Now, I’m not talking about the top 15 series ever, just my personal favorites. I’m not some kind of otaku. I am a story-seeker. Wherever I find a good story, I run with it. And anime has given us some really great stories. Of course, like with film and books, a lot of what I have seen in junk, but when I do find diamonds in the rough, I am really grateful. Now, some of the series’ that I have on here are ones that I grew up with, and if I watched them now, I might have a different opinion. But I doubt it. I had a pretty good sense of story even when I was younger. In any case, any of these series’s would be worth checking out. Hopefully you have! Enjoy.
15. Outlaw Star
So, there are going to be a few shows on here that are style over substance. I don’t mind that, so long as the style is cool. But this series is a little different. This series has no, and I mean NO, substance at all! It is entirely style, but for what it is, it is very, very cool. This is science fiction escapism done right. The universe is very neat, the characters are all over-the-top, but it is never boring. The story is almost nothing but vignettes about the adventures of the crew of Outlaw Star, going around the galaxy, trying to find the Galactic Layline. For real, that is as deep as it gets. No personal journeys, no great introspection, just kick-ass action and bizarre adventures. And bless this little show, because it does it just perfectly. The animation for the series has aged incredibly well, and the universe is all sorts of fun. Check it out, if you want something that is high on action, low on brains.
14. Digimon Tamers
A series that I saw when I was younger. I was around 12 when I saw it for the first time. And man, for a show that was made for kids, I don’t think it is possible for this to have possibly been darker! For real, for being a kid’s show, there were a LOT of shit-your-pants scary moments in it. This show dealt with some pretty heavy stuff. There were the personal insecurities of the characters, which often manifested in the most harsh way possible. There was the ugliness of what they were doing, deliberately destroying living creatures to make themselves stronger. Even up to the end, this show never lets up with its subject matter. And it does so very well. It is cool when something that is made for kids doesn’t talk down to them. I think that kids can handle the darker stuff, so long as their is a happy ending. What makes this series especially interesting, to me at least, is that I don’t actually think it was a happy ending. It was rather cold, in a lot of ways. This show isn’t one of my favorites because of great animation or great music, but because of great characters.
13. BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad
I never thought that I would be a big fan of slice-of-life shows. I mean, why would I want to watch something like real life? I get to see it enough as-is. But this show is a total exception to that. The characters in this show are 100% believable. This isn’t Disney Channel trying to interpret what being a teenager is like. This is life experience we can all understand. I love every minute of this show. You can feel the strum of the guitar strings as the chords play. You can smell the dusty basements where the music is playing. You can identify with the young man as he is trying to find a place that he belongs. Every single element of this show works, and it works great. I love it. I haven’t enjoyed a show like this in a long time. Now, because it is slice-of-life, this isn’t for everybody. It doesn’t have a perfectly happy or perfectly unhappy ending. It is like life – a little good, and a little bad. And it makes for a masterful show.
Whenever people talk about Lost, they make a point about how ridiculously convoluted it all is. A lot of people have the same thoughts about this series. To their credit, yeah, this series is REALLY complicated. It takes more than one run-through to catch everything. The series tells a whole bunch of stories, all centered around the massacre aboard the train, The Flying Pussyfoot. This series involves so many characters, so many plot points. You would think, with how incredibly complicated it is, that it would fall flat on its ass. But it doesn’t. This series paces everything so perfectly that even though you may miss some stuff here and there, you will hardly mind. Every single character, even if you only see them for a scene, plays a part. You feel like they all have a purpose in the series. There isn’t a single waste scene, sentence or second of the series. It is only 13 episodes long, and the creators of the show took advantage of every gory and deliciously odd moment of it.
Man, this is one of those series that is so thematic that one has to sit down and think about it. There are so many thematic elements at play that it is almost like a study in the subject. The story tells of a young man named Ayato. He finds a giant mecha-like golem, and it takes him outside the city of Tokyo, which in this world is its own reality. It is inside of its own universe. Outside, Ayato has to do battle with other golems. Over time, he realizes that reality isn’t as simple as he thought, and that his destiny isn’t as kind as he had hoped. Everything about this series flows so well. The music, the visuals, the character growth. It is very subtle, and very beautiful. There are a lot of points in this show that don’t make a whole lot of sense, but it is such a pure descent into a fantastical world that you scarcely mind. It isn’t about the science fiction element, which isn’t the show’s strong point. This is about questioning reality, and questioning yourself. What more could one want?
10. Samurai Champloo
Made by the creator of Cowboy Bebop, this series is one of the strangest pieces of historical fiction that I have ever seen. The benefit of it being completely inaccurate, historically speaking, is that this series knows it. It is making fun of a whole bunch of time periods and cultures, yet still having not only a cool action story, but also deep characters and some really cool fights. It is kind of strange how you are having to constantly shift back and forth from not taking this series seriously at all, to finding it almost too serious. The characters have stories, and like Cowboy Bebop, they all find that by trying to outrun their pasts, they eventually become consumed by them. This series mixes samurai era with hip-hop style and the same level of good visuals that is to be expected from the creators of Cowboy Bebop. I will admit that this is a style over substance series, but if that is your gig, you’ll find something to love. If you don’t take history very seriously, pick it up and enjoy!
9. Gundam Wing
Now, this series has kind of become one of the classic pieces of otaku fanbase, but I am not among them. Those people creep me out. I love this series for reasons all my own. This is a series that gets me because of the story. The story goes that many years into the future, humanity has started colonizing space. When a pacifist leader was vying for independence from Earth, the United Earth Sphere Alliance cracked down on them. Eventually, the colonial leader was assassinated. Now, many years later, five machines are being sent to Earth, to get revenge. This series follows the five young pilots in their mission to get revenge. In the process, they become embroiled in a battle with shifting political sands, different allegiances, and finding that they are not only figuring out the destiny of the stars, but of themselves as well. The animation for this show wasn’t especially great, but this was more about characters and story. It has a broad arc, and you never feel bored watching it. This is a show for a very specific fanbase of sci-fi lovers, but if you are in the mood, and got some popcorn, take a watch. I think you’ll enjoy it.
8. Wolf’s Rain
Alright, I’m just going to level with you – this show is incredible. Truly, unbelievably incredible. This anime is probably one of the greatest of all time. This show is perfect. Absolutely, utterly perfect. There is not one thing that was done wrong. A genuine tragedy about wolves who are searching for paradise, a divorced couple who is caught up in the web of things, a man who has vowed to hunt all wolves to extinction and a noble who has his own nefarious plot, all of which revolves around a young woman called “The Flower Maiden.” The animation of this series is incredible. The voice work in English has pretty much every anime all-star voice actor and actress. It’s an incredible cast. But the best thing about this show – how smart it is. This series is an allegory. The world that it exists in is incredibly complex with a very rich history, however, there is one caveat to that – there is no, and I do mean NO exposition. All of this history is stuff that you, the audience has to pick up from bits and pieces. But what makes it better – you don’t have to go through it with a fine-toothed comb to enjoy it. This series is one that you can enjoy, regardless of if you are aware of the level of depth or not. If it weren’t for personal preference, this series would be right at the top of this list. It’s what a great tragedy should be. It will warm your heart and it will also make you cry. A lot. But it is still beautiful. Take it from me, you won’t be disappointed that you watched it.
7. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – what the hell? How could an anime about The Count of Monte Cristo possibly be any good? Well, for a lot of reasons. The first is that this adaptation, believe it or not, is actually both the most faithful, and the most different adaptation of this story that I have ever seen. I could go on for hours about that, so I won’t, but it is almost surreal how close to the story it is, even though it is set in a futuristic universe. But the real selling point for me, aside from the great writing, the great story, and the coldly good acting are the visuals. This series is a visual mind-fuck. I don’t think that I have seen anything like it. Ever. You can get lost in how they do everything that they possibly can with this series not to make it feel understandable or comfortable. The use of color, the use of lines, the use of faces and voice, they are all totally bizarre, yet entrancing at the same time. It’s hard to look away when you are watching, because it is that gorgeous to look at. But of course, the story is great too, and it is cool to see the story take place from the son of the noble that the Count is trying to get revenge against, rather than from the Count himself. Like the story, in that regard. If you’ve never seen the story played out before, I would recommend this version first.
6. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
One thing that I love is a story about intrigue and deception. This series is rife with that. Code Geass has been compared to Death Note, another series that you’ll see on this list, but to be honest, I think that they are very different shows. For one thing, their style is 100% different. Code Geass is a very traditional anime. I would say that I don’t think that their animation is anything special, but that’s okay, because the story is very engaging and interesting. It tells the story of a prince who is hiding out from the totalitarian empire of Britannia, who is gradually taking over the world. Through sheer chance, Lelouch comes into possession of a Geass. For each person, this power is different. In Lelouch’s case, it allows him to be able to make anybody follow a command he gives them, so long as he has direct eye-contact with them. This allows him to begin his efforts to overthrow Britannia, and to get revenge for his mother, who was murdered, and for his sister, who was mutilated at the same time. This series isn’t has harsh as Death Note, either. It is definitely an action series, though it does have some good moments where Lelouch’s brilliant mind gets a chance to shine. This series has a LOT of really harsh moments, and when the characters shine, they shine brilliantly. Plus, the cat-and-mouse game never lets up. Overall, a great story, with some badass action.
Anybody who knows me knows that I am a HUGE fan of animation. I think that when it is done well, it can bring a story to life in a way that nothing else can. It can make a world seem more enriched, and it can make characters feel closer. Honestly, I think there is more that can be done with animation that live action. And this series is a perfect example. I like JesuOtaku’s description – that it is a lullaby. This show truly does feel like a lullaby. I could go to sleep watching it. The stories are quiet, very melodic. You feel very calm, even when this show has incredibly gory and gripping moments. It tells the story of spirits called Mushi that live with humans, and there is a special magician who can interact with them. The animation in this series is perfect. Were it not for the fact that I don’t just judge this by animation alone, this would be right at the top of my list. Each episode has a new style, a different way of animating. It never stop being impressive. I am consistently feeling like I am diving into an unknown world. Now, there is the fact that this series has absolutely no, and I mean NO, over-arching plot. Each episode is a vignette. This is a show for a person who loves animation. For real, if you want something that will tease your mind, and dazzle your eyes, this is the show to watch.
4. Death Note
Yeah, you knew it was coming. I LOVE this series. I truly don’t think that a single element of this series fell flat. Except for all the episodes after 25. Yeah…that got pretty bad. I won’t spoil it for the 5 people who haven’t seen it, but yeah, it got a lot less exciting. Up until the last episode, which is so incredibly good that you’ll want to watch it again the moment it is done. But the premise is simple. Yagami Light is a lot like Lelouch. He is a brilliant young student who is profoundly dissatisfied with the state of things. He sees all the prisoners who get out of jail, not having to pay for their crimes of murder or worse. He wants to do something about this, but can’t. Then, by sheer chance, he comes upon the Death Note. This is a notebook. With it, he can kill any person, however he pleases, so long as he knows their name and face. Now, Light is using it to kill the world’s criminals, and create a peaceful utopia with him as the new god, under the assumed identity of “Kira.” Enter the brilliant detective, L. L wants to catch Kira, and is willing to do anything to accomplish this. While he has a very strict sense of right and wrong, L will also do absolutely horrible thing to get Kira, making it a good argument over which of them is the actual monster. The pacing and characters are brilliant, and the animation is amazing. The use of light and shadows is just great. The character models and environment animation is also among the best that I have ever seen. This series never lets up, and the intensity keeps building and building, right to just the right moment, and explodes in a way you never thought possible. All up to the very, very bitter end.
3. Fullmetal Alchemist
This series only did one thing wrong – the ending. Other than that, every aspect was perfect. For real, it is perfect. The only reason that it isn’t at the top of my list is because of personal preference. The story goes that Edward and Alphonse Elric use the power of alchemy (taking one substance and changing it into another) to try and resurrect their dead mother. Their efforts fail, and Edward loses and arm and a leg, Alphonse loses his entire body. Now, both of them join the military and become State Alchemists, using their position to try and research the all-powerful Philosopher’s Stone, which they hope will be able to create a new body for Alphonse, and new limbs for Edward. This is an incredibly tragic series. It is heart-breaking and sad right up until the very end. The idea of a tragedy show is incredibly difficult, and this series pulls it off perfectly. From the very start, you are invested in the struggle of these two boys, who have become involved in something far bigger than themselves, and in the process grow up very fast, and very harshly. There is also an expansive cast of recurring characters, all of whom have a plot and feel like they are a key part of the story. The voice acting is top-notch. This series is on par with a great animated film. Of course, it is also dark, violent, and very horrific at times, so this isn’t a show for the younger crowd. But I guarantee that if you like a good story, you won’t be able to stop watching. Not for two seconds. And if you are wondering what I thought of the reboot series – Brotherhood. Well, I’m not a fan. It was rushed, clearly an action show, and on top of that, there were WAY too many people, none of whom was flushed out enough. But there is the first, and the best. Enjoy.
2. Avatar: The Last Airbender
I know, why am I putting a kid’s show above Fullmetal Alchemist? Well, to be honest, this was an incredibly well-done show. I think that this is like most any of the animated feature films that Disney has done. It is able to be enjoyed, by both the young and the old. The story goes that there are four types of elements – Water, Fire, Earth, and Air. They can be manipulated by “Benders.” There is one bender, though, above them all – the Avatar. This person can bend all four kinds, as opposed to only one, which is the way it is for everybody else. Things were all well and good in this world until the Fire Nation began a campaign to take over the other nations. Only the Avatar had the power to stop them, and he vanished. For 100 years. Now, he has returned. It is a young Airbender, the last of his kind. The story picks up from then, when he has returned, on a mission to stop the Fire Nation and restore balance. It’s a pretty basic plot, but man, it shines in this series. The characters are all fun and all grow throughout the series. The bending elements aspect was clearly thought through entirely, as you can clearly say that each style was based on a different form or two of martial arts. The animation also is great. It starts out pretty basic, but after a while, it is incredible, outright gorgeous. The voice-work is top-notch. All in all, this show may have been made for kids, but it is easily able to be enjoyed by adults.
And my top anime series is –
1. Cowboy Bebop
Don’t accuse me of following trends. This is one hell of a show. The premise is that the crew of the Bebop is a bunch of social misfits who are trying to find a way to get by, in a universe that is without law and order. They work as bounty hunters, ever-working to hunt the elusive paycheck. Not an easy thing to catch. But it is the growth of characters in this show that is just amazing. My favorite is Spike, and not because he is cool or because he can fight. His outlook on life just marvels me. He views life as a dream, that he is waiting to wake up from. All the risks he takes and the tempting of fate that he does is purely so that he can justify his own existence. Of course, the rest of the cast is great. So, the characters are great, but what about everything else? The animation is the best that I have ever seen in any series. The darkness, the detail at some points, and abstract at others, the noire quality of it, while at the same time the science fiction style, it’s all perfect. And the music is just great. Blending western themes with jazzy beats, it is almost a perfect soundtrack, and compliments its universe in the best way. The reason that this show is so loved is because it is just that good. I don’t think a single element fell flat. Except that one episode…Boogie Woogie Feng Shui. That was the only real time that this show failed. And it did fail badly, but still. Overall, this series has perfect music, perfect characters, perfect writing, perfect voice-work, perfect animation. It is the best that I have ever seen, and I love it to death.
Until next time, a quote,
“Look at my eyes, Faye. One of them is a fake because I lost it in an accident. Since then, I’ve been seeing the past in one eye and the present in the other. So, I thought I could only see patches of reality, never the whole picture. I felt like I was watching a dream I could never wake up from. Before I knew it, the dream was over.” -Spike Spiegel, Cowboy Bebop