The Best Anime For People Who Dislike Anime

Last week I wrote about Kino’s Journey, one of the few animes I’d recommend to people who don’t care about anime. The reason I think that’s a useful statement is because I want to draw a distinction between “anime” as a medium of Japanese animation, and “anime” the collection of tropes, stock characters, and, well, bullshit that is generally associated with the form.

If Kino’s Journey is number one on this, here’s numbers 2-5.

First, a preface to explain my criteria further. There is a lot of bullshit in a lot of anime. Anime bullshit, I call it. I have built up my tolerance to it over years of watching shows, such that I can put up with it and enjoy certain programmes in spite of it. A good example of this might be Read Or Die OVA, a joyfully silly action series in which a half-Japanese, half-English ‘papermaster’ – someone with the power to bend and shape paper with their mind – joins the British Library Special Operations Division in order to prevent someone from playing a symphony written by Beethoven which causes people to kill themselves from space so that the entire population of the planet can hear it.

It’s fun! It has wonderful action scenes and it’s about the power of books. But I probably wouldn’t recommend it to you if you don’t care about anime, because I think you might struggle to tolerate the bullshit parts of it, which includes but is not limited to a character dressed like this. Other reasons I might avoid recommending shows I otherwise enjoy include stock characters, awkward sexualisation of young characters, comedy based around sexism, screaming or ultra-violence, a reliance on a prior understanding genre tropes, and more. Basically: if it’s a key feature of Sword Art Online, then it rules out a series.

Which isn’t to say that any of the following shows are perfect. They won’t be to everyone’s taste and they might include small examples of the above, but they’re animes which can be enjoyed comfortably, I feel, by anyone. No need to have watched other animes. No need to explain away jokes. No need to say, “Yeah, but it’s Japan.” as if that means anything.

Paranoia Agent

Satoshi Kon is best known for his animated films – Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika – but he made one series which deals with similar themes. Paranoia Agent is about a group of disconnected people who are each attacked by a young boy on rollerskates wielding a golden baseball bat. To say much more is to spoil it, but it’s a grounded and darkly comic 13-part series dealing with how guilt, shame and fear trap people in roles they struggle to escape from. To give an example: its best episode is number 8, in which a group of strangers meet up to carry out an internet suicide pact, only to discover that one of their number is a little girl.

Azumanga Diaoh

A frequent genre in anime – and one most guilty of fan service – is the ‘slice-of-life’ show. This is basically any animation about real people and their everyday lives, as distinct from being about spaceships or samurai or the devil, and they tend to be slow romances about dull boys pining over dull girls. Azumanga Diaoh is different in that it’s focused on five female leads, each a high school girl, and their friendship with one another. I don’t even think there’s a single male student in it.

And while those five characters are inches away from conforming to certain standard tropes, each sidesteps that comfortably within an episode or two. Most importantly, the show is always told from their perspective, and never for the benefit of an assumed male audience. That means that even when a creepy teenaged-girl obsessed teacher appears as a tertiary character, the show finds ways to make a joke of him without it being at anyone else’s expense.

It’s funny, occasionally surreal and a simple, sweet show.

Death Note

I watched Death Note’s first episode and gave up. It’s about Light, a student who finds a book on the grass outside his high school. On the inside are a set of rules: any human whose name is written inside shall die; you must be able to picture that person in your mind, so that people with the same name are not affected; if the cause of death is written within 40 seconds, that will come true, otherwise they will die of a heart attack; after writing the cause of the death, you have six minutes and 40 seconds to write further details.

Light finds the book. He’s skeptical, naturally. He tries it out, discovers it works and then… Decides to use it to rid the world of evil, and spends the first episode writing the names of every criminal in prison he can find. He kills hundreds.

It was months before I went back and watched the second episode, which introduces what makes the show work: a second character, L, a mysterious detective hired to work out why all those criminals are dying suddenly. No one knows his real name, so the Death Note cannot be used on him. And so begins a brilliant cat-and-mouse story, in which Light and L try to outwit one another, and in which every twist and turn remains satisfying because it spills forward from the five rules I listed in the first paragraph. There’s something almost Asimov-ian about how the logical machinations of its world and the characters actions within it. Like a very strange, deranged Jonathan Creek episode (the first season) strung across an entire series.

It loses its way towards the end, when the show overstays its welcome, but there are twenty-odd great episodes.

Serial Experiments Lain

I checked quickly and Wikipedia describes Lain as an “avant-garde anime series,” and that’s about right. I’ve watched it twice and I don’t wholly understand its plot. It’s about a young girl in suburban Japan who is introduced to “the Wired”, a computer network similar to the internet, at the same time as one of her school friends commits suicide. It’s slow, and moody, and a little abstract, but the first episode ends with a message from Lain’s dead friend coming through the Wired, and from there it tips into a cryptic cyberpunk journey that abandons traditional plotting in favour of disconnected scenes, philosophy, and vignettes which teach real computer history. It’s a difficult show, but I love it in part because of the mood and atmosphere it conjures.

Honourable Mentions

There’s a bunch more shows that I love. I’d struggle to pick between them if I was to select one more for the list above, as they’re all great but all might struggle to meet the criteria I’ve laid out at the beginning.

xxxHolic – About Watanuki, a student with the ability to see spirits, who starts work for a witch in a wish-granting shop. It’s present day urban fantasy, and it doesn’t quite fit this list because Watanuki is definitely an anime character – albeit one with great voice acting in the English dub – but it’s also lovely, as it pairs surprisingly dark episode-of-the-week wish-shop customers inspired by traditional Japanese folklore with the gradually developing friendships among its main cast. Sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-ish. I find it comforting in a way that probably makes it my second favourite anime overall. It should probably be on the list.

Cowboy Bebop – God, this is great. Sci-fi western with kung fu and a jazz-riddled soundtrack. It provides a good deal of the inspiration for things like Firefly. It is great at space noir, as well as all those other genres I just mentioned. It should probably be on the list.

Claymore – There are a lot of anime series with endless, endless fights, like yer Narutos and Bleaches and so on. Claymore is the only one of the subgenre that I’ve enjoyed. It’s set in a medieval fantasy world in which certain women are merged with demons in order to be able to fight the ‘full’ demons. If they use their power too much, they become full demon. They are feared by the populace of actual humans. They are controlled by an order of freaky religious weirdoes and will turn on one another. I think there is one fight that lasts for maybe six straight episodes, but there’s a lot of compelling drama and character work and an interesting world to explore at the same time. It should probably be on the list.

Eve no Jikan – A six-episode series of web-only shorts about a near-future (probably) Japan where androids exist and serve humans, set in and around the only café that’ll serve the androids. If you like questions of consciousness or shows like ITV’s recent Humans, then you’ll like this. Tight science fiction and not a trope in sight. It should probably be on the list.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – ‘Magical girl’ is a whole genre unto itself, and one of which I’m not familiar. Basically: young girl gets superpowers, uses said superpowers to fight monsters. So it goes in Madoka Magica for an episode or two before plot twists subvert the genre entirely and reveal the show to be something much darker. It should probably be on the list.

I could go on. Noein is pretty good and surprisingly informative about quantum mechanics, though it drags near the end. FLCL is joyful because of its animation but difficult to follow in terms of story or character. Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex does a decent job of building a procedural scifi detective show from the same core as the movie, but can’t escape from the fact that its main character wears a leather jacket over a swimsuit and shin guards. Speedgrapher is about a man who can make things explode by taking photos of them, and features a scene in which he tries to take a photo of the moon. That’s good. Mushi-shi is sombre and sometimes beautiful though I found it slow to the point of dullness at times. I’ve only seen around six episodes of Dennou Coil, but it’s also great urban science fiction about virtual reality and augmented reality from the perspective of young children. Attack On Titan is about a world under siege from genuinely horrific, giant, naked, podgy men who eat humans like Peperami, though it’s a shame not a single character has a real personality. I’ll stop.

128 Comments

  1. FriarZero says:

    The new Ghost in the Shell, Arise, has really toned down the late-night cable channel erotica angle. In fact the second season of GitS:SA, called Second Gig, also gives the women in that world much more utilitarian outfits. Though the plot to Second Gig rides the line of “anime crazy” a bit hard.

    I think the original Full Metal Alchemist anime is something a non-anime fan could watch. It’s weirdness is kept within pre-established bounds and while there is the occasional sweatdrop or forehead nerve it doesn’t rely on those to give it’s characters personality. There’s strong dramatic themes in that show which come across straightforward but without being self-indulgent. As someone who hates anime bullshit it remains one of my favorite anime.

    I’m not a big fan of Claymore myself simply because it’s so reliant on the “cold distant woman” trope that permeates so much anime. I realize that it takes this trope as a starting point and develops from it, so it may just be my fatigue with anime tropes in general that puts me off that show.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      FMA does perpetuate a lot of “anime bullshit” – it’s a shonen show through and through – but it does much better with the tropes than most of the genre ever manages. Female characters are sidelined, comedy is ridiculously broad, fights go on for far too long etc., but the ladies do still have a fairly important part to play, there’s some surprisingly subtle subtext now and again, the overall plot is pretty compelling, the action is really good if drawn out and so on. It’s not an automatic recommendation IMO, but it’s miles above mediocrity like Sword Art Online.

      Can’t agree on Death Note, though. I don’t think L is at all interesting, I think the author wants you to feel Light is a badass doing what needs to be done right until the end, and I think the psychology and philosophical musing is laughable, for the most part. Read the entire manga and hated it. Monster, too. So many anime series just seem to think “serial killer” is an automatic shortcut to “cool and edgy”, and fans appear to feel these shows are as deep as the Marianas just because.

      • Nasarius says:

        I think the author wants you to feel Light is a badass doing what needs to be done right until the end

        I can’t comment on the manga, but the anime makes it abundantly clear that he’s a mass-murdering psychopath very early on. He’s the protagonist, so we sympathize with him in that way, but there’s little ambiguity about his evil wrongness.

        • Fiatil says:

          Agreed with the two above. It was clear from the first episode that Light’s black and white conception of good and evil isn’t something that the author supports. It’s shown to be a really childish philosophy pretty early on, and absolutely destroyed as the series goes along.

        • Kitsunin says:

          Exactly. You still sympathize with him because he is explicitly the protagonist of the story, and when things go wrong for him there is the exact same tension you’re used to feeling when a hero finds themself in trouble. Yet he does almost nothing good for the world and a huge amount of bad, and it’s obvious.

      • GWOP says:

        I’m with Nasarius on that one. The show’s sympathy clearly lies with the protagonist’s victims, and Light’s philosophies are nothing but a psychopath’s musings.

      • Ashabel says:

        Death Note’s writer posted a long-ish rant in the databook about how Light is a sociopathic murderer with a god complex who had some good in him in the very beginning (first half of chapter 1) but quickly lost that to his psychotic delusions, so your interpretation of his intentions is factually incorrect.

        Similarly, I’m currently watching MONSTER and there is no point at which Johann is portrayed as “cool and edgy”. He is the series’ titular monster and is portrayed as such at every single turn, and trying to figure out how someone could be such a cold unsympathetic monstrosity is the series’ entire narrative.

        For that matter, MONSTER is a period piece set in 1991 Germany and using largely realistic character designs and a very muted color palette, so trying to accuse it of being cool and edgy is the most preposterous thing I heard all week.

      • Kala says:

        I don’t disagree with you in general on FMA, but funnily enough someone was defending Supernatural’s lack/treatment of recurring female characters, given the emphasis is on BROTHERS. And I thought of FMA, as that’s also, well, supernatural and about brothers, but has Winry, Hawkeye and Lust playing important recurring roles.

        Also, despite the fairly horrific premise, it’s brash, colourful and goofy but that only makes a sucker punch more unexpected and therefore effective when it hits. (Ep 7 “Night of the Chimera’s Cry” had me reeling).

    • Philotic Symmetrist says:

      Seconding Fullmetal Alchemist, although “original” is slightly ambiguous; Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the original storyline (following the manga closely, and in my opinion is by far the better story) while the first anime version goes down an alternative storyline about halfway through, which is where things start getting somewhat weirder.

      On a side note, that’s still the best approach I’ve seen to an anime catching up to the manga, since they followed through with the proper redo when the manga was finishing.

      • Fiatil says:

        Seconding Brotherhood. I watched the original as a teenager not knowing the anime/manga divide and lost interest after 30 episodes or so. When I finally made it to watching Brotherhood, I realized that it fixed all of the dumb plot points and slow moving storylines that were in the original anime. The series villain is entirely different in Brotherhood, and in my opinion an order of magnitude more interesting.

        As far as anime tropes and all that, I can’t recall all of the moments off of the top of my head, but it seems to largely avoid the worst of them. It has some comic manga panel moments if that bothers people, and is a shonen. It avoids hyper-sexualizing its characters, though yes, Winry has big boobs. I can’t remember a single time the anime draws attention to them or anyone else’s, but maybe someone else can refresh my memory.

        • Ashabel says:

          You lost interest in the original FMA adaptation at about the right time. The series’ narrative really degrades about 30 episodes in, at which point it begins a directionless slog into nowhere, occasionally punctuated with rape and murder (mostly of women) whenever it struggles to figure out the next narrative step, occasionally making noisy references to real-world conflicts despite being largely ignorant of them, as well as concluding itself with dimension-traveling Nazis (yes really).

          The director of that series went on to compose Gundam 00, which spends massive amounts of time on arguing about conflicts in the Middle East despite nobody on the staff knowing anything about Middle East, has a woman raped and murdered as the biggest plot turner of the first season, then introduces another woman entirely to have her murdered to give a protagonist some manpain in the second season.

          Needless to say, that director is kind of a shitbird.

          • Kitsunin says:

            It gets worse partway in?! I had read pretty much everywhere that the original was about as good as Brotherhood overall (which I really liked) but I just couldn’t get into it because I felt Brotherhood handled the shared plotline better, and also wasn’t stuffed with filler.

          • Pasd says:

            That’s really biased, male and female murders are in equal number and there is only one character that maybe has been raped offscreen but is not even clear.
            Actualy the first FMA (without fillers) is more cohesive dramatic and fast paced than brotherhood, has less useless characters (aside Olivier Armstrong) and the villain is less predictable.
            Brotherhood after a while is more of the same thing, maybe the story make more sense but in the end is less interesting than FMA 1 (however “Conqueror of Shamballa” is pretty bad)

  2. YogSo says:

    Planetes – A sci-fi show rooted on reality about the group of astronauts tasked with collecting all the trash surrounding Earth’s orbit. Starts as a comedy and grows into one of the greatest “hard” science fiction series of the past 15 years.

    • Munin says:

      I would really second that one. Great little series.

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      Graham Smith says:

      I tried this show but gave up because of the characters.

      • Munin says:

        Yeah, I can see why. The main character does get less obnoxious over the course of the series and the female lead does get less mousy.

        Out of curiosity though, what about the cast rubbed you up the wrong way? I’m making a couple of guesses on my end but it would be interesting to know.

      • Solidstate89 says:

        Really?

        That’s actually interesting because it’s one of the very few shows where I was actually really connected with not just the world but the characters as well. I really felt for them when they hit hardships and I loved how the ending didn’t follow the typical trope of the “little guy saving the day” but portrayed it as being absolutely pointless.

        Planetes also gets a Gold Star from me for being the only Anime TV show that actually fills me with a sense of wonderment and hope for humanity’s near and long-term future.

    • Ashabel says:

      I’d like to add to this recommendation by pointing out that Planetes has one of the greatest opening reels in the history of anime.

      It essentially covers the entire history of spaceflight in the space of 90 seconds and is ridiculously beautiful for it.

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        lurkalisk says:

        It’s almost like an anime re-imagining of the Star Trek: Enterprise intro.
        That’s not a bad thing, just… Weird.

    • April March says:

      Oh man, I didn’t know there was a Planetes anime. I read the manga recently and while it did have a fair bit of, well, let’s call it ‘manga weirdness’ it was one of the most brilliant, deep, tightly-written hard sci-fi series I read in recent memory.

    • kikito says:

      I came hereto say the same thing. Planetes. Some of the characters aren’t great, but the show is worth it. I do enjoy my hard sci-fi ships with no gravity and relativistic laws intact.

    • AdamDenton says:

      On the topic of hard science-fiction anime, I’ve just started watching “Space Brothers” (Uchuu Kyoudai), and have been itching to shout about it. It depicts the trials and tribulations two brothers training as JAXA/NASA astronauts, and seems to (so far) be doing so in an impressively realistic manner. The characters seem likeable and well developed, and although the plot seems to be moving rather methodically (99 episodes in the first season!), I’m finding the attention to detail to be very compelling. I personally am also a fan of the art style, which is relatively understated by anime standards, but still lovely to look at.

  3. glocks4interns says:

    I’d really recommend checking out the Claymore manga. It’s long but not unmanageable (27 volumes). Anyway, the art is spectacular and the entire arc of the story is great. You can tell that everything was written with the manga’s ending in mind. While they show did a good job of wrapping things up half way through the story, the manga’s end really shines.

    And yeah, that art.

    • Munin says:

      If we are to start recommending manga for art then Blame! etc by Tsutomu Nihei deserve a mention. The art is bloody great in those and I love me some crazy megastructures. Plot and stuff though is generally not at the peak of literature…

      • Anthile says:

        Or just skip that and jump right to Eden (It’s An Endless World). Cyberpunk at its most brutal.
        Also, the works by Naoki Urasawa are all excellent.

  4. ChrisGWaine says:

    Some suggestions:

    Tatami Galaxy
    Kaiba
    Real Drive
    Humanity Has Declined
    Texhnolyze
    Haibane Renmei
    Kuuchuu Buranko
    Mouryou no Hako

    • anHorse says:

      Tatami Galaxy would be mine, don’t get on with anime because of how much of it is pure shite but TG was wonderful to watch.

      I think the key is too look toward the more experimental end of the medium

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Tatami Galaxy! Christ, yes. How could I forget it? (Because I used to watch fansubs and I’ve long since deleted them, but hey.) Utter, utter brilliance, one of the best shows the industry has ever made. Hysterically funny, sweet, lovable and deeply thought-provoking as well.

      • roothorick says:

        > I think the key is too look toward the more experimental end of the medium

        I’d argue this is true in all things. Video games, movies, western TV, literature… every medium, bar none, worships a short list of memes and tropes, and it’s only when they venture outside that comfort zone that something that could reasonably be called “art” is possible.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Aye, Tatami Galaxy is brilliant. I only wish I could actually recommend it, but to those I have, the mile-a-minute subs turned them away within moments.

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      Gnarl says:

      Humanity has declined is amazing. It wrong foots you to begin with, but as someone who does not have much patience with anime giving it a couple of episodes is totally worth it.

  5. islipaway says:

    I loved Mushishi so much I’m saddened to see it resigned to a footnote, but maybe my dislike of anime convention runs deeper than yours? I love the idea of sort of folk tales from such an alien culture, the pacing while very slow helps with the overall effect of putting me in a sort of medetative state, watching that show is like taking a mild herbal sedative. It’s a weird connection but I get the same sort of feeling after watching ‘The Detectorists’ Maybe it’s the long shots of countryside that does it.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Also surprised at that. It’s one of my favourite shows ever, and the languid, meditative pacing is a big part of that. Gorgeous art – some of the best 2D backdrops and animation (on the Mushishi) in the business – fantastic score, and at least two episodes of the original series (the travelling swamp and Gingko’s origin) that I would rate as some of the best television of any kind that I’ve ever seen.

    • Pigman08 says:

      That’s exactly how I feel about Mushishi. By the time an episode ends, I feel like a took a warm bath. Even though many endings are very bittersweet, but that adds to the concept of mushi not being malign, just another kind of life form. I haven’t heard of The Detectorists, but now that you connect it with Mushishi I’m very very interested in checking it out.

    • Vacuity729 says:

      Another note in favour of Mushishi here.
      I spend most of my days at work dealing with excited people, so when I come back home and want to watch something while I eat my supper, calm, relaxing things are very palatable to my sensibilities.
      Mushishi fits this perfectly, and is superb quality in every respect from the artwork, the voice acting, the scripting, all the way to the characters, the bittersweet storylines, and the gradual unfolding of the wider world the protagonist lives in.

      If you’re looking for something to help calm you down, or to relax with on a chilly winter day with a hot, sweet drink, or if you live in warmer climes like I do, when the heat’s a bit much and you want to stop moving for a while, Mushishi’s a prime choice.

  6. Munin says:

    I have not watched it myself but another anime which is apparently rather good (and definitely has excellent art) is Ping Pong. I stopped watching Anime (and television as a whole) a while back so I haven’t looked at it myself though, beyond the odd clip taken from the show on YouTube, so anyone who has please chime in.

    Someone mentioned it in a comment on the last article but I would give another shout out to Monster. It’s a great mystery series with a strong cast of characters. It also got its German setting rather more right than Witch Hunter Robin (don’t watch that it is not very good) got the UK. That did mean it did contain one of my favourite good bad scenes where they managed to have a picture perfect depiction of a UK train terminal but everyone within that setting behaving in a stereotypical Japanese manner, the dissonance was hilarious.

    • GWOP says:

      I just checked out a bit of Ping Pong from your mentioning. It has a gorgeous artstyle, and actually reminded me of another of my favorite melodrama-over-the-mundane anime, Yakitate!! Ja-pan, which is about… competitive baking.

      Just the reactions of each tasting are priceless.

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        Bluerps says:

        Yakitate Japan is brilliant, but with the caveat that the scene that you linked is pretty much the entire show. It is 69 episodes of variations of this scene. I’d recommend to not watch all of it in one go.

        • Jackablade says:

          Is this “people getting over-excited by food” a genre in anime? I seem to remember another clip where people eating a particularly tender piece of meat caused a lot of clothes exploding and orgasmic wailing.

          • Immobile Piper says:

            “People over-reacting at nothing” is certainly a trope. Done well it’s fun, done badly it skirts the anime bullshit Graham mentioned. Poor attempts at comedy have ruined a few shows for me.

  7. Nasarius says:

    To be exact, I believe it’s the first 17 episodes of Death Note which are very good. Once they introduce the evil business and some new characters, it just turns into a completely different and much less interesting show.

    • Munin says:

      For me the fight between Kira and L gets sidelined. I find the subsequent stuff from then on less compelling as they focus on a new set of characters which I don’t like as much.

  8. Immobile Piper says:

    Paranoia Agent sounds good.

    Good talk about Lain. I’ve watched it. I enjoyed it, I think. Can’t remember much at all about it though. It’s pretty odd like that. And I agree about Cowboy Bebop, should probably be on the list. It’s probably the easiest ‘sell’ for your typical gaming audience too. Really good at avoiding most anime bullshit.

    As for “fighty fighty” shows, while they fail some of your initial criteria I enjoyed original Hellsing and TTGL to mention a few presentable ones.

    • malkav11 says:

      I would argue that Bebop should be on the list well before Lain. Lain isn’t particularly guilty of common anime tropes, but it’s barely coherent and extremely difficult in ways that I think will turn a lot of people off. Whereas Bebop is just pure, unadulterated genius across a wide spectrum of influences and tones and I can’t imagine too many people having time for any anime (or SF) at all and not at least liking it.

      Also, I would sooner recommend Haibane Renmei than Lain – same creator, vastly more accessible and much more subtly strange and inexplicable. And if you dig that, then Texhnolyze is another show from the same guy that’s much further along the “weird and inaccessible” spectrum than Haibane Renmei but I found it more ultimately satisfying and rewarding than Lain.

      • Kala says:

        “Bebop is just pure, unadulterated genius across a wide spectrum of influences and tones”

        We are in total agreement :)

  9. Talesdreamer says:

    You, sir, have pretty good tastes.
    If you found Mushishi’s anime a bit boring, can I suggest giving a chance to the manga? The pacing is better, and though in black and white, it has nice watercolors here and there. I liked it more than the anime.
    I also suggest Natsume’s book of friends, it’s similar in mood and themes.

    Other nice anime I saw recommended here an I like too – because you all have good tastes:
    Tatami Galaxy – about a guy reliving his first day in college, and choosing each time a different club.
    Haibane Renmei – Dark slice-of life about girls with wings in a walled city full of misteries. Very metaphorical.
    Kuuchuu Buranko – About a psychologist and his strange patients. Funky art style.
    Ping Pong – Coming-of-age story. Good characters, strange art, hell of a soundtrack.

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      FhnuZoag says:

      Ping Pong is pretty damn fantastic, yes. Definitely the best not-anime anime for me.

      • Josh W says:

        Yeah, Ping Pong is amazing. (and in the game?) I think probably the way I would describe it is that it’s like one of those old animations or BBC series you remember from childhood where it’s just about some childrens’ lives, and the magic and difficulty of it, that kind of close focus on characters but without being in any way claustrophobic. It’s just attentive.

        And then it spins out. You start following different people’s stories when it makes sense, and there’s also this wonderful thing where what a sportsman can do is heightened just enough that you don’t really know what’s possible, but without ever loosing a link to the practical matters of health, welbeing etc. and what it’s like to be an amateur athlete.

    • roothorick says:

      > Haibane Renmei – Dark slice-of life about girls with wings in a walled city full of misteries. Very metaphorical.

      Given, I haven’t seen the series, but isn’t slice of life simply mundane (in the context of the setting) people living their mundane lives? “full of mysteries” implies there’s a bit more of an unconventional plot than that.

      • Talesdreamer says:

        Well it starts off like a slice of life anime, with all those winged girls living their quiet little lives; but in later episodes a plot appears, and the heroines start questioning the nature of the world they live in. If you don’t mind the slow pacing, it’s well worth a watch.

  10. Premium User Badge

    SuddenSight says:

    There are a number of anime in this thread I haven’t heard of, which makes me happy.

    But I would also like to shill for Mushishi. Many episodes are slow, but it is definitely one of the more unique (and less cliched) animes.

    On the subject of slice of life comedy, I’m surprised Nichijou didn’t get a mention. It is the most epic slice of life comedy, filled with visual humor like this, that also manages to avoid most of the creepy anime bullshit cliches.

  11. GWOP says:

    If you can get past season 1 Motoko’s ridiculous design, you’ll find a great cyberpunk procedural show in Gjost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. What I especially love about the series is that when they show some horrors of future technological developments, they don’t go the Hollywood route (such as Surrogates or Eagle Eye) of showing a rollback of that technology. The Pandora’s Box has been opened, and there’s no going back. Learn to deal with the brave new world.

    Plus, Yokko Kano/Origa soundtrack.

    • GWOP says:

      Ghost in the Shell and Black Mirror makes me feel okay about missing out on the future.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Couldn’t stand the actual television series of Ghost in the Shell, but yes, I still loved the music, pretty much every bit of it. I honestly think Yoko Kanno’s one of the greatest composers alive today. The Bebop movie score is probably the finest thing she’s ever done for my money but SAC comes an incredibly close second. And… Origa, RIP. :(

    • Solidstate89 says:

      I really hate fan service, but I’ve never had an issue with her character in the Stand Alone Complex show. I feel like they portray her well enough that it feels less like fan service and more like how she’s a completely independent woman who isn’t afraid of displaying her sexuality at the same time she displays her brawn and brains. It feels calculated in a way to show off a truly unique and modern woman; instead of feeling really trashy and sleazy.

      Of course this may be my bias showing as Ghost in the Shell is my absolute all-time favorite anime, and one of my favorite Cyberpunk shows/movies all time – right up there with Blade Runner. However I still don’t get that “I can’t believe the production staff thinks so little of this show they need to show me tits” vibe like I would get from something like High School of the Dead.

  12. santouryuu says:

    pretty cool choices.
    i really liked death note when i first watched it,their endless and incessant mind games and screwed up sense of justice,though on hindsight i feel it could have been a lot better.the main point i think it’s missing is any character growth for either L or Kira,and none characterisation for the other characters at all(oh,don’t even get me started on misa).great plans,but very less emotional investment imo.
    Serial Experiments Lain was cool,but i think they tried to show too many things in too little time.they cover many themes from existentialism to virtual reality,weird experiments and drugs to aliens,but none of them are covered properly. a lot of story threads are just left incomplete.still,it was good.
    Eve no jikan and cowboy bebop both were awesome,and as you said should probably be on the list.
    FLCL is a trippy,weird,colorful and vague series,but imo also an artistic masterpiece.i didn’t really understand what the hell was going,but didn’t really feel the need to as i could just feel the mood and characters.i think it is the closest that the visual medium can compare to games like brothers or braid,where story is felt rather than told.
    i really liked ghost in the shell 2:innocence(1 was okay,but too short imo),so i am gonna watch sac too(CyberPunk FTW).paranoia agent and puella magic seem good too and i plan to watch them,but since the latter seems to deconstruct and analyse the “magical girl” genre(at least,i have heard so),so i feel it would be better to watch more conventional stuff of the genre to understand the series better.
    i haven’t watched claymore,but from all appearances it seems to be a mediocre action series.not really that interesting
    i think watching underappreciated stuff is good,but the more conventional stuff can be good too,so some recommendations based on that:
    TTGL:it is an entirely conventinal mecha anime,where humans are forced underground by Beastmen,and so it’s time to fight.but the thing is all of it is executed perfectly.one of the best anime i’ve ever watched.
    Neon Genesis Evangelion:i think what it fundamentally does is show how would completely imperfect people act when any conventional monsters attack,and you have to fight them with mechs.probably a very weird and inaccurate synopsis,but it’s diifcult to describe.
    Code Geass:A look at how a boy wanting to change the world is given the power to do so.and so,desiring change and power,he rises against an empire controlling 1/3rd of the world.if you liked death note,but would prefer more drama and less planning,i think it’s worth a shot.
    if you want slice of life,chihayafuru and clannad are good
    the great thing i like about chihayafuru is that it’s about a seemingly very boring card game,and yet they manage to make it so interesting and thougthful.
    and of course,there’s the only series of any medium that i consider myself a fan of,One Piece.but it probably doesn’t fit the above criteria of shows having none of the typical anime characteristics.still,i think it’s worth a shot and is an epitome of what the shonen genre is capable of:adventure,friendship and dreams.

    • Zafman says:

      I like Code Geass. The constant threat of having your secret identity revealed makes having the special power seem so weak when you can use it only once per person. If you could only just brainwash them over and over again. ^_^

      • Kitsunin says:

        Death Note is the better show, I think, but I really like that Code Geass gives us a similar situation, but with a protagonist who is (mostly) truly trying to do the best he can for the world. The harm he causes is due to just how difficult such a task is, and it’s difficult to say whether the result is worth the sacrifice.

      • santouryuu says:

        Code Geass is good,has it’s flaws but overall i think it manages to be pretty good.it’s quite dramatic and theatrical,and mostly that would mean bad script and just failing,but here they manage to pull it off quite well.there’s some loose ends,mostly the magic stuff is pretty much unexplained(including everything about C.C and geass),and overall i think some stuff feels missing.

    • tciecka says:

      For Puella, I would like to state that any exposure to Sailor Moon or similar anime will give you more than enough background to appreciate the tropes they deconstruct within the show. Even if you have not seen something of the Magical Girl variety, I’d still recommend seeing it. It really is quite good and worth a watch on its own merits.

  13. sysdefect says:

    Props to all the people mentioning Tatami Galaxy, Ping Pong, and Kaiba. If you want to know their glorious intersect that is a man, it is Masaaki Yuasa. That man does no wrong.

    I feel that the best way to introduce people into anime comes from anime movies as they tend to avoid many of the pitfalls that shows have. When pacing is oriented around a more discrete unit you just tend to have a tighter narrative and there’s always an evident increase in budget. This can even be adapted from larger series to great effect, e.g.; the original Ghost in the Shell.

    And anime movies tend to aspire and owe more to cinema history than anime history. Satoshi Kon is a perfect example of this and he is mentioned in the article. So much of his work is in film. Perfect Blue is a textbook psychological thriller, and Tokyo Godfathers is an absolutely heartwarming Christmas movie and features no stock [anime trope] characters. Yuaasa also has Mind Game and Tekkon Kinkreet which are both mind blowing in their own respects, especially their visual elements. Watching OVA anthologies tends to be especially rewarding as well for good Sci-fi/Fantasy. I recommend Memories and Robot Carnival.

    There are too many classics to name though. I always think it’s important to show Ninja Scroll to immunize people against a ninja magic diabetic coma. It sets a pretty high bar. Akira sets a bar for almost everything surreal and scifi. All the Ghiblis, obviously. Anime diets should always have a healthy dose of the psychotic as anime is fully inclined to take advantage of the medium. Revolutionary Girl Utena is seminal. Adolescence of Utena [Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie] is insane. Kanashimi No Belladonna is an exotic treat full of acid rock and strobing against water color visuals that has supplanted The Wall as my favorite trip movie.

    • sysdefect says:

      Also, great article and great recommendations. Kino’s Journey is a favorite and I was just rewatching Serial Experiments Lain and it’s still really just so far ahead.

      I think I unfortunately know too well the tone in this article and the previous article. Familiarity breeds contempt. I feel reluctant to scorn anime but I think I’m most likely to feel it as some reactive armor to fans. Just because if you see bad anime, you wouldn’t have a second thought about it if it weren’t the occasional reminder that there are people who actually enjoy it. I’m someone with pretty particular tastes and so maybe it is difficult for me to find something I like in the new season but there’s so much that you may find a gem, or maybe you’ll find one that slipped by a year or two before and I would hate to build them as not anime when they really are and I that I am not an anime fan when I really am. I wouldn’t be afraid to admit that I came from the anime ghettos where sakura and pantsu were in a constant flurry either!

  14. Premium User Badge

    Graham Smith says:

    I forgot Princess Jellyfish. Watch Princess Jellyfish! It’s about women otaku who live together, where the subject matter of their obsessions ranges from anime figurines to kimonos to old men to jellyfish. Fun humanising show about friendship.

    • quakeaddict says:

      I second this choice. I’ve been watching Princess Jellyfish with some friends, and it’s fantastic. It’s a really nice feel-good show and it’s very, very funny.

    • maninahat says:

      Excellent, could people recommend even more josei? It seems like a largely overlooked subgenre of anime.

  15. quakeaddict says:

    You have good taste.

    Have you seen Haibane Renmei? A number of the staff from Serial Experiments Lain worked on it, which is what initially drew me to Haibane Renmei. It’s about a group of angel-like beings living alongside humans in a walled-off city. The show is full of mystery and does a fantastic job with its characters. It’s definitely one of my favorite anime of all time.

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      We’ve watched the first episode twice, and maybe the second episode one time, but it’s never grabbed us. It’s a common recommendation though so maybe we need to push on.

      • quakeaddict says:

        Yeah, I’d probably recommend pushing through. The first few episodes are all about introducing/developing characters and the world, and it heads in a very different direction after that point.

  16. kalzekdor says:

    I think my favorite anime is Steins;Gate. It has it’s fair share of anime tropes, but it always felt to me like it was taking those preconceived notions of what “anime” is and turning them on their head, for either comedic or dramatic effect. It has a satisfying emotional journey for the protagonist, and a nice exploration on the nature of humanity and fate.

    There are some facepalm moments, (though, like I said, they appear to be a deliberate satire rather than “because anime”), but even still I’d say it’s highly accessible for people not into anime.

  17. Reset says:

    After being really into Paranoia Agent and Bebop, I stepped away from anime for a while and only recently came back to it. Kino’s Journey and Puella Magi Madoka Magica have been two I’ve been really impressed with, but I’ve got two other suggestions (that are a bit more “anime for people who are already into anime”)

    -Samurai Flamenco – Starts with a male model whose love of costumed heroes and desire to make the world a good place leads him to try to become a real life superhero. Then things escalate very quickly. I don’t want to give too much away, but the closest gaming parallel I could describe is the Saints Row series if it were overflowing with the most genuine sense of heart and friendship.

    -Shirobako – Slice of life series about five women who’ve been friends since high school, now all entering the anime industry and trying to make a career in different parts of it. A nice mix of drama and comedy, and a fun if times stressful watch if you’ve ever pursued anything creative yourself (the fact that I’ve worked in animation probably helped me enjoy it).

  18. Josh W says:

    Wasn’t much of a fan of claymore; I think a lot of it’s appeal comes from the usual “powerset establishing” stuff that happens in most fighty anime. The problem is that after things are established, they are rarely used creatively, and a far more likely to be trumped by another startling reveal. While you don’t know much about the world this works ok, but very quickly it devolves into “power level” accounting and doesn’t develop why are we doing this/what’s at stake much beyond that revealed in the first 5 episodes.

    It’s also got a fair amount of unnecessary creepy subtext, without enough alternative emotional substance.

  19. Chillicothe says:

    Azumanga Diaoh is to slice of life anime as Alice in Chains is to Nu Metal. The first, the trailblazer, and the only good one.

  20. neoncat says:

    Gonna drop this here again:

    Seirei no Moribito – strong female heroine, light fantasy / historical, characters who act like real people, beautiful scenery and scene construction (slow pacing, but it packs so much in and it’s trying to be grown-up entertainment)

    Eve no Jikan is also really great.

    Gintama has a lot of heart, and I love both the variety and the long-form jokes (payoff takes an entire show, or even multiple) which hide behind the sophomoric surface humor.

    Personally skipped out on Paranoia Agent, Death Note, or Lain, because of all the gruesome and/or suicide stuff. There is plenty of anime that is serious and introspective without being psychologically unbalanced, and I don’t tend to like anime psychology tropes.

    • arisian says:

      I need to second the recommendation of “Seirei no Moribito” (aka. “Spirit Guardian”). It’s got the lowest “anime-bullshit” quotient of any anime I’ve ever seen; in fact, it’s lower than many anime-influenced western shows, like the airbender cartoons, or everything Joss Whedon has ever made (actually, Buffy and Firefly can be used to help build a tolerance for low-grade anime-bullshit before moving on to “real” anime).

      The show is also well produced (good quality animation (and voice work) that doesn’t fall back on tropes), has a good story, is appropriate for a wide range of ages, and has good messages. In fact, it actively subverts a lot of problematic “standard anime” tropes, including having a strong (and not sexualized) female protagonist guarding a young male (who is also not sexualized). There is no gratuitous fan service; everyone is sensibly dressed for their roles at all times.

      As a first anime for people who don’t know/are skeptical of the genre, I consider it *the* starting point. I’ve watched many (though not all) of the other series mentioned in the OP, and I think Seirei no Moribito is far more accessible than any of them. It’s also a nice, fixed-length story with a well defined beginning, middle, and end, with no need to qualify the recommendation with “…for the first 20 episodes” or “…but stop after season 2”, etc.

    • Solidstate89 says:

      God damn I love Moribito. Balsa is a total fucking BAMF; and that first fight she has in the rice fields where it’s 4 vs 1 is just incredible. The animation, the plot, the choreography of the fights – all of it is so top notch it’s hard to believe.

  21. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Good list! I can’t think of anything I would add under the given restrictions.

    I especially loved Azumanga Diaoh. I was genuinely tear-in-the-corner-of-my-eye sad when the last episode of that was over.

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      Bluerps says:

      Also, the title of this anime has a typo in the article, as I just discovered.

  22. Ashabel says:

    Adding to the list of recommendations:

    MONSTER – a mystery thriller about a surgeon who rescues a boy from a fatal injury, only to discover years later that the boy is a sociopathic serial killer who has been murdering people as early as in the age of ten. He sets out on a country-wide investigation in an effort to figure out how a person could possibly commit such acts.

    The series is largely a period piece set in 1990’s Germany, with character designs that edge closer to “realistic” and muted colors. It has more in common with the “murder mystery” episodes of X-Files and the film adaptation of Silence of the Lambs than with any anime you might find, and is largely considered an important classic.

    Honorable mention: PLUTO, a manga written by the same author that adapts Astro Boy as a somber Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk.

    Sakamichi no Apollon/Kids on the Slope – set in 1960’s Japan, it follows four teenagers who come together over their love of jazz and follows their growing years, love stories and how their love of music affects their worldview. It’s a more recent work by the director of Cowboy Bebop, it’s short and very pleasant to watch. It also has a wonderful soundtrack filled with arrangements of classic 60’s jazz, presented in the series as being played by the main characters.

    Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 – the only disaster anime I’ve ever seen, it’s set in the near future and follows a teenage girl and her baby brother trying to get back home after Tokyo is devastated by a 8.0 magnitude earthquake. It’s a series that could have worked just as well as a live-action show, though it would likely cost incredible amounts of money due its scenery. It also has Mari, who is one of the best female characters I’ve ever seen in anime.

    REAL DRIVE – a cyberpunk show that portrays venturing into cyberspace as similar to free-diving. I never finished it, but the episodes I did see were very interesting and atmospheric.

    Eureka Seven – a mecha series about surfing culture. It also has some dumb stuff about military conspiracies and fighting, but it’s mostly about cloud-surfing and growing up.

    Note that it has a sequel called Eureka Seven: AO, which is incredibly bad and covered in generic bullshit tropes. Skip that thing.

    Big O – a neo-noir mecha with steampunk elements, covered to hell and back with references to old pulp fiction (down to its opening reel referencing the Flash Gordon theme). The second season is a bit shaky, but the first one is an amazing ride.

    I also want to recommend sCRYed and Gun X Sword for the raw fun factor. Both are action shows, they’re not very very smart and are fully aware of it, and they never bother trying to do anything other than entertain. They’re good choices if you want something dumb and flashy to watch after a stressful day.

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Good recommendations! We’ve watched the first couple of episodes of Kids on the Slope (and I have cheated and watched most of the performance scenes on YouTube, because I love jazz). I’ve also watched the first episode of Big O recently and enjoyed it. Lots of people compared it to the Batman Animated Series, as I think it’s the same animation company, and that comparison fits.

      • Exkaiser says:

        They certainly aren’t made by the same production company- Big O was made by the giant robot megahouse Sunrise (Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, Brave series, and tons of non-SF work as well), while Batman is a Warner Bros. show.

        Big O -was- heavily inspired by the aesthetic of TAS, but they’re not made by the same people.

        Anyways, in addition to great art and environments, the show’s got a great soundtrack. Jazzy interludes, triumphant horns, moody pianos- absolutely pitch-perfect for the neo-noir mecha setting.

    • Ragnar says:

      I second the recommendation of watching Monster.

      It’s a thriller that expertly built tension and had me on the edge of my seat. It also avoided “anime bullshit” entirely iirc.

  23. Premium User Badge

    Skabooga says:

    For anyone who watches and enjoys Cowboy Bebop, I would suggest that a logical followup would be the show Samurai Champloo. Both were directed by Shinichiro Watanabe. And much like the former combines space cowboys and jazz, the latter combines Edo-era samurais and hip-hop. It is perhaps simpler in some ways than Cowboy Bebop, but no less enjoyable, and the way the main characters interact and develop was a major draw for me. And it is worth watching it for the soundtrack alone.

    • magogjack says:

      I was flabbergasted that I had to scroll down this far just to see a mention of this. Champloo is amazing!

    • Solidstate89 says:

      I love Samurai Champloo, but I always thought the logical follow up to Cowboy Bebop was Outlaw Star.

    • pepperfez says:

      And even if you don’t care about the soundtrack, watch it for the baseball episode.

  24. Butts says:

    It’s been good seeing everyone’s recommendations, as I really do like a good animated show. Lots so far, but I’ve just created this account to recommend a few shows I hadn’t seen mentioned already.

    Eden of the East – On a school trip to DC, a girl encounters a naked man, with no memory of who he is, holding a gun and cellphone outside of the White House. They end up on the run together, and what follows is a fairly atypical anime political thriller. I’ve not seen any other show like it, although many reviews refer to the plot being straight from a Robert Ludlum novel, but I’ve not read any and can’t speak to those claims. It’s also fairly short, just 11 episodes and 2 movies, so I’d say give the first episode a shot and see what you think.

    Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society – a movie spin-off from the Standalone Complex anime series, but manages to be a much better-told version of the second movie, Innocence. Highlight of series for me, although I haven’t seen Arise.

    Welcome to the NHK – Perhaps too much anime bullshit for some people, but an interesting show about shut-ins, depression, and mental illness which manages to also be somewhat funny. Has quite a good opening song, too.

    Welcome to the Space Show – A movie, about a group of kids at summer school befriending an alien dog and traveling to an alien settlement on the moon. At least in the beginning. Admittedly, I’ve only watched the first half. But in my defense, I had to stop watching it, forgot the title and subsequently couldn’t find it again. Guess I’ll go watch the rest now.

    And a few that were mentioned before which I’d like to second.

    FLCL – It’s impossible to follow the first time, true. The whole series is only six episodes where it probably should have been at least 2 or 3 times with all they crammed in there. But since it’s so short, watch it twice. The first time through, just take in the sights and don’t worry about what’s happening. Animation-wise it’s one of the most visually interesting shows I’ve ever seen, and the action basically never lets up. The second time through you can work out the plot a whole lot more. Great soundtrack, too.

    Gurren Lagan – Mentioned once or twice, but to me it’s a like Saturday Morning giant robot show with great animation and a fantastic sense of scale. Begins underground at basically human scale, quickly introduces giant robots and keeps getting bigger until a finale which occurs between combatants far larger than galaxies.

    I put those two next to each other because some of the staff on FLCL went on to form the studio, Trigger, which made Gurren Lagan. Trigger are, to me, the best animators working today. Though if you don’t like anime stereotypes, stay far away from Kill La Kill, which is in large part about staring at scantily clad highschool girls. And though it’s lost in translation, the entire show is based around Japanese puns, a fact sure to appeal to at least some commenters. Honorable mention for their intentionally horrible web shows Inferno Cop and Ninja Slayer. Basically an anime version of Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Sealab 2021.

    Damn, wrote a book here didn’t I? Anyway, while I may have forgotten something, this is long enough. And I suppose I can always add more in a later comment.

    Thanks very much to everyone else for the recommendations so far, it’s good to have so much possibly decent anime to look into.

    • Jackablade says:

      Gurren Lagan wallows pretty deep in the anime tropes. I’ve had a friend try on multiple occasions to get me to watch it, but I just can’t do it.

    • malkav11 says:

      FLCL is basically a six episode music video for The Pillows, a very prolific Japanese rock band that contributes the entire soundtrack.

      • Butts says:

        Really? I knew the ending theme was by the Pillows, but I did not realize they did the whole soundtrack. I’ll have to give a few of their albums a listen then.

        • Halk says:

          You really should. It’s ridiculous, they made like 20 albums, and they are great, the latest ones especially.

          I liked FLCL a lot back in the day, but never saw it again. The Pillows, on the other hand, have stayed with me during the years.

      • santouryuu says:

        although i think it’s more than just a music video,but i agree that the soundtrack is phenomenal.really great.
        tops the chart for me,for ost’s(all mediums)

        • malkav11 says:

          “Music video” is perhaps an oversimplification, but I think it’s pretty directly analogous to stuff like, say, The Beatles’ movie “A Hard Day’s Night” – it exists more to showcase their music than for any other reason, even if there are other things to appreciate about it. And I think going in with that mindset helps offset the intense confusion one might otherwise experience on a first watch.

  25. ixmike88 says:

    I think the two movies that got me casually into anime were Princess Mononoke and Afro Samurai. Committing to watching an entire season of a show versus a single movie is a lot more difficult.

  26. mickygor says:

    I’m finding it hard to think of things to recommend, since I’m completely on board with the tropes and I can either enjoy or overlook them as a series demands. That being said, Clannad ~After Story~ is definitely worth a watch. If you enjoy tropes heavy Slice of Life, the original series Clannad is a good one too, but it’s not required viewing. After Story starts off the same, for a few episodes, but it gets incredibly good around the middle of the season!

  27. EhexT says:

    How is there no recommendation for
    LEGEND OF GALACTIC HEROES
    yet?

    Features very few of the anime tropes (I can only think of “ludicrously gifted main character” being present and the more egregious sexual ones are entirely absent) and is possible the greatest hard-ish sci-fi space opera ever made. It’s 100+ episodes of hardcore federal US/EU vs Kasier-era Austro-hungary political shenanigans with gigantic realistic spaceship battles (using Napoleonic war tactics, naturally) on top. It’s got a cast of dozens of named characters, each of which have depth and motivations of their own and occasionally you get a shot of the inside of one of those thousands of ships being offhandedly destroyed so you never forget that war has a cost even if the “big people” survive.

    • malkav11 says:

      Since Legend of the Galactic Heroes has never been commercially released for western audiences, it’s tough to recommend it outside of anime enthusiast circles because of the lengths you would have to go to to watch it.

      …huh. I just ran a search to verify my facts on that front and it’s still not available in the west, but apparently in the middle of last year a company did in fact license the original OVA (all 110 episodes) and I think the side stories as well for release in English. And Viz has licensed the original novels. So one of these days…

      • Munin says:

        That’s a perennial problem when trying to recommend interesting anime or manga though. So much of the good stuff is not officially translated and available. Some of it because publishers deem it too niche and others just end up falling between the cracks somehow.

        That’s how you end up with many people judging the entire industry by the blockbuster trope filled shounen series that do make it across or the stuff which contains controversial enough stuff to get someone shout out in outrage about it.

        On a similar note, I’d like to introduce several of my comic book loving friends to French BDs but basically none of the stuff I’d want to share with them is available in English. This isn’t helped by the fact that some of the stuff I’d want to share is comedic stuff and I’d not envy anyone the job of getting Gaston or “Le Génie des alpages” translated in a way which maintains the humour… One of the crazy things though is that even stuff like XIII, which was adapted in other formats but the comic was basically not available in English. Thinking about this stuff made me look it up just now and it turns out that they did finally get a full English version up recently.

  28. quakeaddict says:

    I’d highly recommend Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket. It’s one of my all-time favorites and absolutely one of the best anime I’ve ever seen about war, exploring its effects through the eyes of a child. It’s a standalone story requiring no previous knowledge of Gundam (which is great because holy shit is there an intimidatingly large amount of Gundam), and it’s a low time commitment at only six episodes.

    It also places its focus squarely on its characters rather than on its robots (there are barely any robot fights whatsoever, and the fights that are in the show are definitely not meant to be exciting). It’s a drama about people rather than an action show about robots punching each other.

    I’ve generally seen it described as the Gundam show that even people who hate Gundam love.

    • santouryuu says:

      “Gundam show that eople who hate gundam love”
      that sounds good.i have wanted to start gundam,but as you said the sheer amount of it just put me off.i’d rather not watch all the various things associated with gundam,so i’d rather just watch a select few,and the one yoy recommend seems good to try

  29. LuNatic says:

    I’d say Cowboy Bebop is the definitive anime for people who dislike anime. It has little to no anime tropes at all.

    I’d go as far as to say it feels like it was written by a western author and just given to the Japanese to animate. And that soundtrack, my goodness the soundtrack. YES. PLEASE.

    • Doc G. says:

      Then, one shouldn’t forget Samurai Champloo from the same guy. Very light on bullshit too.

      • WaitWhatHow says:

        Samurai Champloo. THE anime my non-anime friends watch. Even my friends that hate hip-hop like it. Shit I’m not a huge anime nerd and I’ve watched once a year for over a decade. Wow I’m old.

  30. Xantonze says:

    I feel like it’s worth mentioning some older anime series here:

    Neon Genesis Evangelion: a tremendous influence (for good and bad) on today’s animation, particularly the “introspective SF” genre. The tv series is a proper miracle of composition and self-reflection, specially the later half (the first movie ending, “The End of Evangelion”, is worth watching too). Nobody has surpassed the way it subverts the tropes it plays with. Far more interesting than the current “rebuild” movies imho.

    Nadia:the secret of Blue water: a twist on “20000 leagues under the sea” by the same director (Hideaki Anno). A refreshing “blue sky” feeling that makes the first half a treat for children, but the second half gets pretty dark.

    KareKano (Kareshi kanojo no jijô) : the adaptation of a shojo manga by the same director. A fun, but also very faithful and surprinsingly touching evocation of first relationships and sexual experiences at high school, completely devoid of the shady tropes that taint the genre today.

    Key the metal idol: same kind as Lain. Perhaps even bleaker.

    For younger viewers:

    The Mysterious Cities of gold (aka Esteban) : excellent japanese-french production, a genuine “adventure!” feeling for this series set in South America during the 16th century.

    Future boy Conan: a series by Hayao Miyazaki. A nice “Huck Finn” feeling.

    Once upon a time… life: there are several subseries in this educational french-japanese work (the body, space, history, etc.). Slightly dated animation-wise, but awesome for children.

    Sherlock Hound: Holmes, by Miyazaki et. al., with dogs. Utterly charming.

    • Munin says:

      Mysterious Cities of Gold is great.

      Manga and anime had a quite strong influence in the Francophone countries. I remember watching Goldorak (Grendizer to basically everyone else) as a kid.

      Another great Franco-Japanese collaboration animated series is Ulysses 31 which was another one of my favourites as a kid. That said, not having watched it as an adult I kinda wonderr how it stands up.

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      demosthenes777 says:

      I had the chicken pox in 3rd grade, at 9 years old (38 now) & while I was recovering at home Nickelodeon played a marathon of The Mysterious Cities of Gold, and no animation captured my imagination like that except for movies like The Last Unicorn & The Secret of N.I.M.H. That was one of the most joyous and itchy weeks of my life.

  31. Munin says:

    Briefly diverting into manga again. I’d go to the mat for Satoshi Mizukami. “Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer” is a great subversion of a lot of shounen hero manga tropes. It’s well paced and drawn to boot. One of the greatest trope it subverts is the one that needs a shounen hero manga to go on and on and on through combat contest arcs etc…

    I’d also always give a shout out to “Otoyomegatari” a.k.a. “A Bride’s Story” which is set near the Caspian Sea around the time of the Great Game. The focus is not really on that though and more on the every day dramas around different characters, generally focused on women, in the region. You have one main village as a focus but the travels of one of the characters allows the focus to shift a little. The art is great, the details in food, embroidery styles etc well researched and executed with love.

    Dorohedoro would be another of my top recommendations. It has a style all of its own and its story also doesn’t run in familiar channels.

    Finally, I did just want to give a shout out to Tohai Densetsu Akagi for reasons of off the wall madness. There current climactic game of mahjong has been climaxing for 200 chapters so far. I stopped reading it but I do admire it from afar and inquire about news of its progress…

    Soil is also a good manga but unfortunately it looks like no one is willing to publish it in English officially and the fan translation was dropped in volume 8. Vinland Saga, another great manga also looks like it might get dropped by its English publisher which would be rather disappointing.

    • Exkaiser says:

      Seconding the recommendation for “Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer.” It’s really charming and earnest.

      Fans of J-Horror flicks would do well to check out some horror manga, stuff that doesn’t usually get recommended with the typical anime/manga threads.

      “Seeds of Anxiety” is a great single-volume collection of one-off ghost stories, scares, and mysterious happenings from all over Japan. There’s a serialized follow-up to it, “Seeds of Anxiety Plus,” but it all comes off as leftovers from the first book, which is it

      Junji Ito’s works are fantastic. His art is gorgeous, grotesque, and ridiculous- body horror beyond body horror, protagonists that look truly haunted, and some things that simply defy description. His stuff deals with themes of obsession, transformation, and madness, rather than ghosts or monsters- and it’s really more about visceral horror than fear. Uzumaki (three volumes about a town which is possessed by a strange spiral curse) and Gyo (about rotting fish which walk on land) are the classic “intro to horror manga” books, but Uzumaki is still one of my favorite manga, period, while Gyo is a seriously gross story that also includes the classic “Enigma of Amigara Fault,” which is a meme in its own right. Still, if you’ve seen some of his stuff but haven’t read the “Tomie” stories- do that now! It stars a character who comes off as truly wicked in addition to horrifying.

  32. Andrew says:

    It’s been quite a long time since I watched much anime, but I remember really liking Kino’s Journey and Last Exile. Also, that Kino’s Journey was incredibly sad, but I can’t remember why anymore.

  33. NieA7 says:

    Given all the ones on the list I’ve seen I really enjoyed here’s a couple I’m fond of that I’ve not seen mentioned yet.

    NieA Under7 is brought to you by about half the people who did Lain but it’s completely different – an odd mix of comedy, slice of life and sociology. It’s set years after the aliens have landed and integrated (though kind of not) into society, and follows a poverty stricken student who lives in a bathhouse along with the low-caste alien who’s moved in with her. I’m struggling to describe it and I’d struggle to explain why I like it so much, but there’s a lot going on and a lot to enjoy. It’s hilarious when it chooses to be funny and it’s poignant and thoughtful when it puts its mind to it. It’s only 13 episodes long too, so there’s little to no filler.

    Rec is very short (9 12 minute episodes) and is little more than a love story, but it’s told believably and features interesting and relatable characters. I’m fond of anime (or at least the anime from 10 years ago when I was paying attention) but I’d admit that most the characters are little more than archetypes – Rec is one of the few shows where the people felt like folk you might come across on a normal day, and it felt all the more compelling for it. I don’t think it’s had a western release so it’s fansub territory.

  34. jrodman says:

    Would you not recommend Porco Rosso, or My Neighbor Totoro, or do those not count as anime?

    • Rince says:

      Or The Grave of the Fireflies, 5 cm per Second, The place promised in our early days, Tokyo Godfathers…

      But of course, being movies it’s kinda different.

    • Kala says:

      If we’re doing movies as well as series’, sure.

      My fiancé once said “I hate anime, it’s all rubbish”. Then I made him watch Grave of the Fireflies and he cried. He doesn’t say that anymore 8)

  35. Rince says:

    I agree with Madoka Magica, it’s fantastic.
    Another one that deserves praise, but it’s sadly underrated is Yuuki Yuuna wa Yusha de Aru.
    As Madoka is another view at the Magical Girl genre. And as Madoka is just fantastic.

    Also, I would recommend another underrated series, Girls und Panzer.
    It’s about girls playing a sport based in WW2 tanks doing mock battles. Mock in the sense that they do not use real ammo and the tanks are protected with modern layers of armor to avoid, you know killing the students.
    It’s pretty awesome, the battles are intense, the characters charming and the music glorious.

    Besides those gems, I would also recommend Clanad and Clanad After Story.
    A beautiful tale about the importance of family and the bonds that we make with people as we grown up.
    Also from Key and Kyoani, Kanon (the 2006 version) and Air are beautiful.

    I think that those titles can be aprecited by everyone who like a good story. Not only for those that like anime.

  36. snesbeck says:

    Paprika is another great movie I don’t think has been mentioned yet.

    Thank you Graham, for these two articles. As another who loves the medium but hates the tropes it’s pleasant to find a couple shows in these articles and comments sections I hadn’t heard of. On ep. 5 of Kino’s Journey and quickly becoming a favorite.

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      Graham Smith says:

      Thanks! And Paprika is great. I think that’s the first thing by Satoshi Kon I saw, before watching Paranoia Agent.

  37. JoeX111 says:

    I couldn’t get into Attack on Titan because the main character spends the entire first three episodes screaming at people nonstop. The thought of spending another 20 plus with that same character was nausea-inducing.

    If you like the Death Note story, but hate how how the anime goes off the rails in the last third, then I highly recommend the two live-action movies instead. It hits all the same beats, while cutting out a lot of the tangents and subplots that bloated the series. It’s a leaner, meaner story focusing more on the center conflict of Light vs. L, with some great performances by the leads. Plus, I believe the voice actors from the anime do the voices of the English dub, so it’s a good watch even if you want to forgo subtitles.

    • Butts says:

      I see what you’re saying, but he does mellow out a bit as it goes on, with character development and all. Plus I feel like his being all shouty in the beginning is understandable, as I’d probably do a lot of yelling too if a giant ate my Mom while I looked on.

      • JoeX111 says:

        I think he’s like that even before the giants show up. Wasn’t he screaming at people about what it means to be a soldier or something?

        • malkav11 says:

          I watched half of (apparently the first) season before giving up. It’s a very shouty show, and heavily repetitive of the same handful of character notes, plus glacially paced. Sometimes they spent four episodes on the same battle without actually bringing anything particularly new to the table. It’s a shame because it’s a cool premise, but the execution…ick.

  38. Antistar says:

    Ah, I’ve loved Azumanga Daioh ever since it first came out. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. There’s no anime for it unfortunately, but the manga “Yotsuba To” from the same author is also pretty great.

    This is a fairly standard disclaimer I’d give for any foreign A/V media, but it’s especially important here: watch Azumanga Daioh in Japanese with subtitles. Watch it in Japanese.

    The original performances are just perfect and very important to a lot of the humour. Watching it dubbed into another language goes a long way to destroying the show.

  39. Timbrelaine says:

    It’s almost criminal that Cowboy Bebop was left off the list, honourable mention or no.

  40. Kala says:

    “Cowboy Bebop […] It should probably be on the list.”

    IT SHOULD! :P

    (One of my favourite shows ever, anime or live action)

  41. megabee says:

    I just registered after lurking for years so I could shout “Polar Bear’s Cafe” at you. So…

    POLAR BEAR’S CAFE

  42. bakaohki says:

    That’s a nice list. Watched Madoka with serious doubts, but heck, it was really good with some unexpected twists on the whole magical girl subgenre. My very very similar list is here (the concept is absolutely the same and there is quite an overlap to be honest): link to imdb.com

  43. vivlo says:

    I watched all of Kino no Tabi, and had very mixed feelings about it. I think the shallowness of second characters and situations, as well as the lack of a strong global plot line, prevented me from liking the whole. It should rather be understood as a suite of philosophical tales, or fables, sure enough ; but as such they seem to have a too shallow discourse, or they don’t blend well with the very manganess of the main character, i don’t know, something was just off. I’m not sure i like how the anime genre blends with that kind of narrative, I had the same kind of feeling watching Mushishi.
    Death note meh, couldn’t really like the initial plot… a very anime-esque plot no ?

    I’m in total accordance for Paranoïa Agent. For people who don’t like anime but who do like unsmooth pieces of art, i think it’s a safer entry point. Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo are enticing odysseys ; Planetes for the hard scifi lover is perfect – the starting point is so clever, the sound design in space chilling. Legend of the galactic Heroes goes way past the usual scope of anime in how it reflects on history of human societies that are actually believable. However all those titles have very anime like characters, maybe less anime shite than in other titles.

    Didn’t watch ping-pong yet, but i read the manga and it is awesome. I shall watch the anime. Thanks for this nice list and reflections Graham, and the cool recommandations of commenters :)