I took some time recently to look at my favorite anime and suss out a top 20. Always an enjoyable exercise. Also included some brief comments on each one, for anyone who’s curious about that sort of thing.
2. Hajime no Ippo
3. Futakoi Alternative
4. To Heart
5. Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji
6. Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou
8. Onegai Teacher
9. Neo Ranga
10. Melody of Oblivion
11. Kamisama Dolls
12. Master Keaton
13. Please Save My Earth
14. ef: A Tale of Memories
15. Chikyuu Bouei Kigyou Dai-Guard
16. Tiger & Bunny
17. Gatchaman Crowds
18. Touhai Densetsu Akagi
19. Amagami SS
20. Aquarion Evol
-Redline is the best piece of animation I’ve ever seen, either my all-time favorite or second-favorite movie depending on the day of the year. In addition to being visually fantastic and a general wild ride, its main story arc serves as a tricky metaphor for its own production process.
-To Heart is a show I wouldn’t have even considered great in my early stages of fandom. But as I get older I appreciate more the quiet, minimalist, sentimental tone the show pulls off while still definitely has a staff pouring their hearts into every inch of detail. Gotta give props to the orchestral soundtrack, too.
-Onegai Teacher is a first-rate atmospheric experience. The music is soothing, the backgrounds and setting were rich enough to spark a wave of tourism to the region, and the simple, sweet, Adachi-inspired romance plot is the perfect story for the summer-haze backdrop.
-Please Save My Earth is another show where the atmosphere knocks me out every time I see it, though in its case it’s more suited to the lamentation and tragedy of that story.
-Futakoi Alternative is a super-irregular, super-tight storytelling experience that never loses its punch. Also the silliest show I’ve seen to bother with magical realism when large-scale obviously supernatural stuff is happening all around. Normally, it’s either all a conspiracy or all magic/superscience, but elements like the prevalence of twins and Rentarou’s faulty, works-when-he’s-confident cigarette lighter give the narrative that extra punch.
-Kare Kano, in addition to being visually striking and making an effort to keep you on your toes on that front, is the definitive proof that romance doesn’t need to cut off at the moment a relationship becomes official for a series built on that relationship to be absolutely superb. A testament to why shoujo romance is the best at going down that route, it lets the two character grow by playing off each other and realize changes in their worldviews as a result of their new perspectives.
-Scryed, Kaiji, and Hajime no Ippo, while obviously being quite different from another, share the common thread of exploring adversity; what it means to struggle in the face of it, and why it comes to exist. I love all 3, Ippo more so than the other two for its absolute knockout of a cast.
-Melody of Oblivion and Neo Ranga offer a different variation of that theme; instead of the core theme being rooted in one person struggling against their own difficulties, it’s one small group with the rest of society as their enemy. To some degree both the Melos Warriors and the Shimabara sisters are picking that fight (albeit with sound moral cause) and to some extent it’s forced on them, a balance that both stories do an excellent job of exploring.
-Master Keaton is the Urasawa anime adaptation that best captures the spirit of his manga, and the ability to tell a complex story very quickly. This is best demonstrated in the one-off Thistle Emblem episode, which blends a low-stakes historical mystery with local whiskey culture and powerful coincidences.
-ef used to be in my top 5, but I’ve rewatched it a few times since then, and while it holds up (with intro and middle episodes even better than what I remember), it’s a little bit less transcendent that my original recollections indicated.
-Tiger and Bunny sort of lays a reasonable claim to the most effective introduction episode in anime. Has fun cast dynamics and a bunch of individual great characters, headed up by Wild Tiger and Fire Emblem. It’s also second only to Redline in the “crazy amazing to watch live” category.
-Dai-guard and Gatchaman Crowds are similarly nice watches because they focus on characters doing the right thing because they believe it’s the right thing to do, both driving conflict between different-minded good people and, in the end, overcoming huge challenges. Dai-guard tends to be less futuristic about things, framing the problems essentially as natural disasters that just happened to be best-suited for a robot-pilot response. That angle on problems we already have contrasts with Crowds’ forward-thinking look at problems that are equally real but still in the process of evolving. Akagi’s dork act is a little bit more adorable to watch than Hajime’s inquisitive one, but both are a joy.
-Aquarion Evol is an extremely self-aware show about horny teenagers with symbolism that always goes too far without feeling exploitative like most erotic anime comedies do; it makes me laugh all the time and when I’m done laughing I actually end up thinking about the silliness and why it works. The dialogue is overly talkative in a way that would just skewer a lot of shows but the overly wordy nature of it is perfectly suited to what this one does.
-Amagami SS’s omnibus format – 4 stand-alone episodes given to each character, tell a complete love story, repeat – is low-key great for a couple reasons. One, not all stories are a great fit for 12/24 episodes, the same way not all stories are made to be 20 minutes long (comedies like Sunred and Osomatsu-san can take liberties with skit length and definitely show the positives of being able to adjust your total time allotment). Two, it functionally eliminates the need for forcible integration of a popular character into a plot which doesn’t really call for their involvement. It’s sort of refreshing to see adaptations from a choice-based medium retain their ability to offer the viewer a range of options.
-Between a fair bit of strife over local clan politics, Kamisama Dolls is about kids who grew up with privilege and potential watching it all go astray as they realized the limitations of those things, and then how they each deal with the aftermath of losing it all – one becomes a violent criminal, the other fights increasingly in vain to maintain his little niche of independence. Kyohei and Aki’s arc makes the series what it is, especially the former’s satisfied transition from superpowered to competent bit player (a delightful rarity), cements a show that otherwise does lots of things right. Might be higher on the list if not for some pretty dumb boob physics moments.