Recommends: My Top 20 Anime Series (Part 1)
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
“Anime – it’s not something that can be thought of in a hall for conferences. It is made out of strange juices current from the brain of animators.” – Gintoki Sakata, Gintama
I had to do this list. Going through my Top 20 Influential Anime films, many tied in with series and it made me realise that anime branched out its influence outside the cinematic realms. Many of the biggest names in the film industry and gaming industry draw much of their inspiration from Anime series. To deny its impact on western culture would be an injustice to the medium. It is weird and sometimes ridiculous but its amazing that brains can even come up with something so ridiculous. This list was compiled after much thought and deliberation as a way to show how diverse the stories Anime can tell and how much it means to me. Because it’s more than just 2D, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
Note: There are plenty of shows I really like but I had to think diplomatically this time. Like Yona of the Dawn, if you need the manga to feel complete (although it has one of my favourite romance adventure stories) it seems crazy to add another series unfinished. There aren’t too many of these shows left on here. I tried to be tactical with the term influential. What stayed were the shows I distinctly remember striking a chord with me.
20. Orange (Dir. Hiroshi Hamasaki & Naomi Nakayama, 2016)
(Sub) 13 Episodes + Film (Orange: Future, 1hr)
This is a series I recently completed and felt was shockingly underrated. Orange, an adaptation of Ichigo Takano’s Manga of the same name, follows a teen-aged girl who receives a letter from her future self, telling her that the new transfer student who they will befriend, will not be with them in the future but that the events of the next few months are critical to his survival. At first she questions the legitimacy, until minor events and details in the letter star to come true. It’s a slice-of-life romance series that brims with originality and a melancholic tension which will have you bingeing it to get to its conclusion. I found a need just to end on a happy episode.
Of course this is not a flawless production, it lacks the budget it deserved and even its hour long movie lacks some of the satisfaction its viewers deserved partly for its need to recap from a different Point of View without changing that much. But ultimately, it’s worth your time. It explores remorse, guilt, depression and suicide and most of all being brave enough to share your true feelings with someone. The power your words can have on others. Orange comes with a lovely set of characters with healthy, far more realistic relationships than your usual dramatic romance. It packs a punch and lingers with you long after. What a lovely bunch of friends they all are!
19. Samurai Champloo (Dir. Shinichiro Watanabe, 2004)
(Sub) 26 Episodes
A young woman, after rescuing them from execution, hires a skilled samurai and a gluttonous warrior to help in her search for the Samurai who smells of Sunflowers. Taking place around the mid to late 1800’s Japan, Champloo is a period action anime set to the sound of Nujabes (A one-time collaboration, and the only anime soundtrack he ever worked on) hip hop and far more educational than one would expect. And I think about that a lot more than I should.
Watanabes follow up to Cowboy Bebop is another experimental piece in the way that its predecessor was. Where Bebop is Watanabe’s Magnum Opus, this feels more like he’s just having some fun. It’s different in every way. But what unites his work are his distinctive visual flare (always cool and sleek) and his amazing use of music to carry a show and set of characters from great to awesome. Without the weight, and lacking that delicious look (90’s, 2D lushness, all blues, greys and reds - I'm totally lusting over Bebop here), Champloo is still great in its own right. The palette is warm oranges, with key animation completed by the same team for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. The characters are great, coming with some satisfying arcs (in particular the fabulous Jin) but seems to not take itself too seriously. When it does, it hits hard and fast, Gamblers and Gallantry (Ep. 11) and Misguided Miscreants (Ep. 13 & 14) are particular episode highlights for me. Overall the show has optimism. It’s Watanabe when you don’t want your heart ripped out.
18. Pokemon (1999-2001)
(Dub) (Indigo League) 80 Episodes + (Orange Islands) 36 Episodes + 41 Episodes + (Johto League Champions) 52 Episodes + 4 (Great) Movies (Including Mewtwo Returns)
Nintendo's genius marketing campaign that still has me enraptured twenty years later. Nostalgia entry now. This isn’t high art, but its food for the soul. It taught me as many life lessons as Winnie-the-Pooh and it’s just as cute as well. The dub of this show is iconic, legendary even and can cause fallings out when discussing which generation is best. Well I’ve decided for you. From Indigo all the way to Johto, they’re the best okay!
Do I need to explain the plot? Ash Ketchum is on the quest to be the Pokémon Master, get all the Gym badges and fight in the League. But along the way, he learns about friendship and treasuring the Pokémon as more than just tools. And that’s when we all yell at whoever put the onions in the room. I love it so much. I still own the soundtrack. I love Pikachu, Ash, Misty, Brock, Team Rocket, Gary Oak… it has one of the funniest and stupidest cast of characters. Better than that, it has Charmander (And THAT episode… that little leaf he tries to protect himself with!)
Gotta Catch 'em All!
17. Death Parade (Dir. Yuzuru Tachikawa, 2015)
(Sub) 12 Episodes
The show with the most misleadingly upbeat intro of all time. This was a very, very recent watch and knocked Eden of the East out of the running simply because in 12 episodes, my heart was broken and then faith was restored. For such a morbid looking show - the character designs are Emo as hell - it has a brilliant message. An ‘Arbiter’, a creature assigned to judge humans in the afterlife, challenges his guests to different games so as to assess their souls and the proper outcome for them; Reincarnation or The Void. As time goes on he begins to question the methods he must use as each case becomes more complex.
It, surprisingly, is a life-affirming show. A story of death to remind us to live. And more importantly a reminder of our incapability to judge anyone at all and the complexity of the human condition. Each case comes with its own set of dilemmas, circumstances and scenarios that wildly change your view of the players involved through each episode. It’s psychologically thrilling but ultimately philosophical in the way we assess human behaviour. This is a great show if bleak in some places. Perhaps not starting point material but certainly worth a visit.
16. Ouran High School Host Club (Dir. Takuya Igarashi, 2006)
(Dub) 26 episodes
Still one of the funniest comedy series I’ve ever seen and with enough major players that you would be hard pressed to pick a favourite host. This one is based on the manga of the same name by Bisco Hatori. It follows poor transfer student Haruhi who, after moving to an outrageously large school for rich kids, gets lost and winds up in the Host Club room. After stumbling upon the club members, she accidentally breaks a vase and is hired by them to make up for the damages. Only they didn’t know Haruhi was a girl, and upon finding out disguise her as a boy for their female clientele.
Spoofing the Reverse Harem genre (One girl and hell of a lot of guys lusting after her), it’s also pretty progressive, throwing much of what we know about gender stereotypes out of the window, and all the way back in 2006. Haruhi is a tomboy, Tamaki is more the princess of the show. Some of it doesn’t hold up so well now but then it was one of a kind. The story and characters more than make up for this. The cast and their various outrageous attitudes and behaviours get them into a lot of trouble with rival clubs, schools and even Haruhi herself. Yet they’re all so lovable as they do it. There’s a little romance, but nothing beats watching the spoilt boy’s manoeuvre their way around real life problems.
15. Toradora (Dir. Mitsue Yamazaki 2008)
(Dub) 25 Episodes + 1 OVA
Binged during a nasty bout of the flu long ago, this show got me through it. Cherished and loved by many, it’s considered by most as one of the best High School Romance series of all time. An adaptation of Yuyuko Takemiya manga of the same name, it’s less cutesie, plays with gender-reversal, very funny and explores genre conventions as much as it can with the wild cast it has.
Ryuji is a sweet-tempered clean-freak who intimidates his classmates because of his angry-looking face, meanwhile rich girl Taiga is disliked by her classmates for her aggressiveness and hostility, mostly associated with her small frame. The two meet and eventually help one another out with their pending crushes, in (unfair) exchange; Ryuji does much of the housework for Taiga and feeds her a lot too. Their romance is sweet, their friendship even sweeter with the two complimenting one another immensely. Even their crushes are likeable, as weird as they are. The show ultimately explores the contrast between true love and an infatuation, revealing how much more meaningful the exchanges are.
14. Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun (Dir. Mitsue Yamazaki, 2014)
(Sub) 12 Episodes + 15 Mins worth of shorts.
Another trope-bending show. And also incredibly funny. A romance that focuses more on the comedy, packed full of great characters that before long you are struggling to decide who you like the most. Nozaki-Kun is an adaptation of the manga by Izumi Tsubaki and deserves a bit more attention than it currently gets.
Chiyo attempts to confess to her crush, fellow student and manga artist Nozaki. Oblivious, instead he gives her his autograph and hires her as his background artist. Overtime, through various exploits including research for his cringey romance manga (Involving the romantic implications of a tandem bike, reviewing the effectiveness of the surprise by becoming Chiyo’s chair before she has a chance to look at what she is sitting on and trying sailor uniforms on himself so that he can use it for later reference only to curse his masculine body when it does not fit), we meet more of his colleague helping him out and the cast grows ever bigger along with the laughs.
Although Nozaki has to be the densest love interest in the history of rom-com, Chiyo never stops fawning over him. Pretty sweet. It plays against gender stereotypes (once again), with a multitude of characters throwing aside conventions. I love them all, and it’s a shockingly short series that I would have loved to have seen doubled!
13. Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku (Dir. Yoshimasa Hiraike, 2018)
(Sub) 11 Episodes + 2 OVA
Something for the nerds and finally out of High School. A mature series, an adaptation of the rom-com manga by Fujita, it focuses on a group of Otakus (fangirls and boys) that work in an office together, some more closeted than others about their passions. Our protagonists, who get together out of convenience soon discover that they have found a perfect companion in one another. Some of the most realistic relationships in Anime are captured in this show, balancing the new-lovers with the seasoned couple who fall out more often than they like to admit but have the relationship and comfort-ability we all crave in the end. They became my favourite to watch.
The best thing about the show is how it tells you to be yourself, embrace the nerd in you and you’ll find something worth having rather than hiding it away. Stay true to yourself, and maybe you’ll find a handsome nerd boy who is somehow physically fit but games in all his free time. But joking aside, it’s a lovely show and refreshing to see something that takes the drama out of the confines of the school yard and opens it up to the realistic world of challenging adult living.
This is a series that desperately deserves a series two, has been shanked in English language release and can only be followed up in the manga if you want the rest of the story (although they have not all be translated into English!). Still worth the watch for how it changes the way we look at anime and nerd culture. And by the looks of things, we may be getting another OVA soon.
12. Ghost Stories (Dir. Noriyuki Abe, 2000)
(Dub) 20 Episodes
A group of school children fight ghosts at their school, seeming to have been unleashed following all the construction work going on around town. Sounds pretty lame though, right. Based off a very popular children’s book series of scary stories in Japan, it should have been a hit there. But it wasn’t. The plot in the west? Bad-mouthed pre-teen, a randy boy, his rand-ier Jewish friend, a devout Christian, a whiny crying child and a talking cat fight ghosts and insult one another when they’re not being disturbed by the irresponsible adults around them.
Can this even count as an Anime at this point? Because it resembles nothing of the original. That is all thanks to ADV’s legendary dub. So great, no one even talks about the sub unless it’s to discuss its failure. Because it failed big in Japan and was sent to the US with the instructions that they could do what they liked with it as long as names and how the ghosts were defeated were kept the same. So ADV took a child-friendly show and turned it adult-only. And it’s perfect for it.
Side-splittingly funny, rude and ridiculous, it would never get away with it now. It barely got away with it then. But its every voice actors dream to have their way with something they are dubbing and you can tell everyone is having a lot of fun. Check out Youtube, it’s full of clips so you can get a little taster right there.
11. Blue Spring Ride (Dir. Ai Yoshimura, 2014)
(Sub) 12 episodes + 2 OVA’s
I put this one off for years because I knew it would break my heart. It did. But in the best way. Exploring mental health issues and depression, this series packs a lot of soul into very few episodes. A girl and boy fall in love in middle school, but then he moves away. When he returns, his surname has changed but that is not all. He no longer is the bright and open young boy he was but a very sullen and distant teenager who seems to be carrying a heavy burden. She wonders if she can still love a different person, or should she look for the boy she thinks she’s lost. And so their romance starts a new.
Time is cruel and carrying guilt and regret silently is far too much for one person. This show urges you to open your heart to people and let them in. It’s a beautiful story, continued in the manga of the same name by Io Sakisaka. The best thing the series does is choose a great spot to stop the adaptation, so we feel some form of conclusion for the characters and makes it more satisfying for those not interested in the manga. It’s also beautifully animated with wonderful watercolour backgrounds character designs and intimate details captured so tenderly for a series. Not to mention it has an incredibly moving soundtrack that strikes the right chord and tone for the show and enhances the many powerful moments that will stick in your mind.
There you have it, the first entries in my Top 20 Anime series list. Mostly made up of shojo, but don't worry in my top 10 we get down to some of the more legendary influences! Hopefully you've found a series to look into and better yet, look forward to the next ten! Check out my Top 15 Studio Ghibli Films here and Top 20 Influential Anime Films here
Recommends: My Top 20 Anime Series (Part 2)
Blue Spring Ride. (2014). Directed by Ai Yoshimura. [DVD]. US: Sentai Works
Death Parade. (2015). Directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa. [DVD]. US: Funimation
Ghost Stories. (2000). Directed by Noriyuki Abe. [DVD]. US: Eastern Star
Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun. (2014). Directd by Mitsue Yamazaki. [DVD]. UK: MVM Entertainmant.
Orange. (2016). Directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki & Naomi Nakayama. [DVD]. US: Funimation
Ouran High School Host Club. (2006). Directed by Takuya Igarashi. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment
Pokemon. (1997). Directed by Various. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.
Samurai Champloo. (2004). Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe. [DVD]. UK: MVM Entertainment.
Toradora. (2008). Directed by Mitsue Yamazaki. [DVD]. UK: MVM Entertainment.
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku. (2018). Directed by Yoshimasa Hiraike . [Stream]. UK: Amazon Prime