56. Martian Successor Nadesico
There’s a point that this series makes that cannot be avoided after a certain point. Living to the ideals of your favorite show is silly for an individual. But for an entire society to do so is dangerous. Otherwise, this is one of the early sort of reference comedies that seem to dominate these days. It’s mainly limited to tropes about mecha anime, not surprising considering this is a mecha series after all. At it’s release it was considered one of the best anime series of all time, but unfortunately time has not been so kind to it. However, it’s much better than the movie sequel.
55. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
I was on the search for dark comedies when I first came across Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Straight comedies aren’t exactly the most well known thing to come out of anime, so why not go darker? SZS succeeded when it was unafraid of poking fun at topics that were either absurd or controversial to discuss. Using a cast with Nozomu at the front to highlight the hypocrisy within society and the group of students that followed him became an entertaining treat in a cynical world.
54. Elfen Lied
I remember being obsessed with this gorefest back when I was in college. It got to the point where I actually came up with a body count of 100 from the whole series. The fact that 21 of those are in the first 5 minutes are really what people remember about this show. There was also something about the ending that has stuck with me over the years. It’s that general feeling of love in the middle of the end of the world that really left an impact. Like Saikano and End of Evangelion this has lived long in the memory years after it finished. On the surface, this is a harem story with a character capable of killing people in horrible ways as one of the girls. However, I really found it to be a story about tragedy, despair and the worst of humanity with just that shred of hope keeping everything working.
53. Banner of the Stars III
The relationship between Jinto and Lafiel reaches the point of no return in the last (to date) installment of the Seikai series. Jinto has to deal with a diplomatic crisis on his home world, which is caught between being absorbed into the Empire or trying to push for independence. In the end, this is all about Jinto making a decision on what he wants to do with his life. Does he go back home and relive his younger days while putting them at risk? Or does his move on with Lafiel and protect his home land while never being allowed to return? The choice is an emotional one, if blindingly obvious. It’s even more understandable because he found the one he loves. There’s no place for nostalgia in diplomacy, unfortunately.
52. Macross: Do You Remember Love
For whatever reason, Kawamori has decided that this movie isn’t canon at all. Minmei singing in the end was merely a metaphor and we can all just pretend that the only thing that happened was a battle. In reality, I could care less what Kawamori thinks about Macross canon and how he retcons stuff more than almost anyone I’ve ever known. It’s been several years since I’ve watched this, but I found it to be an excellent story of loves won and lost. Fated encounters like the one I’ve pictured above happen quickly, but add enough to make it worth it to fans of the series. It also did an excellent job of telling a complete story about how culture makes people. It’s over the top, I’ll admit, but that’s just the way Kawamori is.
51. Ouran High School Host Club
I kick this off with Ouran because at the end of the day, it just happened to find itself in this position. It aired at a time when there were lots of shows which had characters named Haruhi featuring in them. I think this is best example of the harem genre with a female character at the center. It doesn’t mean it isn’t without flaws; the whole social stratification angle is completely ignored except for comedy, but it does the job well enough.
50. The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi
Now this show defined the beginning of the current era in anime. Yes it aired completely out of order and it doesn’t work anywhere near as well chronologically. Plus it’s a literal miracle that the special edition DVDs let them run in broadcast order. What is it about this series that works? The cast of characters? The fact that the world is threatened by the title character? Actually I think it is just the sheer force of will from Kyon and Haruhi that makes this memorable.
49. Neon Genesis Evangelion
And on to the defining series of the previous generation. Combining aspects of Christian mythology with mecha drove the action in this series. However, I always think that it was a story about Shinji’s inability to cope with the modern world. It doesn’t make any sense when thrown straight into the action and the fact he never gets it both works and is incredibly frustrating at the same time. Now, the series lives on in movie reboots and marketing. Yes, marketing about a pre-apocalyptic world.
48. The Girl Who Lept Through Time
Finally a portrayal of what someone would actually do if given the opportunity to go back in time a number of times. It would be utterly wasted until that one opportunity to really go back is too late. I think this will age well unlike Evangelion because it serves as more of a time capsule back to when it was made. Also, the production value was much higher.
47. Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New World
This movie was a sort of remake of the first few episodes of the main OVAs, which admittedly aren’t very good. As a movie, this does a fine job of conveying the action as it happens in the LotGH univers. It also builds on characters like Lap who never really got a chance to be anything in the main OVA. Unfortunately, this just leaves the viewer left hanging for more, and the drop in animation quality would be enough to put people off going to the main OVA early on.
46. Clannad: Another World, Tomoyo Chapter
“So why the hell are you putting a Clannad OVA in your top 50 again?” I asked myself when I noticed this in my top 50. Once again, I point out that in isolation Key visual novel adaptations are perfectly capable of making good one-off episodes. So I enjoyed this episode where Tomoyo and Tomoya have a perfectly normal relationship. The latter even goes on to find a perfectly normal job while the two of them can be together privately. Nothing special, but well-executed.
45. Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu
I seem to overrate the sad endings sometimes. It’s been a hell of a long time since I finished this, but I remember feeling a profound sadness at Kana’s fate in being the last line of defense for Earth. I also rather bizarrely fell in love with this series in the episode where they ended up at the cinema with multiple groups of people spying to see if Kana or Naoyuki would make a move.
Steins;Gate was special in the sense that it managed to turn a story about a pretentious kid with ambitions of being a mad scientist and having to make him cope with a changing world that was a result of his own idea to make everyone happy. Paradoxically, this led to those closest to him suffering great harm. In having to undo the damage Okabe has to discover things he didn’t even know about himself to save the world he wants to protect. It was certainly a fun ride when I watched it.
43. Macross Plus
This was one of my formative anime that I watched many a year ago. It was one of the early CG uses in anime, but the dogfights were hand drawn, which makes it a true delight seeing Kawamori’s vision brought to life. It took a long time for CG to get reasonably close to this, but I digress. It’s also a story about a virtual idol and two former friends who eventually find it in themselves to reconcile their differences. It’s also to this day my favorite soundtrack to an anime.
42. Giant Killing
Instead of going the usual route for a sports story, Giant Killing takes an entirely different route. A former club legend returns and promises exciting football. That his team has little money and has to battle relegation doesn’t change that approach at all. Despite the losses, and there are lots of them, there is a lot this show does well. The clash of cultures between younger and older players, trying to develop the confidence of the younger group, the worries of the older players who know that injury and/or time may catch up to them and end it all and the behind the scenes running of the club are all captured very well here.
The fact that this series is at its best when it is a series of dialogues about the nature of the characters doesn’t detract from it at all. The 3rd and 12th episodes happen to be my personal favorites because of the interaction between Senjougahara and Araragi. It’s a triumph of introspection too. Araragi is creepy when he would be in real life, and it is played up as such. Unfortunately, when the story continued, that aspect became aspirational.
40. Kare Kano
The first half of this series is remembered as a wonderful adaptation of a shoujo classic with some unique artistic touches thrown it. It was that aspect that caused the creator to fall out with Gainax’s adaptation. So, the 2nd half slowed the plot progression down to a pace slightly slower than glacial, while upping the crazy artistic touches and lengthy recaps of the plot each week. There’s a lot of dumb stuff in there, but I think the episode with the characters on sticks is one of my favorite episodes.
This is yet another one of those series that attempts to address whether a man and woman can truly be friends. It gets off to an inauspicious start as Fumihiko and Aka end up sleeping together on their first night together. Then, their professional circumstances dictate that they have to hide the fact they are living together. Their relationship transforms into this amazingly deep platonic bond before the two of them eventually realize that they are in love with each other. It’s pure bliss with plenty of Audrey Hepburn references thrown in to boot.
It’s the show about arms dealers that has nothing to do with arms dealing. This was a bit of a slow starter in that it seemed to be caught up in geopolitics and in killing off the occasional threat to the main character, Koko Hekmatyar. After that, the series became more of a character study of those who desire power and those who choose to serve under them. The same style of writing could have created a similar show with a business or politically oriented series. Instead, it provided a platform which questioned why people with good intentions do terrible things. The ending will strike some as absurd in how much power ends up concentrated in one person’s hands, but by the same token that could apply to any group with a mission.
This is truly the anime equivalent of the college buddy comedy. There’s just plenty that makes this a pleasant watching experience. It starts with a pair of friends who enter the school who quickly separate. One goes on to learn about the college experience and what goes into the creation of liquor (and there is a lot of that), while the other goes on a strange journey of self-discovery only to reappear dressed in goth-loli outfits. That it doesn’t fall apart when everything goes back together is an accomplishment.
36. Macross Frontier
This is a show that is very much disliked, if even loathed, by someone I talk to regularly. Yet, I really came out of watching it really liking what I saw. I think it did the job of being a great homage to previous Macross series. Plus, the love triangle at the center of the story is properly resolved. How often do you see that these days? (Note: this is not an endorsement of who ultimately won)
35. Mobile Suit Victory Gundam
V Gundam was the last of the classic Universal Century Gundam series. A completely new cast of characters in the distant future from the time of Amuro Ray and Char Aznable was living a completely peaceful life on Earth when the war was taken to them. What I liked about this is that it is by far the darkest of the Tomino Gundam stories, with only Ideon really surpassing it in everything he made. He captured this brilliantly by introducing characters who would then go on to die quite quickly. It created a mood that no one was safe, which I think was entirely lacking with any subsequent Gundam series.
34. Cromartie High School
This was utterly surreal comedy as gangs of high school students at schools named after old American baseball players who played in the Japanese league do stupid things. The whole idea wouldn’t work but for the fact that it is captured from the view of someone who is perfectly normal. It also does the thing that too few shows know what to do right, run the right length.
33. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion
A movie that was meant as a remake of the final 2 episodes of the series proper. I think it is quite good how the movie begins and ends with the feeling of disgust. But I think the battle set pieces and the final scenes of the destruction of the world are what will live on in the memory.
32. Tokyo Godfathers
This is a fine Christmas movie and the story of three homeless people trying to find a baby’s mother. In the process we learn more about how each character came to be in their predicament. It all ends up being rather sentimental in the end, but it’s really hard to avoid that if Christmas is at the center of the story.
Another Gainax project that combined experimental animation with a story about the isolation of rural life. I think it is a great example of something that you can get out of it what you put in. It has its comedic moments and even does the reference comedy better than most do it these days. Most of all, I thought it was fun. That’s what really counts in the end, isn’t it?
30. Mobile Suit Gundam
And this is probably the only series I can safely say was affected by real life tragedy. I highlighted this before but the attacks of September 11th provided an excuse for this to be pulled off television. I can’t praise this show enough for the fantastic job it did in building the world that the rest of the UC series followed in. Yes, it does have it’s fair share of LOL TOMINO moments, namely Amuro burying the Gundam standing straight up, then managing to get in it, but it was also building off of a tradition of super robot shows where details like that didn’t matter.
Akira was a movie that was part of the wave of Japanese animation that came over to the West in the early 90s as something that was billed as genuinely cool. I know a lot of what came over on that wave is now considered terribad, but this really lives up to the hype. In a post-apocalyptic Japan, social order breaks down as the lower classes in the city prey for destruction again. In the meantime, you have a clash between friends, one of whose inferiority complex to the other makes it harder go on a rampage once given god-like powers. That leaves the one closest to him to stop him. Technically, this film is fantastic on a number of levels. The score is one of the most unique things you will ever hear. I recommend this to anyone who hasn’t seen it already.
28. Urusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamer
I haven’t actually properly watched the Urusei Yatsura series, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this triumph of directorial excellence. If you’ve watched the Ghost in the Shell movies, you will recognize the director immediately. The movie takes the cast of characters in a classic time loop plot, though this was made about 30 years ago. This doesn’t even feel like the proto-harem series that the characters and story came from. It has those bits, but this is a serious movie all the way through. Definitely a hidden gem if you can find it.
27. Eden of the East
The first real spy anime of the post-Bourne era. The basic premise is simple. Someone gave a group of people a bunch of money and told them to save Japan. That the series begins in Washington, D.C. with one of the protagonists throwing rocks at the White House (though not really threatening in any way) sets the tone. There is an air over this series about how those in authority have abandoned those who are deemed social outcasts. The project that gives the series it’s title was born out of an idea created by a group of unemployed college students. The higher tension in the series is the clash of ideas. Whether it is better to start a war to reclaim past glories, or better utilize the people who are considered to have no future by those in power is something I rarely expect an anime to address?
26. Sengoku Collection
This is the only entry you are getting from 2012, sorry. Sencolle takes a well-worn trope of utilizing genderbent Sengoku-era figures and turns it into a different take on modern life. There are episodes which are hopeful, fun, profoundly sad, funny and longing for a life that can’t be returned. The fact of the matter is that it’s 26 different takes on modern society, even if they are filled with Brechtian alienation methods or homages to 2001 or Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It was the most fun I had in a long time.
25. Honey and Clover
Another one of the college-themed series on this list, I can’t help but feel this captures life in that period of life better than most. It’s really hard to describe this in short other than to vaguely say that it is the story of a group of kids transitioning to adulthood. The anxieties of trying to find a job after college and to try to end up with the one you love. I may not have been satisfied with the ending, but I can still remember that scene where Takemoto falls in love with Hagu all the time.
Easily the most depressing series I have ever seen. I find it best to watch this in a marathon on a nice clear day. Because the ending is just so damn depressing. The story is of an innocent pair whose life is changed when the girl, Chise, is transformed into a weapon to fight in a war that had already destroyed most of the world. At the same time, the rest of their friends meet their ends in tragic ways as the world goes crazy. I should also add that there were 2 scenes in this series that actually brought me to tears.
23. Nekojiru Gekijou
This is a fun little dark comedy that has its own tragic story. Essentially, the creator of the manga ended up committing suicide, and her bleak view of the world comes through in this series made after her death. You have anthropomorphized characters in a caste system with cats on top and pigs all the way on the bottom, and do you know exactly where each animal ranks in society quickly. There’s also bloody deaths played for comedy and genuine social commentary that works well here.
22. Aoi Bungaku
This is really just an anthology of classic Japanese novels brought to life. I think what really stood out for me was the combination of great storytelling and the different styles each story brought out. The Spider’s Thread and Run, Melos really stood out for me in this regard. Adaptation of literature doesn’t have to be boring, not should it be dismissed because it doesn’t fit into the light novel trend that seems to be endless.
21. Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
The 2nd season of the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei franchise was the best in my opinion, otherwise it wouldn’t be here. It was so good that I once wrote on how a minor character should be recognized as excellent on the basis of a single episode. Alright, that may have been a bit over the top, but I think the episodes in this season are at their most critical of society.
20. Nadia, The Secret of Blue Water
Considering the last third of this series and the movie made can be considered catastrophically bad if not terribad, the strength of the first 2/3rds of this series land it a place here. This is roughly based off of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it has a heart that has long since abandoned Gainax. The need to cash in led to the horror I mentioned above, and it would be a fore bearer of what was to come for the series. But sticking to this series, it is a fun adventure all the way through. At least until it hits the troubles.
19. Legend of the Galactic Heroes: My Conquest is the Sea of Stars
This movie was the story of Yang Wen-li and Reinhard von Müsel’s first encounters on the battlefield, and it is definitely worthy of a place on this list. It encapsulates so much of what makes the main OVA special in just a single hour. There’s politics, battlefield action, and a set piece at the end set to Bolero which is the best in the entire franchise. It really sets the stage for what happens later in the story. I just wish I had watched this first.
18. Daicon Opening Animations
In the early 80s, a group of students who were science-fiction and animation fans put together a pair of short clips that would air at a convention on a minimal budget. They would go on to found Gainax and have an impact on the industry for years to come. As for these shorts, they manage to tell a complete story without having a character speak. But also, there are so many liberties taken with copyright that they can’t ever be commercially released
Time hasn’t really served this movie well. As more and more people watch it, this position on the list looks worse and worse still. However, I do genuinely like it. The film is rather slow to move along as the Metropolis-inspired feel to the city. The soundtrack perfectly captures the mood of the place as well. It all eventually leads up to a conclusion that is typical of man trying to conquer God. It all falls apart to the voice of Ray Charles singing I Can’t Stop Loving You. It’s a strange thing.
16. Serial Experiments Lain
Lain is seriously dated. I’ll be one of the first to admit that. The integration of people with technology is a commonly addressed theme. The plot is very much disjointed, but this is really an atmospheric series with an emphasis on how detached technology can make people from each other. It provoked many hours of thought in me, mainly because of the clear contrast in quality from what else aired that season.
15. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni
Higurashi had the time loop angle mastered from the start. This is a genuinely good horror series before time even plays a role. It at first seemed like the same cast of characters forever doomed to play through a bloody end. Only when it emerged that Rika was constantly aware of the fact that they were trapped in time did this become something special in my eyes. The production budget is very low in this series, but it’s a tribute that it ends up as a fantastic exploitation vehicle as a result.
14. Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
The ideal Christmas anime in my opinion, and 2nd only to Die Hard in my pantheon of Christmas must sees. This is an almost guaranteed annual watch, with hamburgers as the food simply because of the tragic end one character meets. Essentially 0080 is a growing up story of a boy who loves war and then has to see the consequences of having to participate in it. In the end, Al is left a blubbering mess at the meaninglessness of it all. It has it’s own nostalgic touch, trust me.
13. Rose of Versailles
Rose of Versailles is historical fiction of the highest order. Set in the final years of the French monarchy, it features a main trio of Marie Antoinette and two fictional characters Oscar, a woman who was brought up like a son but whose femininity is never hidden and Andre, Oscar’s servant. All-in-all, it ends up as a tragic tale of the corrupting power of the court, and the latter pair’s love story that never seems to come true as fate and society itself seems to be against them.
12. Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
What the hell is this doing here? Actually, I can make a good argument for it. It was the first foray of Kyoto Animation into longer run anime. It took the cast of characters from FMP and took full advantage of the fact that Sousuke would be odd in real life to make it into a comedy. I would call it meta-humor of the highest order. The simple fact is that watching Sousuke fail miserably to live a normal life brought me no end of laughter. Something very few comedies do to me these days.
11. Cowboy Bebop
I watched an episode of this with my father once. His big takeaway was the question of “Why do the use guns in space?” Honestly, the space aspect of the show is secondary to the number of stand-alone stories that are entertaining and the sadness of the main plot. The ending seemed absolutely perfect, even to one of my college roommates who wasn’t even into anime at all. I’m just going on nostalgia here, aren’t I?
10. My Neighbor Totoro
I’d probably call this the ideal children’s movie. This is Miyazaki in full flight as it captures childhood imagination about as well as anyone can. In the unlikely event that I somehow end up with children, this would be one of the first anime I would show them. I can’t think of anything else to say about this.
9. Princess Mononoke
And immediately into a more adult Miyazaki piece. This is the story of a man seeking salvation from a curse via protecting a girl raised by wolves against technologically advanced, and environmentally destroying people. It doesn’t dwell on that aspect that much, but as a result it does a better job of communicating that message. Overall, I think it ends up being a masterful story of the effects of man’s conquest of nature and nature’s fight to adapt to man.
I saw this and Gunbuster primarily driven by the fact that I really liked the OP to this. Yes, an OP convinced me to watch this. What can I say, this is a worthy successor. It captures all of what made Gunbuster epic in my mind and allowed the characters featured here to live on their own. The only bit of concern I had for this is that the middle episodes seem to progress the story at light speed. So Nono goes from being a curiosity to most powerful entity in the Earth sphere really quickly. However, the ending more than makes up for that.
7. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
Another sequel which relies on a completely different cast of characters. This is way more soul destroying in the end for the main character at the start. Camille is completely driven by ideals even if his family situation is in tatters. The story moves along as his talent at piloting mobile suits proves to be even greater than anyone would think. However, he runs into a love interest that eventually destroys him. Much like Amuro’s encounters with Lalah in the original series, Camille has the same with a girl named Four. The series also has one of those THAT episodes I talked about a couple years ago where the number of main characters killed is ridiculously high. It all leads up to a tragic end where death would have been preferable.
If there was one word I would use to describe Kaiba I would use surreal. This is a story of a society split into haves and have-nots and a world where bodies are tradeable commodities. In the middle of it all is a love story between Kaiba and Neiro, which shines above all else in this series. The artistic sense of this series is more than enough to put people off. I’m well aware of that fact as only Australia of any Western territory is lucky enough to have it licensed. However, it was excellent enough for me to at least attempt to write posts on them. Even if no one ever read them, unfortunately.
5. Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight!
At some point that I can’t even remember when this happened, this series became the defining point of the success of a series in disc sales. I’d like to think that it is much bigger than that. It has a lot of the features you would see in present shows, cute girls doing cute things, but the constructed world makes that seem like a small point. Yes, this show has a very good point to make about the division of labor in a shrinking labor pool. In the show itself, it’s considered odd that they would go to school to begin with as they could make plenty of money from the off as freeters once compulsory education began. Hell, even the entire school culture had changed to the point where just having a school festival seems like an inconvenience to the students rather than an opportunity to bond as a student body. I got a nice sociological exploration experience out of it, but others may see it differently.
Gunbuster proves in my mind that it is possible to make something that is considered an epic, that lasts less than 2 hours. Here are six episodes that begin at a high school as a tribute to Ace wo Nerae! and by the end you have intergalactic warfare trying to save humanity from some sort of alien threat. In the middle you get bonding between the two women at the heart of the story, an exploration of what the effects of travel in space does to people and a fantastic ending done entirely in black-and-white. Thousands of years are covered in the space of this show. Everyone Kazumi and Noriko would have known is long dead, yet they are remembered numerous years later for the work they did.
3. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
The final Miyazaki work on this list is one of the earlier pieces of his work. Nausicaä has an environmental message that is so obvious you could put a giant scrolling banner across the screen that yells, Humans Are Destroying the Environment. Regardless, this is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth where humans try to survive the toxic wasteland that they created. The title character also isn’t above getting involved in the fighting over the few remaining pieces of usable land left on the planet. This work is Miyazaki through and through as he wrote it all from scratch. The ending is also rather optimistic at the same time. I believe he later took the manga he created from this story and made it all very dark. Unfortunately, that was years after this was made. Regardless, it’s still my favorite anime in movie form.
2. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
LotGH is a good enough series that I spent the time to write on it every week for over three years. But it’s only number 2, you say? I’d rather dwell on the positives. Here is a world that is faithfully adapted from a number of novels written. Before it was adapted into animated form, there was enough time for a folklore behind the series to be built. An entire universe of future events and outcomes of battles had already been shaped. It was all a matter of putting it together. And boy was it rough to start out with. Inconsistent directing and animation in the first few episode that were bad enough to go back and remake them as a movie later. Through all 110 episodes of it, there were very few wasted episodes. An episode from the first 26 episodes could come back in a big way several years later in production terms. All the while, the characters driving the story grew legends of their own. The fact that it still managed to work as important characters were killed off is a testament to how well the supporting characters were constructed. Sadly, I doubt we will see anything of LotGH‘s ilk again. It’s just too costly to risk failure now.
1. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
And finally, you’ve reached the end of this giant list only to find that I’ve put a Gainax robot anime at number 1. I actually have a story that could be interesting as to how I watched this. As people who have watched this series know, there is a time gap about 60% of the way through the series as the story moves on to another time. I had hit that point when watching it, only to then wait 2 years to continue on. It could only go downhill from there I thought. I’d probably have put the first story arc by itself at #4 on this list. After some convincing from people on Twitter, I pressed on. And I was well rewarded. The epic feeling of the first half of the story continued on after the time leap. The ending was a little sad, but the fact that Simon was able to live on despite losing the love of his life was an excellent touch. Ultimately, I think you can say that the thing I got most out of TTGL is that with enough effort and teamwork, a group of people can accomplish epic feats. A simple message that is so often forgotten as I watch more anime.