Our theme for the month of June is “Top Ten.” Kyric contributed earlier, too.
Admit it. You wanted this. A mere reference could never be enough. You needed to know and I wanted to share. We all win. Especially if I can convince more people to partake in the goodness of anime.
10. Suisei no Gargantia (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet) (2013, Production I.G.): A rare anime developed from no pre-existing material, as is the norm for the medium. This sci-fi bildungsroman takes a child warrior and hurls him through a wormhole to a peaceful planet where he must find his way with the help of his trusty AI assistant mecha (giant battle robot). The story flows impeccably, never feeling bloated or contrived. Its writer, Gen “The Butcher” Urobuchi, eases from his moniker to create a beautiful blend of exciting and sweet. In its twelve episodes, it manages to produce a complete tale that leaves you satisfied.
9. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o! (God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World) (2016-17, Studio Deen): As a general rule, anime likes extremes. KonoSuba takes this even further, displaying an explosive comedy about a highschooler who is transported to another world in order to save it from a demon king. Standard fare for an anime—but that is where the similarities end. KonoSuba loves to subvert tropes. Its heroes barely qualify, and they quest completely by accident. Nothing goes as expected, making the journey to the destination that much more enjoyable. The characters are slightly one-dimensional and the humor can be a little lowbrow, but the execution as a whole (the voice actors especially) more than makes up for this lacking. If the gags don’t get you laughing, the sheer absurdity will.
8. B: The Beginning (2018, Production I.G.): Once begun, it is hard to stop watching. This supernatural noir mystery/drama doesn’t waste time with explanations; rather, it shows you it needs to be followed. The anime follows two protagonists—one a detective pulled into a series of murder cases, the other the murderer. What follows is a deliciously interconnected story (something that always ranks high in my opinion) with plenty of action and intrigue and a splash of humor to keep the content light. But it is the conclusion where our protagonists confront their respective antagonists that the brilliance of this anime truly shines.
7. Asura Cryin’ (2009, Seven Arcs): In many stories, consequences are hinted at but rarely followed through on. We expect the main characters to be protected by virtue of their carrying the story. Asura Cryin’ was one of the first animes I saw that fulfilled its promised consequences. Choice and consequence are the two big themes of this curiously mixed anime. It doesn’t fit into a stereotypical genre, story, or characters, fusing magic and science, being set at a school without participating in typical school activities, and having a cautious protagonist who doesn’t follow a typical personal power escalation; he serves more as a catalyst. The story follows a boy who, after given an advanced technological weapon, discovers that demons and magic are real and that he can choose either one side or the other, but if he chooses, both will become the enemy of them all.
6. Hyouka (2012, Kyoto Animation): One of the only “normal” anime on this list, Hyouka is a mystery/romance that does not rely on the fantastical or supernatural, only its story and characters. The two main characters are an “energy-conserving” highly deductive teen and the eternally curious girl he has the misfortune of meeting. While the plot seems basic on the surface (she becomes attached to something inexplicable and coerces him into solving it), how it unfolds is always engaging. The animation is gorgeous; its details are minutely crafted, enhancing the mystery feel without exposing it to casual watchers. It also makes it highly rewatchable because there is more to notice upon each successive viewing.
5. Zetsuen no Tempest (Blast of Tempest) (2012-13, Bones): An anime that alludes to several Shakespearean elements and makes them its own. A mage exiled on an island makes contact with a highschooler seeking revenge on the killer of his sister along with his friend who tries to be his voice of reason. The show is well crafted with excellent character interaction, exciting moments, cerebral debates, and a neat magic system. The story remains consistent to itself yet manages to surprise if you don’t invest in it. The story holds plenty of dark and light elements, managing to convey suspense and romance equally well. And even if nothing else was good, the anime boasts an amazing soundtrack that complements well the events on screen.
4. Steins;Gate (2011, White Fox): Any story that involves time travel invites itself to skepticism. Steins;Gate sidesteps this by focusing more on the characters than the plot device. Self-proclaimed “mad scientist” “Hyooin Kyouma” accidentally discovers he can send text messages to the past, altering reality. He also discovers he is the only one who remembers what happened in both timelines. For the first half of this show, he and his friends partake in goofy experiments, but matters turn serious in the second half, barreling towards a tense conclusion. Despite this being a thriller, it mixes in comedy decidedly well. The banter between characters is clever and pleasing. Every encounter is progressively better. And the end is every bit as good as it promised.
3. Fate series (Stay/Night 2006, Studio Deen; Unlimited Blade Works 2014-15, ufotable; Heaven’s Feel 2017, 2019, 2020 (3 movies), ufotable; Prisma Illya, 2013-16, Silver Link; Zero 2011-12, ufotable; Grand Order 2019-20, CloverWorks; Apocrypha 2017, A-1 Pictures; Carnival Phantasm 2011-12, Lerche): Sometimes concepts can make me stick with a story better than plot or characters. The Fate series delivers one of the best I’ve encountered: modern day mages have discovered an omnipotent wish-granting device, the Holy Grail. However, since it is a spiritual device and mages are flesh, they cannot physically interact with it. So they devised a way to summon mythological and historical figures to champion them in ritual combat, where the winner gets the Grail. The plot is a bit straightforward, but the characters drive it onward. Everyone has a reason to fight, and the fights are spectacular. Especially the ones by ufotable. In all the series choreography and soundtrack merge for the ultimate experience. The series does focus on duels, so don’t get too attached to the characters. For a more humorous take, either Prisma Illya or Carnival Phantasm would be better. CP is one enormous parody and Illya is a fluffy story about a minor character as a magical girl. Zero has the most compelling story (“The Butcher” at his finest), but Unlimited Blade Works appeals to my own ideals. Good thing ideals are the center of the Fate series. The exploration of them adds another layer of value to this already massive, if slightly convoluted, series.
2. Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabukome wa Machigatteiru (My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected) (2013 Brain’s Base; 2015, 2020 Feel): For a romcom to be my penultimate most enjoyed anime may come as a surprise. But it’s not a normal romcom—it focuses on an anti-social, cynical highschooler whose teacher forces him to join a club whose only member is an anti-social “elitist” girl. The wordplay between the two is fantastic. The series doesn’t get much romance until season two, but the comedy does run strong. Another quality aspect of the show is the worldview of the protagonist. Outcasts don’t typically get a voice, and his philosophising is a treat. Introverts especially will connect with this anime, but I recommend this one to everyone.
1. Code Geass (2006-2008, Sunrise): Everything in this anime targets my preferences. A strategically brilliant protagonist. Supernatural elements. Political intrigue. Giant robot battles. Romance. Drama. Suspense. World Domination. Chess themes. Philosophical quandaries. A killer soundtrack. Consequences. Willingness to sacrifice characters. From beginning to end, Code Geass delivers. It starts with an exiled prince who swears revenge on the Empire that abandoned him and his chance encounter with a witch who grants him an ability to more easily facilitate his revenge. Every episode involves tense maneuvering, brilliantly orchestrated (except for the few goofy ones that allow viewers to relax). Though I did not originally like how it ended, the more I thought about it (and this show will challenge your thoughts), the more I loved it. Truly a masterpiece among its peers.
Some Quick Extras
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009-10, Bones): Truly a classic that deserves a spot on this list. The story is remarkable, with brilliant characters and a delightful magic system. Elicits many emotions, all of them good.
Darker than Black (2007, Bones): As its name suggests, a dark anime with a killer protagonist. This thriller has some unique characters with supernatural powers and is slightly difficult to comprehend. The fight scenes are insane.
Hai to Gensō no Gurimugaru (Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash) (2016, A-1 Pictures): A dark fantasy which is surprisingly realistic. The slow pace of this is great for worldbuilding and characterization, and the beautiful animation makes for a soothing watch—a necessity for when events inevitably turn grim.
Danjon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darō ka (Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?) (2015-2020, J.C. Staff): A delightful comedy with loads of adventure. Despite what the title suggests, the protagonist is no womanizer, but rather wishes to better himself to be better for the women around him. The story, world, and characters are all excellent.
Black Rock Shooter (2012, Ordet Sanzigen): A short, eclectic work, Black Rock Shooter tells the story of a young girl and her friends’ trauma by depicting them as battles between mental avatars. Weird, but super cool.