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13 Sad Anime Movies That Will Break Your Heart

These animated masterpieces will have you breaking out the tissues.

A lot of anime is known for its exciting action sequences. Giant robots pummel each other, muscular men with spiky hair yell out the names of their next martial arts special attack, and kids have little pocket monsters fight for their entertainment. All of that is rad, to be clear, but that's not all that anime is. Anime, as with all animation, is just the name of a type of medium, not a genre within itself. That means that there is anime of all different genres, including comedy, horror, drama, and more. There are even plenty of sad anime movies that will reduce you to tears.

So, if you're in the mood for a good Japanese tearjerker, check out our list of films that will open up the floodgates. Some of these films will elicit happy tears—a rush of weepy catharsis as two crazy kids finally realize they love each other and overcome all the obstacles keeping them apart. Others are more devastating, including one movie about two kids trying to survive the horrors of World War II, which is among the most affecting movies ever made.

Read on for our best sad anime recommendations and where you can watch them.

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Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies, a 1988 Studio Ghibli film directed by Isao Takahata, was infamously released as half of a double feature with Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro. Miyazaki's film is a lovely, thoughtful, and explicitly child-friendly tale of whimsy. Grave of the Fireflies, meanwhile, is absolutely harrowing, and the tonal whiplash between the two movies could not be more severe.

Grave of the Fireflies follows two children, a 14-year-old boy named Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko, as they struggle to survive on their own after they're orphaned in a bombing during the last stretches of World War II. It is a tremendously difficult watch but despite this—or, rather, because of this—Grave of the Fireflies is one of the best anti-war films of all time. It is a masterpiece, if you can stomach it. If not, there's always My Neighbor Totoro.

A Silent Voice

The 2016 anime A Silent Voice is a roller coaster of high school melodrama. Directed by Reiko Yoshida and based on a manga from a couple of years earlier by Yoshitoki Ōima, the film follows two teenagers who reconnect after a traumatic childhood. When they were in elementary school, Shōya Ishida was a merciless bully, especially to Shōko Nishimiya, a girl who is deaf. As he gets older, though, Shōya finds that his behavior has ostracized him, and when he reconnects with Shōko after a chance encounter, he begins to find that getting forgiveness from his former victim might not be as hard as, eventually, finding the strength to forgive himself. There's perhaps one twist and story beat too many, and a slightly more streamlined story could've been more effective, but A Silent Voice is still a great, weepy teen drama.

Your Name

Makoto Shinkai's breakthrough is a supernatural body-swapping romance that was a massive critical and commercial success when it came out in 2016. Mitsuha Miyamizu, a high school girl living in rural Japan, and Taki Tachibana, a high school boy in bustling Tokyo, suddenly realize that they are, inexplicably, randomly waking up in each other's bodies. They have no idea why and, as far as they can tell, they have no connection and have never met, and their only way of communicating is by leaving notes that the other will read when they return to their body.

The true genius of the movie, though, is how quickly it gets past the typical tropes and shenanigans of other movies in the body-swap genre to tell an intriguing story about love, longing, and time. Come for Shinkai's trademark photorealistic, hyper-detailed animation style; stay for several breathtaking moments and a lovely conclusion.

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Wolf Children

Mamoru Hosoda, an accomplished anime director who should be a household name in the West, helmed this 2012 film about a single mother. The hook? When Hana was in college, she fell in love with a man who turns out to be a werewolf—in addition to being a loving partner and father, as they had two kids together, Yuki and Ame. But, when he dies in a tragic accident, Hana must raise her children by herself, keeping them happy, safe, and secret, as they're constantly changing from human to wolf form.

Millennium Actress

Satoshi Kon died far too young, passing due to pancreatic cancer when he was 46, but the anime master left behind four incredible, singular films, including the psychological horror masterpiece Perfect Blue and 2001's Millennium Actress. The latter film follows two journalists as they interview Chiyoko Fujiwara, an old woman who was a major film star before retiring decades ago. As Chiyoko tells them the tale of her life, her past comes to life in vividly animated scenes that seamlessly blend genres and styles of the various movies she starred in, making Millennium Actress not just a touching story about love and loss, but a tearful, trippy celebration of cinema itself.

Ride Your Wave

In this 2019 romantic drama with a unique supernatural twist, Hinako Mukaimizu moves to a town on the beach to ostensibly go to college, but really so that she can surf. Shortly after moving, she meets Minato Hinageshi, a firefighter who seems to have his life all figured out. They start dating and fall madly in love, only for Minato to die, tragically, when he drowns attempting to rescue some jet skiers. Hinako is totally devastated and wallowing in her grief, until she discovers that she can still see Minato—and talk to him—in various bodies of water.

Ride Your Wave is a movie about how grief comes in waves (literally, in this case), and director Masaaki Yuasa puts viewers through the emotional wringer along with his characters.

Violet Evergarden

Although primarily a tear-jerking anime series, there are also two Violet Evergarden movies that continue the story of the titular character, a young woman who struggles to find her place in society following a war that cost her a lot, including both her arms and her beloved mentor. Now outfitted with prosthetics, Violet takes a job at a postal company where she writes letters for others who are looking for a human connection, hoping to find one herself.

The first film, 2019's Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, is a side story to the main anime that follows Violet as she goes to tutor a young woman at a fancy boarding school who has her own traumas. The second film, 2020's Violet Evergarden: The Movie, is a proper sequel, and offering Violet closure in her quest to determine what exactly Major Gilbert meant when he said "I love you" just before his supposed death in the war.

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I Want to Eat Your Pancreas

Do not let the name of this 2018 anime give you the wrong idea: This is not a movie about zombies or cannibalism. It's a tragedy, not a horror movie.

Sakura Yamauchi is a high school student suffering from an illness in her pancreas that will eventually kill her. Despite the death sentence, she wants to live as normal a life as she can, becoming friends with a male student named Haruki Shiga who treats her like a normal person despite being one of the only people who knows about her secret diagnosis. Over the course of the film, the two become very, very close, making it all the sadder when… something happens that we won't reveal here. A live-action adaptation of the same 2015 novel, this one titled Let Me Eat Your Pancreas, came out in 2017.

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish

No fantasy elements or supernatural hooks in this 2020 anime, a heartfelt romantic drama. Kumiko Yamamura, a paraplegic young woman who goes by the name Josee, lives with her grandmother. When aspiring marine biologist Tsuneo Suzukawa saves her life in a chance encounter, Josee's grandmother offers him a job as her caretaker, much to Josee's initial chagrin. But, eventually the two bond, only for life to throw them a couple of curveballs as they learn who they each want to be and what they mean to each other.

The Boy and the Heron

  • 2023
  • Not available to stream or rent; will eventually stream on Max
  • 7.6/10 on IMDb

Miyazaki's latest, Oscar-winning film The Boy and the Heron, is a big movie. Even if the anime master never makes another film after this, it's a fitting capstone to his filmography, drawing upon themes and imagery from all of his previous works for a massive, complex film with numerous different readings, most of which have some merit.

When young Mahito Maki loses his mother during World War II, he goes to live at his aunt's rural estate after his father remarries. Once there, Mahito is soon drawn into a fantasy realm that's as scary as it is whimsical, guided by a grey heron. Without giving anything away, it's Mahito's relationship with Lady Himi, a young girl with power over flames who he encounters inside this fantasy realm that is The Boy and the Heron's most emotional plotline. Lady Himi's final lines in the film, in particular, are all but guaranteed to get the tears flowing.

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In This Corner of the World

This 2016 film is similar in subject and tone to Grave of the Fireflies, though while it is a difficult watch, it's ultimately not as gutting as the Ghibli movie. Suzu, an 18-year-old girl who lives near Hiroshima, has just gotten married in 1943. The film—the extended version of which holds the record for being the longest-ever theatrically released animated movie with a two-hour and 48-minute runtime—follows Suzu as she and her family deal with the impact of World War II on Japan, braving bombings, food shortages, and the loss of those they hold dear. In This Corner of the World ultimately ends on an uplifting note, but it's a hard look at the Pacific War and what it cost the people of Japan.

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms

This 2018 high-fantasy anime movie explores a theme that other stories in the genre have touched on, but few quite so emotionally and effectively as Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms. Can immortality be a curse?

Maquia is an Iorph, a member of a race that lives for centuries and stops aging in young adulthood. After her hometown is destroyed when an evil kingdom attacks it, Maquia finds an orphaned newborn. She decides to adopt the child, who she names Ariel, and the rest of the film follows the two of them over the decades as he grows older… and she doesn't.

Pokémon: The First Movie

  • 1998
  • Stream on Prime Video with a Pokémon subscription
  • 6.3/10 on IMDb

Is the first Pokémon movie, released in the U.S. in 1999, as sad a movie as some of the others on this list? No, of course not. How could Pikachu compare to starving orphans of WWII or the death of a loved one? But '90s kids will remember how sad they were during the climax of the movie (spoiler!) when Ash Ketchum is turned to stone and seemingly killed after he's hit by a psychic blast while trying to put a stop to Mew and Metwo's fighting. If you don't cry when Pikachu makes a grieving, futile effort to zap Ash back to life, then perhaps it is you who is made of stone.

James Grebey
James has been an entertainment journalist for more than a decade, writing and editing for outlets like Vulture, Inverse, Polygon, TIME, The Daily Beast, SPIN Magazine, Fatherly, and more. Read more
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