I’ve been on a romance kick lately. You can blame it on all the Luv Luv vibes in the air, but rather than bringing you another by-the-book romance anime list like everyone else, I want to hit you all in the gut with some bittersweet romance anime! *cue lightning and evil laugh*
Yes, you read that right, I’m bringing you a list of 10 heartbreakingly beautiful romances that will have you blowing through your stash of 2-ply extra soft tissues!
None of those cute fluffy romances here. We at MANGA.TOKYO bring you 10 romance anime that pack quite the emotional punch. They delve into the complicated and often tragic side of love we often overlook during the super Luv Luv time known colloquially as Valentine’s Day… so prepare your hearts and grab a box of tissues, here are 10 Bittersweet Romance Anime that will give you a serious case of the feels!
Hotarubi no Mori e
2011 Animated Film
Kicking off this list is the animated film Hotarubi no Mori e (Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light) which is based on a short one-shot manga of the same name by Yuki Midorikawa. The film follows a young girl, Hotaru Takegawa who sets out to find the legendary forest spirit said to reside in the forest just outside her uncle’s summer home. She quickly becomes lost in the maze of trees, only to stumble upon a masked man named Gin, who helps her find her way home. The two strike up a friendship that spans several summers, but Gin warns Hotaru that they may never touch lest he vanishes forever. At first, Hotaru is fine with the arrangement, but as the years pass and her feelings for the mysterious young man turn to love, she finds herself longing for more.
This title was the inspiration for the entire list! When I think of bittersweet romances, this is the first thing that comes to mind. I read the one-shot years ago, and it made me weep. It is such a beautifully tragic romance! And thankfully, this film adaptation captures all of those heartbreaking feels from the one-shot and makes it even more fantastic! The relationship between Hotaru and Gin spans several years and with it comes the natural progression from friendship to love. However, it is one that can never be fully realized due to Gin’s no-touching rule. Gin isn’t human and as such can never truly be with Hotaru in the way that she, and later he, wants. They both know that regardless of how they feel, they will eventually have to say goodbye, and OH MY GOD, it is the saddest farewell in the history of tragic romances… I won’t spoil it for you, but trust me, it’s a tearjerker!
Nana Komatsu is a naive and hopeful young woman looking to realize her dreams in the big city, while Nana Osaki is a strong independent punk rocker who hopes of making it big in the music industry. A chance meeting between these two vastly different women with the same name blossoms into a friendship that beats the odds. Follow the pair as they support each other through the ups and downs of life from heartbreak to triumph and as their bonds of friendship are put to the test.
Ultimately, the bulk of the story focuses on the relationship between the two Nanas as they navigate their day-to-day lives and work towards achieving their dreams, but a good bit of the plot focuses on their romantic entanglements and how they, in turn, affect their friendship with one another. But, of all their relationships, possibly the most heartbreaking and tragic, is the relationship between Nana O and her former bandmate Ren. Despite their love for one another, their relationship is plagued by conflict. When they finally manage to set aside their differences and connect, Ren’s untimely death completely throws a wrench in their plans and sends Nana O. on a downward spiral.
The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa)
2013 Animated Film
The Garden of Words tells the story of a 15-year-old aspiring shoemaker and a mysterious 27-year-old woman and their frequent meetings in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens. Both are experiencing various hardships in their lives, finding solace in their budding relationship with one another. What initially starts as a fleeting rendezvous between two strangers on a rainy morning, quickly becomes a source of peace for two troubled souls looking for acceptance. But when the rainy season comes to a close, so does the quiet peace of their meetings.
Shinkai Makoto is known for his beautiful bittersweet films, so I had a really hard time picking just one for this list because, honestly, they all deserve a spot. Since I had to pick one, I went with The Garden of Words (though I think 5 Centimeters Per Second is a masterpiece), because the story is structured around the traditional Japanese meaning of love, the term ‘koi’, whose alternate writing roughly translates to a deep yearning or longing. It has a much more bittersweet connotation, as it references the loneliness and yearning that come along with love rather than the more hopeful and uplifting feelings we usually associate with the emotion. Of course, Garden of Words perfectly encapsulates the loneliness and yearning that come with that emotion through the depiction of its two leads, who despite their different paths and circumstances, find solace in their relationship with one another, even if their relationship is ultimately fleeting.
Third-year high school student Yukari Hayasaka is on the fast track towards the mundane life her parents have planned out for her… that is until she runs into Arashi, an eccentric fashion student and his equally strange group of friends. Initially wary of the group, Yukari agrees to act as the model for their final school project, eventually getting close to each member of the group, especially their super hot leader, George Koizumi. Her interactions with the group help spur Yukari to discover her own dreams.
Drama aside, this is a fairly realistic coming-of-age story. The relationship between the characters is organic and you really feel like these could be real people rather than anime characters. The romance, while full of the normal cliches, feels real. The relationship between Yukari and George isn’t perfect and exists as a means of spurring the pair into realizing their own personal goals and dream. Whether that can happen while they are a couple or not is up to the two of them.
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai)
After the untimely death of their childhood friend Meiko ‘Menma’ Honma, Jinta and his group of friends just drifted apart. Years later, Jinta has become a NEET, cutting himself off from the rest of the world. That is until Menma appears before him asking for his help fulfilling her last wish. Spurred on by his desire to finally put the past behind him, Jinta reconnects with his old group of friends to finally help Menma’s spirit move on.
Any story that features a dead main character is bound to be filled with its fair share of heartbreaking moments. Anohana, however, offers a unique spin on the whole ‘dead lover’ storyline, because Jinta and Menma weren’t actually a couple before her untimely death. Rathe,r they both harbored unspoken feelings of love for one another, which in and of itself is ultimately more tragic. They never had an opportunity to realize these feelings or even act on them, so when Menma comes back from the dead, Jinta sees it as a way of making up for lost time, but since Menma’s time is short, any romantic resolution for the pair is never going to come to fruition.
Clannad & Clannad: After Story
High school delinquent Tomoya Okazaki is content with living out his days without doing anything of importance. While walking home from school one day, he bumps into a cute but strange girl, Nagisa Furukawa, who immediately proclaims them to be friends much to the confusion of Tomoya, who quickly brushes her off. After the strange encounter, Tomoya begins to notice Nagisa around school and develops an interest in her, but he soon discovers she is suffering from an unspecified severe illness.
Two words: terminal illness. You already know where this is going, but even though you know tragedy is just around the corner, you just can’t help but get swept up in the hopeful message of the series. The romance between Tomoya and Nagisa may be fraught with obstacles, but it is one of the sweetest love stories of all time.
The Vision of Escaflowne (Tenkuu no Escaflowne)
Ordinary high school student Hitomi Kanzaki’s life is turned upside down when a strange boy and a vicious dragon suddenly appear before her. In the ensuing fight, Hitomi has a premonition that helps the boy, Van, slay the dragon, but upon doing so a flash of light envelopes the pair and they are transported to magical world of Gaea. Now, stuck in an unknown land, Hitomi finds herself at the center of an ongoing war that will forever change the fates of her new allies and the entire world.
Girl gets transported to another world, girl falls for boy(s) from said world, romance ensues and ultimately ends when girl is sent back to her own world. It’s the same thing we’ve seen a hundred times before, but, Escaflowne does things a little differently. Rather than having Hitomi fall head over heels in love with the actual love interest, she spends the majority of the story fawning over a completely different guy despite her growing affections for Van. To make things even more tragic, when Hitomi and Van finally acknowledge their feelings for one another in the last FOUR episodes (believe me I’m still bitter about that), she is abruptly sent back to Earth, with no way of returning to Gaea… talk about tragic.
Mahoromatic: Automatic Maiden
A secret organization developed a series of special battle androids to assist them in an ongoing battle with an unnamed alien race. One of those androids, Mahoro, is nearing her expiration date and is given the opportunity to live out the remainder of her days as a normal human. With one year left, Mahoro decides to live out the rest of her life as the maid to a lonely middle school student, Suguru Misato.
I usually don’t go for ecchi anime. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid them, but there was something oddly enticing about the story. First, Mahoro is an android, so any romance between her and a human being is bound to end in tragedy, even without the added bonus of her one-year life span. But, that’s what makes this anime so special. Despite knowing that Mahoro’s time is limited, you can’t help but root for her and Suguru. Sure, it’s full of unnecessary fanservice and the ecchi moments range from cringe worthy to mildly amusing, but underneath all of that, Mahoromatic manages to tell a rather heartwarming story.
Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso)
After the death of his mother, piano prodigy Kousei Arima falls into a deep depression that leaves him unable to continue playing the music he loves. With nothing left, Kousei gives up piano for good, resigning himself to a life devoid of music, that is until he meets the beautiful violinist, Kaori Miyazono, who changes the way he sees the world.
Kousei and Kaori, two musicians in the springtime of their youth, must overcome intense personal tragedies in order to live their lives on their own terms. While it is largely a story about how tragedy shapes one’s outlook on life, Your Lie in April also delves into the intricacies of first love through the eyes of the protagonists. However, given their circumstances, theirs is a love that ultimately ends in tragedy. Despite its rather bleak subject matter, the anime manages to have a rather uplifting and hopeful message; it is about living life to the fullest in the face of tragedy.
Your Lie in April Series Review
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo)
2006 Animated Film
Loosely based on the novel of the same name, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time follows the niece of the original story’s protagonist, highschooler Makoto Konno, as she discovers that she can leap through time. Of course, like any teen, Makoto uses her time-traveling abilities for personal gain, but, she soon learns that messing with time has its own consequences.
While not a romance per se, there is a romantic subplot between Makoto and her close friend, Chiaki Mamiya, and let me tell you, it is downright heartbreaking! Despite their feelings for one another, due to the nature of Makoto’s time traveling abilities, the couple can never truly be together. I don’t want to spoil the ending of the film for you guys, so I’m being as vague as I can, but trust me when I say it was a doomed love from the start.
Sometimes Love Hurts
Sometimes love is all sunshine and rainbows, and other times it’s a painful and confusing mess. Like with most things in life, you have to take the good with the bad and the bitter with the sweet because there is much to be learned from tragedy. Heck, some of the best stories are the ones that tug on the heartstrings, so whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, try and make a little time in your schedule for one or two of these bittersweet romances!
Of course, we at MANGA.TOKYO want to hear from you guys! Do you have any bittersweet romance anime you think deserve a mention? Let us know in the comments section, and if you’re looking for more anime suggestions check out our other recommendation articles!!