What’s this all about then? Well this is some suggested viewing for people who are only passingly familiar with anime in general or with anime thats come out in the last few years. If the last time you watched some anime it was prefaced by this:
or the words “Studio Ghibli” then this list is for you. If you think all anime is shallow super powered adventures aimed at teenage boys or heaving tits and demon penises, then this list is for you. I’ve tried to cover as many of the major genre’s as I could (so now you have no fucking excuse for referring to anime as if its a genre rather than a medium ;)) without a) sacrificng quality or b) sacrificing accessibility. So the majority of shows listed here require no prior knowledge of or familiarity with anime or japanese culture in general to fully enjoy. If you do end up checking any of them out let me know what you think.
These are listed in no particular order, each entry consists of the title (including a link to anidb.net), two stills from the anime in question, a “What they say” entry which gives a summary of the show and a “Why you should watch it” entry where I try to succinctly tell you why its worth your time and roughly what genre its covering. Might even include a saucy “You may enjoy this if you liked:” option which compares it to other anime/tv/film/etc. So in no particular order:
No. Wait. While this is only about recent anime (more or less last five to eight years) if you havent seen Cowboy Bebop stop whatever you are doing (which is reading this obviously) and go and watch it. It’s not just one of the best anime of all time, its simply a stellar piece of entertainment (it also has a soundtrack which is more or less peerless).
“What’s with this first draft thing?” – Well its a first draft because I’ve neither read back through it nor spell checked it, I also havent seen some of the anime listed in a while so when I get around to re-watching them I can confirm their place or remove them
01 – Psycho Pass
What they say: In the future, it is possible to quantitatively measure a person’s emotions, desires, and every inclination. In this way, it is also possible to measure a person’s criminal tendency factor, which is used to judge criminals.
This is the story of a team of policemen dedicated to maintaining public order. Some of them work in the Enforcement Division, responsible for the apprehension of criminals, while others belong to the Supervisory Division which oversees their colleagues in Enforcement.
Why you should watch it: Because its great. The end. Oh? Not good enough? Give me another go, Because I say you should? What? Still not happy? You picky fucker. You should watch it because it’s an excellent mixture of cyberpunk and noir aesthetics with an intriguing mystery, sprinkled liberally with visceral action, interpersonal drama and even the occasional bit of policework. I enjoyed it because it poses the kind of questions that are at the heart of good cyberpunk fiction and it poses them in a fairly neutral way that doesnt try and guide you to or force any answer. At a shallower level it also looks really nice and is pretty up there in terms of tv anime animation quality. It also can be pretty disturbing at times, some of the stuff the serial killers get up to is, well, messed up. This evokes the cyberpunk work of Philip K Dick moreso than other cyberpunk luminaries, its much more Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep than it is Neuromancer (well to be honest its more of a bridge between the two). Perhaps best of all it takes what at first appear to be obvious uninspired plot twists and does something new and sort of wonderful with them.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Neuromancer, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Bladerunner, Ghost In the Shell (either the movie or the excellent Stand Alone Complex series)
02 – Mushi-Shi
What they say: They are neither plants nor animals. They differ from other forms of life such as micro-organisms and fungi. Instead they resemble the primeval body of life and are generally known as Mushi. Their existence and appearance are mostly unknown and only a limited number of humans are aware of them. Ginko one of these select few, a Mushi-shi, travels around to investigate the Mushi. In the process, he also lends a helping hand to people who face problems with supernatural occurrences that may be related to the Mushi.
Why you should watch it: Because its quite possibly the exact opposite of what you think anime is. Beyond that because its an intriguing, etheral, philosophical exploration of a world that exists intertwined with ours and the odd lifeforms that inhabit it. While it can be creepy, or more correctly, unsettling, at times Mushi-Shi is almost always beautiful.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Other good stuff? Its relatively unique. Its reminiscent of the work of Thomas Ligotti but not as dark.
03 – Planetes
What they say: It is the year 2075. In a world where travelling between Earth, the space stations and the Moon has become commonplace.
Hachimaki is just an ordinary salaryman. He works at a space station collecting dangerous space debris. However, he dreams of owning his very own space ship someday. And so he spends his days collecting debris together with his colleagues Yuri, Fee and his friend Tanabe. Now it is his fourth year doing the same work and he is going to be 25 years old soon, which is why he starts to think about his life.
How does Hachimaki feel? Well, today, Hachimaki is going to do the same job…
Why you should watch it: Because decent hard sci-fi is hard to find? Planetes is largely a drama which concentrates on the relationships between the characters and between them and the world. It also has a sprinkling of humour and action, all wrapped up in a very realistic hard sci-fi setting. It deals with the conflict of being stuck doing what you have to as opposed to doing what you want to and the friction that your dream grating against reality brings.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Classic sci-fi or the more recent hard sci-fi revival, Outland, Alien, Wings of Honnêamise
04 – Steins;Gate
What they say: Steins;Gate is about a group of friends who have customized their microwave into a device that can send text messages to the past. As they perform different experiments, an organization named SERN, who has been doing their own research on time travel, tracks them down and now the characters have to find a way to avoid being captured by them.
Why you should watch it: I’ve read/watched/played a lot of fantasy and sci-fi fiction (a lot a lot). One of the things thats taught me is that if you see time travel pop up in a story you are more or less guranteed that that story is about to go to shit. I dont think I could count even a literal handful of examples where time travel has been handled competently never mind well. It’s usually a shittily executed attempt of the writer to drag himself out of the corner he’s written himself into. As I saw someone put it recently “Time travel is the ultimate “fuck you” to good storytelling.” I imagine you can guess whats coming next. Steins;Gate (like one of the few other good examples such as Groundhog’s Day) uses time travel excellently. No, seriously. It’s really well done. It not only avoids leaving any loose ends or weird paradox’s it ties time travel stuff direcly into the main narrative and uses it to improve the narrative. If that was all it did then it would be worth watching. But S;G goes a step further, it also throws in a great mystery/conspiracy plotline which is paced wonderfully. And then it populates this story with really entertaining characters and even a bit of romance and plenty of humour, action and suspense (and some pathos for good measure). This would be a great story in any medium (and actually began life as a visual novel, which also makes it more or less the best VN->Anime adaption out there as well).
You may enjoy this if you liked: The Game, Death Note, Slaughterhouse Five, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, I’d list 12 Monkeys and The Davinci Code, but they were shit so if you like them you should be too busy slapping yourself to watch Steins;Gate
What they say: Two brothers lose their mother to an incurable disease. With the power of “alchemy”, they use taboo knowledge to resurrect her. The process fails, and as a toll for using this type of alchemy, the older brother, Edward Elric loses his left leg while the younger brother, Alphonse Elric loses his entire body. To save his brother, Edward sacrifices his right arm and is able to affix his brother’s soul to a suit of armor. With the help of a family friend, Edward receives metal limbs – “automail” – to replace his lost ones. With that, Edward vows to search for the Philosopher’s Stone to return the brothers to their original bodies, even if it means becoming a “State Alchemist”, one who uses his/her alchemy for the military.
Why you should watch it: If you think of anime as simply power fantasy action adventures then in some ways this is those kind of shows done right (and also more or less lacking the power fantasy bit). This is just a solid, no not solid, excellent piece of fantasy aventure set in an interesting alternate industrial revolution world. The characters are intersting, well realised and show growth. The world and particularly the magic system are inventive and intriguing. The plot is well written and well paced, building up bit by bit and gradually moving from the personal struggle of two brothers to the struggles of nations (without entirely losing focus on the core story of the brothers). It’s also packed full of action, really some of the fight sequences are up there with anything else you’d care to mention. The animation quality is also top notch. Now you may have seen the earlier adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist. Just huff some glue until you forget it. It was done while the manga was still been written and while ok at the time really cant hold a candle to Brotherhood.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Fullmetal Alchemist (older version), Avatar, The Man with 20 Faces, Buso Renkin
06 – Skip Beat
What they say: Kyoko has devoted her life to Shotaro. When Shotaro came to Tokyo to debut as a singer, she followed him and worked to provide for him. But one day, Kyoko overhears Shota telling his manager that Kyoko means nothing to him. She’s just convenient, a housekeeper. This makes Kyoko furious, and she vows revenge on Shotaro. But Shotaro just laughs at her, saying she won’t be able to touch him because he’s now a popular singer and she’s a nobody. So Kyoko decides to get into showbiz and become even more popular than Shotaro to humiliate him. Unfortunately, Shotaro has destroyed Kyoko’s ability to love, and she discovers that it is a prerequisite for her to debut from her chosen company, LME. The president of LME puts her into a new section made for those who caught his eye but have something missing. It’s name… Love Me Section. On her way to become a pro actress she’s meeting new people like Kanae Kotonami, Maria Takarada, Yukihito Yashiro and the important person in this story – Ren Tsuruga.
Why you should watch it: Well first things first Skip Beat is based on a shoujo manga. Shoujou is a genre thats aimed at girls aged roughly 10-20 so it may come as little surprise to find that its a genre I generally have little time for or interest in. However there occasionally comes along a work who’s quality manages to transcend its genre and Skip Beat is one of those works. It’s primarily a tail of revenge, which turns into a tail about personal growth and then about maybe trying to fall in love again. It’s laced with an excellent sense of humour and doesnt wallow in the melodrama and faux-tragedy the genre is known for. The main character is genuinely competent and its simply interesting when her (well explained) personal hangups about “love” interfere with her drive to improve her career. The first episode can be a bit rough to get through (mainly because the main character is treated like dirt throughout most of it). But I strongly urge you to give it two episodes. If at the end of those two episodes you dont like it (and dare to question my taste). Then no harm, no foul, youve only lost forty minutes of your time (which is a length of time I have easily wasted simply deciding what to watch).
You may enjoy this if you liked: Sex in the City, Perfect Girl Evolution, Any of the myriad of new tv shows every season about “strong independent women” and “sisters doin if for themselves” that I hypocritically dismiss as twaddle
What they say: Itoshiki Nozomu is the world’s most negative person. In his way of thinking, there is no hope or meaning in this existence. Even the three kanji of his name become the two-kanji word zetsubou, “despair”, when compressed. What an ironic twist of fate, then, that he becomes teacher to a class containing his precise opposite, the invincibly positive-minded Fuura Kafuka.
Why you should watch it: SZS is a comedy, a very, very dark comedy. It’s nearly always funny and often absurd. That alone makes it worth watching. But lurking just beneath the surface is a fairly insidious grimnesss/darkness which once noticed adds an entirely new layer to the proceedings. There’s no real overall narrative here. It’s all short one-off episodes or even partial episode vignette’s. It makes for addicitve and at times disturbing viewing. I also find the opening to the first season to be amazing, I cant really put my finger on why, but the music and the visual style just mesmerise my. Actually SZS’s visual style and its odd experimentation with it are also something of a treat.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Gareth Merengi’s Dark Place, Jam, Brass Eye, Dr Strangelove, M*A*S*H (only you know, good)
What they say: In the distant future, people build their homes and raise domestic animals in subterranean caverns called “pits”. This way of life has persisted for hundreds of years, and yet, the people are still powerless against the earthquakes and cave-ins which occasionally devastate their villages. Jeeha is one such village…
One day, while digging tunnels to expand Jeeha’s edges, a boy named Simon happens to find a small, shiny drill. Meanwhile, Kamina — Simon’s soon-to-be “bro” — insists that there is another land above the village and tries to break through the ceiling in order to leave the cavern. He fails; however, an earthquake suddenly occurs, the ceiling collapses, and a gigantic robot — a “Ganmen” — crashes to the cave floor!
Kamina is now certain that there is a world above their tiny pit-village. Encouraged, he begins to fight recklessly against the robot, until he encounters another person who has arrived from the land above. She is a beautiful girl by the name of Youko, who has come from a neighbouring village with a rifle in hand. She has been hunting the robot, but her shots only seem to irritate it. Desperately trying to escape its attacks, Simon brings Kamina and Yoko to what he had previously found: A mysterious robot with a head for a body.
And so begins the “epic” adventure…
Why you should watch it: Epic is a sadly over-used term. But couldnt be a more apt and fitting description for TTGL. This may not be my favourite super robot show (to clarify what I mean by super robot ever but its almost certainly the best one in recent years. It’s packed full of an infectious and uplifiting momentum where things just keep getting bigger and badder so the heroes just get bigger and more badass. TTGL is about shattering limits, its about having your drill pierce the sky, its about hope and friendship and love and war and rising above all of those in your giant fucking robot. Stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion (which I admittedly love) take the super robot genre and deconstruct it, and thats fine. But TTGL takes everything thats great about the super robot genre and mashes it all together and shoves it in your face and says “LOOK! Look at this! This is awesome!”. The word awesome and epic are overused and abused and diluted. But TTGL is a perfect example of what they actually mean. If I’m feeling like complete shit I like to put on literally the first minute of the first episode (which I keep on my main HD at all times), and while it may not cheer me up I have never ever not thought “Fuck yes, this is awesome!”. If you regularly read the shit I pump out you’ll have seen me try and define that moment when you’re watching something and you feel a literal tingel in your brain, the “FUCK YEAH!” moment as I like to call it (though it doesnt always have to be an action heavy bit, stuff like “Please allow me to introduce myself” from V for Vendetta is the same kind of thing). TTGL is all about stuff like that. It has all the other good shit, great characters, good pacing, solid story, lovely animation etc. But really its main appeal is that “FUCK YEAH!” moment. It’s about looking at the impossible and asking it “Who the hell do you think I am !?”
You may enjoy this if you liked: Mazinger, Getter Robo, Voltron, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam, really if you are a fan of action and you dont mind mecha then get this into your eye holes
09 – Akagi
What they say: On a cold and stormy night, Akagi Shigeru crawled out of the ocean, stumbled into a dingy waterfront Mahjong parlor and into a rough Mahjong game. Nangou was heavily in debt and had been offered a chance to gamble it away by the yakuza. If that did not work, they had made sure that his life insurance policy would more than cover what he owed them. That evening’s tiles had not been kind to Nangou and with nothing left to lose, he decided to take a chance and let the thirteen-year-old Akagi play in his place. The events of that evening are still quietly spoken about, of how a rank beginner beat the yakuza rep (or professional) player. It was that night that the legend of Akagi – the genius or monster of the Mahjong game – was born.
Why you should watch it: Akagi, and other manga (and their anime adaptations) by the same author, and a handful of others, represent a genre that we rarely see produced by western media outlets. On the surface its about shady “extreme” gambling and the underworld that surrounds it. But the main appeal is deep psychological warfare the characters engage in. Akagi is a prime example of this, most of the matches in Akagi seem to be more about the gamblers pitting their personal philosophies of gambling or even existence against one another. You dont have to know much/anything about mah-jhong for the series to be appealing. Any of the tricks, mental or physical, are well explained so while it certainly does no harm to know a bit about mah-jhong it wont really impact on your enjoyment of the series. Akagi does have an extremely stylised artstyle which can take an episode or two to get used to. But after that the story and the urge to see what happens next completely replace any concerns over how the characters are drawn.
There is nothing predictable about the characters and the situations they get involved in which keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat from start to finish. The main protagonist, the eponymous Akagi, is particularly intriguing. For a character that doesnt go out of his way to be likeable its surprising how much youre rooting for him by the time the end of the series rolls around.
You may enjoy this if you liked: The Game, Saw, Liars Game, Doubt, Kaiji, Rounders, The Hustler, 21
10 – K-ON!
What they say: This is the first year of high school for the four girls, looking for that very special club.
The healthy and energetic Tainaka Ritsu (club president, drums) decides to join the school’s Light Music Club, only to find out that the club is about to be closed — due to the lack of members. Without much ado she drags along her childhood friend, the shy, mature, and sensitive Akiyama Mio (bass). That leaves only two more members, required to keep club from closing. Luckily the gentle, calm, warm, and cute Kotobuki Tsumugi (keyboard) stumbles into the club, only to be “convinced” by the pleading Ritsu to stay. The last member, the easily distracted klutz Hirasawa Yui, can only play castanets, even though the club needs someone on the guitar, but she is “bribed” — with cake — to stay anyway.
Will Yui be able to learn to play the guitar — the special one she just bought and loves so much — before the four girls graduate?
Why you should watch it: I mentioned in the opening paragraph that I wanted this list to be both accessible and to cover as main of the main anime genres as possible. There’s this idea that recent anime has become inundated/infested (depending on viewpoint) with pointless shows about “cute girls doing cute things”. K-ON! often gets unfairly and inaccurately accused of being the poster child for this. The “moe blob” frontrunner if you will. This is wrong. K-ON! is a coming of age story targeted fairly squarely at adults i.e. people who have already come of age. It’s about building something together with your friends and seeing it grow and seeing time pass. Are there “cute girls” in it? Yes, Do they occasionally do “cute things”? Yes. But to quantify the show based on that is just, well, stupid. It would be like classifying the a-team as “that show about old men building stuff out of toilets” because it happens in one or two of the episodes. While there is a main narrative flowing through it K-ON! is presented very much as a “slice of life” show with a very strong focus on the characters. So if slice of life stuff doesnt appeal then avoid. The general tone is upbeat and positive and the show is often quite sweet, though rarely to the point of being twee.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Any teen drama about friends forming a band, really any teen drama in general, Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, BECK Mongolian Chop Squad,
11 – UN-GO
What they say: The story follows Shinjūrō Yūki, a detective who solves mysteries with his strange partner, Inga. It is set in a futuristic Japan that has been affected by a major war and numerous terrorist attacks, after JSDF forces were deployed as peacekeepers abroad.
Why you should watch it: There is a certain style of mystery, which for want of a better term I shall call Holmesian, which doesnt seem to get used anymore/a lot in western entertainment media. Which I find a shame as the Sherlock Holmes novellas and stories are quite possibly my favourite mystery fiction ever. While the genre isnt super popular in Japan it does seem to maintain a more consistent presence (hell, Detective Conan is nearing its 900th issue). There was a bit of a re-surgence in the last two or three years where a number of “mystery” shows popped up. All of them had a slight supernatural or psychological edge. Though each of them gave different focus to the balance between mystery, supernatural and psychological. Each of them also brought its own unique bits and bobs to the table. Of all of them I think UN-GO is probably the best (aka my favourite). It presents us with an interesting near future world which is at once recognisable but also intriguingly different. The show focuses primarily on the mystery element though it also places a fair amount of emphasis on the supernatural as well. Through the cases the protagonist solves the show also offers exposition and reflection on the world it takes place in and by extension our own. Its rather hard to avoid spoilers while talking aout it but needless to say the mysteries are interesting and the cast is generally excellent. With the main charcters being a particular delight.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Sherlock Holmes, Detective Conan, Death Note
12 – Bakemonogatari
What they say: Araragi Koyomi is a third year high school student who is almost human again after having briefly become a vampire. One day, a classmate named Senjougahara Hitagi, who infamously never talks to anyone, falls down the stairs into Koyomi’s arms. He discovers that Hitagi weighs next to nothing, in defiance of physics and common sense alike. Despite being threatened by her, Koyomi offers her help, and introduces her to Oshino Meme, a middle-aged homeless man who helped him stop being a vampire.
Why you should watch it: Bakemonogatari is based on a series of novels so the series consists of multiple story arcs featuring the same small central cast but focusing on different protagonists/antagonists. All of the stories offer a unique take of interesting mash-ups between traditional japanese myths and legends and more modern urban fantasy/modern supernatural fiction. At its heart thats really what its about, its about ordinary people getting exposed to the supernatural world, which works by its own rules and while its not always necessarily malicious it is often inimical to humans. Sounds good doesnt it? Yes it does. But thats not why I think you should watch it. I think you should watch it because it is almost painfully stylish, from the varied animation styles used to the unique intros and music for each story arc Bakemonogatari blatantly oozes style in a way few anime do. A style which I generally find much to my liking. Bakemonogatari could almost be the hipster of anime’s but its neither vacuous or shitty so sadly it cant. There’s also some amazingly looking action sequences, including one of the best (and goriest, but presented in a weirdly non-gory way) supernatural brawls ever.
You may enjoy this if you liked: The world (but not the softcore porn aspects) of stuff like Twilight, that southern vampire one who’s name escapes me but I’m too lazy too look up because its 4 am, ah shit I rememebred, True Blood. The World of Darkness games and the tv’s and books that spun off from them. Blood The Last Vampire
13 – Eden of the East
What they say: On November 22, 2010 ten missiles strike Japan. However, this unprecedented terrorist act, later to be known as “Careless Monday,” does not result in any apparent victims, and is soon forgotten by almost everyone. Then, 3 months later… Saki Morimi is a young woman currently in the United States of America on her graduation trip. But just when she is in front of the White House, Washington DC, she gets into trouble, and only the unexpected intervention of one of her fellow countrymen saves her. However, this man, who introduces himself as Akira Takizawa, is a complete mystery. He appears to have lost his memory, is stark naked, except for the gun he holds in one hand, and the mobile phone he’s holding in the other. A phone that is charged with 8,200,000,000 yen in digital cash.
Why you should watch it: Well Eden of the East might have a slightly higher barrier to entry than some of the other anime listed here. Because you will probably want to be familiar with one japanese slang term, neet (or you can just mentally translate it as “waster”). Terribly onerous I know. But it’s worth it. The key appeal of Eden of the East lies in the fact that it’s almost entirely its own thing, it feels fresh and new in a medium that is almost defined by adherence to genre tropes.
Also on a personal level I found a number of the themes and plot elements extremely interesting e.g. Flash mobs, augmented reality, the use of power, etc. The series also delivers from a technical standpoint. The animation is fluid and well done, the characters distinctive both visually and in terms of personality. The voice acting and soundwork is all also top notch and even the fact that Oasis does the intro music doesn’t grate that much.
You may enjoy this if you liked: The Bourne Identity (the book not the execrable film), Death Note, C
14 – Gosick
What they say: Gosick takes place in 1924 in a small, fictional French-speaking European country of Saubure. The story centres on Kujou Kazuya, the third son of a Japanese Imperial soldier, who is a transfer student to St. Marguerite Academy, where urban legends and horror stories are all the rage. There he meets Victorique, a mysterious yet beautiful and brilliant girl who never comes to class and spends her days reading the entire content of the library or solving mysteries that even detectives can’t solve. The series mostly focuses on Kazuya and Victorique getting involved in different mystery cases and their struggle to solve them, at the same time forming important bonds with different people.
Why you should watch it: Gosick is another anime of the “Holmesian mystery” genre I mentioned above under UN-GO. Gosick is much closer to homes than UN-GO is, both in the manner in which the mysteries are presented and solved and the time it’s set. It also has a strong supernatural element, much link UN-GO, though quite different in tone. Unsurprisingly it’s quite gothic (gosick being a weird engrish mashup of the word gothic) and it can at times be fairly creepy. The plot and pacing of Gosick is excellent, it used the smaller mysteries at the beginning to build up details on the world and the characters while slowly revelaing the larger mysteries that lurk in the background. While the mystery is the main appeal of Gosick it also has a fairly well done romance, which doesnt resemble the overly-sacchirine “relationship by numbers” romances that a lot of anime is plagued with.
You may enjoy this if you liked: UN-GO, Sherlock Holmes, Detective Conan, The Village, Blood Rain
15 – Natsume Yuujinchou
What they say: Since he was young, a teenage boy named Natsume Takashi has been able to see youkai, but keeping this ability a secret has now become a heavy burden for him and has made his life difficult.
This begins to change when Takashi inherits his grandmother’s “Book of Friends.” He discovers that she, Natsume Reiko, shared the same ability as him and starts to understand why he was always targeted by both good and bad youkai.
After learning the true meaning behind the Book of Friends, which allows him to manipulate the spirits listed within its pages, Natsume undertakes a journey with his bodyguard, the infamous spirit Madara, to free the spirits of their contracts with Reiko.
Why you should watch it: NY is really, well, nice I suppose? That sounds a little twee so let me expand on it a bit. NY is about the bonds between people (be they human or supernatural creatures). Its about how they are formed, what they they mean and what they cost. It’s also about findings ones place in the world, even if you have to make it. Layered on top of these core concepts is an interesting world where a myriad of japanese supernatural creatures make their apperance. Each individual episode is generally its own self contained story, with recurring characters (and in later series an overall plot) and such taking place in the background. The entire series has an air of melancholy around it, while its rarely explicitly depressing its also rarely truly joyful either. Its often about the bittersweet victories that everyday living brings. That can make it tough to watch in big chunks, but luckily as mentioned, each episode stands on its own so its ok to dip in and out.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Mushishi, Spirited Away, Letter Bee
What they say: Most families have a skeleton or two in the closet, but Marika is understandably shocked to learn that what her family has been hiding is a skull and crossbones! And while the revelation that her late father was a space pirate would have been earthshaking enough for most teenage girls, discovering that he was the captain of the notorious pirate ship Bentenmaru will change Marika’s life forever. Because, you see, pirating is a family business, and she’s just inherited the position of captain. And her father’s former crew is quite intent on making sure Marika accepts the job! So what’s a girl to do? Well, if you’re a high school student whose prior total naval experience has been working at the space yacht club, there’s really only one moral dilemma that has to be resolved: are pirates allowed to wear really short mini-skirts? Get ready for intergalactic buccaneering unlike any you’ve ever seen before as the spaceways get broad-sided by cutting lasses, curvy knaves and the sexiest pirate’s chest ever in Mouretsu Pirates!
Why you should watch it: Do you like the original Star Trek series (aka. the best Star Trek series)? Would you like to see Kirk and Spock replaced with highschool girls and Kirk’s sweet romancing of green women replaced with harder sci-fi elements? If the answer to those is yes (and it of course should be yes) then BSP is for you! After seeing shots of the main character and hearing the name I went into this expecting something entirely different than what I got. But I wasnt disappointed. I was expecting anime-space operas where highschool girls in ridiculous anime space pirate costumes do ridiculous space pirate things. Now BSP has some of that in it but by and large its a lot less frentic than the name would imply and its also by and large fairly grounded in hard sci-fi. It’s also got an interesting justification for the pirates and the unique way they operate which makes sense within the premise of the show. So with BSP what you get is a great blend of space opera and hard sci-fi; you’ve got interplanetary princesses and anime space pirates and their ridiculous(ly awesome) halloween pirate outfits , but at the same time you have almost no “soft” space opera sci-fi concession. Really the only soft elements are the artifical gravity and FTL stuff. But theres still lots of great hard sci-fi stuff like solar sails and so on. (Personally I think they should have stuck with the name of the light novel series its based on “Miniskirt Space Pirates”)
You may enjoy this if you liked: Macross Frontier, Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop, Farscape, Andromeda, Star Trek, Lensman
17 – Maoyuu Maou Yuusha
What they say: The story is set in a world embroiled by war between Humans and Demons. The Humans’ greatest hero invades the Demon Queen’s castle determined to vanquish her. However, instead of fighting back, the Queen proposes an alliance with the Hero. She explains how a sudden end to the war can bring further chaos to the world as the Humans once united to stand against their common enemies would eventually begin fighting among themselves, with similar issues already occurring at the Demon Realm. Convinced by her words, the Hero joins forces with the Queen and together they execute a plan to bring prosperity and a lasting peace to both Humans and Demons alike.
Why you should watch it: Because you probably havent come across something like this before. This is a fantasy story where the main characters chose to sidestep and move beyond their established roles in the narrative. Where they set out to change/conquer the world not with sword and magic but by convincing people to use four field crop rotation and grow hardier vegtables. This is a fantasy story where the demon lord’s greatest weapon is a thorough knowledge of economics and where the enemy she’s interested in fighting is war itself. While the series does feature some (pretty cool) action, most of it arises from conflict between the established hierarchal society and the new society being born from an economic and industrial revolution. It’s an extremely novel approach which relies as much on the fact that its a good story as it does on the fact that it’s a fairly original one. If you like fantasy but are tired of the standard fare then check this out.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Spice & Wolf, Holy Blacksmith, Jormungand
18 – Jormungand
What they say: A ruthless arms dealer on a quixotic quest for world peace. A child soldier born into chaotic conflict. Their lives will intertwine as they journey together through the seedy underbelly of the world’s arms market.
Why you should watch it: Because it’s the best piece of modern paramilitary action out there. While the realism level is set fairly solidly around action movie level the grim amoral nature of the chracters and the world presented, as well as the great small unit combat pieces are exactly the kind of things I’d love to see a live action version off. The show is also notable for presenting characters and situations that range from grim to just fucked up without offering any implied judgement. It presents the action and the characters “as they are”. Not really a lot more to it than that, it’s just a good piece of dark action entertainment. Shit, I read parody earlier on about how you can write an anime blog review for any anime even if you havent seen it by talking about how interesting the characters are and how nice the animation is. But fuck it, the characters in this are interesting, particularly for their various world views and how they rationalise or ignore what it is they actually do. I’m not going to bother mentioning that the animation quality is good because that can be assumed if its on this list.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Burn Notice, Classic 80’s action films, Black Lagoon, Hellsing
What they say: The great detective Akutabe has an assistant, Rinko Sakuma, who is trying to learn to summon demons. This is the story of her misadventure when she actually manages to summon 2 demons unexpectedly.
Why you should watch it: At first it’s hilarious, and then there’s that moment where you realise “Oh shit, that’s whats really going on” and it only makes it better. It’s Pokemon if the pokemon were foul mouthed but “cute” little demons who only looked like cute little demons because it made it easier to get their hands on your soul. This is just as dark as Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei but in a slightly different way. I also found it to be straight out funnier, in SZS you sometimes have to dig for both the laughs and the darkness. With YYAS (I’m the fucking king of acronyms, you can tell because I wasted more time typing this than it would have took to write the full name of the show) the humour is right there on the surface and after a while the darkness is too. While it can initially appear shallow and a little crass its actually surprisingly clever and subtle with what its doing. Where SZS is insidious YYAS is subversive.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Jam, The Ninth Gate, Pokemon after your roommate slipped that tab of acid into your cornflakes, Any shitty horror that tiredly trotted out “Ha ha I was not in fact your ally but a creature of naughty evil badness all along!”
20 – One Outs
What they say: The story begins when Kojima Hiromichi, the star batter of the fictional Lycaons in Japan’s Pacific League, heads to the southern Japanese island of Okinawa to train and bring himself out of a slump. There, he meet Tokuchi Toua, a 134-kmph (83 miles per hour) pitcher and the undisputed king of a gambling form of baseball called One Out. At Kojima’s urging, Tokuchi signs up with the Lycaons under an unusual contract: he gets 5,000,000 yen (about US$ 46,000) for every out he pitches, but loses 50,000,000 yen (US$ 460,000) for every point he gives up.
Why you should watch it: One Outs takes a pretty unique approach to the whole sports drama thing. Much like Akagi isnt about mah-jhong its about the mind-games between the players One Outs isnt really about baseball, its about the mind games involved in the main protagonist maintaining his One Outs contract. And it makes for excellent vieweing. Now, oddly enough, while I loathe the real life stuff I quite like sports in fiction, so I’ve got no problem with sports dramas played “straight”. But One Outs is so much more than that, it includes all the usual hallmarks of sports dramas but layers on this great psychological warfare element. You keep watching, you cant stop watching, because you want to and need to see how Toua is going to outsmart the opposing team, or his own team, or how hes going to overcome the odds stacked against him. It makes for quite compelling viewing.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Rookies, Rounders, Last Inning
21 – Tiger & Bunny
What they say: The city of Sternbild is home to many people of different races, backgrounds, and those who are called Next. Next are people who possess special powers. They are the superheroes who protect peace within the city.
These heroes all have a corporate sponsor whose logo is displayed upon their backs. As they overcome disasters and save people, they improve the image of their sponsors. In addition, they earn Hero Points which determines their ranking on the popular Hero TV programme. The Hero with the most points gains the title of King of Heroes.
One of these Heroes is Wild Tiger (Kaburagi T. Kotetsu), a hotheaded veteran with a strong sense of justice. One day, he is suddenly partnered-off with newbie Barnaby Brooks Jr..
Why you should watch it: The series almost perfectly encapsulates everything that is great about modern super-hero’s. It’s, perhaps due to the subject matter, very “Western” in tone, but at the same time it offers a breath of fresh air from the often stale world of “traditional” super-heroics. This is basically a western comics story told through anime. Not just your standard underpants over the tights superhero story either. Tiger & Bunny offers not just your standard superheroic action it also provides us with a satirical deconstruction of how super heroes might function in the “real world”. The idea of commercialised super-heroes isnt entirely new but it hasnt been done as well as this anywhere else. T&B also add’s a lot more into the mix, the tone at the outset is larger than life and fairly comedic but as the show goes on the main characters show real (and realistic) growth and the tone gets a bit darker and more serious. The show does explore some interesting questions, such as what it means to be a hero, in fairly interesting ways. There’s also a strong “buddy cop” feeling to the show’s main partnership and who doesnt love a buddy cop movie/series?
You may enjoy this if you liked: Mystery Men, Watchmen, Cop Out, The Avengers, The Authority, Kingdom Come, POWERS
22 – Chihayafuru
What they say: Chihaya is a lighthearted tomboy, who’s not especially good at anything in particular. Her dream has always been for her sister (an aspiring model) to become the number one beauty of Japan, or perhaps of the world. But then one day she meets someone who tells her that a dream is something that should concern only herself – and something she has to work hard for as well.
At the same time, Chihaya discovers a passion for the old Japanese game hyakunin isshu, also called “karuta”.
Why you should watch it: This is my entry for the “sports anime thats about something that arguably isnt a sport”, in this case the japanese card game “karuta”. This is also my representative for the josei “genre” in general (josei being anime/manga aimed at adult women and girls in their late teens). Chihayafuru has all the hallmarks of your typical shonen sports drama, getting the team together, aiming for the nationals, training, failing, victory, camaraderie, etc. It’s just that the sport in question is a rather odd card game which looks a bit like “extreme Snap!”. Like all goods sports drama the focus is really on the characters and the cast in this definitely delivers. While the focus is on the relationship bewteen the main characters and her two friends/potential love intrests all of the main group get both a solid amount of screen time and some good character development. The card game itself is also presented excellently and some of the more important matches really do generate a great sense of tension.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Hikaru no Go, Akagi, Shion no Ou, Saki
23 – Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!/Even People with Adolescent Delusions of Grandeur Want to Experience Love!
What they say: Yuuta Togashi suffered from chuunibyou while he was in middle school. When he graduated, he put that dark history behind him and forgot about it… or he was supposed to. High school was smooth sailing and full of enjoyment—until the unavoidable, sad event occurs. The event that locks Yuuta into a contract with Rikka Takanashi and disrupts his desperately ordinary life.
Why you should watch it: On the one hand (and at the start) Chuu2-Byo is a comedic slice of life drama about teenagers with bizarre delusions trying to form a club and going about their day to day lives. On the other hand (and as the series moves on) its a touching and interesting coming of age story that deals with broken people trying to face themselves and the world. It also has a really nice love story running through it. To be honest this probably shouldnt be on the list as it may not be super acceptable. But its one of the most enjoyable anime I’ve seen in the last year so that enjoyment alone gets it a place here. The show has a lot of depth to it if you want to look for it. It’s a pretty good commentary on how tough it is to grow up without losing sight of who you are and about modern societal pressures to conform. The animation is also top-notch, showing a level of polish and finesse, particularly during the faux action sequences, which you dont see a lot (or enough) in tv anime. The scene composition in particular is great with some really nice “shots” that ramp up the shows emotional impact. I’ve a feeling this one may be hit or miss (and it certainly isnt flawless, I felt some of the melodrama in the middle portion could have been safely excised) but I’d recommend checking out an epiosde or two at least.
You may enjoy this if you liked: Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, Welcome to the NHK!, Offbeat romantic comedies in general
24 – Another
What they say: 26 years ago, in a third-year classroom of a middle school, there was a student named Misaki. As an honours student, also good at sports, the charming guy was popular with his classmates. When he suddenly died, his classmates decided to carry on as if he was still alive until graduation. Then, in the spring of 1998, a boy named Sakakibara Kouichi transfers to that class, and he grows suspicious of the fearful atmosphere in that classroom. In particular, there is a beautiful, aloof girl named Misaki Mei who wears an eyepatch and is always alone drawing pictures.
Why you should watch it: The horror genre is sadly underrepresented on this list. While a number of the anime listed may have horror elements it generaly isnt the main thrust of the show. In Another it very much is. Another isnt just a good horror anime, its a good horror story full stop. It mixes horror, mystery and (occasionaly copious amounts of) gore to create a fully engaging supernatural thriller. While it starts a little slow once it gets going it doesnt stop. The plot builds naturally on itself and while never predictable it also never feels artificially forced. Along those lines the plot twists are very well done. The conclusion, where a lot of horror stories drop the ball, is particularly satisfying.
You may enjoy this if you liked: The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Exorcist, Shiki, When they Cry
25 – One Piece
What they say: Before he was executed, the legendary Pirate King Gold Roger revealed that he had hidden the treasure One Piece somewhere in the Grand Line. Now, many pirates are off looking for this legendary treasure to claim the title Pirate King. One pirate, Monkey D. Luffy, is a boy who had eaten the Devil’s Fruit and gained rubber powers. Now he and his crew are off to find One Piece, while battling enemies and making new friends along the way.
Why you should watch it: Ok, now the point of this list was to try and convince you that anime wasnt just shonen adventure stuff. But the list wouldnt really be complete unless it included some shonen adventure stuff, because its a massive genre. The current (well for about a decade now really) kings of that genre are the anime/manga Naruto, Bleach & One Piece. I enjoy all three and its hard to pick one over the others. Well no, its not really. The highpoints in Naruto and Bleach are excellent (possibly even better than the ones in One Piece, or at least more appealing in terms of world setup/aesthetics) but there are also a lot of dull boring bits. One Piece at its worst is average. It’s a great show (who’s original english adaptation was butchered, so if you saw that forget it and give it another go). While it hits all the major shonen tropes (escalating power levels, lots of fights, the power of friendship, etc.) what I find most appealing about it is the sense of wonder it evokes in the reader/viewer. It draws you into the characters voyage and explorations and makes it exciting to see whats coming next. Its a pure adventure story which reminds me of how much I enjoyed stuff like Sinbad when I was younger.
Now the more astute reader may have noticed that I mentioned its been running for almost a decade. Which brings me to a little provisio, this is still ongoing and I believe the current episode is around 590. Which sounds like a lot, until you get into the show and then you worry that maybe it isnt enough and by the time you get close to it you KNOW it isnt enough (so then you read the manga).
You may enjoy this if you liked: Sinbad, Naruto, Bleach, really anything that you casually refer to as “anime”
One final note, a lot of these are available free on the anime streaming sight Cruncyroll. However Crunchyroll’s subs are generally average at best. As such I’d probably suggest trying to locate fansubs for them (and because I am an IQ snob, 1080 or 720p versions at that). Each anime’s title links to anidb.net which is a good start to figure out which subgroup has the best subs. A quicker route would be to check out the bakabt.me torrent server – their goal is to archive the “best” version of each show (though they generally dont host licensed shows so you may wish to check out nyaa.eu or Tokyotoshokan for torrents for those)