We’ve all heard about those anime that you absolutely, positively must watch. Like Dragon Ball. Or Rurouni Kenshin. Or Sailor Moon. Or Naruto. Or… you get the gist. Every medium has its classics and of course, with those classics come the die-hards and stans. And borne from them comes a fandom with no end in sight (in One Piece’s case, quite literally). So what exactly makes these shows classics? Is it the cool storyline? The swoon-worthy MCs? The super unique concept they’re set in?
Yep, that’s right, it’s all of the above. And thus, we’ve put together a list of the crème de la crème of all the fairly recent anime, because as the medium’s catalogue keeps growing, so does that list of must-watches! Our Top 10 Modern Anime Classics has all the essential anime of the current era and we’re sure that you’ll find your new favourite on this list, provided you haven’t binged through all the titles already!
10. Sword Art Online
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: July 2012 – December 2012
Arguably one of the greatest isekai of the 2010s, there isn’t a single anime connoisseur who hasn’t heard of Sword Art Online. Follow Kirihito and Asuna as they overcome the challenges of Aincrad, at first a lovely VR game set in a fantastical medieval landscape which soon turns into a nightmare when the Creator traps thousands of players in the game itself. There’s only one way to escape: passing Aincrad’s 100 incredibly complicated levels. Isekai anime is a monster of a genre with so many different subparts, unique takes, and parodies but somehow, there still isn’t something quite like SAO which, for many, marked the new era of its popularity, thus cementing its place in the canon of the medium’s Modern Classics.
9. Mob Psycho 100
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2016 – September 2016
Deadpan comedy and a deadpan MC are the two most identifiable qualities of Mob Psycho 100. Witty, quippy, and so very pretty, this anime is a work of art (literally) both in terms of its story, its comedy, and its execution. Shigeo ‘Mob’ Kageyama is an eighth grader with astonishing psychic abilities. To work on keeping his powers under control, he spends his time working for his mentor (read: exploiter) Reigen Arataka by helping exorcise evil spirits daily, and as a result, providing Reigen’s spiritual scam an iota of credibility. However, Mob is a ticking time bomb. If his emotions tip over in the slightest, a cataclysmic world-ending apocalypse is sure to follow. Of course, this isn’t a problem provided Mob can keep his teenage angst under control.
Part school comedy, part supernatural showdown in the making, Mob Psycho 100 is a class act in comedy. Silly, poignant, and sensitive, it’s a layered story that maintains its absurdity with gravitas making it a uniquely compelling comedy and thus earning it a spot on our list of top Modern Anime Classics.
8. Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2016 – June 2016
The anime that’s most widely credited for reviving the shounen genre, My Hero Academia, is simultaneously both a unique take on the genre and an homage to its most quintessential characteristics. An underdog MC (Midoriya, you sweet summer child), a childhood rival, an All-Might(y) mentor, an idyllic society on the surface with darker forces teeming below the surface, superpowers, and double doses of heart and grit that make it an oh-so-perfectly superhero shounen, however, its comic book art style, a fresh take on superhuman society, superhero school life setting, and world-building is refreshing and puts a new spin on the well-established tropes we all know and love.
When an anime is this revolutionary (yet so sweetly familiar), there’s absolutely no question that it is a classic of the medium.
7. Haikyuu! (Haikyu!!)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2014 – September 2014
Sports Anime is an interesting genre. For most people, sports are a specific interest in a specific sport, however, when it comes to anime it’s a whole other ball game (pun intended). Sports Anime tend to hit right in the feels, they draw on emotions we’re all familiar with in some capacity; passion, ambition, devastation, and hopefully redemption. All of these swirl together in (usually) beautifully animated vignettes that follow all our favourite types of characters and tropes, underdogs and prodigies, rivals, and friends. And at the very top of this genre is an anime that gives Slam Dunk a run for its money: Haikyuu!
A down-on-its-luck high school volleyball team slowly comes together as its newest additions learn the value of teamwork and sportsmanship while doggedly pursuing their ambitions. Hinata, Kageyama, and the rest of the Karasuno Highschool Volleyball Team overcome painful losses and setbacks as they grow individually and as a team in a truly inspiring story that puts it right at the top of not just its genre, but of the medium itself.
- Episodes: 201
- Aired: April 2006 – March 2010
Arguably the King of Parodies, Gintama is without a doubt one of the most iconic comedies in the current era of anime. A sci-fi samurai space-Edo action comedy, Gintama has all the shounen goodness but with a twist: it lampoons all the tropes of the genre and calls out anime known for the same with some well-timed comedic references.
Sakata Gintoki is an eccentric (read: lazy) samurai who, in the era of the ban of the same insists on maintaining his status, and runs a Yoroyuza with two equally eccentric colleagues: Shinpachi, the glasses-wearing (supposed) apprentice samurai, and Kagura, the ever-hungry freakishly-strong alien girl. This terrific trio will accept any job no matter how big or small, from dealing with alien royalty to locating lost cats and somehow, things will never go according to plan. An anime that’s amusing for newcomers, but is downright hilarious for those of us familiar with the medium, Gintama is truly a hidden gem; 50% homage 50% lampoon, and 100% worth your time.
5. Jujutsu Kaisen
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2020 – March 2021
The one everyone’s been buzzing about: Jujutsu Kaisen is anime that’s been credited as the next evolutionary stage of the shounen genre. A supernatural action-adventure story, this anime paints shounen tropes one shade darker and allows for the genre to take on a more mature stance. Through a series of unfortunate coincidences, Yuuji Itadori finds himself sharing his body with a 1000+-year-old curse named Sukuna. As such he’s been sentenced to death once he absorbs all of Sukuna’s essence to put an end to the curse once and for all.
Our MC’s kind nature has him teaming up with the very people who will probably have to end him to fight the ever-growing wave of curses praying on the unassuming masses. The sorcerers in question, Megumi Fushiguro, Nobara Kugisaki, Satoru Gojou, and the rest of Tokyo Technical Jujutsu High School have their work cut out for them as the darker forces of their world seem to simply be growing day by day, the darkest of which is unfortunately stuck in their midst. A unique supernatural anime, Jujutsu Kaisen has been one of the most highly anticipated shows in recent years, and it hasn’t disappointed in the slightest. From the moment it aired, there was no question that this anime would leave its mark on the medium and we’re not in the least bit surprised that it’s made its way onto our list of Top 10 Modern Classics.
4. Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2013 – June 2013
Oregairu is simply amazing. As cliché as it sounds, there’s really no other word for it. A deep and insightful glimpse into adolescence and adolescent relationships, Oregairu dissects the convolutions of emotional development. When jaded and misanthropic student Hachiman Hikigaya writes an essay mocking social relationships, his punishment is to join the Volunteer Club whose only other member is the cold and blunt Yukino Yukinoshita. Neither are particularly fond of their peers, and neither are socially savvy, yet they find themselves at the forefront of other peoples’ problems, given that their sole club activity is to help whoever approaches them.
A wry and dry story that dives into the complexities of young minds that are too cynical and burned out to enjoy their youth, Oregairu is a cathartic look at human connection. It’s a coming-of-age story that spotlights the wounded self only to allow for that very self to heal and grow in a beautifully composed narrative that will touch upon one’s own heart. A sweet shoujo rom-com drama that’ll definitely jerk a few tears, Oregairu is an unforgettable anime that definitely sets the bar higher in its own unconventional way.
3. Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2019 – September 2019
One of the highest-grossing anime of all time (hello, Mugen Train), our modern classic list could never be considered complete without Demon Slayer. Heroic heroes, villainous villains, and comedic relief, Demon Slayer is a historical, mystical, fantastical epic. Following the brutal killing of his family, Tanjirou Kamado sets off to find a way to save his only surviving relative: his sister Nezuko who has been turned into a demon. Unfortunately, the only way to do so is to become the very thing that poses the biggest threat to Nezuko in her current state: a demon slayer. As Tanjirou searches for a miracle to save his sister while simultaneously growing as a warrior to avenge the one who murdered his family and cursed Nezuko, he’s pulled into the gritty world of the Demon Slayer Corps.
Heart-wrenching yet heartwarming, painful yet poignant, alarming yet adventurous, Demon Slayer hits the sweet spot where all contradictions seem to intersect, creating a compelling narrative that can’t help but draw one in. Weaving together numerous thematic strands, there’s something for everyone in this show and so it’s no surprise, really, that it’s made it this high up on our list.
2. Fruits Basket 1st Season (Fruits Basket 2019 1st Season)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2019 – September 2019
The one and only reboot to make the list! Fruits Basket is a poignant drama and coming-of-age story. The original was great, but the reboot is a masterpiece of the shoujo genre. Beautifully illustrated, beautifully written, and beautifully moving, honestly, this anime is beautiful through and through both thematically and artistically. Tohru Honda is in a tough spot, but with her can-do attitude, she believes she can overcome any hardship. Lucky for her, this charming optimism has three members of the illustrious Soma family willing to take her in and help her get back on track. However, the Somas have their own problems. Their blood carries the curse of the zodiac which brings up a whole other set of mystical problems.
So with all this emotional (and supernatural) baggage, it’s no surprise that Fruits Basket evolves into a touching, cathartic story as the Somas (extended family included) and Tohru learn to lean on each other and heal together as a sort of blended family. A carefully composed study of human relationships and what it means to simply be Fruits Basket is the shoujo anime of recent years, and thus there’s no doubt that it deserves to be part of the modern classic canon.
1. Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2013 – September 2013
Could any list about the current era of anime be complete without Attack on Titan? A god-level anime that has it all; action, drama, intrigue, and some deadpan comedy (looking at you Levi), it’s no surprise that this anime has made the very top of our list. Eren Jaeger's story is painful, and the world it belongs to can only be described as brutal. With monstrous, humanoid, human-eating giants called Titans running amok, who, by the way, have virtually no weaknesses, society has been relegated to hiding behind massive walls. All seems (barely) well until the Titans find a way past Wall Maria and wreak havoc and horror across the outer districts of Paradis Island. Eren, his friends Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert join the Survey Corps service to fight against the ever-growing threat of the titans which kicks off a dark saga rife with blood, sweat, and gore.
Attack on Titan is a story like no other and honestly, it’s a show that everyone should take chance on (except the faint-hearted, of course).
And that’s a wrap on our list! From quintessential comedies to unstoppable action, there are so very many anime to choose from. We’ve put down some of the essentials in this article but with all of the quality content being churned out season after season, we’re sure we’re going to have to keep adding to our tally.
So what would you categorise as a Modern Classic? Do you agree with our picks? Did we miss an anime that deserves a spot on our list? Let us know in the comments below!