This is it. The big one. Every self respecting anime watcher has it. The official, ultimate, no-holds-barred best anime list of all time. I wouldn’t say I have the most common of tastes in this business, not only staying clear of the mainstream fluff like Sword Art Online, or, god forbid, Naruto, but also avoiding the supposed classics like Cowboy Bebop or any of Miyazaki’s films. Even so, people have their lists, and this is mine. I had a blast watching the anime I wanted to watch, collecting about fifty plus under my belt now, and I have no doubt I will continue watching even when I’m fresh out of university. From when I first started watching superpowered smooth talking foreigners kill each other back in 2010, up til now seeing cute little girls fight off hordes of zombies at this very date on the fifteenth of August 2015, this is my official top ten anime list.
10. Darker than Black
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
When I watched it: 2010
Best episode: Episode 14 (Yin’s arc)
This is a very imperfect show. Unlike the rest of the shows on this list, it doesn’t have as many ‘wow’ moments – not too quirky, not too flashy, just a quiet show with some people talking and then some people fighting. I came away from the show wondering why I liked it, and, judging from some quick searches on Google, quite a few anime bloggers had that exact same question on their minds as well. Nostalgia might play some part it – but ultimately, I realised what DtB had what many other shows didn’t – as an action anime, it was unique. The fight scenes were short, but as sweet as freshly minted cotton candy. The characters weren’t the most original, but they expressed themselves in such a way in which no other method of exposition could be that subtle. The universe they inhabited was deeply engaging, and the noir-ish, gloomy mood accompanied by that breezy sax never failed to draw me in. Some say this was the spiritual successor to Cowboy Bebop, and I don’t know if it is true, if it is, that means DtB isn’t that original – but even so, against a market of moeblobs and hot-blooded low IQ teenage protagonists, DtB stands out as an whole new action genre of its own.
Genre: Drama, Science-Fiction
When I watched it: 2011
Best Episode: Episode 14 (The one where SPOILER finally SPOILERS SPOILER)
Like the entry preceding it, Gungrave isn’t what you’d expect of an ordinary anime. As a drama, rather then the predictable angst of hormone riddled teenagers, Gungrave instead takes the stage to the world of organised crime, a classic mafia drama played straight along with all the themes of brotherhood and betrayal. It’s a story of two friends, in which one betrays the other (or the other one betrayed him, depending on your viewpoint). This is not necessarily a spoiler, because Gungrave employs an interesting narrative choice – at the first episode, you already know what happens, what the characters have done to each other, what the world has become. That makes the first half of Gungrave all about the anticipation, and then when the second half snaps back to the present, it’s just the cathartic pleasure of watching all the cards fall down as the characters reap their karmic rewards. This show is a classic tragedy of human beings being human beings, basically. And yes, at the last episode, I was almost crying.
Genre: Action, Romance
When I watched it: 2014
Best episode: Episode 12 (THAT ENDING)
Katanagatari is advertised as a samurai story, but just limiting to that would be a huge diservice. Being a Nisio Isin work, expect a lot of quirky things you will either love or hate – endless dialogue, eccentric characters, and a whole lot of meta jokes. But mostly, a lot and a lot and a lot of dialogue. You never know what you will get in such an inconsistent work as Nisio’s and this is one of his more all over the place ones. Admittedly, I found myself checking the time bar thingy every now again as Togame rattled off about catchphrases for ten minutes or when the holy priest guy was giving his lecture on Shichika being a murderer which I thought was as unsubtle as could be and I was rolling my eyes and stuff. But there was a lot of good stuff too, like the psychotic Nanami terrifying her enemies, or princess Hitei bantering with her loyal servant(or friend?) Emonzaemon. But the real thing that bumped Katanagatari straight up to this list was its ending. And holy shit, that ending. After eleven fifty minute episodes of all that Nisio-like meandering, which had the critical effect of us getting to know the characters more deeply than anything else, the ending happened. The ending was literal perfection. I can’t think of any other anime that hit me with such emotion, such catharsis, and such satisfaction that this was how the characters were meant to end up from the very beginning.
Genre: Drama, Psychological
When I watched it: 2010
Best Episode: Episode 72 (Roberto vs Lunge)
There was one night, at about midnight sharp, when I was in my bed watching the television on the wall. At that time I was sharing the room with my brothers, and we were fighting on what to watch. The channel flipped to Kid’s Central, except at this hour it wasn’t Kid’s Central, it was the adult section, which was featuring a very creepy anime opening complete with blood and shadowy figures. I was hooked immediately, searched it up the next day, and that was the story of how Monster became the very first anime I watched. Like Gungrave and DtB, it’s a different breed of anime that’s more of a HBO drama, a very adult sort of crime serial that delves deep into the psychological idiosyncrasies of the most depraved criminals. Especially the titular Johan Liebert, a murderer who kills for very abstract reasons and whose multi-layered mind an enigma I enjoyed carefully peeling apart. But I liked the smaller arcs scattered around in the breather episodes – in a post Communist Europe, you get all sorts of stories, from Inspector Lunge the workaholic to Wolfgang Grimmer the man who always smiles. Not only them, but also the one-episode characters like the retired assassin who now works in a pasta restaurant, an illegal immigrant who works as a bone fide doctor…Naoki Urasawa, as he always does, manages to handle a cast of dozens of characters and gives each of them a story.
Genre: Horror, Drama
When I watched it: 2014
Best Episode: Episode 24 (When the cards all come falling down)
This has a lot of similarities to Stephen King’s Salem’s lot – there is an isolated village, an evil as old as history arrives in the form of a family of three vampires, and as the episodes chug on more and more villages get ‘turned’ into those that they despised the most, and in the final act everything comes crashing down when the villagers find out what’s going on and the two factions wage a bloody war. But unlike Salem’s lot, what makes this work so much more interesting is the fact that you genuinely don’t know which side to root for. Even til now, on youtube comments and message boards, people are still debating which side was more horrible in the end – the humans or the vampires (the Shiki). To add to the odds, a common underlying theme of Shiki is that of the rigidity of conventions and how people long to break from them – and the Shiki are portrayed as simply just innocent souls who are just trying to live their own lives. There are both good and bad people among the humans, just as there are good and bad people among Shiki, and with a cast of dozens of characters, all sides of spectrum are seen and heard, making Shiki a fable of the most complex and nuanced kind. If you don’t want morality plays, Shiki works as a straight up tragedy as well, with many character’s arc coming to tragic, and often bitterly unfair endings. There’s a lot that happened in Shiki, and all of it was impactful enough to stay with me up til now.
5. Shinsekai Yori
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction
When I watched it; 2015
Best Episode: Episode 19 (Nearly peeed my pants)
Let me get this out of the way first – I didn’t much care at all for the main characters. They were dull, bland, uninspiring, with as much personality and free will as cardboard cutouts. What this says about SSY, however, is that the sheer strength of its other aspects, its narration, its atmosphere, its surreal animation and above all its fantastic worldbuilding is enough to ride over its weaknesses and arrive at the number 5 spot on this list. SSY simply excels at the two genres it advertises as – as a science fiction piece, no other anime comes close to crafting such a horrifying and strange world. There’s stuff like exploding dogs, or a tiny horse like thing that looks like a balloon, and also guys kissing other guys like its totally normal. The setting is weird, you’ll go wtf at every turn, but the point is that it’s so unique and so exquisitely crafted that you’d have no problem believing it existed in the first place. And there’s also the horror aspect. Oh god, the horror, the horror. Not only does the anime rocket sky high with tension in certain pulse pounding moments (see above: best episode), and not only does it manage to maintain a simmering atmosphere of uneasiness even throughout even the breather episodes, there is is also first and foremost the philosophical horror. SSY shows us that humans are and forever will be heartless madmen, and that unsettling concept is never reconciled even by the show’s end.
4. Welcome to the NHK!
Genre: Comedy, Drama
When I watched it: 2011
Best Episode: Episode 24 (A bittersweet ending)
Now that we’re this far into the list, we’re going to talk about some anime which are more personal to me, ones that really struck home and were relevant to what I was doing and what kind of person I was at the time. Not to get too sappy, but anime from here on out really resonated within me, and NHK is no exception. It’s a story of an adult man experiencing a syndrome common to Japan and to many developed countries – that of not wanting to do anything and instead staying inside his room twenty four hours a day. Our protagonist Satou fears outside contact, fears the responsibilities of the adult life, fears maintaining relationships – he’s basically scared of the world around him. The other characters surrounding have similar issues – one has insecurity problems, another has dreams far beyond him, and yet another finds herself just so incredibly lonely. These situations are played for laughs, but they are played for honest laughs, a twisted kind of black comedy which only highlights the severity of the situations our characters find themselves in. Everyone, especially me, can find a bit of themselves in Satou and the rest, because this is a show about real life. It’s a show about the social problems young adults face. It’s a show about vulnerable people and how they struggle to connect to each other. Some episodes made me cackle knowingly, others just made me sad, but in the end what NHK truly did was make me realise I wasn’t the only one fucked up in the head.
3. Mawaru Penguindrum
Genre: Drama, Comedy
When I watched it: 2014
Best Episode: Episode 25 (Let’s share the fruit of fate)
If you know Ikuhara, you’d know his name is basically a synonym for LOTTA SYMBOLISM. Penguindrum is no exception, and it’s weird as it goes. Part of the comedy of this series comes from its sheer absurdity – at one point, a girl shouts SEIZON SERYUKU and everybody gets transported to a magical realm where they fly in this rocket sprouting stars, only to end up inside a bear robot with a lot of train symbols flying past, and…yeah. This show’s weird. Some of the symbolism might have overstayed its welcome, and sometimes you just want to scream at the show to get on with it, but its main message still rings clear as a bell. Again, the black comedy is just a precursor to the main themes – underneath all its fantastical fluff, Penguindrum is a very sad story. A story of human beings being wrung about by this sinister being named fate. But its also an optimistic story, a heroic one, that of people forming connections and doing their best to save one another. Out of all the anime on this list, it may be the most ‘feel good’ show on here, but at the same time it never compromises its honesty. Penguindrum made me cry, it made me smile, and I’m glad it entered my life.
Genre: Drama, Romance
When I watched it: First season in 2014, Second season in 2015
Best Episode: Season 2 Episode 11 (Hayato best boy)
This show is essentially the ultimate high school slice of life show (for me, at least). Like NHK, the only concern this show has is people facing problems in real life, but this time, we see them through the eyes of a massive introvert still in high school, Hikigaya Hachiman, who is pretty much the textbook definition of the loner kid who never talks to anyone. Now I’ll admit something upfront. I am a lot like Hachiman. I’m cynical, I’m lazy, I think I’m better than everyone else and I detest maintaining friendships. Other lesser shows in the high school setting would treat these qualities as something to be laughed off – oh, mr self-insert, it’s okay to be yourself! – but Oregairu amazingly forces its protagonist to grow up. Throughout the course of the two seasons Hachiman actually changes, gradually coming out of his shell and realising what’s most important to him. Sure, maybe the amount of girls that surround him make this a tad less realistic harem. And, of course, I’d be the first to agree that the so called ‘comic relief’ is nothing more than light novel garbage tier. But this anime actually – and I daresay – actually taught me a thing or two. Hachiman learnt a lot of lessons, and I learnt along with him all the way.
1. Monogatari Series
Genre: Supernatural, Drama
When I watched it: 2014 til now, still anxiously awaiting Owarimonogatari
Favourite episode: Second Season Episode 21 (Kaiki is like the anime version of Atticus Finch)
This one’s also by Nisio Isin, and it’s just plain messy. As one reviewer puts it, it’s a ‘disaster’. I’ve written a review of it on this blog some time back. If you don’t like the Monogatari series, I won’t blame you in the slightest bit – I myself detest certain episodes of it too. But even so, there’s no other anime I eagerly anticipate every week. No matter how depraved, how pointless, or how disgustingly self indulgent its episodes get, I will never, ever find a replacement for Monogatari, because it’s so damn quirky, stamped with such an recognizable style courtesy of both Nisio and Shaft. I love this style. This minimalistic, self-mocking, blunt and all around eccentric tone which only sets the pace for the idiosyncratic dialogue – I love it all. And when Monogatari starts getting good, it really starts getting good. This is an anime which is sorta about real life which is a-ok, because in a roundabout way it also deals with first world-problems which young adolescents like me can relate to. Throughout its quirkiness Monogatari manages to tug at my heartstrings more than a few times, and these two aspects alone vault it up as my favourite anime of all time.