A little under a year ago I published a list of my Top 25 anime. While it was accurate at the time, it’s been a while, and my opinions have certainly shifted in that period. I’ve watched more anime now, so I figured I might as well raise the number, and here I am with a new and improved Top 30. Most shows could shift up or down a few points based on my whims, and there are plenty of shows that would likely rank on here if I rewatched them, but there’s no helping that. I’ll never watch everything I love within a few years. This is the most accurate list I can make for myself right now, and I hope you enjoy it.
30. Girls und Panzer der Film
This movie is just fun. Girls und Panzer was never a narratively driven series, but this movie kicks it up a notch, with a good 3/4 of its 2-hour runtime being occupied by tank battles. I’m not gonna speak for everyone here, but watching takes slam each other full of shells while doing ridiculous tricks is cool to me, so I really enjoyed this movie. There’s no illusion of reality in this movie, but it isn’t really necessary. The satisfaction I feel from the heavy sounds of firing shells is enough to make me enjoy it.
29. JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure
If only the whole manga were adapted, this would be much higher up on my list, but alas. Even without the masterpiece that is Part 7, Jojo is one of the most consistently fun anime I’ve watched. Its use of powers is excellent, clearly displaying that Araki knows how to craft a fight. Jojo is well known for being very camp, but it’s great beyond that as well. As the series goes on the writing improves as Araki discovers how to craft better characters. Not all parts of Jojo are equal, but they’re certainly all fun, and I’m hopeful that David Pro will adapt all of it.
28. Millenium Actress
Perfect Blue might be the most popular favorite of Kon’s wonderful filmography, but I’ve always had a preference for Millenium Actress. This wonderful story of a woman’s history as an actress is enchanting, using Kon’s signature blending of reality and fantasy to great effect. This movie does things that can only be done in animation, but aside from that it’s just an excellent movie on its own merits. It’s a thrilling emotional ride that I’ll remember for a long time.
27. The Tatami Galaxy
A wonderful exploration of finding your place through the lens of a college student, the Tatami Galaxy is a wondefully unique anime directed by one of anime’s best, Masaaki Yuasa. Its visuals and quick-paced dialogue are what stand out the most, but it uses these and its many other surreal elements to tell a fantastic story of the search for a “rose-colored” life. This one is easy to connect to for anyone who’s trying to find the direction they want to go in life, including myself, which is why it deserves this spot.
26. Princess Tutu
This strange, postmodern fairytale anime almost comes across as a response to Revolutionary Girl Utena, but it certainly deserves its own praise. Using ballet and magical girl motifs to craft a story about stories, this anime challenges people to break out of the roles they’ve been assigned in life, using literal storytelling roles as an allegorical device to deliver that message. At times it gets a bit too into the idea of being a story within a story, but the way it ultimately resolves everything is masterfully done, utterly rebuking authors who make their characters suffer for the sake of it.
Kaiji might just be the most intense, hypest anime ever made. There are plenty of anime focused on high-tension subject matter, but Kaiji manages to consistently give actual weight to its gambling scenarios. We do see Kaiji lose, which makes us all the more anxious to see if he’ll make it through any given challenge. It’s a very dark series where nothing ever goes Kaiji’s way, even when it seems like that might happen, but it does a great job of portraying that darkness. This isn’t a show I can watch without marathoning, because every episode gets my heart pounding, driving me to watch the next. Kaiji is certainly the best gambling anime I know of and I can’t think of another that makes my heart as anxious as it does.
24. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
Frequently upheld as one of the best anime ever made, LoGH is a great example of anime space operas. It stands out the most for its great writing, as barring a few mistakes its characters are consistently believable. Its use of ideology is almost unparalleled in the realm of anime, giving it a political air that few series can hope to come close to. While it occasionally veers a little to close to celebration of right-wing beliefs and monarchy for me, I still find it to be an enjoyable series to watch. Its battles are a bit lacking, but its truly epic narrative more than makes up for that.
23. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Ghost in the Shell is a true pillar of anime and Stand Alone Complex sits atop that pillar. Balancing its predecessor’s philosophy with action and political intrigue, this series really gets how to make a cyber-punk, transhumanist story work. Its first season’s focus on the titular Stand Alone Complex seems to predict the presence of memes and other aspects of the modern internet, while its second season’s focus on corrupt government and refugee liberation is more than applicable today. GITS:SAC has great characters and writing, and right now its messages seem to be everlasting.
22. Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
This 6-episode OVA is the best example of Gundam as an anti-war series. Eschewing the series’ past and future focus on the Mobile Suits themselves, this work focuses on a young boy living in a supposedly neutral colony and the pain he goes through as the OYW arrives on his doorstep. This series roundly criticizes war, but it also mocks those who clamor to see more war and fighting, deriding them as childish and stupid. Afterwards Gundam went back to advertising as many Gunpla as possible, but this series really demonstrates its power in showing how bad war can be.
21. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
It’s not often that we get truly well-crafted drama in anime, so we were very lucky to get Rakugo at all, let alone as a full adaptation. It’s a show with tight writing covering multiple generations, overflowing love for its slowly dying art form. Few anime can touch it in the amount of love they show their subject matter. Particularly stand-out though is the character of Yakumo Yurakutei. His story is the true emotional driver of the series, greatly benefited by some of the best voice work in anime. This is a show that really proves why we need more josei adaptations and I hope we get a drama like this again.
20. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
The most recent anime on this list, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is an excellent series about family, trust, and opening up. It’s hard to say everything I love about it, from its excellent KyoAni production to its usually funny comedy. What stands out the most though is its moments of seriousness. It’s hard to overstate how important and fantastic the slow moments of affection between Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna are. These three form the thematic and emotional core of the show, and it’s these three that make me love it so much. Same-sex domestic life is hard to find, and this show mostly nailed it.
Many of Nichijou’s positives are similar to Kobayashi’s, but the differences are very important. Nichijou is first and foremost a comedy, and it’s the funniest anime comedy I’ve ever watched. KyoAni’s excellent production is once again important here, allowing the show to frequently change tones and experiment with the visuals of the jokes. This is truly a comedy that demands to be animated. At the same time, KyoAni’s visuals add to the moments of emotional vulnerability, which gives an important connection to the show outside of its comedic elements. Nichijou is a really well-rounded comedy that makes me burst out laughing every episode through its creativity and animation.
18. Mawaru Penguindrum
Can you tell I like anime about family? I most certainly do. Penguindrum is one of the more surreal anime that I’ve seen, which is expected coming from director Kunihiko Ikuhara. It uses its absurd elements, such as the bizzare penguin hat and the eponymous Penguindrum in order to tell a story of love, family, and defying fate. It’s not exactly a show which is easy to pick apart, but it was clearly made with a lot of care which it’s better for. It’s hard to say what exactly it is that I love so much about Penguindrum, but suffice it to say that it’s stuck with me.
17. Revolutionary Girl Utena
Utena is another Ikuhara project, one I like every so slightly more than Penguindrum. Drawing upon shoujo and magical girl tropes, Utena spends its long run-time to discuss many things. Gender roles, sexuality, love, constent, and once again defying fate and society. Utena’s aesthetic sensibilities are fantastic, and it uses its length in order to thoroughly expand upon its characters, giving us brilliant episodes focused on side characters. While some might find it overly lengthy and too focused on minor details, I love the amount of information we get. Utena is a fantastic shoujo-style anime, one that truly stands out to me.
I’d consider Mushishi to be an iyashikei, but even if it isn’t one it’s still a great show. Mushishi creates a fantastic sense of timelessness, both in its literal world and in its stories. While it’s clearly set in rural, agricultural Japan it has a sense of universality to its themes. It’s distinctly Japanese in culture, but its ideas about life and accepting what occurs are profound to people of any region. Its beautiful environments and music do a great job at selling the themes and stories. And those stories are beautiful, expertly switching between happy and sad, never feeling discordant with one another. Mushishi is a fantastic melancholy anime and it’s perhaps the best I’ve seen that focuses on new characters each episode.
Characters have always been the main draw for me when it comes to media. That’s part of what led me to anime, as characters get such a large focus in this medium. Hyouka excels primarily in this element, using great direction in order to sell its mysteries and characters. Hyouka is a rare exception for me; while it has a decent amount of focus on its mysteries, I’m actually able to enjoy it. I particularly love it as a romance anime; the relationship between Oreki and Chitanda is wonderful, especially in the way through which it’s conveyed visually. To mystery fans it’s probaably not fantastic, but it definitely fits my tastes.
14. A Silent Voice
Before watching this move I had read the manga, and I have to say that I much prefer the movie. Yamada Naoko applied her style to this story excellently, focusing on the characters as human beings. Once again KyoAni was necessary here, conveying the subtle character motions necessary to demonstrate Shouko’s deafness and the characters’ feelings. This story of depression and redemption is wonderful, absolutely standing as my favorite anime movie that isn’t part of a wider series.
13. Neon Genesis Evangelion
I don’t think I need to explain Evangelion. I’ve long been a fan of it and my interest in it has only increased over time as I’ve better grown to understand people. Shinji is still an incredibly interesting character, and I now find him likeable. It’s a show that manages to go from awesome mecha action into a setting that resembles cosmic horror. Its importance to anime as a medium obviously can’t be overstated, but its focus on broken characters is really what keeps me invested in it. I can easily spend tons of time thinking about Shinji, Asuka, Misato, and the others. Eva is that rare show that manages to be both fun and existential, and I love it for that.
12. Turn A Gundam
0080 may embody Gundam as an anti-war series, but I think Turn A does a better job at embodying Gundam as a whole. Its protagonist, Loran, is a true pacifist and yet is willing to use violence when necessary. This is common in Gundam and usually done poorly, but here it really works, as he truly saves killing as an absolute last resort. Turn A is a series about connecting cultures and overcoming our past mistakes. It’s an aesthetic masterpiece, with its 19th century-inspired Earthracce and its retro-futuristic Moonrace. The Yoko Kanno soundtrack never disappoints, and the show always knows how to keep some levity while also delving into Gundam’s darker aspects. It has great female characters, fun action, and unique mecha designs. It’s almost certainly the pinnacle of Gundam.
Alright, this is actually the last one focused solely on family, but it definitely deserves to be here. Kyosougiga is a great chrystallization of what I love to see in anime: an eccentric, surreal piece focused entirely on one core theme. All the characters are appealing, but the main character of Koto particularly emobdies what I love about the series. She’s wild and free yet she has greater emotional depths as well. Even still, she’s able to conquer any of her fears and fight for the love of her family. That’s the theme of Kyousougiga as a whole, and it’s a theme I love. It succesfully details this theme through use of religious imagery and other wonderous visuals, but that’s ultimately what it boils down to, and I’m happy with that.
10. Hidamari Sketch
I’ve been a fan of Hidamari for a long time and I’m still a fan becasue it’s just relaxing to watch. I wouldn’t quite call it an iyashikei but it is in the same vein. Focused entirely on a small group of girls who go to an art high school, this charming series always manages to cheer me up. Its quickly established character dynamics are fun, and its visuals use a lot of soft, calming colors with very rounded faces. At the same time it manages to convey abstract things very well, using many of SHAFT’s now infamous techniques like real pictures of food and surreal visuals. With its yuri subtext and cute characters it’s a show that perfectly fits my interests, and by excellent executing everything while delivering on themes of finding your way in life, it became one of my favorite shows.
9. Flip Flappers
Flip Flappers is basically a coming-of-age story. Stylistically very similar to works by Ikuhara and Matsumoto, Flip Flappers tells the story of a young queer girl’s awakening to her sexuality, her imagination, and her self-identity. It does so using beautiful environments which span genres and settings. Its main three characters are excellent, fun, and well-done characters who feel like they’re in their teenage years. It’s a story about escaping from authority and pressure, both societal and familial, and choosing your own path. It’s wonderful, and contrary to some it never goes downhill.
8. Monogatari Series
I really shouldn’t like Monogatari quite as much as I do. Its protagonist is a lolicon, a siscon, and an idiot. Its a harem anime in setting if not in execution. It establishes a vast universe in which supernatual beings exist based on belief and then does almost nothing with that concept. And yet two things always bring me around to it: the dialogue and the characters. These two elements inform each other: the heavy focus on dialogue gives us a real sesne of who the characters are as people, even when the contents of their speech is inane. The show has a real sense of individual character voice that a lot of anime can’t deliver on, and the development of the characters is fantastic. It makes some missteps here and there, but the good is easily enough to forgive it for that.
7. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Series
If Monogatari does a lot wrong, then Nanoha does everything wrong. Let me blunt: this show is not “good” from a craft perspective. It has inconsistent visuals, too many characters, lazy worldbuilding, and many other issues. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to put it this high. And yet there are so many things I love so very much about Nanoha. I love the fact that it goes from traditional magical girls to magical duels to Gundam-inspired space cops to magical martial arts. I love how gay it is and how they two main characters have a daughter. I love how the show’s “magical world” is literally just Japan with the budget allocation of America. I just unequivocaly love this show, even if it doesn’t make sense. It makes me cry and it makes me smile, and that should be enough.
6. Haibane Renmei
Haibane Renmei starts like a nice slice-of-life. Taking place in the wonderful world of Old Home, it immediately presents us with many mysteries to explore. Part of this show’s appeal is that it never explains most the mysteries; the world seems fully constructed, but we only see the small parts of it that we need to, and I appreciate that. The show is primarily focused on its two main characters in Reki and Rakka. The story of their depressions and redemptions is absolutely beautiful. The show slowly shifts moods and genres over time, becoming darker and more dramatic, but it works perfectly. Haibane Renmei really nails the themes of depression and moving forward, and I love it for that.
5. Wandering Son
Wandering Son, or Hourou Musuko, is fairly well known at this point. It’s the only trans-focused anime in existence and it played an important role for me. It does suffer a little from focusing too much on the negative aspects of being trans, but it does an excellent job of portraying Shuuichi and her dysphoria. It looks fantastic, and its use of theater as a metaphor for the performativity of gender is great. At the same time it does a good job at being a general middle-school focused character drama. It’s a show that’s quiet, contemplative, and pretty flawed, but it’s had a huge amount of development on me as an individual, so it’s a show I value quite highly.
4. Hunter x Hunter
I don’t think I really need to explain this one. HxH is just a fantastic battle shounen. It manages to include interesting characters, varied environments, and interesting powers. Togashi demonstrates a clear skill at crafting super-powered fights, using characters’ powers as if they’re natural parts of them. The fights never boil down to “normal fights with this power added” and they always feel as if the powers are the center. Additionally, it has some of the best arcs in anime, particularly Yorknew City and Chimera Ant. HxH just demonstrates the power that battle shounens have as a genre, something I’ll always uphold. It’s by far my favorite action anime, and I don’t expect that to change for quite some time.
Perhaps the queen of the Cute Girls Doing Cute Things genre, K-On is the point where these shows have no meaningful flaws to me. K-On is excellent with its comedy, with its sense of fun, with its themes, and with everything else. What stands out the most though is how it builds on itself. The characters slowly grow over time while remaining themselves, eventually culminating in the graduation of the four original members. The entire series is visually excellent, as it’s animated by KyoAni and directed by the wonderful Yamada Naoko. It’s a show that gets better the more you watch it, and it’s only due to the extreme quality of the next two shows that it’s number 3 on this list.
Shirobako really loves anime. It’s primarily relatable to me for that reason, because I too really love anime. Shirobako advocates for people who love modern anime, for people who love old anime, for mangaka, for doujin circles, and for plain old fans. Shirobako knows that anime isn’t an industry people work in because of the great pay; it’s unfortunately quite bad. Anime is an industry people work in because they love it. I cried during at least 8 episodes of Shirobako, and I got close in many more. This show believably captured the cel animation style in order to show the anime that brought our main character into the industry. It’s a wacky, optimistic show that doesn’t sugarcoat anime’s bad conditions but celebrates the medium nonetheless. It’s a testament to the medium we all love, and it’s almost my favorite anime.
Aria has been my favorite anime for over 3 years now. It’s just an absolute masterpiece. Standing atop all of iyashikei, Aria’s wonderful representation of 24th century Neo-Venezia is always charming. Utilizing a mix of science fiction and magical realism, it creates a sense of timelessness and tranquility, forming an environment which is simultaneously utopian and very real. Heavily utilizing the aesthetic of mono no aware, it savors everything which the world has to offer, always with a mix of sadness and happiness. Its characters aren’t the deepest, but they’re fun and only provide to the series’ great atmosphere. This is the only show I can think of that would have a two episode arc where the main character appreciates her last day with her gondola, meeting its spirit along the way. It’s set in a recreation of Venice but it’s distinctly Japanese, something I love. Aria is just perfect to me, it’s made me a brighter person, and I don’t know if anything can ever replace it to me.