It’s hard to pinpoint the exact day, month, or year for that matter, that I started watching anime, because shows like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z were so intermixed with my normal television schedule. Sailor Moon was in the morning block while getting ready for school and Dragon Ball Z was in the evening before going to bed.
That being said, by the time middle school came about, I had become interested enough in anime to really start exploring it via the internet. Thankfully, YouTube was around at that time to assist with my searches, and now my love for anime has brought me to Honey’s Anime where I get to delightfully gorge on new shows, claiming to friends and family, “I’m working.”
With all that in mind, I’m going to get to my top 5. I’m definitely more of an old-school anime fan. Not that there isn’t a plethora of recent shows with incredible plots, great action, and gorgeous visuals. Fate/stay night, Boku dake ga Inai Machi, Terror in Resonance, and Death Parade are just a few of such shows, and most recently Joker Game and Bunjou Stray Dogs have kept me counting the days till the next episode. Nonetheless, the main test is the test of time and few shows have come close to impacting me as much as any of these.
5. Love Hina
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Apr. 2000 – Sep. 2000
So we have Keitaro Urashima who’s been hoping to get into Tokyo University in order to fulfill a promise he made to a girl when he was younger as well to prove that he’s not entirely useless. Well, the latter turns out to be the case (kidding…sorta). He does feel pretty worthless though when he bombs the National Practice Exam and decides to move into his grandmother’s hotel to continue his studies. To his surprise, and debatably for his benefit, his grandmother’s hotel has been changed into an all-girl dorm and somehow Keitaro ends up as the manager, overseeing the house rules with five other girls.
This one is definitely a harem. Even though only two girls display solid affection, many of the ridiculous antics within the show definitely cater to a certain taste. Nonetheless it is an enjoyable romp, and the girls do have quite a bit of personality, even if they fall under an archetype. There’s a sake lover, an insane genius, a martial artist, and so many more who make up this crazy cast.
What’s special about this show is that at one moment you’ll be thinking, “how typical” and then the next you’ll be wondering, “how did any of that come to pass?” In other words, its core is a harem, but as an audience we’re revolving around that core, getting pelted by asteroids, rather than being stuck inside it. What makes it even more special is that it was the first anime I ever watched on a computer. In other words, the first I ever picked out, and the first I ever watched subbed.
4. Tenchi Muyou!
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr. 1995 – Sep. 1995
Tenchi Muyou! follows the misadventures of Tenchi, a 17-year-old boy, who finds his daily life interrupted by a host of galactic individuals. There’s the ever scheming space pirate Ryoko, the hotheaded and stubborn princess Ayeka, the kind-hearted princess Sasami, the mad scientist Washu, the ridiculous police duo of Mihoshi and Kiyone, and quite a few more to add to this ridiculous cast. In the end, this entire ensemble collides on Earth right where Tenchi lives and begin causing all hell.
If you haven’t watched the series there’s probably one thing you’re thinking…harem. Even if you have seen it, there’s a good chance you remember it as one. Why else would there be one teen and then a host of women in an anime? Well, there’s definitely a solid love triangle between Tenchi, Ryoko, and Ayeka; which is a heavy plot point for the entire series. You see, Ryoko and Ayeka have a sort of history in which neither of them can settle on the “accurate” details of their previous encounters, and now their rivalry has come to a boil over Tenchi. Now, obviously, you can choose your favorite, but long live Ryoko as the most shameless flirt while being one of the deadliest characters in the show.
However, outside of those three, the other characters have too much on their plates to start chasing around some boy. There are scenes when a certain outlier might show an interest in Tenchi, but these are so downplayed that saying her interest in him is associated with love is rather farfetched. This just plays to the show’s strength though, as it brings about a more fully realized crew who have their own independent lives to consider. The relationship between Miyoshi and Kiyone is a perfect example of this, and they provide countless humor throughout the series. You got to give credit where is due, and those two surprisingly meet the requirements to let this show pass the Bechdel test, which not many anime can do, especially in the 90s.
To top it off this show was the first to make me cry. SPOILER: The young princess Sasami is a seriously sweet-hearted girl that you come to adore for her innocence and inability to judge others. During one arc though, they practically dash your understanding of the character by suggesting that she is merely a clone of the original, who was injured during an attack. Thankfully, that’s not the case, but she isn’t solely herself as she has been interlinked with another being. That seriously blew my brains when I was a kid.
- Episodes: 33
- Aired: Oct. 2012 – Dec. 2014
The only recent show on my list, Psycho-Pass is one hell of a ride. It follows a police team in a futuristic Japan that is held together by the surveillance of the Sibyl System, which not only decides what’s the best course for you in life, but also determines the threat level of each citizen by examining their mental state. For the majority of people, the implementation of such a system has led to peace and a greater degree of happiness. However, this utopia isn’t perfect and Sibyl’s judgment is not always perfect. It’s the detective collaboration of Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami that really gets the ball moving as we start uncovering the dirty truth behind Sibyl.
This anime is a glorious mix between John Milton’s Paradise Lost and George Orwell’s 1984. It provokes us at first with questions of justice in a world that is being maintained through heavy surveillance. The system is, after all, a literal thought police that is not only able to watch your every move, but also scan your mental state. Thus, you immediately begin to wonder if such a place can even be a utopia if emotions need to be regulated in such a way.
Kicking this question into your teeth is none other than the highly charismatic Shougo Makishima. However, he also pushes the question further as he asks what’s the point of life when it’s so thoroughly mapped out for you. In his mind, people have become desensitized to real emotions, and he simply wants give them an opportunity to captain their own destiny. That’s putting in a kind light as he basically unleashes chaos in order to force people to act on their own desire. Nonetheless, his general argument has some validity to it, and it’s also hard to completely hate him as he willingly puts his own life in danger in order to experience the most powerful of emotions.
Complementing Makashima’s struggles and really holding our attention throughout most of the first season is Kogami, who also acts as a sort of mentor to Akane. It’s his character that treads a fine line between justice and chaos that heavily displays the pros and cons of society’s structure. In the end, this show has extremely complex characters, massive amounts of intrigue, lots of philosophical questions and an unflinching look at the brutality of a futuristic “utopia”.
2. Cowboy Bebop
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr. 1998 – Apr. 1999
The year is 2071 and many planets within the solar system have been colonized. Nonetheless, many areas are subject to poverty and space, in general, still holds a frontier-like quality. As a result, crime is commonplace, and space holds countless hiding spots for criminals. This is exactly why the Inter Solar System Police relies on the help of bounty hunters, known as ‘Cowboys.’ Cowboy Bebop follows a motley crew of ‘Cowboys’ on their adventures, which bit-by-bit reveal each member’s respective past.
This anime has just about everything in it. Blazing action, authentic dialogue, and characters that you can invest in. It’s an amazing journey and one with countless moments of awe and laughter. Nonetheless, there are two central aspects that make Cowboy Bebop legendary. One, it is a thematically western anime. Yes, it has some overt Wild West aspects, but those are simply the trimmings to the thematic scheme. Most heavily, Cowboy Bebop focuses on the frontier, or more specifically the idea of a desert, and the vast improbabilities that such a place holds. In size, it is simply impossible to maintain a certain order and people’s actions, even ones concerning life and death, are diminished in such an isolated environment. In terms of humanity, it is not a pretty sight, but, on a slightly positive note, you’re view of nature is freed from social constructs.
It really is a powerful show, and if you like it then you would be wise to check out other works by the incredibly talented Keiko Nobumoto. She played major roles in the creation of Samurai Champloo (a show that would be in my top 10), Wolf’s Rain, Tokyo Godfathers, and quite a few other anime that are worth your time.
1. Rurouni Kenshin
- Episodes: 94
- Aired: 1996 – Sep. 1998
Rurouni Kenshin follows the life Himura Kenshin during the Meiji Era in Japan. Despite his current occupation of “wanderer,” Kenshin played a major role in the Imperialist revolution and was even infamously known as a hitokiri (manslayer) and the “Battosai”. However, it’s exactly because of the number of people he killed during the war that he has taken to wandering and now carries a reverse blade in order to help maintain the peace of the new era.
I’m in love with Kenshin Himura. That alone should be enough reason as to why Rurouni Kenshin tops my list, but first how the love has manifested physically and then the reasons as to why this deep affection. To begin there is a gorgeous figurine of him gracing my bedside, and it’s the only anime that I have on disc, in box sets for season 1 and 2. Yes, I have watched all 94 episodes multiple times and even re-watched since January of this year.
You might be able to agree that Rurouni Kenshin has fun characters, a good plot, as well as great action; but still you might wonder “why the obsession?” Well, Kenshin is a portrayal of redemption at its most ideal. He understands that the only way to even slightly atone for his actions is to use the rest of his life to restoring peace. Too often characters either don’t care for what they’ve done or believe that they must banish themselves from society for their mistakes. In the latter situation, it’s true you can’t cause anymore harm, but you can’t help anyone either. Top this off with his gentle and often clumsy nature, and you have a truly memorable character, who makes for a better role model than most living people.
Oh, he’s also completely badass when it comes down to swordplay. His fight with Saito is also my favorite anime fight scene as it’s fast paced and brutal to an extent that was just unexpected from the show. It gets to the point where their hate allows the fight to devolve into a sudden fistfight with a belt chokehold once Saito’s sword became useless. That was shocking and at the same time heartrending.
There’s my top 5. I do have to give my apologies to Rumiko Takahashi as, despite not having a place on my top five, her works have been staples of my anime experience and comprise two spots in my top ten list. So a huge shout out to Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2. With that wrapped up nicely, which of these top 5 have you seen and enjoyed? Or better yet which of these shows have found a spot on your top 5 as well? Regardless, I’d love to hear about some of our viewer’s favorites below!