We’re down to the upper half. What an odd list of shows from this medium. In case you missed it, here’s the first part.
20. Anohana (2011) – That overblown finale aside, Anohana captured what does it feel to be stuck in the past and how a certain death put a rift in the relationships of these childhood friends. Moving on is the central theme in this series and how each of these characters coped with Menma’s loss. It also does not help the fact that they are teens which are doomed to make stupid decisions and they actually did when they faced each other head-on. While Menma served more as a plot tool rather than a real character, everyone else was convincing and can have you invested in them – that is if you are not allergic to drama bombs. We never got a real happy ending but it is kind of nice what Okada did on how they were able to recover in a span of 11 episodes. Lastly, watching Anohana feels like experiencing a very good live action J-drama when it restrains itself. What was the name of that flower again? Err.
19. Eden of the East (2009) – What will you do if you are given a billion dollars to make a drastic change in your community? In case you are wondering why Mirai Nikki is not here, that is because this show is superior in all aspects. You might not have a lovable yandere in Eden of the East but its wide variety of characters are much more colorful and the rules of the game they play is more complex. The anime series also posed a rally to the Japanese government as regards to its inability to address the things its people need, hence, a power behind the power lurked and made a contest of killing and making grand changes in the country. The sequels might not be able to live the promise of this show but I’d be damned if I say that this is the best Battle Royale-like anime I know in my experience.
18. Tengen Tonpa Gurren Lagann (2007) – To hell with this manly tears because Gurren Lagann is what pure fun and uplifting mecha series should be. It is never too complicated and all these characters do is to reach the heavens using their raw skills. High-octane fun is its forte and it played its cards for most of the time. Looking back, it feels really satisfying to see Simon and Kamina’s journey from the underground to high above the stars. It could have been higher should the anime ended on episode 15 but the second half acquits itself with its last episodes. It also knows how to pull a memorable ending which I think will stand against the test of time. On the other hand, any anime show which uses galaxies as a saucer has a right to be in an anime list.
17. Shin Sekai Yori (2013) – Another entry which indicates my never-ending love affair with dark series, Shin Sekai Yori kept its peace for the first thirteen episodes and went on for a full bang right after. It was doomed from the start because of its experimental nature and the inconsistent artwork throughout its run. Plot-wise, I think this is the best in the list for its wide range of topics it touched but never shied away on exploiting topics considered taboo in anime. Genocide, same-sex relationships and the perseverance of the human soul were presented through its 30 plus years of timeline. What made it better than Shiki is the set of characters you are free to love – including Squealer who has all the right reasons to rebel against humans. The cat and mouse chase in this series is really scary when the humans realized that they are now the hunted. Accessibility might be the biggest issue of Shin Sekai Yori given its pacing on the first half and the blatant yaoi/yuri scenes on episode 8. Get past on these two and it is going to be a real rewarding experience.
16. Hyouka (2011) – Is it a prerequisite that mystery series have to be grand scale in scope a la Un-Go or Detective Conan? I say no. Hyouka solved mundane mysteries while pulling all Kyoto Animations animation muscles much to its success. I got to say that this is their prettiest series ever as its simple theme gave way to the studio to superbly animate everything around them. Aesthetically, it had an emphasis on the characters’ facial expressions, their movements and every minute details which rival that of 5 Cm Per Second. Hyouka is also a powerhouse of characters and it is actually a complement to say when Chitanda is actually the weakest among them although she is already good per se. However, Oreki is the center of this series on how he evolved from the lazy guy to someone who garnered initiative on his own. An added bonus? The ending showed how cute love stories can develop – all with Kyoto Animation’s gorgeous artwork and keen attention to details.
15. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2010) – Full Metal Alchemist is probably one of the few series which was able to unite the mainstream crowd’s taste and the critics. It used alchemy as a backdrop in fleshing every character and exploring a wide variety of themes in a span of 64 episodes. It began with a grim lesson on how wishful thinking could go wrong in many ways. This anime does not shy itself in portraying genocides, dirty politics and strong sibling bond. Full Metal Alchemist is just perfect in terms of soundtrack, artwork and animation. The background music ranged from beautifully crafted to cathartic. The fight scenes are the best you can find in this genre (Roy Mustang and Lust’s fight is a must see). Every character in this show is fascinating while showing high levels of development towards the end. It also ended in a manner where everything feels complete – a rarity in this genre.
14. Kyosou Giga (2013) – This humble little show is whimsical and heartwarming with family as its central theme. Set in the fictional Kyoto, Toei did its best to give the series an atmosphere for the characters to fool around – the visuals are out-of-the-world, character designs are inspired and the younger Koto sure knows how to bring wreck in Kyoto for all the fun reasons. This show also knows to make the city as enticing as possible by showing different places depending on the character who is in that episode. Beyond the fantastic artwork, the backstories enabled us to feel each of the character’s longing for their parents while taking care of the city. Yase is perhaps the sweetest, Kurama is plain smart and the younger Myoue seeks salvation as he wanted to die because he became an immortal. This got a bit convoluted towards to end, but what is clear to me is the heart of the series belongs to their desire to have a complete family wrapped with something you can find in Japanese literature books.
13. Hunter x Hunter (2011) – For my best shounen series in the list, Hunter x Hunter (2011) is the smartest show from its demographic that utilized strategies rather than brainless action. However, this is never a kid’s show because the terrific Chimera Ants arc has a really graphic nature. Much like Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the first few episodes might leave the viewers alienated given the pacing but the Greed Island Arc began showing its strengths and it did not hold back afterwards. For the characters, Gon and Killua remains one of the most palpable anime duo to ever exist since they complement each other’s weaknesses. Hisoka remains a lovable psychopath and all others have quirks but are not anime tropes.
12. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011) – This show is perhaps the most famous anime genre deconstruction in Japan in recent times. Madoka Magica presented a stark take on being a magical girl – a spin which is akin in selling your soul to the devil. It is probably the only anime in this list which killed its most famous character in the most gruesome way. Madoka Magica showed interesting exploration of the human psychology, salvation and countless (yet fruitless) sacrifices which resulted in greater disasters. What is even more fascinating in this show is no one is a true antagonist. Kyuubey is just doing its deed for a greater cause in exchange of these girls’ lives while the world will not be doomed unless magical girls come to kill those witches. All in all, it is a rebellious series which re-spawned numerous deconstructions later.
11. Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World (2003) – This is the midway of the certainly chaotic Mononoke and the placid Mushishi but might be the darkest among the three in this list. Kino’s Journey posed some seriously strong philosophies that give punches in the essence of human life and society albeit in the most extreme form. This show is not afraid to unleash some disturbing thoughts in the drop of a hat through episodic stories and Kino’s cold blooded response to any villager’s concern. Heck, it has even an episode where people can read each other’s minds but realizes that this is an awful ability so they do not talk to each other anymore. It also adds some awesomeness when you have a talking motorcycle as your companion in your journey.
10. The Tatami Galaxy (2010) – The award-winning Tatami Galaxy is an ode to internal hardships someone undergoes in his life and how someone should enjoy the journey before his destination. Poised as a coming of age story, The Tatami Galaxy told the missteps of our narrator in the search for his rosy campus life by joining several clubs in different timelines. The finale is just cathartic which illustrated the narrator’s willpower which did not only leave the viewers highly satisfied but also with a new perspective in life. Once you get over the bullet-train like speech of the unreliable but loveable unnamed main lead, what you get is an anime that tells you that it is okay to be imperfect, a rosy life does not exist and grab the opportunity presented in front of you.
9. Honey and Clover, Seasons 1 & 2 (2005 and 2006) – Do you want to see the most hilarious and the dramatic moments of your college life in anime medium? Honey and Clover follows the unrequited love life of our characters and their complicated relationship webs. The first season was a balance of comedy and drama which also presented the best coming of age arc one can see in anime through Takemoto’s journey throughout Japan using a bicycle to search for himself. Then its follow-up is the ugly (and tearful) emotional fallout where it shows that who you want is not the one you will be with in the end. This is the most realistic slice of life anime to date for its thoughtful portrayal of struggles these young adults meet in university and in their early years of employment with romance as its linchpin. The soundtrack is the clincher as to why Honey and Clover is in this list. This anime felt like an album which plays a song every episode and the scenario which the characters got involved with was its respective music video.
8. Baccano! (2006) – What are you going to do if you have tons of characters you can never develop and you only got 12 episodes of airtime? This anime answered the question and presented three time frames uniting in the end with its slick presentation. Blood is everywhere in the series given the nature of these characters but is never grotesque thanks to the slick action. I find really amazing how the writer connected three disjointed timelines and the chaotic resolution of the character’s actions. Execution was prioritized over well-written characters but I could not care much if this is good as this. By the way, Isaac and Miria are one heck of an anime couple and Clare’s confession in the train is just hilarious and psychopathic at the same time.
7. Clannad, Season 1 & After Story (2008 and 2009) – Clannad transcends beyond your typical Visual Novel adaptation to an all-time must see anime series for the good and the bad reasons. Clannad After Story’s ending sequence is jarring, the ending angered a lot of people and the filler episodes fluctuate in quality. Setting the negatives aside, it presented what life is for these characters in a manner that is palpable and emotionally charged. I still stand by the fact that episode 18 is one of the best episodes I have seen and that reduced me to a damaged mess because on how Kyoto Animation handled Ushio and Tomoya’s reconciliation. It even had the guts to present everything that happened after their high school romance and delicately handled sex and pregnancy in anime. Another thing, Tomoya Okazaki and Nagisa Furukawa is the best anime couple you can have – given the development the two received over the span of 50 episodes. Clannad is no means perfect but it is the best non-Stein’s;Gate VN adaptation you can have for its ability to manipulate the audience’s emotion for all the right ways.
6. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1996) – The grandfather of deconstruction and mecha series, Evangelion shows what you get if horror is mixed to the robot genre. If Dragonball Z introduced action packed Japanese animation series to the West, this is probably the reason as to why Japanese robots became famous worldwide. This also explored the twisted psychological nature of human beings where it always puts humans to their limits. Main characters grow to become a different person (for better or for worse) through the course of this series with their motives explicitly stated. Do not expect a normal person in Neon Genesis Evangelion though for everyone is psychologically broken in one way or another. The story is also well-written albeit controversial that even the main writer received death threats. Also, what’s a mecha series without excellent and entertaining fights? This anime has also lots of it! You can never really experience anime without watching Neon Genesis Evangelion and not have a strong reaction to this series.
5. Stein’s;Gate (2011) – Time travel is already a tired element in many films and anime shows. A concept being popularized by science fiction, many of these tried and failed because they presented more loopholes than answers in their presentation. Stein’s;Gate used many real life references intelligently such as John Titor and the Hadron reactor from CERN. It was able present its own set of rules in time leap which is at par with its American counterparts through the use of parallel universes. Stein’s;Gate is a slow burner though. The first eleven episodes of this anime sans episode one featured their daily lives and their hijinks. Although it must be noted that these are done expertly with hints thrown along the way. When it zings, it really delivered. The next twelve episodes are arguably the best you can see in mystery or drama shows in this medium. Character relationships are either strengthened or broken with Okabe left with a painful dilemma between saving either of these two persons who mean so much in his life.
4. FLCL (2001) – If there is an award given to a show for using crazy symbolisms for sexual tension, FLCL takes the win from everyone else with a very wide margin. It is a type of show where you have to watch it at least twice before you can grasp of what it is trying to tell. Worry not, you will not get bored of its antics and it even gets more addictive the more times you watch. Robots, weapons and even a fully formed superhero which comes from Naota’s forehead whenever he gets aroused or gets beaten by Haruko’s guitar. Then what followed were amazingly choreographed fights which are still unbeaten today to most action shows. This is a show is a comical ride laced with most amazing animation anime has offered despite being 16 years old at the time of this writing. Not to mention it has the coolest rock flavored soundtrack ever used in anime. FLCL is a show that can also be poignant for portraying teenage issues with realism despite its out of the world themes. Puberty is not exactly the best era of your life as your hormones are in record-high fluctuations during those times. The ending of this show is just heartwarming as Naota realized he was still a kid back then and is trying to grow up.
3. Mushishi, Seasons 1 & 2 (2005 and 2014) – Mushishi makes use of the hypothetical microbial biosphere on Earth where there is an organism called mushi, which lives using different biochemical functions than most life on the planet (The nerd in me is taking over, sorry). The show made bold emphasis to the society’s grim outlook versus Ginko’s pacifist approach in dealing with these organisms. Yet the most haunting aspect in this show is its no nonsense exploration of how dark and deep the human nature can be. Given its story of the week nature, it is a tall task to keep the audience hooked with every tale it tells and still feels it told a complete one. Mushishi has a languid but atmospheric pacing that range from somber to chilling which makes the audience extremely immersed to the story. That is also due to the superb soundtrack that highlighted the emotional resonance of every episode.
2. Cowboy Bebop (1999) – Perhaps the anime community’s darling as the best anime ever created, Cowboy Bebop is your romantic equivalent of Cyberpunk meets Space Opera. Imagine a downtown portion of your city on space – it is a fairly accurate and short description for this great 1999 series. The justifications alone as to why this is here have some substance too. The soundtrack alone is an age defying standout soundtrack. Many list (and even mainstream lovers) cannot deny how jazz and symphony were handled in this show. The anime is relatively visually stunning too and was able to present different environments ala Mushishi only with lots of fun and action. Character-wise, this show succeeds on a level which their chemistry feels natural. Spike is probably the only lead from the action genre who is multi-dimensional. He can be a goof, merciless killer and an empathetic lead given the circumstance. Other characters are likable too who also emits ray of awesomeness. If there is a major flaw in this show, that is the episode count. It is nothing short of excellent but the audience were left to crave for more.
1. The Count of Monte Cristo (2005) – This 2005 loose adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” is probably the best anime adaptation of all time. This entry might probably be a cheat due to the strength of the source material but the way on how it was animated also holds some substance as too. Gankutsuou is an anime which is a marvel of visual flairs which combined technologies which were new when it was aired. The resulting artwork is probably one of the weirdest you will see in anime shows (and for good reason too) but is also one of the most colorful too. While not as visually crisp as today’s outputs, it supported the avant-garde version of Paris in Gankutsuou with thoughtful details. The way on how Gonzo (the studio) handled the novel is a bold but an admirable move. Instead of a typical adaptation, the studio decided to start right at the middle of the source material then took care of what happened earlier through a series of flashbacks. That is where the series excelled and presented a good way of storytelling with its consistent pacing. Due to its masterful interpretation, the finale is just as cathartic as a top tier anime series could be. To support the already excellent story about revenge and redemption, the studio leveled up in terms soundtrack which was utilized in every way possible to highlight the important scenes in the story. Lastly, all characters are portrayed as multi-dimensional in this show. Every one of them was given proper amount of screen time to develop nicely. There are no anime tropes here but persons with clear motives from the start and their reasons thoughtfully explored. The Monte Cristo in particular is an enigmatic character who captivates the audience with his charisma but has deadly goals in seeking revenge. Ultimately, I have no regrets on placing this as my most favorite anime series.
I am pretty sure I haven’t seen the other titles which scream “I’ll be your favorite!” but in the meantime, these are what I think are the shows which I will always have a fond memory. What else did I forget? Maybe I can make an Honorable Mentions list because I have about 15 shows which are just as good but failed to make the cut.