Oh to narrow down my favorite anime from everything I’ve seen these last 12 years… I won’t bother counting Pokemon and Yugioh since I was a wee youngin’ and didn’t really understand what anime was. It was not until Rurouni Kenshin and Yu Yu Hakusho that I learned about ani-mei and, desperate for similar shows, I began my journey. This ultimately led to my interest in many aspects of Japanese culture.
Looking back, it’s almost comical to see how I transitioned from my shounen anime and fighting my friends in the back yard with our stick-swords to falling to pieces over entirely romance-based anime. (haha, ‘romance’, she calls it…). Condensing everything I’ve seen down to only a top 5 was honestly far more painful than it should have been. I’m pretty sure the only one who sees excluding some shows as betrayal, is me. I joke, but there are a LOT of genres I like and so many reasons certain shows are special to me. This is the result of a lot of self-reflection and many tears, in order from oldest to most recent!
5. Gugure! Kokkuri-san
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct. 2014 – Dec. 2014
When Kohina, a ‘living doll’ with absolutely no human emotions like loneliness, decides to play Kokkuri-san alone, she’s not convinced she actually will become haunted by the fox spirit as legend tells. Yet when the summoning turns out to be successful, Kohina ends up with a supernatural live-in housekeeper! Unable to stand the thought of the young girl living on her own and eating only cup noodles every day, Kokkuri-san takes care of the household responsibilities and becomes Kohina’s first friend. Unfortunately, he's not the only spirit to end up drawn to Kohina. The obsessed Inugami and good-for-nothing Shigaraki also take up residence, and Kohina’s lonely days are replaced with stressful encounters with pervy spirits. However, it is thanks to these supernatural beings that she learns to become more human.
Kokkuri was an easy pick because it combines my love for ikemen (pretty boys), the supernatural, and Ono Daisuke’s voice. It’s hysterical to the point where I was in shock with the things they were getting away with but it still managed to be so sensitive about certain things. None of the demons behave anything like you'd imagine powerful monsters to be like, and their concerns are incredibly human. I'll admit, though, this show had me tearing up unexpectedly at certain touching moments. Kohina’s cool and aloof nature is so endearing, and seeing her open up in the weirdest of circumstances makes for a very fun and heartfelt anime.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san PV 2
4. Love Stage!!
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: July 2014 – Sept. 2014
Izumi was born into a family of celebrities, an absolute curse for the otaku who wants to draw manga professionally in solitude. The only time he’d ever appeared on TV, he’d been made to dress up as a girl! That was 10 years ago, and now the company he did the commercial for wants to shoot a ’10 years later’ version with the original cast!! Bribed by his older brother, he reluctantly agrees. Things become even more stressful when his previous co-star, the now super famous Ryouma, wants to meet the cute girl from 10 years ago!
When Ryouma finds out Izumi’s secret, he’s disgusted that the excitement he’s been feeling is for another man. He’s determined to push Izumi from his thoughts, but when Ryouma goes to confront his, he ends up trying to touch Izumi instead! When this frightens Izumi, Ryouma realizes he's been selfish and cruel and apologizes in the hopes the two can become friends. As they grow closer, they find that friendship is not all they long for!
Beyond the obvious shounen-ai, Love Stage is great because it’s a really funny story with characters that know what they want to do. Much for the same reason I loved Gravitation, I love Izumi’s ambition in his chosen field. His desire to become a mangaka, even when he so obviously lacks talent, is both hilarious and inspiring. Of course, I'm a big fan of relationship dynamics, so the relationship between Izumi and Ryouma was very refreshing. We tend to have a lot of simple dynamics in gay anime where one character doesn't want it, and the other does, and one guy forces himself on the other and whoops, guess he likes it. Now don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of that as well. However, Love Stage is special to me with the nature of their relationship being more respectful and supportive than I'm used to. Plus the artwork is great and features particularly stunning eyes.
Love Stage PV 2
3. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 2011 – March 2011
Madoka and Sayaka are two middle school girls whose lives are changed forever when they are offered the chance to form a contract to become magical girls. With the promise of having their greatest desire fulfilled, it seems like a great opportunity. However, they are confronted by a magical girl, cold and dismissive, who tells them not to accept the contract. She warns that fighting Witches, the causes of human suffering, will take a much greater toll on them than they realize. Madoka and Sayaka meet another magical girl who tells them that by accepting the contract, she got a second chance at life. Forced to decide between giving their lives forever to battle, or standing idly by while their friends face danger, the two must decide their own paths in a world far more perilous than they ever realized.
There is so much to love about this show. It’s not the first time mahou shoujo (magical girl) anime has been dark, but it's a very deep and intriguing story. The focus on how being a magical girl really affects their lives in the ‘real world' is particularly interesting and at times, quite painful. The artwork changes drastically with the presence of Witches and it really serves to show the disconnect from the world the girls know and the secret lives they lead. If you haven’t seen the show, and the name Urobuchi Gen means anything to you, I warn you he wrote the script. If the relationships between girls intrigue you, I highly suggest you give it a watch!
Puella Magi Madoka Magica Trailer
2. Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou (Demon King Daimao)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2010 – June 2010
Sai Akuto may be young, but he knows exactly what he wants to do with his life. His strong sense of justice has led him to pursue becoming a high priest so that he might have the power to help those too weak to help themselves. He’s the kind of guy to help little old ladies cross the street, so it’s quite the surprise when he enrolls at Constant Magic Academy and it’s revealed his fate is to become the next Demon Lord! This draws all kinds of people to him, friend and foe, despite his absolute repulsion to the idea. While he seems to be moving steadily towards his cruel fate, he will find more and more people he wishes to protect. He’ll also find that not all the ladies are as opposed to the idea of him becoming a demon lord as he is!
One of the reasons I love Daimao so much is because it is hilarious with an overarching mystery attached to it. I also greatly love the relationship dynamics, where we have the protagonist of a harem that doesn’t just automatically gain everyone’s affections in an instant. Instead, Akuto’s good qualities (his sense of justice, responsibility, and kindness) are what attract girls to him. His goal isn’t to get a girlfriend or score a harem, women are just drawn to him while he works hard to become someone who can protect the weak and defenseless. A real harem protag that men can aspire to be like! And wow, what a collection of diverse cute girls. It’s hard not to get attached to all of them! With everyone striving to achieve their precious dreams, it’s as inspiring as it is stimulating!
1. Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Oct 2008 – March 2009
The young aristocrat Ciel Phantomhive, on the surface, works diligently to uphold the integrity of his family’s name after losing them in a mysterious fire. With the help of his exceptional butler named Sebastian, he fulfills his duties as Earl of the Phantomhive estate as well as executive chairman of Funtom Corporation. His less known role is that of The Queen’s Watchdog. The young master and servant work to solve any mystery which brings distress to her Highness, often putting Ciel and Sebastian in the middle of violence and terror. Being one hell of a butler, Sebastian carries out any and all orders from Ciel who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals.
His goals, however, are not limited to preserving the honor of the Phantomhive name. Ciel seeks to not only raise his family's status to its former glory, but to make his enemies suffer greatly for their past crimes against him. His search for revenge brings him in close contact with demons, shinigami (death gods), and angels. While a normal thirteen-year-old boy would be shaken by this, Ciel sees only opportunity. Bound by a contract, Ciel and Sebastian will let neither heaven nor hell get in their way.
One of the things I loved about this series was how funny it managed to be while still conveying such dark and depressing themes. What’s even more incredible is its ability to utilize this humor as a way to make light of a character’s faults, only later to bring them painfully into focus. Not your standard tale of good and evil, Kuroshitsuji makes you question just what is good and how does one navigate life when their only choices are the lesser of two evils. Of course, I was a huge fan of Sebastian as he's a demon, he's a butler, AND he's voiced by my favorite seiyuu (voice actor), Ono Daisuke.
Black Butler: Season 1 – Official Trailer
WOW was that difficult. I am happy with the final list, though! Some overarching themes are comedy, relationship dynamics, and the presence of the supernatural. Just like my life~ (oh ho ho, she’s got jokes). I managed to cut down on length by excluding who is best girl/guy from each series, but if you’re curious about any of my choices, please let me know in the comments and I’d be happy to discuss. Thanks for taking an interest!