we are family: anime sons and character fandom

Like many things in my life, it started as a joke.

I was in Asia for research, hanging out with cousins about 10 years my junior. They shared their room with me, lending me their youngest sister’s bed, and busted out their stash of BL from the bottom of a box of manga (an almost secret they kept from their mom). I called them my research assistants, still do. They accompanied me to comics libraries and fan conventions, invited their friends over to show me their manga and dojinshi collections. Over tea and cake, shopping and snacking, we rode the energy of our collective reading histories, chatting through habits we’d developed in naming, loving, and longing.

“She’s a fan of Prussia,* too,” my cousin gestured towards me while addressing a friend she’d invited over. I supposed this was how we were meant to start building a conversation. Instead, her friend put one hand over her heart and dramatically pointed a finger from the other at me.

“Love rival!” she accused.


It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but I guess it was not really a way I tended to relate to characters, at least not then or now. In high school, I once harbored a long drawn out crush on Marlon Brando after watching him play Mark Antony in Julius Caesar (I was terribly fascinated with Plutarch’s Lives and Shakespeare’s Roman plays for whatever reason). I read his autobiography and celebrated his birthday. Friends gifted me with old posters of him they found sitting in frames for sale at flea markets. There was one of him on a bike wearing a peaked hat (from The Wild One) I remember especially fondly. I’m sure I tried at least on one occasion to buy a hat that resembled it. I wish I could say it feels like worlds ago, but it’s more like it was the 90s and no one else cared so I never got to test how I would feel if another zealous fan showed up.

The moment passed, we exchanged books and sweets, they told me about their favorite artists and what events they planned to attend over the summer. Afterwards, I admitted to my cousins that I’d never thought about the appropriate way to follow up on being accused of liking the same character in love triangle fashion. How did I relate to characters, then, they wondered? I quipped, “Well, I don’t know about Prussia, but…there are a bunch of characters I refer to as ‘my son.'”


After having a good laugh about that, we predictably started going through the names of faves and sports brats to determine if they were sons (mostly Aomine and Haru, in my case) or not (for me, Levi).  Then, in familiar fan friend fashion, they introduced me to a work where they suspected I’d find yet another (see Araba Seri below).

This idea of 2D sons–while something I hear often enough in the western anime fan circles to whose edges I’ve somewhat attached myself (and that, I suspect, consist largely of women in their late twenties or older)–was in turn refreshing and bizarre enough to my cousins as well as other fangirls I met and talked to in Asia that, through our conversations, I started making up rules and criteria in my mind for who was and was not a son. For instance, I set a personal limit of one son per series, just to have some vague parameter (Shusei Kagari became an honorary son when I was testing this as a search function). Sometimes, I’d claim a character who shared resonances with others I call son (Mikoshiba Mikoto and Tanakakun can stay for dinner any time they like). Sometimes, it’s about the particular affect associated with my feelings for the character, whether it’s “protect this child at all costs,” “can I adopt you?” or “there’s just no way I didn’t birth this fool.” All my sons help me externalize hatred I was taught to have for certain aspects of myself because they are, as we all are, perfect.

Earlier this year, two things happened.

First, I met Killua Zoldyck who filled my heart with so much light the joke finally collapsed on itself and I was left with nothing but fond feelings for the miracle of life (lol). Then, as is wont to happen with fannish topics, the idea of 2D sons got unnecessarily concrete during an excited transnational Skype conversation with a fangirl friend and I felt compelled to make a definitive list for her.

When I sat down to compile the list, it was actually much easier than I’d thought it would be. I allowed myself twelve names, a nice round number, that I knew would begin with Tamaki and end with Killua. Then, I let my heart sort out the rest. To describe the process: I imagined my heart as a house and tried to picture the characters who inhabit it, the family I’d been building in my mind somewhere, the futures I want to cherish and watch over.

So that’s that. I present to you the semi-guided list of anime sons, a shorter version of which can be found on tumblr.

*a character from Axis Powers Hetalia (2006- , Himaruya Hidekaz)

Suoh Tamaki 須王 環 (Ouran High School Host Club桜蘭高校ホスト部)

I met Tamaki during my first year as a PhD student when I realized–not in class, but by watching anime–that gag comedy expresses so much that is true and wrong and poignant about the world. Tamaki is such a special, lonely flower. I’m just happy he’s so well-loved.

Yamana Shunpei 山名 春平 (Elektel Delusion,  妄想エレクテル)

This clueless bb is not the first nor will he be the last misguided youth to suffer from “no one to talk to about gay.” It’s far from a graceful process, but I’m glad he leads with his heart (because the BL is certainly not helping lol).

Mihashi Ren 三橋 廉 (Big Windup!, おおふり)

Do you know what it’s like to love something with so much of yourself that you can’t help moving towards it even under incredibly uncomfortable and adverse circumstances? Mihashi does. He the softest, most solid rock. I carry him in my pocket always.

Aomine Daiki 青峰 大輝 (Kuroko’s Basketball, 黒子のバスゲー**)

He’s the guy I wanna punch whenever I look in the mirror. I’m like stop being so handsome and silly. Except don’t.

Araba Seri 新葉 芹 (Shonen yo! Tanbi wo egake!, 少年よ! 耽美を描け!)

Araba is fandom meta fail. He’s going through all the right motions, but getting nothing right. It’s okay, Xin Ye. We all have those days when we take a look around and think, “what in the world am I doing with my life?” only to plow on, instead, with the force of “sorry. not sorry.” Fake it til you make it, son. I’m here with you all the way.

Nanase Haruka 七瀬 遥 (Free!, 腐リー**)

From the animeland of characters with the beautiful names hails Haru who loves water and wants nothing but to swim free(style). He’s too precious for this world, but he braves it anyway to be with his friends. *throws all the joyful feely emojis at him and watches him blink back…slowly*

Miyuki Kazuya  御幸 和也 (Ace of Diamond, ダイヤのA)

All my sons fill me with pride and wonderment, but the way this one carries himself is downright ridiculous. Watching him, I find myself overcome with awe (b/c whaaaa) and disbelief (b/c what). Basically, I’m his biggest, most embarrassing fan…the one crying and laughing in the stands.

Hinata Shoyo 日向 翔陽 (Haikyu!!, ハイキュー!!)

Uwuoooooohhhh! My sunshine from another planet. May he always be such a beautiful and joyful unknown.

Shin-ah シンア (Yona of the Dawn, 暁のヨナ)

It is his instinct to minimize harm and hold what warmth he is given. He possesses the most patient and steadfast kindness. I know he doesn’t need much, but I can’t help but want everything for him.

Hikigaya Hachiman 比企谷八幡 (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU!, 俺ガイル)

He understands how deeply other people can cut into the way we feel about ourselves. I ❤ his self-love. Keep doing your thing, bb. Togetherness is hard, but you got this. I got you.

Inugami Saburo 犬神 三郎 (Wagatsun,  わが家の長男ツンデレ社長、通称わがツン)

No one has to be useful. No one’s existence has to make sense. Saburo is perfect. He’s also part human, part squid alien (no apparent zoological relation to squid). If you know anything about me and squid, then you understand why we were meant to be, really.

Killua Zoldyck キルア・ゾルディック (Hunter x Hunter, ハンターxハンター)

I know everyone thinks their youngest is an angel; Killua is terrifyingly human. He’s a child fighting to remake the world against trauma, against fear, and with a modest wish for connection. For every tear he sheds, an angel stops making clouds or music or dreams or whatever it is they do and appears to smack some sense into the world. He my wishful beating heart, the “here goes…” of carrying on.
 **not the actual Japanese titles

One thought on “we are family: anime sons and character fandom

  1. Ah so many good sons. I could never make a list of 12!! I’d feel like I’m neglecting someone or forgot someone

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