finally able to process it, move on, and understand that he doesn’t have to abandon his love for his first, but can love someone new.
Given is currently available on Crunchyroll.
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
The theme of Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day is what grief can do to a group of friends. In the series, a group of friends lost someone in their group at a young age. Now in high school, the teens work together to help her move on and leave the world of the living by fulfilling her deepest wish. The crux of the story in Anohana is that the pain we carry with us isn’t always shared with even the people we hold close. This anime helps showcase how people grieve differently and pushes its audience to understand that just because we process trauma and emotion one way, doesn’t make it the “right way.”
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day is currently available on Netflix.
Erased is a science fiction-lite title that gives its protagonist the ability to change the past by rewinding to the moment of crisis in something called “revival.” Erased follows Satoru Fujinuma. When his mother is murdered by an unknown assailant in his own home, Satoru’s ability suddenly sends him back eighteen years into the past. Now back in elementary school, Satoru is given the opportunity to not only save his mother but also prevent a kidnapping incident that took the lives of three of his childhood friends: two classmates and one young girl studying at a different school nearby. While guilt motivates Satoru, the purpose of Erased is to provide a cathartic experience for those who can’t rewind their lives. Guilt lives in us, and while we all take time to process it, sometimes it lingers. This series is one way to help get through that.
Erased is currently available on Netflix.
Japan Sinks: 2020
Japan Sinks: 2020 uniquely presents stories about ordinary families in Japan — those who are struggling to survive their lives in such a catastrophic world, and stand up for their hopes. In it, Ayumu, the eldest daughter of the Muto family, is an ace track and field player. She leads an ordinary life with her cool younger brother, Go, who is obsessed with online games and dreams of living in Estonia; her mother, Mari, a former swimmer who is positive no matter what the circumstances; and her father, Koichiro, who has survival skills and is always dependable. One day a major earthquake suddenly strikes Japan and changes the way we live our lives. What unfolds over the series is a neverending tragedy. Obstacle after obstacle pushes the family down. But through it all, Ayumu and the other members face a choice: try and fail or give up before you start.
This anime in particular has a special place in my heart. It shows the importance of feeling your grief and your pain and feeling it intensely at that. But, it also shows you how you can move through it. While you won’t necessarily be stronger on the other side, you will be. And that’s important.
Japan Sinks: 2020 is exclusively available on Netflix.
Your Lie in April
Your Lie in April is about grief in a way that the other anime on this list aren’t. What happened if your mother died after you wished it upon her? What if your strongest talent was forever tied to her? What happened if you lost how you saw yourself? That’s what Your Lie in April focuses one. Throughout the series, we follow our main character Kōsei Arima as he recovers his music. After his abusive mother’s death, he struggles to hear the notes. Through a process of rebuilding his identity and seeing his talent in a different way, he learns that his music is his and no one else’s. Not does this anime confront complex family dynamics, but it also deals with romance, and how to rebuild yourself after trauma.
Your Lie in April is currently available on Netflix.
While self-care can take many forms, for me, it’s been watching emotional anime that makes me feel something. In this case, processing grief in a fictional setting has helped me deal with my own emotions. This is just the tip of the anime grief iceberg. With Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Orange as honorable mentions, anime is a good way to process emotions.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.