Like most 90s kids in the West, I first started watching anime when Pokémon hit television screens, and quickly became thoroughly obsessed. Whether it was the games, cards, stuffed toys, or the soundtrack CDs, I wanted it all. Especially if it was Pikachu themed... This may or may not be the reason why I can’t go to the nearest Pokémon Centre unless I have a substantial amount of money in the bank.
When I rediscovered anime in my late teens, that feeling came back tenfold. I started devouring series upon series in every genre I could think of, collecting all the merchandise I had access to. It was also anime that inspired me to make the decision to change my life and give university a second chance. Now, five years later, I'm fluent in Japanese, living in Tokyo, and working here at Honey’s Anime translating and writing about anime - I’m living the otaku dream!
There's just one small issue. How does someone who's spent years of their life watching anime pick just five favourites? There are so many series that I love and wanted to write about, but apparently I can't get away with pretending I misread the title as "Top 50 Anime"... So, somehow I managed. The five anime that made the cut are all series that if I had to watch them on repeat for the rest of my life, I'd be perfectly happy.
Anyway, that's enough rambling from me. Onto the list!
5. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2014 - September 2014
Chiyo has a crush on Nozaki-kun, but he doesn’t notice. Sounds like your typical shoujo anime so far, right? Wait for it. When Chiyo finds the confidence to confess, she receives an autograph in reply. Why? Because the tall, broad, traditionally-masculine Nozaki-kun is none other than a shoujo mangaka! This romantic school comedy is anything but stereotypical, parodying the tropes we know and expect from modern shoujo anime and manga, making it a refreshing watch and nothing short of hilarious.
I don’t actually know how many times I’ve rewatched this series since it first aired - all I know is that I’m going to go watch it again once I’ve finished this article. What makes it so great? For me, it’s the fact that it challenges gender roles at almost every opportunity. The heroine is a total tsundere - and a guy. The school prince is a useless flirt - and a girl. The best thing is none of the characters are chastised for it. They’re allowed to be who they are without restriction.
Also, there’s very little romance considering it’s a romcom, and the characters’ sexualities are left open for interpretation. Mikorin is super popular, but only seems interested in 2D characters. Nozaki writes romantic manga, yet is completely unaware of and inexperienced in love. And who could forget the episode where these two play a dating simulation game, only to end up writing a BL doujinshi about the game’s protagonist and his best friend, Tomoda? Incredible.
TV Anime ‘Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun’ PV 2
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: January 2010 - June 2010
If you haven't seen Durarara!! by now, you should quite frankly be ashamed of yourself. The story follows various gang movements and urban legends in Tokyo’s city of Ikebukuro, as well as the angsty, awkward friendship between three teenagers. If you've seen Baccano, it has a similar feeling - a large cast of characters with their own individual, simultaneous storylines and dark secrets. The magic of Durarara!! is that despite so much going on, none of the characters get swallowed up or forgotten.
The plot is complex to the point where it's difficult to explain to others, but that complexity means that every time you rewatch the series you discover something new. Another thing that makes Durarara!! stand out amongst other series is that it's so hard to pin a genre on it. You could argue that it's action, mystery, slice of life, comedy, psychological, and supernatural - a mix of elements that reflect the complexity of real life.
My absolute favourite thing about this series, though, is the relationship between Izaya and Shizuo. It helps that these two are played by Hiroshi Kamiya and Daisuke Ono, two voice actors who have an incredible dynamic. Izaya and Shizuo have known and hated each other for years - and yet, they're completely obsessed with each other, unable to cut their volatile ties. Watching Izaya wind up Shizuo and Shizuo immediately reacting in a fit of rage, leading to a high-speed parkour chase, is incredibly entertaining even if you don't ship them (which I totally do.)
Durarara!! x2 PV 01
3. Nobunaga Concerto
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: July 2014 - September 2014
Saburou literally could not care less about school work, especially history. That is, until he time slips into the past and is forced to take over famous politician Nobunaga's role - then his history textbook comes in pretty handy. You’re probably sick of seeing anime with ‘Nobunaga’ in the title, but Nobunaga Concerto stands out from the rest in that it puts a modern-day high school boy into the past he’s (supposed to have) learnt about, and uses the generational gap and his lack of knowledge to create unique humour.
No one seems to talk about this anime - many people are put off by the 3D animation, which can feel bizarre to watch if you’re not used to it. But if you can get past that, the story and characters are so worth it. Saburou himself is an absolute joy to watch - his modern-day carefree attitude clashes hilariously with the serious people around him, but he quickly forms close bonds with others and is eager to show how much he cares. An added bonus is he’s voiced by my favourite seiyuu, Miyano Mamoru. Mamo-chan's cheerful, bouncy tones perfectly match Saburou's easygoing personality, making him completely come to life.
You may miss out on some of the series’ humour if you don’t know much about Japanese history or how the language has changed, but most of it translates well - enemies being terrified of insect repellent spray, a porn magazine being mistaken for a form of sorcery that traps women in paper, and Saburou sparking a rumour that Nobunaga was seen crossdressing and pushing his own brother down in the woods… But don't be fooled - although I laughed out loud at every episode, I also sobbed like a baby at times. This anime is truly a masterpiece that toys with your emotions.
Comic ‘Nobunaga Concerto’ PV Full Version
2. Free! (Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2013 - September 2013
If you haven't seen Free!, you most likely assume it's all about high school boys stripping off and close-ups of water streaming off muscles - and well, you're not entirely wrong. But it's so much more than that. The plot follows a group of childhood swimmer friends who are reunited at high school. Sounds pretty happy, right? Wrong. Free! is packed full of emotional angst as each of the boys battle their own personal demons, pasts, and futures. But if you're after some fast-paced competition and BL fanservice, it's got that, too.
To be honest, this almost became a Top 5 Sports Anime list - but I managed to restrain myself and introduce just one. Without a doubt this is my favourite of the genre. Why? The answer is simple: Rin Matsuoka exists. Anime characters are usually teenagers, but they rarely portray the darker side of what being a teenager means. Rin doesn't have to pilot a giant living robot and battle enemies to save the earth, but neither does any teenager in the real world. Instead, he must battle with something far more realistic - his own emotions and hormones.
In the first season, Rin is nothing short of an emotional mess, frustrated with his own failings in trying to achieve his dream and jealous that his former friends seem to be oh-so carefree. While this turned off a lot of viewers, for me, this made Rin my favourite character of all time. His emotions are raw and real, and it hurts to see him suffering. But with the support of his friends he slowly starts to change, to open up - he starts to smile again. And if you think I couldn’t spend the rest of this article ranting about how much I love him, you’re wrong. Best move on to the next in the list before I start crying!
TV Anime Free! PV 3:
1. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (Sailor Moon)
- Episodes: 46
- Aired: March 1992 - February 1993
I doubt many people have not at least heard of Sailor Moon, but for those who don't know, it follows middle schooler Usagi as she becomes a magical girl, makes magical schoolgirl friends, and fights to protect them and everyone else on planet earth. And all of space. And the future. It’s kind of complicated. This time-travelling magical girl anime has the perfect balance of shoujo-esque romance, comedy, and action. But more than that, it's incredibly encouraging and inspiring to watch.
Not only is Usagi a regular school girl, she's also, well, not so great at anything. Her grades suck, she's bad at getting up in the mornings, and she's a crybaby. But she's also kind, loving, and desperate to help in any way she can - and that's what makes her a great Sailor Scout. For so many kids, teenagers, and adults feeling the societal pressure of their roles, Usagi shows that you don't have to be perfect at everything to do what you have to do - or to be a good person.
It also important to mention that Sailor Moon has MOGAI characters, and portrays non-heteronormative gender expression and relationships without moral commentary - well, as long as you don’t watch the god-awful North American English dub, cousin. With over two-hundred episodes in the original anime, the reanimation Sailor Moon Crystal from 2014, and a new season of Crystal coming soon, it may seem like a daunting series to approach for those who haven't seen it - but I promise it's worth it.
Sailor Moon- Part 1 Official Trailer- Coming 11/11/14 to Blu-ray & DVD!
Well, that's it for my top 5 anime. Narrowing them down was a real challenge, especially as I love such a wide range of genres - I’d add in some honourable mentions, but there’d be no end to them! For now, I’m happy to say that these five series mean a lot to me, and if they help you learn just a little bit about one of the people behind your news updates, I’m a happy bean.
I feel like I could go on about these series (and so many others) until I'm old and grey - so feel free to start me off again in the comments!