Once in a while you are asked to make a choice, and that choice isn’t an easy one. When my editor asked me to make a list of my Top 5 favorite anime I was really excited. Then I sat down and tried to write the list. I have a spreadsheet, developed long before I began to write for Honey’s Anime, that lists all the titles I’ve watched with a description and my own personal rating, making me think this should be easy. The spreadsheet is multiple pages long and for a brief moment had me reexamining my priorities in life. I quickly found myself picking five, then picking another five, and then remembering another one on that should go on the list. The quagmire that is a personal top five list without restriction had me near defeat until I decided to put some parameters on it. I decided that if I’ve watched the anime more than once it has to go on the list. That’s more than five and doesn’t include ones that I have an earnest desire to go back and view again. The list I’m presenting is my Top 5, it isn’t because I think these are the greatest of all time or have the best characters ever, it’s because they each struck a chord with me strong enough that I’ve watched them multiple times.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul. 2014- Sep. 2014
The Earth and Mars are at war. The people of Mars have the advantage as they have the ability to use alien technology call Aldnoah to power their mecha and their massive landing castles. The people of earth barely withstood the first assault and are hoping for peace. The young princess Asseylum of Mars is also hoping for peace and journeys to Earth to open a dialogue. The problem is, just like real life, not everyone is interested in peace. The second war breaks out during a visit to Earth where we watch high school students grow up fast as they fight for their lives with military mecha.
I love this series because it has an epic feel to it. It reminded me of the first anime I fell in love with the 1980s mecha classic, ROBOTECH. The clash of cultures, great battles, the hero and the anti hero, the romance and some misguided love all play into the grand feel of this series. The cast of characters is large and we get to know each of them as they cope with their precarious reality. We see the effects of PTSD, the hopelessness and the unyielding sense of hope of some for a world of peace. The battles are fast-paced and the mecha seems really grounded in a this-could-really-work kind of way. I am not only an otaku but also a science geek and the few scenes where accurate science is used to explain how and why something happened really adds a whole other dimension to the show. I can’t properly convey how excited I get during the battle scenes; they get my heart racing even though I’ve seen this series twice.
4. Your Lie In April (Shiatsu wa Kimi no Uso)
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: Oct. 2014- Mar. 2015
This story is a masterpiece worthy of the music written by greats like Chopin, which is brought front and center in its plot. Your Lie In April is the story of a young piano prodigy named Kousei Arima who can no longer hear the music he plays. He hasn’t gone deaf but has suffered a mental breakdown after the death of his overbearing concert pianist mother. He is simply content to leave the world of music that he once loved behind and never again reach for anything greater. His life changes when he meets a beautiful violinist by the name of Kaori Miyazono. When Kaori begins to date his best friend her brightly burning flame expands and starts pushing back the darkness in his life and rekindling his passion for music. .
I love this anime. If someone had ever told me that I’d be riveted by an anime about a pianist and violinist I wouldn’t have believed them until watching this one. The story is riveting; the ability of the anime to express visually the deep passion and emotion of an artist is uncanny. You quickly become invested in the journey of the characters and join them on the emotional rollercoaster. The way this anime can delve into the feelings of a struggling artist and portray the intangible, like the color, weight and emotion of sound makes it an amazing accomplishment. I have watched this series twice, one of the times it was a binge watch accompanied by a mountain of junk food and a sense of emotional masochism. Your Lie In April is the only anime on this list that made me cry for the beauty of it all.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso Trailer
3. Fate Series (Fate/Zero, Unlimited Blade Works, Fate/Kalied Illya Prisma, Carnival Phantasm)
The Fate Series is a massive universe covering multiple series all focusing on many of the same characters and all involving the same focus, the Holy Grail War. The world created involves mages and heroic spirits and an often-gruesome battle to win the grail, a cup that will allow the winner a wish to reshape the world. We are introduced to this world through the eyes of Shirou, a high school boy who witnesses a battle between two servants and their mages and winds up stabbed. He is healed by a classmate and mage, Rin, a beauty of a girl with a tsundere personality and the drive to win the grail with her mysterious servant, Archer. Rin and Shirou, who gains a powerful servant named Saber, then form a tentative alliance in order to survive the war. The Fate universe and the Holy Grail War is a byzantine game of strategy, backstabbing, honor and alliances and home to some of the most memorable characters in anime. The character of Saber, a heroic spirit, is one of the most beautiful and interesting characters in anime.
The Fate Series, in its many incarnations, is one of my favorite anime for the complex characters it brings to the screen. You don’t have many black and white characters. We have characters who are definitely villains and ones who are most certainly heroes, but the motivations and methodology they each employ in their battle for the Holy Grail are often complex and fall into the grey area, especially in the Fate Zero storyline. The mages are often even more complex in their motivations for winning, and some are willing to stoop to any means to win. The story pulls you in quickly and you just hold on for an amazing ride and one of the best plot twists ever. The Fate Series also does something unique in that you get to see many of the same characters portrayed in this very serious series in a different, comedic light. The Carnival Phantasm and Fate/Kaleid incarnations are a riot, letting you see the sometimes overly serious characters in very funny roles. I’ve only been able to watch this series twice mainly due to its length, but it is often a go-to series for particular scenes if I’m in the mood for a battle.
Fate/Stay Night English Trailer
2. Gate (Gate:Thus the JSDF Fought There!)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul. 2015- Sep. 2015
Youji Itami is a member of the JSDF, a slacker, a fighter, an underestimated genius and an otaku. He became the perfect man for the job when a gateway from another world opens in Tokyo and he calmly takes the lead in defending the civilian population from hoards, orcs, dragons, and broadsword-wielding soldiers. Itami, a member of the JSDF, becomes the leader of a recon platoon and heads into the feudal alien land, exploring a new world and picking up a harem along the way.
I love this fast-paced military anime with heavy fantasy elements. The characters grow and get more developed as the story goes on, that alone making it a stand out in the world of anime. The characters are also very memorable with a few that are outright standouts like Sargent Shino. She’s a short, aggressive, female badass always ready to go in guns blazing. The other standout is the near 1000-year-old loli demigod Rory, whose petit appearance only hides a vicious killer. She’s the priestess of the war god and becomes aroused as soldiers die in battle, their souls using her body as a conduit to the afterlife. You have to agree there is something -- I don’t know exactly what -- about a loli demi god who climaxes in the middle of a battle. Gate is just one of those perfect confluences of fantasy, sci-fi, harem and action and I’ve watched the entire series three times.
Gate:Thus the JSDF Fought There! Trailer
1. Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend (Saenai Heroine no Sodatkata)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 2015- Mar. 2015
I openly admit that this anime is my all-time favorite. It’s the story of Tomoya Aki, a high school otaku, and a boy with a dream. He wants to create the greatest visual novel ever and unveil it at comiket. He goes about recruiting his childhood friend to illustrate the novel, his sempai to write the story, and a girl in his class to become a heroine that will bring tears to audiences for generations. I love this for the way it gently pokes fun at the otaku community from the inside.
I will admit a lot of my love for this anime is wish fulfillment. I’ve spent most of my life with women as my closest friends; unfortunately they seemed to struggle to see me as anything more. So watching Tomoya live in a world surrounded by smart, talented women who love him is my way of vicarious living. I identify with Tomoya and his passion. He has a grand idea and does whatever he can to see that through. He also doesn’t seem to give a damn that he is considered a little weird by the normies and embraces his identity as an otaku. I love the fast-paced dialogue. It is as if Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Sports Night, The Social Network) decided to write an anime. The characters are witty, funny and well-developed not in spite of the tropes they represent but because of the archetypes they represent. The use of archetypes plays right into this show made for fans of anime who love to laugh at and with the genre. I have watched this series all the way through four times and yes, the blonde twin-tailed tsudere Eriri is my waifu.
Honorable Mentions(Yes, this is supposed to be a 5 list but I couldn’t help myself.)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Oct. 2014- Mar. 2015
The story of Shirobako lets us get a glimpse of the world of anime production. We see it through the eyes of Aoi Miyamori, a newly hired production desk assistant. I work in the world of video production and greatly sympathized with the cast of Shirobako as they face the ups and extremely frustrating downs of the production world. I will always love this anime for that reason alone. I can’t count the number of times I nodded my head and said, “hang in there, Aoi, one problem at a time and you’ll get through this.” I’ve only recently finished this series but will definitely be looking at it again.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 2014- Mar. 2014
I love a good relationship story. I love watching two people navigate the foibles of falling in love. I especially love a story that shows us how love knows no gender. I know this is a simple, sweet yuri show and wasn’t trying to make a statement on LGBT rights, but in its own small way it does. The sweet little story about two school girls in love is palatable for many and may just be a gateway to acceptance of the idea that we love who we love regardless. Yes, I’ve watched it twice.
The preceding list is my list. The opinions and analysis of these anime are mine and mine alone. You may agree or disagree. You may be saying “How on earth did he like that?” or “His tastes are so mundane. How is he a writer for an anime blog?” My response is simply I like what I like. I know that this list is filled entirely with anime that came out in the last few years and that there is no Macross or Gundum, One Piece or Naturo on it and the answer to that is they just don’t get me like the ones on this list do. The best part of this community I love, the otaku community, is that we accept that everyone has different tastes yet we all like a common genre. I’d love to know what you, our readers, think. Do you have any suggestions for me based on my list? I’d love to hear them.