My 15 Favorite Anime

The 15 Objectively Greatest Anime Of ALL TIME



I love lists. I'm a list addict. Making lists, reading lists, talking about lists... I guess that's about all you can do with lists, but I love doing those things with lists. I do think top anime lists are useful things, both to give a general impression of what sort of stuff someone likes and as perhaps the most reliable source of recommendations, but let's be honest, this is also a bit of a vanity project. Getting to gush over things I love is fun, and getting to find neat pictures to frame that gushing and make it look all epic and enigmatic is also fun.

I don't really have a strict order for the shows I love. I have a definitive all time favorite, and a general idea of what stuff appeals to me most, but even going into this I don't really know exactly what order I'm gonna put them in so just take it for what it is: the general gist of the shows I fawn over. Obviously there are more than fifteen shows I like and there are plenty of shows I think are great that just never really clicked with me, but I feel like there are about fifteen that I keep coming back to and truly influence me so here's that list! I'll update it whenever I find new stuff I feel super-strongly about.

Oh, and Obviously the title is facetious. This list is entirely subjective. It's nothing more than a pile of stuff I like.

15. Jojo's Bizarre Adventure



I like fun. Doesn't everybody like fun? It seems like fun is a pretty good place to start. I'm always in pursuit of an action-adventure comedy that really hits all the right beats for me, and I don't think anything has ever quenched that thirst quite as well as the first (and only the first, unfortunately) season of Jojo. It's rare for me to find a show where I can watch episodes back-to-back so effortlessly, or where I laugh out loud at the screen even if I'm sitting along in my apartment in my underwear, not that I would ever stoop to such shameful levels. I think the major reason Jojo works for me is that it's endlessly imaginative. The premise is so absurd from the beginning that it drew me in on sheer novelty, and then managed to so consistently one-up itself that I was left in shock. All of this of course is filtered through a surface-level self-serious facade and an upbeat sense of style and fun that make it compelling both as an over-the-top action blockbuster and as a constant barrage of comedy. If a show can keep me ceaselessly locked between fascinated and guffawing and have me yelling indecipherably at the screen as it crescendos to its finale, I'm happy to call it a favorite.



14. White Album 2



Alright, time to get down it. I love laughing and grinning like an idiot, but what really makes my story-obsessed heart go wild is the stuff that makes me tense and afraid and concerned and upset and all that other really bad-sounding stuff. White Album 2 is a romance-drama thingie, and in my opinion it's a damn good one (obviously, or else it wouldn't be here.) That means it takes its characters seriously, and cares about their emotions, and makes those gross things called feelings pretty much the center of the story. I think this is great. I think that well-articulated inner turmoil is great. I think that stories that can capture pieces of the essence of what it's like to really be human and all the complications that come with that are great. In my opinion, White Album 2 is all of this, and that makes me really happy. But there are plenty of solid character dramas out there, and I think what really makes this one a favorite is its incredibly vivid depiction of the blend between nostalgia and idealism that haunts my own footsteps. Through its characters, its visuals and its music, White Album 2 near-perfectly articulates a single, specific yet complex state of mind, and I feel that's a pretty remarkable accomplishment.



13. Shiki



Shiki is one that I'm definitely going to have to rewatch at one point, but for a series that I pretty much randomly bought for twenty bucks I'd say I got my money's worth. Shiki is pretty much everything I want out of a good horror story. It's got a wide, diverse, fun cast, an incredibly detailed setting you become well-acquainted with, a combination of creepy moments and psychological scares to keep you on edge, and an incredibly dubious, warped thematic core. I'm not really sure if I agree with a single thing Shiki has to say, but it certainly made me want to believe it, painting its selfish modernist point of view as a sort of broken romantic tragedy arising from the ashes of a decadent society. There was also a very enjoyable moral grey in Shiki that managed to pull me from one "side" to another purely by using characters that I was emotionally invested in. By the end of this small-town murder-mystery I felt like I was in the grand finale of a true epic, and I can't ask for much more than that. Shiki is slow and uneven, but its so consistently fun and it gets so staggeringly good that it's undeniably memorable and an instant recommendation for anyone who doesn't mind some pretty fucked up content.



12. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya



Haruhi will probably always have a bit of a special place in my heart no matter how many masterpieces I stumble across, as it was one of the first shows I watched and it helped me to fall in love with the medium. Haruhi isn't the kind of epic I usually become infatuated with: its antics would be best described as 'quirky' or 'zany'. But it does a phenomenal job of always keeping you on your toes and unsure about what will happen next by combining mystery, non-chronologial storytelling, and zero regard for the desires of the audience. Contrary to popular opinion, it's actually the infamous Endless Eight arc that tips Haruhi on to this list for me, as it takes the usual shenanigans of what is normally a thoroughly captivating slice-of-life into uncharted territory, and, in my opinion, successfully captures the soul-wrenching dread of unmotivation in all of its draining vileness. Asides from being entertaining and expirimental, Haruhi has real drive, tying subtle pieces of its story along from the very beginning and building to a number of insanely cathartic moments throughout both of its seasons and its absolutely stunning follow-up film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Slap on some killer directing and legitimately good writing (in a medium often deprived of it) and I'm in love.


11. Spice & Wolf



Taking a breather from the story-sabotaging cesspool that is high school for a moment, here's a story I fell for predominately because of its two stellar leads. I love the slow, somber-yet-magical atmosphere, and I love the dosage of economics to keep the story grounded on something tangible, but as most Spice & Wolf fans will tell you the selling point is the fact that Holo and Lawrence make an unusual adorable pair. I believe the phrase 'fabulous chemistry' has been tossed around once or twice, and I'd have to agree: these two will likely make you feel envious and lonely, embittered by your own lack of human (or wolf) connection and greedy for a third season to satisfy your emotional escapism even though the ending of the second season is one of my favorite series endings of all time and no third season is necessary. Setting aside the star duo for a moment though, the fireside-story vibe and gentle yet mythic portrayal of the world are not to be dismissed. As a complete package, Spice & Wolf is able to satisfy my gluttony for strong couples and fairy tails, and for those reasons if nothing else I will always come back to it.



10. Ping-Pong the Animation



I don't have anything inherently against sports shows, but I've never really had much interest in them either. Maybe its because they're usually more concerned with generating hype through action than with laying down the framework for grounded conflict that actually generates hype. Maybe its how simple I find the themes they toy with. Regardless, Ping-Pong answered my concerns and then some by making a show less concerned with the ethics of winning and losing than with the universal exploration of how a variety of different people with different interests and abilities approach the things that they're passionate about. It does this with style and energy, taking creative liberties characteristic of its director Yuasa with all of its animation and art design, lending its spinning-angle matches a raw and wild intensity. The show made a sport like Ping-Pong feel exciting or even all-important to me (someone who doesn't care all that much about Ping-Pong) as I became lost in the difficult lives of its protagonists. At the end, I came away from Ping-Pong feeling as though I had found something in myself that I had either lost sight of or never even noticed before, and the show continues to affect the way that I approach my own passion, writing, to this day.



9. Kino's Journey



Looking back now, I don't think anything has influenced my own work more than the image of Kino travelling from country to country in an attempt to better understand the world and the self. The mostly-emotionless gaze tinged on one edge with hope and with the other regret, the cloak of cynicism, the power that comes with being able to question everything while still rarely hesitating. That, in my mind, is Kino's Journey, though the image has also become so much more than that to me. In my opinion the show itself is remarkable: a series of Aesop's Fables-style explorations of humanity, society and nature that are often surprisingly insightful for their brevity. Some episodes are simpler than others, but some like the library episode are abundant in the riches of discussion and interpretation. To me though that's all just a backdrop to the characters of Kino and Hermes and the steady but realistic strength with which they face such a bleak and confusing world. There's no better way to describe the pair of them smiling sadly at a campfire while framed by towering dark woods than 'iconic'. Buried within Kino's Journey's rough edges may be an idea that is truly invincible.



8. Monogatari Series



So I see we've arrived at perhaps the most controversial entry on this list. Not in regards to divided public opinion, though there is that, but more so the ongoing battle in my own mind over whether or not I can rightfully call this series a favorite. In the end I've decided to include it, based purely on how much I've learned from it about myself and the people around me. See, in my humble opinion, Monogatari is brilliant. It's a top-tier adaptation of some very good writing that really digs deep into the psyches and problems of its large cast while usually remaining optimistic. In a lot of ways it really seems to get people, and though its banter can oftentimes be hyperbolic the reflections of its characters are rarely anything but right on the mark. The thing is, its got some massive problems with fanservice (or as I once saw it aptly called, sexist overtones) that taint and often debilitate it. That's not to say that everything the show does with sexuality is problematic: much of its 'erotic' framing is very intentional and helps build both character and story, but much is also either superfluous or excessive. That said, personally I feel fully capable of ignoring the show's unacceptable antics, and there is no denying that I have become rather obsessed with its hopelessly complicated story and painfully relatable cast. On this day I henceforth accept Monogatari to be one of my favorite shows ever made, with all of the stipulations that come with that. Hopefully I won't burn on the Judgement Day for this one.



7. Toradora!



Alright, let's cool off. Toradora. Toradora is great. The first time I watched Toradora was with my roommate, and the two of us gradually became obsessed together, sharing opinions, theories and OTPs from beginning to end as we hungrily gobbled up this particular high-school romcom (amongst thousands of similar creations.) To this date, I don't think I've ever enjoyed watching a show that much in the moment. Toradora was more than a momentary experience for me though: I actually learned to see people a little different because of it, and I likely wouldn't be as close to one of my best friends today if I hadn't become just a little more open-mided from watching it. Toradora was the first show that really helped me understand how deeply fascinating each and every person can be regardless of how simple they may appear if they're only given the chance to share a little more about themselves. I can't guarantee that everyone will enjoy it; more than enough contrasting opinions have shown me that. But something about this particular cast jumped to life for me in a way that no other rom-com or school show has ever managed and I've been addicted to that feeling ever since. Despite its simple story, cliched premise and at times questionable execution, Toradora made me feel deeply, irreversibly invested in the wandering messy fictional lives of cartoon people, and for that it will always have my undying affection.



6. Gatchaman Crowds



I'm pretty avidly convinced that there's nothing on this earth hyper than Gatchaman Crowds. The satisfaction that comes from making superheroes actually thematically relevant and then having them duke it out for the fate of the internet era is pretty unbeatable in my book. The show is colorful in every way imaginable including its wild modernistic color palette, bombastic cast of misfits and minorities, and to die for soundtrack ranging from the ominous The Core of Soul to the heart-rending Sacrifice to the blood-burning fist-pumping victory hymn Music Goes On. Gatchaman Crowds manages to take a detailed discussion of current events including the effects of technology on modern society to the duties of leaders in citizens alike in a world where anonymity is easy in some ways and impossible in others and the entire planet has become so hopelessly overpopulated and complicated that successfully enacted solutions sometimes seem impossible, and turn it into a roller-coaster of enthusiasm and optimism, never missing a laugh, and never failing to make you cheer with all your heart for its dedicated and out-matched protagonists.



5. Kaiba



Once Upon a Time was there, an Old and Lonely Tree. The first line of Kaiba's morose unofficial theme song pretty aptly captures the heartbreaking soul-sapping atmosphere that permeates nearly every moment of what I believe to be Yuasa's current magnum opus. On the absolute other end of the spectrum from Gatchaman Crowds, Kaiba consistently made me feel like I wanted to lie down and return to the blissful carefree days of my youth before my parents divorced and I lost contact with my emotions for nearly a decade and yeah you get the point. Kaiba is sad. I cried during half of the episodes, and the other half just had me too filled with apathy and dread to drag up my remaining feelings. But Kaiba is also the good kind of sad, the really good kind, where every moment rings true and every endless pit of misery is given the thinnest silver lining. Kaiba doesn't just think that the great loneliness that devours the hearts of many and drives so much of the violence and greed in this world can be fought off by strong and capable individuals: it thinks it has to be fought off over and over again, with moments of true and eternal catharsis possible only through dying. There's a lot of realism in Kaiba, both about people and the systems that those people inevitably create, but there's no nihilism. And in the end, that's important. Important to me, and, I think, to the entire world.



4. Akage no Anne


Slice of life blah blah cute girls doing cute things blah blah... Look, I've never really cared for K-On, or Aria, or Usagi Drop, or really any of that jazz. I thought for a long while it was just a fundamental aversion I had to the genre and everything it was trying to do. Now, though, I'm afraid to say that my personal opinion is that those shows just aren't very good at what they do. The anime adaptation of Anne of Green Gables is probably the slowest, most mundane TV show ever made. Spanning 50 episodes and featuring a couple of 11-year-old girls daily lives as they slowly but surely grow up, there's about as much focus on plot or action found here as there is in an instructional YouTube video on how to saute carrots. And yet, by combining the writing quality of an actual piece of classic literature with a fundamental understanding of the way it feels to live life, Akage no Anne manages to prop itself up towards the top of this list as one of the most deeply-felt pieces of art I've encountered. It manages to breathe an astonishing about of vibrancy and personality into the entirely of its main cast, using them to invoke a melancholic tale of the beauty of the world and the way we grow to endure the hard truth that inevitably each thing we care about will slip from our grasp. Simultaneously uplifting and tragic, in a better world Akage no Anne would be an indisputable classic of the medium.



3. Hunter X Hunter



I grew up on The Lord of the Rings. I'm pretty sure this has shaped my entire life and forever will, and one of the ways it has done so is that I'm obsessed with fantasy adventure epics. Now, mind you, I'm also under the impression that there aren't very many good fantasy epics out there, so when I find one that I enjoy it makes me dance with glee and shake my head around vigorously. And in Hunter X Hunter, I feel I have found one such epic. Hunter X Hunter is everything a good adventure epic should be: one part unabashedly awesome fighting, one part puzzles and mind games, one part lore, one part great characters, and one part entirely unexpected. I went from being dazzled by its crisp visuals and smart conflicts to being hooked on its charismatic leads and villains to feeling my heart stop and lungs contract as the fabled Chimera Ant Saga elevated tensions to unprecedented highs and used its masterful control and expression of detail to keep the story feeling immense and unpredictable. There's really just too much to love in Hunter X Hunter; I can't possibly imagine trying to summarize it all in a brief blurb. Laughter, anger, joy, sorrow, tears: Hunter X Hunter has it all.



2. Revolutionary Girl Utena



This is Utena Tenjou. Utena is a schoolgirl who dresses like a boy, but she doesn't think that there's anything odd about that, it's just her way of expressing that she's a girl. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, that's about the most straightforward thing about Revolutionary Girl Utena. I'm not even sure if it's fair to include Utena on this list, considering that after two full watches I probably understand about half of it. If this show was any more burdened under the weight of its own symbolism-heavy self-referencing weight, it would fall apart and cease to be a coherent narrative of any sort. Luckily though it manages to stay afloat, and the results are stupendous. What I see in Utena is the scholar's dream: an endless well of interpretation and analysis that always manages to stay one step ahead of me and never truly reveals everything, but that is so entwined with a sense of fun, beauty and creativity that it manages to keep me enchanted both in spite of and because of its opaqueness. Despite its many convoluted thoughts on eternity and idealism and mortality, at the heart of Utena stands a universally relevant discussion of a gender-based society and the veins of its complex opinions on what that means can be traced from start to finish. Revolutionary Girl Utena will probably never not be relevant (unfortunately), but while I yearn for a day when Utena Tenjou's choice of dress doesn't raise any questions when she walks through the ever-watchful gates of her maybe-real school, I'm also glad to have such important ideas articulated in such a wonderful way. My kids will definitely be growing up with this one.



1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica



Oh man. Are we here already? I don't even know how to begin talking about Madoka. I've been dripping words of praise for the thing since the first time I watched it, which resulted in my holing up in the bathroom and sobbing uncontrollably for reasons I couldn't quite understand for at least an hour. I guess when it comes down to it, the name is aptly fitting: the show is magical. I could talk about all the elements of its creation that go into making it work so well for me: wonderfully imaginative yet purposeful direction, nuanced and smart dialogue, awesome fucking music, etc, but I like lots of things that I consider to be overflowing with great craft and production values. I could harp on the complexity of its super-efficient plot and how well its truly epic movie builds off of everything that came before. I could nod self-assuredly at its ingenious incorporation of visual and structural references to any number of classics, folktales, legends, faiths, and even other anime. I could toss out the word 'themes' like the super-smart guy that I am, and verbosely demonstrate how expertly it articulates the universally relevant philosophical stew that flows through its core. I could ramble on about lots of things, and probably will on forums and blog posts and to the unfortunate people stuck with me in real life, now and for ever onward.

But none of that really summarizes why it's number one on this here list. The reason Madoka Magica and its associated movie are my Favorite Anime of All Time is just as obscured as that title must imply. Some combination of everything that it is reached my heart like no other cartoon and plucked a hymn of misery and hope that changed my life forever. That can't be attributed to any specific thing about the show, it can only be attributed to the chemistry Madoka Magica and I seem to share. What Madoka Magica means to me has nothing to do with logic or craft or its talented creators. It has everything to do with the nonsensical whimsy of the universe and the ways that I pull meaning and faith out of something as simple but all-important as a story.

Indescribable, inexplicable, unjustifiable, and yet somehow still a cornucopia of unquenchable obsession. I guess you could say it's a little like love.

3 comments:

  1. Code Geass nowhere on this list?
    smh
    Well, at least Gatchaman Crowds is in the top 5 so it's ok.

    Also, are you going to make a top characters list anytime soon?

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    Replies
    1. Code Geass would probably be #14 if its any consolation for your sorrow.

      I probably will, since there are just too many characters to love to fit them all into those 10 MAL slots.

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  2. Hello! I saw your Kino's Journey review posted on /r/anime and was curious about your favorites. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to see Madoka as your #1, not because it's a bad series, but because I tend to find people of "high taste" (a.k.a having Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the Aria series, and all of Yuusa's works listed as their favorites) having a low to middling opinion of the show.

    Personally I love Madoka, and I struggle to find other series that can provide such a concise and well told story with so many themes and meaningful visuals in such a short time (only other one that has done this for me has been Ping Pong).

    I admit, though, that it does have its flaws: Some of its themes and exposition are heavy handed as all hell, some plot points are silly even within the show's context (Hitomi's chemical mixture and Madoka somehow knowing about that), and some plot conveniences are a little too liberal with its fantasy setting

    These are all just nitpicks though, for what was one of the most cohesive, well thought out, and visually mesmerizing experiences I have had the pleasure of watching. The 3rd movie barely sated my thirst, and I hope you are as hyped as I am for whatever Shaft has in store for us next. :)

    ReplyDelete