So, the time has come for me to present you with my five favorite anime. My bio was already a dead giveaway for two of my favorite titles so I had to think hard to pick the rest.
But first, the obligatory short throwback: My childhood staples were Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, and Pokémon. My favorite anime as a little kid is from 1995, Kyouryuu Boukenki Jura Tripper, translated into Two Years Vacation with the Dinosaurs, which somehow was picked up by Greek television and got dubbed! As a pre-teen, my first BL moment was coming across Bakura x Yami Bakura fanfiction in the Yu-Gi-Oh! universe… I've been keeping it weird since then.
Fun fact: As mentioned before, I come from Greece and many people my age grew up watching the dubbed version of Igano Kabamaru, a ninja trainee gorging on noodles, and Candy Candy, a shoujo drama from the ‘70s that traumatized many children with the generous amount of misfortune the titular heroine has to go through. That, and Sailor Moon, made me cry so hard, that I just gave up on drama and focused on young Son Goku, wishing I also had access to my very own flying cloud to get around. I don’t know what happened in the meantime but now my top 5 is drama incarnate.
Since then, I’ve watched hundreds of anime. They have been a constant source of inspiration: I picked my further studies in literature because I love a good story, and as a queer nerd, I first got into (fan)zines because of anime and Japanese culture. I made friends, fell in love, studied the language, it all started with anime. I picked these five anime series because they keep informing me as a person. I think about them, perhaps every day, no joke - they are ingrained into the fabric of my life.
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: January 2019 - June 2019
Dororo is a story about anger, injustice, and destruction. I see Dororo and Hyakkimaru as doubles, a ploy for each other. Dororo is not giving in to revenge, and eventually gets the material means and forges the kind spirit to bring revolution. Hyakkimaru, having been robbed of everything—his own body—is living only for vengeance. As he is getting his body back, he is becoming less of a human. We have gotten several backstories, where the character seeks revenge for his/her lost family, and I just love that the revenge story here is about reclaiming one’s humanity.
Which is more important, the individual or the community? What makes one human? Who deserves to live a good life? Dororo deals with all these questions and gives us a historical fantasy drama that has stayed with me since I first watched it.
4. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2007 - September 2007
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was my first experience with Studio Shaft. I had no idea what I was getting into, and since my first watch, it has informed my taste in comedy anime. I just love the overly dramatic Despair Sensei, while I am also quite worried about him. Even in his deep despair over Japan’s social problems, he gets into an accidental harem situation, which is equally disastrous and hilarious.
The direction is an attention span nightmare; the frantic, over-the-top, ridiculous energy, the inside jokes, the walls of text, all create an experience that has stayed with me for years. I still giggle to myself with the “My Kaoru cans turned into Gendo cans” joke. Admittedly, some of the humor won’t translate well or won’t be understood by a Western audience. I still get the essence though, it cracks me up and I nominate it as one of the best ensemble comedies out there.
3. 3-gatsu no Lion (March comes in like a lion)
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: October 2016 - March 2017
Gosh, this anime ripped my heart out of my chest, then put it right back. Having watched and loved Chika Umino’s Honey and Clover (except for the Hagu ending) I was positively predisposed. However, I hardly knew anything about shogi and I’m not big on chess - I prefer my visual novels to strategy games.
I was not prepared for the adorable bun that is Rei. Rei lives for shogi, evident from his bare room with a shogi board right next to his bed. He clings to it because he believes he has nothing else. Shogi gives a life purpose to all professional shogi players. To get this high in ranking and keep your position, you’ve gotta want it with all your might. We witness their motivations, and their background, and understand why they shed sweat and tears over the shogi board. For some, it is desperation and pride, for others a sense of obligation, the only community they ever had… It is a way of living. But, to grow and heal, Rei has to learn that there is life outside of the shogi board.
The character depth is amazing. Sangatsu no Lion serves us with one of the most accurate depictions of anxiety, in the face of Rei. Hinata Kawamoto, the feisty and sensitive middle sister, is one of my favorite characters of all time. I just love how brave and empathetic she is. Nikaidou, Rei’s best friend and lifelong rival serves the shounen trope in such an adorable way, and not once in the show his physical appearance becomes the butt of a joke. Instead, his chubby looks are treated as sweet and attractive. I am also amazed by how Sangatsu does not demonize its characters, no matter how problematic they might be. Even Rei’s abusive step-sister, Kyouko, becomes an example of what can happen to women who can’t find their place in a male-dominated field.
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1995 - March 1996
Get in the robot Shinji! What more to say about Hideaki Anno’s depression project turned into one of the most successful franchises in the history of anime? During my first watch I was just a bit older than Shinji, still, in school, the right age to experience this trainwreck of a series and come out alive. I mostly relate to Shinji and Asuka, which is probably a disaster opening for a date.
Whatever Hideaki Anno makes, I love it. Making millions out of your depression project, then denouncing it, then creating the End of Evangelion to call out your fans, it’s all so petty and wonderful. I just love that NGE has a legacy ranging from conspiracy theories, sad boys ™, Anno esoterica, philosophical analysis, and world religions. But, above all, the series ending left a strong impact on me and I try to live by it. In essence, it is “Ask for what you need and please, for the love of God, take care of yourself”.
1. Shoujo Kakumei Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena)
- Episodes: 39
- Aired: April 1997 - December 1997
I love this anime, and I love to hate this anime, and I just cannot live without this anime. Yes, the animation quality varies, we get frames with comically elongated faces like Gakuen Handsome, and yes, nobody knows why Nanami turned into a cow, but it’s all part of the charm. Utena, for me, is a box of dreams and disaster, and you probably know by now that I just like to see a kingdom burn down and crush while our cast of outsiders run off into the sunset.
Anthy and Akio, a princess and a prince damned to replay the same story over and over again, lived long enough to see themselves become the villains. Utena is a fool and that’s how she’s able to break the cycle. This deeper layer is covered by several other layers, and no matter how whimsical, they are all treated with the same seriousness. Or rather, lack of seriousness, because this is a story with diversions, seemingly filler episodes, and repetitive scenes.
If you ever tried to tell a story, an anecdote to a friend, even more so write down a complete narrative with beginning, middle, and end, you would have realized that there are things that can’t be expressed straightforwardly, purely by words. The visual language of Utena is roundabout, it implies the important, and shows the nonsensical, crafting a story about getting stuck in cycles that imprison us. A role in life that doesn’t fit anymore, a career we get defined by, a relationship that doesn’t seem right but we stick to it to maintain a certain self-image, these are all part of the story Revolutionary Girl Utena tells.
ALSO the stairs! The stairs! Poor Utena. I left a sigh of relief when she finally took the elevator.
My bread and butter is angst, silly puns, gay drama, and revolution; be it a whole kingdom burning down, or a more quiet, personal revolution, like that of Rei in Sangatsu. Or Shinji’s. Until he caused the Third Impact.
Honorable mentions go to Great Teacher Onizuka, Psycho-Pass, Yuri!!! on Ice, Skip Beat!, Shirobako, and Mob Psycho 100.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my favorite anime and perhaps came across something you didn’t know about. I love spreading the word about my favorite series and I’m always up for a chat! Thank you for being part of the Hive!