If you love anime, one of the things you probably look for in a series is its ability to tug at your heartstrings and bring out those feels. Sometimes that means watching an awkward teen get crushes on their best friend (and vice versa), other times it’s getting a little misty-eyed over a tragic romance. And while most anime have some degree of sadness in them, there are some that will reduce you to tears no matter how many times you watch them. These are the top five anime that will make you cry.
Violet Evergarden is an odd mix of futuristic technology and anachronistic wistfulness, but it’s the rare type of anime that nails both sides of the equation. It starts with a young woman who was a soldier taking a job as a letter writer, but it quickly becomes apparent that the series is dealing with heavy themes of loss and forgiveness. There is a lot to unpack here, and the aesthetic and pacing are both deliberately slow, but it’s an intensely moving story. There are very few shows that can make you cry as often as this one, and the fact that it manages to do so while still feeling fresh and emotionally honest is a credit to its quality. It’s a must-watch for anyone who likes a little melancholy with their anime.
5 Centimeters Per Second
This is a more low-key, realistic entry than some of the others on this list, but it’s one that’s no less effective. 5 Centimeters per Second is about the connections in life we don’t get to make, and the decisions we regret. It’s about people and dreams and the distance between them, but most importantly it’s about the regret that comes from not being able to act on those dreams. These are all heavy topics, but the director knows what he’s doing, and the series is as effective as it is because we get to see those regrets play out in real time. This is the rare anime that’s almost better if you wait until you’re feeling a little sad to watch it, as it’s a show that speaks to those feelings in a very real way.
Angel Beats! is a heavily stylized series that’s full of loud colors and over-the-top action. The art style is unique, yet familiar, and the story is set in a weird, alternate-reality version of a high school, but it’s also a show that will make you cry. Seriously. It’s almost a guarantee. Angel Beats! is about a group of people who are trapped in this strange afterlife, and they’re forced to fight a war against the evil beings who trapped them there. It sounds bizarre, but the series is a lot more character-driven than it is plot-focused, and it’s that aspect that makes it so effective. There’s a lot of humor in the series, but it’s also extremely sad, and the fact that you can go from laughing one moment to completely misting up the next is a rare, but extremely effective, trait. If you want to watch something that’s fun and engaging, but also hits those sad, heavy feels, Angel Beats! is definitely worth a watch.
A Silent Voice
This is a series that could easily have made this list for a variety of reasons, as it’s both a romance and a tragedy, but let’s focus on the former for now. A Silent Voice is about a teen who falls in love with his deaf classmate, but ends up pushing her away because he’s too afraid to admit that he has feelings for her. It’s a heavy, but familiar, premise, but what makes this series special is that it explores those feelings in a very real way. This isn’t some over-the-top melodrama; it’s a series that shows how easily these sorts of feelings can be avoided or ignored, and how they can just fester until they become toxic. We’ve all been in this situation, and we’ve all felt like we’re in it right now, and that’s what makes this series work. It’s relatable in a way that most anime romances aren’t, and even though it’s technically a tragedy, it’s one that’s definitely worth watching.
Clannad is the quintessential “get ready to cry” anime, but that’s because it’s just that good. It’s a series that is equal parts sweet and sad, and it’s got a lot of elements that make it effective at getting to the feels. It’s got a slow, slice-of-life pacing that gives it a certain weight, and it’s got a thread of tragedy woven throughout that gives it a feeling of inevitability. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s simultaneously a coming-to-terms story, and it’s a series that’s almost impossible to watch just once.
All of these series are worthwhile, but there are many other excellent anime series available, and even this top five list is subjective. There is no better genre for emotional release than anime, and there are plenty of shows that will give you the feels. There's something out there for everyone, whether it's the low-key realism of 5 Centimeters per Second or the over-the-top dramatic flair of Clannad, it's just a matter of finding the right one.