One of the first Japanese words many of us encountered was senpai, which means a person who’s in a higher grade than us in school, or our senior in a company or other organization. The opposite of senpai is kouhai, and in a “vertical” society like Japan, this distinction colors everything from the verbs used in sentences to how the two people exchange respect for mentorship. I thought it’d be fun to work with the J-List Twitter fam to come up with a list of the best anime senpai, and here’s the list we came up with!
Who is the best Senpai? Sauce is is Magical Sempai [sic].
— J-LIST (@jlist) November 4, 2019
Best Work Senpai: Yun Iijima
If you want to learn about the minutia of how “vertical” relationships work in Japan, you can start by watching New Game!, a great anime about
lesbian video game developers females working in a video game company. When Aoba realizes her dream of working for her favorite game developer, she’s surrounded by many senpai characters who support her and teach her what she needs to know to get along in the company. Of all the characters who play a senpai role in the show, I’d say that Yun is the most helpful to Aoba, hence I’ve chosen her for this best anime senpai slot. She’s also good at speaking the Osaka dialect.
Best Senpai for Boy/Girl Romance: Haruka Morishima
Ah, the allure of dating an older woman. What anime MC could resist such a thing? In Amagami SS, a quality school harem show in which six heroines each get a three-episode arc about their romance with main character Junichi, the first (and best) girl is Haruka, his senpai. He confesses his feelings for her, only to get rebuffed. He eventually gives up on his goal of dating her, only to find out later that she’s fallen hard for him.
Best Senpai for Girl/Girl Romance: Touko Nanami
I’m always interested in the way the senpai/kouhai “barrier” must be delicately broken down in yuri (or yaoi) relationships in anime. The age difference and the fact that the kouhai is required to use (slightly) formal language when speaking is a difficulty that must be gotten over before intimacy can begin, which is a concept totally alien to native English speakers.
Best Senpai for Making You a Creator: Utaha Kasumigaoka
Another great senpai is Utaha from Saenai Kanojo no Tsukurikata, or How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. It’s one of the best harem anime series because it’s totally self-aware, constantly making references that break the fourth wall. Utaha is in love with “Mr. Ethical,” but Tomoya only wants her to teach him how to become a proper creator of games and stories.
Best Senpai for Fanservice: Magical Sempai
Another senpai we can all support is Sempai from Tejina Senpai, which is basically Dagashi Kashi but with failed magic tricks and panty shots instead of traditional Japanese candies from the Showa Era. The expectation is generally that a senpai, being the senior in a relationship, will be more competent, and this makes Sempai’s clumsiness all the more charming.
Best Yandere Senpai: Anna Nishikinomiya
Another great senpai is Anna from Shimoneta: A World Without Dirty Jokes, a fun anime about a Japan that has banned all sexual imagery. When her “ecchi switch” gets turned on, Anna-senpai becomes one of the most entertaining characters in years.
Best Senpai for Magical Girls: Mami Tomoe
Another great senpai was Mami-senpai from Madoka Magica, who was so mature and grown-up as she introduced Madoka and Sayaka to the mysterious world of mahoo shoujo. She never failed to do her best when battling witches, even when she was hanging by a head.
Most Tragic Senpai: Roy Fokker
Back in the 80s, anime fans of my generation thrilled to Robotech. I’ll never forget how awkward it was that Roy Fokker, the mentor to main character Rick, was referred to as his “big brother,” a word that didn’t seem to fit their relationship at all. I now know, of course, that the original word was senpai, which makes perfect sense.
Best Bunny Girl Senpai: Mai Sakurajima
A great anime about the main character who needs to help several girls resolve supernatural issues so he can get back to dating his hot kuudere girlfriend with long, flowing hair. No, I’m not talking about the Monogatari Series, but Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, one of the top shows of the past few years.
Did you enjoy our post about the best anime senpai characters? Did we fail to notice your favorite senpai? Tell us on Twitter!
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