Examining Socially Awkward Anime Characters

Komi Can't Communicate; Socially awkward
Komi uses a finger gun during a scene in Komi Can’t Communicate

Recently, there have been more socially awkward anime characters than before, which I’ve noticed as a casual anime watcher. Curious about it, I decided to check out some of these series and offer my thoughts.

Socially awkward characters have appeared throughout anime. There are even lists of shy, lonely, and socially anxious characters. These characters are either protagonists or have supporting roles. Their social struggles often become a key part of each story.

I will look at over 20 socially awkward anime characters. The characters mentioned in this article are only a sample of a wider phenomenon. Many anime characters are insecure, quiet, don’t like being around other people, or keep to themselves. I’ve only chosen characters in shows that I have watched to date.

This post contains some spoilers for each series I am writing about. With that, let me get started!

Komi Can’t Communicate

Komi Can't Communicate; Socially awkward
Tadano (right) tries to introduce Komi (left) to a new friend, Katai

The protagonist of Komi Can’t Communicate, Shoko Komi (voiced by Aoi Koga) may be the most well-known socially awkward anime character. She suffers from extreme social anxiety and struggles to communicate. She often writes what she is thinking in a notebook.

This clashes with the fact that since she is stoic and very attractive, she remains very popular. She has been a big reason why the anime has garnered a huge fanbase. There are over 170,000 followers across three subreddits related to the series or the original manga. In the series itself, she can speak somewhat awkwardly when talking on the phone. 

Through the anime she has a goal to have over 100 friends by high school graduation. She is getting closer to reaching that goal. Her first friend is a fellow protagonist named Hitohito Tadano (voiced by Gakuto Kajiwara). He often helps her communicate with others.

The series does an excellent job of showing her anxiety, through her behaviors and emotions, noting how others around her perceive them. Komi is openly described as socially anxious. As the narrator says from time to time, “When a person has extreme social anxiety, they struggle to communicate with others. Bear in mind, they only struggle to form connections, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to.” That’s something which rings true.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai; Socially awkward
Raido (left) and Reina (right) rapping together in an attempt to communicate with one another better.

This romantic comedy centers on Raidō (voiced by Takuma Terashima) who has trouble making friends. He attempts to talk to his classmate, Reina Aharen (voiced by Inori Minase), but believes that she is ignoring him. He later comes to the realization that his fellow classmates had pushed her away. They thought she was timid, clingy, and awkward. In an attempt to bridge the gap, he tries to make Reina be more social and become her friend by any means necessary.

Raidō and Reina are different than Komi. Neither has social anxiety. Instead, Reina speaks softly and Raido’s face is naturally unfriendly. She has trouble telling if she enters someone’s personal space. As the anime goes forward, they become better friends. They meet other nervous characters like Mitsuki Oshiro (voiced by M・A・O), a nervous girl and childhood friend of Reina who has a crush on her. 

Later, Raidō and Reina try and communicate better by rapping. To hammer the point home, Reina rides on fidget spinners in the ED. They have been purported to calm down those with ADHD or autism, even though experts reject those claims. At one point, Reina becomes obsessed, trying to perform tricks and causing little kids to become jealous.

Raidō often struggles to beat Reina in any game and continues to have misconceptions about her. This goes as far as thinking Reina is a delinquent. Although I haven’t read the original manga by Asato Mizu, it likely has similar themes. Her other manga, Denkigai no Honya-san, also features a shy character and may focus on social awkwardness as well.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War; Socially awkward

This ongoing anime is a combination of romantic comedy, slice-of-life, and psychological fiction. It features an introverted, inward-looking protagonist: Yu Ishigami (voiced by Ryōta Suzuki). He has a dark-haired emoish haircut with bangs covering one eye. He is often in his own world. Even so, he keenly observes people. Still, his words clash with those on the Student Council, when he points out inconvenient or uncomfortable facts.

Yu remains afraid that Kaguka will murder him. She sometimes threatens him through her looks or comments, especially related to her crush, student president Miyuki Shirogane. Additionally, Chika, sometimes beats him up when he says inappropriate things.

Due to his sense of observation, he is one of the anime’s smartest characters. He has extra skills with using numbers as the Student Council treasurer. His taciturn behavior, negative thoughts, and lack of presence, as the manga’s author described him, are only part of him. It does not prevent him from going on dates or developing feelings for other students. He fits right into the student council as Kaguka is hypersensitive, Shirogane is not skilled with ordinary things, and Chika is prideful.

By the show’s third, and current, season, his bangs no longer cover his eyes. It might be a sign that he is surer of himself and not as brooding and inward looking. After all, Amethyst in Steven Universe went from having her bangs cover one of her eyes to having both eyes uncovered as she gained more confidence by the final season.

In fact, in the most recent episode of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, he took the initiative. He was less socially awkward than in the past, even though this annoyed the others in the festival planning committee. He used his expertise to shoot down their ideas.

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki; Socially awkward
Rindou nervously introduces herself to the village

The sixth episode of this ongoing comedy series, based on the manga of the same name by Sōichirō Yamamoto, introduced Rindou (voiced by Konomi Kohara). Despite prodding of those around her, she refuses to remove her mask, saying she’s ashamed of her cute face. She will be a recurring character in this anime and may have a bigger role in later episodes.

Her characteristics align with others who are socially awkward. She doesn’t know how to talk to the girls in the village and comes from a village populated only by men. This makes her like the technowizard princess, Entrapta, who is sweet and autistic. She also wears a mask to hide herself from others, to be within her personal world.

You could argue that Rindou, like Entrapta, is masking herself, in that she is hiding her possible autism to fit in at the risk of burnout or extreme stress. It is something which much of the art created by neurotypical people responds to. It connects with the idea that disabilities are people’s superheroes. This idea could be liberating to some, but ultimately is limiting.

In the seventh episode, Rindou practices taking off her mask, wanting to fit in more. While some of the girls plot to have her remove her mask, Tsubaki reassures her, telling her that she should do it at her own pace and not force it. After the scheme by the girls is fooled, she takes off the mask and reveals her face. She is later shown with the mask, which came from the head of her previous village, on the side of her head. She tries to get closer to those in the town, even while Sazanka is jealous of how close Tsubaki and Rindou are getting.

Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club

Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club; Socially awkward
Rina hiding her face with her notebook

This music series, part of the Love Live! franchise focused on music idols, tends to have more extroverted and few socially awkward characters. One exception is shy library reader Hanamaru Kunikida in Love Live! Sunshine!! who is a gregarious introvert. More pronounced is Rina Tennoji (voiced by Chiemi Tanaka) in the ongoing series, Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, who often is too shy to show her face and covers it with a small notebook with face expressions.

This goes one step further: she wears a small monitor in front of her face and cat-eared headphones during live shows. She has a developed knowledge from taking information processing courses. Occasionally she reveals her face to people, but only in specific instances. Unsurprisingly, she’s described as a “face-hiding type school idol”.

Hiding the face is a form of masking. It can refer to someone changing their personality to conform to harassment, abuse, or social pressures, including hiding signs of autism. In the case of Rina, she is doing a bit of the latter, as a person who is somewhat socially awkward. Komi also hides her face partially with her notebook. So, it is not unique to Rina.

In some ways, Rina is like the masked samurai in Fena: Pirate Princess, Yukimaru Sanada. He’s introverted but leads a group of samurai who ties to keep the series protagonist, Fena, safe from any harm. Unlike Rina, he does not sing. Predictably, he falls in love with Fena, and confesses his love for her in the final episode.

Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu

Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu; Socially awkward
Hitori struggles to introduce herself to her homeroom class in the first episode

This 2019 slice-of-life comedy centers around a girl named Bocchi Hitori (voiced by Chisaki Morishita). She has social anxiety and struggles with talking to others. After Kai ends their friendship, she decides to make friends with everyone in her class. But she has one problem: every time she gets excited, she passes out. This is compounded by her struggle to communicate (like Komi)!

She isn’t alone in this. One of her classmates, Ito Kuri (voiced by Honoka Kuroki), who is a student librarian, is also shy. She gets her first friend by accident, Nako Sunao (voiced by Minami Tanaka) when they share an umbrella after school.

As the anime goes forward, Bocchi gains more friends, and becomes more confident in herself. She becomes friends with a supposed “loser” (Aru Honshō), a person who thinks they a ninja (Sotoka Rakita), and a lover of sweets (Peko Onaka). She also becomes friendly with a kid who comes from a wealthy family (Mayo Ojōsa), and many others.

She encounters a stumbling block in Kako Kurai (voiced by Kana Ichinose). Kako has a personal policy against becoming friends as she wants to be strong by herself. She slowly comes around to Bocchi by the anime’s end. Over the course of the anime, Bocchi learns more about herself and what it means to make friends. It’s a good anime for those who are socially awkward or struggle to keep friendships.

Mitsuboshi Colors

Mitsuboshi Colors; Socially awkward
Yui, one of the protagonists of Mitsuboshi Colors, acting nervously

Since the manga’s author, Katsuwo, also wrote Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, its no surprise that this 2018 slice-of-life comedy anime has similar themes. The main character, Yui Akamatsu (voiced by Yuki Takada) is extremely shy. Even so, she leads a group of three girls in elementary school, including herself, Saki Kise (Sat-chan), and Kotoha Aoyama, called the “Colors.” They work together to protect the peace in the town, performing errands and deeds. A pandalike cat they name “Colonel Monochrome” often goes with them.

Despite being shy, she is the most level-headed of the three protagonists as they go on their adventures. She sometimes utters her catchphrase, “Trigonometric functions!” This earns her the respect of Saito, a local police officer. He sees her as the most reasonable of the Colors. Even so, she often goes along with the schemes of Sat-chan and Kotoha.

Unlike other characters in this post, Yui is only shy. She isn’t socially anxious. During her adventures, she can easily converse with people in town. Her shyness is like Aoi Futaba in Princess Connect! Re:Dive. She is diametrically different from Fafnir in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Fafnir is a dragon who acts cold toward others, is disdainful, and distrusts humans.

Although she often wears a star on her shirt, similar to Steven Universe, she isn’t autistic coded like him. That’s because she doesn’t always have as much self-confidence. She also doesn’t experience any traumatic like Steven. Despite this, both share one characteristic: living relatively care-free lives. This is more of the case for Yui than for Steven.

Märchen Mädchen

Märchen Mädchen; Socially awkward
Hazuki nervous after receiving the book which allows her to enter the alternate world

In some ways, Hazuki Kagimura (voiced by Tomori Kusunoki) is like Bocchi or Yui. She is socially inept and shy. As such, she has very few friends or anyone she loves. Not surprisingly, she immerses herself in her imagination and story books, which she calls “Story Syndrome,” as a big fan of fantasies.

One day, she follows a figure to a mysterious library and arrives in another world. She enrolls in a magic academy so she can become a mage (a madchen)! Although she puts this on hold for a time, she later comes back.

Despite her clear social awkwardness, a book chooses her. She becomes a friend of Shizuka Tsuchimikado, with her attraction to Shizuka growing throughout the anime. By the series end, both are either on the road to a relationship or in a relationship.

Significantly, Hazuki writes her own story. She gains her own special powers, deciding her own destiny. These powers include the ability to create a castle, a servant, change feelings of someone, or even make any wish come true.

She is not alone as a socially awkward character. Mai Sadohora (voiced by Hiyori Nitta) is shy, but dislikes malice. She knows karate and self-defense through the martial arts. There is some fan service in this anime and other issues, like occasional partial nudity of the protagonist. It is something which would require a longer review to dive deeper into the series.

In certain ways, she might share some characteristics with Kana Nakamachi. The latter character is a soft-spoken shy girl, who is often frightened, and protagonist of Kanamemo, a slice-of-life yuri comedy. Unlike Kana, she is older and has more friends.

Asobi Asobase

Asobi Asobase; Socially awkward
The Student Council president rejects the typical inappropriate antics of the Pastimers Club

This 2018 surreal comedy is bizarre and made me laugh a lot at its often-absurd antics. In this milieu is one character only named “Student Council President” (voiced by Honoka Inoue). Embodying the stereotype of a shy girl with glasses, she is often quiet. She only got the position after a speech by the beauty-obsessed Vice President appeared to be threatening.

Furthermore, she tries to limit the generally irresponsible Pastimers Club, comprised of the show’s three protagonists, Hanako Honda, Olivia and Kasumi Nomura. She vacillates between wanting to be friends with them and trying to undermine the club. At times, she can appear to be terrifying or condescending when she is trying to act compassionately.

The Student Council President is not socially awkward like characters in recent Western animations like Inside Job, The Owl House, Cleopatra in Space, Steven Universe, or She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Nor does she have a gentle or cool personality like characters in A Centaur’s Life. Instead, she shares some characteristics with Hougetsu Shimamura in Adachi and Shimamura, who thinks socializing is troublesome. However, she doesn’t focus on taking care of other people and her personality isn’t as innocent.

Her character is right at home in this anime. There are characters who are childish, pretend to be something they aren’t, shoot laser beams out of their butt, love the occult, and are otakus.

YuruYuri

YuruYuri; Socially awkward
Rise leans against her senpai, Nana

This slice-of-life yuri comedy, the title which literally translates to “Easygoing Yuri”, which ran from 2011-2012, 2015, ended far too soon. One socially awkward character stands out: Rise Matsumoto (voiced by Saori Gotō). Even as the head of the student council, she has very little presence. She speaks so softly that only one person can understand her: Nana Nishigaki (voiced by Ryoko Shiraishi), a teacher at the middle school. As a result, she has become the “explosive friend” of Nana, as she suffers from Nana’s explosions.

Nana, who is more outgoing, is like Professor Farnsworth in Futurama or Heinz Doofenshmirtz in Phineas & Ferb. In another, she is akin to Raido in Aharen-san wa Hakarenai in that she can understand what Aharen-san is saying, even when others can’t. The camaraderie that Nana and Rise have together is one of the best parts of the show.

She has no zany catchphrases or wild actions like Peridot in Steven Universe, a character often interpreted as autistic. The former is directly the case for the show’s protagonist, Akari Akaza. Supposedly the main protagonist, Akari has a lack of presence unlike other characters, who comedically tease her about it.

Rise and Akari are joined by uptight and tsundere (Ayano Sugiura) or cold and distant (Chizuru Ikeda) characters. Akari nor Rise is non-talkative, making them different than the Demon Lord in The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, to give an example.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform

Akebi's Sailor Uniform; Socially awkward
Akebi (left) and Minoru (right) people watching and taking notes

This recently ended slice-of-life series, with some yuri undertones, centers around Komichi Akebi (voiced by Manatsu Murakami). She attends school in sailor attire. However, the dress code of Roubai Girls’ Academy, an all-girls private school, has people wear blazers instead. In the process, she stands out. Even so, she makes new friends with her bubbly personality, including some socially awkward characters.

This includes an inquisitive girl named Minoru Okuma (voiced by Konomi Kohara) who does not like to socialize. Instead, she prefers to observe other people and take notes, hoping she can use it someday. She enjoys taking notes about animal life. Then there’s Tomono Kojou (voiced by Shion Wakayama) who is quiet, shy, and a bookworm. Not surprisingly, she spends a lot of time in the library as a member of the literature club at Roubai Girls’ Academy.

They are joined by Ayumi Tougeguchi (voiced by Shiori Mikami), a loner and roommate of Okuma. She suffers from anxiety so severe she has to take medication. In the latter, Akebi even aids her. Despite all this, she is a member of the school’s table tennis club.

Okuma, Kojou, and Tougeguchi fit in with other students who either sleep a lot, are self-conscious, or are stoic. Although I have gripes with problematic fan service in this series, this series is mostly wholesome. These characters are part of that.

Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga Daioh; Socially awkward
Sakaki struggles to talk about cats to her fellow classmates

This classic 2002 slice-of-life and surreal comedy has a host of socially awkward characters. Most prominent is the tall and soft-spoken girl, Sakaki (voiced by Yū Asakawa), who is uncomfortable with herself. This shyness manifests itself in her seldom speaking. Her reticence to say words is seen as cool or mysterious, even though it isn’t. This contrasts with her love of cute things, like cats and cat-related paraphernalia. Sometimes she shakes when nervous, like Komi, although not as uncontrollably.

Her expressions are often misinterpreted. For instance, Kagura tries to “protect” her from cats which bite her on her hand. In fact, she only wants to pet cats on their heads. As such, she is similar to Fumi Manjōme in the coming-of-age yuri anime Sweet Blue Flowers or Sue Mitama in the slice-of-life supernatural comedy anime, A Centaur’s Life.

Azumanga Daioh gained a significant following due its majority female cast. No one objectifies or demeans any other character. The series also has a queer audience because Kaorin has a huge crush on Sakaki.

Apart from Sakaki there is Ayumu “Osaka” Kasuga. On the surface she might as an easily distracted and slow girl. Her mind functions differently from other people. The child prodigy, Chiyo Mihama, recognizes this. She is as smart as another socially awkward character, Chloe in We Bare Bears. There’s also the awkward and strange ephebophilic teacher, Kimura, which some call pedophilic. Others say he could be a parody of the magazine that the manga, which the series is based on, ran in.

Closing thoughts

There are many other examples of shy and socially awkward anime characters. Take for example Belphegor in As Miss Beelzebub Likes, Yui Yamada in Kase-San, and Sumi Sakurasawa in Rent-A-Girlfriend. Additionally, Ian Stuart in My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, and two characters in Strawberry Panic!, Hikari Konohana and Kagome Byakudan, are shy, timid, and socially awkward.

Even so, some argued that autism awareness in Japan is lagging, with no series having  an autistic protagonist. Unlike Western TV series, none of these characters are portrayed at “cartoonish extremes” or have their social awkwardness as a “superpower”.

There are many more socially awkward characters in Western animation. There’s a character in the upcoming Dead End: Paranormal Park. All the Steven Universe characters were described as neurodivergent by series creator Rebecca Sugar. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Author: Burkely Hermann

Burkely is an indexer of declassified documents by day and a fan fic writer by night. He recently earned a MLIS with a concentration in Digital Curation from the University of Maryland. He currently voraciously watches animated series and reads too many webcomics to count on Webtoon. He loves swimming, hiking, and searching his family roots in his spare time.


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