Most Yu-Gi-Oh! series in the franchise has a share of cynicism but still lie mainly on the idealistic end of the scale. Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, however, is all over the place on the scale and Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS stands out as the most cynical series (so far) due to its entire premise is not only bleaker than the previous five, but also involves real-life criminal activities and mental illnesses, yet still following the Rousseau Was Right trope like the first four.
Sailor Moon is an excellent example of an idealistic series; the more cynical and ruthless Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune's plans to sacrifice themselves (and a few other, unwilling, folk) for the greater good failed (and had absolutely no chances of success, when they attempted it the second time), while All-Loving Hero Sailor Moon's determination to stop the Big Bad without anyone dying saved them all. Notably, Sailor Moon and two of the Big Bads actually get into arguments centered around this trope during their confrontations, with the villains insisting that the world is hopelessly rotten and Sailor Moon stalwartly refusing to give up hope and belief in people's goodness. The fact, that both of these Big Bads were somewhere between Brainwashed and Crazy and suffering a full-scale Demonic Possession at the time, says everything you need to know about the actual stance of this series.
Contrast to Neon Genesis Evangelion, an example of a very cynical series; many of the characters love or hate others (or themselves) for shallow and petty but realistic reasons. And in later episodes, many of the characters' backstories are revealed to be nightmarish and hellish. And don't even get started on End... The message of the show can be considered ultimately idealistic; that, if these characters could reach the togetherness and love that they yearn for, everything would be all right. Whether the events of the show bear that out is hotly debated. The show (and movie) intentionally don't bear that out because one of the prevailing points is that the above ideal is impossible to attain. "Hedgehog's Dilemma" and all that.
Your mileage will really vary on this one. Many people find the series cynical due to the brutality, the characterization, the Cosmic Horror Story implication, etc, but many others also find it rather uplifting. You can't say a series is 100% cynical with the lines "Anywhere can be paradise as long as you have the will to live." Even the last scene is debatable, as people debate whether or not Shinji and Asuka are the last humans alive, whether they'll get along, whether they'll become romantically involved, whether humanity would return, and whether they're both over their psychological trauma, especially when one considers Asuka and Shinji essentially had their entire world views uprooted and altered. In other words: Eva broke the scale.
Just as well, Gurren Lagann has quite a bit more of cynicism than the occasional Shoot the Dog moment. While you may have freedom, rampant freedom will lead to destruction explained in said Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!. While you may seem like a hero, it's all subjective and you could just as easily become the villian, shown when it's revealed the villian's are Not So Different from the humans. While the Power of Friendship is strong, it can be turned against the heroes, like from Simon's Heroic BSoD from Kamina's death and his hestiation from fighting due to Nia's capture. Although being a Determinator is great and all but being that stubborn will never lead anywhere good like in the Bad Future shown in the beginning. If Evangelion broke the scale, Gurren Lagannbroke the scale again and rebuilt it. It's not so much as the Anti-Eva as it is Eva and FLCL'schild.
While EVA and Gurren Lagann are the poster children for cynicism and idealism in Humongous Mecha shows respectively, Code Geass uses the conflict between the two as one of the many clashes between its male leads. The protagonist, Lelouch, feels that The Empire is horribly corrupt and beyond redemption, meaning that in order to achieve peace he has to destroy it, start over from square one and generally act like Machiavelli's The Prince personified. His friend/rival Suzaku believes that destruction is never the answer and holds out hope that idealism and obstinacy can reform Britannia. Late in the series, the point becomes moot as Lelouch kills the Emperor and seizes power, with Suzaku as his knight/bodyguard.
The conflict then slides from the one between Lelouch and Suzaku to the one between Lelouch and his older brother Schniezel, with Lelouch representing the idealistic side of the scale, namely that people aren't naturally violent and can be taught to be kind to each other, and Schniezel representing the cynical end of the scale, that people are inherently prone to conflict and true peace can only be achieved through the threat of overwhelming force in the present. In the end, sheer violence wins out, and the series suggests that Lelouch's idealistic, if suicidal, plan has changed humanity for the better. Ironically, both plans centre around threats and violence, it's simply the one believes that state needs to be maintained, and the other believes that people will learn from that experience.
Cross Ange is excesssively on the cynical side. It berates technology, Power of Love and Power of Friendship as they make humans are selfishly complacent and arroagant. So much that they must be beaten up or have someone to beat up just to vitalize themselves. Even after the story shifts away from the cynical end with the Dragons and Norma understanding one another and joining to fight the Big Bad, many of the themes the anime denounces still remain.
The Macross franchise in general is very much on the idealistic end of the scale with its themes of how understanding, love and music can overcome all odds and convert the most alien of foes into friends.
Some of Yoshiyuki Tomino's entries into the Super Robot genre, namely Zambot 3 and Space Runaway Ideon contain elements that subvert the idealism and Black-and-White Morality of other Super Robot shows not to mention incorporating Kill 'Em All endings, as per his nickname. For instance, in Zambot 3, the protagonists of the Jin family are not praised for their efforts for the majority of the series, but are instead condemned as the cause of the problem. Somewhat justified, seeing as the populace is rather uninformed, and Zambot 3, like any other Humongous Mecha, causes a fair bit of property damage and human casualties in its own right. Most series just choose not to address it. Additionally, it is implied in Ideon that the Ide was just using the crew that defends it in an Evil Plan to cause The End of the World as We Know It. Suffice it to say, while Ideon is infamously cynical, Zambot 3 could at least be seen as having a Bittersweet Ending depending on how one interprets the Gaizok being defeated at the cost of the lives of all but one protagonist, along with the populace coming around to recognize the Zambot pilots as heroes.
Cowboy Bebop has some idealistic aspects. For example, the young girl Ed is never around when things get really dangerous or serious, the hero Spike Spiegel lives through things that would have killed him in real life, and many episodes feature at least one bad guy who is irredeemably bad while others who change their ways or who are sympathetic. On the other hand, Cowboy Bebop is also quite cynical. Unlike most fiction, people go to the bathroom and wash their clothes. Bad things happen to good people, and the "happy endings" to the episodes usually have a catch, ex: In episode 2, Ein the dog is saved, and the bad guy is stopped, but our bounty hunter heroes got no money for their efforts, just a dog they think is worthless. Almost all of the main characters, and many of the other "good" characters have very negative aspects, and some of the "bad" characters are not quite as "evil" as you think. Ex: Jet Black is an ex-cop who left because he hated the corruption in the force, yet he is not above blackmailing his ex co-workers for info. Another example: The Red Dragon gangster Vicious is the main villain in the series, but he has good reason to be angry — Spike Spiegel stole his girlfriend, and then turned against the Red Dragon Syndicate. Even worse, his boss Mao Yenrai still would like Spike to come back, and wants to bargain with other syndicates instead of fighting them. Not to mention that many of these people are members of or associated with criminal syndicates, placing them in anti-hero territory at best. The ultimate message of the show seems to be both extremely idealistic and extremely cynical as it involves the main character's death.Cowboy Bebop is ultimately a show where people can be counted on to do the right thing... eventually.
Fate/Zero is soul-crushingly cynical, seeing the noble chivalric ideals and good intentions of Saber and Lancer, the self-sacrificing efforts of Kariya to spare Sakura from a horrifying fate in the Matou family, the dreams of Kiritsugu to create a world without conflict, and many others broken and stomped on.
Berserk is what happens when the cynical end of the scale forces the idealistic end down and breaks its arm. And then chops it into little pieces with a BFS. And then, for good measure, blasts whatever's left with an Arm Cannon. Underneath all the gritty medieval violence and Deconstructed Tropes, however, the series is actually rather optimistic. Camaraderie is a central theme in the series, as Guts learns to appreciate friendship after being a loner for several years (twice!). And while its been repeatedly stated that Guts cannot really effect any major change in the flow of Causality, he has been a positive influence on many people he's encountered, such as Farnese and the little girl Jill, and has changed the misanthropic viewpoint of Cute Witch Schierke to a more hopeful one. In fact, most of the cynicism is in the early chapters, and the endings of both the Lost Children and Albion arcs ended on positive notes, with the supporting characters from both going on to live better lives.
Berserk may be a subversion in a weird fatalistic way. If causality is absolute and nothing the characters do can make a lasting impact on the Crapsack World around them, that definitely tends toward the cynical. But on the other hand, a certain amount of idealism is consistently portrayed as being much better for one's own personal mental sanity if nothing else. The moral seems to be that if you ultimately have no control over your life anyway, you might as well spend as much time as you can being with your loved ones before either you or they or both inevitably get raped, killed, and eaten by demons (not necessarily in that order). But a lot will depend on the ending.
Kei Kurono and most of the other characters of Gantz are selfish and cynical, while Kato is more idealistic and tries to save everyone. Gantz generally retains its cynical edge throughout the course of the manga, though a few idealistic moments have cropped up briefly throughout the series, such as Kurono's development into more of a leader-figure, becoming less selfish and more heroic, as well as when most of the Gantz crew who had survived and attained 100 points at the time used their 100 points to resurrect one of Kurono's dead friends from the Gantz database. Like Berserk above, Gantz almost sidesteps the entire issue by being utterly fatalistic. Neither the cynical or the idealistic characters seem to have any particular advantage in the practical business of survival, but the idealistic ones at least tend to be happier until they inevitably get killed in the most gruesome way possible.
Dragon Ball is as a whole is definitely on the idealistic side: the good guys always win and all the damage done by the bad guys is almost always undone, and most bad guys come back as allies for the next fight, converted by the Power of Friendship.
Then there is the History of Trunks special that shows what the Dragon World would be like if it did take a turn for the cynical. Most of the main heroes are dead and those still alive are living in hell where they can be killed at any time by the androids, who were created by a human who held a grudge against one of the dead heroes. Heroic Sacrifices means nothing, people are ruthlessly slaughtered for fun, and playing hero often leads to being maimed or dying brutally. One could see the special as being a Deconstruction of Dragon Ball.
Bardock: Father of Goku is not quite as cynical as the Trunks' special, but it is far darker than the series proper. The story resolves around Bardock trying to stop a future that he has no way of preventing. It is a long Shoot the Shaggy Dog story for the main character as he watched his friends be murdered, failing to avenge their deaths, his warnings about Frieza falling on deafs ears and mocked, to being unceremoniously killed when he tried to fight back against fate. With all that said, the special does end on a high note with Goku going to Earth, being found by Gohan, and him being the one destined to avenge the fallen Saiyans.
Dragon Ball Super is more on the cynical end than the original and Dragon Ball Z, but only barely. The universe is ruled by a naive god who could erase everything in an instant, and Jerkass Gods are plentiful. It also has the darkest saga in the franchise with the Future Trunks saga, which ends with the entire Future Trunks timeline getting erased by Zen'o after being corrupted beyond repair by an Eldritch Abomination. That said, even that saga has a strong message of hope and teamwork even against overwhelming odds. The Universe Survival saga has a dark, highly cynical premise (All of the multiverse has to fight in a tournament, and the losers have their entire universe erased by Zen'o) but a heavily idealistic ending: The whole thing was a Secret Test of Character set up by Zen'o to see if the winner would be virtuous enough to wish back all the universes erased in the tournament, which Android 17 passes, saving all of existence in the process.
Fist of the North Star is unapologetically idealistic and morally righteous in spite of being set in a post-apocalyptic Crapsack World. The heart and soul of the series seems to be "It is easy to do good in times of prosperity, but it takes a true hero to be a good person when the entire world is screaming for you to be otherwise." Not to mention several main villains reveal their tragic pasts and their good side when they are about to die... such as Shin, Juda, and even Souther and Raoh... Note that Toki leans on the idealistic end of the scale and Raoh on the cynical end, regarding the world laid in ruin by the nuclear war. We can see this story is literally the fight between the idealistic side and the cynical side.
The prequel, Fist of the Blue Sky, however, is more cynical in nature, in that The Hero is helping a drug lord take over Shanghai City where guns are prominent, even though there are mentions of building a Shangri-La right here. Almost no bad guys get redemption from their crimes, either.
In the Battle Royale manga, Shuya Nanahara is a very idealistic Rock n' Roll fan, even though the series itself is far at the cynical end of the spectrum. This causes Mood Whiplash between issues, or even between scenes, making you wonder if Shuya has the magical ability to make the plot more forgiving.
One of the running themes throughout Trigun is the clash between idealism and cynicism, which takes many forms.
There's the conflict between Vash the Stampede's idealism and the cynical viewpoint of Nicholas D. Wolfwood. Vash doesn't want to kill anyone, but when forced to choose between the lives of his friends and that of a major villain, he does ultimately shoot to kill. This gets him deeply depressed. Nicholas, though a priest, admits that killing is necessary. In the end, Nicholas finally agrees with Vash, which is what gets him killed.
An even better example is the clash between Knives, who believes humans are scum and need to die in order for plants to survive and Vash, who believes humans and plants can co-exist. In the end, Vash turns out to be right as humans decide to help plants even though those plants were previously fused with Knives for Knives's scheme to Kill All Humans. Soon after the final battle, Knives, like Nicholas, dies but acknowledges that Vash is correct to put faith in humans.
The idealism vs. cynicism battle is echoed between Millie and Meryl.
The setting itself is one giant ongoing clash between Vash's indomitable idealism and the cynical reality of the sheer Crapsack World at large.
In general, the Universal Century is widely regarded as the most cynical timeline because of Tomino's combat with depression, conflict with Sunrise, and hatred against Japan's actions and attitude towards World War II. It's a continual cycle of From Bad to Worse and Kill 'Em All even though it has a tendency to flip-flop to idealistic from time to time, as evidenced best by the massive Tone Shift between Zeta Gundam and Gundam ZZ and the ones in some of the OVAs and Compilation Movies.
The Future Century is a Super Robot show, which predisposes it for idealism. Although it takes place in a Crapsack World with plenty of corruption and Scenery Gorn, it is also the only timeline that actually found a way to end mass-casualty warfare; the problem is fixing the system used to replace it.
After Colony features heavily damaged Child Soldiers. It proceeds to break the pilots who didn't come pre-broken, and then breaks the Child Soldiers again for good measure. There are twisted politics that leave the heroes as continual Unwitting Pawns, and the destruction of many colonies and nations but does not Kill 'Em All and ultimately presents an idealistic message about pacifism and the ability of people to heal.
The After War era starts off as a Crapsack World in the culimination of an apocalyptic war and a mass Colony Drop leading to the death of 99% of the human race, and everyone trying to survive by whatever means necessary. However, it gets much better. In the end, the Frost Brothers are defeated, the Satellite System is destroyed, the myth of Newtypes as weapons of war or the next step of human evolution, which drove the world-ending war in the first place, is refuted, and the warmongering leaders of the New Earth Federation and the Space Colonies are both wiped out (by the Frost Brothers). Ultimately, the remnants of the governments finally make peace with each other, and the various protagonists all survive in a world that is gradually recovering, making this one of the most idealistic series in the franchise to date.
"It's like we're walking through a maze of sorts. There are always so many paths to choose from. We pick a path, and we follow it. You people walk your path believing that something you desire is waiting for you. I walk it to confirm that there is nothing there."
That being said, there is just enough hope at the end of Seed Destiny to believe that things can finally change for the better and that Naturals and Coordinators can overcome their hatreds given time and the removal of those who had been exploiting said hatreds for their own agendas.
The first season of Anno Domini starts as a cynical story. The heroes are part of what is arguably a terrorist organization trying to end war by brute force, and all of them are deeply scarred in one way or another. Governments are corrupt, and war-crazy monsters are powerful and dangerous. As a result, the first season ends on a decidedly unhappy note. In the second season, idealism begins to triumph over the angst episode by episode, followed by a cautiously upbeat ending. The Movie moves this timeline firmly on the idealistic end, showing that even the most war-weary of soldiers can find true understanding even if it takes a long time to do so.
As a sharp contrast to the AD timeline, the Advanced Generation slides down towards complete cynicism over the show's three-generation timespan, with Flit Asuno going from Wide-Eyed Idealist to Knight Templar, Asemu deciding that the only way to keep both sides from destroying each other is to keep things at a stalemated Forever War, and Kio's attempts to connect with his foes met with repeated failure. The Vagans, meanwhile, see-saw from enigmatic villains to legitimately aggreived and then back to unsympathetic with The Reveal of their leader's true goal, and all perish for it — ultimately. Although at the surface it seems to slide back into idealism at the end, it is at best a Bittersweet Ending for the finale.
The Post Disaster is perhaps one of the most cynical settings, even if put in comparison to the darker titles. Taking place in a setting where children are treated as worth less than dirt and have a short life expectancy. Orga's attempt forms the group Tekkadan after forming a mutiny slowly loses their idealism to the realities of war when Biscuit dies but was still able to go back towards the middle of the scale by defeating their enemies and securing a future for themselves but at the cost to the stability of the world they live on as more children end up being enslaved and sent to fight. In the second season, it has a significantly much more cynical tone as he and many others die in a futile coup against the Big Bad of the series and Tekkadan is forever vilified as a result of aligning themselves with McGillis as people close them are killed in the process. While some of the secondary members of Tekkadan were spared, all the main characters in Tekkadan would perish from the struggle and the antagonist emerging victorious and the surviving idealists also becoming fully cynical in process in spite of an attempt by Rustal trying to create a world that would not have more people like them.
Explored by Martian Successor Nadesico via the Show Within a ShowGekiganger 3, which as an old-school Super Robot series is pretty much set all the way towards idealism, while Nadesico itself is a great deal more cynical. Certain characters in the show try to emulate the worldview of Gekiganger, and it never goes well. "The Evil Empire [of Earth] must be destroyed! This is the true meaning of Gekigangar!" Poor, Poor Tsukomo Shiratori...
Servamp, being a shonen/josei hybrid, tends to lapse more towards the idealistic side. Sometimes, things may seem broken, but we could fix it. This was exactly the case with Kuro, who regretted his choice all the time. His more idealistic Eve Mahiru pulls him out of his depression.
One more such pair is Licht and his Servamp, Lawless. The latter is very cynical and thinks of humans as fragile, but his eve disagrees with his mindset. Licht is very idealistic, and believes firmly that there is noting like talent, and if one tries hard enough they can do anything. Their opposite mindsets cause them to clash a LOT.
The emperor's first major edict in Rurouni Kenshin was to move from realism (the "realistic" OVA) to idealism (the more lighthearted series) This is why so many of the more violent characters are upset: all the idealism keeps the body count low.
Both the series and the OVA are based on the same manga, which manages to juggle both extremes (yes, even in the flashback the OVA is based on, making it less angsty and more humane than the anime version), though as a shounen fight manga it leans toward optimism.
Kenshin himself plays with this trope right in the first episode, when stating that Kaoru's idealistic views on the art of the sword are childish and naive, and that weapons are for killing and nothing more. He ends his commentary by stating that he actually preferred Kaoru's way of thinking and would love nothing more than if it were reality.
The OVAs came after the TV series (in Japan at least).
Planetes often contrasts Tanneries' idealism with Hachimaki's cynicism (taking a downward spiral into outright pessimism after a while). Idealism wins in the end. Even with the terrorists.
Monster makes a major point about exploring the contrasts between the characters regarding morality. Idealistic Doctor Tenma never gives in and loses his belief in the good nature of all people. His direct counterpart is murderous and downright evil Johan, who uses people without second thoughts just to prove Tenma wrong. Caught between them is Nina, who is generally a kind hearted person, but over the course of the story becomes more and more willing to resort to methods of increasingly questionable quality. Last are Inspector Lunge and embittered Eva, who really can't decide on which side they want to stand.
In Princess Tutu, Ahiru/Duck stops most of her "enemies" by dancing with them and making them understand the feeling that is disturbing their life. And she eventually manages to befriend the unprepared villain Kraehe/Rue. Mind you, it does take a kickass swordfight in an atmosphere of apocalyptic gloom to triumph over the Big Bad. Then again, it's not so nice an ending for Ahiru herself, who has to return to being a duck and thus lose her humanity and her true love for good. Apparently the Power of Love has limits after all.
Still, she seems perfectly happy with how things work out. Being a duck isn't all that bad — it's what she really is, and she gets to be with Fakir anyway. Plus her friends get to live happily ever after — really, what more could she possibly ask for?
Bokurano and Narutaru are series so cynical that you could use their sliding scale as a trebuchet by putting what you wanted to throw in the 'idealism' end of the scale and tying a rope to it - and even then the cynicism side is so weighted down with dead children you'd have to add all the 'happy happy' content of several idealistic shows to pull down the throwing arm before cutting the rope. Bokurano is the slightly more hopeful of the two; even though it's a very screwed-up story with a Dysfunction Junction cast, most of its main characters are good, well-intentioned people, and many of them have their wishes granted in some small part, like Maki getting to see the light that represents her newborn baby brother before she dies. Narutaru, on the other hand, with its Humans Are the Real Monsters mentality and Diabolus ex Machina levels of angst and tragedy, could use the sliding scale to fling small planets with its sheer pessimism. Nothing ever goes right in that manga. The manga ends with the protagonist finally snapping, deciding to wipe out humanity by using her shadow dragon which is goddamn planet earth itself. Gigantic hands as big as skyscrapers sprouts out of earth and literally bitchslap everyone to death sparing only ruins of destroyed cities and leaving the fate of humanity to two pregnant teenagers.
Windaria (the original version) starts out appearing to be a relatively happy and idealistic fairytale full of magic and adventure, with characters that on the surface appear to live a simple life full of love and a sense of community. The further Windaria gets, the darker and more cynical it becomes until there is no denying that Humans Are Bastards who will without hesitation screw one another over for their own personal agendas and only come to realize the horror of their deeds when it is too late to back out of it.
However, Force takes a shift to a much more cynical end. The main character Touma goes through something similar to what Nagi went through in Tenjho Tenge (being an Unwitting Pawn). The Huckbein need to kill to keep The Corruption at bay and Mysterious Waif Lily is a source of said corruption? Also the first battle against the Huckbein does NOT go well for the heroes.
The first battle never goes well for the heroes. During the first encounter in A's both Nanoha and Fate get their weapons destroyed and Nanoha gets hospitalized. If the heroes always won, there'd be no chance for growth.
Il Sole penetra le illusioni which is directed by the same person who directed Nanoha is on the firm end of cynicism, the Monster of the Week are created from a Deal with the Devil and killing them also means killing the innocent human soul who don't even have a pleasant afterlife but instead just coldly put down. The group that fights it views any deserters as threats and there is seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel like Madoka. It only barely edges out an idealistic end at the end of the tunnel but still brings out a lot question about the nature of monsters.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica starts out on the far cynical side of the scale, with a harsh look at the Magical Girl genre coupled with a general theme of Be Careful What You Wish For. It doesn't matter what the Magical Girlswho are liches fated to become the same abominations that they have been fighting do, they are doomed from the very beginning especially if they find out that they were deceived into a Deal with the Devil. It then quickly veers onto the more idealistic side of the scale when Madoka, who could be said to be one of the most idealistic characters shown, performs a Heroic Sacrifice and Abstract Apotheosis, making sure with her own hands that no magical girl in the past, present, and future ever becomes a witch, up to and including herself. But wraiths have replaced the witches as the bringers of grief, though supplemental material indicates that their only strength is in numbers, with each individual wraith being weaker than a single witch; Magical Girls vanish once their Soul Gems completely darken, though it is implied that Madoka takes them to what may be some sort of afterlife.
Then came Rebellion, and Kyubey's and Homura's attempts to outdo each other drove the cynicsm Up to Eleven.
The scale also plays a part in the story itself, particularly in the manga—Rosette's practically a mouthpiece for the idealistic side of the scale, while Aion is an unabashed cynic. When Chrono was on Aion's side, he fell in with Aion's cynical beliefs, despite his own misgivings...but after going against Aion and meeting Rosette, he starts to go in line with her way of thinking. At the very end of the manga, Chrono's been so affected by Rosette that his last conversation with Aion almost sounds like the two sides of the scale in a debate.
Near, who ends up defeating Light with Mello's help, is somewhere around the middle; better than Light, yet a bit worse than L. Mello, his rival, by contrast, is just as ruthless as Light, to the point that his antics make Light seem almost heroic by comparison during his first appearance. After all, he kidnapped Sayu and killed members of his own Mafia after they'd Outlived Their Usefulness, and while Light himself murdered the Director of the Japanese Police for similar reasons, he was for the most part trying to rescue his father and sister.
Kyo Kara Maoh! is thoroughly idealistic. The idealistic Yuuri is always right; the bad guys can always be redeemed, and everything turns out for the best. The more cynical Wolfram is always proven wrong.
Black Lagoon fiercely stays at the end of the cynical side of the Heroic Bloodshed genre to such an extent that it actually comes back around the other side and behaves somewhat idealistically. This is perfectly demonstrated at the end of the series, when the protagonist admits that there is neither justice nor morality in the world, but that he still intends to help people entirely just because. He then proceeds to talk the Big Bad out of killing him and his friends (something which the protagonists of even the most idealistic series generally have trouble doing).
Saint Seiya is interesting in that its characters are all over the scale. Among the main five, with Dragon Shiryuu representing the pinnacle of idealism and Phoenix Ikki the pinnacle of cynicism, and the rest falling in between (Andromeda Shun, for instance, hates violence and is quite idealistic, but suffers often doubts himself and wonders if this idealism makes him weaker). The series itself does end up landing on the side of idealism; for instance, Cancer Deathmask's belief that "history is Written By The Victors" is challenged by Roshi ("Evil will always be evil") and proven to be false when Dragon Shiryuu defeats Deathmask.
Diamond Daydreams is very idealistic without becoming too unrealistic. The girls in the stories still have to face their fears and have to deal with hardship, but it only helps them to become stronger.
At first it seemed One Piece is overwhelmingly positive, but soon it was revealed that it was actually more along the lines of a world existing firmly on the cynical end of the scale while the story itself rotates around a group placed about as solidly as possible on the idealistic end. So, it's actually on both ends of the scales at once, in a sorta in-universe meta way. Of course, after the recent chain of events it still remains to be seen if the things stay this way. And if they don't, they almost certainly will be sliding towards the cynical end. Actually, definitely, given that there's no more room left on the idealistic side to slide towards...
One of the recurring themes in the Mahou Sensei Negima! manga is the contrast between Negi's idealism and Eva's cynicism. They eventually start rubbing off on each other. As a whole, Negima starts out with a very idealistic tone, but becomes more and more cynical as it goes on, mirroring Negi's growing maturity and his realization that the world isn't always a nice place, and that while you can be idealistic, you had better be willing to fight for it. And with the recently revealed stakes of that fight, boy is it on now!
The main premise of Black Cat involves two scheming organizations, one evil, one morally grey, a living weapon resulted from an unspeakably unethical human experiment and a couple of guys who try to do good but are constantly strained by the evils of the world. The morally grey organization has taken over a good portion of the world's governments, sometimes with the use of force, violence and deceit. The evil organization tries to take over the whole world by killing a lot of people and making its insane leader immortal. The living weapon is a little girl without feelings, raised as a Tyke Bomb by a Corrupt Corporate Executive; her first scene in the manga was her killing a bodyguard. One of the good guys had a shady and troubled past. So you think this series is lodged way into the side of Cynicsm? Wrong, actually it's the complete opposite. Many of the morally grey organization's members are actually nice and benevolent characters. Some of the evil organization's members are actually very humanized. The little girl who is a living weapon is one of the cutest and most lovable protagonists in the story. And the good guys are downright goofy. The audiences were made to believe that Anyone Can Die, it turns out that many of them survive, sometimes making a HeelFace Turn. Even the insane Big Bad ends up being taken care of by The Dragon in a peaceful rural cottage so he could return to a normal life so he can do good.Black Cat is kind of a Double Subversion of an idealistic fighting Shōnen series, as though the whole premise looks Cynical, it is actually a very Idealistic manga.
Despite being set in a heavily militarized world full of deception and some of the fandom's wishes to the contrary, Naruto is quite clearly on the idealistic side, as emphasized by the "Will of Fire" held by the protagonists and most associated with them, the spirit that is able to turn about any creature in the world from cynical towards idealistic, just by talking to them! Though, of the few who have so far proven to be immune to it, such as Danzo, who believes that people are bastard coated bastards with bastard filling and that the only way to protect Konoha is to make Konoha stronger. Problem is, his reasoning is pretty faulty, since a lot of the crap the idealists had to go through were the direct or indirect result of him also acting like a bastard...
The sliding scale is an important part of Nagato's backstory. When he was younger, Nagato was a member of an organization that tried to end the wars that devastated their homeland without resorting to violence. The leader of their village views this group as a threat, so he leads Nagato, Konan, and Yahiko, who is the leader of the group, into a trap under the guise of peace talks. He captures Konan and forces Nagato to kill Yahiko to save her. This incident causes Nagato to abandon his idealistic beliefs and turn to a more cynical solution for bringing world peace that involves creating a weapon that will cause immense destruction so that people will be too afraid to go to war. Nagato's cynical views come into conflict with Naruto's idealism when he invades Konoha. Ultimately, seeing Naruto's beliefs reminds Nagato of how he used to be, and he chooses to sacrifice himself to undo some of the destruction he caused.
You could say that Naruto's conflicts always come down to this - his idealism vs. his opponents' cynicism. Naruto vs Haku (though he didn't even have to try with him), Zabuza, Neji, Gaara, Sasuke, Nagato... All the major opponents end up with Naruto either succeeding or failing in changing their lives. This is probably the real reason why he wants to beat Sasuke: because he tried and failed to do this. At the very end of the series, he finally succeeds.
Love So Life is so far on the idealistic side of things, it's basically hovering in its own bubble filled with puppies and rainbows. And this is despite the series being filled with Parental Abandonment - the main twins' father ran away and left them in his brother's care after his wife died; Shiharu lost her parents while very young; Matsunaga's mother was not all that present in her sons' lives - and the difficulties that raising children can bring, especially if one is not entirely prepared for it.
Kino's Journey has the tag line, "The world is not beautiful, therefore it is." Kino's world is full of wicked people living in harsh conditions and under bizarre and even insane and oppressive laws. Yet at the same time these dark and cruel parts of the world make the few good parts seem all the better. Kino meets idealists and cynics all throughout her journey, each one with their own thoughts and opinions on the state of the world or more often the country they live. The most prominent example of the series' contrast between cynicism and idealism is the episode "Her Journey -Love and Bullets-" in which a young woman and a man traveling together cross paths with Kino. The woman claims to be on a quest to bring peace to the world and proclaim the glory of pacifism. Kino asks how she could have survived this journey so long without encountering any danger that would have to be solved with violence. To which the woman responds that she doesn't know, she has always assumed that they've just been lucky. The truth is the man traveling with her has quietly killed off anyone in their path who might make themselves a problem. He kept this a secret because he loves her and doesn't want to shatter her vision of an ideal world.
Maria-sama ga Miteru is famous for being the most idealized all-girl high school setting ever. Almost everybody is well-meaning, conflicts are mostly settled by communicating, and there are no bullies for miles around, when in reality it's rare to find 16-year-olds who are both that responsible and still that fun-loving. Heck, even acne seems to have been mostly abolished. It also lacks any actual Gayngst or homophobia.
It's also made clear, especially in later installments of the series, that their line of work is very bad for Weiss's mental health. The villains of the Dramatic PreciousRadio Drama, members of an earlier iteration of the team, are directly presented as what the current members of Weiss are likely to become if they don't find a way out... which only one of them does. The only thing that keeps the series from being all the way at the far cynical end of the scale is that the protagonists do believe that they're helping to make it possible for normal people to live in a brighter world. Youji's probably the best example of this contradiction in the series: calling him a jaded, hardened cynic is just as accurate as calling him a hopeless romantic.
Fullmetal Alchemist is an interesting example as the first anime and the manga/second anime end on different parts of the scale. The manga and second anime are very idealistic, with the message that if you work hard enough and overcome your pain, you can make anything possible except for bringing back the dead. The first anime is more (but not entirely) cynical, saying you don't always achieve what you want, but if you try you just might get what you need, and that struggle is what makes life worth living. How you feel about these messages, and your overall place on the sliding scale, is a major clue to which side of the endless fandom war you'll likely take.
Hunter × Hunter is perhaps one of the more cynical shonen works out there. The main characters struggle a lot through their journey, quest and hardships, and the heroic side often lacks and loses a lot of support on their side, and don't always achieve what they originally aimed for. The series also views the shonen hero mentality in a cynical way with Gon, and twists what makes it a strength for him into flaws that bite him back often— as it frequently gets him into trouble and is seen as alien and insane in-universe. The Chimera Ant arc for example is a very good proof to show how cynical the series can be. Humans Are Bastards is the one of the major themes for the arc, there are a lot of sacrifices made in this arc, and the "supposed" heroes start doing a lot of morally questionable actions in the battle against Chimera Ants, especially when Gon becomes so much of an Anti-Hero that he actually threatens to kill someone innocent, and that the humans actually cheat to win against the Chimera Ants by using the Rose.
Meanwhile Heaven and Earth and Right of Left is pretty much day and night of idealism and cynicism.
Gankutsuou takes a nosedive off the cynical end very early on, doing its best to crush the Wide-Eyed Idealist main character into tiny bits. Then in the last few episodes, Franz pulls the whole series up into the Idealistic end by its bootlaces.
It also largely takes the more idealistic Living Forever Is Awesome view of immortality, with most of the immortals shown either celebrating or at least making the best of their eternal lives, though it certainly touches on the more cynical side as well.
Like Gantz and Berserk, the works of Yoshiki Takaya such as Zeorymer and Guyver falls into the cynical side. How despite wielding an indestructible weapon against the enemy is fighting what amounts to be a Hopeless War against an alien threat.
School Days's infamous anime adaptation is completely cynical with two out of the three main characters winding up dead and the third one going off the deep end. The original visual novel, however, zig-zags the scale considerably, as while it's virtually impossible for you to stop the main characters from acting like idiots and making bad decisions, trying to be a good guy whenever you can ultimately pays off. It's only when you deliberately encourage the protagonist's bad decisions that you get the game's infamous bad endings.
Kagerou-Nostalgia is what happens when you take typical shonen archetypes, and drop them off in a Crapsack World. So far, the heroes have achieved absolutely nothing, beyond getting their leader killed, the villain's plans are moving closer to fruition, and the miserable status quo is firmly in place. To quote The Hero, Kazuma: "In the end we were powerless. Again. We fought like mad, but all that's ever left is the devastation."
The main cast only achieved victory in the first one by sacrificing themselves, only to be reincarnated along with their foes in the sequel, without the help of the princess this time around.
Debatable. The light novel ends with some of the characters' lives restored. The anime pretty much goes straight into Earn Your Happy Ending territory with all the main characters and even a good deal of the supporting characters improving their lives from where they were at the beginning of the series. So even if it starts off very cynical, it's more idealistic by the end.
As it starts off as a parody of Death Note,Onani Master Kurosawa begins extremely cynically, with the first few chapters starting off as a showcase for all of the jackassery that goes on in middle school—protagonist Kurosawa is a misanthropic, misogynist creep who spends his time masturbating in an unused bathroom, local Alpha Bitch Sugawa is quite shockingly cruel, and even the most sympathetic-seeming character, Kitahara, quickly proves to be a Jerkass Woobie with a hugely vindictive streak. Then into the story walks Magister Takigawa, a sweet, intelligent girl without a hateful bone in her body. Her reveal of her backstory, of how she found the power within herself to become who she wanted to be, and the changes this inflicts on Kurosawa, is just the first sign that the manga is headed on a non-stop collision course to becoming one of the most unflinchingly and unapologetically idealistic manga out there. And it's idealist in the traditional sense, in that although the road to personal growth and happiness is often fraught with hardships, friends, and the satisfaction of being the person you always wanted to be, make it worth it.
Haruhi Suzumiya plays around with this quite a bit. The dual protagonists Haruhi and Kyon both start out cynical, since they haven't been able to find anything "interesting" (supernatural or otherworldly). Haruhi soon decides to make the world interesting through sheer hyperactive charisma, and becomes much more idealistic; Kyon continues acting aloof and cynical, but he still hangs around with Haruhi because she really is making his life more interesting, even if he won't admit it. The whole situation is pretty ironic, too, because Haruhi becomes idealistic without finding any of the things she was looking for (as far as she knows), while Kyon remains cynical even though he's in exactly the position he fantasized about in the beginning of the first book (the snarky sidekick to a group of superpower-equipped characters). Kyon eventually admits his idealistic leanings in the fourth book / The Movie by choosing to recreate Haruhi's unstable and "more fun" world instead of keeping the simplified and realistic world Yuki created, but he remains externally cynical so he can keep his role as a foil to Haruhi.
Much like its Spiritual PredecessorBerserk, Claymore tends to tip on the cynical side of the scale, making it another rare Shōnen example to do this, along with Death Note. There ARE times when the good guys win and the bad guys are defeated (and even during those instances, it's ruined when you feel bad for the defeated villain), but those times are usually few and far between or they're just setting the audience up for [something worse to come. A good example? Try the Northern Campaign, where in the first battle all twenty four warriors sent on the mission (which was actually a purge to get rid of them) survived, and we see them conversing and giving each other pep talks and emotional strength the following night. Next day, next battle: only seven of them survived. A most surprising twist when compared to a seinen such as Berserk is that Claymore has very little comic relief in it, to maintain that always serious atmosphere.
Say hello to Petit Eva: Evangelion @ School, Neon Genesis Evangelion as taken, kicking and screaming, over to the "Idealism" side of the scale. While seeing NGE characters in a lighthearted Gag Series is a bit jarring, it's certainly not a bad lighthearted Gag Series.
GUN×SWORD is a cynical look at revenge plots. Unlike the usual shounen storyline where the main character gets over his desire for revenge. Van goes through with his revenge plot against the Clawed Man. On the other hand, it is also more idealistic look at revenge plot as even though Van goes through with his revenge, he holds onto his kind nature and gains a group of friends who support him. This is contrasted with Ray, another person with the revenge plot against the Clawed Man, who pursues his vendetta with no remorse, alienates everyone else around him, and ends up getting himself killed.
The final series of Shakugan no Shana boils down to this when The protagonist Yuji defects to the enemies they are fighting up until then in order to form a plan that will put an end to their hidden war by creating a new world. The Flame Haze believe the plan is too risky making them come seem very cynical to not give it a second thought since the thousands of years of hidden war clearly isn't working. The Crimson Denizens also follow Yuji and the Snake of the Festivals very devoutly without any doubts that the plan will work making them seem quite idealistic.
AKIRA, both the manga and the movie, are an interesting example. The story starts out very cynical but over the course of it, things slowly get more idealistic, moving away from the incredibly bleak opening. The transition is complete at the end where it's implied things are going to be falling squarely on the idealistic side of things from now on.
Attack on Titan and Terra Formars are both hopelessly cynical plots about fighting giant mutant threats made by humanity for some purpose. Only to watch it backfire horribly as waves of humans are sent to fight a Hopeless War against them. The death count is often horrific for both sides and there isn't even hope for a better tomorrow for anyone still alive.
Attack on Titan even has Eren suffer for trying to be idealistic at one point: by having faith in the more senior recon corp members and not transforming to fight they end up crushed by the female titan. Armin starts to crack and break and believe that only by making sacrifices can you make any progress and it's heavily implied that Erwin came to similar conclusions when he was younger. Jean is arguably the most idealistic of all the main cast, recently admitting that he had wished that Levi's cynical and brutal methods would prove to be less effective than refraining from killing. He still tries to avoid killing and find better alternatives but still...
Elfen Lied tends to fall pretty heavily on the cynicism side of the scale given that it believes that Humans Are Bastards and the protagonist is an Ax-Crazy killer who believes her only purpose in life is to destroy the race that is so cruel to her and her species.
Several idol anime over the last couple of years had it all over the scale:
The iDOLM@STER is idealistic one, mostly consisting of slice of life antics as they impress the audiences constantly.
Aikatsu! is also idealistic. The idols support each other and become friends most of the time while having fun. Even the few bits of drama are resolved with happy ends.
Love Live! is generally idealistic despite the rough start the group has early on as the reel from past failure to pull together to become the best school idol group in Japan.
Despite taking place in a universe where the government had banned entertainment and the idols have to fight the corrupt government. AKB0048 at heart is an idealistic series as the group is portrayed as a heroic resistance who fights for entertainment.
Pretty Rhythm series and PriPara, its spiritual successor are very dramatic and things tend to take a dramatic turn here and there before they are finally resolved in a way that is good for most of the people involved. Pretty much sit at the middle of this scale.
Wake Up, Girls! is a story about a struggling idol group who goes through rejection, failure and the unpleasant facts of life that plague the idol industry as they struggle to survive during the idol boom. The movie and second season however pushes it towards the middle as they become popular enough compete with their rival I-1 club
The Pretty Cure series is easily an idealistic series, even with its more dramatic and serious (for its kind) installments, namely Doki Doki Pretty Cure, Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash★Star, Heartcatch Pretty Cure, and Happiness Charge Pretty Cure. Go! Princess Pretty Cure tweaks it a little; At the start, it can be easily said as one of, if not the most idealistic entry in the franchise, but it soon turns out to be more cynical than it appears to be, as it goes into great lengths to show the struggles and the hard choices the main girls have to make in the process of achieving their goals. They usually prevail in it, but it comes at a fairly great cost. By the end, it pretty much sits on the middle of the scale. The main villain (through her Dragon) is actually still alive in the end, making it the first time in the franchise to not have the Big Bad redeemed or outright killed off in the end— and the main character justifies it by saying that despair is a normal thing to experience and feel. Also, the girls end up achieving their dreams, but have to separate with each other as a result.
Tokyo Ghoul is easily a cynical series. All of the characters, be it humans or ghouls, are broken in their own ways due to losing several of their loved ones to the opposing faction in the Crapsack World they live in, leading them to believe that killing parts of the other faction is the only way to survive. The series is also rarely kind to Kaneki and many other characters, often having them punished or going off the deep end for trying to do a good deed for their respective sides.
Goodnight Punpundefinitely falls into the cynical side, with its characters depicted having issues. Yes, even the kindest ones. The protagonist Punpun started off as an idealistic, naive and innocent child, but grows up to an abusive, cynical Jerkass due to the abuse and neglect that happened to him in his life. And then the manga ends with him not getting his love and said girl commiting suicide.
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU relies far on the cynical end of the scale, which makes it stand out considering its genre. The main protagonist Hachiman and his fellow club member Yukino have very twisted and pessimistic views on their surroundings, and the story seems to generally agree with them. The characters are also portrayed to be more cynical and insecure of themselves than they appear to be, and each of them hides their problems beneath their lively facades.
Parasyte uses this trope as the driving motivation of its duo protagonist Shinichi and Migi. At the start of the series, Shinichi is the idealistic one, believing that he would never kill people while Migi has no qualms about killing his own kind. As the series progresses however, Shinichi becomes more cynical while Migi grows to be more idealistic.
By the end of the series however it seems to fall to the idealistic side as humans and parasytes were able to settle their disputes and coexist together.
Slayers is a smidge more on the cynical side. The main heroine, though by no means a Villain Protagonist, is a free spirit who has no qualms about lying, stealing or cheating to get her way. And, even when she obliges to help people, her first question is always "What's in it for me?" Her companions, meanwhile, range from a proto-Emo with a Dark and Troubled Past (Zelgadis) to a capable yet bumbling swordsman (Gourry). Even the most noble and just character (Amelia) is a Butt-Monkey whose attempts at "heroics" usually (but not always) backfire. On the other hand, the villains do usually get their comeuppance, and justice often prevails at the end. But usually at the expense of villages being destroyed, etc.
Fairy Tail is very much on the "idealistic" side. Even when it gets dark and world-destroying threats show up, as long as you've got enough determination, strength, and friendship on your side, you can power through to a happy ending. Even most of the villains (aside from the Card Carrying Villains) have tragic backstories and with coaxing some of them end manage to turn around and find redemption.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure remains on optimistic ends despite different moods, settings, and characterizations of multiple story arcs.
The works of Koichi Ohata have a few genuinely good examples of anime of being very, very cynical to the point they could be considered nihilistic. Genocyber and MD Geist are both the most notable items. Cybernetics Guardian however by contrast ends up much more idealistic than his usual fare.
Axis Powers Hetalia, where the characters are countries, is most of the time idealistic, with none of the characters being really evil and Italy never really getting into serious trouble. The anime has his cynical moments, for example, when the Baltic states have to live under Russias rule, but there are a lot of scenes that are pretty heartwarming such as Poland saying he'll try to be less selfish in the future, or South Italy thanking Spain after Spain fought Turkey for him. It should also be noted that while some countries sometimes behave nasty and violent, it usually doesn't end well for them. Prussia, who laughs about Austria after he defeated him in the Seven Years' War, gets beaten up by Hungary note In Real Life, Prussia got dissolved after World War II because the Allies saw the country as too militaristic. Can be seen as example for violence being no solution. , and Russia, who wants to get friends, has the problem that everyone is scared about him.
The movie falls firmly on the idealistic side with the countries, despite their differences, working together to fight an alien invasion. It turns out that the aliens only invaded because they didn't know what fun is. They leave peacefully after Italy shows them.
Like AKIRA, Kotoura-san starts out on the incredibly cynical side of the spectrum, but gradually becomes more and more idealistic as the 12-Episode Anime progresses on.
Silver Nina leans heavily on the idealistic side of the scale, being about a little girl living with her relatives while her mother's working abroad and the positive effects she tends to have on those around her.
Yuri!!! on Ice is extremely optimistic, not only among its characters (since it has No Antagonist, and most of the struggles are individual characters coming to terms with their Fatal Flaws) but also in its larger world, which is basically our own except completely lacking in prejudice based on sexual orientation or nationality. (This was even confirmed in an interview with one of the creators, Mitsurou Kubo). This has led to a pretty heavy discussion about how groundbreaking it is as a Queer Romance, with some suggesting it would be better for it to be accurate about the homophobia its Russian and Japanese LGBT characters would face in Real Life, with others arguing that LGBT viewers have enough sad stuff and want escapism from time to time. More than a few fans described it as a ray of sunshine in the Fall 2016 anime season, one full of depressing real-world news.
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is very much on the idealistic side. The series follows the concepts of White-and-Grey Morality and Rousseau Was Right, any character in distress will see a helping hand reaching out, and the series makes a big deal out of inserting at least one heartwarming moment in each chapter. The characters are less verbose about friendship than in your average shonen series, though - they tend to show that they care about each others through actions instead of words, and most of the dialogue is either realistic teenage banter or exposition (or both at the same time).
Most of the works in the franchise, particularly the ones made after The Castle of Cagliostro, are much more idealistic. The protagonists are Lovable Rogue who don't do anything that bad and can generally be counted on to do the right thing, and most of the truly evil people get what they deserve, whether it being prison or being outright killed.
Akame ga Kill! is firmly cynical on commonly accepted shounen tropes. The Empire taken over by the Prime Minister consists of monstrous people who does not hesitate to commit atrocities against their own people and makes up of characters from wholly evil backgrounds. Death is permanent and the relationship between Tatsumi and Esdeath ends not with redemption or a villainous breakdown but with Tatsumi and Akame coldly killing Esdeath who firmly remains loyal to her cause. The fight also is costly for the protagonists, with plenty of Kill the Cutie moments galore. Ironically though, the most idealistic character of all (Wave) is actually the one who ends up the happiest off by the end of the series.
Moreover, the series ends in the middle with the Prime Minister facing the wrath of the people, some of the cold-blooded characters recovering their emotions (including the titular character and her sister), and some of the more idealistic characters or recovering ones gaining a new purpose in life.