Update: See the 2023 Addendum
It’s been nearly three years since I updated my list of favorite anime. I figure it’s about time. A few notes:
- This list is only for TV anime, not movies or OVAs. In case I never get around to writing posts on those (a highly likely scenario) my favorite movies are Whisper of the Heart followed by A Place Promised in Our Early Days followed by a bunch of Miyazaki movies and the Haruhi movie. My favorite OVA is Detroit Metal City, followed by Diebuster.
- My tastes are pretty varied, I feel, although sci-fi, fantasy, and horror are each heavily represented. The two things that draw most of these shows together are strong characterizations and creative settings.
- If you want to compare the changes, here is the original list.
- Take the rankings with a grain of salt. The difference between #31 and #32 is approximately nothing.
- If anyone’s wondering why Bokurano isn’t on my list, it’s because I haven’t watched it yet. Once I watch Bokurano I will have no good anime to look forward to and will have no need to ever watch anime again.
- If anyone’s wondering why Narutaru isn’t on my list, it’s because it sucked. Except the OP. That was pretty darn good.
- This list is objectively accurate, and anyone who disagrees is WRONG. It’s not like the order would have been completely different if I wrote it yesterday instead.
Without further ado, here it is: the list of my favorite 50 anime.
The Count of Monte Cristo, anime version. Everything that made the original Count of Monte Cristo so great, except it also looks pretty. Oh, and with mecha and traps. Of course. It is anime, after all.
One of my favorite romantic dramas. I was considering putting True Tears instead but that had an awful, depressing ending (worse than School Days) so I decided against it. What makes this one so nice is that there are multiple characters, both male and female, simultaneously entering into relationships with each other. So it isn’t one relationship in a vacuum, but more watching a group of friends learn about relationships together. Sadly one of the main characters never learns anything and dumps Best Girl but at least the other main relationship goes well.
48. Hi no Tori
A series of short stories centering around the Phoenix. By themselves, stories are quite interesting, but when they all come together at the end…. wow. More thoughts here.
47. School Rumble
One of my favorite romantic comedies, of the variety where nobody ever gets anywhere with anyone. Probably numbers among the five shows I’ve rewatched the most. A big cast of quirky but human characters coupled with endless misunderstandings, School Rumble can always make me laugh. I mean just look at Harima’s face.
46. Eureka Seven
One of the first anime I ever watched. It has a great setting, and one of the best anime romances. Between Dominique and Anenome, of course, not that crap with Eureka and Renton. Was tempted to put Eureka Seven AO instead, but that would just be trolling. Although actually I do think AO is the superior show in many ways. Eureka Seven could have easily been half the length without much lost.
45. Fullmetal Panic? Fumoffu
The rest of FMP is good as well (especially that Tessa OVA! oh yeah!) but Fumoffu is my favorite. This iteration forgets all the serious mecha fights against terrorists that the rest of the series focuses on, and deals solely with Sousuke’s comedic antics. It’s one of the funniest anime I’ve watched, and one I often turn to again when I want a quick laugh.
Lesbians with magic powers murder each other. Used to be popular back in the day, but I think it’s gone out of style now. This was probably helped by Mai-Otome, which everyone hated. I actually liked Mai-Otome although I’m almost ashamed to admit it. Anyway, Mai-HiME is a campy show involving fighting between a bunch of schoolgirls and a huge conspiracy. I love conspiracy stories.
43. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Guts, passion, and more guts! Would be higher on the list except it’s inferior to Diebuster in every conceivable way.
My favorite fanservice show. Let no one ever accuse me of being an elitist. This is how you do fanservice, and how you manage to make fighting shows actually interesting. (You may notice a dearth of fighting shows on this list.) Where is season two with Yamada-chan?!!!! For more thoughts, see here, although I don’t know what I was thinking rating it so low.
41. Ouran High School Host Club
A reverse harem comedy. Pretty funny, and could always use an extra watch.
Like Evangelion, but better. The second mecha show I ever watched, so it has a special place in my heart.
39. Gunparade March
Ok, so most of Gunparade March isn’t all that great. The reason it’s on my favorites list is because of a single episode which I absolutely loved. For those who have seen the show, it’s the episode where Hayami and Mai are stranded in the snow, surrounded by monsters. Normally Mai is complaining about how Hayami is useless because he can’t fight, but here the situation is reversed. Only Hayami can walk among the monsters, because he doesn’t hate them or fear them as he chants the children’s story to himself. He has to knock the wounded Mai unconscious and carry her around so they can survive. This episode just pulled all the right strings for me: one of my favorites of all time. P.S. Gunparade Orchestra never happened.
38. Zeta Gundam
Tomino kills ’em all. My second favorite Gundam show. This one does a great job portraying the futility of war, something later generations of Gundam fail miserably at. Although to be fair, later generations of Gundam fail miserably at pretty much everything.
The atmosphere is what I love the most about Kamichu. It’s a show about a girl who becomes a goddess, and it’s able to maintain just the right amount of seriousness (or lack thereof). It’s humorous, relaxed and down to earth in spite of the outlandish premise. Most of our new goddess’ efforts are spent on getting the boy she likes to recognize her. The animation is also superb.
36. Sengoku Collection
Genderbent Sengoku warlords enter the modern world. This show is unique in that it’s episodic and the quality of the various episodes varies enormously. This show includes two episodes that I would count among the best anime episodes ever made (8 + 23), but about half of the episodes are crap. Fortunately, I’ve put together an episode guide to help you skip to the good parts.
35. Starship Operators
Starship Operators has a very interesting premise: a group of students commandeer a battleship, fight in a revolution, and are filmed by a reality TV crew. It has some good politics and raises interesting moral questions, and is a solid watch from start to finish. I particularly liked one character’s turn-about towards the end of the show.
34. Seirei no Moribito
A warrior spearwoman protects a prince. Honestly, I don’t remember much about this one, aside from the fact that I need to watch it again and that it was really good.
33. Gigantic Formula
Gigantic Formula follows a tournament between countries’ giant robots to determine who will rule the world (more or less). The overall plot is stupid (and let’s pretend the ending never happened) and a hotbed of Japanese nationalism, but the majority of the show is spent on episodic stories about the pilots from individual countries before they fight. This is where Gigantic Formula really shines: as a character study. With this episodic format, the creators were able to fully flesh out a large cast of characters and deliver a series of touching short stories.
This doesn’t seem to be all that popular among western fans (although my impression is that it had a bigger impact in Japan), but sola is one of my favorite romance shows. It often seems to be placed in the same category as Air, Kanon, Clannad, etc., but I don’t see much similarity. It’s not a harem with a bunch of hackneyed tragic heroines, and it’s one of the few romance shows that has a message deeper than the glorification of some half-assed infatuation. The ending is spectacular.
31. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
This is probably the show that made me cry the most. The empathy for the characters is made possible by some brilliant characterizations— the main lead, especially, grows tremendously over the course of the series. A very moving show, with some unexpected twists.
The literature club gets caught up in a series of mysteries. The mysteries are particularly interesting in that they don’t involve murder or anything, just every day events, but still manage to be compelling. Mainly Hyouka shines for its characterizations and its subdued, more realistic depictions of romance.
Am epic about a doctor’s quest to right his wrongs by killing the murderer whose life he saved. Monster has one of the best senses of suspense, some unforgettable and larger than life characters, and is filled with astounding twists and turns. I dropped my ranking from last time since this is so long I have no desire to ever watch it again.
28. Turn A Gundam
My favorite Gundam show. Turn A uses the Gundam for farming just as often as fighting. The show involves interstellar politics and traps, but the characters remain thoroughly human. Turn A shows the absurdity of war through a lighter touch than other Gundam series, and has an understated sense of humor. The ending was a bit of a letdown, however, descending into epic mecha battles with a villain I didn’t particularly care for. Still, what’s not to like: it’s about a Gundam with a mustache.
27. Crest / Banner of the Stars
This is one of my favorite romance series. The first reason being that it isn’t all about the romance, with the first series focusing on an escape from a war zone, the second focusing on large scale galactic warfare, and the third on the breakdown into anarchy of a prison planet. I also like the fact that each season makes progress in the characters’ relationship, and they are actually monogamous (somehow, monogamy seems quite rare in anime). In addition, the two lead characters complement each other very well. We have neither an unpopular loser male protagonist nor a damsel in distress. Both of them have to work together to get through their struggles. There are also deep cultural differences between the two characters. And finally, they actually have to make sacrifices for the sake of their relationship. Shows where everyone gets what they want and live happily ever after ring hollow to me.
26. Welcome to the NHK
The reason I love Welcome to the NHK is quite simple: it’s funny. The antics of Satou and friends are hilarious. It’s a wonderful dark sort of humor too. The show takes a look at hikikomoris and their efforts to overcome their problems, as well as people who are broken in other ways. One of my most rewatched shows.
25. Hourou Musuko
The cast is enormous, especially for a show of only eleven episodes. But the thing is, every one of the characters is more well-developed than many series’ main characters. Not a single moment in this show is wasted as it uses its time to flesh out the characters fully. I love the direction (especially the scene transitions, which flow remarkably smoothly for a show that jumps all over the place) and the animation style is unique. My only complaint is that the show wasn’t long enough. More thoughts here.
I appreciate the double length episode format: each episode has enough time to tell a self-contained story. Katanagatari has an excellent sense of humor, along with a plot filled with twists and turns. I recommend giving Katanagatari a try… but by then, you’ll have been torn to pieces.
A science fiction story about orbital garbage collectors, that manages to keep its feet firmly planted on the ground and remain “realistic”. It treats on the absurdity of corporate bureaucracy, has an imaginative and believable futurisitc setting, and still finds the time to tell a moving tale of love and loss.
Genshiken has a special place in the hearts of many anime fans, as it follows the lives of the members of a club of otaku. It’s humorous, has a lovable cast of characters, and can be touching when it decides to. The characters show a remarkable amount of growth throughout the series, and yet also remain the same. Genshiken Nidaime was also pretty great. But why oh why did they skip the chapters where Ogiue and Sasahara hook up… that was the best part…!
21. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei
This show really captured for me what it was like to be in college (well, aside from actually going to class). The format of a different alternate universe for each episode worked out beautifully, as did the wacky animation style. This show had some weird characters, as well as growth for the main lead as he learned to accept the choices he made.
20. Oh! Edo Rocket
Oh! Edo Rocket isn’t popular at all, but I adore this show. Why? I thought it was hilarious, it had a unique animation style, and it also had an interesting story to tell. It even has a mathematician with a girlfriend. Unbelievable.
19. Shinsekai Yori
Children come of age in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world in which humans have psychic powers. This show thrives on the mystery of its setting, as it slowly unveils the secrets behind the world the children live in and they come to better understand one another. Actually, that seems to be a common theme among many of the entries in this list… At first, I had a number of complaints about this show. But the second and third time I watched it, the show grew on me more and more. It’s the type of show that’s best watched in a couple sittings. Many of my initial thoughts are available here.
18. Shion no Ou
This is a show about playing Shogi, but also so much more. It examines the lives of the players and their interactions, and solves a murder mystery in the process. It’s hard to explain exactly what makes this show so great, but just give it a try. An embarrassing confession: Shion no Ou inspired me to learn to play Shogi.
One of the funniest shows I’ve ever watched. It was twenty minutes of nonstop laughter, once a week for half a year. The best parts: those skits with Mio’s cubes falling from the airship. More thoughts here.
16. Red Garden
Red Garden is set in New York, and it actually gets the setting down surprisingly well. The characters seem genuinely American. Once again (this seems to be a recurring theme) we have an excellent characterization of four girls and their relationships. We also have an epic battle between insane vampires and immortal dolls: what’s not to love?
15. Mawaru Penguindrum
Filled with symbolism, Mawaru Penguindrum is a show that makes you think. It’s filled with twists and surprises, the characters are nuts, the animators consider the tiniest of details, and it never leaves you bored, even for a moment. And yes, I think it’s better than Utena. Tons of thoughts on the show here.
14. Ghost Hound
Ghost Hound has strong characters (love that psychologist) and an interesting story, but the reason it’s on my favorites list is mainly due to its tense atmosphere. This show has some of the best production of any anime, especially the sound effects. It’s downright spooky. The immersive atmosphere makes you feel fully involved with the show.
13. Figure 17
The second show on this list with double length episodes. The extra length helped both Katanagatari and Figure 17 a great deal, as they are able to fully flesh out a short story arc in each episode. Figure 17 has a unique format: approximately half of each episode is a down to earth, slice of life story surrounding two “sisters” and a girl’s coming of age. The other half of each episode involves battling space aliens. The two halves fit together surprisingly well.
Noein has simply one of the best sci-fi / fantasy settings, with heavy use of quantum physics and parallel worlds. It’s an emotional ride as we see the character’s growth and see their endless possibilities in parallel worlds, and as we watch the last death-throes of a falling world. Unfortunately it also has some terrible CG.
11. Book of Bantorra
Book of Bantorra has an unusual premise: a library collects books containing the memories of the dead. There’s an enticing mystery regarding the true nature of the library; larger than life characters; and overall, it’s simply a lot of fun seeing what crazy things the characters will do. Volken and that ant guy are two of my favorite characters from any anime. Some of the stories are completely heartbreaking.
10. Mouryou no Hako
I have a special place in my heart for mythology and religion, and Mouryou no Hako satisfied this craving more than any other anime. The deepest most anime go into these topics is shrine maidens and nuns, so an anime which spends over an entire episode with people sitting around a table discussing the nature of mouryou is a real treat. It also has an engaging mystery, some disturbing horror (that head honestly disturbed me more than most of Higurashi), and is the only show on my favorites list involving bishounen.
One of the most fun shows I’ve ever watched. We have several mass murderers, one of whom makes a moving love confession while covered head to toe in blood, a hilarious robber duo, several mafia gangs, a secret society working on the elixir of life, an intrepid news organization, and more. The show’s pace never skips a beat and no one would accuse this of being boring, even for a moment. Some people would claim Durarara is better. These people could not be more wrong.
8. Princess Tutu
Princess Tutu is a show about little girls doing ballet. And it is beyond awesome. At first it appears to be like every other gather the magical ____ to save the prince story, but later the lines between good and evil merge and everything comes together for an unexpected but extremely satisfying conclusion.
7. Tantei Opera Milky Holmes
Four girls go to detective school. In the first episode they lose their powers and become completely useless for the rest of the show. One of the funniest things I’ve ever watched. Some pretty dark humor, despite the cutesy characters.
6. Denno Coil
This is another show that isn’t all that popular. Denno Coil revolves around a group of children in a setting with a parallel virtual world that can be experienced by wearing special glasses. It explores the boundary between the real world and the virtual, as well as the relationships between the characters. Excellent characters and production combine to tell an immersive coming of age story. And Densuke is great! Also the beard episode.
5. Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (Kai)
Who doesn’t love watching cute girls lose their minds and brutally murder each other? In all seriousness, I didn’t originally think I would like this one either. But then I watched it and was blown away. The first season is incredibly intense— it takes a while to get going, but when it gets to Shion’s arc, around episode 15— damn. Some nasty, brutal stuff. I don’t think I ever wanted a show to get a happy ending quite as badly as this one. The second season gets even better, where instead of horror the focus is on discovering the truth and everyone working together to escape their terrible fate.
4. Haibane Renmei
This story follows a group of children who have been reborn as angels in a mysterious town, as they come to accept themselves and one another. What I especially enjoy about Haibane Renmei is that it actually doesn’t resolve most of the mysteries, leaving much for the viewer to chew on. Fantastic characters, a unique setting, and ideas to think about.
AKB0048 has opened me to fabulousness, and ultimately entertainment. Yes, this is about idols. Yes, I hate idols. And yes, AKB0048 is the greatest thing ever (well, third greatest thing ever, but close enough). I watched the entire show three times in the span of two weeks once. It’s that good. Just trust me. More thoughts here.
2. Code Geass
I love Code Geass. I’ve watched it at least ten times by now. This is the kind of show that lives off twists and surprises. And it’s able to build up the excitement such that, even when I’ve seen it many times before and know exactly what’s going to happen, I’m jumping up and down in excitement like a little kid. Another aspect that makes Code Geass so successful is Suzaku. He’s such a hypocritical bastard that everyone wants to bash his head in with a rock. Also Lelouch has the best evil laugh. I’ve written some more thoughts on Season 1 and Season 2 for those interested.
This is it: my favorite show of all time. It’s occupied this position ever since I first watched it years ago, and doesn’t appear to be losing its place anytime soon. Simoun is an amazing character study. I love (or hate, in the case of Neviril) every single one of the characters, all of whom are deeply flawed. The relationships between the characters are intricate and at times tragic, and the gender ambiguity adds yet another layer of depth. Simoun has a fantastic setting (another falling world show, I am a sucker for these), and even makes a creative use of time travel. The animation is beautiful, and it has the best soundtrack of any show I’ve ever seen. Simoun even has one of the best fansubbing jobs of all time (I am honestly not making this up). I love every bit of it. If you’re afraid of yuri, as I was before my first watch: don’t be. The relationships are authentic and meaningful, and this is not your stereotypical yuri show. (I’ve since become a yuri fanboy, but that’s a different story).
These shows are the ones I love the most, and the reason I watch anime.
What are your favorite anime? I look forward to hearing about your favorite shows in the comments.