We all need breaks in life—from school, work, or even reality itself. While most anime lovers would go for comedies or light slice of life shows to watch on their rest days, there are those who like to go all the way and cry their hearts out during their downtimes.
If you're among those who need an excuse to ugly cry, we've rounded up some real tear-jerkers that will get your eyes misty even days or weeks after you've seen them. The list includes both movies and series and comes in no particular order, so whichever you decide to watch first, be sure to keep the paper towels handy!
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
Anohana is an anime that needs no explaining as to why it's one of the saddest shows ever. It boasts of a following so big that the world bore witness to a global excitement at the announcement of a Stage Event in Japan for the anime's 10th anniversary in 2021.
The story follows a group of estranged childhood friends who are forced to reunite to grant the last wish of their friend, Menma, who died five years before. It's by no means a simple friendship story as it also explores the importance of moving on, not giving up, being honest with your feelings, and understanding those of others', to name a few.
It's a bittersweet story that forces you to look into your own personal conflicts and overcome them. The feels are pretty wild in this one so expect some puffy eyes the morning after!
Garden of Words
Arguably the anime with the best aesthetic quality in the whole list is a Makoto Shinkai. Garden of Words is not a tear-jerker by conventional definition, but it's an underrated story that tugs at the heartstrings because of the inescapable reality check that it bears down on viewers.
When two lonely people meet in a park shed one rainy day, a connection grows faster than the garden around them does. After the fateful encounter, Takao and Yukari find themselves starting to look forward to rainy days when they can pause each of their realities and relax in each other's company. Though the two find solace in each other, reality always has to resume at some point.
The world of Garden of Words is so breathtakingly beautiful, and it works so well as a backdrop to the bittersweet situation that Takao and Yukari find themselves in. Depending on how you see it, the tears can be happy or sad. Either way, you better be ready with the wipes.
Scum's Wish is a series that doesn't seem like it belongs here at first glance. With all the lying, cheating, and sex that lead to a not-so-happy ending, it certainly feels like it should be on another list.
But beneath all the superficiality is the reality of the consequences of desire, which is essentially the story's main point. Though the subject matter isn't as serious as some of the others' here, it still deserves its spot because of how close it hits home to some people. It's mostly easier said than done to try and let go of trauma, and this anime won't teach you how. Despite how it looks, this series is as deep as it gets.
If you're thinking of starting with a mild show, Scum's Wish would be the perfect choice.
Your Lie in April
I doubt this series needs any grand introduction. I could name a few people who would only need to hear the title to get the tears flowing. Your Lie in April is a cute, romantic, and funny music anime, but if you think that's all it is, then you're in for a gut-punching surprise.
Your Lie in April centers on piano prodigy Kousei, who has lost his ability to hear the pieces he plays after his mother died. When he meets Kaori, a refreshingly quirky and gifted violinist, he finds himself unable to break away from his fate as a musician and the strong feelings he develops for her. But Kaori has a secret, one that will change life as Kousei knows it.
This series can give you the sniffles even years after you've watched it. I suggest watching Your Lie in April as soon as you can and just get it over with. Otherwise it'll already have been ten years from now and you're still crying over it.
If you've only seen clips and screenshots of Assassination Classroom, you'd probably find it odd that it somehow found its way to this list. While this two-season anime is indeed comical and full of Mach 20-speed action, it's also bursting with lessons and feels.
Koro-sensei, a yellow octopus with super qualities, teaches a class of academic outcasts whom he trains to assassinate him at the same time. As the story progresses, we see how much the children mature, and witness the growing bond between the students and Koro-sensei, which is what eventually causes the waterworks by the end of the shonen series.
I would suggest not giving up after the first two episodes (like I did). Once you give the anime a chance, you would understand why almost everyone who finishes watching goes on Reddit to ask how to move on from it (like I did).
Into the Forest of Fireflies' Light
Into the Forest of Fireflies' Light is a short anime film that's very light, easy to digest, and is generally a feel-good story. However, in just forty-five minutes, it manages to take viewers on a steep rollercoaster of emotions, with some loops being more welcome than others.
The movie is about Hotaru's friendship with a non-aging, mask-wearing young man named Gin, whom she meets in a spirit-laden forest when she's six years old. As Hotaru comes back every summer after the encounter, she finds her feelings for Gin getting stronger.
But if it were that simple, it wouldn't be in this list now, would it? If I could leave you with any tip at all, it's to not expect anything... except, perhaps, an unlikely anime villain.
Orange is a heavy-hitting slice-of-life anime. On the surface, it highlights how friendship and love are affected by regrets. A deeper look, however, presents viewers with a darker subject: the dangers of suppressed depression, which are made even worse by isolation and self-blame.
On her first day as a sophomore, Naho receives a letter that's supposedly from her future self. It contains very specific information and instructions with the goal of saving Kakeru, a transfer student whom the letter says is no longer with them in the future. After events described in the letter actually happen, proving its authenticity, Naho becomes dedicated to saving Kakeru. Will she and their whole friend group succeed? And what of their future selves from the other timeline?
Though the anime adaptation for Orange wasn't as well-received as the manga due to its art and animation styles, the lesson painfully holds: seeing the signs that the people you love need help despite them effectively hiding it, and learning how to make them feel less alone.
A Silent Voice
Yet another anime that brings focus on current social issues like bullying and self-hate, forgiveness of self and of others, discrimination, and suicide, A Silent Voice is one that you might want to really prepare your heart for.
Shouya, a high school loner, is constantly tormented by his actions when he was a grade-schooler, which includes being a bully to Shouko, a classmate who had hearing and speech impediments. After he decides against taking his own life and goes on a mission to try and be a good friend to Shouko instead, he discovers that it may not be all that easy to turn it around.
The story is deeply cutting, with gripping moments that involve the young characters' yearning for freedom from life's struggles. Though viewers are thankfully gifted with a happy ending, A Silent Voice is an anime movie about difficult topics that will leave you drowning in tears for days on end.
This list won't be half as complete without the mention of the blockbuster Your Name. Like Garden of Words, the backgrounds and character design of this Makoto Shinkai film are incredibly gorgeous. But the movie's beauty is not enough to keep the tears from flowing.
Mitsuha and Taki, two teenagers separated by miles, suddenly wake up one morning and find that their bodies have swapped. As the body switching continues to happen, an indescribable bond begins to form between the two. Can love transcend distance and time? Is the fate of the two teens already decided, or do they make it their own?
Paired with an anime soundtrack that is just as gorgeous, Your Name gets you aboard the feels train whether you like it or not. The only price to pay is the movie getting stuck in your head for a couple days or weeks, and honestly, that's not such a bad deal!
Grave of the Fireflies
I know we said the list wasn't going to be in any particular order, but if we were to select the saddest among all the others, it would have to be Grave of the Fireflies, no doubt. Consider yourself unbelievably strong or just plain heartless if you could get through the whole movie without breaking down.
The story chronicles siblings Seita and Setsuko's struggle for survival after an American airstrike during WWII. Viewers are drawn in by the soothingly familiar Studio Ghibli art style, but then are met with the less-than-comforting truths of war. Seita and Setsuko's story is so tragically endearing that viewers are inclined to stay and see how it ends, to see the culmination of their suffering.
Though the story progression is heartbreaking in itself, it's the fact that the story is based on true events in our history that cements the movie's worthiness of the "Saddest Anime of All Time" title.
Have you already decided which order to watch these in? If you're not ready to jump into all that heartbreak, check out these shoujo titles to gush over instead!