For a series centered around death and the afterlife, it’s no wonder that Bleach has some of the most tragic backstories in all of anime. While most of them don’t reach the heights of Gaara’s lonely childhood in Naruto or Litten’s attachment to the elderly Stoutland in Pokémon, that’s not to say that the lives of these characters are any less tragic.
Loved ones die, lives are overturned, and some never learn the truth about their own family’s past. Get your box of tissues ready for the 10 most tragic backstories in Bleach, ranked from tear-jerking to blubbering mess.
10 Orihime Inoue
While Orihime’s story is sad, it gets shoved under the rug and dealt with rather quickly. Abandoned by her parents, she was raised and cared for by her older brother, Sora, until his untimely death left her with very few caring people in her life. She begins the series living alone, supported by distant relatives, and under the careful watch of Tatsuki as she tries to put the tragedy behind her. She finds closure early in the series when Sora is turned into a Hollow and attacks her, only to be stopped by the efforts of the newbie Soul Reaper and the main character, Ichigo. To this day, she wears the hairpins Sora gave her shortly before his death as a tribute to him, and they become the focus of her powers later in the series.
9 Uryu Ishida
Uryu’s tragic backstory is one of growth and revenge, but one that he uses to empower himself and overcome his pasts failings. Being otherwise ignored by his father, Uryu looked up to his grandfather, Soken, to teach him the ways of the Quincy and follow in his footsteps. His relationship with Soken abruptly ended, however, when Soken was attacked by a group of Hollows and left for dead, before being taken back to the Soul Society to be experimented on by Mayuri Kurotsuchi. Uryu’s hatred for Soul Reapers fueled his rivalry with Ichigo, leading him to make many questionable decisions over the course of the series, including the Hollow killing contest and joining the Sternritter in the final arc.
8 Masaki Kurosaki
When we first learn about Masaki, it seems like she was a normal human who could see spirits, not unlike her children, and died tragically trying to defend her son from Grand Fisher. It wasn’t until Isshin’s backstory was revealed that we saw the full scope of her story as well. A Quincy betrothed to Uryu’s father, she was infected by the Hollow, White, who would later become the source of Ichigo’s power for many years, and was on the verge of death.
Isshin was forced to link their souls to keep her from being taken over by White, and her entire life was uprooted in a single night. She went on to become a loving mother and wife, but her life before meeting Isshin was torn from her forever.
7 Rukia And Hisana Kuchiki
In a flashback scene during the Soul Society arc, we see that Rukia and Renji grew up on the streets of Rukongai, homeless and forced to resort to thievery to survive. It’s not until Byakuya finally comes clean with her about his deceased wife, Hisana, that we get the full story. Hisana was Rukia’s sister and, unable to handle the pressure of raising a child by herself, abandoned her before meeting Byakya and living in luxury. She spent the remainder of her life looking for her little sister, and it wasn’t until after she passed away that Rukia was finally found and taken in by the Kuchiki family. In a cruel twist for Byakuya, Rukia was the spitting image of Hisana, and couldn’t bring himself to even look at her for many years, leading Rukia to believe he hated her for a long time.
6 Kaname Tosen
Tosen’s backstory is a little different in terms of tragedy, as it’s more about the evolution of his character as the series progresses rather than how he became a Soul Reaper. Tosen has a uniquely intense view of the world, stemming from the death of a former friend, and steadfastly follows the path of the least bloodshed. It is ironic, then, that he decides to join Aizen in his quest to overthrow the Soul King at the cost of thousands of lives.
This change of character impacted others more than himself, mainly Komamura and Shuhei, and his eventual defeat at the hands of his former allies gutted them to see how far their comrade had fallen. The question still remains, would he have become a villain if his friend hadn’t died and skewed his view of the world?
5 Sajin Komamura
A member of the Wolfman Clan, Sajin was once part of a group of souls cursed to live in the Beast Realm for their sins committed during life. Unable to accept their fate, the clan returned to Soul Society as hybrids. Over time, Sajin grew tired of living in the shadows and abandoned his clan, who disown him for the betrayal to tell him to never return. He then faces judgment from the citizens of the Soul Society for his appearance, and begins hiding his face when out in public to avoid being ostracized. It’s not until many years later, when he meets Tosen and Yamamoto, that he finally begins to feel accepted by his peers.
4 Jushiro Ukitake
Ukitake seems to have very little in his life go his way. As a child, he became gravely ill to the point that his doctors gave up on him, and expected him to die from the sickness. His parents, not willing to give up on their son, prayed to the god Mimihagi, who represents stagnation and resistance to change, to save Jushiro. The god granted their wish and he lived on for many years, but his illness never went away and was a constant source of pain in his life, even crippling him on a regular basis. Just to pile on to his already hard life, he also has seven younger siblings who relied on his financial support after their parents died.
3 Coyote Starrk
Each of the Espada represents a different aspect of death. In Starrk’s case, he embodies the aspect of loneliness far more than any of his brethren connect to their own aspects. An immensely powerful Hollow, Starrk couldn’t be around his kind without his power crushing and killing them, and was forced to live alone for much of his existence.
Growing weary of his constant solitude, he split his soul in two just to have company, which resulted in the creation of Lilynette. Even then, they couldn’t be around other Hollows without killing them, and it wasn’t until Aizen recruited him that they could finally have the company they sorely desired.
2 Ashido Kano
Even though Ashido Kano is an anime-only character, his backstory is easily one of the most heartbreaking. Sent alongside his squad to take down a large group of Hollows, the team ends up following their retreat to Hueco Mundo and ends up in the Menos Forest, where they are quickly overwhelmed and many are killed in the battle. Eventually, only Ashido is left alive, and he takes it upon himself to kill as many Hollows as he can while he’s stuck in Hueco Mundo. Hundreds of years later, he meets up with Rukia during their attempt to rescue Orihime and finds out to his dismay that his centuries of slaughter have amounted to nothing, and his efforts have done little to stop the Hollow invasions on Earth.
1 The Shiba Clan
No family in the history of Bleach takes a hit quite like the Shiba clan. Introduced during the Soul Society arc, they are a former upper-class family group that fell from grace when their patriarch went missing. While unconfirmed at this stage, there is a decent chance that this figure was none other than Isshin Kurosaki, who, before his retirement as a Soul Reaper, went by the name Isshin Shiba. If that wasn’t bad enough, Ganju and Kukaku’s older brother, Kaien, was infected by a Hollow experiment of Aizen’s and killed in action after trying to avenge his fallen wife.
Bleach is a heavy show, and as such, it features many characters with very tragic backstories.