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What do you think of when you hear the word "NEET"? Do you think of the stereotypical person who spends all their time locked up in their room, geeking out over their niche hobbies? Or do you simply picture someone who just lies around on the couch all day, waiting for the job that will never come?
Actually, a NEET can be both of that, and more. Short for Not in Employment, Education and Training, NEET is a term used to refer to anyone who's perceived as not contributing to the economy in any way. NEETs are usually portrayed as otaku and/or hikikomori, though the three terms aren't necessarily synonymous. Sometimes, a NEET is just an aimless person, or one who's down on his luck, so an anime revolving around this type of character will touch on that character's relationships with society at large. For example, we have:
10. Battle Programmer Shirase (BPS)
- Episodes: 15
- Aired: Oct 2003 – Jan 2004
Satoshi Shirase is an interesting guy. He's an excellent programmer and hacker, but he never works for money. Instead, he asks for unusual stuff, like rare pieces of computer equipment. Also, he stays cooped up all the time in a relative's house, where his niece, Misao Amano, takes care of him.
BPS is chockfull of running gags. Sometimes, these gags even break the fourth wall, as with one episode where fansubbers were acknowledged. The story may feel a bit abrupt, since the show was cancelled by episode 15, but what's left is a good watch if you're looking for something to kill time with.
9. Rozen Maiden
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct 2004 – Dec 2004
After getting traumatized by school-related pressures, Jun Sakurada has lived a hikikomori existence. One day, he orders something online, only to be instructed to put it into his drawer. To his surprise, his order disappears, and is replaced by a beautiful antique doll. The doll, whose name is Shinku, comes to life, and turns Jun into her servant. Jun gets dragged into the so-called Alice game, and learns to overcome his fear of people along the way.
The premise is unique enough: Dolls fighting against other dolls. But there's also an examination of Jun's psychology, as well as that of the other dolls' masters. And for those of you who want action, drama, comedy or a combination of all of the above, this anime has something to offer too.
8. Kamisama no Memochou (Heaven's Memo Pad)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul 2011 – Sep 2011
Narumi Fujishima seemed destined to be alone and friendless for the rest of his high school life. That is, until Ayaka, a classmate and the only member of the Gardening Club, introduces him to Alice, a reclusive girl who lives above a ramen shop. As it turns out, there's more to Alice than meets the eye: She's not only a skilled private detective and hacker, but she also runs an agency of NEETs who help her do her work. Narumi gets pulled into their world, and finds himself fighting crime alongside this unlikely group of misfits.
Through Narumi's eyes, we get to see what the NEET are like from a non-NEET perspective. The members of the NEET agency are quite varied: You have an expert gambler, a smooth-talking intelligence gatherer and an armaments specialist. Their interactions with each other are fun to watch, and are one of the strongest elements of this mystery show.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct 2012 – Dec 2012
Btooom! revolves around Ryouta Sakamoto, a 22-year-old NEET who spends most of his time playing the titular video game. In the game, the rules are simple: Kill other players with bombs, or be killed yourself. One day, Ryouta wakes up to find himself on a strange island, armed only with provisions and eight different bombs. He barely remembers anything that happened before current events, but he does realize one thing: He's basically in the real life version of Btooom!
Make no mistake: This isn't a subpar knockoff of shows like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. Every character gets their fair share of the spotlight, and you're kept guessing who's going to betray who. There are some explicitly violent and sexual scenes that might be off-putting to certain viewers, but if you can stomach those, Btooom! is an exciting watch overall.
6. Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: Oct 2010 – Dec 2010
In the Amamizukan, an all-girls apartment complex, everyone is an otaku-slash-NEET. This includes Tsukimi Kurashita, who loves jellyfish — to the point that she gets into trouble with a pet store owner over it. Luckily, she's rescued from said trouble by a beautiful, fashion-savvy young woman — who turns out to be a cross-dressing man named Kuranosuke! Ever since, Kuranosuke decides to invite himself into Tsukimi's life, and turn it upside down.
The series mostly focuses on the Amamizukan residents (and Kuranosuke), plus their respective quirks. These quirks are often played for laughs, but never to the point of mean-spiritedness. Overall, this is a heartwarming comedy about being yourself, and is a unique take on NEET-ness.
5. Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct 2007 – Apr 2008
Kaiji Itou is what most people would call a "good-for-nothing." Not that it's his fault: After the 1990s recession, he's had a hard time finding work, and resorted to petty crimes to put food on the table. As if that's not bad enough, a "friend" made him a guarantor of a 3,850,000 yen debt to the yakuza! To repay the debt, Kaiji enters the dog-eat-dog world of gambling.
This isn't a lighthearted show, by any means. Kaiji — and, by extension, the audience — learns the hard way that people are willing to do anything when push comes to shove. Still, Kaiji manages to be a likeable main character, since he still tries to maintain his humanity despite his ugly circumstances. If you're looking for a good show about high-stakes gambling, look no further than this.
4. Danna ga Nani wo Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken (I Can't Understand What My Husband Is Saying)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Oct 2014 – Dec 2014
Kaoru and Hajime couldn't be any more different: She's an office lady, while he's a hardcore NEET-otaku. Kaoru doesn't really understand the appeal of her husband's lifestyle, so she bugs him every now and then to get a job. Because of his devotion to his hobbies, however, finding employment is much easier said than done for Hajime.
This is, first and foremost, a comedy. The humor mostly stems out from Kaoru and Hajime's interactions, which highlight their differences. For example, when Kaoru asks Hajime about his opinion on a movie, she was probably expecting him to give an answer like "Oh, it's awesome/okay/terrible," and leave it at that. Instead, he reviews it in all its glory, otaku-style.
In spite of this, it's clear that the two of them love each other (in their own way), and the anime does a great job of showing how this love more than makes up for their differences. And since each of the 13 episodes is only 3 minutes long, you can finish this funny-yet-heartwarming series in a jiffy!
3. No Game, No Life
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Apr 2014 – Jun 2014
NEET siblings Shiro and Sora play online under the username "Kuuhaku," which they use to blaze through every single game they come across. Their skills were great enough, to the point that a mysterious stranger sends them an e-mail challenging them to a chess match. They accept, and the next thing they know, they're transported into a world where everything is decided by games.
Whenever NGNL rolls out a game, you know you'll be in for a ride. Even if you know the siblings will win, you're still at the edge of your seat, wondering what trick they'll pull off next. As for the siblings themselves, they're pretty awesome characters: Shiro has that chessmaster charm about her, while Sora keeps the atmosphere light with him deadpan way of delivering humorous lines. There's also a ton of references to other anime, so have fun catching all of them!
2. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (We Still Don't Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: Apr 2011 – Jun 2011
Best known as "Ano Hana," this was one of the most well-known Spring 2011 anime. It follows Jinta "Jintan" Yadomi, who drifts away from his friends after one of them, Meiko "Menma" Honma, dies in a tragic accident. Becoming a hikikomori, Jintan is pulled out of his gloomy state one day when Menma's ghost visits him, and asks him to help her make a wish come true. Problem is, she doesn't remember what the wish is, and Jintan is the only one who can see her!
Although the show revolves around Jintan's group of friends, rather than just Jintan himself, it's still a sympathetic look at what NEETs are like in real life. Jintan may be a socially awkward and self-pitying guy, but he's not necessarily a bad person. He feels responsible enough for Menma's death to let it flip his personality by 180 degrees. Luckily, as the show goes on, he learns to come to terms with what happened, and so does everyone else, and it's something most people can relate to.
1. NHK ni Youkoso! (Welcome to the NHK)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Jul 2006 – Dec 2006
Of all the shows on this list, this has the most realistic portrayal of NEETs — hence its ranking at No. 1. Here, we have Tatsuhiro Satou, a young man who's been a hikikomori for so long, he actually believes there's an organization called the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (NHK), which is responsible for the spread of the shut-in lifestyle. As he sat brooding in a park one night, he meets a girl named Misaki Nakahara, who promises to "cure" him of his condition. After going along with her, he encounters other people who are in the same situation as he is — and gains some valuable life insights in the process.
With funny moments in the first few episodes, you'd think the rest of the series would have the same tone. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), it later segues into a no-holds-barred portrayal of the darker side of Japanese society. There's suicide, poverty and drug addiction, among other things. These depressing themes aside, the show takes care to flesh out Satou and the rest of the cast, so you're able to empathize with them in spite of their human failings.
As you can see, the portrayals of NEETs in anime vary. Some glorify the lifestyle, others make fun of it, and a few attempt to show it for what it truly is (or, at least, what the anime creators think it is).
Also, this list attempts to show the best of anime where one or all of the main characters are NEETs, and where the NEET-ness is important to the story/character in one way or another. So if you know of other shows that fit these criteria, or you're wondering why the likes of "Watamote," "Mekakucity Actors," "The World God Only Knows" and "Denpa Kyoushi" were excluded, feel free to pick our brains in the comments!