Just going to pop in here and list my all-time favorites, in case anyone who has similar tastes has missed one of them.#1 Steins;Gate
- A 24 episode series that sometimes - but rarely - drags things out a bit more than necessary. Includes surprising plot devices, reveals, and little twists on what you're expecting. Some fourth-wall-breaking also happens in a way that makes it seem like the fourth wall isn't actually being broken (i.e. it might just be a quirk of the character). I've happily watched it more than once - and I generally don't feel that anime has replay value. You'll probably cry once or twice, and you'll definitely feel for the characters.
- It's essentially a crapsack world/tragedy series that at first makes you think it's a slice of life series. It plays with time travel (though you shouldn't look for real science here; several ideas about time get mashed together) as both part of the tragedy/horror and the eventual solution. Ends with a mostly happy ending that leaves things somewhat uncertain - but the movie follows after to make it a happy end (though not a clearly shipped end, for those who want that).
See also: Steins;Gate Fuka Ryōiki no Déjà vu (movie)
- More like an OVA that actually expands on/follows after the series. Not a re-hash. Adds a new conflict and resolution, and provides some happiness/fan service for shippers.#2 White Album 2
- Next to Steins;Gate, it's perhaps the only anime that I've rewatched not too long after finishing it. It has no relation to White Album other than the songs referenced - so please don't let that horrible show bias you. The series is only 13 episodes, and - true to my experiences with limited-run series in general - that reflects the tightness of its storytelling. There isn't a wasted moment of screen time here. You'll feel for the characters, and probably cry several times. They're written quite realistically - especially for an anime - and are all flawed. They aren't as realistic or conscious/intelligent as I'd like, but that's what you get with any semi-harem-esqe love triangle series.
- It's essentially a love triangle heartbreak-tearjerker. two of the characters have previously had limited personal interaction, and the newcomer quickly makes friends with both. The two girls struggle with wanting to keep their friend happy and their friendship in tact, while also wanting to pursue the guy - who doesn't make a move on either of them, but also doesn't stop their advances. I can't tell if he's oblivious about their interest in him until they make it absolutely clear, or if he's committed to not making a move because he's unsure of what would happen (and/or wants to avoid responsibility). The feelings between three and how they react to them end up causing a lot of emotional pain and repression, and the conclusion is powerfully cathartic, joyful, and painful all at once. it probably only gets beaten out by Steins;Gate in my list because Steins;gate had better dialogue and voice acting.#3 Death Note
- Probably everyone has watched this by now (though the manga is better), but there are some who haven't picked up this shounen classic that is as relevant, novel, and exciting today as it was when it first aired. I would have ended the series at episode 25 (because it deviates further from the manga and gets poorer after that - and the manga had started to go downhill at that point, too) and used a different ending than the (unintentionally?) humorous and character-inconsistent one they went with. I've gone back to watch it again once or twice, and - though it's fun - it's less enjoyable on additional playbacks because you know what's going to happen. However, that also highlights just how memorable each element of the series was.
- Essentially, it's a battle of on-the-fly strategy between two geniuses who are trying to reveal each other's identity (with one of them intending to kill the other, and the other intending to prove that the first has committed crimes). The depth of the thinking and the effortless brain power the two have is a big draw - as is their enthusiasm for the game they're playing. A lot of "lightning chess" and "awesome by analysis" moments - kind of like a Sherlock Holmes movie. The subtext is an argument about justice - whether or not it's defined by power, and whether or not the ends justify the means. One character is trying to change the world by killing criminals and controlling people with fear (and enjoys the control he gains, and defeating the person trying to catch him), whereas the other does detective work for his personal enjoyment (figuring out the crime and beating his opponent by proving it happened) and believes that locking criminals up is sufficient. In the end, neither is morally pure or a satisfactory hero, but both are fun anti-heroes to watch - and both of their goals are sympathetic (killing or locking away harmful people; coming out a victor from an extremely challenging competition).#4 Code Geass
- Another series that is a widely-known, enjoyable watch. Though it's often compared to Death Note because of similar themes, there are elements that make it stand out as an anime of its own. At over 50 episodes, it has periods where things get dragged on, and I, frankly, lost interest here and there. While not as character-driven or exciting as the animes listed above, the interesting plot devices, character relationships, and unexpected developments make this one of the better series I've watched.
- Essentially a story of revolution and revenge, it's a hodgepodge of slice of life (as with early Steins;Gate), intellectual and strategic battles (as with Death Note), and tragic moments (as with White Album 2) - with enough surprises and twists to keep you tuning in. One of the main characters is a member of an oppressed population, despite being half-blood related to not only the oppressive population - but the royalty of said population. He seeks revenge on the oppressors and tries to free the oppressed populace from their occupation. Later on, he seems convinced that the two sides can work together with the right people in power - but things take a turn for the worse. The other main character is a member of the oppressed people and the son of one of their most influential people, but who chooses to attempt to change the oppressors from the inside by serving in the royal military. Both suffer loss due to their pursuits and choices, and end up with a plan that doesn't clearly provide a solution and doesn't really leave anyone happy. The show ends with more conflict on the horizon, but a bit of hope that equality and cooperation will come.#5 Legend of the Galactic Heroes
- I'll probably get flack for placing this so low, but it went on for so long (110 episodes) and had so much dialogue while not having a whole lot of excitement or emotion in it. I might have a higher evaluation of it if I re-watched it, but that's a long trek. The fact that I don't recall a whole lot of what happened also makes me wonder if the actual content of the series was that great, or if I mostly enjoyed it for the messages and conflicts it presented.
- From what I recall, it's a series laden with philosophical questions about dictatorship/democracy/governance, war, and sacrifice. An empire run by a man with good intentions and an alliance of democratic states are in conflict, and the two battlefield commanders (one of whom is the emperor) are great combat strategists who have respect for each other's skill and opinions. There's some tragedy involved, but it wasn't a regular theme. There's some intellectual battle/strategy, but it's infrequent. The characters have purpose and backstory, but I didn't feel very invested in them. The series - in my memory - comes off as more of a discussion of themes (though it does them well) than as a whole product (themes, characters, action/excitement/memorable events, and story) - and that's why it's at number 5.#6 Lucky Star
- Though it's 24 episodes long, it sure doesn't feel that way. The time watching them seems to breeze by - like time spent doing something you love in perfect weather (even inside people like me love having screen-covered windows open on nice days). I've re-watched it once or twice, and could easily do so again.
- The show is a feel-good, funny, low-mental-processing episodic series full of references and humorous slice-of-life moments. It doesn't waste the viewer's time with following the girls through their everyday activities - it just highlights the fun/funny stuff. Several otaku jokes are present via the otaku-girl character Konata (otaku here referring to the Japanese meaning of the term, not the pseudo-Japanese Americanized meaning). The post-show show "Lucky Channel" (contained at the end of each episode) has a lot of humorous/fun moments, as well - and so do the live-action antics that occur during the credits sequences.#7 Welcome to the NHK
- Another 24-episode series, but this one drags on at times. It could easily be more concise - and more humorous and more dramatic when it focuses on those themes. I re-watched it because I couldn't really recall it and didn't have a strong emotional connection to it - and the re-viewing reminded me of why: it's long for what it attempts to cover, it's not intended to be enjoyable, and none of the characters end up particularly more happy or sad than they started out. I'm not even sure if they really changed much at all.
- The end of my previous paragraph is the point
, though. It's an examination of the lives of people who aren't happy, who are in the non-crazy fringes of society, and whose life doesn't really change. In that sense (and in most of the content the series includes) it is very realistic - and that's why I liked it. The main male character is a mix of lazy shut-in and agoraphobe - but the fear of crowds is focused on so little and seems to be so easily combated that you're left wondering just how much he really is afraid of being out in public. He doesn't have a job, eats terribly, spends most of his time playing games/reading/masturbating, and doesn't have any friends.
The character is a representation of suicidal or near-suicidal people and people who are unemployed or in the lazy time between college semesters - except that he fails to be any of those things because the writers tried to make him all of them. In the end, he's just a messed up, lazy, no social life, inactive (as in, not even working on personal projects) guy. That makes him unsympathetic, yet relatable in various degrees to many people. The trials he goes through, ways he tries to solve problems (such as lack of money), and how he deals with relationships will be familiar to many - either due to their personal experiences or tales they've heard about others. But none of them seemed on-point for the true-to-life representations I was hoping for.
The secondary male is actually more realistic, despite being less fleshed out. His reactions and behaviors will also be familiar to many. He's the character that - while not getting along with people in general - still is trying to work hard, get an education, make money, and enjoy his time alone. He's embarrassed about his interests and how he spends his money when they're discovered by outsiders, but unashamed when around someone he thinks is safe. His crush on an attractive, popular girl goes unrequited after a hope-driven misunderstanding lets him believe that he might have a shot at getting what he wants - but like many guys, it doesn't seem that he was really interested in the girl as a person
, anyway. Though his attitudes and behaviors invite condemnation, he's probably the most sympathetic character in the show.
Besides the slice-of-life for recluses theme, the main point of the anime is the relationship between the main male character and the main female character - and it's a very broken, sad, and unhealthy relationship, in the sense that neither is a good partner or aiming to be
a good partner.
[Spoiler Alert] [While exact details aren't mentioned, reading on from here might dampen or ruin your enjoyment of the series.]
The main female character has her own issues, and gets involved with the main male character in order to escape from them by focusing on someone else - someone safe. That's all that I'll reveal, because one of the biggest moments (emotionally, thematically, and climatically) involves the reveal of what her issues are and what that implies about all of what happened up to the time of the revelation. Just saying that much might be ruining it. Sorry about that.
In the end, none of the characters are happy, though it seems that the male and female main characters might try to have a relationship - and what you think of that likely will affect how you feel about the series. Even so, the last episodes of the series - for all of their dramatic themes and emotions - weren't nearly as impactful for me as they could've been, because I wasn't invested in the characters.
Watching the series is more like watching a documentary than watching a movie, and I think that was a detriment to it because it neither delivered on a portrayal of real characters/people nor (consequently and/or conversely) on providing characters that one could empathize with. In other words, the characters were amalgams of ideas and events, rather than people-like - and so I almost couldn't care about what happened to them. I watched for the events, which - though semi-realistic - weren't enough for me to rate this as a top pick. Which is too bad, because I think it could have been at #3 or better if done differently.#8 Cowboy BeBop
- A classic that is on nearly every "Top X" list for anime for good reason, but which isn't stellar
. The series contains 26 episodes, most of which stand as more-or-less independent tales involving a core cast of characters. It's a good watch, but there aren't many things to draw a person in for a re-watch.
- Because it's a "bounty hunters in space" anime in which the episodes are mostly used as character introductions and slice-of-life action oneshots, Cowboy BeBop is an easy watch. However, there's little climactic value or continuity to make you tune in from episode to episode - other than the fact that each episode is enjoyable. that changes at the end of the series, but it's arguable whether or not that arc was better than the episodic productions that came before it (of it it was well-executed at all). A good watch, but the lack of overall story, character depth, and dramatic content puts it at the lower half of my list. Still, it's vastly superior to many shows - especially compared to other episodic anime.#9 Baccano!
- Limited to 16 episodes, this is another series that I re-watched partially for fun and partially because I couldn't quite recall it. Re-watching reminded me that a good chunk of it just isn't memorable because it's almost slice-of-life-ish in the way that it portrays the story, but - as with NHK - that's the point
- What I liked about this series is exactly what I think it aimed to make me like - it's a storytelling adventure with an ensemble cast, told like someone reading you the news paper instead of showing you a highlight reel of video clips. There are many characters with varied and interesting backgrounds, and while I never really felt for any of them or get attached to them, the events that occurred were interesting enough to keep my attention. Unlike my top 4 picks and Lucky Star, I didn't ever really look forward to an episode. There wasn't any very compelling or climactic action that led from episode to episode, and it wasn't so good of a series that I was eager to take in another episode. Rather, Baccano! is the type of anime that you can watch when you're bored or lethargic. You won't be wasting your time (compared to other shows), but you probably also won't be enthralled by the story or characters. Really, everything in this series is a very distant priority from relying one series of events from multiple perspectives - which is a goal that it pulls off flawlessly.#10 Nope, my list ends at 9.
- I don't remember any other series that I feel was good enough to put on a "Top 10 Worthwhile Anime" list. There were a lot of series I've watched that were enjoyable or unique (e.g. Chihayafuru, Ergo Proxy, Trigun, Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagaan), but I didn't feel rated highly enough on my top three criteria to list. Those criteria, by the way, are (1) interesting [attention-grabbing; memorable], (2) unique [different in content or goals from the norm], and (3) enjoyable [matches my preferred art style, content, and themes].
In exchange, here is an honorable mention, and an example of an anime that had a great concept at the start - but quickly changed and became unenjoyable.Honorable mention - Angel Beats
- As a 15 episode series, you might think that it would have a concise and well-organized script. Sadly, that wasn't the case. I started off wishing that the anime would get to the point
, and once I found out what the point was, I found myself wishing for more showcases of the individual characters' backstories. Aside from the content of the anime itself - in fact, more
than the content itself - I love
three of the songs that it features and were created for it. The first is the opening theme, which describes a somewhat-sad, somewhat-happy reaction to the central theme of the show. The second is an insert song portrayed as being written by one of the (if not the most) tragic characters. The third is the ending theme used in the last episode, which is a heartbreaking goodbye and remembrance of enjoyable things. The songs will make you cry more than the anime will - and the anime might not make you cry much at all.
- Describing the anime without spoilers is difficult. Most of the episodes are either slice-of-life or portraits of the characters' backgrounds - until very late in the series. Honestly, the slice-of-life things that weren't directly related to the characters' backstories frustrated and bored me, and I considered dropping the anime a few times. because I'd picked it up on very strong recommendations, I told myself I'd give it a few more episodes, and skip ahead by a few minutes every now and then if I wasn't enjoying it. I'm very glad that I kept watching. The anime is full of tragedy - but it's mostly tragedies from the past, rather than new developments. I was a bit annoyed that the anime didn't focus on the tragic circumstances of the present almost at all, actually - especially once some reveals occur. Angel Beats really
should have had a second season, rather than the rushed ending it got. It also needed reorganization, and for a lot of the slice-of-life/action antics to be cut out or sped up - or given more dramatic value or climactic tension.
If it had been given more episodes and clearer direction, this could've easily been in my top 5.From Great to Unenjoyable - Sword Art Online
- What a disaster. The series started off so well
. As an exploration of what it might really
be like to be trapped in a virtual world with your life on the line, it had me completely hooked. Sadly, that theme faded from view and was never really delivered on. I list SAO as an honorable mention solely
for the fact of the initial concept that it failed to develop. By episode 6 of this 25 episode series, that concept of realism was abandoned in favor of of increasingly uninteresting and substanceless "trapped in a game world" direction. By episode 15, it had completely changed course. Instead of being an examination of human frailty and adaptation in a gamer-friendly world, it had become a "princess in a castle", "rescue the girl", forgettable disappointment.
The themes in the initial episodes might have made for one of my top 3 favorite animes of all time if done well as part of a multi-season show. Instead, the more episodes I watched afterward, the more I felt like I'd been tricked into buying a used car that would die after a few hours of driving.