Like just about every 90’s kid, I watched anime before knowing what it was. When catching the occasional anime shown on the Sci-Fi Channel back in the day, like Robotech, Macross and Project A-ko, it wasn’t anything unusual from the other cartoons I watched at the time. Then, like a wave it hit, the sudden rise of Toonami. Suddenly, I had to be home in the early evening to catch Dragon Ball Z, Outlaw Star and Gundam Wing. Oh what joyous days those were.
But still, you couldn’t really call me a fan of anime. Even though I went to my local comic shop and rented their imported and most likely bootleg subtitled Dragon Ball Z movies, I was still just a fan of those shows, not the greater collection of works. As I got older, even that appeal waned on me, and I didn’t even care to watch the final Main Buu arc when it finally aired. Somewhere along the way I got myself hooked on Cowboy Bebop and carried that weight, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I finally got won over by anime itself.
What I mean by this is I took an avid interest in which anime were coming out, which studios were producing them, and saw the value of subs over dubs. I had studied Japanese in middle school enough to understand the DBZ films that no subtitles existed for, and watching Attack on Titan spurred me towards a resurgence in anime. I was introduced to Shingeki no Kyojin as “Band of Brothers meets Spider-Man meets Godzilla”, and being a big fan of all three I couldn’t resist. Followed by a gift Crunchyroll pass and list of recommended watching, it didn’t take long for me to take that headfirst plunge. Now, here I am, writing for Honey’s Anime. It’s been a pretty interesting ride; here are some of my favorite gems from along the way.
5. No Game No Life
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Apr. 2014 - Jun. 2014
Online, Blank is the name of a world-renowned group of gamers that are only known by their elite gaming skills. In reality, Blank is the sibling pair of older brother Sora and his younger sister Shiro. The two dominate every game they encounter, and life has lost all excitement. After beating the god of Disboard in an online chess match, he teleports them to the world of Disboard where every facet of life and politics is a game. There, the two master gamers find the challenge they were looking for in restoring the human race to a position of pride amongst the other warring races that share the world.
Opinions seem to be split over the art style of NGNL, but I found it really mesmerizing. It felt like a completely different world, and the audio design and soundtrack fit the visuals perfectly. Seeing the siblings enact perfect schemes using the strengths and weaknesses of each other was brilliant, and even if you knew the end result, it was exciting seeing just how Blank would come out on top.
I also find the seiyuu pairing of Matsuoka Yoshitsugu (Sora) and Kayano Ai (Shiro) to always be memorable. From Saekano to Pet Girl, whenever they are leads in an anime I always find it entertaining. I’ve rewatched NGNL a few times since I first saw it, and everytime, it makes the wait for a potential second season even harder. Aschente!
No Game No Life PV 2
4. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! (KonoSuba)
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: Jan. 2016 - Mar. 2016
On his way home from purchasing a game he was looking forward to, Satou Kazuma sees a girl in trouble. He pushes her out of the way and is run over, or so he thinks… In reality, he died from shock, and the girl was never in any danger at all. His death is such a spectacle, that the goddess in charge of his journey through the afterlife can’t help but laugh at his misfortune. When she offers him another chance at life if he slays the demon lord of another world, he accepts. When the snooty goddess tells him to pick any one gift or ability to aid him on his quest, he angrily chooses her. Now, the pair is trapped in a fantasy world straight out of an RPG, and the only way either of them can return to their lives is if they defeat the demon lord before he destroys the world.
I cannot tell you how dizzy I’ve gotten from laughing at this anime. It really slapped me in the mouth from holding an opinion that anime comedies just weren’t as funny to outsiders. Granted, by the time I watched Konosuba I had engrossed myself quite a bit, to the point that I recognized the tropes of hero versus demon king, Isekai, and the like; but the beauty of Konosuba is that it realizes what’s normal and what isn’t. For example, anyone who watches anime, is going to see their fair share of panty humor. Konosuba is no exception, and in fact, it goes to the Nth degree with Kazuma using his Steal ability. But it does so in a way that is so over the top that there’s no mistaking it, you don’t even have time to really process it, it’s just laugh out loud funny.
It also introduced me to the sadness of seeing a season cut short at only 10 episodes. The following season had 10 as well, and has produced a couple of OVAs, but this series needs more. The anime is just exceptional, despite the obvious budget constraints to the animation quality. I could watch this show as a motion comic, the voice acting was so on point, especially Satou Kazuma and his improvised lines muttered under his breath. I actually tried reading the manga of this when hearing it was getting adapted. It was devoid of any of the cues and comedic timing, to the point that I found it unrecognizable when I finally watched the anime. KonoSuba is that anime that, at least to me, proves comedy knows no bounds, regardless of the subject matter.
KonoSuba PV 2
3. Dragon Ball Z Kai
- Episodes: 97
- Aired: Apr. 2009 – Mar. 2011
Son Goku, the world’s strongest fighter, defeated Demon King Piccolo and saved the world years prior. After going missing for quite some time, his friends wondered what happened to him, only to discover that he now has a young son named Gohan. Their reunion is short-lived when their gathering is interrupted by a Saiyan space warrior named Raditz who claims he is Goku’s older brother. He kidnaps Gohan and forces Goku to slaughter the inhabitants of Earth or he’ll kill his son. Completely outmatched by Raditz’s strength, he only has one choice: turn to his once-feared enemy Piccolo for help. Now, Goku must defeat his brother, as well as protect Earth from an oncoming Saiyan invasion.
Dragon Ball Z Kai cut the original Dragon Ball Z from 291 episodes down to just 159. All the exciting moments without all the filler and drawn out confrontations. As I mentioned previously, I stopped watching by the time Toonami got into the Majin Buu arc. As a huge Gohan fan, SSJ2 Gohan vs Perfect Cell was the highlight of the series, and seeing the boring high school Great Saiyaman nonsense was pretty painful. Being able to watch the series minus those cringey moments was perfect. Had it not been for Kai, even with my nostalgia, I probably could not have put DBZ on this list.
Dragon Ball Kai Season 1 Trailer
2. Monogatari Series: Second Season
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Jul. 2013 - Dec. 2013
Things have been pretty hectic for Araragi Koyomi upon entering his final year of high school. First off, he got bit by a vampire and temporarily became one, the side effects of which he’s still dealing with. Next, he befriended the smart, busty class president, but then she cut him in half when she became possessed by a bakeneko (demon cat). His kouhai became jealous of him getting his first girlfriend, causing her to attempt to kill him multiple times. Things just keep going from worse to worst for Ararararagi-san. Now in the 2nd season of the show, things are going to get more dreadful than they’ve ever been, with the vampiric high schooler traveling through time, battling zombies, and fighting a newly arisen god. Hopefully he has time to study!
I was introduced to the Monogatari series as a dare, honestly. My friend who gave me a Cruncyhroll pass didn’t think I would get past Nisemonogatari’s infamous tooth brushing scene, but recommended that I start with Bakemonogatari. I watched it, and was hooked on its mysterious storytelling, but confused by its art style. I was still new to anime, and wasn’t completely aware of Shaft’s subjective styling. Empty scenes, subtle juxtaposition - it took me a while to realize it was trying to convey scenes from a book rather than being a scene-driven anime. Either way, I enjoyed it.
With Second Season, the characters entered powerful new arcs. Some left, and some relationships changed forever. The thing that made me such a huge fan of Monogatari author NisiOisiN are his characters’ motivations. In every work, you understand the characters, what drives them and compels them to act. Even if you don’t agree with them, you understand why they’re acting in such a way. Either through narration of the protagonist or dialogue between characters, their reasoning comes out. His works always deliver an introspective look at human emotion, often with some of the most extraordinary supernatural situations acting as a backdrop. Monogatari has become one of my favorite series, and Second Season is arguably its high point.
Koimonogatari Official Trailer
1. Made in Abyss
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul. 2017 - Sept. 2017
Growing up in an orphanage, Riko heard tales of her famous mother told by the inhabitants of Orth, and has made it her passion to become an explorer just like her. As a young red whistle Delver, she dives into the shallow layer of a pit known as the Abyss, like countless other brave souls. One day, after nearly losing her life, she is saved by a mysterious robot boy who she names Reg. His arrival coincides with news of her mother’s passing deep within the Abyss. However, the remnants she’s left behind lead Riko to believe that she is still alive, and waiting for her to descend. With newfound purpose and a powerful guardian in Reg, Riko decides to abandon her life in Orth and lead a perilous one-way journey to the very bottom of the Abyss in search of her mother.
By the time I’d watched Made in Abyss, I thought I’d seen it all. I understood anime, and what it could and couldn’t do. For better or worse, anime storytelling differs from other mediums. That’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s the reason why it hooked me so much after becoming fatigued with nearly every other form of entertainment. Made in Abyss, however, broke that misconception completely. Perfect worldbuilding, sympathetic characters, a masterful soundtrack, and beautiful animation. In a time where animators are overworked and underpaid, I thought there was no chance for something like this to exist outside of a Hayao Miyazaki’s work.
Riko and Reg faced many difficulties in Made in Abyss, and as a viewer, I thought I was okay with most of it. I was not. I didn’t think I could cry watching a cartoon or anime. In fact, I don’t think I’ve cried to anything on a screen since I was 10 years old. I cried three times in two episodes of Made in Abyss. It was heartbreaking, endearing, powerful and strangely uplifting at the darkest times. Its cute visuals dangerously belie the tragedy it contains, and if you aren’t expecting it, it will drag you into its depths without a moment’s pause.
Made in Abyss PV 2
I’ve watched a lot of different anime over the years, and hopefully I’ll watch some more amazing ones like these. A year ago, my Top 5 list would have probably looked a bit different, even though I’d have seen other anime on this list. Thinking back; as you age, you change, and for right now, these anime seem to mean the most to me.
Did you watch any of these? If so, let me know in the comments. I’d love to chat about them!