Whenever a family member mentions home, they mean South Carolina. A thick line of military service colors our blood, we’re spread out a bit as a matter of course, but most of us live where my parents grew up and fell in love. The Palmetto State is the place for reunions, funerals, and many a crisis of faith, it’s also where I had my first brush with anime.
I was just pushing into the double digits at the time, I’m sure that a large part of my memories are reconstructions built from what I heard, but I distinctly remember the sweet scent of my aunt’s pecan pie cooling late into the night. Outside was a gentle rainless thunderstorm, and inside was a house overstuffed with candles and laughter. In the living room, nestled in as the fourth occupant of a three-person couch, some skinny boy with bug eyes witnessed the bloody world of Nanae Chrono’s Peacemaker Kurogane.
Needless to say, my father threw a fit when he came to pick us up, but the tanning the older kids earned for exposing me to stuff I was far too little for was well worth it. My brother got hooked on anime, and as the younger sibling, whatever he watched, I watched.
When we returned to Kansas, the usual cartoons and Animal Planet documentaries were forced to give ground to Gundam, Dragonball, and Sailor Moon. By the time I was old enough to struggle for the remote, I’d already been tainted for life.
Of course, while I have an adoration for anime as a whole, subjectivity means that I harbor more enthusiasm for some titles than others. It’s easy to get a general idea from me; I’ll talk to you about how much I love Last Exile and Cowboy Bebop for an hour if you let me, but superlatives are another story. Curating a small selection from a massive list of shows that inspired me, made me laugh, or even dragged me out of a pool of gloom almost feels like I’m committing an act of betrayal. Imagine picking out your favorite pet or family member if you’re the kind of person that tries to love equally.
I’ve done it though, for the sake of my own interest as well as yours, just don’t ask me the same question tomorrow.
5. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuko wo! (KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!)
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: January 2016 – March 2016
This one hit me from left field. I’d read reviews and seen a few clips, but nothing prepared me for the beautiful catastrophe that is Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuko wo! Among other things, I’m a big tabletop nerd and the anime feels like a DnD campaign gone horribly right. You know, the kind that you talk about for years and has your group’s dungeon master setting a slew of rules that would seem arbitrary and even nonsensical when viewed out of context.
Every member of Kazuma Satou's party are slaves to a particular vice, with little shame or restraint to be had between them. Making matters worse, their skill builds dance on the edge of being functionally broken and their interactions with the more civilized corners of the world make one wonder if it’s possible to induce an aneurysm with public manner alone.
Some parodies are carefully drafted, mixing the more overt stuff in with stealth humor and veiled criticism for thoughtlessly copied or poorly used tropes. The anime certainly has its clever points, but it excels in the way it takes a sledgehammer to the isekai genre. Everything in the world was on fire and I enjoyed every moment of it.
Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuko wo! PV1
4. Bounen no Xamdou (Xam’d: Lost Memories)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: July 2008 – February 2009
Here is a tale filled to the brim with everything I’m interested in: mecha, weird tech, mysticism, and a pool of three-dimensional characters. The spotlight is on Akiyuki Takehara, an almost-man from a sleepy island town. He gets turned into a living weapon as a reward for an act of kindness and collides headfirst with a series of events that has him struggling with his identity and an increasingly strenuous relationship with his home, something he shares with much of the cast.
While it plays with its themes heavily enough to feel preachy, it’s done in a way that entertains and prods some soul-searching out of the viewer. Jealousy, old wounds, and forgiveness combine with a strong message for peace explored through simultaneous organic character arcs. Although they recognize that it’s the right thing, the people and nations featured in Bounen no Xamdou wrestle with the prospect of moving past the old enemies and bouts of misfortune that hurt them.
I love this title for keeping the consequences of conflict in the frame throughout the entire story. Alongside the dreamlike music and scenery, it makes for a forlorn yet beautiful experience that’s hard to replicate.
3. Nichijou (Nichijou – My Ordinary Life)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2011 – September 2011
Let it never be said that I don’t enjoy things outside of the speculative genres.
Nichijou is a slice of life comedy that had its beginnings as a gag manga drafted under the masterful hand of Keiichi Arawi and released to the public way back in the winter of 2006. There’s no clearly established plotline, but that only helps with making it work as a piece that likes to switch up its tone and scope without warning. Most of the characters are quirky and rendered in a minimalist style, giving it an aesthetic that’s easy to please younger viewers and friends who are more used to Western cartoons, it’s also competently written and truly special.
If you let yourself get into it, you’ll be laughing yourself to tears with the more embarrassing or exaggerated beats only to find yourself on the verge of another source of leaky eyes whenever a scene displays the genuine affection characters have for each other. Beyond the deer suplexing and high school antics lie connections that matter far more than the set up for the next joke. When it’s not killing your sides, Nichijou delivers the same kind of personal, therapeutic feeling that Hidamari Sketch and My Roommate is a Cat portrays so well.
Whether Nichijou takes your mind away from the troubles of the present or reminds you of a friend you parted ways with long ago, It’s the kind of anime that makes you feel content with being alive.
2. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2011 – April 2011
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica came to me at a rather hectic point in my life. I was just getting into the swing of things as a writer, good enough to consider breaking away from laboring at the whim and pleasure of anyone other than myself. I had to balance my “real” job with my education and my early efforts at sustainable freelancing; I didn’t have much time for anime or anything fun really. I decided to sacrifice some of my sleep to put into a sweet title that I could consume at a pace of one episode per night and still finish within a decent amount of time.
What Gen Urobuchi put on my plate was not what I ordered, but what I needed. He fed me solid insight on subversion, building sympathetic characters, and pacing within short stories that I’d been trying to wrangle for a long time. This cruel twist on the average magical girl anime allows its parent genre room to set viewer expectations and then shows us what happens when we remove most of the plot armor.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Trailer
1. Kidou Senkan Nadesico (Martian Successor Nadesico)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1996 – March 1997
A marker for the end of my elementary school years and the beginning of my history as an irredeemable anime addict by choice, Kidou Senkan Nadesico holds a very dear place in my heart. Shortly after my father received deployment orders to the Middle East, my brother and I were brought to the local library so we could check out enough books and DVDs to keep us occupied during the long nights without supervision ahead of us, it was there that I discovered the box set that I requested time and time again.
I imagine that the dramatic humor and flashy scenes are what drew little Marcus into the series, but the show contains quite a bit of anti-war sentiment and sensitive themes that I came to appreciate as I got older. Kidou Senkan Nadesico balances parody elements, solid storytelling, and praise for the sci-fi and mecha genres in a way that provides a little something for everyone.
From the first time I saw Akito Tenkawa’s desperate actions during the invasion of Mars, I was hopelessly enamored. The characters wear their hearts on their sleeves and yearn for simple things: Akito wants to cook, Gai Daigoji wants to fulfill his childhood dream of being a pilot, and Yurika Misumaru wants to chase love. Events give them a hard time of achieving any of this and it’s enough to make you want to hug everyone.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve followed the Nadesico on its departure from Earth, but it’s likely that I’ll sneak aboard several more times in the future.
Kidou Senkan Nadesico Opening
To me, anime is another gateway that fed my passion for stories, but not “just” another. The medium offers its own unique flavor that isn’t found in Western works. I owe as many of my fond childhood memories to the Saiyans as I do the denizens of Mossflower. If remaining an avid watcher of anime means never growing up in the eyes of some people, I’m more than happy to remain a cub for the rest of my life. I used to be insecure about that fact, but not anymore.
Did I get the stereotypical teasing that your average awkward anime fan endured at the turn of the century? Sure, but I’ve never found myself wishing that I’d done something better with my life or pursued a different hobby, and I don’t think that’s a part of me that’ll ever change.
The community is a much more socially acceptable one to be involved in today. The voices that look from the outside in with an array of preconceived notions about people who enjoy Japanese media are getting quieter by the hour and there was never (and will never be) a time where their opinions should be allowed to mar the merit of good stories.