Love ‘em or hate ‘em, anime is filled imoutos, onii-chans, and plenty of incestuous-tinged relationships that naturally follow them. From the more bratty, over-the-top characters like Kirino (OreImo) to the more “realistic”, subdued ones like Rin (Little Busters), imoutos tend to be – for better or worse – one of those things that makes us go “that’s just so anime!” Anime or not though, imoutos also tend to be one of the most polarizing tropes, and their very presence in a show inspires a whole range of responses ranging from declarations of undying support of “wincest” to complete disgust. Whether you like it or not, however, it looks like imoutos are here to stay.
Although the term “imouto” most often seems to be used in the English-speaking fandom to imply connotations of incest, harems, and certain other tropes, imoutos are characters just like any others who have a wide range of personalities and often serve a wide range of functions within shows. And – just like every other character – some imoutos are just better than others.
But which imoutos are the best?
Given our longstanding love of imoutos, wincest, and everything in-between, Froggykun (Fantastic Memes) and I (joshspeagle) have teamed up to try and answer this question once and for all. So, without further ado, we present to you our list of the top 10 imoutos of all time.
10. Mana (Guilty Crown)
Josh: No self-respecting imouto list would be complete without Mana, who is by far the most ridiculous imouto-type character created to this day. In the best way possible, of course.
I mean, here’s how things go down in Guilty Crown. At some point when Mana and her brother Shu are both young children, Mana invites him to a church to talk to him about something. Once he arrives, she reveals that she’s been infected with a virus that will allow for the creation of a new being, and she wants to bang him to kick things off. Shocked, he refuses. Enraged at his refusal, she pretty much EXPLODES, spreading the virus across Japan and killing millions.
Which, if I’m reading this right, means Guilty Crown is really a story about incest gone wrong. If that doesn’t guarantee Mana an entry in this list, I don’t know what does.
Sometimes the carnivorous, insane, world-destroying imouto is Best Imouto.
9. Saaya (Sket Dance)
Froggy: I was pretty meh on Sket Dance overall. The humour is on the repetitive side for the most part and the drama was BS at times. But the scenes involving Saaya and her siscon brother are classic. The extent to which her brother misunderstands everything about Saaya’s love life was the source of one of the most epic imaginary love polygons since, I dunno, School Rumble?
Outside of amusing misunderstandings, Saaya was a great character in her own right. Her tsundere behaviour towards the MC was never obnoxious. It was always clear that her attitude was born out of social awkwardness after being sheltered by her brother for so long. As the story went along, you could see her trying to find independence and trying to move past her unrequited love, which made her an easy character (for me at least) to identify with.
Another one of Saaya’s positive traits is her cup size. She is a rare breed among imoutos.
And she’s not even the Best Girl. (The Best Girl is Tsubaki when crossdressing.)
8. Komachi (Oregairu)
Froggy: I love the way Oregairu handled the classic imouto trope. Komachi never showed many brocon inclinations, which is actually the way I like it. Hachiman and Komachi bicker and tease each other like ordinary siblings. Komachi’s a bit nicer to Hachiman than he probably deserves, but I put this down to Komachi being nice to everyone. Sometimes genki imouto is best imouto.
Komachi’s character wasn’t fleshed out fully in the anime, but it’s a testament to how strong the writing is in that series that Komachi still made it to this list anyway. I think that, despite all her frivolous actions and her overall genki-ness, she’s a lot more perceptive than Hachiman gives her credit for. She understands his cynicism and his persecution complex, and she treats him normally for it. You couldn’t ask for a better little sister for a guy like Hachiman.
7. Last Order (Toaru Majutsu no Index)
Froggy: THE MOST KAWAII MOTHER-EFFER IN ACADEMY CITY
Last Order single-handedly turned Accelerator from an unlikable prick and douchebag into the adorable badass we all know and love (with a hefty dose of tsun!).
Much of what makes Last Order so effective as a genki imouto is the sharp contrast between her and Misaka’s other sisters. Last Order inspires this greater protective urge because she’s not “just” another clone. As much as the point of the Sisters Arc was to show that even clones deserve to live, Last Order’s impending death felt much more urgent because she had a vibrant personality and because the relationship she developed with Accelerator really did feel like the bond between brother and sister.
Last Order is also number one on the list of imoutos whose cheeks I want to squeeze.
6. Yakumo (School Rumble)
Froggy: The only imouto on this list to have an oneechan rather than an oniichan.
Yakumo’s a funny girl. She’s the responsible one while her big sis is a doofus, so there’s a bit of role reversal going on in that relationship. Both sisters look out for each other in their own way, even if they’re never on the same wavelength. It’s what makes their dynamic both funny and heartwarming.
The other thing I love about Yakumo is her voice and gentle personality. She’s the character that got me into Mamiko Noto’s voice. She’s definitely a “perfect waifu” kind of character, although I never appreciated her character that way. I certainly never thought Yakumo was “perfect”. She was too emotionally stunted to ever care for anyone besides her sister, and she always had this air of wistfulness around her that makes me wonder if she ever thought she was missing out on something in life.
Watching Yakumo slowly come out of her shell was one of the best parts about watching School Rumble.
5. Rin (Little Busters!)
Josh: Often in anime, brocon and siscon complexes are played up to be ridiculous things, with the imoutos/onii-chans often genki or tsundere. Rin is where this type of thing breaks down, and you get a chance to see what is one of the most “genuine”/“real” brother-sister relationships in any anime.
Rin’s relationship with Kyousuke is something special: throughout the series all the interactions and flashbacks really show how much he has tried to be there for her…and how much she depends on him to protect her. There’s something both cute and heartbreaking about her shyness and awkwardness around others even as she care for them deeply.
One of the biggest themes of Little Busters was growing up and coming out of your shell, and Rin (and Riki)’s journey become independent of Kyousuke is incredibly moving. In my opinion, what really establishes Rin as an amazing imouto is not just the great relationship dynamic she has with Kyousuke, but the excellent characterization she receives throughout the series as she struggles and evolves.
She’s also just all-around adorable.
4. Kotori (Date A Live)
Josh: ALL ABOARD THE IMOUTO MOTHERSHIP.
Date A Live is one of these bizarre shows that’s ridiculously stupid but at the same time more intelligent than most people give it credit for. Kotori, for instance, starts out as a normal “imouto”-type character. She then turns out to be the commander of a giant floating spaceship trying to get Shiro to romance a bunch of spirits (providing live commentary patterned on eroge), and afterwards gets romanced by Shiro himself for similar reasons except that they both know the whole thing’s a farce. Yet somehow everything ends up working out anyway, exploring the concept of “love” in ways only an anime as ridiculously stupid as this one could do.
With an attitude that’s half-sassy and half-tsundere (depending on what role she’s playing in the show), Kotori comes across as a strong-willed, go-getter imouto that’s a force to be reckoned with. Often the one supposedly pulling the strings behind the events in the story (until each date inevitably goes wrong and Shiro bungles himself into each girl’s heart), she also fills an atypical role among imoutos, serving to try and positively guide her onii-chan’s relationships rather than interfering with them by becoming jealous or possessive. In addition, her relationship with Shiro is actually played straight, much to the show’s credit – while the series often jokes about incestuous vibes, their relationship manages to remain quite tame by most anime standards. This serves as a nice contrast to both the eroge-inspired nature of the show and fits her more assertive personality quite well.
I also must confess that, like Kotori’s second-in-command Kyouhei, I too wouldn’t mind having her step all over me.
3. Mikan (To-Love Ru)
Froggy: I swear, you can actually see the otaku database adding entries every time a new To Love-Ru chapter comes out. Mikan started off strictly as a side character who existed only to make Rito feel more awkward whenever he gets into an ecchi situation. Then, gradually, she made more appearances and her relationship with Rito was fleshed out. Then, finally, she started getting in on the fanservice too. But there’s always some excuse to prevent their relationship from actually being incestuous. Mikan is great.
Notable among imouto characters is how Mikan actually appears to have a life outside of her interactions with her brother. Like with all the To Love-Ru girls, there’s enough face likability to Mikan and context given to her behaviour to give us the sense that there’s a person behind the tits. Her friendship with Yami is super heartwarming. Sure, this all still leads to her being partially unclothed and groped by Rito half the time, but these situations are so overblown and so ridiculous that Mikan’s relationship with her brother achieves a kind of meta-innocence.
As Confucius says, “It’s not incest – it’s wincest!”
2. Karen/Tsukihi (Monogatari Series)
Josh: The fire sisters end up topping this list for a variety of reasons. One is their individual personalities. Outside of their relationship with Araragi, their over-the-top theatrics generally makes them extremely entertaining to watch and establishes them as some of the most memorable imoutos in any anime. They both are well-characterized, with each having their own arcs (and essentially their own show!) that help to establish their personalities. It is heavily implied that both of them live fulfilling lives outside of the events explicitly portrayed in the Monogatari series, and in addition actually have boyfriends! (Although their boyfriends are supposedly just like their brother lol.)
Another is the special relationship they share with Araragi that manages to straddle all sides of the incestuous spectrum. On the one hand, many of the things they do are plainly ridiculous (one prominent scene where Araragi grabs Tsukihi’s boobs and gets spun around comes to mind) and generally are (deliberately) portrayed as incestuous and fetishistic. On the other hand, however, there is a sense that none of the siblings really find their relationships to be romantically tinged, and that they’re just a really close and touchy-feely (if perverted) family.
It’s these two elements together that make them some of the coolest imoutos ever made. Plus toothbrush.
1. Kirino (Ore no Imouto)
Josh: Was there any doubt who would be topping this list?
Kirino is the modern icon of everything the “imouto” stands for. Instantly memorable, Kirino’s bratty tsundere personality hits you like the truck from ImoCho…and then just keeps on driving.
But Kirino is more than just a bratty little sister: she’s a full-fledged otaku. Her otaku hobbies, however, don’t just serve as a curious oddity,but a fundamental driving force behind the overall progression of the story, starting with the reconciliation with her brother and the formation of her pseudo-”circle” to her later voyages to Akihabara and the conflicts between her “visible” and “otaku” selves. By incorporating her hobbies as a central element of the story, OreImo allows Kirino to become a much more fleshed-out character (or fakes it, according to some). At the same time, it also turns her into a focal point around which it can ask questions about (and celebrate) otaku and otaku culture.
Still, it’s not Kirino herself which makes her the best imouto character of all time, but rather her controversial relationship with Kyousuke. From the beginning when we learn about her obsession with incestuous-themed eroge, her relationship with her brother becomes colored by odd vibes. At face value, it’s the stilted, odd reconciliation of estranged brother and sister. But underneath it all, there is something much more romantic: from Kyousuke’s first encounter to their eventual marriage, their relationship treads the uncomfortable line between openly incestuous and awkwardly platonic. This left many people conflicted about how they should (or were supposed to) feel about the siblings, leading some to decry it as a shallow mockery of real sibling relationships (I personally thought it was the other way around) and even question (tongue-in-cheek) whether imouto incest love stories can actually be good.
Regardless of the controversy and feelings surrounding the character and her relationship though, Kirino is probably the most memorable (“imouto”-like) imouto out there, and essentially represents everything good and bad about the character archetype. And it’s because of this that we crown her the Queen of Imoutos.
LONG LIVE THE QUEEN.
What Makes a Good Imouto Character?
Any Top 10 list is always subjective, so Froggy and I decided to briefly go through some of traits that make imoutos appealing to us so you guys could see the some of the factors that went into the decisions behind our rankings.
For me, the appeal of the imouto isn’t about the fact that they’re like childhood friends whom you don’t have to date to hook up with. Neither is it about how dependant and childish they are. For me, the appeal of the imouto character is really about the appeal of the sibling relationship. When you think of a bad, annoying imouto character, chances are her relationship with her brother was not fleshed out and feels hollow.
Anime tends to romanticise the sibling relationship, even when you take the whole “wincest” angle out of the equation. But that’s not a bad thing. I know I’ve always been drawn to the sibling dynamic in anime because of how deeply siblings care for each other. It’s love that transcends romantic love. Recent anime especially have tended to distort that idea of “pure, platonic love”, but I think this idea that loving one’s sister is somehow more admirable than loving one’s girlfriend still manages to remain intact.
If I’m being really honest with myself, I think I enjoy this dynamic so much because I’m so uncertain about romantic relationships in my own life. I prefer watching siblings over romantic subplots because it feels somehow safer and less “cheap” to me. With the huge imouto craze in the otaku subculture, I suspect I’m not the only one feeling this way.
For me, imoutos are complicated things that tend to showcase how different ways I (and many others) tend to consume media really “clash” with each other. On some level for me, the appeal of the imouto is as Froggy outlines above (minus the romantic relationship part), and depends heavily on the ways that their relationship with their brother is fleshed out and explored, regardless of the emphasis. All the best imoutos we decided on, for instance, have well-fleshed out relationships with their brothers, and I feel as characters this element is crucial.
But, like harems, I also enjoy many imouto characters because of their function as tropes and their use of tropes. Especially now, when an imouto’s actions/existence is/are often as much about exploring their own role in anime as it is about the sibling dynamic (OreImo and Imocho, for instance – and yes I’m serious about both – try and do this), I often enjoy just watching them act out certain lines/scenarios. This is almost a complete about-face from the emphasis on sibling dynamics, since it actually implies an enjoyment in the “hollowness” of the dynamic.
In addition, there’s something fundamentally exotic about the sibling dynamics portrayed in anime that draws me to them. Or, at least, it probably did at some point, since I’m so used to it now it almost strikes me as normal when I watch anime. Through their romanticization (and perversion), imoutos give you a chance to watch and experience something that usually doesn’t exist in real life. By being something “fake”, imoutos actually have the potential to explore “real” issues that are important, such as social boundaries, the nature of love, and the concept of family (wait – did I just give a summary of the themes of Nisemonogatari?!).
In the end, I think it’s the ways that imoutos blend all these issues together that really determines their appeal (or lack thereof). Imoutos exist in the grey area between the “authentic”, “fake”, and “real”, and how (and why) exactly they end up exploring that space really determines how much I think I like them. Which I guess is just an overly-academic way of saying I like imoutos in general because they encompass a cool intersection between a lot of different issues. The best imoutos then are the ones that explore/encompass one (or more) of these facets most effectively relative to the others – they make me believe in the character and the relationship, even if the whole thing’s actually pretty weird.
Imoutos that Didn’t Make the Cut
Here’s a random smattering of the imoutos we jotted down when initially brainstorming that we later threw out. Feel free to point out any imoutos that aren’t listed in the comments and we’ll try and add them in!
Kobato (Haganai) – relationship with brother not really fleshed out, very static.
Sakura (Card Captor Sakura) – not enough “imouto” like, even though she is one.
Nunnally (Code Geass) – Lelouch steals the show.
Miya (Amagami SS) – cute, but didn’t make the cut.
Kyon’s little sister (Haruhi) – forgettable, but cute.
Yuzu/Karin (Bleach) – Ichigo steals the show.
Mitsuki (Kyoukai no Kanata) – less of a cool imouto, more of a target for siscon bro.
Mero (Sankarea) – forgettable, not special.
Kotomi (Seitokai Yakuindomo) – funny, nice relationship with brother, but didn’t make the cut.
Sora (Yosuga no Sora) – because real incest can’t be beat, but in this case it can.
Shiro (No Game No Life) – Sora steals the show, but she’s pretty adorable. Also still airing.
Chiaki (Minami-ke!) – snarky and all-around awesome, but lost out.
Yuuko (Sakurasou) – forgettable, but cute.
Suguha (SAO) – hahahahaha no. And if it’s a ridiculous sister contest, loses to Mana.
Edit: After riku06 pointed it out in the comments, I thought it might be good to note that this list is strictly confined to imoutos that appear in anime. If we started exploring the world of eroge and other VNs, I’m sure there’d be a lot more options and this list might be very different!
Additional imoutos pointed by commenters:
Keiko Sasahara (Genshiken)
Pino and/or Akira Renbokoji (Valvrave)
Himari (Mawaru Penguindrum)
Mashiro (Mikakunin de Shinkoukei)
Shiba Miyuki (Mahouka) (-_-)
Alphonse Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist), HONORARY IMOUTO
Mayushii (Steins;Gate), HONORARY IMOUTO