Today (May 14) is my one year anniversary of blogging, and I’m celebrating by sharing a list of my favorite anime. I’ve had this general list in mind for a long time (since before I started blogging), but this is the first time I’ve shared it here. These are all anime that have left a strong impact on me and ones that I would highly recommend to anyone who shares my tastes. I won’t pretend that this list is in any way objective (I’m often skeptical of objectivity in any media criticism in the first place). These are just the anime that I like the most. I won’t be including any individual movies or OVAs here, since comparing those to full length TV series isn’t entirely fair, but I will be including movie and OVA series that are roughly comparable to TV series in length and structure. I should also note that 15-11 aren’t in any particular order, but 10-1 are fairly solid. I’ll update or add to this list if I see any more anime that I like enough to put here, but that doesn’t happen often.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are my top 15 favorite anime.
15. Terror in Resonance
I’ve always liked anime with a strong atmosphere, and Terror in Resonance excels in that regard. Between Shinichiro Watanabe’s direction, Yoko Kanno’s music, and MAPPAs gorgeous animation, Terror in Resonance looks and feels more like a film than a TV anime. Watanabe’s direction alone can make nearly anything work, and the story he has to work with here is also pretty solid. As a mystery/thriller, Terror in Resonance is interesting and easily holds your attention for almost the entire run. The story starts to show cracks near the end, but I was already invested enough in the cast of outcast children to give it a pass. Even with its flaws later on, Terror in Resonance remains a good quality thriller with some of the best direction you’ll see in anime.
14. The Fate Series
Fantasy action has always been one of my favorite subgenres, and Fate fits that to a T (to be clear, I’m talking about the “main” Fate series, by which I mean all of the Fate/Stay Night adaptations and Fate/Zero). In addition to having an interesting premise (historical figures being summoned to fight over the Holy Grail is guaranteed to be entertaining if nothing else), it has a lot of memorable fights, with well thought out ideas behind each character’s abilities. Whether its something as simple as being able to strike in three places at once or as complex as owning every legendary weapon ever created, no character’s style comes off as generic. I’ve always been partial to stories that have an organized system for the abilities in them (blame a childhood of watching shounen action), which is where part of Fate’s appeal comes from. The other part is its great cast. Across all its adaptations, Fate has created a cast of interesting, memorable characters, both Servants and Masters. Archer (from Stay Night) in particular is one of my favorite anime characters for reasons I won’t get into here because of spoilers. One of the most compelling themes in Fate comes from its exploration of idealism vs. realism in Stay Night’s main character, Shirou Emiya. Each version has something different to say about idealism, from Zero’s more cynical outlook to Unlimited Blade Works’ hesitant optimism. The main reason Fate isn’t higher on the list is the same reason I’m including every adaptation together: it has yet to get an ideal adaptation. Zero’s ending, UBW’s pacing, and the 2006 anime’s numerous issues mean that no single adaptation is good enough to make this list on its own. Taken as separate stories, they each have issues, but they form something much greater when taken as individual parts of a whole.
13. Attack on Titan
If you’ve been involved with the anime community at all in the past four years, you’ve probably heard of Attack on Titan. It’s one of the most popular anime of the past decade, and for good reason. While I can’t say it completely lives up to the hype (because nothing would) it’s still a great show that’s solid across the board. The premise is instantly grabbing and the execution doesn’t falter. Everything in Attack on Titan is heavy and raw-feeling. There’s a palpable combination of rage at being trapped and fear of the Titans that pervades the entire show and draws you in from the start. It can be a bit much at times (and sometimes gets a little silly), but it also ensures that Attack on Titan is never dull or boring. All this is in support of an engaging plot that’s rarely predictable and full of twists that you really don’t see coming. It also has a lot of exciting action backed by Studio Wit’s stellar animation and Hiroyuki Sawano’s dramatic score. Attack on Titan is an thrilling ride from start to finish, which is why it makes this list.
Berserk runs into the exact same problem as Fate: it’s exactly my thing (character driven fantasy action), but each adaptation has its share of issues taken by itself, which is why I’m including an entry for all of them together. That said, even the flawed adaptations are pretty damn great. The action is always great, even when the visuals let it down (and I’m talking about both the 1997 version and the new one) because of how well composed it is. It lets you marvel at the strength of Guts and his opponents without ever lionizing them. Guts is a great character, but a deeply damaged one. He’s a typical stoic warrior on the surface, but in actuality he’s like that because he was never able to develop as a person. He spent his entire life fighting and doesn’t know how to do anything else, but he grows to want more. Guts’ growth and the tragedy that comes later is compelling from start to finish, even moreso than the action. Backing all of this is an enthralling atmosphere. Berserk’s dark, weighty atmosphere is constantly fits the story perfectly without ever feeling forced. Berserk is a story that happens to be dark, not a story that tries to be. The atmosphere fits it perfectly, something a lot of darker stories should take note of. Even though it doesn’t have a perfect adaptation, Berserk is still an excellent anime that deserves its place on this list.
11. Spice and Wolf
I would watch Spice and Wolf for the characters alone. Don’t get me wrong, the economics-based plot is interesting and original (albeit sometimes confusing), but Lawrence and Holo are the reason it makes this list. Their relationship is one of the best and most natural I’ve seen in any anime, even though its between a merchant in a fantasy world and a wolf goddess. They start off as simple travelling companions but grow into close friends and then a couple in such a natural way that you barely even notice the shift until afterwards. Their relationship isn’t conveyed through big romantic gestures, but through casual banter and friendly teasing. Their banter is so charming and fun that I would watch a whole anime that was just the two of them chatting. Unlike most relationships in both anime and fiction as a whole, they’re always equals. Most romances I’ve seen have one partner in a superior position, whether it’s due to age, experience, or supernatural powers. Lawrence and Holo, on the other hand, always appear to be on equal footing. Holo is an old wolf goddess and can take care of herself, but Lawrence is more experienced as a traveler and a merchant. They both have their own goals and sometimes even act on their own. I wish it had a more conclusive ending, but Lawrence and Holo’s relationship is one of the best I’ve seen in anime, and is more than enough to make this list.
10. One Punch Man
As action shows go, few can top One Punch Man. You’d think the fights wouldn’t be very entertaining since the very premise of the show is that Saitama always wins in one punch, but you’d be very wrong. One Punch Man takes that premise and rolls with it, turning every fight into a huge spectacle. Even though the outcome is pretty much predetermined, Saitama’s punches never get boring; if anything, they get more exciting as you see how ridiculously strong he is. These fights are supported by some of the best animation you’ll see in anime. The non-action scenes don’t seem like anything special, but the action scenes have some absolutely amazing sakuga that most TV anime can’t even come close to matching. In between all of the fights, One Punch Man is also pretty hilarious. Most of the jokes revolve around how everyone takes things completely seriously, while Saitama treats even the most dangerous villain like it’s just another day at the office. His attitude is both funny and unique. It’s refreshing to see such an original character, and seeing his unique perspective on more typical shounen/superhero situations is always fun. One Punch Man may not be particularly deep, but it’s one of the best and most original action anime out there, and deserves all of its popularity.
9. Hellsing Ultimate
Hellsing Ultimate isn’t a series for everyone. Its violent, over-the-top, often pretty silly, and relishes in showing its overpowered main character destroying helpless villains. That said, it’s also one of the most entertaining anime out there. There’s something that’s just pure fun about watching Alucard slaughter his enemies and laugh at how much fun that is. Alucard is a fairly simple character for most of the show, but he’s a joy whenever he’s on screen so that you end up rooting for him anyway. Even when the violence is at its most extreme and exploitative, Hellsing Ultimate never comes off as hateful or mean and just wants to be entertaining. It’s obviously not meant to be taken seriously, and rarely tries to be serious, which is just fine. The entire point of Hellsing Ultimate is to show a lot of fun vampire fights, and it excels at that. If the concept of vampire Nazis sounds stupidly awesome (or at least awesomely stupid), then Hellsing Ultimate is the anime for you.
8. Fullmetal Alchemist
There’s a good reason FMA is so highly regarded: it’s really really good across the board. It has a compelling premise, a strong cast of both main and supporting characters, a great soundtrack, and an intriguing story that builds gradually but never gets bogged down. Edward and Alphonse’s journey to find the Philosopher’s Stone is both original and powerful, but is balanced with so much more. The way they gradually learn more about the history of their country and the conspiracies surrounding them constantly makes you want to learn more and some of the things you find out are genuinely shocking. FMA doesn’t pull any punches and isn’t afraid to tackle darker topics like war and genocide, which it handles with a maturity you wouldn’t expect based on the goofy comedy. The only thing keeping FMA out of the top five here is the final act (including the ending). The last few episodes aren’t bad, but they’re a distinct step down from the rest of the show. The whole final act comes off as rushed and sudden, like the creators didn’t have enough episodes to fully set up and explain things. Even so, FMA still more than lives up to its reputation and deserves its place on this list.
7. Gurren Lagann
At this point, you’ve probably noticed that I usually like over-the-top action shows, which makes Gurren Lagann exactly my thing. Gurren Lagann is the epitome of ridiculous action and practically challenges the viewer to top that. Starting off as a goofy homage to 70s Super Robot anime, it grows to top all of them in terms of how bombastic and exciting it gets by the end. I’d like it for that aspect alone, but it gets on this list for how emotional it can get. The characters are all pretty simple, but they’re also easy to connect with and exude the same passion that the show does. It’s hard not to cheer (and possibly shed manly tears) for characters who stare down impossible odds and still shout “Who the hell do you think I am?!!” No matter how insane it gets at times, Gurren Lagann never loses sight of its characters and always prioritizes their feelings and growth as people, which is what really puts it on this list. It can be pretty stupid sometimes, but even that contributes to the sense of fun it almost always maintains. It may be stupid at times, but its also exciting, fun, cool, heartwarming, and just a joy to watch.