Originally published June 3, 2014 // Updated August 20, 2016 (update post)
As much as I enjoy ranking anime, my Ongoing Anime Rankings can only do so much in the way of representing those shows I personally have found to be valuable and treasured experiences. And so, I present my Top Anime List, an ever-expanding list detailing my most favorite shows of all time. But first, I’d like to address the ever-present question that accompanies all such lists.
“How did you make your list?”
They’re just my favorites. Not the shows I think are the “best” shows I’ve watched (although many of those are included). Just my favorites. Got it? Cool. Now, feel free to peruse this list at your leisure, completely at ease in the midst of a totally subjective experience. Enjoy!
Currently Being Considered: Macross Frontier, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, Gundam Unicorn
25. The Eccentric Family
Many wonderful things could be said about The Eccentric Family. It’s a show of lovely things: beautiful visuals, warm family relationships, delicately wistful reflections on regrets and love. Yet what stands out most for me is The Eccentric Family‘s treatment of what it means to be alive. “What’s fun is good!” goes the cry within the show, but it’s perhaps more accurate to characterize the show as declaring, “To be alive, with all its pains and joys, is good!” Even a tanuki can understand that, and its something I deeply appreciate the show for desiring to share.
24. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Year: 2009-2010 | Studio: BONES | Director: Yasuhiro Irie
If you don’t count Saturday mornings watching Pokémon at my grandma’s house during my childhood, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was my second-ever anime (after the original anime adaptation), back in a time before I really even knew what anime was. That it still maintains its place on this list is a testament to the solidity of the story, world, and characters created by mangaka Hiromu Arakawa. Even if the days of Brotherhood residing near the top of my list are over, it’s still not a show that can be so easily dismissed—Ed, Al, Winry, Mustang, Hawkeye, and the rest remain memorable still.
23. Princess Tutu
Year: 2002-2003 | Studio: Hal Film Maker | Director: Junichi Satou
I started crying halfway through the penultimate episode and didn’t stop until about 15 minutes after I was done with the finale. My stomach hurt, I was dehydrated, and I felt like throwing up. In short, I was a bit moved. I have something of a weakness for stories about fate and free will, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a show that demanded so much of its own characters’ belief in their ability to change the world for good. Lots of anime preach messages like “believe in yourself and those you love,” but Princess Tutu‘s characters—particularly the primary quartet that’s as good as any main cast in anime—actually live this out. That this is all framed through the metatextual elements of ballet and storytelling makes it that much sweeter.
22. Hunter x Hunter
Year: 2011-2014 | Studio: Madhouse | Director: Hiroshi Koujin
“Spawling” and “epic” are both words that come to mind when thinking about Hunter x Hunter, but I think a better word might be “monstrous.” This show is a terrifying chimera of adventure, human sensitivity, philosophizing, and truth-telling that inspires as much as it entertains, challenges as much as it affirms. As with any story of this length, it has its ups and downs, but the highest heights (whether they be triumphant or crushing) to which it aspires it inevitably achieves. Yoshihiro Togashi’s story is one of a kind, one that proves the mettle and potential of the genre to which it ostensibly belongs. I love the show for all that, and more.
21. Tenga Toppa Gurren Lagann
Year: 2007 | Studio: Gainax | Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
When I first watched Gurren Lagann, I fell in love with its howling affirmation of the power of hope and human tenacity. The insane energy that pervades this show, I feel, is not just the exuberance of creative forces, but also emblematic of the power of humanity’s own energy. Gurren Lagann‘s unwillingness to compromise or let off the gas serves as evidence that there is a belief in humankind so deep here that it has penetrated to the very soul of the show. In the years since my initial watch, I have seen more of the old robot shows to which Gurren Lagann pays homage, and that knowledge grants the deep pleasure of uncovering yet another layer of love adhered to this show. Even if we cannot believe in ourselves, let us believe in this show that believes in us.
20. Eureka 7
Year: 2005 | Studio: BONES | Director: Tomoki Kyoda
Eureka 7 is one of those shows I feel stands as a solid general representation of my priorities when I watch anime. It’s one of those shows where tight narrative structure has been sacrificed for the sake of ideas, characters, and freedom—and I couldn’t get enough of it. Eureka 7‘s slowly (very slowly, sometimes) congealing mass of themes, messages, and character arcs didn’t come together perfectly, but I don’t think any of them needed to do so. Instead, it’s enough simply that it throws all of its ideas up in the air and leaves them there for us to ponder. This isn’t a show that’s just an adventure through space and a story, but one that’s an adventure of things to think about—and I’ll be thinking about it for a while.
19. Haiyore! Nyaruko-san
Year: 2012 | Studio: Xebec | Director: Tsuyoshi Nagasawa
Nyaruko-san‘s first season is energetic, crude, and sometimes lame—and I find it lovable despite all its faults. As an artifact of its era, it’s fascinating; the more anime I watch, the more of its references I get. And yet, there’s still something more to this show beyond that. It’s fun and lovable, but there’s also an element of genuineness to Nyaruko-san that peeks out from all the self-conscious industry posturing it does while riffing on other shows. Nyarko’s devotion to Mahiro, the endless hijinks of the alien trio, and Mahiro’s ultimately kind-souled banter with all of them brings Nyaruko-san to life—and makes it worth far more than I could have ever expected a show of its ilk to be.
18. The Devil is a Part-Timer!
The Devil is a Part-Timer! is my most-rewatched show out of any on this list or off it, and for good reason. There’s something to be said about the comfort of hanging out with a bunch of characters you really like. There’s a perfect storm of likable character, humor, action, and sprinklings of theme here that have made ever watch of it that I’ve completed worth my time. There’s an escapist quality to supernatural plot lines and bantering antics of the cast that somehow makes part-timing at a fast food restaurant seem like a life that can be fulfilling on its own. And that, even though I don’t work in fast food, is something that resonates with me.
17. Martian Successor Nadesico
Year: 1996-1997 | Studio: Xebec | Director: Tatsuo Satou
It’s rather striking to consider the similarities between Martian Successor Nadesico and the other Xebec show on this list: a cast of otaku, numerous references to the shows of the day, a zany sense of wild humor, and a depth to it belied by these exterior trappings. Watching Martian Successor Nadesico was a real blast, too, because of how many different levels it works on. It’s equally effective simply as a story of cast of characters puzzling through a war as it is a reflection on the multi-faceted nature of justice as it is an ideological critique of the anime it so clearly loves. There were moments while watching when my heart swelled so much I thought I’d cry, and moments so brutal clear in their confrontation of reality that I did cry. Life’s not easy, but at least we’re all fools.
16. Silver Spoon
What Silver Spoon lacks in visual flair and narrative grandeur, it makes up for in heart. Born out of mangaka Hiromu Arakawa’s lived experience, Silver Spoon is unrivaled on this list in transparency, honesty, and the way it confronts life with realism and optimism in equal measure. Yuugo Hachiken and Aki Mikage headline this cast (and what a heartstoppingly good lead couple they are!), but it’s alongside the show’s excellent supporting characters that they explore what it means for us humans to eat and live. I adore the quiet charms of this show; it’s profound in its simplicity and moving in its authenticity. As goes life, so goes Silver Spoon.
15. Kill Me Baby
Year: 2012 | Studio: J.C. Staff | Director: Yoshiki Yamakawa
The funniest pure anime comedy out there, hands down. Forget sophistication, Kill Me Baby is all about dumb (but never crass, mind you) humor derived from extremely simple base elements. We have Yasuna, who is dumb as a box of rocks, and we have Sonia, who is too dumb to just ditch Yasuna (not that Yasuna would ever leave her alone). With just that knowledge, you can see the punchlines in this show coming a mile a way—and it doesn’t matter. Kill Me Baby is every dumb conversation you’ve ever had with your friends distilled down to the lamest parts and filtered through predictability. The result? Well, at least I think it’s pretty darn funny.
Year: 2009-2010 | Studio: SHAFT | Director: Tatsuya Oishi
My, how I love these messy shows about messy people. How I love the way Bakemonogatari trips through uncomfortable sexual imagery, weird supernatural complexes, sometimes baffling wordplays and somehow arrives its characters in new and better places. In many ways, this show is really just a set-up for future installments of Nisio Isin’s franchise, but that makes it no less compelling. And, that aside, it occupies the notable role of having introduced me to a franchise that has become an indispensable part of my life as an anime fan. It’s a good show, but as with many of my favorites on this list, its value to me extends beyond what it offers within itself—that is, it’s something special to me.
13. Concrete Revolutio
Year: 2015, 2016 | Studio: BONES | Director: Seiji Mizushima
They never stopped making good anime, and Concrete Revolutio‘s the proof. Told mostly through single-episode vignettes, writer Shou Aikawa’s masterpiece (it’s a show he said he could write forever) is an absolute cataclysm of ideas about justice, or, as I see it, the difficulty of actually applying the abstract concept of good through our flawed humanity. It’s an unending struggle that I personally relate to a lot (and I suspect I always will), but it’s Concrete Revolutio‘s willingness to plainly face the immensity of the challenge without giving up hope that makes it a truly great show.
12. Kyousougiga (TV)
Year: 2013 | Studio: Toei Animation | Director: Rie Matsumoto
I like pretty and colorful things, and Kyousougiga has both of those traits in spades. Back when I first watched Kyousougiga, all I knew was that it looked nice (to this day, episode 00 remains one of my all-time favorite single anime episodes) even though I didn’t know why. Now I know why, and it’s thanks to Rie Matsumoto. Her energetic visual style and elegant storyboarding is an indispensable part of the Kyousougiga experience for me, but the way the characters in the show’s dysfunctional family gradually reconcile deepens the substance of the show and makes it what you might call a modern classic. I love it more each time I watch it.
Year: 2012 | Studio: Kyoto Animation | Director: Yasuhiro Takemoto
When I made the decision to blog all 22 episodes of Hyouka as a personal project to challenge myself as a blogger, I had no idea that what I was getting into would be one of the most gratifying and immersive projects of my blogging career. To this day I’m still extremely proud of the work I did blogging Hyouka, and grateful for this show being good enough to reward the work I put it. And make no mistake, Hyouka is a very good show, one that builds quietly, sometimes without you even noticing, to soft conclusions that are somehow breathtaking despite their gentleness. The whole experience is one of complete immersion into this world, and it’s a place I’ll gladly return to again and again.
Year: 2008-2009 | Studio: J.C. Staff | Director: Tatsuyuki Nagai
It makes me kind of happy having two of the all-time great high school anime show up back to back in my list. Toradora! gets the nod over its KyoAni counterpart for now simply because it means more to me. It was the first anime I really bawled my eyes out over, the first anime that made me cry multiple times over the course of a show, the first anime I stayed up until 5:30 AM to finish, and the first anime I went out and bought the same night I finished it. Toradora! is a show that understand what it means to love someone and how real, meaningful romance actually develops—including the pain we sometimes experience on the way there. That’s kinda beautiful.
9. Revolutionary Girl Utena
I can’t deny that I have a pretty deeply ingrained weakness for “artsy” stuff, and Revolutionary Girl Utena definitely fits that description. A fascinating blend of dramatic and theatrical sensibilities, avant-garde imagery, and metaphorical storytelling, Utena charmed me with its first act, unsettled me with its second act, entertained and discomforted me with its third act, and concluded with nothing less than one of the purest acts of nobility I’ve seen in anime. It’s nothing if not provocative, and even if I’m not always sure I’m comfortable with the things I think Utena is saying, I have only pure admiration for it.
8. Turn A Gundam
Year: 1999-2000 | Studio: Sunrise | Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino
It’s been a while since we had a robot show appear on the list, but Turn A Gundam is a pretty darn good way for the mecha to reappear. My first “proper” Gundam, Turn A was not a show I expected to like all that much when I first started it, but the places it went and the companions (Loran, in particular) along the way made it one of my all-time favorites. As with many shows on this list, Turn A doesn’t necessarily take the most direct route to its conclusion, but I prefer it that way. There’s a sense of wideness in this show, vastness of humanity instead of space, perhaps, that makes it special. From cows to laundry to trying to keep hotheaded Sochie in check to and saving the world from war, Turn A Gundam just kind of has it all.
7. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Year: 2006, 2009, 2011 | Studio: Kyoto Animation | Director: Tatsuya Ishihara
I watched The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya completely unaware of its surrounding context or its status as a cult classic, and yet somehow I felt something was special about it from the moment I started. While on the surface it has all the individual pieces that I usually enjoy in shows like this—a small group of friends doing fun things, a tinge of the supernatural—there’s more to Haruhi than just that. There’s a universality to Haruhi’s (and Kyon’s) internal struggles with their realities and their loneliness that transcends the simple narrative of the show and the individual existences of the characters, and I think that resonated with me even before I could put it into words. As far as I’m concerned, Haruhi is the one and only anime goddess.
6. Soul Eater
Year: 2008-2009 | Studio: BONES | Director: Takuya Igarashi
Although Soul Eater is the home of my all-time favorite anime character, Maka Albarn, Maka’s prowess are not the only reason it appears this high on the list. The rest of the cast is probably my favorite of any shounen fighter, and the setting plays host to a number of concepts (like soul resonance) that seems to me to subtly touch on some curiously profound spiritual and relational truths. But, perhaps more importantly, Soul Eater is just a whole lot of fun, with great fights and even reasonably decent comedy. This may be a case where sheer affection wins out over intellectual stimulation, but I’m okay with that.
5. Monogatari Series: Second Season
Monogatari Series: Second Season is where the franchise really came into its own. As with every installation of Monogatari, it’s filled with peaks and valleys, but with those peaks come payoff after payoff from all the character work that has come before. While the Tsubasa Tiger arc is my favorite (and it was in this arc that Hanekawa won my allegiance), picking favorites within this show is really a pointless endeavor because I couldn’t imagine any of the arcs in isolation of each other. Nothing is auxiliary in this show (well, maybe some parts are); everything contributes to the narrative, one that takes broken human beings and shines the bright lights of the screen on them in a way that is at once damning and redemptive, awful and glorious.
Chihayafuru came to me at a difficult time in my time. Living in a tiny dorm room in a city where knew few people and working an internship at a job I wasn’t sure I liked, I was ofttimes miserable and frequently unsure how I had got to that place in my life—and even more uncertain of where I would go next. But throughout this show (particularly in Taichi’s character) I found a measure of peace, or at least the courage to confront the facts of where I was at. Chihayafuru is a challenging show, one that doesn’t let you just sit back and watch, but demands that you address the questions is poses. That was what I needed then, and that focus is something I think I’ll continue to need as I go through life. So, thanks, Chihayafuru.
3. Superdimensional Fortress Macross
Year: 1982-1983 | Studio: Studio Nue | Director: Noboru Ishiguro
What does Superdimensional Fortress Macross mean to me? I think it mean opening me up to a brand new stage in my anime-watching life. It’s not just that it’s one of the oldest anime I’ve ever watched and that watching it convinced me to give other older shows a shot—it’s that it appealed to my emotions and my intellect in a way I don’t think any show before it had. There’s just so much I always feel I could say about SDF Macross, and I don’t know why. Somehow, for me this show has become one of those pillars that crop up in our media lives, that become personal icons of significance. SDF Macross opened up this entire franchise to me in a way that makes me want to yell, “I’m a Macross fan!” Kyun kyun~
“I will sing of hope. If you feel lost in your tears, instead of comforting you, let me tell you of the sky.” I can pinpoint the exact moment when AKB0048 became something special for me. It was during the episode 10 of Next Stage, when the girls of 0048 sang together with a bunch of space gorillas to fend off attack robots. I remember laughing so hard I fell off my couch and thinking, “Wow. So this is entertainment.” There was just something so incredibly jubilant about that moment, something so profound, that I suddenly realized that AKB0048, as the saying goes, was practicing what it was preaching. It was a show bringing light into my life simply by being entertainment. Since then, my feelings on AKB0048 have developed further and I’ve thought more things about it—things about idols, things about music, things about inspiration—but it all goes back to that moment.
1. Blast of Tempest
Year: 2012-2013 | Studio: BONES | Director: Masahiro Ando
Blast of Tempest is my favorite anime of all time. While I love ever show on this list, this is the one that I feel I instinctively understand. There’s in an unspoken logic to this show that I fundamentally resonate with, and it both affirms me and challenges me. Although it has been years since I first watched Tempest, I have never attempted to articulate in any detail what it is about it that I love so much, but I think it has something to do with grief, loss, emotions, the way our personal realities dominate our lives, free will, and the struggle to make something of ourselves as the world breaks down around us. The fate of the world turns on the word “boyfriend.” Such are the trivialities of life. Such is the gravity of existence. To be, or not to be, that is the question. But we are, and so somehow we must find our way through this thing we call being human.