Hey everyone! I’m Mary Lee, a writer for Honey’s Anime. I tend to focus on top 10s for anime and video games, as well as Honey’s Crush Wednesdays and other fun stuff on this site. If you’d like to know how I got into anime... well, there isn’t really a specific point when that happened. I’ve actually been a fan for my entire life – tuning in to Pokémon and Toonami as a kid, buying DVDs and manga at bookstores as a teenager, and now streaming the latest shows online.
I’ve always been fascinated by how anime can tell such complex stories with the most fascinating characters and settings imaginable. There’s no doubt in my mind that anime is a big reason why I love writing so much. Digging deeper into these worlds to figure out how they work and what they can teach the audience is super fun to me, almost as much as creating new worlds from my own mind! So today, let’s take a look at my top 5 favorite anime of all time – which shows have shaped me, made me laugh, sparked new ideas, and still have a special place in my heart.
5. Smile Precure! (Glitter Force)
- Episodes: 48
- Aired: Feb 5, 2012 to Jan 27, 2013
I’m aware that this one is weird. Especially compared to the more seriously toned entries on this list, Smile Precure is a sparkly, rainbow-spangled outlier that even hardcore anime fans would roll their eyes at. But stay with me, because this show (as well as the entire Pretty Cure franchise) features cutesy magical girls laying the smackdown on the bad guys in fight scenes that could’ve come straight out of Dragon Ball Z.
The story itself is pretty standard “wake up, go to school, save the world” fare with monsters of the week and obvious plugs for toys, but our five main heroines are so earnest and passionate about saving what they love that I’m totally invested no matter what. Cure Sunny shakily stands up after a devastating blow and summons the strength to toss a giant boulder at the enemy because she loves her friends too much to let them down, dammit!! And then everyone joins together for the rainbow princess finishing move that saves the day. It’s cheesy and dumb for sure, but I can’t deny that I love Smile Precure’s perfect blend of girliness and heart-pounding intensity.
No official trailer available
4. Death Parade
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 10, 2015 to Mar 28, 2015
And now for something completely different; how about a story about recently deceased people facing off in cruel games for a chance at reincarnation? That’s Death Parade, a deeply sad and touching anime with jaw-droppingly gorgeous animation and a catchy theme song that got me to watch it in the first place. It’s only 12 episodes long, but uses every second to flesh out some of the most complex and realistically flawed characters I’ve ever seen and to explore its mysterious world of immortal bartenders who control the afterlife.
Death Parade is particularly impactful to me because two episodes focus on depression and suicide, which I’ve had many personal struggles with. It strikes right at the heart of what makes suicide so tragic and how a person’s own thoughts can become their worst enemy. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was sobbing by the end of those episodes. This anime is such a precious jewel to me that I wish I could see more of it, or at least buy some merch. Seriously, why is there no good Death Parade merch? I just want Decim and Onna figures for my bookshelf so I can give them the love that they so richly deserve!
Death Parade trailer
3. Shin Seiki Evangelion (Neon Genesis Evangelion)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct 4, 1995 to Mar 27, 1996
Is it considered pretentious to like Neon Genesis Evangelion? Well, if it is, hand me my designer glasses and artisanal coffee because I love this show. It turns what would be a standard mecha anime on its head to explore the reality of what these characters would be going through if they were put in such a dangerous, high-pressure situation. Both the kids and the adults struggle with issues like depression, absent parents, self-identity, and addiction as they try to hold each other up and save the world.
I don’t pay as much attention to the bizarre imagery or Freudian subtext that Evangelion is known for as much as I like to watch Shinji, Misato, Asuka, and the others discover who they are through experiences they share with each other. In particular, Shinji’s relationship with Kaworu shows just how much our main character relies on approval from his peers, but how Kaworu’s genuine affection for him cuts through the posturing and gives him a reason to like himself. In real life, every person you know has some kind of struggle that they don’t share with the world. Evangelion bursts that wide open and shows everyone’s struggles like a big open wound. It’s shocking and at times incomprehensible, but this anime reflects reality more than you might think.
2. Katekyo Hitman Reborn! (Reborn!)
- Episodes: 203
- Aired: Oct 7, 2006 to Sep 25, 2010
You have to put in a sizeable time commitment to properly enjoy Reborn, but it’s absolutely worth it for how much this anime blossoms once it gets going. It’s about how a shy, dorky kid named Tsuna learns to be the head of the Vongola mafia family after being forced into it by his chibi hitman tutor, Reborn. He meets many friends and enemies along the way, gets rad fire powers with all kinds of uses, and even travels to the future to prevent his friends’ deaths. It takes about 20 episodes to get to the meat of the action, but everything before that helps you get to know the characters and how they see the world.
What’s so special about Tsuna is how, even though he doesn’t want to get involved and fight for his life, he grows along the way and forges his own path of what it means to be a Vongola boss. It’s amazing to see him accept his responsibility, but do it in his own way that defies his predecessors’ violent legacy. In the end, all Tsuna wants to do is protect his friends’ happiness.
And if you need a more concrete reason to watch this show... everyone is drop dead gorgeous. Do you want hot anime boys in formal suits with magic powers? Because Reborn has you covered. Luckily, they’re all fleshed out characters in a wonderful story, too.
1. Hagane no Renkinjutsushi (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
- Episodes: 64
- Aired: Apr 5, 2009 to Jul 4, 2010
This is an obvious choice, but Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood really is as good as everyone says. It’s a unique story with fascinating characters and a world that seems to live and breathe on its own, told by an author who can turn on a dime between humor and drama in a way I’ve never seen anyone else pull off. It’s mind-boggling how Edward Elric can act like a bossy brat, a badass action hero, a mature scholar, and just a scared kid while still clearly being the same person. Coupled with the smooth animation, emotional music, and spot-on Japanese and English voice acting, this anime has everything I could possibly want.
I actually got into the Fullmetal Alchemist series through the manga, reading the entire thing before I watched either anime, and it’s still the definitive version in my mind. The 2003 anime is fine, but I don’t think the changes to the story live up to the grandeur of the original or really hold up over time. Brotherhood, on the other hand, takes everything I love about the manga and brings it to life in the biggest way imaginable. I’ve learned so much about human nature and what it means to be human just from watching this show, and I do think it's made me a better person in the long run. Thank you, Arakawa and Bones, for giving us this masterpiece.
I hope you enjoyed this list and getting to know me a bit better! Hopefully, my unbridled enthusiasm has convinced you to give some of these anime a try when you get the chance. Let me know in the comments if you love any of these shows (especially the more obscure ones, since they could use more fans) and thanks so much for reading!