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You know what they say, everyone loves an underdog. Do you know why? Well, because we’ve all been that underdog at some point. We’ve all seen people just wildly better at something that occasionally seems to come quite natural to them. However, sometimes all it takes is hard work and determination to help dreams come true. An underdog is someone who can make great things happen because they don’t give up, and people would much rather root for them than those with natural ability. It just so happens that anime is full of underdogs.
Gunbuster may be a short anime, but it captures a classic anime underdog story. Noriko desires to be a space pilot like her father, unfortunately said skills aren’t passed on genetically. Even half way through the series, Noriko is a terrifically terrible mech pilot who everyone wonders why she even continues to try. However, she does continue. She works very hard at it, despite bullying by her classmates who believe she is there purely by nepotism. And in the end, do you know what happens? She becomes, perhaps not the best, but a passably good space pilot.
You may think the titular character is the underdog of this series, and throughout his journey, yes, often he is. However, if you focus solely on Naruto, you miss the real underdog – Rock Lee. Imagine yourself in a ninja-based world where people can learn and often inherit specific techniques like Shino’s bug abilities or the Uchiha sharingan. Then imagine you are Rock Lee who only has the abilities that a normal ninja in our world with have. His Taijutsu skills are all he can do, so he does his best to train them each and every day. While opening the gates gives him some flash, he is clearly an underdog when compared to everyone else. It is a treasure when you see him triumph and do things like kick Gaara’s ass a bit.
Luffy’s whole crew is a bit of misfits, but they are all pretty badass. Well, except for Usopp. Unlike Zoro’s sword skills or Luffy’s Devil Fruit powers, Usopp doesn’t have anything particularly special until way deep into the series. No super strength for Usopp, just a slingshot and a good eye. He’s unremarkable, but tries hard. His rather normal human abilities make him one of the most relatable characters in the One Piece world.
Underdog stories are incredibly common in sports anime, and usually make up the plot of 90 percent of them. However, Haikyuu and a few of the more notable ones on this list need to have something you can relate to with the characters. In Haikyuu, Hinata wants to be great at volleyball, but unfortunately, that is hard when you are 5’4″. He can jump high, but even that doesn’t make up for his height some times. If you want to be the best, you need to overcome handicaps, and that is crucial to Hinata’s story.
Even gods can be underdogs, such is the case of Yato. All he wants is his own shrine, your more common gods having opulent ones in this series. In order to do so, he takes up the role as the Delivery God who takes odd jobs for five yen apiece to save up for it. As you can expect it is not going well. While it starts off as comedic, you soon learn that gods with no one that remembers them will disappear, making Yato’s quest for a shrine tinged with sadness.
Even if you have skill, one bad performance can ruin your career. Such is the case with Yuuri, after an embarrassing performance, he goes into a depression and puts on a bit of weight. It looks like his career is over until his idol, Victor, comes along to train him. Yuri on Ice is a tale of his climb back to greatness.
In my Hero Academia, Midoriya starts off as a quirkless teen with nothing seemly good about him apart from his analytical skills. However, despite not having the powers to make a hero, he has the spirit. This inspires his idol, All Might, to pass on his quirk to him. However, even then Midoriya is not the greatest hero ever despite having the power for it. His body can’t handle the quirk and when using it, it breaks his bones until later in the series. However, the story overall is his climb to become the best hero ever, and that is an underdog tale if there ever was one.
In Food Wars, the main character is actually a bit overpowered when it comes to cooking. However, there is an underdog that is introduced pretty quickly – Megumi. This adorable country girl goes to the best cooking school in perhaps the world, but soon learns that her skills are nothing in comparison to many of the other students. Accompanied by her rapidly deteriorating and already pretty low self-confidence, she finds inspiration in the main character and finally taps into skills that set her apart. In notable instances, such as her consideration for her diners and ability to break down a monkfish, she shows that she deserves to be in that school and gets better day by day.
Let us not forget that Gurren Lagann started with Simon literally being at the very bottom (of the Earth) and sees him elevated all the way to the stars. While other characters may take the stage and be more awesome to watch, this is a tale of Simon’s growth as a person. Even when he finds a magical robot, he doesn’t have what it takes to embrace his destiny, but he gets there.
There are plenty of anime series about heroes who face a number of obstacles to overcome, but Samurai Flamenco is different. It is about a male model that wants to become a hero despite not having any powers or even combat skills. Hazama really just wants to help people, but he is just really terrible at it. Yet, this is the best obstacle for a hero to overcome.
This is one of the newer and more endearing underdog stories to be animated. Shirase is a high schooler with a goal – to go to Antarctica and search for her mother who disappeared there. Even she doesn’t have much hope of finding her mother alive, but furthermore, there are other obstacles. First, getting to Antarctica is expensive. Second, getting to Antarctica is near-impossible as a high schooler. it’s not like this is some anime where they magically send high school girls to our most mysterious continent – Oh, wait. Well, even still, A Place Further Than the Universe does an awesome job portraying their dedication to reaching this goal with more realism than most cute girls doing cute things anime.
All sports anime series are almost always about underdogs, but Hajime no Ippo shows it off perfectly. As a boxer, there is always another fight, and it is always a tougher fight. There is always a challenge to overcome. As he started off as a weak and submissive kid, as you watch him train and grow as a boxer and as a person, there is no one you can root for more.
There are a lot more underdogs than these characters. What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments section below.