Since anime covers a broad range of genres, it’s no surprise that more than a small portion of all anime are love stories. However, just because most anime tends to have some aspect of romantic relationships in them does not necessarily mean that they are all love stories; a distinction should be made between the two terms.
For instance, Eden of an East is an anime that was made more charming because of the romance between its male and female lead characters, Akira and Saki. Although the romance does show some notable development throughout the story, their relationship is ultimately not the driving force behind the plot. No fan of the show can form a reasonable argument for their budding love to be a central story element and thus the anime cannot be described as a love story.
On the other hand, shows like Bakemonogatari make a much better claim to being a love story. Koyomi and Hitagi’s relationship may also not be the main focal point of its show, but it becomes a motivational factor for the plot. Bakemonogatari can be called a love story because it becomes a major reason for both characters to do what they do, rather than just be an accessory to the plot, and the story concludes with their love reaching a resolution.
As a new season of anime is about to begin, some might want to avoid the trouble of trying out every new show and instead look back at the best from the past. For such people, this is the perfect time to check out our list of the Top 10 Anime Love Stories. As we move up to the best of the best, you might even come to realise that sometimes the best love stories aren’t necessarily romance stories to begin with.
10. Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2015 - September 2015
Kicking off our list is one of the greatest shows from 2015, which notably translates to Snow White with Red Hair. From the perspective of distributors, the Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime is a rarity that fits perfectly within the boundaries of a shoujo anime, but still manages to tick enough boxes to be appealing for almost any audience. Be it sword-fighting, politics or interesting character development for a variety of characters, Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime has it all.
However, this anime would not have made our list if it wasn’t also one of the loveliest stories that anime has to offer. The budding love between the titular protagonist Shirayuki and dreamy, yet down-to-earth Prince Zen starts off with a well-executed fateful meeting in the forest and then develops into one of the most compelling romantic relationships even compared to some of the higher entries of this list. The show rewards patient viewers who may not at first be presented with the elevating feeling of an immediate love at first sight, but instead are gradually revealed to the process of two individuals who simply find comfort in being with each other.
What Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime does best is establishing each character as individuals, which in turn makes their interactions all the more interesting. We see Shirayuki as an aspiring court herbalist but also recognise her as a commoner troubled by her budding love for a member of royalty, just as we see Zen as a strict, responsible prince but we also adore his loving and kind personality. Only when we can appreciate the personal goals of these characters can we really understand how they complement each other despite their responsibilities; there is possibly no other couple that you immediately want to cheer for, simply because they both deserve it so much.
9. Ore Monogatari!!!
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: April 2015 to September 2015
Shoujo anime tends to be rather repetitive once you get used to its genre conventions. The guy and girl characters have to go through episodes of misunderstandings and snail-paced developments to eventually reach a moment of mutual acknowledgement, often in an embarrassing or humiliating situation. Luckily, just as Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime shows that this hasn’t stopped good love stories from being made, Ore Monogatari shows that there’s still life in the genre for fresh approaches to forming love stories.
Ore Monogatari’s uniqueness begins with its main character Takeo, a friendly giant of a high school student, and extends to his lovely relationship with the adorable Rinko. Takeo had been misunderstood by nearly all of his peers because of his intimidating appearance, so his good deeds are often not noticed even by the people he helps. This gives him such a self-deprecating complex that he no longer expects anything out of anybody, and actively pushes Rinko to what he assumed as her attraction to his best friend Makoto after saving her from a groper. Takeo is essentially the character that no one would expect for an anime to tell a life story about, which is why it's so impressive. It is so impressive that Ore Monogatari was made to work. But that alone would not be enough to put the show on this list; the love story depicted in Ore Monogatari is only as charming as it is because of the relationship’s other half. Despite Takeo’s early misunderstanding, Rinko pushes to make it work between them by being assertive, frank, and confesses to Takeo before even a tenth of the show is over.
Ore Monogatari shows us that not every genre convention needs to be followed to make a good story. In fact, it makes the best use of its pacing to tell the love story of one of this list’s sweetest couples who on the outset may have been an unlikely pair, but works because of how much effort the story puts into convincing us.
- Episodes: 15
- Aired: July 2009 - June 2010
SHAFT used to be a studio that everyone knew did weird things with their adaptations, probably best known for their bizarre adaptation of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, but not particularly well-regarded by the general fanbase otherwise. Then in 2009, they released yet another bizarre show named Bakemonogatari and skyrocketed into success immediately.
While Bakemonogatari is many things, the first series is probably most notable out of its franchise for the depiction of Hitagi Senjougahara, a unique female lead in multiple respects. As a self-regarded tsundere, she surprises everyone by confessing her love for main character Koyomi in the second arc even before the series reaches its second half. Even more significantly, the relationship manages to develop even without the plot focusing on it, with each following arc minimising the spotlight on Koyomi and Hitagi being together while also establishing how far they will go for each other at the same time.
The love story between Koyomi and Hitagi is special even among the most bizarre anime because it breaks a lot of boundaries. Koyomi never really takes the initiative in the relationship nor bases most of his actions around his romantic feelings for Hitagi, which is returned only by a single-minded devotion on Hitagi’s part that any fan of the franchise can recognise to easily evolve to extremity given the right opportunity. However, as we see the pair confirm each other feelings under a beautiful, starry night sky, there is no doubt that Bakemonogatari was always about bringing an insane self-sacrificing man and a recklessly devotional woman into each other’s lives.
7. Eureka Seven
- Episodes: 50
- Aired: April 2005 - April 2006
Despite the popularity of Gundam Seed and its sequel to the mainstream audiences, mecha fans will probably agree that the early part of the 2000s did not have many strong shows to represent the genre. The one show that is possibly the only exception is Eureka Seven, a shounen-mecha show that is overlooked by many newer anime fans but is definitely one of the best shows of its decade.
Eureka Seven may be memorable for their signatory surfing robots, but it is also a show that is centered around the relationship between Renton, a typical teenager who finds himself into a fighting robot’s cockpit, and Eureka, a strange girl with an even stranger shade of light blue for her hair colour. Spanning a then standard length of 50 episodes, Renton and Eureka face many trials and tribulation to eventually find love in one another, which becomes the main driving force enabling them to overcome the hordes of enemy robots and monsters that they come to face.
Coming from an era when shows placed more emphasis on gradual character development through episodes of them simply doing things together, Eureka Seven has the advantage of showing way more of its characters than most recent anime tend to have the capacity for. As a love story, this becomes an instrumental advantage since we know exactly how each character feels at any point in the series and realise that when they find one another during the series midway climax, they have truly and utterly fallen in love.
6. True Tears
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2008 - March 2008
True Tears is the first TV series production by P.A.Works, making it a significant feat that the studio’s first independent project was clearly ahead the curve in terms of production value. Even more impressive is that True Tears remains one of the top quality romance-slice of life anime in the market today.
Unlike the other anime of this list, True Tears isn’t a love story between a pair of characters, but rather a story that encompasses how the five major characters deal with their feelings of love throughout the show’s 13 episode run. As it would be distasteful to delve into too many spoilers, it is best to surmise the conflict of the series into the character arcs of the three female protagonists.
Noe Isurugi is not necessarily interested in falling in love with anyone, but her oddness attracts the attention of main character Shinichiro and together, they find the time they spend to be precious. Hiromi Yuasa lives with Shinichiro and despite having been close during childhood, now acts coldly for reasons Shinichiro cannot understand. Aiko Andou is going out with Miyokichi, Shinichiro’s friend who is kind to a fault, but is unable to shake away her romantic attraction towards Shinichiro.
True Tears thrives in breaking down and solving this complicated web of relationships and constructing a truly moving story of teenagers finding love. Even if we know that it’s impossible for every character’s wishes to be fulfilled by the end of the series, True Tears convinces us that it’s possible to accept its conclusion as every character finds it in them to be honest with their feelings.
5. Aquarion Evol
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: January 2012 to June 2012
Storytelling quality is always a good indication of how well an anime does relative to others similar to it. In some cases, the scale of a core element presented in the story makes a huge difference. In Aquarion Evol, this is definitely the case as the love story it depicts is one that spans for over twenty four thousand years.
Aquarion Evol is technically a sequel to Sousei no Aquarion, a 25 episode mecha-romance series from 2005, with the twist of it taking place a whopping 12000 years later. As in its prequel, the male and female leads are really reincarnations of two divine beings from the past, Apollonius and Celiane, who only return at a set interval of years. Both in their original lives and in the time given to them in Sousei no Aquarion, they were unable to fulfill the romantic feelings for one another. In Aquarion Evol, the pair once again reincarnate into the bodies of Sora and Mikono.
Thus, Aquarion Evol is absolutely unique in anime for being a love story spanning not years, not decades, not even centuries, but millennia long, and certainly carries the emotional weight of being such a show. If you are convinced that this can only be a weak gimmick, rest assured that the show has much more to offer in what is definitely an epic love story in anime form, dealing with issues of identity, love polygons and fighting against fate. Perhaps more importantly, Aquarion Evol knows exactly how all of this can be done in a bundle of absolute fun as there is not a single moment where your eyes does not want to be glued to the screen.
If you’ve ever looked down on love stories, for any reason at all, this is definitely the show for you.
4. Clannad After Story
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2008 to March 2009
Boy meets girl, boy then confesses sometime after and the pair become a couple. Alright, now what?
Although anime has never been terribly good at giving an answer to that question, there has and possibly never will be a better piece of animated fiction that did a better job at it than Clannad After Story.
Tomoya Okazaki and Nagisa Furukawa may have enjoyed an adorable school life together in the first Clannad series, but it is not an understatement to say that the core of their loving relationship does not really take place until Clannad After Story. How this can be the place is simple; Clannad After Story makes a resounding statement in showing that no matter how integral and essential, love is only a single part of its characters’ lives. Love alone will not keep them nourished nor ensure that they live decent lives; however, Clannad After Story also makes sure we learn that love can make us better, stronger people, and that’s exactly what happens to Tomoya and Nagisa.
Many romance anime tend to be depict love in an overly embarrassing fashion (Aquarion Evol does this, but does this magnificently) and most of the time that leads to them telling rather uninspired love stories. Clannad and Clannad After Story taken together is not often considered a romance anime, which is appropriate considering how they are most concerned in showing everything there is about love as a part of life. For telling such a meaningful story about love, the meat of the Clannad franchise deserves to be known as one of the best love stories in anime.
3. Kotonoha no Niwa (Garden of Words)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: May 2013
When it comes to the peak of personal stories told through anime, acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai is never far. In this list’s case, his 2013 feature film Kotonoha no Niwa is the essential love story that many anime fans did not know they were waiting for.
Similar to his previous theatrical works, Kotonoha no Niwa revolves around a difficult time in high school student Takao’s life where he has a clear vision in mind for his future, namely to become a professional shoe-maker, but does not have the confidence to take that path in life. Having the odd habit of skipping school during rainy days to visit a beautiful park, he eventually meets an attractive but enigmatic older woman who is also running away from her responsibilities.
Make no mistake, for Kotonoha no Niwa is far from a standard romance and is closer to being a story about two people who, under unforeseen circumstances, meet and find love. While their interactions are undeniably adorable, especially when Takao takes up the task of cooking for his crush, the appeal of the film is definitely in the underlying change in their emotions and how their newfound loves enables them to deal with their inner conflicts. For a film that lasts less than an hour, there is a rewarding climax to anyone who engages emotionally with their story.
For fans who are familiar with Shinkai’s works, rest assured in knowing that this is a film that is willing to provide a clear conclusion and a sense of accomplishment by the time the credits roll. We can easily go as far as to say that Kotonoha no Niwa is possibly the best theatrical love story in anime of the decade.
2. ef: A Tale of Memories
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2007 to December 2007
As we had touched on SHAFT’s history as a production studio, this is a good time to mention that their repertoire in the 2000s is undeservingly lacking in anime fan’s attention. This is best demonstrated by introducing one of the most underrated anime that the studio ever made.
ef: A Tale of Memories is an adaptation of the visual novel ef: A Fairy Tale of the Two encompassing three main storylines from the original work. The main storyline, which is also the most involving, is clearly about avid reader cum high schooler Renji Asou and his meeting with Chihiro Shindou at an abandoned train station. Chihiro, who was the victim of a car accident at a young age, is forced to wear an eyepatch and suffers from an extremely rare disability; her memories only last 13 hours and she relies on keeping a diary to keep track of her daily life. Simultaneously, the anime follows the life of Kei Shindou, Chihiro’s twin sister who lives on the other side of the planet, and the relationship between her, high school student manga artist Hiro Hirono and his love interest Miyako Miyamura.
Unlike typical romance anime that thrives on creating humorous situations with their webs of complicated romantic interests, ef: A Tale of Memories succeeds as a love story because of how it keeps things simple. The general direction of the story and the main relationships that develops are decided from an early point in the series and instead of formulating crazy plot twists mid-way, the show instead focuses on the cynical problems the characters face in trying to form a loving relationship. On top of that is director Akiyuki Shibo’s eccentric visual style and the ingenious series composition that diverts the viewer’s attention to the multiple developing relationships in the show without ever breaking immersion. It’s almost as if Shinbo drags us into an imaginary world where only the characters of the show exists, but still manages to include images of the astoundingly beautiful town that they live in.
While Bakemonogatari and Madoka Magica are undoubtedly the shows that gave SHAFT the recognition it deserves, ef: A Tale of Memories is a undermined gem that deserves the attention of anyone seeking SHAFT’s best take at a love story.
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2008 to March 2009
J.C.Staff shows are mostly omitted from this list because they frankly don’t make good love stories, despite being memorable adventure or action shows with a tasteful hint of romance. The exception to this is Toradora, which exemplifies the best of what J.C.Staff can do when producing an anime dedicated to developing the romance between two eccentric, but utterly lovable characters.
Ryuuji and Taiga are two high school students who are misunderstood by their classmates because of their unfriendly physical appearances. What they also share is a crush for each other’s respective best friends, Yuusaku and Minori, which they quickly discover after their less than graceful first meeting. Realising that it is best for them to rely on each other, they become partners in fulfilling each other’s romantic aspirations, act as each other’s closest confidants and realise for the first time in their lives what it means to share their inner selves with their most trusted ones.
While it is odd to say so for what is undoubtedly one of the best love stories anime has to offer, Toradora isn’t really special or unique as an anime production, which is what can be said of all of J.C.Staff’s shows. What puts it ahead of its peers is an unexpectedly mature story for a light novel adaptation that can honestly move any viewer’s heart and tug at the tear ducts as we realise that what Ryuuji and Taiga have always wanted had, without them realising, became a part of their lives. Toradora may be a story about oddballs being oddballs, but it is also a soulful love story of two lonely people finding happiness through and with their significant ones.
Even in anime, there are the run-of-the-mill romance stories that are good for a bit of fun and then there are stories that try to capture the most magical moments of life. Whether the anime in this list warms your heart or bring you to tears, they represent the love stories in the medium that will undoubtedly move you.
Is there another anime that deserves a mention? Are love stories the same as romance stories after all? Let us know in the comment section below.