As a one time fan of anime, I can tell you straight out that more than 90% of it is total bullshit weirdness not worth your time.
(this is all my opinion btw, and I don’t claim to be an expert)
Most anime is seems really derivative, I find it really hard these days to get into anything because I’ve had a run of such bad disappointments. So much seems to feel the need to satisfy certain (totally lame) tropes, such as the use of one dimensional unbeatable heroes, standard storylines, lack of character development in long running series (oh god) and fear of trying new things.
So I decided to make a list of series which I think are both good, and avoid many of the common anime problems. If you have any suggestions or comments, please feel free to leave them.
Before we continue though, I have two quick notes to make.
Subbed or Dubbed
This is a big debate. Subbed anime refers to keeping the original Japanese audio and having subtitles down the bottom of the screen where dubbed anime is when the audio has been rerecorded with English speaking voice actors. Some purists insist that subbed anime is the only way to go because only the original actors carry the correct emotion or that it only sounds right when speaking Japanese. I disagree on this point for two reasons. Firstly, unless you’re fluant in Japanese you’re not going to be able to pick up on the nuances of the actors performance anyway because of the culteral differences. Secondly anime is, by nature, a very visual medium. If you’re looking at the subtitles, you’re going to be missing part of the quick action that’s happening on the screen. So personally, I recommend watching anime dubbed when you can, except for special cases with have a particularly bad dub, such as Azumanga Daioh.
Most anime is adapted from manga, (usually) weekly serial comics at the same time the comic is coming out. However, generally there isn’t a 20 minute episode worth of content in the 20 or so pages comic so anime producers will pad out the series with original episodes. Which sounds great! More story right? Sadly not. The content isn’t written by the original author, so it tends to be pretty terrible and nothing is allowed to happen in the episode which influences the main story. So no character is allowed to change in any way. Some people will attempt to watch all filler to get the “full experience”. Don’t, just look up which episodes are real on the Internet and skip the rest. That said, most entries here won’t have any filler at all (HELL YES).
I love Code Geass so much. This one manages to combine classic techniques, while cutting away what isn’t needed. An original story (as in, not from a manga) set in a world where England never fell as a superpower and has taken over most of the known world. It centres on a high schooler, Lelouch, who gains the power to make anyone do anything he commands them, but only when they are making eye contact, and only once. Oh, there are also giant robots.
The reason Code Geass is better than all those other stories about teenagers with powers or giant robots is that rather than focusing on fighting it focuses on the interactions of the characters. Their motivations, their relationships with each other, how far they’re willing to go, whether they’re doing good or not. The fantastic elements of the plot are just a means to explore this. And Code Geass has a LOT of characters, each with their own stories and motivations.
One of Code Geass’ best assets is that it isn’t afraid to change the status quo. Expect relationships and situations to change and characters to die, nothing is off limits.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Another anime about giant robots, however, in contrast to Code Geass’ gritty realism TTGL is basically a Saturday morning cartoon. It is, however, the only anime that I’ve watched the entire way through twice. Created by Studio Gainax of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, TTGL is what happens when you try to be as outrageous as possible. In the world of TTGL the more enthusiastic you are (your ‘fighting spirit’) the more powerful you are, and the main characters are *very* enthusiastic.
It’s hard to describe TTGL as over the course of the 26 episodes it goes from an optimistic adventure story about two best friends to an epic battle against overwhelming odds to save the universe. The themes and tone change a lot over the course of the series, but one thing that stays the same is the idea that you can do anything if you try hard enough. For a show that was originally aimed at kids there are some huge downs as well as the massive highs in the series. I suppose if you want to sum it up in a word you could call it ’emotional’.
TTGL is for the fun loving, but it’s so different from what’s already around, it’s hard to explain. The best thing to do would be to give the first couple episodes a go and see if it’s your thing.
It just so happens that whole series is available for free on Youtube. Better check it out. (or at least I remember watching it on some official channel but I can’t find it any more).
Note: The soundtrack to this is amazing.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
This is the more action oriented series based on the manga and not related to the (excellent) movie. This series explores the issues that would arise in a society where technology has progressed to the point where the line between human and machine is blurred, which still containing some awesome action scenes.
GITS:SAC (as the fans call it) is famous for it’s originality of a world in which people are mostly machine. If a person wants to commit a crime, they could stay at home and hack someone’s body, forcing them to do what they want, or they could do it in person, but erase everyone’s memory of him. It’s extremely cool. Another reason for fame is the very strong female lead. Where a lot of anime tend to having a male lead with some boob girl following him around GITS:SAC has The Major, a powerful character who is still unmistakably female.
Now in a total change of pace, we have Fruits Basket. The story of Tohru Honda, a high school girl who starts living with a family with an secret, if anyone of the opposite gender hugs them they turn into animals. Now, while this sounds like exactly the kind of craziness that this list is trying to avoid for some reason Fruits Basket JUST WORKS. This is the epitome of Shoujo (anime aimed at pre-teen girls) and yet everyone just loves it. After Naruto, it’s the biggest selling series in America. In a complete departure of every other entry so far, this series is based in a high school and focuses totally on the relationships between characters. No world needs saving, no evil guy must be defeated in a fight. And yet, this is maybe the saddest series on the list, possibly because it’s the most relate-able. It’s also the funniest and the most heart warming, I didn’t think I’d like it so much when one of my friends made me watch it, but after a couple episodes I was hooked.
This one nearly didn’t make it onto the list. Not because I don’t like it (because I do, as my friends can attest to, I never shut up about it) but because it suffers from a lot of anime problems. The pacing is slow, it’s full of filler, the dubs aren’t faithful and it’s a pretty formulaic fighting anime. And yet, I love it so much possibly because it does what it does SO WELL. This is the big one, the original which inspired Naruto, Bleach, One Piece. I’ve previously written a whole post about it here, so I’ll try to summarise as much as possible.
- It’s epic.
- The amazing chemistry between heroes and villains.
- You can respect the opponents.
- It shows that hard work is the most important thing.
Cowboy Bebop/Samurai Shamploo
It’s hard to talk about one of these without thinking of the other. Cowboy Bebop and it’s spiritual successor, Samurai Shamploo are often held up as the gold standard of anime. Cowboy Bebop could best be described as a Space Westen, mixed with jazz music, where Samurai Shamploo is a traditional samurai story, mixed with modern hip hop elements. Both are often considered the ‘best’ of anime, if not the most popular for it’s engrossing characters which grow over the course of the series and the beautiful mix of old and new in the setting.
Cowboy Bebop is actually so good that I’ve never finished it. I can’t bring myself to watch the few episodes that I missed, including that final ones, so for me, it never finished, if that makes any sense at all. I simply cannot recommend these two series high enough.
Good but didn’t make the list
- Kenichi. Very similar to Dragonball Z, simply amazing, however it tends to focus a bit to much on this gross concept called “fanservice” which pervades anime. Notable for showing the growth of Kenichi from the school dropkick, pick on by everyone to the greatest of the young fighters purely by hard work.
- FMA: Brotherhood. By all accounts it’s amazing, but sadly I haven’t seen it, I’ve only read the series. It’s probably still a safe bet.
- Studio Ghibli works. If I started listing movies, this post would never end. Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind are my favourite for showing that conflict is not always between good and bad. Also very good are Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away.
- Death Note. The anime started very strongly, but sadly the weak second season makes me unable to recommend it as ‘good’ anime.
Series to Avoid (maybe)
- Naruto. It’s a much much MUCH better experience when read. Just trust me on this.
- Bleach. It never ends, it never goes anywhere, it’s frustrating. Don’t go there.
- Fate Stay/Night. I wasted so much time. 😦
- COUNTLESS OTHERS