Though there is no denying the impact of a parent on a child's and/or adolescent's development in the real world, anime characters manage to learn and grow into fully functioning adults with little or no assistance from any parental figures. At the very least, this has been the trend for several decades, but certain anime have recently emphasised the importance of a positive parent.
Anime such as Spy x Family and Buddy Daddies are clear examples of anime's shift to emphasise the importance of families working together as a unit, but they are not the first. Thankfully, the parent's role has gradually evolved over the last few decades. In the past, the trope of deceased, negligent, or abusive parents, or simply passive parenting in general, may have paved the way for interesting stories, but gradual changes over the decades show that parents can and should be a part of the adventure as well.
Anime Has a Long History of Absent Parents
With the '90s trend of anime becoming more mainstream in the U.S., American viewers were introduced to series like Pokémon, Sailor Moon and Yu-Gi-Oh, among others. Though each series is different in genres and themes, they are united in their lack of parental representation. With Pokémon especially, it's become something of a joke that anime minors are allowed to run around the world and survive on their own despite their age. To be fair, the demographic of young children surely appreciates the lack of parental rules, but this lack of parental guidance becomes more problematic when looking at series with an older demographic.
Series like Dragon Ball Z, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Death Note all share a cast of parental figures who are, quite frankly, terrible at their jobs. Granted, the main characters still manage to feature or at least challenge what a morally good person should look like, but as far as what a good parent looks like, these three are sorely lacking. Though there are many reasons to leave out a mother or father in a protagonist's journey, this tired-out trope is not only missing out on showcasing what a good parent looks like but also what a good parent-child relationship looks like. Granted, there are a few series from past decades that feature positive parenting, but series like those are too far and few in between and unfortunately never gained an especially strong fanbase. With such an emphasis on "the power of friendship" and romantic relationships, the vast majority of anime has been forgetting the importance of parents.
An Increase in the Caretaker Trope in Anime
Over the decades, a few series have stirred a gradual change in the role of an anime parent. The first and most influential series would have to be Bleach. This is thanks to the character Isshin Kurosaki, Ichigo's father. While anime largely featured nonexistent or negligent fathers in this era of the early 2000s, Isshin is not only a doting father to his children but joins in the fight to protect his family. Though the nuance is a little different, Naruto manages to have positive parent-like figures as well with the characters Iruka and Kakashi -- and eventually, positive parenting from birth parents is featured with the surprise involvement of Minato, Naruto's father. From these influences in the early 2000s, series like Kill La Kill and Soul Eater continued this trend of featuring good parents. Series like My Hero Academia and Anohana would have a mix of good, bad and average parenting, but eventually, a new and better trend would rise with the series Usagi Drop.
As a slice-of-life drama, Usagi Drop is purely about being a caretaker to a child. Despite not being as popular or renowned as many other series, the love that fans had for this particular anime sparked a love for the early 2000 trend of child caretakers. Although the slice-of-life genre is either a hit or miss for viewers, storytellers still took notice of this rising trend and made game-changing creative decisions.
Over time, anime series of varying genres, including fantasy, adventure, and action, mixed in the trope of child caretaking. More often than not, this featured either a younger relative or an older stranger with good intentions rather than the biological parent, but the emphasis on good parenting proved to be a good change of pace regardless. For these series, it's not about making the child the best fighter or athlete or the most lovable romantic lead; rather, the focus is on shaping them to be the best person they can be. This premise resonated with viewers enough to have other titles rise in popularity, such as High School Baby Sitters, Hinamatsuri and eventually, the biggest recent caretaking title Spy x Family.
Positive Parenting's Impact on Anime
Spy x Family broke the mold when it aired in 2022 because it takes everything great about the action genre and shonen elements and mixes them with the refreshing trend of the caretaker trope. With a riveting story and lovable original characters, Spy x Family has become the top anime to watch. This puts the child caretaking trope under a massive spotlight, which has led more anime like Spy x Family to popularity. Series like The Yakuza's Guide to Babysitting and Buddy Daddies continue the caretaking trend's emphasis on adoptive parents, but other series like Yuri On Ice, Tomo-chan is a Girl and Sakugan shouldn't be overlooked, as they feature incredibly supportive birth parents who take part in their childrens' stories. Either way, the love and significant influence from a parent can be felt in these recent series.
Viewers are seeing the value of watching good parents in action in popular series such as Bleach, Usagi Drop, and Spy x Family. Though the drama of bad parenting can be effective in telling a compelling story, viewers can still enjoy a thrilling series that places less emphasis on internal family drama or tragedy. Bad examples of parents are already common in fiction. As the child-caretaking trope in anime becomes more popular, supportive parent characters can have an even greater impact on family-centered stories, both in fiction and by setting a positive example for the real world.