Because every blogger has his list, isn’t it?
Three years and three hundred shows later, I humbly present my take on the titles that I like most in this medium. Note that everyone has their own taste and this is my list so I cannot please everybody. For some notable omissions, GTO and Princess Tutu are not here because I haven’t seen them in full. One Piece is an ongoing series and I am not enamored with Bleach, Dragon Ball, Death Note or Naruto at all. Also take notice on the preponderance of more recent titles since the majority of what I watched are from 2005 and above. The first part of this list covers the type of anime that will likely end up being my favorite – rich themes, dark resolutions, strong characters or straightforward execution. Shall we start?
40. Bakemonogatari (2009) – The only Monogatari series that I did not end up yawning because Araragi and Senjougahara’s love story is at its most romantic here.I am pretty sure the scene where the two lie beside each other and the latter delivered her promise to Araragi about giving him the stars made me squeak like a teenager. Moreover, the presence of the ever cool Oshino Meme also made the first entry of this gigantic franchise the best. The oddities were really fascinating the first time I saw these and Oshino’s troubleshooting techniques are slick and awesome. It is probably the one which immortalized Shinbo’s animation techniques we saw in Arakawa Under The Bridge and Nisekoi but these complemented with the out of this world premise of Araragi’s search for apparitions and the way we view his harem.
39. Fate/Zero (2012) – Thank God for this series as it gave a deeper and more somber explanation to the nature of the Holy Grail war because Fate Stay Night oscillates from meh to average. To be honest, this can be a chore for some who expected nonstop action as its first cour laid what these heroes and masters intend to do in this war. Strategies were prioritized instead of action and I am hooked with some cat and dogs scene in this series. Everyone is made sure they are given enough time to develop and you can never flaw a character for being sloppily written. Kiritsugu and Saber might not be the best leads (too stoic for my taste) but everyone else, especially Gilgamesh, Kirei and Irisviel elevated this show from milquetoast to something special. The second cour is where action is (and so with the horror) and Kiritsugu and Kirei match is one of the best choreographed fights you can ever see in an anime show.
38. Higurashi, Seasons 1 & 2 (2006 – 2007) – Higurashi showed what Erased could have been if it has more episodes and it gave some time in developing its main antagonist. The latter might be too tall for an order since Takano is one of the most complex anime villains that ever existed. Time travel was used as something to get the means in this series rather than some random convenient ability of Rika and Hanyu. The first season laid out the foundation that while inferior, has set the correct mood and confusion for the viewers as to why these kids are killing off each other again and again. On the other hand, the second season is more poignant as it paid attention how are they going to get out of that never-ending curse of dying and re-living again. Yes, the thought of these loli dying in a graphic manner is a big plus in the show but a layered storytelling thankfully prevented it from being a one trick pony.
37. Lupin III: The Woman Named Fujiko Mine (2012) – This spinoff is Lupin III at its finest and most delicate. Lupin III is known for tangentially touching some dark themes but this is the first of its entry where it delivered a coherent set that is devoid of any filler episodes. You might be disappointed if you are looking for some humor because this is purely psychological and dark to the point that you can associate it with Serial Experiments Lain or Evangelion rather than its main series. The other reason I placed it in this list is the ending – man, Fujiko Mine is the show you must see if you want some high end trolling that will leave you mad or even more enamored.
36. Sound Euphonium (2015) – I am not going to hide the fact that I am a Kyoto Animations lover. Their knack on creating a series that is visually gorgeous never gets old, even on duds like Phantom World or Munto, and this show is not an exception. What made me decide to place Euphonium in the list is due to the fact that it reminds me of an old school offering that never strays on its main premise – It played some good music and saw the world through Kumiko’s eyes! It is also commendable that it is one of the rare shows where a profession is never portrayed as the best thing ever as these characters even know that playing an instrument is not that much of a big deal and club politics is just as scary even in high school.
35. Katanagatari (2010) – Perhaps the other Nisio Isin entry in this list, Katanagatari’s obscenely wordy word play is its biggest strength and its weakness but did not undermine the quality of this underrated series. Sometimes, these dialogues come very smart but unnecessarily verbose at worst. Artsy is what I can say about its artwork and the story thankfully deviated from your typical monsters of the week to exploration of some more sinister themes like using others for personal gain. This can be viewed as the first tragic love story in this list or of betrayal and redemption but I ascertain its quality sets it apart from his other novels. The ending might be too shounen for me but everything in between is pure bliss, whether you are a fan of Nisio’s dialogue or a love story that is never meant to be in fruition.
34. Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy Wa Machigatteiru, Seasons 1 and 2 (2013 and 2015) – OreGairu played what its peers (Haganai) did not by setting its characters beyond selling them because of their quirks or their looks or the self insert MC. Loners are not actually uncommon with anime shows but this had some balls for showing how complicated (and hilariously bleak at times) Hikigaya thinks of his high school life. This is not to say other characters are not important since Yui, Yukinoshita and Hayato are just as complex as our likable but isolationist lead. These kids are having too many social issues and it is rewarding to see how they mess up with themselves despite choosing what they think is the safest. The original series plays the comedy while the sequel did a heck of job for humanizing Hikigaya and Yukinoshita. If you think all LN adaptations are bad, come and see this rare gem.
33. Kids on the Slope (2012) – You know what, more josei titles should be adapted right now since this demographic is a source of strong to great titles. Pacing might be the main enemy of Kids on the Slope but it has presented its premise better than Rakugo. I never thought Jazz could be a strong point in anime series and it was a pleasure seeing these characters play instruments and channel their feelings to it. Bon and Sen are a lovable duo and Ritcchan also held her own against the two. My only complaint in this series is why does it have to be mere 12 episodes? Adding one more can further explore some of its rich themes like seeking redemption, exploring what happened after their reunion (I cried in the manga) and developing Ritcchan’s brother more. Nonetheless, jazz and youth are the best things in this show that benefited at times with its brisk pacing and it showed what most high school series could not.
32. Usagi Drop (2011) – Slice of life titles are normally labelled as boring for a lack of central conflict and the placid pacing but some are great enough on its own even if these adhere to the genre’s rules. Usagi Drop is a rare series focusing on raising a kid by a bachelor and the cute (and heartwarming) struggles he faced by being a single parent. Real life problems that will sound really dry on paper were executed in this series in a poignant manner without being too dramatic. Also notable is the kids acted and sounded like they are kids of their age and adults have the grace to take care of them. The dreamy animation style also worked perfectly in Usagi Drop. I personally do not care about the manga ending as I square my adoration to this adaptation. Lastly, this is the sole anime series in my watching experience that left me in tears 10 minutes in the first episode.
31. Koi Kaze (2004) – Incest as a topic in anime shows is normally side brushed as too erotic or in a humorous manner but Koi Kaze faced the taboo head on and delivered a piece rarely seriously presented in this medium. It is never vindictive to its premise as these characters suffered a lot before giving in and defied the societal structure of a family in the most subtle manner. This is not jarring to watch as one can see the development of these characters which can leave you either disgusted with their relationship or empathize with them. I am pretty much disturbed but this quiet little show is thought provoking on its own without entering School Day’s level of shock. Nonetheless, I can understand why people would see someone liking this show be really disturbing because Koi Kaze is anything but normal.
30. Paradise Kiss (2005) – Unconventional shoujo is the best description for Paradise Kiss from its premise to aesthetics, which is kind of expected given it is also the work of the NANA author. While not as heartbreaking as NANA, it compressed what the former can do in a span of 12 episodes while touching themes not normally found in this genre. Premarital sex, running away from home and finding oneself in the end are recurring themes of Paradise Kiss. Fittingly, one can also label it as a coming of age series given how Yukari developed from her snotty high school self. The anime also served as reminder that a successful romance does not have to end well and does not have to be composed of nice and lovable characters. They might not be likable at all but I’d say I am happy with the unusual take of this show in the stale romance genre.
29. Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu (2003) – This is a great testament that Kyoto Animations can create a show that is composed of filler episodes but registers high in the lol-meter. The fish out of water jokes are implemented in different styles much to my joy in this series. Sagara’s inability to properly coach a football team became my benchmark in judging anime comedies. Aside from Nozaki-kun, no other show made me laugh as hard as this. Also do not forget the hilarious confession scene which was botched by our blockhead lead.
28. Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Season 1 (2006) – Another entry from my favorite studio, this gave way to countless LN adaptations for better or worse. While people view Haruhi as the poster girl who made this a success, Kyon is the reason why I am loving this show to bits. His humorous and sardonic stance may or may not worked against Haruhi but I always find it amusing him being dragged in the middle of this supernatural mess. Well, there’s the detestable sequel but I am sure this alone is enough to become one of my most favorites. Another thing, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu and this are the only straight comedy series (at least for me) in this list.
27. Seirei no Moribito (2007) – A grand epic and a poignant story about fate and accepting oneself, Seirei no Moribito feels like a pop-up book rich in world-building. The world of Nayug and Sagu were given enough details so as the audience to be fully immersed. I also love how it weaved politics and the supernatural sans the contrivance. Beyond the whimsical, Seirei no Moribito pulled some heartstrings about repentance and perseverance which really worked throughout its run. This series is a case where basically every main lead shares the same exposure, making it balanced to a fault. Yes, you might find the characters a tad too dry (except for Balsa) but the plot compensates for this shortcoming.
26. Mononoke (2007) – A reader should have realized by now that I am a fan of psychological and chaotic series regardless of the era. Mononoke should have been a horror series but failed because it is too artsy and neurotic for its own. Instead, it delivered well-written stories about monsters and how people can be worse through deception and some dark skeletons in their closets. The artwork gave Mononoke a different feel which makes it as a distant cousin of The Tatami Galaxy. Yes – it is an elitist bait series that succeeded on the strength of being artsy and strong storytelling. Do not ask for character development here as plot and visual flairs are its priority which I do not mind as a story can be well told even if the characters sorely lacked in substance.
25. Bokurano (2007) – This is the bridge between Madoka Magica and Neon Genesis Evangelion and this is how you develop multitude of characters over a span of 24 episodes. Bokurano capitalized Madoka’s type of plot twist even better since these kids did not even know what they signed for and it showed fights that are at par with Evangelion at best. It is also capable of delivering emotionally charged episodes that can move the hearts even of a casual anime watcher. I am not particular with the deviation from the anime to the manga adaptation but if the involvement of Japanese government is what they added, then color me happy because this added depth of this already great series. However, its artwork is its main detractor since it really looks older than it really is.
24. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (2016 and 2017) – A hallmark of a good show is when these characters are developed but morally grey and when it has some seriously good pacing that intends to flesh everything despite its theme that limits the audience from appreciating this in full. In that aspect, Rakugo is superior than Kids on the Slope. Once you get caught off in its web, you can never escape because Shouwa Rakugo has strong, palpable but ridiculously flawed leads, convincing drama and an excellent direction which highlights the subtleties of framing and the body language. Another point that made this show the runaway winner in 2016 is the vignettes it presented on the dying Rakugo industry, proving that it never astray on its main premise.
23. Welcome to the NHK (2006) – Or what was like my life for the past two months when I spent my job as a writer and not as an accountant. Dark comedy is its forte and it can be a lot of fun when it’s on lunatic mode. Also adding to its merits is the chaotic ending sequence which is the weirdest you can hear over the anime medium. However, the realism of being a hikikomori strikes me harder as Satou’s development is too real I cringed at times. Several themes like suicide, mental disorder, addiction with RPG games and MLM marketing were presented carefully instead of poking fun at these. Then these lessons every end of each arc really sting hard to my heart. For me, it feels like looking at your younger self at your lowest and I think it served as my personal inspiration to get out of my shell.
22. Shiki (2010) – Atmospheric, horrific and tragic. Words cannot compensate its ambitious plot and the fallout of their actions. If you kept your patience with the sluggish pacing on its first half as it is busy building its world, the payoff later will surely give you the thrills not because it is scary but due to the genius moment of a hunter being the hunted. The exploration on how low humans can be was also fleshed with Muroi and Tosaki’s extremist beliefs having carefully explained but ultimately resulted to this tragedy. This is when the boundary between good and bad blurs and you can side with these Japanese vampires or the humans with all compelling reasons. Religious symbols are also discussed in detail in Shiki both in Eastern and Western orientation.
21. Mawaru Penguindrum (2011) – This show explored the concept of fate and family the most in this list. One part touching and the other part confusing, good luck decoding the symbolism presented in this show as the anime community went nuts decoding whatever Survival Strategy means, the nature of the Penguindrum, the characters’ backstory or the significance of these penguins following our leads for the most of its run. What I know is it is an exhilarating ride from start to finish and it does not know the word restraint. My only quip is it forgot to tie the loose ends so it ended being on the 21st position. Other than that, I am loving this series to death.