Regarding the most iconic anime characters of all time, it’s hard to forget the anthropomorphic animals that support famous human heroes like Naruto, Sailor Moon, Luffy D. Monkey, and others. Whether adorable family pets that provide emotional support, sidekicks that protect their human allies with physical prowess and fighting skills, or spirit animals that guide human characters toward salvation, the most memorable animated animals add a lot more value to the story than adorableness.
For example, with Season 2 of Jujutsu Kaisen which concluded on December 28, 2023, all eyes turned to see how Panda would assist Yuji and defeat the sorcerers during the harrowing finale in Shibuya. From proud pandas and pet dogs to cute cats, hyperactive reindeer, flying bison and more, it’s time to celebrate the 10 most famous and recognizable animal characters featured in anime movies and TV shows.
10 Sadaharu — Gintama
One of the most epic genre-blending anime series on record, Gintama remained on the air from 2005 to 2016, with 375 episodes. The samurai tale takes place in feudal Japan, where aliens invade the land and enslave its population. When Gintoki rises as an unlikely hero, he forms an organization called the Yorozuya, whose mascot is the iconic alien canine, Sadaharu.
Sadaharu is an enormous fluffy white dog who famously prevented the destruction of Earth from an invading fleet of killer cockroaches. If that wasn’t legendary enough, Sadaharu was originally bestowed as an Inugami (Dog God) and granted immense powers to fight for and protect his family, including the unforgettable head-biting technique that’s become infamous. Loving and loyal as can be, Sadaharu’s iconic status also includes drinking strawberry milk and turning into a horned beast.
9 Panda — Jujutsu Kaisen
Panda is one of the most ferocious brawlers and powerful sorcerers in Jujutsu Kaisen, a landmark anime that utilizes magic known as “Cursed Energy” that most people have, but cannot control. Despite having the appearance of a fully grown panda bear, the lovable ursine is technically an advanced Abrupt Mutated Curse Corpse, a distinction that grants the character immense superpowers.
Panda’s supernatural skills and well-rounded personality catapult the character into legendary status. For instance, Panda can amplify his animalistic traits by morphing into a Gorilla or a Triceratops, absorb and cast cursed energy, destroy enemies with “Unblockable Drumming Beat” shockwaves, and is incredibly proficient at hand-to-hand combat. Panda’s punishing physicality is balanced by his upbeat and sarcastic personality that often makes light of the darkest situations.
8 Akamaru — Naruto
The description “man’s best friend” resonates deeply in Naruto, the universally acclaimed anime series created by Masashi Kishimoto. While the story follows Naruto’s quest to become the best ninja in his village, it’s the touching bond between potential Hokage Kiba Inuzuka and his pet pooch Akamaru that no fan will rightly forget anytime soon.
Akamaru is a Great Pyrenees breed of dog that began the series with red fur. At the time, Akamaru was so small that Kiba could carry the puppy on his head. When he grew bigger and developed his trademark white fur, Akamaru returned the favor and often carried Kiba on his back.
The two spent years together as loyal compatriots, with Akamaru protecting Kiba in battle by using the Beast Human Clone technique and Passing Fang attack, which combines the power of the boy and his dog to deliver twice the damage to opponents.
7 Tony Tony Chopper — One Piece
Recently adapted by Netflix as a live-action series, One Piece remains one of the most famous and longest-running animes ever created. The story follows Luffy D. Monkey’s quest to become the finest pirate on the high seas, turning to his crew of Straw Hats to conquer land and take down various enemies. Among the One Piece Straw Hats is Tony Tony Chopper, one of the liveliest and most well-written anime animals ever seen.
Also known as the Candy Cotton Lover for his sweet tooth, Tony Tony Chopper is a diminutive reindeer with a hyperactive personality. Thanks to his Hito Hito no Mi Devil Fruit, Chopper can transform into a human hybrid on a whim and use heightened powers in battle as a result.
Chopper is also the resident doctor of the Straw Hat Pirates whose medical acumen allows him to nurse his mates back to health. In a hilarious running gag, Chopper’s mates constantly mistake him for a raccoon dog and a gorilla, which serves as a source of humor for the iconic anime animal.
6 Kirara — Inuyasha
Arguably the finest yokai anime on record, Inuyasha takes place in Feudal Japan, where the titular half-demon helps teenager Kagome find a mystical Shikon Jewel that leads to her salvation. Together, the two round up a team of demon slayers, including Sango and her pet cat Kirara. Kirara is a cat demon who appears in two forms: an adorable white kitten and a flying, flame-spitting sabertooth tiger.
While the fox demon Shippo is also worth mentioning, Kirara comes to the rescue time and again when Inuyasha and Kagome are at their most vulnerable, often saving the day when things look hopeless. Apart from being fiercely loyal to Sango and doing whatever it takes to protect her, Kirara has a mythic, timeless fairytale quality somewhat akin to a dragon. Kirara’s dual nature as a cute kitten and a ferocious feline elevates the character to iconic status.
5 Puar — Dragon Ball
Possessing the physical traits of a rabbit mixed with a cat, Puar is the lovable shape-shifting animal that often accompanies Yamcha in Dragon Ball. Puar was hatched by an egg yet bears mammalian characteristics that it uses to assist Yamacha as a friendly pet and sidekick. Apart from his unflinching loyalty to Yamcha, what makes Puar special is the unwavering faith he has in Yamacha and the encouragement the creature gives Yamcha when he lacks confidence. Puar is a motivational force behind Yamcha’s triumphs.
Whether vouching for Yamcha to Android 18 as a worthy team captain or preventing Yamcha from engaging in Vegeta’s baseball brawl, Puar expresses his loving concern for Yamcha time and again and often cheers Goku and others on during battle tournaments. An adorable mainstay in one of the all-time most popular anime on record, Puar proves that human characters are at their best when assisted by loving anime animals.
4 Luna & Artemis — Sailor Moon
Without question, Luna and Artemis from Sailor Moon will always rank among the most iconic anime animals. Luna is a black cat with the ability to speak, and uses her vocal skills to give Sailor Moon sage advice as a wily mentor. Aside from launching trailblazing anime by giving Usagi her magical broach, Luna constantly keeps the Sailor Guardians and Tuxedo Mask on course with her shrewd leadership.
Of course, it’s hard to discuss Luna without mentioning her romantic partner Artemis, the white cat companion to Minako. Together, Luna and Artemis are powerful Sailor Moon characters who go to great lengths to ensure the safety of the Sailor Guardians, with their playful interactions ranking among several fan-favorite moments in the long-running anime. Despite their different personalities that lead to hilarious moments, Luna and Artemis’ future daughter Diana proves how much they love one another.
3 Appa — Avatar: The Last Airbender
Few anime series remain as popular as Avatar: The Last Airbender in 2023. The superb 2000s animated series imagines a world divided into four elemental nations: Air, Earth, Fire, and Water, where a young Airbender named Aang is the Avatar, who can control all four elements and must balance out the four nations. To assist his mission, Aang has his friend Appa, an unforgettable animal companion that resembles a bizarre hybrid between a Bison and a Manatee.
Appa’s versatile nature as an air and land mammal with the ability to fly put the character into rare form. Although he cannot speak, Appa is much smarter than animals like Momo, Aang’s other animal companion, and is capable of understanding what Aang communicates, using his intelligence to protect his loved ones. Appa’s three-dimensional personality also includes a fear of fire and a temperamental attitude when in peril, which only makes the iconic animal even more relatable and easy to identify with.
2 Totoro — My Neighbor Totoro
From the world’s preeminent animator, Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro follows sisters Mei and Satsuki as they travel to reunite with their ill mother. In the secluded forest nearby, the sisters meet and interact with various forest spirits that boost their morale, including Totoro, a large, round, fluffy, and eminently huggable spirit animal inspired by various creatures in the wild.
Tototro can be seen as a combination of tanukis (Raccoons), cats (big eyes, pointy ears, and whiskers), owls (chevron markings on its chest and the hooting noises it makes), rabbits (cotton tail), and bears (hulking body). Regardless of what type of animal Totoro is, it’s what the character stands for that remains so iconic.
Totoro is the spirit animal that helps the sisters overcome their sadness, embrace their childlike sensibilities, and find a ray of hope in the world. As such, Totoro has become a well-established figurehead for Studio Ghibli as a whole, used as the icon for the studio, and featured in the introduction of all of Ghibli’s movies.
1 Pikachu — Pokémon
Perhaps a no-brainer, but Pikachu is easily the most recognizable anime pet in the history of anime. The iconic yellow mouse-like creature has become the unofficial mascot of the entire Pokémon franchise, with the character originating as Ash Ketchum’s trusty anthropomorphized pet. The electric-type rodent is cute, cuddly, curious, and quite skilled in a variety of ways.
Thanks to Pikachu’s ability to channel and manipulate electricity, the endearing rodent is more adept at fighting than people might expect based on its cuteness. Pikachu can use static electricity to stun, slow, and paralyze enemies, which often comes in handy when he and Ash venture across the land.
Apart from Pikachu’s power, the character remains iconic for transcending the anime to become the brand’s insignia across the media landscape, including manga, movies, video games, etc. There probably is no anime character, human or animal, more universally recognized than Pikachu.