12 heartbreaking films to watch for a good cry

12 films bouleversants à regarder pour pleurer un bon coup

Here's a compilation of the best sad animated films, perfect for those venturing into the world of animation for the first time or looking for poignant catharsis. These cinematic gems promise to stir up a flood of emotions and leave you in a contemplative state.

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It's no longer a secret: anime perfectly captures the raw intensity of human emotions. That's why it's the ideal genre to invest in when you want to have a good cry. And if excellent live-action films are anything to go by, the anime genre has something to offer everyone. The anime industry continues to grow as Japanese animation reaches new heights, especially thanks to the immense interest it receives in Western countries today. This begs the question of what makes anime better than typical Western TV shows and movies. Besides, why should you give this particular genre a chance?

Most anime fans agree that there is something magical about Japanese and Asian media, especially the anime genre. Unfortunately, people who don't watch anime usually think that this genre is just for kids, just because it's cartoons. However, it is not the case. While there are animated films and series aimed specifically at children (e.g. Pokémon), many films and series in this genre also appeal to a wide range of age groups, from prepubescent teenagers to adults.

Likewise, these series/movies deal with serious topics and dark themes, such as mental health issues, disabilities, bullying, death, war, grief and sexual assault. But sometimes we don't have time to watch a 12 or 24 episode anime series. The following list of sad animated movies features some interesting films to watch if you're in the mood for a heartbreaking story or if you want to see an animated film with adult or dark themes (or if you want to know why we're talking about it so much).

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12. In This Corner Of The World (2016) / Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (2016)

This sad animated film is based on the manga written and illustrated by Fumiyo Kono. The film follows the story of 18-year-old Suzu, who must start a new life as the wife of Shusako Hojo, a civil servant. The story takes place in Hiroshima then Kure during World War II. It follows a classic slice-of-life formula, but gradually becomes weighed down by sad moments as the film progresses. Suzu must make do with what resources she can find to feed herself and her family as supplies dwindle. But eventually, life becomes too difficult and she must fight to find the will to live.

The film offers a heartbreaking yet unique insight into a chapter in world history. It beautifully depicts the struggles and consequences of war outside the battlefield. Additionally, the film offers stunning animation that accurately details the landscapes and architecture of the era. Additionally, they praised the film for its ability to depict the difficulties of daily life for a family living in wartime. This film will remain etched in the memory of spectators long after the end credits.

11. Colorful (2010)

12 heartbreaking animated films that will make you sad

This award-winning film tells the story of a nameless soul who has just arrived at the station of death and learns that she has been given a second chance at life. As expected, the soul does not see this as a gift, but enters the world of the living anyway. The soul must inhabit the body of a young boy, Makoto Kobayashi, who has just committed suicide. The goal is for the nameless soul to discover the great sin it committed in its previous life and atone for it, while trying to understand why the person whose body it inhabits ended their life.

As the soul enters Kobayashi's body, he struggles to find a connection and a sense of identity. He doesn't like the new reality he has entered and quickly realizes how bad Kobayashi's life was before. Introduced to many people in Kobayashi's life (most of whom he dislikes or annoys him), the soul finally begins to understand what it means to appreciate being alive. The film offers a deep dive into societal issues in Japan. It deals with heavy topics such as bullying, underage prostitution, suicide and the search for identity and a sense of self.

The film won the Mainichi Film Award for Animation, the Audience Award and a Special Prize at Annecy, and was nominated for the Japanese Academy Award for Animation.

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10. Weathering With You (2019) / Tenki no Ko (2019)

The passage of time (2019)

This is the perfect movie to watch on a rainy day, as the movie takes place during the rainy season in Japan. It follows the story of Hodaka Morishima, a high school student who runs away from home to escape his toxic family and start a new life. He finally arrives in Tokyo and befriends a young orphan girl who can control the weather. It's the story of an unlikely friendship that eventually turns into a romantic drama with fantasy elements in the mix. This is a must-see film if you're a fan of Makoto Shinkai's work in Your Name, and it delivers some stunning visuals thanks to its high-quality animation.

While it doesn't compare to Your Name, it's still worth watching. The story is easy to follow and allows viewers to get carried away by the narrative and immerse themselves in the world created by Makoto. It is an animated sad romance film that deals with star-crossed lovers while exploring the folk tale of the Weather Maidens. Besides the beauty of the animation, the soundtrack sets the tone for the entire film.

9. The Garden of Words (2013) / Kotonoha no Niwa (2013)

The Garden of Words (2013)

The Garden of Words is another fantasy film by Makoto Shinkai that explores the concept of loneliness in a modern context. Makoto describes this film as a love story for people who feel alone or incomplete in their social position. The film tells the story of 15-year-old Takao Akizuki who decides to forgo his morning lessons to spend time in a garden. There he meets Yukari Yukino, a mysterious older woman who shares his feelings of isolation and alienation.

This is a gorgeous 50-minute animated film that explores the taboo relationship between a teacher and a student. Makoto managed to tell a powerful story that takes a deeper look at Japanese society and the great distance that separates younger generations from older generations. With little dialogue and subtle hints at the budding romance, Makoto once again treats fans to a masterpiece that will have audiences in tears by the end of the film. It's rare to find a film that easily compares to reality, and this one does just that.

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8. Your Name (2016) / Kimi no Na Wa (2016)

Your Name (2016)

Your Name, another Makoto Shinkai film (probably not the last one on this list), took the world by storm in 2016 when it was released. The film won numerous awards thanks to its critically acclaimed score and soundtrack, as well as the beauty of its animation. The film broke box office records and grossed over $380 million worldwide on its way to becoming the third highest-grossing animated film of all time. Your Name is the title of the light novel written and published by Makoto a month before the film's release, which served as inspiration for the film.

At first glance, the film follows the typical Freaky Friday plot, in which the protagonists switch bodies. However, as you would expect from Makoto at this point, the film is more complex. It is a romance anime that follows the story of Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana, two teenagers who inexplicably begin randomly swapping bodies. This sets the tone for a fun and humorous dive into each other's lives until reality sets in: tragedy is just around the corner and meeting is not as simple as taking a train to Tokyo.

7. The Girl Who Leaped Through Time (2006) / Toki wa Kakeru Shōjo (2006)

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

This is another award-winning film that shows viewers that all actions have consequences. Written by Satoko Okudera, directed by Mamoru Hosoda and produced by Madhouse, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a science fiction romance film adapted from the original 1967 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui. In the book, the aunt of the main character in the film is the protagonist, making this film a loose adaptation/follow-up.

The film captures authentic fear and heartbreak through the experiences of Makoto Konno, a teenage girl who doesn't know what she wants to do with her life after high school. She discovers that she can travel through time and recklessly uses her powers to return to the past and “fix” all her problems. As one would expect, with such an ability comes great responsibility and consequences that she must learn the hard way. The film takes a tragic turn when Makoto discovers that the number of jumps she can make is limited and her careless choices begin to catch up with her and affect the people she cares about most.

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6. 5 centimeters per second (2007) / Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru (2007)

5 centimeters per second (2007)

Once again, Makoto Shinkai gives fans a unique take on what it means to move away from each other. This genre of anime perfectly captures the concept of meeting the right person at the wrong time. This animated film follows the sad story of two people, Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara, who started out as close childhood friends. They end up separated for family reasons, and although they try to stay in touch, the divide continues to widen as adults. The film is an emotional roller coaster that aptly depicts the empty and heartbreaking feeling of losing a loved one to distance.

This love film offers magnificent images and music to match. It can easily be considered one of the saddest animated films of all time due to the melancholic atmosphere and the realization that there will be no happy ending for the protagonists. At the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in 2007, the film received the award for Best Animated Feature Film and received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and audiences. This is an underrated film compared to Your Name and has an even greater emotional impact on the viewer, long after the credits roll.

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5. I want to eat your pancreas (2018) / Kimi no Suizō o Tabetai (2018)

sad anime movie

This depressing but fantastic film is based on the light novel of the same name by author Yoru Sumino. Directed by Shin'ichirô Ushijima, the film addresses dark themes such as grief, death and incurable illness. The film tells the story of a high school student who accidentally retrieves the diary of one of his classmates. Thanks to this diary, he discovers that Sakura Yamauchi, a popular girl in his class, has pancreatic cancer and has only a few years to live. While keeping the secret, the two young people use this information to get closer and become close friends.

At the end of the story, viewers experience a mixture of melancholy and joy, as the characters' development bears fruit. Although the film did not win awards, it was widely praised by critics and fans, who praised the beauty of the animation and the skill of the writing. With over $6 million in worldwide revenue, this film is a must-see, hence its place at the top of this list.

4. A Silent Voice (2016) / Koe no Katachi (2016)

Anime sad movie

Directed by Naoko Yamada and written by Reiko Yoshida, A Silent Voice is a heartbreaking coming-of-age drama that deals with disabilities, bullying, social anxiety, and suicide. The story follows that of Shōya Ishida, a high school student suffering from intense social anxiety that prevents him from looking at people. He earned his pariah status by relentlessly harassing the elementary school's new transfer student, Shōko Nishimiya, a deaf girl. Over time, he becomes a loner that no one wants to be friends with. Eventually, Shōya decides to make amends with Shōko to make up for the bullying he inflicted on her. This leads both characters on a path of healing, self-discovery, and what it means to have true friends and emotional connections.

This sad animated film was not only widely praised by critics, but also grossed over $31 million worldwide. The heavy themes tackled in the film, beautiful animation, interesting stylistic choices, and impressive voice acting led to the award for Best Anime Feature Film for 2016 at the Japanese Movie Critics Awards. This film is worth the almost 2 hours it lasts and will stay in the minds of its audience for a long time.

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3. To the Forest of Firefly Lights (2011) / Hotarubi no Mori e (2011)

Towards the forest of firefly lights (2011)

This 2011 film, directed by Takahiro Omori, is 45 minutes of preparation for absolute heartbreak. Sometimes called The Forest of Fireflies, the story begins with six-year-old Hotaru getting lost in the forest while at her grandfather's house for summer vacation. The forest is said to be inhabited by spirits, and it is there that she meets Gin, a strange masked boy. He helps her out of the forest, where she quickly learns that humans cannot touch Gin or he will cease to exist. This is the beginning of their friendship, with Hotaru returning every summer to spend time with his best friend.

This sad animated film depicts the struggles of not being able to touch each other while trying to help each other emotionally. It also addresses themes of growth, loneliness, nostalgia, the concept of being held back, and the inability to move forward that comes with it. The film is praised for the beauty of its animation, narration and atmosphere. The only criticism leveled at the film is its short length, which arguably adds to the story rather than detracts from it.

2. Wolf Children (2012) / Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (2012)

Wolf Children (2012)

Directed and co-written by Mamoru Hosoda, this sad animated film follows Hana, a single mother who must keep the identities of her children a secret. She meets and falls in love with a young man while she is a university student. Soon she discovers that he is a werewolf and the last shapeshifter of his species still alive. This information does not discourage Hana, and she decides to start a family with him. She gives birth to two wolf children: a daughter Yuki and a son Ame. But tragedy strikes without warning when her husband is killed during a hunting trip for food. She finds herself with her two children in a big city, and the risk that their identity will be revealed grows day by day. Hana decides to go to the countryside to find a new life where she can keep her children safe and happy.

The film won several awards, including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year, the 2012 Mainichi Film Award for Best Animation Film, and the 2013 Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF) Animation of the Year award. The film also received praise for its storytelling, animation, and its handling of darker themes (e.g., grief, loss, single parenthood, alienation in society, etc.)

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1. Grave of Fireflies (1988) / Hotaru no Haka (1988)

sad animated film

One of the most critically acclaimed war films of all time and animated by Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, it's no surprise that it's at number one on our list of sad animated films. Written and directed by Isao Takahata, the film tells the story of Seita and his sister Setsuko, two young homeless orphans. The story takes place at the end of World War II, in 1945, after the destruction caused by American bombing. After losing their parents and their home, they must travel across the ravaged country, searching for food and trying not to succumb to diseases.

It is a heartbreaking yet accurate depiction of the ramifications of war and its massive impact on human nature. The children meet many people along the way who show how cruel humans can be if circumstances are difficult enough. It's a period film worth seeing, as the siblings' optimism keeps the film from being too heartbreaking in the end.

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Honorable mentions

We cannot forget certain honorable mentions which were not included in the list, in particular because they are series and not films:

If you are looking for an anime series that makes you cry, you can watch Clannad (2007), the story of a lonely girl abandoned by her friends, who finds a friend in the main protagonist, Tomoya Okazaki. There is also the famous Your Lie In April (2014), which you have probably heard of, which tells the story of a boy who plays the piano (Arima Kousei) and a girl who plays the violin (Kaori Miyazono ). There's also Violet Evergarden and Violet Evergarden: The Movie about a girl who was used as a tool of war and tries to learn how to live a normal life. Plastic Memories (2015) tells the story of an AI and a human who work together to hunt down rogue androids. Angel Beats! (2010) tells the story of a group of teenagers who struggle with death itself in the afterlife. Last on the honorable mention list is Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2017), which tells the story of a young girl who loses all her friends and her place to live because of the supposed properties of her blood.

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What's your favorite animated movie that makes you cry or is sad when you need a good cry?