Top 100 Best Anime Series of All Time
Hundreds of anime series hit our shores each year, with shows more entertaining and genre-making than the last. With the dwindling days of having to dig around for subbed VHS tapes, searching the net for obscure fansubs or waiting for companies to dub shows, it’s the best time to be into anime yet. But, of course, with decades of anime already over and a wealth of shows to look through, how do you know what is worth watching? Well, we’ve done the hard work for you, bringing you 100 of the very best anime series to ever grace TV (film being a whole different level), from old classics to new masterpieces.
It’s inevitable that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood makes it on any best of anime list, especially when it has long been the go-to serious shounen anime. And when everything from pacing to character development fits together so perfectly, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
In the world of magic, alchemists are bound by one immutable law: to gain anything, you must sacrifice something of equal value. This is something Edward Elric learns all too well as his brothers body is forfeited as the price for his mother’s revival. After managing to attach his brother’s soul to a suit of armour – losing two limbs in the process – they set out to find the Philosopher’s Stone, a magical item that could turn their lives back to what they once were.
Fullmetal Alchemist’s previous adaption leaves much to be desired when compared to Brotherhood’s faithful adaption of its source manga. Bringing with it a more distinct shounen atmosphere, Brotherhood delves into more of the plot, expands on more of the characters and has a much more conclusive feel, making it the overall better series.
Why it made the list: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood expands on the world first introduced in the manga in the best way yet, fleshing out the story, lingering on more characters and focusing on more serious themes. When an adaption this faithful and focused keeps things consistently good for its 64-episode run, you know you’re in for a great time.
Watch if you like: Epic final battles, mature themes, Studio Bones, brothers, friends, journeys, magic, fantasy, faithful adaptions, large cast of characters, long series.
You might also like: Attack on Titan, Hunter x Hunter (2011), Blue Exorcist.
The looming shadow you saw on the horizon of this list is here: it’s Gintama, the longest, largest and funniest comedy anime to-date. Nothing can quite compare to Gintama’s brand of humour, and with endless episodes just as funny as the last, it’s hard not to recognize how amazing the series is.
It’s the late Edo period when aliens attack the Earth. Samurai from all across Japan join forces to eliminate the threat, but in a twist of events, end up losing their right to carry a sword to their new alien overlords. Gintoki, one such samurai, must now find another way to finance his Weekly Shounen Jump and candy obsession – and what better way than to bum around and wait for fair-paying freelance jobs?
Gintama’s comedic blade never dulls with each passing episode, and you can argue that it gets even better with each series. Gintama’s devotion to comedy, parody and references is world-class, and for that it absolutely has to be one of our top best anime picks.
Why it made the list: What do you do when shounen gets old? Watch hundreds of episodes of Gintama! Gintama’s self-awareness, deep love of shounen and consistent level of humour makes the series a joy to watch. Plus its use of eastern and western humour opens it up to more than just avid anime watchers, making the series a comedy show for anyone.
Watch if you like: Comedy, parody, shounen anime, science fiction, long series, samurai, dick jokes, episodic anime, huge cast of characters, watching the series for the rest of your life, referential humour, aliens, sitcoms.
You might also like: SKET Dance, Daily Lives of High School Boys, One Punch Man.
As we close in on the best of the best, the truly stellar anime breaks through to shine in all that is good. For our number three spot, it’s Hunter x Hunter, the story of adventure, of human struggles, of desire and spirit and people. And for all that it deals with and all the characters it has, Hunter x Hunter never loses focus.
Hunters are capable professionals able to handle the most dangerous and lucrative of tasks. After twelve-year-old Gon discovers that his missing father is in fact a famous hunter, he sets his heart on becoming one too and begins a journey to gain his license and find his father. While traveling on the difficult path to become a hunter, Gon meets an assortment of odd people who, for various reasons, also want to become hunters. As they prepare to take the deadly Hunter Exam, Gon must steel himself to achieve his dreams or succumb to the deadly world around him.
Hunter x Hunter has the traits of many a boring shounen series but knows which parts to toss away, leaving only the new or interesting aspects. Training arcs are dead, fights focus on strategy and survival, and losing is very much an option. Hunter x Hunter is always sure to keep in mind what’s realistic, and the series benefits from its discarded plot armour.
Why it made the list: Hunter x Hunter never forgets what it needs to do, using its long airing time to build things up, explore its characters and take on some big themes, sometimes almost too serious to be for the demographic it is. Those whose trust has been betrayed by fillers or disappointing endings will be surprised by Hunter x Hunter’s consistent maturity and its devotion to a good story.
Watch if you like: A break from action, hunting, young protagonists, journeys, being different, tone shifts, smooth arcs, unpredictable series, not being overpowered, character development, strategy, long series.
You might also like: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, One Piece, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, Attack on Titan.
Nothing is quite as satisfying as a good time travel story, and the best one on this list just happens to be one that mixes otaku culture, time travel and a master scheme that all comes together at the end. It’s the phenomenon of Steins;Gate.
Okabe Rintarou, the self-proclaimed mad scientist of Akihabara, is the founder of the Future Gadget Research Laboratory, a club he formed with his childhood friend Mayuri and otaku hacker friend Daru. Together they create bizarre useless devices and experiment with gadgets to create a working time machine. When one of their time experiments lucks into success, Okabe jumps on the chance to change the past, but his actions have consequences far grander than anyone can imagine.
Despite the levels of 2ch and otaku culture in the show, it’s surprisingly serious and has more than a few mature moments. Each of the characters is terribly seeped in their specific interest but mesh together well and have moments of incredible sincerity without sacrificing their comedic aspects.
Why it made the list: Steins;Gate’s value isn’t in its lacking animation but in the intricacy of its plot, seamlessly bringing characters together to pull off a miracle. Its ties with real-world settings and real-world science talk makes drama all the more threatening and the low points even more depressing.
Watch if you like: Time travel, drama, science fiction, eventual romance, scientific theories, average cast of characters, standard length series, 2chan, otaku, satisfying endings, plot-driven stories.
You might also like: Eden of the East, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Welcome to the NHK.
Breaking into our number five spot is 2015’s most awaited anime – the adaptation of One Punch Man. Already a stellar manga, One Punch Man’s jump to TV had many worried, but with careful planning and well-timed attention to quality, the series faithfully brings one of the best manga series to life.
In a world where monsters and heroes roam the land in almost equal numbers, one man has the power to take them all out. Saitama, the most average man on the planet, is a hero for fun, but his ability to defeat opponents with a single punch leaves him bored and in search of a challenge. As he struggles to gain recognition while other heroes brush him off as average or a faker, Saitama gains new friends, enemies and his own faithful student.
One Punch Man’s amazing manga artistry transfers almost directly over to the anime, allowing the series to change from average to amazing in a heartbeat. You’ll be blown away by cool frames, highly detailed action and purposefully stylistic choices that all blend together to give the series its personality.
Why it made the list: One Punch Man may look as average as its protagonist, but it rises to the top of our best anime list for being a loving parody of the shounen genre with the skill and personality to be consistently good. The animation is detailed and amazing when it needs to be, the story funny and aware that it needs to change things around to keep it good and, most of all, the assortment of characters that make up the world just can’t be beat.
Watch if you like: Action, comedy, parody, super powers, shounen anime, seinen anime, punching, super heroes, monsters, villains, the underdog, amazing animation, short series, reading the manga.
You might also like: Gintama, The Devil is a Part-Timer!, Tiger & Bunny, Hunter x Hunter (2011).
It’s unusual that a show so drenched in politics and lengthy discussions could break into a best of anime list, let alone make it within the top ten, but whether it’s Stockholm syndrome or something more, Legend of the Galactic Heroes large-scale story is simply irresistible.
The known universe is ruled by two opposing factions: the Free Planets Alliance and the Galactic Empire. The 150-year-long war between the two forces begins to change when the empire appoints Reinhard von Lohengramm as their Imperial Admiral, forcing the Alliance to promote their rising military star, Yang Wen-Li. As each man navigates the tough landscape of war, their ambitions and goals push each side to advance, potentially changing the galaxy forever.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes shatters everything it touches, being the longest OVA series in history, having the largest voice cast of any production and having a fanbase way larger than what it would have today. But it’s all part of the plan, and the series’ galactic-scale production allows it to go into detail that no other series can afford to do anymore.
Why it made the list: Legend of the Galactic Heroes is anime’s answer to Star Wars, though leaning to the detailed-oriented, long-form side of it. The series’ battle of wits between its two leads is supported by the plethora of characters around them and the amount of time spent giving form to the world is an extremely rare treat.
Watch if you like: Star Wars, drama, science fiction, space opera, space, politics, discussion, heroes, scale, detail, galactic-sized cast of characters, lengthy series, older series.
You might also like: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, Death Note, Tytania, The Irregular at Magic High School.
With Fate/Stay Night already a big name in anime, making a prequel after the fact would be a tough challenge – but Fate/Zero makes it onto our list instead of the initial Fate story for being the best possible entry point into the series. It also boasts some outstanding animation, atmosphere and, most importantly, strong character-driven scenes.
The Holy Grail, created to achieve the magic of miracles, has long been fought over by the major houses of mages, summoning heroic spirits of old to fight for them. After warring over it for centuries, it’s Kiritsugu Emiya’s turn to take charge as he summons one of the most powerful spirits to do his bidding. But where other mages fight for status or glory, Kiritsugu has something grander in mind and will sacrifice even himself to grasp the grail.
Although a prequel to a much-loved and well-known series, Fate/Zero stands on its own, being a show that fits into the Fate world perfectly without bogging itself down in explanations, references or cliff-hangers. Enjoy the series as it is or use it to delve into more – either way, you’re in for a treat.
Why it made the list: Fate/Zero introduces the world of the Holy Grail War in the most accessible way yet, balancing world building with action and character-centred moments with the workings of a much larger story. As a prequel, it introduces you to the complex world of Type-Moon as simply as it can; as a prequel made after the main series, it expands on the world with a much darker yet interesting interpretation of characters and events.
Watch if you like: Fantasy, magic, tragedy, epic battles, world history, strategy, rules, super powers, dark atmosphere, large cast of characters, character deaths, blood, betrayal, lots of talking, split-cour series.
You might also like: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass.
When you’ve had enough of the small moments, the slice of life anime about nothing much at all, or the mindless battle between opposing forces, it’s time for Code Geass. With equal parts strategy, action, character drama and plot, it’s hard to beat Code Geass as a large-scale series that has it all.
It has been years since prince Lelouch vi Britania and his disabled sister were abandoned by the Holy Britannian Empire. Resigning to his fate, Lelouch cares for his sister with all he has, but when the Empire’s ceaseless conquests threaten their peace, he acts. It’s then that a centuries-old power is bestowed upon him, allowing him to bend people’s minds to his will only once. With this piece in play, Lelouch concocts a grand scheme to take back the world, all to make it safe for his dearly beloved sister.
It’s easy to see Code Geass as another anime about overpowered abilities being used to brute force solutions, but its power is not played in battles of skill or strength; the show is always about strategy, series-long plans and just a tiny bit of coincidence. The series is a mess of character goals and clashing ambitions that masterfully weaves its way into grand plan that takes two seasons to pan out.
Why it made the list: Code Geass is like an action-packed chess game that pulls out a few questionably legal moves but is so entertaining that it’s completely passable. It should be a classic by now.
Watch if you like: Mecha, world wars, the military, alternate world history, world-changing powers, politics, Norio Wakamoto, a huge cast of characters, grand schemes, character-driven plot, long series, watching the second season.
You might also like: Guilty Crown, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Berserk, Fate/Zero.
One Piece – the first of shounen’s Big Three to air and one of the longest running anime to date – is nothing to sneeze at. With over 700 episodes, airing over 15 years, with Japanese ads for the manga appearing in The New York Times of all places, One Piece looks set to take on the world – and it just might do that.
When the World Government captures and executes the most infamous pirate to ever sale the Grand Line, the last thing they expect is the birth of the Grand Age of Pirates. For when the Pirate King uttered words of a miraculous treasure before his death, men and women from the world over rushed out to sea in search of the legendary treasure that could grant them untold riches, ultimate fame and the very title of Pirate King. Seventeen-year-old Luffy is just one of the people swept up by dreams of being a pirate, and he and his crew are more than prepared to sail the Grand Line for their treasure – One Piece.
With episodes amounting to two weeks’ worth of marathoning, diving into One Piece is daunting. But when compared to other long-running series, there’s something about One Piece that keeps it consistently good, and that itself is worth gold. Test the waters for yourself, but don’t be surprised if you fall in the deep end.
Why it made the list: Ignoring One Piece’s length for a moment, it’s something of a miracle that the series keeps consistently amazing, holding firm to its sense of wonder and adventure. There’s countless people to meet, deeply interesting arcs to see and endless adventure to be had. All you have to do is take the plunge.
Watch if you like: Action, adventure, comedy, drama, special powers, pirates, a massive cast of characters, long series, cartoonish art styles, classic shounen series, friendship.
You might also like: Fairy Tail, Hunter x Hunter (2011), Naruto, Bleach.
It’s not often that a sequel matches or surpasses the initial series, but Clannad: After Story is such an exception that it absolutely needs to be here over the initial story. After Story’s portrayal of uniquely adult struggles is moving to behold and the way it handles difficult themes is much more compelling than the high school romance story the series started out as.
Tomoya and Nagisa graduate from high school, together and in love. As they take their first hesitant steps into the adult world, Tomoya struggles with the future and what he wants to do. After marrying Nagisa and promising to live their lives together, Tomoya works through the days to support his family – now even more so that their child is on the way.
After Story continues the already moving story of Clannad to focus on life after high school, going further than many romance/drama series already. After Story brings with it a development and completeness few other series share, dealing with life’s tough issues well past the usual high school arc and following the lead characters into adulthood.
Why it made the list: Clannad: After Story expands on the moving Clannad series, focusing on the lead characters’ development beyond high school romance. Its themes are honest and may hit close to home, but its developments are just as inspiring as they are heart-breaking. Definitely an anime to cry over; definitely a series to open your heart to.
Watch if you like: Romance, drama, slice of life, crying, sobbing, uplifting series, character-centred arcs, high school, changing your life, simple soundtracks, reading the visual novel, standard length series.
You might also like: AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Clannad, Your Lie in April, Kanon.
Gurren Lagann: the rite of passage for shounen to seinen, from boy to man. With loads of testosterone, hundreds of robots and a story all about guts, it’s hard not to fall for Gurren Lagann’s way of making everything over-the-top and flashy while keeping its good heart.
Humans have lived underground for centuries, forgetting about the outside world and just chipping away at dirt. Simon, a young driller, and his brother figure Kamina are one of the few people left who still want to see the outside world, but they lack the means to pierce the rocky ceiling of their home. When their home is attacked by an invading robot, Simon unearths a peculiar mecha head and, after saving the village, travels to the open world with Kamina.
There’s nothing quite like this series’ mix of action, sexuality and emotion. It is undoubtedly a show about being bigger and better, standing stronger after falling down, and how it mixes its mature themes with outrageous and gratuitous action makes it something special.
Why it made the list: Gurren Lagann is overwhelming in the best of ways, always striving to be bigger, more awesome, more action-y, more everything to the point that it becomes a distinct personality of the show. In no way is it mindless though, and those looking for a character-driven show that knows how to use quiet moments between action will love what Gurren Lagann does.
Watch if you like: Mecha, action, stylistic art style, over-the-top everything, Studio Trigger, a large cast of characters, time jumps, coming of age stories, battles on a galactic scale, romance, conclusive ending, drills.
You might also like: Kill la Kill, Redline, Punch Line, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt.
The smash hit of 2011, Madoka Magica, makes an obvious entry on this list as it changed the general perception of magical girl series forever. Through twists, drama and a story of sacrifice, Madoka Magica brought mature themes to a genre primarily for children and opened it up for a whole new audience.
Madoka, with her happy family and fulfilling school life, is the epitome of an average high school girl. Yet when a new girl with mysterious powers transfers to her class and begins to pay her particular attention, Madoka finds out she could be the most powerful magical girl yet. As her friends jump at the chance to become magical girls, something holds Madoka back – something telling her that she must run away and save herself before it’s too late.
Madoka Magica takes almost macabre delight in letting you think it’s a cutsey slice of life show but quickly opens up into something much more sinister, taking large dramatic turns but allowing you to engage with the genre on a much more adult level.
Why it’s on the list: Madoka Magica opens the magical girl genre up to new possibilities by introducing dark themes to otherwise childishly simple premises. Those who might turn away at bright colours and young girls tackling themes of friendship and adversity might stay for darker themes and a twist to what we all know so well. Come for the cute girls, stay for the suffering.
Watch if you like: Drama, psychological anime, bright colours, dark twists, Faust, Yuki Kajiura, wideface, colour-coded characters, time travel, short series, small cast of characters, watching the movies.
You might also like: Yuki Yuna is a Hero, School-Live!, Selector Infected WIXOSS.
First loves can be uplifting, funny or just plain cute. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso recognizes the power of first loves but weaves it into a story of despair, tragedy and, most importantly, hope.
Arima Kousei was a piano prodigy, dominating Japanese classical music competitions and becoming a household name. That is, he was a prodigy, but the death of his mother made Kousei’s life turn grey and he stopped being able to hear his own music. Content to live life as just an average person, Kousei passes his days in school, but that all changes when he meets Kaori, a free-spirited violinist whose music will change his world.
Shigatsu’s drama may be the heavy-handed teenage angst you’ve seen before, but its direction is much more hopeful, being a story not about defeat but about building up, healing old wounds and moving on. Shigatsu’s portrayal of life’s struggles is as ugly as they are in life, but what it does to turn things around is what makes the show so compelling.
Why it made the list: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso looks bright and cute, but beneath its bright colours and solid soundtrack is a depressing story of struggle, illness and angst. But where there’s darkness, there’s light and the saving grace of the series is its commitment to hope and growing to accept misfortunes.
Read if you like: Drama, romance, shounen manga, shoujo manga art style, classical music, piano, violin, crying, healing, high school setting, standard length series.
You might also like: Nodame Cantabile, Kids on the Slope, Chihayafuru, Clannad: After Story.
Like sports anime, the struggles of working life captured in a single anime series can be strangely moving. Shirobako, brought to us by the director of short sports series Girls und Panzer, captures the particular spirit of hard work and hard-earned success in this look at exactly how anime is made.
Aoi Miyamori graduates from high school fresh after seeing the animation club’s crowning achievement displayed at the cultural festival. With each of her friends entering a field of the animation industry, Aoi holds firm that they’ll meet again to bring their dreams to life in a professional anime. But although she lands a job at a well-known animation studio, Aoi finds being a production assistant is tedious, thankless work. As she learns the ropes of an industry with a long, rich history, Aoi needs to find what really drives her if she’s going to survive.
It’s almost no secret that Japan’s animation industry is seriously unhealthy. With underpaid, overworked staff trying to get through momentous amounts of physical and emotional work each season, it wouldn’t be hard for a show like Shirobako to spiral into depression. But just as the animation industry manages to keep passionate artists and creators, Shirobako stays hopeful, showing you close, intimate moments that strike at something sincere that’s not often seen in other series.
Why it made the list: Shirobako is equal parts a slice of life drama about working struggles and an educational series about the very inner workings of producing an anime. While the series does have moments where it’s more lecture than entertainment, the series grasps certain truths of being a professional creative and is almost guaranteed to strike a chord with creative types who like watching slice of life anime.
Watch if you like: Anime, comedy, drama, slice of life, working life, behind the scenes, adult life, hopes and dreams, the creative industry, standard length series, huge cast of characters, suffering, hopeful tone.
You might also like: Girls und Panzer, Bakuman, Hanasaku Iroha, Space Brothers.
When it comes to recent hit series, Shingeki no Kyojin towers above most everything with its quality animation, memorable soundtrack and intriguing story. The only thing holding it back is how much we need more of it, but with more series on the way, it’s the best time yet to jump into this colossal series.
Centuries ago, the human race was almost wiped out by mysterious being called titans. In order to survive, the remainder of humanity seals themselves away behind rows of towering walls, one day hoping to reclaim the world outside. Eren Jeager, a young boy with fire of vengeance in his eyes, joins the war effort to explore outside the walls and soon awakens to a power that could change humanity’s fate forever.
Shingeki no Kyojin is a powerhouse of amazing animation, art and plot and the only thing that holds it back is some awkward pacing between high action episodes. Beyond that, the series is the most fluid, action-packed series to grace our screens yet – and more of it is on the way.
Why it made the list: Shingeki no Kyojin is certain not to waste its incredible premise and jumps into action as soon as it can. Characters and overall plot are given equal importance and it’s just as easy to get into the mystery of what titans are as it is to see rivalries, friendship and maybe even romance develop. The series delivers blood, tactics and a threatening atmosphere in equal parts, gearing up for a huge journey to come.
Watch if you like: Action, fantasy, shounen anime, blood, gore, the underdog, catchy opening themes, great animation, humanity, a large cast of characters, reading the manga.
You might also like: Knights of Sidonia, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Claymore.
Sports anime has the ability to capture our hearts and fiery spirits, to give us a spectacle so engaging that we feel almost part of the action. Number sixteen on our list does just that with the classic sport volleyball, giving us rivalries to cheer for, sports action to get excited about and an underdog story to fall in love with.
Hinata’s dream of becoming a volleyball star is sudden but no less sincere after he witnesses volleyball ace “Little Giant” at a national championship game. Being short himself, Hinata aspires to be just like the player and revives his middle school volleyball team, taking them as far to the first match of an official tournament. After being soundly beaten by a player nicknamed King of the Court, Hinata vows to pick himself up and try again in high school. Little does he know that his very first rival is the star of the high school volleyball team he’s about to join.
Haikyuu’s desire to prove that effort is what gets rewarded is seen all throughout the show. The series ditches secret powers, innate talent and strings of successes, favouring the long, hard journey to success. It’s hard to deny that Haikyuu’s cast puts in exceptional effort to earn every victory, and seeing the team work so hard rather than flaunt their powers is refreshingly new.
Why it made the list: Haikyuu has all the charming aspects of shounen sports anime but chooses to travel the path of hard work, letting its characters attain greatness purely through their devotion to the game. It’s hard not to be charmed by the team’s willingness to continue forward no matter what, and things get even better as the story moves into season two.
Watch if you like: Sports anime, comedy, drama, volleyball, teamwork, rivals, comradery, birds, no superpowers, shounen anime, large cast of characters, backstory, perseverance, passion.
You might also like: Kuroko’s Basketball, Ace of Diamond, Big Windup!.
A best of anime list is no list at all without an appearance from Cowboy Bebop, the show hailed far and wide as some of the best anime has to offer. And hell, with jazz, space shenanigans, Western references and a touch of intrigue, it has just about anything you could want.
In 2071, people have spread to the stars, forming jumbled communities and creating new kinds of outlaws. Here, Spike and Jet drift across space, earning money as bounty hunters turning in various outlaws they find. In space, odd attracts odd, and Spike and Jet find themselves in the company of strange friends in stranger situations. But try as they might to live carefree days among the stars, unresolved pasts will always come back.
Cowboy Bebop might be the most accessible anime for non-watchers, with an easy plot built up over several episodic stories, culminating in an ending not soon forgotten. Long has it been looked to as anime’s best, and though time has offered other shows just as worthy, nothing can ever replace the classics.
Why it’s on the list: Cowboy Bebop’s easy ageing animation, outer-worldly setting and love of all things Western makes it an ideal show for anyone interested in anime but has never taken the plunge. It’s a mature classic in every way, with subtle character development and story to slowly ease you into the series.
Watch if you like: Adventure, action, drama, comedy, jazz, space, cowboys, episodic series, subtle plot, fight scenes, being cool, Western-influenced anime, references, standard length series, older series.
You might also like: Samurai Champloo, Trigun, Michiko & Hatchin, Space Dandy.
It’s nice to sit back and take a break once in a while, especially when top anime tends to be action-heavy or stressfully depressing. Mushishi is the perfect anime for those looking for something to relax with but something that also has the same quality that makes anime the best.
Mushi are all over the world, taking the form of anything from complex beings to refractions of light. Try as humans might to describe or define them, mushi exist as something truly unique in the world and aren’t so easily pinned to one idea or word. Yet Ginko, a mushi researcher (a mushi-shi) travels Japan over in hopes of discovering more about these organisms, going as far as to study them or help humans plagued by them.
Mushishi is much like meditating, if it was possible to consciously meditate while watching anime. The quality of thought, focus, character and story matches that of many high-ranking anime while not needing to bring up action or drama, making the series a very relaxing and casually thought-provoking show.
Why it made the list: Mushishi’s mysterious and ethereal subject matter is grounded by its lead character, letting you in on a unique story while being careful not to lose you to questions or musings. It’s a relaxing series – potentially the most relaxing series here – but is sure to keep your interest with various stories and occurances.
Watch if you like: Adventure, fantasy, mystery, slice of life, the supernatural, episodic series, incredibly small cast of characters, pretty colours, vague existences, steady leading characters, exploration.
You might also like: Kino’s Journey, Natsume’s Book of Friends, Mononoke.
The indomitable spirit of sports anime has long been the source of the genre’s power, giving us stories akin to tales of legends. For some series, the spirit can be too heavy-handed or blundered away on super powers and endless wins, but when done right, we get such greats as Hajime no Ippo.
Downtrodden Ippo Makunouchi is constantly bullied by his classmates. Though he dreams of changing himself and striking back, he never musters the drive to do so – not until he’s saved by a boxer named Mamoru, who introduces him to the world of boxing. As something stirs within Ippo, igniting flames of hope, he asks Mamoru to train him and receives a challenge he must overcome if he wishes to journey the long road of professional boxing.
Hajime no Ippo is boxing’s greatest tale of the underdog training to one day sit on top. The 75 episode emotional journey follows weakling Ippo as he trains, dreams and achieves his goals, endlessly fighting against the odds. It’s older shounen anime at its most hopeful, where dreams are gripped by work-worn hands.
Why it made the list: Hajime no Ippo is your classic shounen sports anime, from its hardworking ethic to its passion for greatness. What this means for this series is you get a long tale of the underdog achieving greatness, though the series falls shorter than other sports anime on this list for being a little too addicted to winning.
Watch if you like: Sports anime, drama, shounen anime, boxing, competition, bullying, the underdog, training, comedy, romance, growing up, strong supporting characters, long series, older series.
You might also like: Tomorrow’s Joe, Eyeshield 21, KenIchi: The Mightiest Disciple.
Some anime work in their genre, using tropes to help tell their story; other anime work outside of their genre, using your assumed knowledge to twist things around to shock and make you think again. As Evangelion surfaced amid series where heroes battled valiantly against evil, the series’ exploration of the genre forever changed the scene for many viewers.
It’s 2015 when the aliens appear again, threatening the peace of the world with technology far superior to ours. But mankind still has a fighting chance: humanoid robots called Evangelion are able to fight back against the invasion, except only a handful of teenagers are able to pilot them. One such pilot is Shinji, a mentally unstable boy forced to battle forces he can’t yet understand as he and other teenagers struggle to fight and survive each attack.
Evangelion’s heavy use of philosophy, psychology and religious symbols make it stand out from the usual mecha anime of the time, and its exploration of the psychological is weird and new. But as confusing as it can be, Evangelion set a new standard for anime and is worth a watch if you adore anything it has inspired.
Why it made the list: Evangelion is an iconic series that mixes mecha and psychological themes, guaranteed to make you think or try to interpret what’s going on. While many series have borrowed from it in some way, Evangelion is a must-watch for science fiction or mecha fans eager to delve into the genre’s history.
Watch if you like: Mecha, science fiction, future setting, psychological themes, trauma, drama, thinking, battles, aliens, standard length series, watching the movies.
You might also like: RahXephon, Bokurano, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Gunbuster.
For all the dark, depressing themes top anime tends to deal with, Death Note embraces them fully, dedicating its entire run to criminals, murder and dark mystery, delighting in your sadistic enjoyment of it.
Light Yagami is a cynical teen whose outlook on the world is bleak to say the least. When he stumbles across a notebook said to kill anyone whose name is written on the pages inside, Light scoffs but tests it. After a criminal dies directly at the hands of Light, he realizes the incredible power the Death Note contains and decides to reshape the world by killing all its criminals. Meanwhile, as the police wise up to the spate of deaths across the country, they turn to the world’s best detective: a mysterious man known as L.
Death Note takes the reverse-mystery approach to the story, letting events unfold from the criminal mastermind’s point of view, with the good-guy detective given a little less attention. For this, the story pans out in an interesting direction, building up to the one twist that changes everything.
Why it made the list: Death Note isn’t just a gothic delight of death and deception, it’s a careful mystery where information is slowly revealed and pieced together, forming a mysterious picture right until the last moment. It’s very much a series for those who like to try solve mysteries themselves but is just as fine as a suspenseful thriller.
Watch if you like: Mystery, psychological games, killing people, power, the supernatural, death gods, chases, teen geniuses, some politics, detectives, longer anime.
You might also like: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, Monster, Future Diary, Hell Girl.
With all the dystopian science fiction that gets produced every other year, it can be hard to find something truly different. With Shinsekai Yori, the dystopia isn’t a dreary city with controlling technology but rather a peaceful-looking village surrounded by grass and nature. Because this series recognises the true horror of the future: society.
In the new world, it’s standard for children to be educated on the various uses of their psychokinetic powers after completing their rite of passage. But school isn’t the bastion of education it used to be, and strict rules keep many secrets away from people too young to comprehend. That is, until Saki and her friends encounter an object from the old world that lets them in on a terrible truth – one so great that they are forever marked as children who are a threat to society.
Shinsekai Yori, one of the very few anime to be adapted from a novel, is something of an oddity. It has no opening, jumps in animation quality and liberally jumps in time at multiple points. Yet nothing is quite like the unsettling atmosphere of its dystopian village, of characters slowly realizing that their whole world is beyond messed up.
Why it made the list: Shinsekai Yori is a mature science fiction anime that delights in heavy atmospheres, mysteries and steadily building fear. For those patient with a long, slowly unfolding anime, you’ll be rewarded with a grim mystery. But the particular style of this series isn’t for everyone.
Watch if you like: Soylent Green, dystopias, science fiction, fantasy, secrets, outcasts, romance, small cast of characters, supernatural powers, genetics, naked mole rats, thinking, time jumps.
You might also like: Psycho-Pass, No.6, NagiAsu: A Lull in the Sea.
Ignoring for a moment that Trust and Betrayal is more a series of shorts than a TV series, if you’ve been dying for cool, mature samurai action that doesn’t branch into comedy or something light-hearted, Samurai X is your answer.
Kenshin Himura was not always destined to become known as Battousai the Manslayer, but after showing humanity to murder victims as a child, he is taken under the wing of master swordsman Hiko Seijuro and taught the way of the samurai. As Kenshin matures and struggles with ideals and reality, he goes down a path that scars him for life and leads him to vow to never kill again.
Arguably better than the full Samurai X series, Trust and Betrayal delves into the gritty past of its central character, leading you through his heart-wrenching past and bringing you through the trials that all make up who he is.
Why it made the list: Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal is decidedly more grim than the main series, delving into the past of its most troubled character to bring you a tale of tragedy, drama and blood. Those looking for a mature historical tale involving samurai and their trials will be pleased, but those seeking a light-hearted backstory in the same vein as the Samurai X series will be surprised.
Watch if you like: Samurai, assassins, feudal Japan, strong sense of setting, action, blood, gore, mature atmosphere, tragedy, romance, backstory, older anime.
You might also like: Ninja Scroll, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Sword of the Stranger.
Taking a break from the serious and depressing series that comprises the best of the best, Great Teacher Onizuka is your old-school dose of comedy, with enough rough antics and sincere moments to be a nice balance.
Eikichi Onizuka has left his delinquent days behind, but although he plans on becoming a teacher, he just can’t shake away his days as a bike gang leader. Through a number of mishaps and a bit of fate working its hands, Onizuka lands a teaching job at a private school and sets to work as the one man who can tame a class of misfits.
Onizuka and his class’ antics might be out of line for the most part, but as the series rolls on, students bare their troubles and are healed by Onizuka’s particular brand of compassion. The series balances comedy and drama well, but knows it’s more about the laughs in the end.
Why it made the list: Great Teacher Onizuka might be old, but it has a charm and heart to go along with its outrageous comedy antics. Not many series can flaunt delinquents in such a hilarious way, and GTO’s mix of comedy and drama is perfect for what it gets away with.
Watch if you like: Comedy, drama, delinquents, girls, high school setting, older series, slice of life, long series, situational humour, older art style, moral lessons, large cast of characters.
You might also like: Golden Boy, The Gokusen, Cromartie High School.
Bakemonogatari is your dose of the artistic, bringing style and flair to everyday conversations in an extreme way. It’s a harem anime with personality, a supernatural story with plays on words, a series that has such a distinct feel, you can recognise it just from a single word on a coloured background.
After surviving an attack from a vampire, Araragi Koyomi is never quite the same. His eyes are forever open to the supernatural, and it seems like everyone around him has some kind of oddity plaguing them. With his unwavering hero complex, Araragi sets out to solve the various problems of the five girls around him, doing everything he can to set things straight – even if it means being torn to shreds.
Make no mistake, Bakamonogatari may have action sequences, actual romance and a heavy dose of the supernatural, but it’s the most talkative show you’ll likely ever see. Everything is carried by conversation and setting, and if you’re not up to thinking about what small actions mean or unpacking the hints presentation gives off, the show will likely pass over you.
Why it made the list: Bakemonogatari’s approach to presentation is extremely unique, but besides what the show has going for it visually, it’s an enjoyable story about the intricacies of the supernatural. It also leads into several other series that are arguably more interesting for character interaction-related reasons, but you have to start somewhere.
Watch if you like: Mythology, folk tales, the supernatural, harem, romance, comedy, action, mystery, stylistic art, listening, typography, story arcs, supernatural fight scenes.
You might also like: xxxHOLiC, The Tatami Galaxy, Mononoke, Hyouka.
While anime is, at its core, a form of entertainment, some series elevate it to an art – presenting stories, crafting worlds and developing characters in such a way that you can’t deny its mastery. Monster is one such anime like that, and more so one for more mature audiences.
Dr Kenzou Tenma’s good fortune and better standing is about to come tumbling down after a crisis in conscience over whose life to save turns into something life-changing. After deciding to operate on a young boy rather than the mayor, a string of murders starts a week later, with all evidence pointing directly to the saved child. Kenzou must now track down the murderer and put an end to the monster he created or risk losing so much more.
Monster’s descent into mankind’s evils is more serious than many of the titles on this list, to the point where you should prepare yourself for such a series. But with each new depraved scene you come across, Monster counters it with a touch of hope, balancing the two nicely enough.
Why it made the list: Monster’s slow pacing, strong focus on plot and overwhelmingly dark atmosphere makes it seem like it shouldn’t be the hit that it is, but the series’ careful reveals, deep explorations and philosophical musings makes it hard not to sink into as one of the best anime for thinkers.
Watch if you like: Horror, drama, mystery, seinen anime, long series, cat and mouse games, atmosphere, dark themes, deep characters, slower pacing, doctors, murder mysteries, morals.
You might also like: Death Note, Psycho-Pass, Paranoia Agent.
Speaking of animation as art, Tatami Galaxy takes anime to a new level not exactly in the depiction of hard-hitting truths but in the ways that animation is only limited by the human imagination. It’s the artistically stylized anime Tatami Galaxy.
As an unnamed man contemplates his wasted time in college, a chance meeting sends him into a seemingly endless time loop of his first two years there. Not realizing that time is repeating, he continues life much like normal, making small changes along the way in hopes of achieving his ideal college life.
Tatami Galaxy is truly a treat for the eyes and ears, particularly if you’re good at reading subtitles fast. The series mixes animation styles and quirky dialogue to deliver something very different to your usual anime, and it works near flawlessly.
Why it made the list: Tatami Galaxy is less an anime you watch for characters or plot and more something you experience as a visual treat and minor moral lesson. The series can come off as too pretentious if you’re not ready, but sitting back with no expectations is the way to go.
Watch if you like: Slice of life, comedy, mystery, psychological anime, romance, lots of talking, fast pacing, Masaaki Yuasa, episodic series, perspective, time loops, small cast of characters, short series, artistic animation.
You might also like: Welcome to the NHK, Bakemonogatari, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.
Horror finally makes an appearance in all its gory glory as Hellsing Ultimate swings into number 28. Those itching for blood and action can sate their appetite on this vampire-infested series with ample quantities of each.
The people of England have long been kept safe from supernatural monsters thanks to the endless efforts of Hellsing, a secret organization overseen by the British government. When things turn tough, the organization can always rely on Alucard, a powerful vampire turned warrior for the organization, but with neo-Nazi group Millennium resurfacing and increased activity from a secret Vatican organization, Hellsing needs to prepare for a bloody battle ahead.
Hellsing Ultimate knows exactly which combination of things creates the most badass action possible, leaving it up to you to just sit back and enjoy the blood flow forth. Not much to think about in this series, but there’s more than enough cool moments to keep you satisfied.
Why it made the list: Hellsing Ultimate might not be a series for thinking or pondering mythology but it sure as hell doesn’t have to be. The series spends ample time doing exactly what it likes: slaughtering enemies and bathing in blood. For consistently cool supernatural violence, Hellsing Ultimate is where it’s at.
Watch if you like: Action, horror, vampires, Van Hellsing, cool names, battles, secret organisations, conspiracies, short series, anti-heroes, gore, reading the manga, British setting.
You might also like: Devil May Cry, Black Butler, Tokyo Ghoul, Elfen Lied.
Anime is no stranger to adapting manga, and when god-tier art makes the cut for a potentially god-tier series, the results can only be great. Berserk, adapted straight from the humungous manga it is, adapts the original story wonderfully, focusing on some important things that lead well into the manga.
Guts is a man whose path is stained black, for the brand on his neck guarantees that he will struggle against fate for the rest of his life. But he’s a strong man, possibly the strongest man there is, and his sword ensures all will fall at his hand. It’s this power that attracts Griffith, leader of a band of rogue soldiers, who entices Guts to join his ranks. This is how Guts’ tale of revenge begins, but far from how it ends.
Berserk, like so many action-heavy series, is not for the faint-of-heart. It is unrelenting in its heavy atmosphere, and with how closely death follows each character, it’s inevitable that bloodbaths break out. But within the entrails and chunks of flesh is a gripping story of friendship and revenge that launches into a plot much larger than the series itself.
Why it made the list: Berserk’s combination of characterisation, plot and action have made it a standout series for years, but time has sadly not been on its side when it comes to looks. The aging animation and shortcuts of old can make it a tough watch for people who like to keep up with current series, but beneath its ugly shots is a story worth gold.
Watch if you like: Fantasy, blood, battles, European setting, action, demons, heavy atmosphere, the supernatural, rivalry, friendship, revenge, war, great plot, reading the manga.
You might also like: Claymore, Gungrave, Hellsing Ultimate.
Taking a break from the serious and depressing series that comprises the best of the best, Great Teacher Onizuka is your old-school dose of comedy, with enough rough antics and sincere moments to be a nice balance.
Eikichi Onizuka has left his delinquent days behind, but although he plans on becoming a teacher, he just can’t shake away his days as a bike gang leader. Through a number of mishaps and a bit of fate working its hands, Onizuka lands a teaching job at a private school and sets to work as the one man who can tame a class of misfits.
Onizuka and his class’ antics might be out of line for the most part, but as the series rolls on, students bare their troubles and are healed by Onizuka’s particular brand of compassion. The series balances comedy and drama well, but knows it’s more about the laughs in the end.
Why it made the list: Great Teacher Onizuka might be old, but it has a charm and heart to go along with its outrageous comedy antics. Not many series can flaunt delinquents in such a hilarious way, and GTO’s mix of comedy and drama is perfect for what it gets away with.
Watch if you like: Comedy, drama, delinquents, girls, high school setting, older series, slice of life, long series, situational humour, older art style, moral lessons, large cast of characters.
You might also like: Golden Boy, The Gokusen, Cromartie High School.
When we reach the top half of the best anime ever, things start to get weird. Stories that seem straightforward enough open into layered works of confusion and genius. Baccano, our number fifty spot, is one such anime that is hard to pin down and yet, almost because of it, it’s so good.
There’s something foul going on with the latest transcontinental trip aboard the Flying Pussyfoot. People in black suits hide guns in instrument cases while people in white suits prepare for a bloodbath; a small group of friends hide explosives while a child prepares to kill. Yet all of them are in for a long night not soon forgotten, especially when their stories carry ripples from the life-changing supernatural event that occurred 200 year prior.
Baccano’s way of weaving a story is messy, quick, disjointed and much more generally confusing than most other things that tend to be like it. But even though it jumps in time, place and focus, it always knows what information is best shown at any moment.
Why it made the list: Baccano is one of the hardest shows to get into on this list. Its shifts in focus are unrelenting, it refuses some information until the final episodes, and if you’re not paying attention, it has nothing to give to you. But if you sit back and let it in, Baccano’s world opens up into some of the most creative storytelling yet, firmly held together by its characters and overall mystery.
Watch if you like: Being confused, multiple stories, character-focused stories, large cast of characters, Western setting, non-sequential episodes, high attention to detail, comedic relief, immortality, light mysteries.
You might also like: Durarara!!, Black Lagoon, Blood Blockade Battlefront.
Space adventures in anime usually amount to large-scale wars or detail-oriented space operas, if not outright fantasy. Space Brothers though features a space story set in our current time, becoming one of the longest running ads for NASA recruitment.
Mutta and Hibito are two brothers with very different realities. Even after promising that they’d follow their dreams as children, only Hibito has been able to achieve his dream career and is on the course to being the first Japanese person on the moon. It’s not until Mutta hits rock bottom that he aims for the stars once again, but he’ll need to muster his own strength to get there.
Space Brothers spares no amount of effort to get things right, bringing you not only an interesting tale of modern-day astronauts, but a strongly factual one at that. Realism is at the forefront of Space Brothers, which is also why it’s so damn long.
Why it made the list: Space Brothers gives you as close to the real deal as it can of training to become an astronaut. But it’s not just about detail and real-life depictions; Space Brothers weaves a story of perseverance, friendship, family ties and dreams and works it in with its particular brand of realism.
Watch if you like: Comedy, slice of life, science fiction, seinen anime, space, brothers, long series, astronauts, dreams, family, friendship, pugs, America, real life settings, detail.
You might also like: Planetes, Bakuman, Silver Spoon.
The particular charm of Cowboy Bebop makes a return in the similarly music-inspired anime Samurai Champloo. Fans of cool swordsman who don’t want boring history to get in the way finally have something to dive into.
Mugen and Jin couldn’t be any different; where one is unpredictable and rough, the other is mild and mysterious. Yet somehow their paths cross, forcing the two to work together in order to escape death. Their saviour is Fuu, a young waitress who tasks the two with finding a samurai who smells like sunflowers.
Samurai Champloo is thin with plot but thick with style, blending historical fact with modern fiction. It’s less artistic and more entertaining, making the series something fun without needing to lose yourself in what it all means.
Why it made the list: Samurai Champloo’s unique blend of historical Japanese culture with modern western pop culture gives the series an irresistible personality along with its entertaining antics. There’s nothing too contemplative about this series, but with it seeped in artistic choices, it doesn’t need to be.
Watch if you like: Samurai, hip hop, Edo Japan, sword fighting, creative animation, fun, episodic series, small cast of characters, standard length anime.
You might also like: Cowboy Bebop, Afro Samurai, Michiko & Hatchin.
Slice of life meets comedy in this character-centred anime all about the art of calligraphy… or it would be about the art if everyone learned to keep to themselves for a few minutes.
Handa is in his artistic prime, bursting with youth and talent. Unfortunately, his temper holds him back, particularly when he punches an old man for criticising his work. Now exiled to Goto Islands, practically the middle of nowhere compared to the city, Handa must quietly contemplate his art and improve himself. If only the entire village knew how to butt out for more than a minute.
Barakamon is less about the art of calligraphy and more a character-focused comedy with slower, heartfelt scenes now and then. The series’ focus on all kinds of people allows it to show you characters who feel all so real, along with comedy that feels rooted in life.
Why it made the list: Barakamon is something of a different comedy series, relying on the ridiculousness of real life for humour rather than pulling jokes out of situations that would never really happen. Along with these jokes are characters that feel less like tropes and more like people, coming together to form a series that hits closer to real life than many others.
Watch if you like: Slice of life, comedy, calligraphy, countryside setting, small cast of characters, short series, few character tropes, cast with different ages, older main character, fish out of water stories.
You might also like: Non Non Biyori, Silver Spoon, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun.
Before we go into it, just think “AnoHana” (That Flower) and you’ll never have to deal with this ridiculously long title ever again. It’s true that they still don’t know, though.
Jinta can’t let go of the past, not even after ten years, because the ghost of his childhood friend is haunting him. Menma isn’t there to make him suffer, but she has a request that can only be granted by reuniting with their four other childhood friends. But time has changed everyone and their friends aren’t the people they used to be, especially when all of them harbor guilt over the accident that took Menma’s life years ago.
Perhaps the most obvious tear-jerker on this list, AnoHana weaves a tale of drama and high emotion. It’s a series to watch over several boxes of tissues as its simple story plays out and grabs your heartstrings.
Why it made the list: AnoHana is entirely about grieving and moving on for past trauma, so you know exactly what you’re in for. The show can be heavy-handed at points, mostly due to its short run, but it doesn’t fail to portray a touching story of teenage friends stuck in the past.
Watch if you like: Drama, tragedy, slice of life, grieving, childhood friends, flashbacks, summer, episodic series, backstory, the supernatural, ghosts, drama, sobbing, short series.
You might also like: Clannad: After Story, Waiting in the Summer, Kokoro Connect.
We finally reach a josei anime title as we near the top quarter of our top anime picks. With a healthy dose of adult drama and adult relationships, Nana is the older take on real life you’ve been waiting for.
Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki have a lot of things in common. They share the same name, the same rural upbringing, the same apartment and both are even motivated to move to Tokyo by their boyfriends. What they don’t share are goals or ambitions, yet when things turn rough, they’re the only ones who can stick together. Will the big city break them or will they forge unbreakable bonds through the trials of adulthood?
Nana exudes mature from its characters to its story, but rather than going the standard route of adult stories and drowning in drama or the world’s woes, the series keeps things dramatic but not overly so. It’s much more a depiction of adult life than it is an examination of dark themes.
Why it made the list: Nana might be a lengthy anime about adult life, but don’t let yourself think that it must mean suffering all the time. The series has a healthy balance of serious points and hopeful points, capturing the mild ups and downs of growing older.
Watch if you like: Drama, romance, music, josei anime, adult life, moving to the city, friendship, slice of life, heartbreak, punk rock, long series.
You might also like: Paradise Kiss, Beck, Honey and Clover.
Sports anime might be able to consistently capture the burning passion of participating in a sport, or the educational value of seeing cultural sports, but it takes something extra for sports stories to be something special. Ping Pong the Animation has that something extra.
Makoto and Yutaka have played ping pong together for most of their life. While the two have opposing personalities and differing goals, they are nevertheless drawn together by the love of the game. As the year’s national table tennis competition starts up, it comes with the pressure of training and facing off against talented players. Using their unique styles of play, the two friends must persevere if they ever want to exceed at their sport.
Director Masaaki Yuasa brings his patented style of trippy, fluid animation to a sports series. Ping pong isn’t exactly a movement-heavy sport, but the detail and motion given to players is artistically unique, making it not just a show for sporting goodness, but one that is a visual experience too.
Why it made the list: Ping Pong is artistry in animation but of a different kind to some of the other titles on this list. The series is firmly grounded in the realistic aesthetic, and with it comes a story straight out of high school and the animation movement to match. Definitely not for people who are too used to the usual anime aesthetic.
Watch if you like: Sports anime, seinen anime, competition, psychological themes, table tennis, animation, realism, Masaaki Yuasa, coming of age stories, short series, no powers.
You might also like: Tatami Galaxy, Your Lie in April, Tekkon Kinkreet.
Between artful animation and artful story is another kind of creativity, the crazy over-the-top antics of Nichijou. Brought to us by the endlessly talented Kyoto Animation, Nichijou isn’t just a comedy series, it’s a highly detailed comedy series.
Yuuko might be an airhead, Mio might be overly protective of her drawings, and Mai might be the weirdest jokester you’ve ever met, but those three girls are nothing compared to the rest of the town. With an eight-year-old mad scientist, humanoid robot with a key in her back, and a talking cat living not too far away – along with a wrestling principle and a gundere classmate – nothing is too bizarre for this small Japanese town.
Nichijou has absolutely no story to speak of. Its focus instead is a steady stream of jokes more outrageous than the last, all assisted by KyoAni’s dedication to detail and quality. There’s something for everyone in this series, but because of that Nichijou can be very hit-or-miss.
Why it made the list: Nichijou prides itself in detail and personality, always going the extra mile for even the simplest of jokes. The series draws from a huge range of humours, with small skits or longer segments dedicated to pulling off different kinds of jokes, making it ideal as an entry point to the comedy genre.
Watch if you like: Slice of life, comedy, school setting, random humour, episodic series, large cast of characters, standard length series, skits, hit-or-miss humour, animation quality.
You might also like: Daily Lives of High School Boys, Azumanga Daioh, Cromartie High School.
Edo-era Japan doesn’t all have to be blood-soaked samurai or devious ninjas, something that Katanagatari deviates from well. Right from its unique design to its simple story, Katanagatari is a different take on dialogue-heavy anime.
Shichika and Togame are on a journey to collect twelve legendary Deviant Swords forged by a masterful swordsmith in order to turn them over to the shogunate. With Shichika’s swordless swordsmanship techniques and Togame’s strategy, the two face the current holders of each sword, finding along the way what it means to fight.
Katanagatari follows the same general style as Bakemonogatari, focusing on interesting dialogue and background detail more than it does action-heavy fights or mindless journeys. Its simple story allows the series to explore characters more, though it is still incredibly short.
Why it made the list: Katanagatari has much the same draws as Bakemonogatari does, with the delightfully fast dialogue, detailed scenery and charming characters author NisiOisiN has come to be known for. It’s plot is much more simple however, allowing you to enjoy the back-and-forth dialogue a bit more.
Watch if you like: Adventure, action, swords, martial arts, small cast of characters, strong supporting characters, Edo Japan, detailed background, artistic style, short series.
You might also like: Bakemonogatari, Samurai Champloo, Chaika -The Coffin Princess-.
Before Youkai Watch took over children’s anime in Japan, the original youkai craze was in the form of Natsume Yuujinchou, a slice of life series with just as much youkai–human interaction.
Takashi Natsume has been able to see spirits ever since he was a child. For just as long, those same spirits have pursued him, angry at him for some unknown reason. When Takashi’s grandmother passes away, leaving him the Book of Friends with names of spirits bound to it, he understands. That’s why Takashi, accompanied only by a mysterious cat referred to as Nyanko-sensei, begins to release each spirit and atone for his grandmother’s wrongs.
Natsume Yuujinchou might have the same calm feel as many slice of life anime, but instead of supporting the story with romance or comedy, the series is more general and focuses on reaching out and understanding others.
Why it made the list: Natsume Yuujinchou is all about connections, whether it’s with people or spirits. Each episode is self-contained but tells a larger story of how everything relates to each other, how humans and spirits interact, and how Takashi plays into it all. The series’ beauty is in its simplicity.
Watch if you like: Slice of life, drama, the supernatural, shoujo anime, fantasy, youkai, books, cats, episodic anime, short series, small cast of characters, watching the sequels.You might also like: Mushishi, Hotarubi no Mori e, The Goddess is a Middle School Student.
For an older series about music, romance and quirky characters, Nodame Cantabile is 2007’s answer to Your Lie in April. It also has a fair bit more comedy.
Shinichi Chiaki is an absolute perfectionist when it comes to music, criticizing himself and others constantly. Though he dreams of starting a career abroad, his fear of flying keeps him firmly in Japan. Yet in Japan is a woman who embodies everything he isn’t; Noda Megumi, or “Nodame”, is a piano genius who plays by ear and has an atrocious personality. When she falls in love with Shinichi, their hectic days together begin.
Nodame Cantabile is all about classical music, using every chance it gets to show off what it loves. Together with Shinichi and Nodame’s quirky relationship, the series isn’t about too much else, but the main couple’s antics steal the show.
Why it made the list: Nodame Cantabile loves two things: music and relationships. As it explores a range of classical music, it too follows the main odd couple as they navigate the relationships that can only develop out of high school and into adulthood. It is still mostly about the music though.
Watch if you like: Comedy, drama, romance, classical music, college, josei anime, slice of life, standard length anime, strong cast of supporting characters, older art style.
You might also like: Your Lie in April, Honey and Clover, Piano no Mori.
Darker Than Black is the new black in this series about superpowers, mysteries and secret organisations set in a world changed to the point that things will never return to the way they once were.
It has been 10 years since the world changed forever, 10 years since two mysterious gates appeared on Earth. From these gates came forth a mysterious phenomenon where average humans could gain powers in exchange for their humanity and a small sacrifice each time the power is used. Making full use of these people, the Syndicate exists to carry out crimes in the shadows, relying on hitman Hei to do much of the dirty work.
Darker Than Black excels at keeping you in the dark, slowly revealing the inner workings of the world but never outright discussing the series’ major mysteries. Mini arcs every two episodes help shed light on what’s happening, but it’s not until the end that mostly everything falls into place.
Why it made the list: Darker Than Black takes an interesting approach to mysteries and superpowers, letting you in on the shady underbelly of the adult world while never giving away too much. This means the series leads to a somewhat disappointing ending, but with plenty of action and suspense along the way, it’s not as big of a deal.
Watch if you like: Action, mystery, science fiction, super powers, X-men, Batman, mini story arcs, secret organisations, perspective, suspense.
You might also like: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, Death Note, Witch Hunter Robin.
From secret organisations and shady deals, we move to conspiracy theories and shut-ins; it’s everyday NEET life with Welcome to the NHK.
As Tatsuhiro Satou closes in on four years of being an unemployed shut-in, he concludes that the reason his life sucks is due to a secret organisation whose goals are to encourage the shut-in life. It’s nothing short of a miracle then that Tatsuhiro meets Misaki Nakahara, a young girl intent on having him sign a contract to involve Tatsuhiro in her big project to make him a normal person again.
Welcome to the NHK is potentially the only anime that deals exclusively with what it’s like to be an otaku NEET in Japan (that is, not to be in employment, education or training). Through its look into the messed-up lives of the characters it focuses on, you may be able to see parts of yourself, but it’s not all gloom and doom.
Why it made the list: Welcome to the NHK might have comedy and slice of life elements, but it’s neither light-hearted fun nor is it heavy-handed drama. It’s a mix of honest depiction, sad jokes and an air of hope as the show engages with the psychological side of the NEET phenomeon.
Watch if you like: Comedy, drama, psychology, conspiracy theories, NEET characters, dark humour, fantasies, depressing lives, small cast of characters, standard length series.
You might also like: Genshiken, Tatami Galaxy, WataMote: No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Unpopular!, Steins;Gate.
For your fix of basketball-centric sports anime, Slam Dunk is the standout title, if not for its handsome characters then for its depiction of the sport without super powers or innately talented protagonists.
Hanamichi Sakuragi is a two meter tall dork with flaming red hair and a streak of rejections from girls he has asked out. The only thing going for him is his height, athleticism and endless optimism bordering on arrogance. When he’s recruited into the basketball club by a cute girl, Hanamichi jumps at the chance to get close to her, and with him being a “genius”, plans to turn from complete beginner to pro in no time flat.
Slam Dunk plays its sports angle straight, not going into any special powers or talents but also not really doing anything new. It’s a quality series for regular basketball though, and it does carry a certain charm with its characters and blend of romance and comedy.
Why it made the list: Slam Dunk is as charming as its protagonist and an honest depiction of basketball you can get. It can be pretty dull if you want a strong focus on the sport itself or tactics, but for more casual viewers, the mix of comedy, romance and sport makes it ideal as an entry point.
Watch if you like: Comedy, romance, drama, basketball, older anime, high school setting, muscles, delinquents, long series, watching the movies, silly protagonists.
You might also like: Kuroko’s Basketball, Fighting Spirit, Haikyu!!.
The world’s best love story since Romeo and Juliet just happens to be an anime. With teen romance and angst in equal measures, Toradora stays true to classic high school experiences while making sure it’s a bit more entertaining to watch.
Beneath Ryuuji’s tough-looking exterior and Taiga’s tough-acting exterior lies two teenagers in love. Not with each other though – with their friends. After a chance meeting and misunderstanding, Ryuuji and Taiga sort out a plan to help each other succeed in love. They just don’t plan on it being so complicated.
Toradora delivers what you’d want of a romcom anime but always has something more; its focus is equal for both sides, characters have tropey exteriors but allow you to see their moment of weakness, the series is comedic but knows when to get serious. Toradora’s set direction allows you to enjoy all the drama of high school romance knowing that it’s not going to tease out a second series.
Why it made the list: Toradora has long been a favourite of those who enjoy character-driven romances, but especially so for going where few romance anime go these days: a conclusive ending. Hearts may be broken, relationships may never be the same again, but you can count on this series to show you an actual couple by the end… and even a kiss!
Watch if you like: Comedy, romance, drama, odd couples, high school setting, fulfilled romance, love triangles, quirky side characters, appearances, standard length series, parrots, tigers, conclusive endings.
You might also like: Lovely Complex, Nisekoi, I Don’t Have Many Friends.
Kill la Kill, possibly one of the largest shows of 2013–2014 has a special spot reserved on this list for being so naturally fun, over-the-top and crazy that there will never be anything quite like it, even though we hope that there will be.
Ryuuko Matoi has been travelling from school to school, kicking ass and taking names. She needs to know who killed her father, and she’ll topple every school in Japan to find out. Her journey inevitably leads her to Honnouji Academi, the domain of Satsuki Kiryuin and home to overpowered Goku Uniforms. As she’s beset by students granted special powers, Ryuuko has to fight her way to the top to even question Satsuki, but little does she know that her struggles are all part of a plan the size of the world.
Kill la Kill leaves a strong impression from the get-go, using animation, characters, jokes and fanservice to keep your attention for the important plot moments. It can be hard to see past boobs and ass, especially when the show shoves all manner of bodies in your face, but wait for things to unfold and you’ll be in for a story whose scale could almost meet Gurren Lagann’s.
Why it made the list: Kill la Kill oozes personality and particular style from the first minute it airs and keeps it going strong for the whole run. While maintaining jokes and action throughout the show, Kill la Kill unravels a huge story in the works, though you might miss it if you only have eyes for sexy figures.
Watch if you like: Action, comedy, extremes, high school setting, super powers, yelling people’s names, scissors, being naked, large cast of characters, large-scale plots, friendship.
You might also like: Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, The Rolling Girls.
Horror and science fiction blend in a very different way in Parasyte, the most recent adaption of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s 1980s manga of the same name.
Shinichi lives in a quiet Tokyo neighbourhood… or he did, right until aliens attacked Earth. As worm-like aliens named parasytes invade human hosts to take over their brain, Shinichi’s parasite-to-be fails and instead settles in his right hand. As the town slowly turns into flesh-eating monsters that mercilessly devour humans, Shinichi is compelled to use his unique situation to fight them.
Parasyte’s music might be an odd fit for the anime, but everything about it works together nicely. The old manga plot is adapted to something more friendly for this decade, and smooth animation makes fight scenes interesting.
Why it made the list: Body horror and questions of morality are abound in Parasyte. Each fight brings its lead characters closer, but as they progress through each trial, new questions pop up about their relationship to each other and the new world around them.
Watch if you like: Horror, action, science fiction, psychological themes, seinen anime, dubstep, aliens, zombies, hands, moral questions, cool visuals, blood, body horror.
You might also like: Tokyo Ghoul, Shiki, Midori Days.
Not to be confused with the Studio Ghibli movie of a similar name, Mononoke is a vibrant, heavily detailed series that handles horror in a very different way.
Fuedal Japan is awash with colour and texture, but with it comes a plague of evil spirits born from regret or strong emotions. As the Medicine Seller wanders the land to vanquish these spirits, he delves into their pasts in order to understand them. Only once he has ascertained the spirit’s form, truth and regret, may he then call upon the Exorcism Sword to slay it.
Mononoke is a careful tale with precise purpose, allowing it to explore unfortunate stories with great care and thought. The series’ structure gives way to good pacing, and small story arcs make it easy to come back for short yet creative insights.
Why it made the list: Mononoke’s visual brilliance can be seen at a glance, but to see the series in motion is something else entirely. While its design might make the series seem bright, Mononoke deals in the more subtle forms of horror, giving you an experience out of the ordinary.
Watch if you like: Historical setting, fantasy, horror, mystery, seinen anime, small story arcs, travelling, vibrant colours, detailed scenery, deep characters, short series.
You might also like: Mushishi, xxxHOLiC, Bakemonogatari.
For those in need of a dose of hard reality, who won’t settle for a story unless it’s about the very real suffering of people in this world, we have Rainbow, the not-so-bright tale of Japanese inmates.
It’s 1955 and six delinquents are locked up in a youth detention centre to atone for their various crimes. As they are taken through the humiliating process of being let into the building, the men are taken to their cell and meet their only other cellmate: boxer Rokurouta Sakuragi. As the six men are beaten by their cellmate and witness his punishment, they are formally introduced to the hell that is prison.
Rainbow’s content may be grey, might be thoroughly depressing, might make you hate the world, but through it all shines the faint light of friendship, of the tight bond between bros. As the series powers through each hardship it has to tackle, the friendship of each man is tested and your tear ducts issued a challenge.
Why it made the list: Rainbow is certainly different when it comes to pseudo-historical anime. It deals with subject matter not often touched by entertainment and handles it in a way that doesn’t conceal its bleakness. Through this though, the series holds fast to the hope of friendship, only falling to the middle of this list for being a bit too heavy-handed at times.
Watch if you like: Historical anime, drama, emotions, seinen anime, the prison system, friendship, sticking together, good opening themes, standard length series.
You might also like: Gurren Lagann, Gungrave, Deadman Wonderland.
Breaking up the bulk of serious anime on this list is the fun yet educational anime all about making manga – Bakuman. (the period there is important).
It’s middle school when 14-year-old Moritaka Mashiro’s dreams of becoming a manga artist are reignited. When his classmate Akito discovers Moritaka’s notebook full of detailed drawings, Akito entreats Moritaka to make manga with him, with Moritaka on the drawings and Akito on the story. After some hesitation, Moritaka is finally drawn in by the prospect of winning his crush’s favour, forming the manga author “Muto Ashirogi” and starting the two friends’ destiny.
Bakuman. might be fun on its own, but as an educational anime about the ins and outs of manga, it’s exceptional. Not only does the series aim to educate viewers about basic things, it presents ideals for the industry, sets realistic goals, mentions current (real) serialisations and applies these lessons on itself.
Why it made the list: Bakuman. is the anime about manga you’ve always wanted, not focusing on the unclear or idealistic creator but going into detail about every aspect of creation. The series is much more of a guide for aspiring manga-ka than anything else, but it doesn’t forget to be fun between lessons as well.
Watch if you like: Manga, shounen manga, comedy, romance, slice of life, educational series, detailed series, small cast of characters, realistic story, standard length series.
You might also like: Shirobako, Space Brothers, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun.
Space opera is usually the genre of decades ago, but not with the recent adaption of Space Battleship Yamato, the modern remake of the much loved classic of the 1970s.
Humanity is being driven to extinction. Alien attacks have made Earth near uninhabitable and there is little hope for the future. That is, until young officers of the Earth Defense Force discover a message of assistance from the far-off planet Iscandar. To have any hope of saving the world, they must spend a year travelling aboard the colossal spaceship Yamato as it weathers the 148,000 lightyear journey for help.
Yamato’s timeless story adapts perfectly to current standard, bringing Japan’s classic space opera to modern audiences. Those scared off by the genre might still have hope, however, as the series isn’t nearly as explanation-heavy as it may seem.
Why it made the list: As we head into decades of more great anime, it’s important to acknowledge the series that paved the way for popular shows to come, and many anime owe some inspiration to Yamato. By itself the story is simple and timeless, but together with the wider context of space anime around it, it’s a wonderful modern look at a classic anime.
Watch if you like: Space opera, spaceships, aliens, action, drama, science fiction, journeys, standard length anime, classic anime, modern adaptions, good CGI.
You might also like: Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Macross.
Gritty detective work, the blurred line between good and evil, and the ever-watchful eye of the police state is all on display in hit psychological sci-fi series Psycho-Pass. It’s hard to escape the charm of Western ideas explored in Eastern animation, and it’s no different here.
In the future, it’s possible to accurately measure and assign a colour to a person’s emotional state, personality and aptitude for crime. With this technology, a dedicated branch of the police monitors the country’s citizens and takes preventative measures to stop crimes from even starting. Akane Tsunemori joins this branch and is quickly introduced to a world where you shoot first and ask questions later, but a recent string of murders pulls her even deeper into the system where morality doesn’t have a colour.
Psycho-Pass is anime’s answer to Western dystopia novels, exploring surveillance, predetermination and the police state with the slick visuals and storytelling of modern animation. It’s sure to be a hit with anyone who wants a series a bit more Western-leaning or with anyone who likes good old dystopian fiction.
Why it made the list: Psycho-Pass is your dose of character-centered dystopian fiction, giving you a standard Western dystopia setting and allowing you to see what kinds of stories happen within it. It has its own questions and philosophical musings (not to mention its own reading list), but you can follow along just as well for the action and psychological games.
Watch if you like: Politics, science fiction, dystopias, thought crimes, guns, detectives, rigid social structures, the line between good and bad, dark atmosphere, murderers, police, famous literary works, Urobuchi Gen.
You might also like: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Fate/Zero, Guilty Crown.
We’ve had plenty of music-heavy series in this list, but if you want something more modern, more about the genre or want to be shown something you’d ordinarily never see, Sakamichi no Apollon is your jazzy solution.
Kaoru Nishimi has moved houses and schools ever since he was a child, and as a result doesn’t fully participate in the usual schoolyard shenanigans, preferring to just play the piano by himself. His latest high school move doesn’t look to be any different, not until he catches the attention of Sentarou, the school’s biggest delinquent. As Kaoru is dragged here and there by his new big friend, he soon finds that Sentarou is just a large softy – and one with exceptional talent for the drums.
Sakamichi’s music element is easily the strongest part of the series, not only rooting itself in existing jazz but bringing its own style to completely new (and similarly amazing) tracks. While the series also attempts to mix in romantic drama, its short run means not much of it gets developed.
Why it made the list: Sakamichi no Apollon is very much a series you watch for music, whether it’s to discover the world of jazz or to reacquaint yourself with the passion. The series’ focus on relationships, drama and romance isn’t particularly bad, but Sakamichi falls a little short on this list for not developing it very much.
Watch if you like: Jazz, drama, relationships, older time periods, high school setting, love triangle, family, music, coming of age stories, friendship, American culture, short series.
You might also like: Your Lie in April, Nodame Cantabile, Beck.
This list is full of series that changed anime forever, sparking the imaginations of viewers while passing on techniques or themes that would be seen in anime for decades to come. Kino’s Journey is one such anime – better known for its series of light novels – that continues to be unique.
Kino and her talking motorcycle Hermes are travelers, riding from country to country and only staying a few days in each to learn about its people and its ways. Kino’s calm demeanor and Hermes’ open mind allow them to contemplate many countries and how they operate, always thinking but never judging.
Kino’s Journey is an incredibly simple series that aims to be a quiet collection of parables that encourage thought but don’t force it. The series is as enjoyable for its many different worlds as it is for its openness for examination.
Why it made the list: There hasn’t been anything quite like Kino’s Journey. Its love of atmosphere and parables combined with its backseat approach to exploring both makes it a hard show to pin, but fans of slow series with the option to think about what’s happening on-screen, it’s a treasure.
Watch if you like: Adventure, slice of life, episodic anime, travelling, talking objects, calm protagonists, androgynous protagonists, parables, thinking, short series, older series.
You might also like: Mushishi, Haibane Renmei, Kaiba.
Of the few flashbacks to the early 90s here, Yu Yu Hakusho has withstood the test of time, becoming an anime classic that spans over 100 episodes yet manages to keep going strong from the start.
Yusuke Urameshi is an angry delinquent, the kind that causes problems wherever he goes, barely goes to school and picks fights with everyone. That’s why it’s such a surprise that he dies not from fighting but from self-sacrifice after saving a kid on the street. But one good turn deserves another, and the spirit realm appoints Yusuke as a Spirit Detective, in charge of stopping any and all demonic interferences with humans – using any means possible.
While “old action/comedy shounen anime” might have you cringing at the thought, Yu Yu Hakusho holds all the charm of the usual while remembering to stray away from the overused. It still takes a while to get into, but after it is something not like most anime of the time.
Why it made the list: Yu Yu Hakusho might be an old series, but its story stays strong even decades later. With a gang of loveable characters, and enough self-awareness to know when things will get too much, the series is just as much of a hit now as it was in the 90s.
Watch if you like: Action, comedy, shounen anime, the supernatural, demons, spirits, fantasy, school setting, delinquents, redemption, large cast of characters, long series, older series.
You might also like: Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, Hunter x Hunter (2011).
The same crazy antics that made Baccano! such a hit happen again in the modern supernatural mystery show Durarara!!. But despite the increasing amount of exclamation marks and the series being written by the same person, Durarara has its own personality and damn good story.
Ikebukuro is home to the abnormal. The same city that is home to shady colour gangs is also where the Slasher hides out. Big-time yakuza gangs are meters away from underground doctors, men with superhuman strength and twisted information brokers. Above all, Ikebukuro is home to the Headless Rider, an oddity among oddities whose very existence is a mystery. It’s here that Mikado Ryuugamine starts high school, not knowing that his own abnormality will inevitably draw him to all the others.
Those familiar with the rapid jumps in time and focus that made Baccano so interesting might be relieved to see that Durarara, while following its general lead, has a much more relaxed approach. Episodes still focus on multiple characters and stories but in a much tighter way, allowing you to savour a larger, more slowly unravelling mystery about the world the characters come to form.
Why it made the list: Although summarized more as a supernatural anime than anything else, Durarara is a hard show to pin. Its supernatural elements are almost light fantasy; its slice of life appearance is how the series presents the plot; the action is spread out. The only word that begins to describe Durarara is mystery, but it’s not your conventional kind of mystery. The only thing for certain is you either love Durarara’s personality right away or need some time to love it.
Watch if you like: Action, drama, mystery, slice of life, the supernatural, fantasy, action, large cast of characters, the city, Ikebukuro, Dullahan, mystery, plot twists, friendship, gang wars, powers.
You might also like: Baccano!, K, Heaven’s Memo Pad.
Romcom harem shows rarely blip on the radar when it comes to best anime, but when a harem show with your standard harem characters decides to tackle non-romantic themes that sometimes pop up when growing older, it can be something remarkable. This is where Sakurasou comes in.
Sorata has a cat problem. Specifically, he keeps finding abandoned cats and doesn’t have the heart to leave them on the street. That’s why he moves into the only dorm that accepts pets… except the dorm also only accepts the most troublesome students in the school. While the bizarre group makes Sorata’s new arrangements a living hell, art prodigy Shiina Mashiro moves in. When the group finds out she is all talent and no common sense, Sorata is assigned to manage her daily life, from feeding her to helping her dress.
Sakurasou is your usual romcom set-up, where capable meets hopeless and they are forced to be together. This series, however, quickly becomes something else, questioning talent vs hard work, pitting the protagonist’s endless struggles against the seemingly effortless work of everyone around him. Things get messy, things get ugly, but where there’s struggle, there’s surely a breakthrough.
Why it made the list: Sakurasou places equal importance on its coming of age and romance aspects, giving depth to just guys and girls hooking up due to circumstance, and allowing the drama borne from struggle to have a more personal touch. The series loses nothing with this combination and becomes much more fulfilling when the stakes aren’t just “does he love me?”.
Watch if you like: Romance, harem, games, high school setting, career, girls, cats, dorms, art, genius vs average person, comedy, drama, character flaws, personal growth, character dynamics.
You might also like: Love, Chuunibyou and Other Delusions, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, My Little Monster.
The adventures of travelling around space and the excitement of the vast potential ahead is toned down a notch in Planetes, where dangerous dealings outside of Earth are traded for the unconventional lives of ordinary workers.
In 2075, humanity’s journey into space has become trivial. With the colonisation of the moon, large space corporations and the commercialisation of the galaxy, humanity looks set to spread its wings even further. But no large endeavours have ever gone unsupported by the little people, and it’s Ai Tanabe’s job to assist space travel by removing orbiting debris. Although her job is severely underappreciated, she perseveres along with the other workers in her department.
Planetes easily succumbs to the attitudes it presents, coming off as a potentially dull anime about nothing much at all. But as you no doubt know from this very list, the most unsuspecting series can hold hidden gold, something which Planetes has in masses.
Why it made the list: The garbage men in space story hides behind it an examination of characters, work and humankind’s efforts to expand to space. While the first half of the series is more fun and small peeks into the lives of each worker, the second half of the series sets a much different tone that makes Planetes a solid drama with character development out of the ordinary.
Watch if you like: Space, science fiction, drama, romance, slice of life, episodic anime, tone shift, strong character focus, working focus, small cast of characters, standard length series.
You might also like: Space Brothers, Cowboy Bebop, Shirobako.
Shoujo anime is the home of romance, and when you think of romance anime, you inevitably come to Ouran High School Host Club: shoujo’s most light-hearted, memorable romcom with a fair share of cute boys and romantic antics.
Haruhi, a scholarship student with no regal family history or riches to speak of, lands a scholarship for one of the most prestigious schools around: Ouran High School. Barely through her first week there, she manages to stumble across the school’s male host club and breaks an expensive vase – an act which the club demands Haruhi repay via service. Now that her androgynous looks and low family standing have turned her into a highly sought-out host, Haruhi’s days of quiet study are over and the club’s days of romance have begun.
Ouran is much more about comedy than romance, but it doesn’t mean high school lovin’ takes a backseat. Each episode takes a closer look at one character or another as they grow closer to each other and grow up in general, slowly moving towards the big confession ending.
Why it made the list: Ouran certainly shows its age as the years roll on, but it still remains one of the best romcom series to date. Its set-up easily allows the series to move from tropes to exploring character, and much of the show is dedicated to picking apart appearances and connecting with the people within. It’s the light-hearted romance of first loves and friendships that really makes the series.
Watch if you like: Romance, comedy, shoujo anime, harems, crossdressing, men, high school setting, meaningful moments mixed with fun, character-focused episodes, cast of colourful characters, backstory, rich people.
You might also like: Fruits Basket, Kaichou wa Maid-Sama!, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun.
The movie Ghost in the Shell, loved by many as a 1995 classic, comes to us as an even longer TV adaption, giving us even more to enjoy about the dystopia that could very well be our future.
In a future not too far from now, the line between what is human and what is machine is blurred by the introduction of mechanical transplants. While these procedures allow people to greatly improve their lives, the same can be said for criminals. When an elite hacker appears to threaten Japan, special police unit Section 9 is tasked with taking down the man behind it, but not everything is easy.
Ghost in the Shell is split into two separate stories, both of which are weaved into each other, so those who haven’t experienced anything like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya have a lot of getting used to. On a whole though, Stand Alone Complex opens up to more of the world of Ghost in the Shell than its movie.
Why it made the list: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex takes a realistic look at our possible near future, never stopping to dress it up or make things flashy. As it weaves its two stories together, you get a better picture of the world and how people operate within it, revealing the complexity of its characters, its setting and the main plot.
Watch if you like: Action, mecha, science fiction, seinen anime, cyberpunk, psychological themes, humanity, cybernetics, attention to setting, character development, irregular episode structure.
You might also like: Ghost in the Shell (1995), Psycho-Pass, Ergo Proxy, Serial Experiments Lain.
Making an appearance on this list is not the usual Kyoto Animation title you’d expect, but one that is no less deserving. Our number sixty spot goes to slice of life mystery Hyouka, the series that exemplifies Kyoto Animation’s flair for attention to detail and ability to make even the most insignificant aspects of daily life interesting.
Oreki’s personal philosophy is to conserve as much energy as he can. He lives a grey life, preferring to pass things off to others and staying out of situations. When he’s thrust into the school classic literature club, Oreki is met with his polar opposite: bright, energetic, rose-coloured Chitanda. Try as he might to avoid her, Oreki can’t help but be drawn to Chitanda and eventually is asked to solve the decades-old mystery that has been plaguing her.
Unlike most mystery anime, Hyouka demands attention not in the mysteries it poses but in how these mysteries are visually presented – and how characters work in and around this. It’s a thinker’s anime but for an entirely different reason, and those who come for the mystery aspect may stay more for how it’s told.
Why it made the list: Hyouka is an odd series in that it’s an enjoyable watch for casual viewers but a feast of animation and cinematic techniques for critics and analysers. Each interaction, shot, piece of dialogue or environmental aspect is used to build on or express the changing relationship everyone develops alongside each other or to show the mystery unfolding around them. While good as a mystery series, Hyouka truly shines when watched closely.
Watch if you like: Sherlock Holmes, mysteries, focus on the ordinary, detailed animation, animation techniques, the study of film, Kyoto Animation, high school setting, small cast of characters, teenage geniuses, odd couples.
You might also like: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Amagi Brilliant Park, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU.
If one character can ever carry a show, it’s Trigun’s own protagonist Vash. With his endlessly cool demeanor, aptitude for being tough, gun smarts, careful attitude and devotion to compassion, Vash is easily the star of Trigun and worth watching just to see him.
Vash the Stampede isn’t called The Humanoid Typhoon for nothing. Despite having a sixty billion dollar bounty on his head, nobody has ever been able to catch him amidst his path of destruction. In an effort to assess insurance claims and possibly prevent further damage to client property, the Bernardelli Insurance Society sends two women to tail the outlaw. What they find in return is more than what the reports make out.
Vash is easily the star of Trigun, not just because of how he presents himself but because he is an immediately complex character with an odd contrast between how he behaves. He is neither the person everyone makes him out to be nor the person he presents himself as, leaving you to only guess at what’s really going on until it’s revealed.
Why it made the list: Trigun is another older classic that nails genre blending. With the perfect mix of comedy and drama, Trigun delivers a story of morals and character; the only hitch being its focus is squarely on Vash to the detriment of anyone else.
Watch if you like: Action, science fiction, comedy, guns, older series, morals, silliness, well-formed characters, protagonist focus, episodic series, tone shifts, standard length series.
You might also like: Cowboy Bebop, Gungrave, Samurai X.
The creative force behind many beloved KEY stories (Clannad, Air, Little Busters) comes to the fore again with Angel Beats!, giving you more cry-em-up plot, this time with added music.
When Yuzuru Otonashi wakes up in school, it’s not because he slept all through class. The unfortunate fact is he’s dead and in limbo, unable to recall his past or think of life as having meaning. There he meets Yuri, a girl recruiting souls to war against God for all of life’s injustices. Through musical diversions, tactics and mass-produced weapons, the group wars against the only enemy they can see: the school’s Student Council President “Tenshi”.
Angel Beats! might be designed to make you cry and reflect on life’s hardships, but the unexpected powerhouse behind the series is its music. Concert scenes are the core of Angel Beats! almost to the detriment of anything else, though there is still a sweet story to tie it all up.
Why it made the list: Angel Beats’ interesting premise opens up into a story of life and death, though mixed with all the comedy and action the series can take, ends up a little unsatisfying. Characters compete for backstory as the series pays attention to its sole love of music, and those who have seen other KEY works might become bored of the story’s patterns.
Watch if you like: Action, comedy, concerts, drama, high school setting, limbo, the afterlife, amnesia, KEY, short series, heavy focus on music.
You might also like: Clannad, Little Busters!, AnoHana.
Mafia family woes take on a whole new form in Hitman Reborn, the series that shows you even skilled assassins can be funny.
Tsunayoshi Sawada may be the worst protagonist yet. On top of being clumsy and dim-witted, he is hopelessly untalented. That’s why it’s such a surprise when he’s selected to train as the next boss of the Vongola family – Italy’s mafia powerhouse. To guide him into the role, the family sends its strongest hitman: a baby named Reborn, but even with his endless well of skill, Reborn will need to draw on a lot more power to convince Tsunayoshi to take on the role.
Hitman Reborn, like many long-running series, has a slow start but gets into its stride soon after. It delivers on just about anything you’d expect a shounen series with a weird premise might, and there’s more than enough action, friendship and laughs to come.
Why it made the list: Hitman Reborn has a weird premise and weirder characters, but after the gag anime expectations die down, it opens up into action and more serious moments. Of course, this also means the mafia set-up also gets more thought.
Watch if you like: Action, comedy, shounen anime, powers, the Mafia, school setting, babies, hitmen, long series, family ties, bonding, getting stronger.
You might also like: KenIchi: The Mightiest Disciple, One Piece, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.
For those eager for an anime that deviates from the usual, focusing on a topic so out of the ordinary that the mere mention of it brings to mind only one thing, we bring you Spice and Wolf, the anime all about economics.
Travelling merchant Kraft Lawrence has dreams of opening up a shop one day, but for now moves from town to town to sell his wares. Upon entering the town of Pasloe, he encounters a wolf girl named Holo who offers to be his business partner in exchange for a ride north. Having the forgotten god of the harvest on his side changes more than a few things for Lawrence, but most of all, he begins to change his mind about the future.
Spice and Wolf’s major appeal might be its lead wolf girl, but behind that is a complex story of economics, business in-and-outs, and old-time bartering. Dialogue-heavy times ensue as the series dives into the details of merchant trading.
Why it made the list: Spice and Wolf pays attention to the things few other series can do well: economics and trading in a historical period. As medieval merchant trading kicks off, the anime works in some romance with the lead characters, developing something more adult as appropriate of their ages.
Watch if you like: Adventure, fantasy, historical setting, economics, dialogue, wolves, gods, trading, short series, small cast of characters, slow series, atmosphere.
You might also like: Maoyu - Archenemy & Hero, Gosick, [C] - CONTROL - The Money and Soul of Possibility.
Suicidal comedy isn’t usually at the top of everyone’s to-watch list, but Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei manages to bring comedy to depression and despair through creative animation and humorous parody.
As appropriate for a teacher in absolute despair, Itoshiki Nozomu wishes to kill himself over every little thing. It almost seems natural then that his class is full of emotionally crippled children who need to deal with their own over-the-top problems with the pessimistic advice of a deeply depressed man.
Premise isn’t everything with this anime. There’s nothing dramatic or serious about the show at all unless you surgically removed your funny bone. Every character is on a heightened pedestal of parody and their interactions simply a point of comedy supported strongly by the show’s quirky animation.
Why it made the list: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei’s unusual and colourful approach to dark humour makes it stand out as an intriguing and funny series. It’s episodic slice of life structure allows the show to parody normal situations and make them unusual.
Watch if you like: Dark humour, interesting visual styles, school settings, parodies and satire, catchy opening themes, episodic series.
You might also like: Welcome to the NHK, Bakemonogatari, Great Teacher Onizuka.
The second sequel to sneak its way onto this list, Aria the Natural is another series where the show comes into its stride and perfects what it tried to be the first time around.
By the 24th Century, Mars is covered with water and the city of Neo Venezia (New Venice) has been established. There, the majority of people travel via gondola and as such, business is booming. This is where Akari Mizunashi, a 15-year-old girl from Earth, strives to become an Undine – a capable tour guide and gondolier.
Aria the Natural is this list’s dose of sci-fi/fantasy but also comes with a touch of the supernatural. Season two’s focus on the world around the characters (while continuing to follow their journey) is a welcome addition and you’re bound to be drawn into the world as much as you are with the characters.
Why it made the list: Aria is an interesting world on its own, and Aria the Natural expands upon it greatly, continuing Akari’s journey but also looking at the world around her. It’s a longer series that gives more of what made the first season great and goes into something more than striving to be the best.
Watch if you like: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, the supernatural, water, Mars, gondolas, setting, cats, working environment, standard length series, episodic series.
You might also like: Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, Natsume's Book of Friends, Tamayura.
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, the anime that is also on our Top Magadorks in Anime list, is the recent romantic comedy hit and something to put on your radar if you’re a fan of multiple odd couples parodying the genre.
Chiyo is a big fan of her classmate Nozaki. In fact, it’s more like love, but when she goes to confess, Nozaki gives her a reply in the form of an autograph. Now in the know that her crush is actually a well-known shoujo manga artist, Chiyo tags along to assist him with drawing and maybe get through to him that she likes him as more than a fan. Not that Nozaki has much of an eye for anything except for more plot points.
Nozaki-kun’s brand of humour and romance has a pretty equal appeal for guys and girls, especially when characters actively parody shoujo tropes and go against all expectations. Nozaki-kun excels in the unexpected side of comedy, and focusing on multiple couples ensures the funny times keep on coming.
Why it made the list: Nozaki-kun’s brand of humour, blatant shoujo genre parodies and mix of adorkable characters make it not just a fun series but one that’s more widely appealing than your standard romance anime. If you’re looking for a good show to jump into the romcom genre with or just want some light romance with your comedy and need something a little different, Nozaki-kun has something for just about anyone.
Watch if you like: Romance, comedy, high school setting, dork characters, multiple couples, defying gender expectations, manga, tanuki, boxes, shounen anime, shoujo anime, short series, quirky humour.
You might also like: Ouran High School Host Club, Gintama, My Love Story!!.
Next on our best of anime list is the show that’s no stranger to little girls, fairy tales and dancing. But while you might back off because it’s a bit too girly, you’re missing out on a wonderful show about fate, true love and ducks.
Once upon a time, a kind and heroic prince fought to defeat an evil raven. In order to seal the raven away forever, the prince shattered his heart, leaving him an emotionless husk. While the kingdom moves on and its residents live peacefully as they attend ballet classes, Ahiru (literally, “duck”) realizes why she’s here. She’s living in a fairy tale and, through the power of her pendant, she can transform into Princess Tutu and collect the lost shards of the prince’s heart. But as she struggles against reality and fiction, another force conspires to raise the evil raven.
Princess Tutu blurs the borders between Western fairy tales and the reality of the show, putting a very interesting spin on the usual. It also helps that the show is all kinds of great.
Why it made the list: Princess Tutu is an incredibly “girly” anime. But while you might think that’s a setback, it’s all part of its style. It has a tasteful mix of magical girl transformations, fairy tale setting, adventure and romance, all wrapped up in a clever meta story about fate.
Watch if you like: Ballet, comedy, romance, Western fairy tales, pink, classical music, ducks, standard length series, meta story, good vs evil, animals, shoujo anime.
You might also like: Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Searching for the Full Moon, Prétear: The New Legend of Snow White.
Giant battle robots on hoverboards. Need I say more? With a memorable soundtrack and a large cast of relatable characters, Eureka Seven comes out with guns blazing, tackling an army of themes from coming of age to anti-war sentiments to romance.
Renton, a 14-year-old kid who loves hoverboards just as much as anyone, has his dreams come true when his home is destroyed. After a chance meeting with a girl in a robot, Renton is willingly dragged into being the mechanic for a mercenary group he admires. And thus his 50 episode saga begins.
While Eureka Seven has a daunting episode count, it’s gripping and can easily have you watching the whole series for three days straight. Characters get plenty of development and Renton’s journey to adulthood is both heart-warming and satisfying.
Why it made the list: Characters are the strong point in this series but are thoroughly supported by a moving soundtrack and solid animation for action scenes and somber moments.
Watch if you like: Long series, mecha, hoverboards, coming of age stories, battles, a large cast of characters.
You might also like: Gurren Lagann, Xam'd: Lost Memories, Guilty Crown.
If it’s not dystopic future societies or an anime with lots of robots, then it’s the online world and all it entails. Serial Experiments Lain is one of those, with its protagonist of the same name being drawn into the world of computers and online happenings.
On the surface, Serial Experiments Lain is a story about how one girl’s sudden interest in computers and “The Wired” morphs into something more than her becoming a shut-in. On a deeper level, this anime is a series of questions about identity, what is real, what isn’t real and how far an anime can go before its audience is too confused to continue. It could also be about how one girl endeavors to wear her cute bear pajamas; psychological anime is all up to the viewer.
Jokes aside, Serial Experiments Lain’s take on Science Fiction is fairly unique, using it to pose questions rather than to explore worlds. It’s not uncommon for you to wonder what on earth is going on, but when you consider the series to be more than what’s happening on screen, things start to click.
Why it made the list: Serial Experiments Lain is the thinking man’s anime on this list. With a focus on psychological and philosophical questions, it presents a seemingly confusing story that wants you to look deeper. It’s not just about the usual Sci-Fi faire, making this anime stand out.
Watch if you like: Being confused, bear pajamas, psychological anime, philosophical anime, cyberpunk, atmosphere-heavy series, identity questions.
You might also like: Dennou Coil, Paranoia Agent, Ghost in the Shell.
Our romantic favourites come together on this list as a double up of must-see romance anime, but before we get into Maid-Sama!, Kimi ni Todoke comes first.
Sawako is, by all appearances, the ghost girl from The Ring. Except she isn’t, it’s just that her natural timid disposition makes her classmates mistake her as someone creepy and scary. As Sawako dreams of reaching out and making friends, her eyes wander to Shouta, the class’ most popular boy. When he reaches out to her in turn, it might just be the start of romance.
Kimi ni Todoke is very much an idealistic romance, a staple of shoujo anime, but it’s far from your usual development. No drama is foisted upon the main couple, and neither of them harbor tragic pasts that are all too common in other series. The show is a tale of simple love, and sometimes, given everything else around it, that’s all you could want.
Why it made the list: Kimi ni Todoke is innocent idealistic love at its finest. Sure romance doesn’t always work out like it does in stories, but Kimi ni Todoke doesn’t rely on forced drama, sad backstories or overused character types to add interest. It’s pure at heart, and cute to boot.
Watch if you like: Shoujo anime, romance, high school setting, The Ring, idealistic romance, first loves, growing up, honest characters, innocence, standard length series.
You might also like: Say "I Love You", Lovely Complex, Kaichou wa Maid-sama!.
Romance anime takes on a girls vs boys approach in Kaichou wa Maid-sama!, the romantic anime that turns secrets into opportunities.
Seika High School’s transition from all boys to co-ed is on its way, but parity between boys and girls isn’t quite there. That’s why Misaki Ayuzawa takes full charge as the new Student Council President, using her position and martial arts techniques to keep the boys in line. But behind her powerful façade is a girl trying to do her best for her family, which means working part-time at a maid café. This opens Misaki up to all kinds of problems when the school’s most popular boy, Takumi Usui, discovers her secret.
Kaichou wa Maid-sama leads on from its premise to make a strongly comedic romcom shoujo, where characters slowly open up to show you they’re not all that they appear to be. While Maid-sama is strong on the laughs, it’s a little less strong on the romance, stringing you along for longer than it needs to.
Why it made the list: Kaichou wa Maid-sama! doesn’t stick to your usual romcom stereotypes or stories, even if its aim is to bring its lead characters together no matter what. While it does deliver strong comedic moments, the central relationship suffers as the series goes on and it can feel a little like nothing is progressing.
Watch if you like: Comedy, romance, high school setting, shoujo anime, standard length series, tropes, fair cast of characters, two couples.
You might also like: Ouran High School Host Club, Kimi ni Todoke, Special A.
What’s a comedy series without a bit of fantasy to spice things up? Hataraku Maou-sama takes the concept of working at McDonalds and adds a bit of flavor by staffing it completely with… demons!
We all know Japan is home to all the portals in the known universe, so it should be no surprise that Tokyo is where the Demon King ends up after fleeing from Ente Isla and his evil empire. Now that he’s in a new world where being Satan isn’t a great way to earn money, the Demon King begins working for MgRonalds, making fictional anime McDonalds chains truly Hell on Earth.
Hataraku Maou-sama has this unique comedic aspect that few shows have. Combine that with an unusual fish-out-of-water situation and plenty of time for jokes, and the series hits it off great.
Why it made the list: While there is a bit of action, Hataraku Maou-sama is a non-stop comedy train from start to finish. The show sets things in a generally new place so everything feels new and opens up better chances for jokes. One of the few times you can really enjoy yourself thinking about “MgRonalds”.
Watch if you like: Hell, demons, making a pact, working part-time, WcDonalds and other variants, short series, fantasy, character interaction.
You might also like: Demon King Daimao, Beelzebub, Noragami.
Otaku girls are finally given a chance at romance in romcom Jellyfish Princess. In the anime equivalent of a more local Princess Diaries, can the average nerdy girl find love?
Tsukimi is a jellyfish otaku – a girl who knows everything there is to know about jellyfish and spends 90% of the day thinking about them. When she moves in with various other female otaku, it finally seems like she has a secure place in the big city, away from pretty people. Yet when she runs into crossdresser Kuranosuke, who is inevitably introduced to the household, Tsukimi has to manage her anxiety of normal people and the fact that no boys are allowed in her apartment block. It doesn’t help that Kuranosuke is itching to hang out and give her a makeover.
Kuragehime divides its time between its charming cast of quirky women and Tsukimi’s development, from her backstory to her current struggle with image. The series handles both of these aspects enjoyably, but falls a little lower on this list for introducing rushed drama late-game that isn’t solved in the most satisfying way.
Why it made the list: Kuragehime’s short but charming approach to handling otaku characters is a breath of fresh air, and its awkward but sincere take romantic comedy sets it apart from the masses.
Watch if you like: Comedy, romance, slice of life, josei anime, makeovers, crossdressing, beautiful ladies, cast of quirky characters, light-hearted atmosphere, very short series.
You might also like: Paradise Kiss, Ouran High School Host Club, Genshiken.
No Game No Life bursts into our number seventy-five spot in a rainbow of oversaturated colour, bringing with it a similarly bright world filled with possibilities, endless strategy and an interesting premise that develops at a fair pace.
Sora and Shiro, an unbeatable brother/sister combo, are known all across the internet as Blank. No game in the world can go undefeated by the duo, and when they’re challenged to a game of chess by the god of another dimension, they beat him soundly. Intrigued by the pair, the god named Tet summons the two to Disboard, a world where all conflicts are resolved through games. The two are then issued a challenge: unite the world under one rule and defeat god to become the new gods of this world.
No Game No Life is the most colourful celebration of gaming you will ever see. Each game is a spectacle to behold and seeing the main characters thrive in a world practically made for them is incredibly entertaining.
Why it made the list: No Game No Life is just as extreme as its colour palette; its games are always high-stakes and high-action with the kind of strategy that leaves you guessing about how exactly the duo can come away with a win. And although solutions can seem out of nowhere, the series is sure to set everything up so that it’s not so much of an asspull.
Watch if you like: Adventure, comedy, ecchi, fantasy, games, colour, brothers and sisters, alternate worlds, different species, saving humanity, battles.
As we close in on the top three quarters of anime you just can’t miss, Black Lagoon appears as your dose of badass where the action and cool shots are dedicated to the female lead.
Rokuro Okajima is an ordinary businessman on an ordinary trip to Eastern China. Except his world is about to be turned upside down when a band of mercenaries capture him to retrieve the disc he’s transporting. Now a hostage held for ransom aboard the Black Lagoon, Rokuro needs to think about what to do – but not for long, as he soon finds out he’s been declared dead.
Black Lagoon is possibly the best seinen anime you could ask for, delivering heavy action scenes while maintaining a strictly adult feel. Any fan of big car chases and gunfights in big-name Western movies will love Black Lagoon’s dedication to being just as badass.
Why it made the list: Black Lagoon might be heavy on the action but with each point that seems impossible, the series makes plausible. It’s leading woman stands tall as the toughest girl you could meet, and the rest of the cast follows behind in a series of adventures not soon forgotten.
Watch if you like: Action, seinen anime, Hollywood blockbusters, cast of quirky characters, guns, car chases, violence, fights, mercenaries, short series, watching the second season.
You might also like: Jormungand, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, Michiko and Hatchin.
When talking about the best of the best, you can’t escape the towering franchise that is Gundam. With decades of anime under its belt, a plethora of different mecha-centric stories and enough episodes of each to be daunting, you have to watch one Gundam in your life – for us, it’s Mobile Suit Gundam 00.
When Earth runs out of fossil fuels to burn for energy, the only thing left to turn to is solar power. As solar panels are made to orbit Earth, collecting energy, the planet’s superpowers construct orbital elevators to service their needs. But with energy only being supplied to the major countries and their allies, the world turns to war. Amidst the chaos, the organization Celestial Being emerges, intent to stop the feuds through the use of advanced mecha: Gundams.
Gundam has long been a series where giant mechs clash with good and evil. Mobile Suit Gundam 00 doesn’t deviate too much from this, but it does present a story where the world is more complicated than black and white, where battles are a strong shade of grey.
Why it made the list: With many Gundam series featuring the same general plot, it can be hard to pick which series to begin with. Gundam 00 offers a political story with less of a military feel than the other series in the franchise, giving you a more familiar set-up while preparing the stage for mecha fighting action.
Watch if you like: Action, drama, mecha, science fiction, space, politics, secret organisations, world commentary, wars, Gundam, teenage pilots, standard length series.
You might also like: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, Macross, Full Metal Panic!.
The pure enjoyment of confusion and randomness isn’t often seen in anime today, but when FLCL (or “Fooly Cooly”) went to air, it was all the rage.
Naota leads an ordinary life for a 12-year-old, or as ordinary as it can be when his brother’s girlfriend keeps flirting with him. It’s not until he’s run over by a Vespa that things really kick up a notch, as the girl riding it smacks Naota up the head with a guitar, leading a horrible bump that sometimes spews forth robots. As if that isn’t enough, the girl now lives in his house as a maid.
Thinking about FLCL might give you a headache, but the one thing for sure is that the short series is a bundle of fun from start to finish. Sitting back and enjoying the randomness and energy of the animation is the only way to go, and those looking for any kind of meaning might feel frustrated.
Why it made the list: FLCL is the definition of chaotic, preferring to quickly move from point to point while leaving you to figure out what just happened. Despite the gap in information (or the complete overload of it), it’s hard to forget FLCL’s bursting personality, especially with a series so tragically brief.
Watch if you like: Comedy, action, science fiction, fast pace, short series, not thinking, guitars, robots, older series, animation, upbeat atmosphere.
You might also like: Dead Leaves, Gurren Lagann, Excel Saga.
A running theme in shounen seems to be endless fantasy, whether it’s escaping to an online reality filled with monsters or killing huge monsters. Or fighting alongside huge monsters. Or transforming to become huge monsters, or… you get it. Soul Eater is another one of these titles but it doesn’t get old.
In the world of Soul Eater, there are two kinds of people: those who can transform into a weapon and those trained to wield those weapons to full potential. This is where Shibusen comes in; as a technical school specialized in training weapons and their partners to fight, it gathers students from all over the world and trains them to become demon hunters. Part of this involves collecting 100 souls in a feat that allows the weapon to transform into something more fitting of a soul reaper.
Soul Eater combines the quirky style and animation of FLCL with the general world of Bleach to make something really stylistic and entertaining. Fight scenes are a pleasure, and the progression of the story is about as much as you’d assume.
Why it made the list: Soul Eater seems to be Bleach’s cartoony child that’s exciting and energetic when it’s younger and quickly grows into an angsty teen. Its fight scenes are stylistic and fun, with perhaps a more serious story in the second half to make up for the mindless fun in the first half.
Watch if you like: The supernatural, people-as-weapons, school, hunting demons, long series, action, fantasy stories, comedic shows, souls, a colourful cast of characters, cartoonish animation style.
You might also like: Soul Eater NOT, Blue Exorcist, Noragami.
During talk about the most consistently funny slice of life series, Azumanga Daioh rises up like the classic monolith it is to assert its comedic dominance in jokes worked into natural daily life situations. It flicks other anime to the side with simple jokes that appeal to a wide range of humours without trying too hard.
Azumanga follows the lives of seven girls, three teachers and a few weird cats as they live through their school life in modern Japan. Each episode is self-contained, though is guaranteed to have at least one cat biting, one child genius moment and one empty-headed joke.
What makes the show enjoyable is its not-so-blatant use of nostalgia, easily transporting most people back to their high school days when hanging out with friends was the thing to do. There’s nothing especially amazing about the characters or their setting, which only adds to the comfortable, carefree atmosphere of the show. It wouldn’t be hard to compare Azumanga to Seinfeld or Friends as a show about nothing that is good because of this nothing.
Why it made the list: Azumanga has a careful balance between comedy and slice of life, working in jokes more naturally than other series. It also has a strong nostalgic atmosphere that many other shows lack.
Watch if you like: Slice of life, high school setting, Norio Wakamoto, weird humour, four-panel comics, episodic series, no overarching plot.
You might also like: Lucky Star, Minami-ke, My Ordinary Life.
81st place on this list is Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai (also known as Chuu2koi), the anime that basks in second-hand embarrassment and revels in its terrible early teenage years. It’s a romantic story for the older teens, or a bit of a wake-up call for anyone younger.
Yuuta has retired from his former life as the Dark Flame Master – a supreme being who surfaced within him during middle school. In reality, he’s graduated from eighth grade syndrome, and wants to start his high school life anew. Unfortunately, a girl called Rikka stumbles upon his past and clings to him in hopes of reviving his clearly better persona (I mean, the voice actor does the Lelouch voice after all). Thus ends Yuuta’s brief time as a normal student.
Chuu2koi is heavier on the com than the rom but manages to include a serious plot that gives reasons to everyone’s delusions. The female side characters are also fairly strong and barely even take the series into a love triangle, keeping comedy at the front of everything.
Why it made the list: Chuu2koi digs up your hidden teenage delusions of grandeur and makes a romcom out of it. Surprisingly deep as it is funny, this anime has a great balance of comedy with touching moments. It also showcases Kyoto Animation’s wonderful animation when it comes to fantasy battles and magic.
Watch if you like: Embarrassing teenage years, magic, fantasy, Kyoto Animation, romantic comedies, high school, emotional drama, backstories, banter, anime-original plots, comedic side-characters.
You might also like: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Oreshura, Mysterious Girlfriend X.
If there’s been too much of a gap between depressing series on this list, we return to your regular scheduled cryfest with Now and Then, Here and There.
Shu is an average shounen protagonist; he’s optimistic, has his heart in the right place and, above all, must save the day. When he spots a mysterious girl standing on a smokestack, Shu is quick to rush to her aid, but what he least expects is to be thrown into an alternate world where an insane dictator rules over everyone’s lives.
Now and Then, Here and There is certainly the most bleak drama anime on this list. It doesn’t just go into the atrocities of war and dictatorships; its cast personifies a range of beliefs and how people can become a victim to a society gone wrong.
Why it made the list: Although short, Now and Then, Here and There is a complete tour of the travesties of war and how far humanity has sunk before. But even though it’s bleak and unrestrained in what it shows, the series keeps hold of hope to make a bittersweet ending.
Watch if you like: Adventure, shounen protagonists, alternate worlds, dystopias, war themes, heavy themes, short series, military themes, hope.
You might also like: Grave of the Fireflies, Future Boy Conan, Green Legend Ran.
On our secret list of “surprisingly funny side-stories to already good anime series” is Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, the alternate story of how Sousuke awakened to his need for a furry suit.
Sousuke Sagara, a sergeant under the secret organization MITHRIL, is tasked with protecting a Japanese high school girl. The easiest way to do this? Shove that awkward war teen in the same school. Fumoffu follows a side-story to Full Metal Panic and explores what life would be like if this sergeant suddenly dressed up as some kind of bear-mouse.
Fumoffu is the non-serious side-story to Full Metal Panic that you never knew you wanted. While you don’t need to watch the parent series, knowing it just makes everything funnier when this show goes from all-out mecha sci-fi to high school shenanigans.
Why it made the list: Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu is a thoroughly enjoyable side-story to a more serious anime. If you ever wanted to enjoy an alternate setting with your favourite characters, Fumoffu might be the best comedy anime that does that.
Watch if you like: Comedy, side stories, Kyoto Animation, episodic anime, school setting, slice of life, action, short series.
You might also like: Amagi Brilliant Park, School Rumble, Gintama.
As time rolls on, anime learns from the past. Animation strives to be better, characters strive to be deeper, stories strive to be more carefully crafted. Yet with all the decades anime has been around, sometimes you can’t beat the old ones.
Yuusaku Godai is a 20-year-old loser. After failing college entrance exams time and time again, he resigns to his fate in his small apartment in an ageing complex. Just as he musters the will to move out, the hot new landlady Kyouko stops him in his tracks; he falls hard, hard enough to wait out the darkness sealing Kyouko’s heart away.
Ikkoku House might look exactly as old as it is, but for an anime to perfectly capture the feeling of budding mature romance and mix it with the small problems that face all young adults, it takes something special. Ikkoku House is adult drama at its most human, and it shines because of that.
Why it made the list: Ikkoku House is inescapably human in everything it presents, from its characters right down to their struggles. The series’ slow start opens up into a moving story not just of romance but of growing up as characters face issues all too familiar to us now. To rank this series higher though would be ignoring how tedious it gets, but beyond that is a great story.
Watch if you like: Comedy, romance, drama, slice of life, older series, human drama, long series, growing up stories, deep characters, slow pace.
You might also like: Kimagure Orange Road, The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior, Love Hina.
Lupin III has been one of Japan’s most well-loved series since the first anime aired in the 1970s. And while some old series are perfectly fine to watch, sometimes a better entry point is something more modern. Cue the Lupin the Third spin-off series, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine.
Lupin III’s primary love interest, Mine Fujiko, takes centre stage in this story of her origin as master thief. As Mine pulls off various heists, she encounters the crew that would one day form the main cast of Lupin III.
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine might not be your standard Lupin III fare, but with what all appearances is a prequel story as well as a more adult flavor (an animation with a lot more kick), it’s certainly an interesting entry point to the series. For those who have seen any of Lupin III, it’s an even more interesting take-off from the main series.
Why it made the list: Lupin the Third, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is certainly one point to start your foray into the Lupin III series. For those who are fans of darker, film-noir-like anime, it’ll be a hit and the focus on Fujiko Mine might draw more interest. Those looking for a more classic entry into the series – the one with more comedy – should try the Miyazaki film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro.
Watch if you like: Ecchi, adventure, comedy, thieves, classic anime, film noir, Western designs, short series, prequels, origin stories, female leads.
You might also like: Lupin III, Detective Conan, Cowboy Bebop.
On the more depressing side of slice of life is My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, also known as Oregairu.
Hikigaya is a guy who keeps to himself; he’s cynical, anti-social and hates the masks everyone wears. More than anything, he’s afraid of growing close to anyone because he knows he’ll be hurt. When he’s forced to join the Volunteer Service club with two other girls struggling through their teenage years, Hikigaya must deal with his classmates’ mundane problems and lean about how everyone deals with life.
Oregairu is a more honest look into the everyday lives of teenagers. It doesn’t gloss over anxieties or painful moments with a thick coat of comedy and sparkles, but it also doesn’t wallow in despair. It’s very much a show to learn and grow with Hikigaya more than it is something lightly entertaining.
Why it made the list: Oregairu is a complicated slice of life recommendation. On the one hand, it’s a noticeable contrast to most of this list of lighthearted comedies and touching dramas; on the other, it captures the complicated feeling of teenage self-consciousness few other anime do. It’s a slice of life romcom for all appearances but has an understanding heart beneath it all.
Watch if you like: Comedy, romance, school setting, some drama, isolated main characters, teenage years, growing up, not learning, short series, watching the second series.
You might also like: WataMote: No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Unpopular!, Toradora!, I Don’t Have Many Friends.
To make up for the lack of what the fuck anime on this list, we present you with Haibane Renmei (“Charcoal Feather Federation”), a series that requires careful watching the first time through or a thorough second-watch.
Rakka isn’t sure of how she came to be in Old Home, besides her dream of falling, but the other residents accept her readily. All the girls in Old Home are Haibane, beings with halos and wings, and Rakka is their newest addition. As she begins to learn about the world around her, she must remember her dream and the meaning behind it or be doomed to stagnation in Old Home.
Although Haibane Renmei might look like a religious fable, perhaps with some moral message, it’s much more a series to slowly deconstruct its themes, with appearances pure decoration.
Why it made the list: Haibane Renmei is a short series that focuses on slow build and atmosphere. There is much more to ponder than to listen to here, and the story is much simpler than appearances make it out to be, though still requires yur full attention.
Watch if you like: Fantasy, drama, slice of life, mystery, atmosphere, characters, journey, finding yourself, angels, non-religious themes, short series, thinking.
You might also like: Kino’s Journey, Sound of the Sky, Serial Experiments Lain.
Japan’s love affair with space mechs and sprawling stories might be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean you can’t catch up with the classics. Macross, on par with Gundam in its legacy, is another anime you should make the time to see.
When an alien spaceship crashes to Earth, it doesn’t take long for humanity to repurpose it, constructing the gigantic fortress named SDF-1. But when they start it up to travel the stars, a Zentradi war fleet arrives, recognizing the ship as an enemy. Now under attack by aliens, the SDF-1 Macross is thrown across the galaxy, taking with it an abundance of people and pilots who now have to make their way home.
Possibly better known for its movie, or that one series with the nyan song, Macross’ 1982 series is where it’s at for slightly more lighthearted space adventures and romance. Its focus on space idols over war makes this particularly evident.
Why it made the list: Macross might have all the features of a mech anime all about shiny robots and cool fighting action, but behind its metal exterior is a story that details more about love, society and media in similarly warring Earth scenarios, it’s just unfortunate that time hasn’t been so kind to the series.
Watch if you like: Mecha, action, science fiction, romance, space, war, aliens, music, idols, older series, Gundam, standard length anime, classic series.
You might also like: Space Battleship Yamato 2199, Gunbuster, any Gundam series.
It’s been a while since our last romance-only anime, but Itazura na Kiss makes it to our 89th spot for being a cute romcom that dares to show what happens after the confession.
Kotoko Aihara isn’t the smartest apple in the bunch, but she doesn’t need to be when her crush is Japan’s smartest student, Naoki Irie. Although her first attempt at confessing goes awry, a chance disaster lands her right in Naoki’s sights as the two start to live under one roof. Love has never been more in reach for Kotoko and she’ll do everything to catch Naoki’s attention.
Itazura na Kiss opens up from a standard shoujo romcom story to something more as its characters advance from flirting to being in a relationship. The phenomenon is so rare it bears mentioning, even more so since it’s realistic and well-written.
Why it made the list: Itazura na Kiss is as optimistic as its lead character, giving you a standard shoujo romance and expanding on the relationship side of things rather than making the series entirely about build-up. There’s not much to disappoint in a series where you know what you’re getting, but the interactions between the lead couple are still nice (and cute).
Watch if you like: Romance, comedy, shoujo anime, odd couples, coincidences, perseverance, relationships, high school setting, standard length series, small cast of characters.
You might also like: Clannad: After Story, Nodame Cantabile, Lovely Complex.
Revolutionary Girl Utena has long been a series that really needs to be seen to be understood. While technically a magical girl series, this anime isn’t quite like anything else – and definitely not about the power of friendship.
After her parents’ death and her near-drowning, young Utena is saved by a prince who gifts her a rose crest ring. Wanting to be just like the prince, Utena grows into a boyish teenager who is adored by girls but gets into trouble with the teachers. After a chance meeting with a bullied girl called Anthy, Utena challenges a student to a fight, not knowing that in doing this, she will be sent into a series of duel to decide the fate of the Rose Bride – Anthy.
Those not familiar with the director, Ikuhara’s, way of presenting things may find the series confusing or boring. But behind the symbolism and repeated lines is a deeply interesting show that challenges roles, perceptions and questions how we think and why we act.
Why it made the list: Revolutionary Girl Utena is likely the weirdest magical girl anime you’ll ever see. But behind the repeated dialogue, abstract images and wtf moments is an interesting psychological twist on a fairytale where not everything works out how you expect it to.
Watch if you like: Psychological anime, drama, strong directing, imagery, metaphor, thinking, gender, sword fighting, cars, transformation, long series, older series, fantasy, shoujo anime.
You might also like: Mawaru Penguindrum, Rose of Versailles, Princess Tutu.
Sequels can be a hit or miss; it can be hard to capture the same feel of the initial series, or the show could run away with its previous success. For K-On!! though, the second season keeps the same loveable aspects of the first while delving into new things.
The founding members of the Light Music Club are entering their final year of high school. While continuing band practice, club activities and the all-important tea time, the youngest member needs to come to terms that all her upperclassmen will be leaving at the end of the year.
K-On!! really focuses on the atmosphere and emotion surrounding graduation, slowly moving from a calming slice of life show about music and tea to a depiction of growing up one day at a time.
Why it made the list: K-On! is the essence of cute anime girls doing cute things. Although the first series is a fine watch for anyone into music, tea and girls, the second season really comes into its own as it starts incorporating the bittersweet feelings of high school graduation.
Watch if you like: Friendship, music, school setting, graduation, comedy, Kyoto Animation, cute girls doing cute things, tea, cake, standard length series.
You might also like: Love Live! School Idol Project, Sound! Euphonium, Tari Tari.
For those who missed Sailor Moon or simply watched every magical girl show to hit TV, Cardcaptor Sakura was the big hit of late 90s. It’s both your standard magical girl show and something different, and how it mixes tradition with new elements is what makes it great.
Ten-year-old Sakura Kinomoto stumbles across a book containing mysterious cards. Upon reading the name of one of the cards aloud, a large wind suddenly kicks up and whisks all fifty-two cards away. Keroberos, the guardian of the book, is quick to appoint Sakura magical powers and send her a quest to get them all back. With her cosplay-keen friend and strange rival behind her, Sakura sets off to right her accident.
Cardcaptor Sakura is your standard magical girl show, no doubt. It has a monster of the week every episode, likes to use the same jokes and has the main character go on a large fetch quest. But midway, it changes direction and brings its sincere childhood tone to more serious topics.
Why it made the list: Cardcaptor Sakura isn’t a terribly different show, but past its cute adventures with an impressive array of costumes, the series starts to focus on its characters, showing how Sakura grows throughout her journey and interactions with her mysterious rival.
Watch if you like: Dressing up, collecting cards, long series, older series, comedy, action, romance, monsters of the week, animal sidekicks, magical sticks, school setting, shoujo anime.
You might also like: Tsubasa Chronicle, Sailor Moon, Shugo Chara!
Perhaps the most mixed genre series on this list is The Vision of Escaflowne, a classic anime from the 90s that mixes fantasy with a bit of mecha, all wrapped up as a shoujo series with more to it than sparkles and romance.
Hitomi Kanzaki is an ordinary school girl with her share of high school crushes. But when her tarot card reading hobby gives her a vision of a young man slaying a dragon, the last thing she expects is to see it play out and then be whisked away to a whole new world because of it. Now in the world of Gaea, Hitomi’s latent psychic powers awaken and she’s caught up in a huge political struggle before she can find a way home. Also, giant mecha.
Escaflowne is an interesting mix of genres, giving a standard shoujo show a fantasy twist with a fair bit of mecha thrown in. While the fantasy aspect is strong, get used to frequent mech fights.
Why it made the list: Escaflowne’s mix of genres makes it stand out, but it’s how the show and its characters grow from these basic building blocks that makes it great. Characters change and grow from tropes into people with compelling relationships. It’s a 26 episode-long ride like no other.
Watch if you like: Older series, mecha, shoujo anime, mix of genres, standard length series, destiny, romance, visions, battles, politics, other worlds, ageing art style, serious anime.
You might also like: InuYasha, Mysterious Play, Magic Knight Rayearth.
Anime nerds and games are a match made in heaven, and while some anime series have shown what it’s like to play games, few have explored the communities, friends and game-hopping quite like Sword Art Online.
Virtual reality has come a long way and with the invention of advanced VR helmets, people can control online avatars purely with their mind. It’s in this world that Kirito lines up for a new VRMMO called Sword Art Online, excited to be the first few to play the full release. When Kirito and 10,000 other players log into the game at its launch, they soon find that the game’s creator has trapped them, dooming them to clear the game or die to its many hazards. What’s more, if someone dies in the game, they also die in real life.
Sword Art Online has a lot of ideas and directions it wants to go, and delivers on those for the most part, but this show falls to number [NUMBER] on this list is due to unclear motivations, some high-level asspulls and that the series really only hitting its stride in its second season.
Why it made the list: Sword Art Online brings the concept of .Hack//Sign to a modern setting with upgrades the whole way through. But while the game death concept isn’t new, travelling to multiple worlds is – and a breath of fresh air at that. For those that like setting changes as the story progresses, Sword Art Online is a welcome addition to the action/adventure shounen genre.
Watch if you like: Action, adventure, romance, harems, MMOs, heroes, .Hack//Sign, cousins, steady relationships, a reasonably-sized cast of characters, protagonist-exclusive powers, fantasy settings.
You might also like: Log Horizon, .Hack//Sign, Accel World, No Game No Life, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
Together with Naruto and One Piece, Bleach forms the trinity of long-running shounen anime that is just as popular as it is long. Whether you’re a diehard fan or someone eager to jump in though, Bleach is your slice of classic shounen meets the supernatural.
Ichigo Kurosaki has long been able to see spirits. What he’s never known, however, is there are people in the world who deal with these spirits – Shinigami, or “soul reapers”. When his family is attacked by a particularly evil spirit, Ichigo witnesses a soul reaper at work, but due to an injury sustained during the fight, the soul reaper’s power is transferred to him. Now that he holds the responsibility of protecting humans from evil spirits, he must protect the town and learn all about the new power he holds.
Bleach’s strong opening soon flows into the classic shounen story of friendship and perseverance, sometimes broken by surprises and twists. The series falls a little short on pour top anime list for having great ideas but soon falling into a repetitive cycle.
Why it made the list: While the last of the Big Three to air, Bleach starts strong and quickly introduces you to its large cast, larger world and the whole host of ideas it has in store. It’s easy to see the series’ charm, but if you’re wary of longer series weakening over time, Bleach does start to become repetitive after a while.
Watch if you like: The supernatural, shounen anime, action, comedy, powerful spirits, monsters, powers, long series, large cast of characters, red hair, reading the manga.
You might also like: Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files, Naruto, Soul Eater, One Piece.
Another long-running series breaking into our bottom selections is Fairy Tail, the fantasy anime that captures the most common aspects of shounen anime, especially when it comes to the power of friendship.
In a land of sword and sorcery is the strongest mages’ guild: the prestigious Fairy Tail. It’s seventeen-year-old Lucy’s dream to be a member of the guild and, as luck would have it, she stumbles across the right guy who can help her join. After a bit of trouble, Lucy joins the newbie ranks of the guild and begins her journey to becoming a stronger mage as part of the most well-known mages guilds in the land.
Don’t be daunted by the episode count; Fairy Tail has a lot of short arcs and a fairly calm atmosphere, allowing you to watch it in short bursts or cram it into your eyes over the year it takes to watch it.
Why it made the list: Fairy Tail is just about the longest traditional fantasy anime out there. It borrows a lot of shounen anime aspects but keeps things fresh with fast-moving action and a story that keeps its pace up.
Watch if you like: Magic, guilds, shounen anime, long series, Shounen Jump, story arcs, cute animal mascots, adventure, large cast of characters, action, dragons.
You might also like: One Piece, Naruto, Soul Eater.
Those frantically searching for Dragon Ball Z won’t be finding it on this list (for a whole host of reasons), but in its place is the original manly epic exuding the aura of badasses: Fist of the North Star.
Nuclear weapons have destroyed the world, not only altering the landscape, but also sending humanity back to the dark ages. Those too weak to fight for themselves are enslaved or left for dead as humans with cold hearts wrench what little resources are left out of dying hands. In this world, Kenshirou seeks to rescue his fiancée Yuria from his rival Shin, and will use his deadly martial arts to fight for her.
Fist of the North Star is the definition of manime: anime so awesome, so action-packed, so head-explodingly manly that you might sprout a beard just watching it. But that’s not all there is to it, even if it does account for most of it.
Why it made the list: Besides Fist of the North Star being anime’s answer to testosterone injections, it’s an incredibly old yet equally classic series about strong men beating other strong men up. As much as Dragon Ball Z is the 90s manime classic, Fist of the North Star is the timeless mindless action anime.
Watch if you like: Action, explosions, martial arts, post-apocalyptic settings, shounen anime, fighting, journeys, older series, long series, classic anime, classic theme songs.
You might also like: Dragon Ball Z, Berserk, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Anime that attempts to describe the internet and its effects on teenagers usually falls flat. Either it focuses too much on the technology or makes weird assumptions about the culture that springs from it. Gatchaman CROWDS on the other hand manages to create a realistic story entirely about how the internet affects us post-2010.
The world isn’t terribly different in 2015. There are a few new social media sites about and even old people have taken to using phones, but no huge advancements have changed humanity forever. This comfortable status quo is in some part thanks to Gatchaman, mech-suited warriors who fight potentially dangerous aliens. But when their latest enemy is a manifestation of people’s will through social media, their only chance at understanding it is through new recruit Hajime Ichinose.
Don’t be confused by the Gatchaman title, this series is only vaguely tied to the 1972 series about super heroes. And while featuring iconic superhero getups, CROWDS is an entirely different entity with an entirely different focus.
Why it made the list: Gatchaman CROWDS manages to capture what makes the internet great and terrible like no other anime has. It treads a careful line between being a superhero show and being an animated thinkpiece and comes away as weirdly compelling because of it.
Watch if you like: Science fiction, aliens, adventure, society, technology, social media, questioning the status quo, super powers, mecha, pandas.
You might also like: Tiger & Bunny, Durarara!!, Summer Wars.
Our last tearjerker on this list is also one which takes heavy inspiration from anime before it. But while Bokurano might not pack too many surprises, it is very straightforward in its imitation, making it a more ideal entry point into harder psychological series.
During a summer camp trip, 15 children come across a weird cave containing all sorts of electronic equipment. As the owner of the devices emerges, he fools the children into singing over their lives in order to fight invading aliens. Pretending it’s a game, the man teaches the children to fight and then leaves them to their own devices, letting the children face danger alone while slowly figuring out the horrible truth behind the game.
Bokurano is more backstory than fighting, with the whole alien invasion plot used to explore childhood tragedies in small arcs. The series is a bit more forthcoming with its drama, leaving you to simply take in the many little stories it has to tell.
Why it made the list: Bokurano brings more dark atmosphere and gritty themes to mecha shows with a young cast, much in the way that Neon Genesis Evangelion did. It falls low on this list for taking a bit too much inspiration from Evangelion but it’s also a good starting point for dark anime that is a bit less abstract in its psychological exploration.
Watch if you like: Mecha, science fiction, drama, melodrama, psychological themes, children, growing up, thinking, crying.
You might also like: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Now and Then, Here and There.
The second of shounen’s Big Three to air, Naruto has forever changed how cool it is to be an orange ninja and has spawned many movies and series, ensuring you get your fix of ninja antics for as long as you need.
When a great demon fox named Kyuibi attacks Hidden Leaf Village, it’s up to the most powerful ninja there to deal with it. Along with forfeiting his life, the ninja manages to seal Kyuubi inside the just-born Naruto, sealing both Kyuubi’s rage and Naruto’s fate. Despite being shunned by the village as a monster, Naruto grows up with a burning passion to become the village’s next leader, a dream which takes him down a perilous path.
Naruto delivers exactly what’s on the tin: cool ninja fighting action, big dreams and bigger characters. But, like most long-running mega-series, Naruto’s strong start leads into a somewhat disappointing end and a weaker sequel, taking this series down the list a notch.
Why it made the list: Naruto is your answer to a long, long shounen series that loves all things ninja-related. It follows the classic shounen path, with plenty of fights and rivalries, and leads into the manga incredibly well. It’s unfortunate that the second half of the series doesn’t live up to the first, but if you’re keen on lots of ninja action, it’s still worth the watch.
Watch if you like: Ninjas, long series, stylistic fighting, idiot heroes, super powers, power ups, broody friends, rivals, watching all the movies, watching the sequel.
You might also like: One Piece, Bleach, Fairy Tail, Hunter x Hunter (2011).