Why Don’t Anime Characters Ever Have Parents?


Why is it so rare that main characters in anime actually have parents? Or if they do have parents, they’re away on an extended trip, or just never show up in-show. Given how unlikely it is any teenager would be left to their own devices in real life, it seems weird that this comes up so often in anime.


This isn’t actually something that’s specific to anime – if you look at young adult literature in general, or western shows aimed at teens, you’ll see a whole lot of absent parents. And there’s solid, specific reasons for that.

First, parents kinda dampen the storytelling common to these works. Most stories with high school-age characters just don’t benefit from parents – they’re adventures, they’re romances, they’re all based in the sorts of things kids do when parents aren’t around. They’re escapism, basically, and parents ground this stuff, and draw focus away from what these stories are intended to be about. You can’t have five girls suddenly crowding your house if your parents around – you can’t spend a week away in search of the Demon’s Skull if your parents will call if you’re home late from school. Second, removing parents also gives kids no higher authority to turn to – it increases tension when the protagonists have no-one to rely on. And finally, many of these stories actually start as the kids break from their parents – because of that, their entire world has a fresh slate, and so you can essentially ride along with the character as they enter the stage their story is depicting. This is somewhat related to why sports or fantasy stories so often center on “the rookie,” an outsider in their world – not only does this facilitate a classic hero’s journey, but it also both allows the viewer to better align themselves with the protagonist (since the viewer’s reactions should be similar), and allows the story to dabble in exposition that seems natural (since while explaining the rules of a sport directly to the audience isn’t graceful, explaining it to the rookie audience proxy is absolutely natural).


Kinda continuing from that set of points, it’s also a generally accepted truism that every element of a story should be critical to that story. Not only does adding parents add a set of relationships and baggage to explain to the audience (something which also distances the viewer from the protagonist, since the viewer necessarily doesn’t have that connection with the parents, whereas the viewer will ostensibly have “standard” reactions to whatever new characters the show introduces), but if you have parents in a story (and you’re trying to write a good story), you kind of have to make use of them. Which is why often high-school stories with actual parents tend to be family stories – shows like Clannad or Toradora feature parents because the relationship between parent and child is actually a critical part of those show’s goals. But if your show doesn’t have family themes, then adding scenes with the family often just draws focus away from the characters and relationships that are actually central to your show. Meaning parents/siblings either get a couple scenes just to establish a home life/context for a character, or are absent entirely.

So while it’s kind of weird to think of stories in general as existing in a world where parents are an exotic rarity, on an individual level it often makes a lot of sense to leave them out.

10 thoughts on “Why Don’t Anime Characters Ever Have Parents?

  1. The thing that strucked me in my first anime years is that, most of the time, when parents are presents, we ever see them faces, and never entirely (Higurashi is the first example who comes to mind).
    It’s here to see that even when parents are present, the focus is still not on them (What the Monogatari does all the time, obviously).

    • I probably could have written a subentry here entirely dedicated to how Monogatari handles this (granted, that’s true of how Monogatari handles MOST elements of storytelling, but still). They’re actually extremely ostentatious about it there – avoiding parents isn’t just done to make the stories more convenient, it’s done because the active characters don’t see their own parents as important figures in their lives. And then when it switches to a character like Hanekawa or Kaiki, suddenly parents start appearing.

  2. I think it really depends on the series. Even Chuunibyou benefits from the MC’s parents, well his Mom at least. There are certainly a lot of stories where parents would not fit. I actually kinda like the anime that can incorporate parents into the story without making them seem like overbearing and overprotective, or even useless. It certainly works with Slice of Life shows and some romances.

    I couldn’t imagine how weird WA2 would be if their parents somehow factored into the story in a meaningful way.

    I am liking how this trend of not including parents is being tested in a way. Would Nagi-no Asukara be a good show without Hikari and Akari’s Dad or even some of their parents? You could possibly make it where it centered just on the kids and their issues. That in itself would not be a bad idea, if done correctly. Its the inclusion of the parents that can enhance the drama and romance in a good way that makes it more entertaining to watch. That scene with Chisaki’s parents as they were falling asleep spoke a lot and I really liked that.

    I don’t tend to like the series that makes one or so mentions of the parents and then brushes them aside. Why even introduce them to us if they play so role in the story.

    Forgive me if this doesnt make much sense. Rambling…

    • Yeah, it’s much more common to some genres than others. I mention young adult literature for a reason – parents are generally absent in the kind of stories that are basically fantasies for young people. Nagi no Asukara is very much NOT that – it’s intended for an older audience that’s more interested in the broader, more true-to-life context of the kids’ lives, where their parents’ presence and influence is a critical part of what informs their personalities and actions. It’s also a story about the passage of time and the importance of the bonds we share with those around us, meaning yeah, it’s a “family story.”

      I agree with you about generally preferring these kinds of stories – personally, I think the stories that actually reflect the messy contexts of our lives just ring far more emotionally true than the other kind.

  3. It’s important to note than in all of those case, even if the parents are not around, they are still alive, and the hero know where they are.

    If the parents (at least one) are dead/have disappeared, they will have an important place in the story.

    And then you have the other fantasy where parents are here, but there only goal is to be the antagonist (OreImo being the example I have, but it’s handled better in Tari Tari where their opposition only reflects their own doubts and their love for their children).

    • True, dead parents are a whole separate thing. Meaningfully absent parents can pretty much define a story all by themselves, like in Uchouten or Kyousogiga.

  4. Dead parents is part of the deal, I’d say. I’ve once had a lecture on parents in say, Narnia and Harry Potter. Absent parents is part of the Hero’s Journey, the removal from the parents indeed frees the character to action.

    Dead parents are often played in one of two ways – either to make the character “different”, by having lost their parents long ago, or their death is what sends the characters on their journey.

    I still think that while it has a reason, it is still something that hampers anime as a whole, having become something of a convention, a lazy convention. Parents can have a role, and much nuance or insight, or whole avenues of storytelling are shut down by the fact they’re almost never there.

    I wish there’d been more balance.

    And sure, dead parents can be meaningful, but notice the examples you’ve provided of Kyousougiga and Uchouten Kazoku – they’re dead but not absent. Usually, they’re dead, absent, or both. “Dead and absent” parents don’t do much. Absent in terms of their role in the story.

    And yes, it frees characters to be “agents”, but does much to keep us receiving the same meandering stories.

    • Yeah, it certainly keeps stories traveling down pretty similar paths. But commercial industry etc etc – people looking for harems, comedies, or shounen fantasies don’t need parents mucking up their escapism.

  5. I get the reason, but still, I mean at least show what the parents look like. In is this a zombie the mc’s parents never even make an actual appearence!

  6. I get the reason, but I’m seriously sick of every shounen/shojo anime plot I encounter to feature a one-dimensional orphan who’s entire personality can be summed up with “naive”

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