Cats. We all love 'em, and anime seems to love them more than most. But where's an otaku to start when they're done perusing the day's new lolcats? Well, we at Need Coffee are here to help you! Anime felines may be adorable, evil, alien, powerful, comic relief, or all of the above, but they're always interesting.
There are literally hundreds of cat characters in anime, from Meowth of PokÃ©mon to Love Hina's Kuro to Trigun's everpresent Kuroneko-sama, and that's not including the now-clichÃ© cat-girls. The following list provides ten of these feline stars of the screen for your viewing enjoyment in no particular order (as I couldn't bring myself to rank them). Some are serious, some are very much not, and all are awesome.
1. Kyo Sohma from Fruits Basket
In the world of Fruits Basket, many members of the Sohma family were cursed by members of the Chinese zodiac. When they hug a person of the opposite gender, they revert to this animal form for a time. Kyo, an orange cat in animal form, was cursed by the Cat, who was left out of the zodiac due to a trick played by the Rat. This ancient quarrel explains why Kyo initially hates Yuki, the current Rat Sohma. Kyo's personality is quick-tempered and he's a loner, but it is his capacity for love that may be the key to reversing the curse of the family.
2. Luna and Artemis from Sailor Moon
Given that Our Heroine, Usagi/Serena, is an airhead nonpareil, anyone with the job of protecting her and trying to teach her something of maturity and grace has their work cut out for them. Enter Luna. In ages past, she was a trusted advisor to Queen Serenity, and it now falls to her to prepare the erstwhile Usagi for her role as royalty--something her fastidious nature finds challenging. Artemis fulfills a similar function for Sailor V, but his personality is much more easygoing. Eventually, Artemis and Luna are revealed to have a daughter, Diana: a kitten with the destiny of protecting the incredibly annoying Small Lady/Chibiusa.
3. Yoruichi from Bleach
Yoruichi Shihoin is a former Soul Reaver and an advisor to the main characters, Ichigo and Rukia. She is an incredibly powerful fighter, having once led the "secret service" branch of the Soul Society. Actually a human, Yoruichi has the power to transform into the shape of a black cat at will. She delights in using this transformation ability to create highly embarrassing situations for Ichigo, given that her human form is that of a very curvaceous (and usually naked) woman. Yoruichi inspires loyalty with her honor and kindness, but also with her absolute faithfulness to her friends.
4. The Baron and Muta from Whispers in the Heart/The Cat Returns
Muta is a scrapper--a giant tomcat who has no time for foolishness, and to him, most humans are fools. Mute in Whispers in the Heart, he gains a voice in The Cat Returns, but already had a great deal of personality. The Baron is the civilized example of cat-hood in these films. An absolutely ideal gentleman from his elegant tophat to his perfectly tailored suit and polished shoes, the Baron is both eloquent and compassionate. The English dub casts Cary Elwes in this role, and it's absolutely perfect.
5. Tama from KamiChu
KamiChu gives us a young teen who wakes up one day as a Shinto goddess. It's a bizarre, but oddly appealing premise that leads the viewer into a slice-of-life/coming-of-age tale that is by turns heartwarming and funny, but always adorable without being cloying. Tama is Yumie's cat, but when he becomes the host for a poverty god who saves Yurie, it becomes clear that he's a bit more than meets the eye, especially when another cat appears who wants to lead a feline revolt against humanity.
6. Cerberus/Kero and Spinel Sun from Cardcaptor Sakura
Kero was created to protect the person wielding the power of the Clow Cards, and at the present time, that means Sakura. His powers are solar in origin, and while he spends much of his time in the form of a small flying stuffed lion, his real form is that of a mighty golden beast with wings. Spinel was likewise created as a guardian, but his purpose is somewhat more sinister and challenging, at least at first. He has two forms: small cat with wings and giant panther with wings. Either form will f%(* you up if you deserve it. Both Kero and Spinel are loyal, honorable, powerful, and ready to fight for what they believe.
7. Kamineko and Maya from Azumanga Daioh
Kamineko is an adorable little grey stray cat who dazzles the cat-loving Sakaki near the school on an almost daily basis in order to lure her in for the kill. It seems that as much as Sakaki likes cats, they don't always seem to like her in return and are convinced she wants to destroy them. When Sakaki tries to pet Kamineko, the latter shows her huge beartrap teeth and latches into Sakaki's hand. Sakaki, undaunted, is then able to pet the kitty. Maya is a wild Iriomote cat with whom Sakaki bonds during a school trip. Maya is so charmed with the cat-loving Sakaki that she follows the human to her home in Tokyo, where she rescues Sakaki from a horde of strays led by Kamineko. While Sakaki cannot fully adopt Maya herself, due to her mother's allergies, Maya finds a temporary home with a friend until Sakaki attends college and can take her.
8. Jiji from Kiki's Delivery Service
Jiji is more than Kiki's best friend, he is Kiki's familiar. He has to be a constant source of encouragement to the apprentice witch and very patient with Kiki, especially when the witch's powers temporarily disappear. Incidentally, the Disney release of this film has Jiji voiced by Phil Hartman, which is well worth a listen.
9. Kirara from InuYasha
Kirara is a two-tailed cat spirit or demon who accompanies the brave warrior-maiden Sango. Kirara has two forms: small and adorable, and large and menacing, more like a saber-toothed tiger. She is a fierce fighter and unshakably loyal to Sango, even serving as Sango's mount in her larger form. More is learned about her origins as the story progresses--her personality is quite playful when she's not slaying evil demons and those who would corrupt the purity of the Shikon Jewel.
10. Kimba the White Lion from Kimba the White Lion/Jungle Taitei
No list of anime cats would be complete without Kimba, especially given that his show was the first color animated program in Japan. Created by venerable Osamu Tezuka with character designs by Yoshitaka Amano, Kimba is now world famous. The story begins in Africa with a white lion named Panja who provides safety for the jungle creatures in the face of humanity. But humans have money, and money buys hunters who trap Panja's mate and use her to capture and kill Panja. The mate, Eliza, is put on a boat for a zoo, and on this boat, Kimba is born and the real story begins. Kimba's tale is one of survival against the odds and of learning the true importance of peace, communication, and compromise.
And there you have it! This list merely scratches the surface of cats and cat-like beings in anime and manga. Go forth and find your own favorites! (And then come back and let us know about them in the comments!)