Drama, drama, drama, drama: something that captures attention when it’s done right – or when it’s happening right in front of you. Where things are dramatic or perfectly serene in a captivating way, anime has all kinds of drama and drama runs through the veins of many shows of different genres. The shows on this list show a heavy overlap with the slice of life genre we see how truly versatile the drama genre is and how it's one of the ways many shows shine!
10.Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda. (The Anthem of the Heart)
- Episodes: 1 (movie)
- Aired: September 2015
Naruse Jun is a talkative child whose life is punctuated with happiness and fairy tales. When her talkativeness meets her naivety, it results in her father’s affair being revealed. Her parents’ marriage ends terribly, and Jun is scarred for life as she is blamed for her parents’ divorce. The regret eats away at her, leaving her unable to speak to avoid saying things unnecessarily. Now in high school, Jun finds speaking physically painful, causing her stomach to twist whenever she tries. Despite being unable to speak in front of people, Jun is chosen to perform in a musical alongside other students. She initially wanted to opt-out but upon hearing one of the other cast members singing, she changes her mind. Will her condition render her incapable of expressing herself on stage, or will she overcome the pain that is several years in the making?
This is a title that tugs at the heartstrings in a way that some people could possibly relate to. A lot of children of divorcees feel that their parents’ split is their fault; however, in this case, Jun had to deal with feeling all the guilt and pain of her parents splitting up and even blaming it on her. Her relationship with her mother has gone belly-side up since then, and Jun is a shadow of her former, cheerful self. The movie is drama from the word go, and to tie it all together, the characters all come together to create an onstage drama that is based on Jun’s painful speech impediment.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2015 – March 2015
When people die, they first find themselves in purgatory, a median point between eternal damnation and reincarnation. This part of the afterlife is a tower several floors high and the fifteenth floor is an area known as Quindecim. Each floor has an individual who oversees that floor and Quindecim is manned by the stoic, white-haired bartender known as Decim. It is in Quindecim that Decim pits pairs of deceased souls against each other in intricate games the outcomes of which decide who gets to reincarnate and who gets sent to hell. However, even in airtight systems like the afterlife, outliers can come to cause change to even the most steadfast of processes.
Death Parade is an interesting supernatural series that deals with a question that humanity deals with daily – what happens when you die? The dead in this series make their way to a multi-leveled tower that may or may not be purgatory and these levels are all managed by mysterious individuals known as arbiters. The show brings different characters who died in various circumstances to fight it out in order to earn a chance to reincarnate. Each set of characters comes with unique circumstances that can either be mildly heart-warming to absolutely gut-wrenching and the series’ ability to bring out various emotions borne of the human condition as experienced by the characters. There is also an overarching arc concerning a nameless character who accompanies Decim with the majority of his arbitrations throughout the series, which does a lot to develop Decim a little bit, but also brings out the series’ bittersweet ending.
8.Mawaru Penguindrum (Penguindrum)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: July 2011 – December 2011
The Takakura’s are a trio of siblings whose parents are no longer with alive. Kanba and Shouma live together with their sickly little sister Himari, whose health is always in question. One day, Himari is permitted to leave the hospital for a little while, so her brothers take her to the aquarium to celebrate! However, while at the aquarium, Himari collapses but she’s somehow revived by a penguin hat from the aquarium’s gift shop, kicking off a fated series of events that change the siblings’ lives forever. Himari’s illness is miraculously cured; however, in her body resides a mysterious entity who will keep her alive and healthy if and only if Kanba and Shouma go off searching for something called the “Penguin Drum”, delving into their past and meeting others who hope to choose their own destiny.
Mawaru Penguindrum is strange, we just have to get that out the way before delving into the actual meat and bones of the series. The show is a cacophony of characters and their exposure to this strange cocktail of penguins, the relationship among siblings and of course, the mysterious Penguindrum. The show is many things – funny, mysterious and sometimes it’s downright silly; however, there are some serious things that the characters have to deal with and the show is fundamentally a story about brothers who’d do anything to ensure that their little sister gets to live a full, healthy life.
7.Kotonoha no Niwa (The Garden of Words)
- Episodes: 1 (movie)
- Aired: May 2013
A rainy Tokyo morning. Akizuki Takao is a high schooler with dreams of becoming a shoemaker. He skips class to sketch designs in a beautiful garden somewhere in town. In this garden, he meets a beautiful woman named Yukino Yukari. Takao offers to make her a pair of shoes and continues to meet her in the same garden throughout the rainy season. The two develop a close relationship with each other, but things aren’t always that easy.
Garden of Words is a short film with some of the most beautiful visuals of the titles mentioned on this list. It’s definitely one of the more downtempo titles on this list, with a simple storyline that focuses solely on the developing relationship between two main characters. The movie’s biggest draw; however, has to be the beauty of the art and animation, which truly stands out even now, seven years later.
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2011 – March 2012
Ayase Chihaya is a young girl whose intense energy makes her seem like an airhead to the people around her. Her life changes forever when a young boy named Wataya Arata transfers into her elementary school class, bringing with him the love for a traditional Japanese card game known as karuta. Inspired by Arata’s love for the game, Chihaya falls in love with the world of competitive karuta, with dreams of one day playing in the karuta national championship at Omi Jingu. Chihaya starts a karuta club at her high school in order to develop her skills and a competent team that will enable her to achieve her dream!
Chihayafuru is a dramatic anime following a young girl’s dream of becoming the best player of a traditional Japanese card game. The anime has stunning visuals and incredible character arcs, showing us that to them, karuta is more than just a game. Much like most sports anime, Chihayafuru develops its characters through their exposure to the game they love and for the main trio of Chihaya, Arata and Taichi, karuta brought them together as kids. The series has tons of drama as karuta matches are some of the most nail-biting scenes; however, the goings-on of each character’s personal life gives much-needed insight into why they do what they do.
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: July 2018 – December 2018
Aslan Jade Callenreese, a.k.a Ash Lynx is a 17-year-old with a checkered past. After being taken off the streets of New York by mafia boss Dino Golzine, Ash is now the leader of his own gang. When Ash comes into contact with a drug known as “Banana Fish”, he decides to investigate it, feeling that there may be a connection between the substance and his brother’s semi-vegetative state since his return from the Vietnam War. Ash finds his investigation in jeopardy when Golzine sends his men to find the drug and things get more complicated when a pair of Japanese photographers interested in American street gangs get embroiled in a conflict between Ash’s gang and Dino Golzine’s henchmen. The mystery behind Banana Fish seems to go deeper than Ash could ever have imagined.
First coming out in the 1980s, Banana Fish has elements of action, comedy and romance all packed into an interesting story around a strange drug circulating since the Vietnam War. Within two episodes, we’re already confronted with a tense hostage situation, a sad death, and just a small amount of background on our enigmatic main character, Ash Lynx. Banana Fish’s 2018 reboot is a visual trip, sporting much of the same character designs as the original ‘80s manga and with so many different elements at play in the storyline, Banana Fish really is full of drama.
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2010 – June 2010
Otonashi wakes up to find out that he’s actually dead and has no memories apart from his last name. A girl named Yuri, armed with a rifle, explains to him that they’re in the afterlife and she leads a faction known as the Shinda Sekai Sensen (Afterlife Battlefront), waging war against a girl named Angel. Seeing Angel for himself, Otonashi refuses to believe that she’s evil and tries to talk to her. It doesn’t end well. After the encounter, he decides to join the Afterlife Battlefront in their war against Angel while he is also fighting off a strange attraction to her.
Death, the afterlife, regrets and lots of fighting for a cause, Angel Beats is a package filled with many dramatic turns and painful outcomes; not to mention a bittersweet ending to hallmark many sad turns. Angel Beats is a Key Animation work, and Key seems to be a studio well acquainted with chopping onions. Angel Beats is heavy at times, going into the pasts of many tortured main characters living in a self-imposed Hell in a strange purgatory; however, the story goes into reasons why people are where they are. Even the so-called “antagonist” to Otonashi and his group of friends has her own circumstances… her own tear-jerking circumstances.
3.Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name)
- Episodes: 1 (movie)
- Aired: August 2016
Miyamizu Mitsuha is a high school girl living in the countryside who dreams of living the life of a boy living in Tokyo. Tachibana Taki is a boy living a busy life in Tokyo juggling his high school life with his part-time job and dreams of becoming an architect. One day, Mitsuha wakes up in an unfamiliar room and soon realizes it’s an unfamiliar body too, as she is now in Tokyo – in Taki’s body! Taki finds himself in the countryside in a similar situation – in Mitsuha’s body. They look for the reason behind their strange circumstances; an undertaking which soon proves to be much bigger than they could have imagined.
2016’s standout anime movie, Kimi no Na wa. was an exceptional romance movie. Visually, it was stunning especially in the scenes featuring the comet, and the general art was excellent too. The story had little bits of comedy, slice of life elements and a great build-up towards the romance and the major plot element which had been alluded to from the very beginning of the movie – the comet. The story also brings unforeseen developments that make use of a very interesting plot device – the “musubi” concept, or in other words, “things being tied together”. Kimi no Na wa. is a beautiful story filled with drama at every turn and comes highly recommended.
2.Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice)
- Episodes: 1 (movie)
- Aired: September 2016
Ishida Shouya was quite the handful when he was a child, finding terrible ways to curb his boredom. Nishimiya Shouko, a deaf girl, transfers into Shouya’s elementary school class. Shouya and the rest of the class bully her relentlessly until her mother finds out and intervenes. Shouya is blamed for instigating everything that happened to her and Shouko is transferred out of the school shortly afterward. Now singled out as a bully, Shouya is alienated from the rest of his classmates for the rest of his elementary and middle school career. Now a high school senior, the formerly rambunctious Shouya is a shadow of his former self as he regrets his actions as a child. He decides that he wants to meet Shouko again and redeem himself in front of the person he bullied.
Tackling some very painful themes is Koe no Katachi, a story about regret, redemption, forgiveness, friendship and of course, romance. From the very beginning, one can already tell that this movie isn’t one that goes down very easily – it is an emotional rollercoaster but one you’ll definitely feel better off for experiencing. There are major elements that put the characters into perspective – the various “X” marks on the faces of the other students at Shouya’s high school are a direct reference to the fact that he has grown into a bit of a social recluse; his self-loathing leading him to be unable to even look other people in the eye. It’s the little things that complement the major plot points of bullying and ostracization experienced by both main characters, with elements of teen angst that make the entire journey from start to finish a heavy dose of the dreaded “feels”.
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2010 – April 2011
Mashiro Moritaka is a talented high schooler whose drawings catch the attention of the top student in his class, Takagi Akito. Akito has dreams of becoming a mangaka but lacks the artistic ability, so he attempts to enlist Moritaka, who isn’t all that interested at first. However, when Moritaka finds out that his crush, Azuki Miho, has dreams of becoming the voice of the main character of the anime adaptation of a popular manga. Spurred on by the possibility of being the author of such a work, Moritaka teams up with Akito in order to create the best manga in Japan.
We’re given childhood dreams, disappointment, failure and even the prospect of romance in the very first episode of Bakuman, an Obata Takeshi illustrated masterpiece all about manga creation. The characters bring to the fore immense insecurities, doubts and quirks; however, they also have a very gung-ho approach to their lives that is nothing short of inspirational. Throughout the three seasons of Bakuman, Takagi and Moritaka tackle several insurmountable challenges, all while making interesting connections with other people with lives as vivid and beautiful as their own. For anyone who enjoys an awkward but wholesome love story with characters who have lofty ambitions, Bakuman is it.
Drama is one of those genres that goes hand-in-hand with anime, and the above ten are a testament to that thought. These ten from the past decade stood out with good reason – they’re brilliant dramas! Are there other shows you think should be on a list like this? Drop a comment below and tell us what you think!