This week’s theme is all about TV! I thought I’d do something a little bit different, and share ten of my favourite Japanese animated TV series (animes). I started watching anime when I was in high school, long before the days of Youtube or Netflix, when most anime had to be downloaded from questionable websites, and we were heavily dependent on funsubs, in which dedicated fans created their own translated subtitles (sometimes with unintentionally hilarious results). Narrowing this list down to just ten titles has been a real challenge, since I’ve got nearly twenty years of viewing history to draw from, but I think I’ve got a good starter list here. There’s some old favourites, a few timeless classics, and a couple of new-to-me titles all thrown into the mix.
Now, this definitely isn’t a “top ten” list in the traditional sense, rather it’s just ten series that I’ve really enjoyed, listed in no particular order. If you’re new to the genre, any of these titles could be a great starting point, and they’re all widely available now on DVD or on streaming services like CrunchyRoll or Netflix.
I also tend to prefer fantasy/science fiction-themed animes, rather than high school stories or comedies, so that’s predominantly what you’ll see on this list.
NOTE: I just can’t bear to watch subtitled programming – it’s subtitles or bust for me. No one can emote like a Japanese voice actor (seiyū). No one.
This is the series that first introduced me to anime (and to manga – I bought the entire series in Japanese. Without being able to read Japanese. Nerd…) all those years ago. Mamoru Chiba, aka Tuxedo Kamen, was my teenage heartthrob, and I loved everything about this classic series. Sailor Moon and her band of teenage superheroes must battle evil while looking super cute in their school uniform-inspired superhero costumes. It’s not subtle, but it’s actually a lot more complex than you might think, especially if you watch the entire series in its original incarnation (the American adaptation tried to turn the two lesbian characters into COUSINS…yuck….) This is also one of the few shoujo series that will show up on this list – I typically prefer shōnen anime/manga, though honestly I’ll watch almost anything.
This visually stunning, highly stylised, hip-hop influenced series takes the classic buddy movie trope of two mismatched partners and transports it to an anachronistic interpretation of Edo-era Japan. A young woman hires two polar-opposite swordsmen to accompany her on her mission to find a mysterious samurai. This is a shorter series, too, making it a great entry point for anime newbies.
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Fairy Tale is non-stop action and noise, but boy is it a lot of fun. Fairy Tail is a famed and powerful wizards guild, which is home to a motley crew of wizards, including our hero Natsu, a fire-wielding wizard, and Grey, an ice-wielding wizard, among countless others. The series has been going on for ages, but the first few seasons are currently available on Netflix. Action, adventure, friendships and lots of popcorn fun.
Fullmetal Alchemist / Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
When their mother dies, two brothers turn to the dangerous, dark arts of alchemy in a desperate bid to bring her back. The results of their actions are catastrophic, and the boys must embark on a perilous journey to undo the damage they’ve caused. This is another well-known classic, and with good reason – great characters, great stories and great music make this a definite winner. There are actually two different series with similar names based on the same manga, with one follows the manga more closely than the other. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is available on Netflix (and is my preferred series), but both are worth watching.
Attack on Titan
One of the best things about anime is that’s there’s really something for everyone. Love fluffy happy high school romances? There’s an anime for you. Love dark, disturbing, violent end-of-days stories? There’s Attack on Titan! What’s left of humanity lives in a walled city, fighting a desperate battle against the horrific, towering monstrosities known as titans. When the city’s walls are breached and Eren’s mother is killed, he and his sister and friends are drawn into an epic struggled to save the remaining citizens and discover a way to defeat titans once and for all. This is definitely one of the more violent anime, and it is a major adrenaline rush.
I discovered Bleach when I was in college, and I quickly became obsessed. Soul Reapers are like grim reapers, magical beings responsible for guiding souls to the afterlife. When high school student Ichigo meets and grows too close to a Soul Reaper, he’s drawn into a complicated and dangerous power struggle that might cost him and his friends their lives. Action, adventure, humour and a delightfully potty-mouthed stuffed lion make this one a classic.
Hunter X Hunter
Our hero is a little boy named Gon, who is on a mission to find his deadbeat dad. To find him, Gon will have to pass a deadly series of tests to become a qualified Hunter like his father. Gon is just so darn chipper, never letting anything get him down, and he gathers a motley band of friends in his wake. I’d say this is geared towards a younger audience, except that there are (as usual) a few king of disturbing sexual elements that might make me a little bit uncomfortable recommending this to children. Still, with its engaging story arcs and likeable characters, this is an exciting bildungsroman that’s definitely worth taking a look at.
Any list of the “the best anime of all time” is likely to include this weird futuristic western. A crew of bounty hunters on the good ship Bebop travel through space in search of the next big job (and the meaning of life). This is anime at it’s most thought-provoking, touching on such heavy concepts as existentialism and ennui. This is the series that’s credited with introducing the West to anime in a big way, and has acted as a gateway for countless Western fans. In fact, while Sailor Moon introduced me to anime as a whole, it was Cowboy Bebop that showed me just how complex and addictive anime could truly be, and turned me into a life-long devotee. It’s strange, it’s weird, and it proves that animation isn’t just for kiddies, and deserves to be so much more.
Imagine a world with no stress, no crime, no danger. A perfect world of order and happiness. I don’t think you need me to tell you that such a world is probably too good to be true, and of course in the world of Psycho Pass, it is. In the totalitarian Japan of the future, sensors constantly scan the population, monitoring individuals’ emotional and mental states, and calculating the probability of any individual committing a crime or becoming “unhinged”. The members of the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division are there to pick up the pieces whenever something goes wrong. This series is dark in every meaning of the world – the characters are conflicted, the violence is gory, the story lines are complex, and the lighting is so dark that it’s sometimes difficult to make out what’s going on. Still, this is a stylish, thought-provoking adult anime that poses major questions and creates engaging story lines.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Even if you know next to nothing about anime, you’ve probably heard of this series. It was one of the first few series I ever watched, and it was so unlike anything I’d ever come across in Western television. The series has been hailed as a classic of the medium, and with good reason. It’s complex and complicated, turning the traditional, macho mech story line on its head. A group of teenagers are society’s last hope of survival against horrific monsters known as Angels, but how much must they sacrifice, and how far is mankind willing to go to achieve survival? Great action sequences that still hold up today, fascinating characters, complex story lines and thought-provoking questions come together in this unforgettable series.
So there you have it, ten of my personal favourite anime series. Have I missed some fantastic titles? Absolutely, but if you let me ramble on about all of my favourite series you and I would be hear all night. But if you have an absolute favourite that I didn’t mention, please let me know, I might not have seen it yet, and I’m always looking to discover great anime!
Have a great week, everybody!!