Here it is: the list of my favorite anime of all time. This is only including TV series, not OVAs or movies.
This list is objectively accurate, and anyone who disagrees is WRONG. OK, now seriously, the only thing it’s based on is my gut feeling for how much I enjoyed each show. I don’t even agree with myself on the ordering on the list from day to day. The shows may all have flaws or whatnot, and even I may see the flaws, but I enjoyed watching them, and in the end, that’s why we all watch anime, right?
Choosing your favorite anime is hard. For me, picking number one was easy. Picking the next twenty-nine was easy too. But ordering the next twenty-nine? Not so easy. I reordered them at least twenty times while writing this, and I’m sure that since I’ve published this list I’ve already changed my mind several times more.
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.
Without further ado, here it is: the list of my favorite 30 TV anime.
30. Gunparade March
Gunparade March is a pretty good show all around, but I wouldn’t call it great. The reason it managed to eek onto the tail end of 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.
29. 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.
28. 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 kind of stupid (and let’s pretend the ending never happened) 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.
27. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
*Tear* 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 great twists.
26. 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 understaded 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.
25. 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.
24. 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.
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 loves to recognize her. The animation is also superb.
22. Rozen Maiden
Rozen Maiden is one of the most all-around solid series out there. Not a moment is wasted. It manages to tell a great story, develop some fabulous characters, and has a good sense of humor interleaved with the more serious moments. Rozen Maiden has a rather unique charm, being based around fighting magical dolls, with a lead male character whose main special power is the ability to sew. But for a show based around a boy who is too afraid to leave his house, Jun develops into a surprisingly lovable character.
21. Hourou Musuko
Hourou Musuko is the most recent addition to my favorites list. 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.
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 reccommend giving Katangatri a try… but by then, you’ll have been torn to pieces.
This is a science fiction story about orbital garbage collectors, but 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.
A truly epic show 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.
17. Oh! Edo Rocket
Oh! Edo Rocket isn’t all that popular, 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.
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.
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 my favorite romance show. It often seems to be placed in the same category as Air, Kanon, Clannad, etc., but I honestly don’t see much similarity. All of the characters are adorable (especially the two little girls), the animation is beautiful, and it’s one of the few romance shows that has a message deeper than the glorification of erotic love. Suffice to say it has a spectacular ending as well, although I won’t spoil it.
14. 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. I don’t think I ever wanted a show to get a happy ending quite as badly as this one. The second season is even better, where instead of horror the focus is on unravelling the mystery, discovering the truth and everyone working together to escape their terrible fate.
13. 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 remarkable characters, as well as growth for the main lead as he learned to accept the choices he made.
12. 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. Shion is just too cute. And an embarrassing confession: Shion no Ou inspired me to learn to play Shogi.
11. 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?
10. 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 ageThe other half of each episode involves battling space aliens. The two components fit together surprisingly well.
9. 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 and downright spooky atmosphere. This show has some of the best production of any anime, especially the sound effects. The immersive atmosphere makes you feel fully involved with the show.
8. Book of Bantorra
Book of Bantorra has a great premise: a library collects books containing the memories of the dead. There’s also 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.
7. 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.
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.
5. Denno Coil
This is another show that doesn’t seem 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 awesome!
4. 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 honstly disturbed me more than most of Higurashi), and is the only show on my favorites list involving bishounen.
Baccano is simply the most fun show 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 doesn’t skip a beat, and the characters are a joy to watch.
2. Haibane Renmei
This story follows a group of children who have been reborn as angels in a mysterious town, and follows them in a slice of life style format as they come to accept themselves and one another. This is yet another show with a great setting. And what I really like about it is that it actually doesn’t unravel most of the mysteries, leaving much open to interpretation. And once again, we have some fantastic characters.
This is it: my favorite show of all time. It’s occupied this position ever since I first watched it several 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.