There have been a host of gambling-themed anime over the years with the tiled based game Mahjong and other forms of wagers central to many of the most memorable narratives and stories. The running theme of gambling is also brought to life by colourful characters. You can read up on it here and find the few who were willing to risk it all for that satisfying feeling of winning a bet.
Tsunade from Naruto
Tsunade is one of the most loved protagonists in anime and it’s no surprise that she backs up her badass persona and ability to heal wounds even when faced with death with a penchant for hard gambling. Tsunade’s love of gambling was passed down through the family, learning from her grandfather that it can be incredibly fun and relaxing even if you are not winning all the time.
Tsunade possesses a true gambling spirit in the series and even though many of her plays end up failing, she continues to be positive and hope for the best. Tsunade is known for medical jutsu and a signature move called Creation Rebirth. It may be this invincibility that makes her believe she can gamble without any consequences.
Naruto ran for 220 episodes for five years between 2002 and 2007 and during that time, Tsunade had such bad luck at gambling that she picked up ‘The Legendary Sucker’ moniker. Success doesn’t matter though - a true gambler has the spirit to get knocked down and to continue rolling the dice thereafter.
Light Yagami from Death Note
The main protagonist in beloved manga and anime series Death Note may not be a conventional gambler but he regularly partakes in high-stakes games and decisions during the series. The story is focused on a boy genius who is unhappy with his lot and seeks to change and mould the world to his way of thinking. After a notebook called ‘Death Note’ arrives one day, Light Yagami battles against the dark spirit Jabami Yumeko and decides to rid the world of all criminals. Light Yagami’s fortitude would surely have made him an expert at the craps table.
Akagi from Akagi: Yami ni Oritatta Tensai
Another handsome protagonist makes the list of heavy gamblers by taking on all yakuza gamblers and defeating them single handedly. Akagi from the manga Akagi: Yamo ni Orittat Tensai is just 13-years-old at the start of the story but he has no problem dispatching his older and more experienced opponents at mahjong and develops a legendary reputation as a result.
One particular plot point sees Akagi use his gambling prowess to help small-timer, Nangou, who has got in too far with the yakuza and is set to lose everything. Akagi saves the day by defeating them all and winning a huge amount of money. Akagi is the quintessential gambling hero and in the manga, he returns after a six-year hiatus with a mythical status and continues to blow away his opponents.
Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bepop
Anime classic Cowboy Bepop which ran for just a single memorable season across 26 episodes in the late 90s also had one of the most unforgettable gambling characters. In addition to being a fan of smoking, drinking and other forms of recreational drug use, Faye Valentine was a pathological gambler which enhanced her image as a femme fatale and ruthless bounty hunter.
Tetsuya from Legendary Gambler Tetsuya
To complement the list of characters, let’s also have a look at an anime specifically about gambling. The appropriately titled Legendary Gambler Tetsuya debuted in 1997 as a manga series centred around gambling. Writer Fumei Sai and illustrator Yashshi Hoshino crafted an enticing premise around the main protagonist, Tetsua, who is a master gambler and defeats anyone he goes up against and takes all the winnings.
Set against the backdrop of World War Two, Tetsuya continues his winning streak until one day he loses out to notorious gambler Boushu-san. Tetsuya takes the defeat as a sign to learn more about the world of mahjong and he then dedicates all of his time to training with a view to getting back into the game.
Legendary Gambler Tetsuya debuted as an anime series in October 2000 and ran for a single season over 20 episodes. The last episode aired in March 2001.
Kaiji Itou from Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor
Kaiji is one of the ultimate rags to riches stories in anime and his transformation from complete loser with huge debts to mature is propelled by his natural talent for gambling. Kaiji goes through several hardships but a sophisticated approach to gambling sets him on the right path. A few other notable anime gamblers include Daniel J. D'Arby from JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Stardust Crusaders, Leroute from Hunter x Hunter and Shigeru Akagi from Touhai Densetsu Akagi: Yami ni Maiorita Tensai.