Growing up in Mexico, I had access to anime from a very young age. In the early nineties, old and then-new series were on TV back to back. From Heidi, Candy Candy and Doraemon to Saint Seiya, Captain Tsubasa, Dr. Slump and of course Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Ranma ½ and more. Previously a fan of the Looney Tunes, when I discovered anime, a whole new world opened up! These shows weren’t just silly old-school humor, the character design was different, and well, there were actual stories to follow! After that, I kept watching whatever anime was on TV, whatever I could borrow from friends, and eventually whatever was being shown in the anime clubs I was a part of (yes, plural).
Quite frankly, it’s hard to pick just 5 anime out of the dozens (or more?) I’ve watched over the last 20+ years! Ghost in the Shell introduced me to a whole new side of anime, while Trigun introduced me to another and Ouran High School Host Club showed me all about a reverse harem. I am still an avid follower of One Piece and Naruto – though these fillers are killing me – and I will always recommend Death Note to those who want to get into anime.
However, I have picked the following as my top 5 because I’ve either loved them enough to watch them multiple times, quote them semi-regularly and/or the storyline or characters blew my mind in one way or another. My firsts will always be special, but anime keeps changing and evolving and so do we, so here are my favorites!
1. Azumanga Daioh
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2002 – October 2002
Azumanga Daioh follows the everyday school life of a varied group of high school girlfriends. Sakaki, the strong silent type, Yomi, the smart mature one, Kagura, the athlete, Tomo the hyperactive one, Osaka, the distracted airhead and little Chiyo, the 11 year old child prodigy that joins their class. Their homeroom teacher, Yukari Tanizaki who’s impulsive, short tempered, loves to drink and is obsessed with her BFF/rival Minamo Kurosawa the PE teacher joins in on the fun every now and then too.
Even though Azumanga Daioh is a School Slice of Life anime, it does follow the girls through their entire 3 years in high school. It gives you a pretty good idea of what high school is like in Japan. Azumanga is definitely a Comedy and gives all the stereotypes and tropes its own twist. There are running gags all over the place that don’t get old, cute scenes involving little Chiyo-chan and Sakaki, and Osaka’s daydreams give us plenty of super random moments. I promise you will fall in love with at least one of these girls!
2. Himouto! Umaru-chan
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2015 - September 2015
Umaru Doma is a beautiful, intelligent, athletic, kind high schoolgirl. Everybody in school admires her and wants to get to know her, boys and girls alike. She’s at the top of her class and is sweet and helpful. However, once she gets home, the uniform comes off, the cola and potato chips come out and video games and manga take center stage. She’s a huge anime fan and a big gamer and does absolutely nothing to help her brother around the house. Nobody could ever imagine that the perfect girl from school is a lazy otaku at home!
This is another School Slice of Life Comedy that is different from the rest. Just like Azumanga Daioh, Himouto! Umaru-chan centers on high school life in a unique and hilarious way. Umaru reflects the need some of us have to separate our otaku interests from our work/school life because some people just don’t get it! Her “true self” is a cute chibi version of herself, she gets really excited over snacks and all things otaku and she’s an amazing gamer. I love this girl! There are also hilarious characters, like her rival Sylphinford or her classmate Kirie who is too shy to talk to miss perfect but falls in love with the chibi version. All-in-all it’s a silly, fun anime that will make you smile, and while it may seem episodic, it seems like we’re getting to see Umaru grow up and change as she makes new friends as her alter egos.
3. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
- Episodes: 64
- Aired: April 2009 – July 2010
In a world where alchemy exists, two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric are faced with the tragedy of their mother’s untimely death. Stricken with grief, they attempt to bring her back using their current alchemical knowledge. However, ignoring the first rule of alchemy “in order to gain something, you must sacrifice something of equal value”, Edward loses an arm and a leg and Al loses his whole body, so Ed binds him to an armor to save his soul. In search of a way to get Al’s body back, they learn about the dark side of alchemy and the truth about the philosopher’s stone.
I fell in love with the original Fullmetal Alchemist, and I would’ve quoted that series as my favorite had there not been an alternate version with a better conclusion (based more on the manga). The story makes you think, the action scenes are wonderful and the art is great. Brotherhood makes you laugh, cry (seriously, you will), love, hate and everything in between. It made me fall in love with the brothers and feel for many of the other characters and their circumstances. I only have one tattoo, and it is FMA inspired. This one's definitely one of my faves.
4. Hunter x Hunter (2011)
- Episodes: 148
- Aired: October 2011 – September 2014
“Hunters” are people who are extremely skilled in one way or another and use their Hunter license to search for treasures, battle for fame and fortune, capture criminals or even become criminals themselves. Gon Freecs is a 12 year old boy who decides to become a Hunter to go out in search of the father he’s never met, but who is a highly skilled Hunter himself. Throughout his journey he meets other Hunters both good and bad as well as monsters, assassins and new found powers.
I am a big fan of Action Adventure Shonen anime with a good plot and story (who isn’t!?) and Hunter x Hunter really brings that and more to the table. There are a huge amount of characters with widely varying interests, personalities, goals and strengths. It has surprising twists and turns, some very heart-felt moments (I may have cried during this one too), and the friendship between Gon and little white-haired Killua is one for the books. Within all the action, drama and story development though, there is also a fair amount of humor thanks to Gon’s naiveté and more than one creepy guy that you’ll love to shudder at. And best of all, there's closure at the end!
5. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2002 – March 2003
In the near future, technology has advanced to the point where full transplants are possible from human body to machine. Many people possess some sort of cybernetic enhancement while others, like Motoko Kusanagi are full cyborgs. This advance in technology also allows for hackers and cyber criminals like “The Laughing Man” to launch unprecedented terrorist attacks. The special police unit Section 9, led by Kusanagi set out to find those responsible and bring them to justice while facing their own pasts and repercussions of cyberization.
The entire Ghost in the Shell franchise is a masterpiece. Though Stand Alone Complex is relatively recent, GITS has been around – as an anime - since 1995 when the very first movie was released. It has action, sci-fi, touches on relevant social issues and it’s cerebral. Major Motoko Kusanagi is very mysterious, strong, and intelligent and an all-around badass, as is her second in command Batou. Besides all the badassery, the story is more than well developed and moves at a great pace. Although GITS is an Action, Mecha, Police Seinen, it throws a little bit of comedy at you now and then through the lovable Tachikomas and the interactions between the Section 9 members. Bonus: Yoko Kanno music!
Ghost in the Shell has all the things I love in anime. It makes you think, the art is gorgeous, the storyline is intriguing, there are some lighthearted moments, the heroine is really hot, the music is great, the characters are well developed and I think it really immerses you into its universe effortlessly. The GITS franchise as a whole is definitely my favorite!
These are far from being the first anime I’ve ever watched, though when I first saw the Ghost in the Shell movie was when I became fully obsessed with watching more anime. The world of anime is amazingly vast, and while I do consider One Piece to be one of my favorite anime, it is a popular, common and well-known one that I’m sure you all know about or already watch.
The beauty of anime is you can find anything to fit any taste, any personality and any mood you may be in. As you can tell, I love Shonen and Comedy though I also love Sci-Fi and Police anime. And while there are many formulaic series out there, there are also those that break the mold! Those are the ones I usually enjoy the most.
I have many more favorites, of course. I also recommend Excel Saga for some ridiculous fast-paced comedy, Paranoia Agent for those into Psychological Police Thrillers, Ore Monogatari!! for some Romance Comedy and Ouran High School Host Club for a good dose of inverse Harem!
I hope you enjoyed my Top 5! Do we share any favorites? Let me know in the comments!