(aka The Hipster’s Guide to Anime)

I’ve been pondering on and putting this off for a while, so now it’s finally time to reveal some of my favourite anime. I’d originally wanted to do a Top 10, but struggled to decide what to place in the final 2 slots, so have left some extras as a bonus at the end.

Rather than doing rankings within the main 8 here, I’m going to be splitting them up roughly based on themes. I am aware that some of these are very very tenuous, and some could go in more than one category.

I will only be writing relatively short entries on each series, so they won’t go into complete detail, and length will vary from show to show.

I am only covering series here, with one entry being an ONA (Original Net Animation), which is close enough.

For movies, my favourites include: Summer Wars, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Nausicaa.

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Makes You Think

Mushi-shi

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In one sentence

House with Ghosts.

What’s it about?

Mushi are a more primitive form of life, separate from animals and plants, closer to spirits. They live all around, but only a select few can see them. A Mushi-shi (Mushi Master) is one of these people, who use their abilities to solve Mushi related problems.

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This anime focuses on one such Mushi-shi, the silver haired Ginko, as he travels Japan, solving people’s problems or just encountering Mushi along the way. The story is episodic in nature, with rarely more than a single episode per story and only a handful or recurring characters outside of Ginko. In some episodes Ginko isn’t even the main character.

Why I enjoyed it

There’s a lot to appreciate about Mushi-shi, including the stories, characters, music, sound direction, art and general atmosphere of the show. There was a tremendous amount of care and effort put into the anime version, and it shows. Music was supplied by traditional Japanese instruments. In many cases roles were filled by an age appropriate cast. Intense detail was put into matters such as lighting, so it would match with the location and time of day.

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Most episodes of Mushi-shi are calm and fairly slow, and some might find them boring, but they can usually tell powerful stories. The majority tend to deal with tragedy and loss in some way, so it’s not usually a happy show. They often end on happier notes, with the characters coming to terms with their losses, or being cured of their problem, but Ginko isn’t infallible.

Individual episodes can develop their characters more than some shows manage in entire seasons.

Mushi-shi is a show you just have to let soak in and become absorbed by.

Kino’s Journey

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In one sentence

Dora the Explorer, except people are trying to kill her.

What’s it about?

Kino is a traveller who visits different countries around the world with her talking motorcycle Hermes. She lives by a rule of staying no longer than 3 days, because she doesn’t want the temptation of settling down somewhere. This means that no matter how nice a place is, she has to move on.

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This is another episodic show, with most episodes dealing with a different country or encounter, and Kino learning about their people and culture. Throughout the course of the show it touches on a lot of different themes including, the value of human life, what it means to be an adult, the cost of war, and religious prophecy.

Why I enjoyed it

Kino’s Journey was a show I watched fairly early on at University, so it’s left an impression on me because of that. The format of the show allows it to tell a variety of different stories, touching on several philosophical issues. It can be a good breeding ground for discussion if you’re watching it in a group or with friends.

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It has probably my favourite ‘tournament arc’ of any show, not least because it only last 2 episodes rather than dragging on forever. The actual fighting is fairly minimal, but we get to learn about the characters involved and the current country along the way.

The show doesn’t shy away from more disturbing elements, as can be seen in Land of Snow and Land of Peace, with reveals that have to rank right up there in terms of shock value.

I also enjoyed Kino’s character and outlook on life.

Time of Eve

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In one sentence

Do Androids Dream of Electric Starbucks?

What’s it about?

In the near future, humanity has developed life-like androids which have become integrated into everyday life. Under normal circumstances the only way to tell them apart from humans is via the glowing halo above their heads. Most are employed as helpers around the house, since they can cook, clean and pick up the kids from school.

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Young people have started to treat the androids just as if they were other humans, and this worries the older generation, who label them as ‘Android-holics’.

Within this world, Time of Eve is a cafe where the only rule is ‘No discrimination between humans and robots’. Here the halos are turned off, so at a glance you can’t tell who is human and who is machine. One day high school student Rikuo stumbles across the cafe whilst checking his house robot’s logs, and we follow him as he meets and interacts with the many regulars at the cafe.

Why I enjoyed it

Time of Eve was the anime that got me excited about new shows again, and helped me into getting a Crunchyroll Subscription.

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The show achieved a lot on its relatively small budget, with gorgeous looking characters and visuals, despite the use of CG, which often mars anime productions. It’s thankfully usually relegated to backgrounds, with the only major use for characters being ‘Nameless’, where it’s appropriate to set the character apart from everyone else.

I enjoyed the use of camera work in the show, because most anime is very lazy with this, just focusing on close ups or panning shots in order to save budget. One of my favourite uses of the camera is the back and forth during the conversation in ‘Nameless’.

Figuring out who was and wasn’t a robot was another interesting part of the show, sometimes turning your expectations on their head.

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A big part of the enjoyment for me came from its use of the sci-fi setting, and how believable a future it felt. If we ever develop robots of this kind, we’re going to have to deal with the same issues. I can see young people empathising with robots, much to the chagrin of their elders, and anti-robots groups springing up along the lines of current anti-GMO ones. I also liked how it dealt with the idea of whether or not the laws of robotics allowed for a robot to lie.

Miyuki Sawashiro plays the most convincing toddler I’ve seen in anime.

Keep an eye (and ear) out for Easter Eggs, such as the Pale Cocoon cameo, or the throwback to Chobits, another well known show about human / robot interactions.

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“Action”

Baccano!

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In one sentence

Guy Ritchie: The Anime

What’s it about?

Warring gangland families, alchemists, idiot thieves, assassins, and much more cross paths in Depression Era America.

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Split across several different time periods we see how a large cast of intersecting characters interact, whether it’s being inducted into a mafia family, trying to survive a serial killer aboard a speeding train, or going on one of the stupidest crime sprees in the world.

Why I enjoyed it

Baccano! is one of the most fun times you can have with an anime, but it’s not the easiest one to start. Told in a series of parallel asynchronous stories it can be hard to keep up with, and likely requires repeat viewings to appreciate details properly. The first couple of episodes really throw you in a the deep end, but it’s well worth the ride if you persevere.

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Baccano has a style and energy to it that’s hard to find anywhere else in anime. Cowboy Bebop and the currently running Blood Blockade Battlefront are probably the two easiest comparisons to make. Unlike the other Narita series which has been turned into an anime (Durarara!!) the energy and fun is maintained throughout the show, with rarely a dull moment. The cast are clearly having fun as well, such as Sugita’s role as Graham in the extra OVA episodes.

The music in the show is fantastic, topped off by the opening sequence which introduces many of the named main cast, and a few hidden cameos which you’ll only spot later.

The show can be gleefully violent at times, so not for the squeamish.

Given the setting, it also has a very appropriate English dub, which plays up the gangster setting.

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Chihayafuru


In one sentence

Extreme Poetry

What’s it about?

Karuta is a traditional Japanese card game, where you have to try and snatch poems before your opponent. The story focuses on Chihaya Ayase and her High School friends as they strive to become the best players in Japan.

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You follow all their trials and tribulations through a variety of contests, learning about the intricacies of the game along the way.

Why I enjoyed it

Far from being the dullest thing imaginable, it’s a gripping drama as Chihaya strives to be the best player in Japan. I’ve already written on this before, so I won’t spend too long repeating myself.

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The show has the whole package, with strong art, music and characters, leading to some of the most gripping and emotional moments I’ve experienced in anime. You’ll care more about a poetry card game then you ever thought could have been possible.

Sci-Fi

Planetes

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In one sentence

Rubbish Men in Space

What’s it about?

With space debris becoming a growing problem, it’s up to someone to clear up the mess. Ai Tanabe is a new recruit to one of the clean up crews, and she soon learns that space isn’t as glamorous as you might think.

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The show develops beyond merely being about picking up rubbish, and starts looking into politics, such as who has the rights to space, and divisions between the rich and poor countries. It also looks beyond Earth, with an impending mission to Jupiter on the horizon.

Why I enjoyed it

Planetes is probably the ‘hardest’ sci-fi anime out there, with a believable take on life in space, and an accurate portrayal of the physics.

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Ai starts off as a bit annoying and optimistic, especially in her views on love, but she grows on you over the show. The same is true of Hachimaki, whose attitude on life changes thanks to the Jupiter mission.

The show also frames some important political issues around the concept of space exploration, matters which we’re surely going to have to deal with soon in real life too. The debris problem is already a very real one, and there are many plans out there on how to deal with this. There’s a sort of running joke on io9 to try and post Planetes in the comments every time there’s a post on this topic.

There’s a very good scene towards the end using Shiritori, but it would be massive spoilers to say anything more than that.

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Based on Books by Tomihiko Morimi

The Tatami Galaxy

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In one sentence

Groundhog Day: The University Years

What’s it about?

Ever wondered how life might have turned out if you’d just made different choices here and there? For the main character of The Tatami Galaxy (simply referred to as ‘Watashi’ / Me), he gets to see how much University would change for him depending on which club he joined in the first year.

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There are some constants in life though, such as his ‘friend’ Ozu, and the object of his affections Akashi.

The ending reveals a very clever choice in the English title.

Why I enjoyed it

The Tatami Galaxy is probably the most ‘artsy’ entry on this list, coming from Masaaki Yuasa. Visually the show is unlike most other anime, except for his other shows. I quite liked the clean white character designs compared to most other anime.

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It’s an interesting take on the time loop concept, and I like all the little hints dropped throughout to the other loops. For example the old lady keeps incrementing what she says each episode, and I seem to recall events from one loop overlapping with another. It’s been a while since I watched the show, but something with his bicycle. I’m going to abstain from commenting on the ending, beyond saying that I thought it was a clever way to finish things.

The show has an interesting cast, especially since the setting allows for different portrayals of them in different loops. If you’re wondering who that cowboy is, you’ll have to wait and see what he’s a personification of.

I imagine this show probably resonates more with those who have been through University, given its content.

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The Eccentric Family


In one sentence

Just like your own family, if they were shape shifting Tanuki.

What’s it about?

The Eccentric Family is about supernatural, and not so supernatural beings in Kyoto, whether it be Tanuki, Tengu or humans.

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Tanuki society has recently lost their leader and it’s time to elect a new leader, but will it be one of his sons, or his scheming younger brother?

A group of humans known as the Friday Fellow are also on the look out for their next Tanuki hot pot, so they’d better watch out.

Why I enjoyed it

I think this is PA Works best show, and also their most atypical. Gone are the shiny eyes and sad girls which populate most of their shows. Well, most of the sad girls.

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Despite the fantastical setting at it’s heart it’s a story about a family dealing with loss. This makes it relatable, even if you aren’t familiar with the Japanese folklore of the story. Being familiar will probably heighten your enjoyment though.

The general Tanuki view on life and death I found intriguing too, since they were very accepting of events and just treated being eaten as an inevitability, as much as they might sometimes resist it. This was something that was very unlike the humans they pretended to be.

The opening is an excellent introduction to the series, embodying the main character, Yasaburo’s, view on life, and desire to enjoy himself. The ED also introduced us all to fhana.

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Benten is an interesting character with an air of mystery about her, stuck between the human and supernatural worlds. Her complicated interactions and situation with Yasaburo made for an interesting watch.

Since I watched this on Crunchyroll, it should be noted that I liked the translation choices they made, such as ‘Friday Fellows’ rather than the more correct ‘Friday Club’, something which from what I can tell didn’t carry over to the disc version.

Honourable Mentions / Also Rans

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

This was probably my favourite anime in University, and has had a massive influence over where I am now with anime. I’m not so sure I’d feel the same now overall, especially after things like Endless Eight. I also felt fairly cold towards the movie when I saw it. Whether this was down to how I was feeling at the time, I’m not sure. I may revisit the movie one day.

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Cowboy Bebop

Another big influential show, this time from the Cartoon Network period. Has a style to rival Baccano!. Not watched it in ages though, and as mentioned at the start I was fighting a bit over the final slots for a top 10. Excellent use of music. Has a very good dub too.

Gunslinger Girl

Season 1 only. This was another show from my earlier days in anime. Far from being just a ‘girls with guns show’, this explored the lives of the girls and how they dealt with being turned into weapons. First season was very well done, and then it nosedived for season 2. The manga is definitely recommended as a follow up.

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Be warned, for some people the very concept of the show, terminally ill girls turned into cyborg assassins to fight terrorists, is a complete turn off, and their repulsion to that will be too much to like the show.

Shirobako

Very good show from PA Works which concluded last season. Possibly still too recent / fresh in my mind to consider going on an all time best list yet. One of the most adult and mature shows in recent memory.

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Death Parade

Similar situation to the above, in that it’s only recently aired. This was a good show, and the finale was incredibly emotional for me.

Giant Robo

Giant robots and super powers. What more could you want? Has the predecessor to Pacific Rim’s “It’s Nuclear” moment. Also a guy pretty much punches the Death Star.

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Gurren Lagann

Giant robots and drills. I found the series lots of fun when I watched it, but it was a while ago. My interest waned in the middle a bit, but after the time skip they just wouldn’t stop upping the scale, which was fun to watch. Superman isn’t the only one who can punch things so hard the walls of reality break.

Natsume’s Book of Friends

This is like a more light-hearted version of Mushi-shi, about a young man who can see spirits, and inherits a book full of their names from his Grandmother. This can switch between touching and funny moments, and has some of my favourite OP/ED. I’m fond of this for personal reasons, but wasn’t sure if it would break a top 10.