Anime has been a big part of my life since before I actually recognized it as anime. Like many other American fans, I was first exposed to anime on cable television while growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s from blocks like Toonami and Adult Swim. I still have vivid memories of staying up way past my bedtime to catch my favorite shows which further added to the often otherworldly feel I got from anime. I fell in love with many shows without even knowing they were Japanese in origin or called anime but once I understood that, I discovered more and more and was hooked, rummaging through my local library for VHS tapes, and later DVDs, along with manga.
I think what attracted me so much to anime was how different it was from most other entertainment. The types of stories and settings in anime really captured my imagination unlike anything else, and all done in an alluring art style that seemed to suit animation perfectly. Animation with more mature themes (that wasn't the typical cynical, raunchy comedy of American adult cartoons) really resonated with me, and still does to this day.
Anime as a medium is quite diverse and creative. I enjoy a wide variety of genres and have been an avid watcher for many years now, so picking a top five was pretty daunting but I think these choices represent a good slice of my tastes, both nostalgic classics and more modern favorites.
5. Nichijou (My Ordinary Life)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr. 2011 to Sep. 2011
Nichijou is an incredibly bizarre comedy that blends the ordinary with the completely absurd. Following a trio of high school girls, Yuuko Aioi, Mio Naganohara, and Mai Minakami, child genius Hakase Shinonome and her completely normal human caretaker Nano (she is actually a robot) along with a rich supporting casts of characters, Nichijou is one of the most charming slice-of-life comedies of recent times. With scenes of heartwarming cuteness, bizarro randomness or a combination thereof, the Nichijou anime is a beautiful recreation of Keiichi Arawi's wonderful manga made even stronger through animation.
One thing that really makes Nichijou stand out in its genre is the intricate, high-budget animation and attention to detail present in the series, which is pretty unusual for high school comedy. Brought to life by the legendary Kyoto Animation, the animation quality really adds to the enjoyment. In particular, scenes that take the ordinary to the extreme such as Yuuko accidentally dropping her hotdog or getting bitten by a dog. There's plenty of absurdity as well, like the school principal wrestling a deer and a ridiculous subplot involving a pair of magical cubes and a princess on a blimp. I love Nichijou, it has a great balance of over-the-top antics and simple relaxing moments, fantastic animation, music, and characters. It's one of the most therapeutic, feel-good shows I've seen and a personal favorite.
4. Samurai Champloo
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: May 2004 to Mar. 2005
Created by famous director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Space Dandy, Kids on the Slope, etc.), Samurai Champloo is the story of waitress Fuu Kasumi in her quest to find the “samurai who smells of sunflowers” in an adventure set in an alternate version of the Edo period of Japan. Fuu is joined by two extraordinary swordsmen: the refined, soft-spoken ronin Jin and the erratic, self-taught rogue Mugen, after she helps rescue them from execution. The two are actually more interested in fighting each other but reluctantly agree to put off their conflict until after they help Fuu. The trio journeys all over a hip-hop-infused Japan where they encounter a host of colorful characters and happenings in a unique adventure with a style all its own.
Samurai Champloo is a story I've experienced many times but never seem to tire of. I love Shinichiro Watanabe's work and his trademark penchant for incorporating music as the driving force in the style and storytelling rhythm of each show. While I personally am not a hip-hop aficionado, its combination with the pseudo-historical Japanese setting is extremely interesting to me as are the character dynamics, particularly between Mugen and Jin. Their opposing styles come across so well in every aspect of their characters: speech, dress, and fighting styles. Combining strong, episodic storytelling, good fight choreography, interesting historical references (like the persecution of Christians in Japan and Ukiyo-e art inspiring Van Gogh), a standout soundtrack by Nujabes, and some anachronistic fun like a baseball match with some invading Americans, Samurai Champloo is an amazingly stylish anime that's always an absolute blast to watch. I rewatch it frequently and am never disappointed.
Samurai Champloo Trailer
3. Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou (Girls' Last Tour)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct. 2017 to Dec. 2017
Chito and Yuuri are two girls that may be the last two people left on Earth. Driving through gigantic ruined cities in their Kettenkrad vehicle (something of a cross between a tank and a motorcycle) the two explore their war-torn landscape in search of food, supplies, and information about the world. Girls' Last Tour is an unusual take on slice-of-life with its mysterious, post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting, and philosophical musings on war, civilization, and life. Chito and Yuuri have amazing chemistry together. Yuuri's impetuous excitement and brute force methods contrast well with Chito's more relaxed composure and reliability. Their bond feels sincere and drives the overall sense of hopeful positivity that exudes from Girls' Last Tour.
I was immediately attracted to the world building and visual design in this series, which feels both strange and familiar simultaneously. As Chito and Yuuri travel ever onward, they encounter huge, sprawling factories, military facilities, strange religious sites, and other intriguing locations like a nearly-abandoned aquarium run by aging, malfunctioning robots. Every episode is a treat just to see what strange ruined places they'll be exploring. Chito and Yuuri don't know much about the world themselves which adds to the sense of mystery and amusement at their guesses and questions. The music of the series must also be mentioned, in a word: fantastic! I particularly love the ending theme which is an awesome, disco-infused jam but the entire OST is worth exploring and highlighted within the story of the show as well! I actually only recently finished the series but it left a big impression on me with its lighthearted simplicity and poignant discussion of serious topics without ever being overwrought. I'm hoping for more in the future! One more night, one more night!!
Girls' Last Tour PV
2. Yuu☆Yuu☆Hakusho (Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files)
- Episodes: 112
- Aired: Oct. 1992 to Jan. 1995
Yu Yu Hakusho tells the story of 14-year old delinquent Yuusuke Urameshi who gets killed by a car after pushing a kid out of the way of the moving vehicle. Now a ghost, Yuusuke is given a second chance at life by the child-like heir to the throne of spirit world, Koenma, if he is able to complete a series of tasks with the help of death god cutie Botan. Yuusuke has to fight demonic enemies disrupting the balance of the world as a “spirit detective”. He and Botan are later joined by Yuusuke's loudmouth ex-rival Kazuma Kuwabara and two demons: the stoic and intense swordsman Hiei and the enigmatic Kurama, who uses special plants as weapons. Together, they battle a slew of strange enemies in this classic shounen series based on the hit manga by Yoshihiro Togashi.
Yu Yu Hakusho was, and remains, my favorite of the “fighting anime” that seemed so ubiquitous in anime shown on American TV in the 90s and early 2000s exemplified by shows like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto. To me, it felt a bit more mature and dark and had a really strong aesthetic style that set it apart. I love the excitement of every battle and the development of the characters and their backstories. With some unforgettable fight scenes, outstanding visual effects, and charming characters, Yu Yu Hakusho quickly became one of my first favorites and is still special to me today. I'm especially a fan of the episodes directed by Akiyuki Shinbou (of SHAFT fame) that feature slightly different character designs, some really impressive effects and animation, and even some poignant moments with episodes like Toguro's Wish. I love it Forever Fornever!
Yu Yu Hakusho Trailer
- Episodes: 6
- Aired: Apr. 2000 to Mar. 2001
FLCL or Fooly Cooly or Furi Kuri is an anime that really pushes the envelope of the medium. Naota Nandaba frequently repeats “Nothing amazing happens here. Everything is ordinary.” talking about his suburban hometown of Mabase. After his brother Tasuku left for America to play baseball, the twelve-year-old Naota grew cynical and continuously tries to appear mature and aloof to hide his sadness. Everything changes when pink-haired alien Haruko Haruhara violently arrives, hitting Naota with her Vespa motor scooter and shortly after with her Rickenbacker bass guitar. Things only get stranger when a giant horn appears on Naota's head where the guitar struck him. He soon finds himself in the middle of a conflict that could destroy the entire universe in an adventure full of robots, secret organizations, pop culture references, sexual innuendo, and frequent over-the-top animation.
FLCL is a wild ride I'll never forget. I was really taken in by the style exhibited in this series, as well as the music provided by stellar alternative rock band The Pillows. Fooly Cooly has moments of sheer insanity coupled with bouts of a sort of nostalgic sadness that really spoke to me when I watched it as a teenager. It's weird, unpredictable, and doesn't always make sense, but it's hard not to fall in love with the incredible style exuding from FLCL. Moreover, it tells a rich, complete story in only six episodes! To me, it represents some of the best things in anime: bizarre comedy, creative animation, exciting action choreography, great music, and an aesthetic sense all its own. FLCL feels as slick as when I first saw it and will likely remain in my memory, and personal top 5, for the rest of my life!
I love anime because of the creativity within the medium that continuously impresses me and its diversity in visuals, subject matter, and storytelling styles. I think there's truly something for everyone to be found in anime which really speaks to the strength of the medium. I personally enjoy a wide variety of genres, from intense action to slice-of-life to absurdist comedy and have a special fondness for anime with a strong musical component and creative world-building.
As a closing bonus I wanted to give a shoutout to a few more anime that are very special to me and deserve mentioning:
- Ping Pong The Animation for its unique visual style and incredible characterization and storytelling.
- InuYasha for capturing me early on with its beautiful world, amazing music, and memorable characters.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion for its fantastic symbolic style, music and groundbreaking dark story.
- ToraDora! for its outstanding characters and touching romantic moments.
- Welcome to the N.H.K. for it taking on intense, taboo subjects in an interesting, relatable manner
- Paprika (and all of Satoshi Kon's work) for mind-bending, psychological creativity.
Spirited Away for its beautifully unique world that I enjoyed so much that I watched it twice in a row back-to-back after borrowing it on VHS from my library!
While this is certainly not a complete listing of all of the anime I like but I hope that it has given you some insight into what I love about the medium. Let me know what you think of my taste in the comments below, especially if we share some favorites! I hope that you enjoy my writings in the future. Sayonara bye bye!