Many otaku can relate to the feeling of being alienated. Though anime has found a massive audience these days, this has not always been the case. That same alienation, however, is precisely what has helped many an otaku find each other.
While cultures around the world have long since placed close family relationships on pedestals, in the modern world, more and more people have come to value found family over blood relatives. Given this, it isn’t surprising that some of the most beloved anime also feature themes of found family.
9 These Dogs Are Hardly Strays
Bungou Stray Dogs
Newcomers could be forgiven for assuming Bungou Stray Dogs is style over substance. The premise involves re-imagining famous authors as supernaturally powered anime detectives. But this is a series produced by Studio Bones, and Bones knows how to cut to the heart when necessary.
The ragtag detective agency is composed of supernaturally talented outcasts of all stripes, ranging from a boy possessed by a tiger to a kid who gains superhuman strength when he’s hungry. Often the Stray Dogs’ aren’t especially useful, but they don’t have to be. In this group, they belong, and in the end, they’ll do almost anything to protect one another.
8 Idols After Death, New Sisters Forever
Each member of Franchouchou has lived unhappily… and then died. And while the central concept of Zombie Land Saga is unabashedly gimmicky — this is a series about an idol group made up of actual zombies — the actual story is thoroughly affecting. Sakura was an aspiring idol who didn’t get a chance to make it, Saki was a delinquent who died young, former idol Ai was miserable before being struck by lightning at a concert, and Junko died in the Showa era, far removed from modern expectations.
But in being brought back to life and forming Franchouchou, the cast finds themselves part of a larger cause and in a group that truly understands them. It took dying for them to get there, but these girls are finding happiness and friendship at last.
7 Few Anime Series Champion The Queer Experience
The queer community is deeply bound to the “found family” phrase, and it would be disingenuous to forget that this community has long since fought hard to find a place in the world. One series that addresses the queer experience with care and insight is Wandering Son, the story of two trans kids who befriend each other.
Shuichi identifies as a girl, and after transferring to a new school meets Yoshino, who is beginning to identify as a boy. They encourage each other, supporting one another through the inevitable trials of puberty, identity, and self-acceptance. While no series is perfect, Wandering Son represents a genuine and largely successful chronicling of the adolescent trans experience, highlighting the comfort that can be found in a kindred spirit.
6 Otaku Girls Unite And Conquer
Few anime capture the essence of the otaku experience so thoroughly and with as much charm as Princess Jellyfish. A show that is unabashedly queer-friendly, found family comes into its own gloriously here. Each of the main protagonists, or Amars (the ladies refer to themselves as nuns), is an odd duck otaku girl. Tsukimi is obsessed with jellyfish, Banba with trains, Mayaya with The Three Kingdoms, Chieko with traditional clothing, and Jiji with handsome old men.
Even among geeks, these girls are too geeky. While finding each other is inherently good for them, they also feed into each other’s insecurities and more or less hide from the world. But Kuranosuke, a politician’s son fond of cross-dressing arrives and shakes them out of their hibernation. Kuranosuke’s arrival signals not just the start of a wonderful story, but an incentive for these odd girls to make the most of their unique talents. They help each other grow but don’t try to fundamentally change one another. This feels like a real, supportive family of weirdoes.
5 The Forgers Have Forged A Truly Wholesome Unit
Spy x Family
The smash hit of the past year, Spy x Family has been embraced by fans of all ages the whole world over. It’s hardly surprising, considering the universal appeal of Anya’s antics. But beyond the comedy and spy homages, there’s a bigger beating heart here.
Spy x Family is a masterclass in dramatic irony, with only telepathic Anya in on the truth along with the audience. As Anya often thinks, “Daddy’s a liar,” and so is she, and so is Yor. A spy, a telepath, and an assassin who band together for their own reasons, the three of them quite accidentally and quickly become a truly loving family. At some point, imitation becomes reality, and the biggest example of dramatic irony here is that these three people love each other already.
4 Everyone Adopts The Elrics
Everyone makes mistakes, but a few mistakes are as isolating as breaking the laws of land and nature and losing large portions of one’s own body in the process. But Edward and Alphonse Elric are only kids when they make these mistakes, and these mistakes soon propel a fantastic story. Alone though the Elrics feel, the beating core that makes Fullmetal Alchemist iconic is the realization that everyone they meet is as flawed as they are, and more often than not, sympathetic to their pain.
The found family that soon surrounds the Elrics is made up of weathered adults who can’t fathom going through what the Elrics have at such a young age. Guilty of war crimes they can’t undo, taboo magic, and self-harm: these adults only want to help. Mistakes don’t define a person, but empathy does. The adults in FMA are fantastic characters because fundamentally, they understand these kids.
3 In The Vast Loneliness Of Space, A Family Is Briefly Formed
It’s hard enough making friends on Earth, but Cowboy Bebop, the fan-favorite space western classic, depicts a much larger and lonelier setting: the universe. And yet, somehow, Spike, Jet, Ed, Faye, and Ein find each other. Briefly, this gang of outcasts forms not just a bounty-hunting operation, but a real family aboard the Bebop.
The show doesn’t take it for granted, either. As in life, sometimes the best relationships are over before anyone realizes it. And that’s part of what makes Cowboy Bebop so resonant. All things come to an end.
2 Friends Gradually Gather Around A Deserving Outcast
Natsume’s Book of Friends is the slowest of slow burns, but that only makes the experience more rewarding. Natsume spent his childhood being passed from relative to relative, growing increasingly isolated over time as countless family members rejected him. A frightened boy cursed and gifted with the ability to see yokai, Natsume unfailingly disturbed his potential caretakers.
By the time the story starts, Natsume is an introverted teen stepping on eggshells. He distances himself from everyone. And while this could be clichéd, the gradual, gentle nature of this series means that Natsume’s confidence and friendships feel deeply authentic and nuanced. Natsume slowly but surely finds himself surrounded by people and spirits who appreciate his kindness.
1 The Straw Hats Are Nakama Forever
“Nakama” is the lifeblood of One Piece, and arguably the reason this shonen megahit is virtually peerless when it comes to continued popularity. While most shonen series feature gangs of colorful young people banding together, One Piece elevates the trope to new heights. From the very get-go, Luffy is determined to find the perfect people to join his pirate crew. The Straw Hat crew, with its talented but flawed and wounded members, is perfectly imperfect.
None of the Straw Hats escaped youth unscathed. Nami’s mother figure was murdered before her eyes. Usopp was bullied as a kid, Robin was raised by an abusive aunt, and Chopper spent his whole life being treated as a monster. But in finding each other, the Straw Hats find people who don’t question their dreams. They are true family at last and always.
NEXT: 10 Unconventional But Heartwarming Found Families In Anime