To try describing my tastes in anime without using examples is a tedious and often misleading task. A far simpler and more efficient way would be to list my favourites, which, rather unsurprisingly, is exactly what this page is for. These are all anime I would recommend without a seconds hesitation. My all-time favourites, the best Japan has to offer.
If you want more, there’s my 31-60 favourite anime too.
30: Porco Rosso
My favourite Ghibli movie, it does many of the same things that made Arrietty work. Porco Rosso is strangely down-to-earth, with very human characters and desires, telling a neatly compacted story that hints at a much more beyond what was told in this snippet. In a way, it’s a lesson in restraint. The lack on fantastical elements means that the one scene where they do embrace the magical, it’s made all the more memorable because of its brevity. That scene with the planes flying out of the clouds, leaving Porco behind. No other scene in any other Ghibli movie made quite the impact that shot did.
29: Samurai Champloo
It’s not often that you can pin down the exact moment you were sold on a particular anime. Often it’s just a gradual feeling as the awesomeness takes over. But when it does come down to a specific scene, it’s usually several episode in. For example, in Bebop, Champloo’s sister series, it took until episode 13 before I was sold. For Samurai Champloo, it was about 4 minutes into the first episode with that timeskip scene. This was a show trying to be the coolest thing ever and succeeding spectacularly.
28: The Big O
There’s a whole load of things Big O does right. It has Dorothy, who is mai waifu do not steal. It’s got this great sense of grandiose battles, which it kicks in at exactly the right time. These grandiose battles also serve as a great contrast to its usual film-Noir demeanour, where a lot of the way the city is portrayed is very abstract. It’s got a fine sense of style and a great, self-aware sense of humour. It doesn’t have the greatest over-arching story, but its episodic storytelling is second to none.
27: Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
Not a fan of Gundam? Shut up, it doesn’t matter. Go watch War in the Pocket anyway. It’s a gut-punch about the loss of innocence and the glorifying of war, military and conflict. It’s a message to those kids who collect toy soldiers that war fucking sucks and kills people in a hopelessly needless way that achieves bloody nothing. It’s so perfectly paced, scripted and constructed that its craft almost hurts. The animation hasn’t aged too well, but otherwise it’s near perfect story-telling with a harsh message.
26: Roujin Z
I’m a massive fan of Katsuhiro Otomo. He has this wonderfully cynical, dark sense of humour, bringing out some of the best black comedy in anime (a medium not particularly known for its black comedy). He wrote the script for Roujin Z, a story about how an old man in his containment facility/caretaking machine goes berserk, prompting a massive military operation to try take it down. It brings together some great themes of the dehumanisation of senior citizens and the importance of human interaction, all in this incredibly entertaining piece. It’s an unsung gem that’s much more accessible and fun than my description could possibly give it credit for.
25: Neon Genesis Evangelion
Evangelion is an odd one. It wasn’t until the end that I realised how little I understood about the plot. Yet, as you can see from its inclusion in here, I still loved the show. It had a true sense of epic cinematography with the way it frames the monsters, heightening the awe inspiring fear they gave off. Combine this with that ever-growing sense of fear and mindfuckery endured by the main characters, and you have this brilliantly engaging show that draws you in and scares you away. Which is why that damn ending is such a fucking anti-climactic way to end the series argh!
24: Arakawa Under the Bridge
Arakawa is a comedy anime, but the true genius isn’t in the comedy. Oh sure, it’s funny. Endlessly so. It has Sister; a trigger happy, war veteran dressed as a nun. But what really makes this show is the intelligence behind its construction. The way the story wraps in on itself, collapsing Recruit’s world in on himself, followed by building up an entirely new world founded upon a different form of logic. It destroys his perception of common sense and builds up a world that tells him hey, what’s common sense anyway?
23: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Production IG, you sure are capable of some amazing work when you put your mind to it, which is unfortunately not nearly as much as your reputation claims you might. What I loved about Ghost in the Shell is how intricate the plotting was. Each plot level was so complex. I’d frequently pause an episode halfway through to wrap my head around the latest developments, grabbing pieces of paper to try scribble down my thoughts. It’s a show that can have entire episodes devoted to people sitting in a chatroom discussing the conspiracy theories and have it be the most fascinating episode of the entire thing.
Quite often when it comes to these artsy anime, I just find myself rolling my eyes at the desperate attempts to prove that they are different from the norm. In fact, I did that in Kaiba sometimes too. But what I was treated to beyond the Dr.Seass style artwork was a masterclass in storytelling and imagination. The way it uses its cartoony art-style to break down ideas of what we consider identity is quite marvellous. Powerful and beautiful, this turned me into an instant Yuasa fan.
21: Millenium Actress
Satoshi Kon is a master at storytelling, and this isn’t the only time you’ll see one of his works in this top 30. Millenium Actress is his best constructed of the lot. Each story fold in on the others, creating this fantastic single story that’s basically the same one told each time around, but also incorporates a linear narrative as well. It’s such a fantastically told story.
20: Cromartie High School
On pure laughs per minute, social satire comedy, Cromartie is the single funniest anime in my humble opinion. When writing about Cromartie High School, even the memory of the show sets me into a fit of giggles. Arguably the single greatest first episode (and final episode, by association) in anime history, I knew I would love this show as soon as that random thug placed that pencil inside his mouth. He….ate….my….pencil….HE ATE MY PENCIL!
19: Tokyo Godfathers
Satoshi Kon again, Tokyo Godfathers is the ultimate feel-good anime. It cracked my usually stone cold heart as I watched stories surrounding these three homeless idiots. It made me tear up like a big baby. Not through the typical exploitative sad methods that the usual tear-jerkers employ that have almost no effect on me, but through making me happy. For that feat alone, it deserves all the praise it can get.
18: Eden of the East
Marginally superior to his efforts on Ghost in the Shell, Kamiyama really knows how to set my mind in motion. No other anime made me concoct such wild theories for possible directions in the plot only to later shove it in my face that I’d picked up a red herring. Shame the movies aren’t as good, by the TV series is still fantastic as a stand-alone piece. Noblesse Oblige. Please get me one of those messiah phones with Juiz’s voice.
17: Aquarion EVOL
This show is sooo dumb, and yet sooo good. Actually sod it, that’s exactly why it’s so great. So much sexual innuendo, fully aware of how ridiculous it is, and yet somehow still earnest and attempting to tell a genuine story. It’s self aware about its earnestness, if that makes sense. And it works, both the ridiculousness and the main story. Its the kind of anime that makes me tear up with laughter and tear up with emotion at the very same scene. It takes a special kind of anime to do that.
16: School Rumble
Considering School Rumble is supposed to be a parody of overly dramatic love triangle soap operas, the fact that it does a better job of making us wish for these character’s successes in their love life is a testament to how good the characterisation is. It makes them both incredibly silly and entertaining, and yet human and identifiable with clear personalities and flaws that makes them sympathetic. Admittedly I’ve seen this series and read the manga so many times that I am now so attached to these people that I can no longer tell if the actual series is any good anymore, so take this recommendation with a pinch of salt.
15: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
If there’s a wall in our way, we’ll destroy it! If there’s no road, we’ll pave it with our own hands! Your drill is the drill that will pierce the heavens! Don’t believe in the me who believes in you. Don’t believe in the you who believes in me, believe in yourself! Go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb! WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK WE ARE!!!
14: Cowboy Bebop
For what is considered in many quarters to be the greatest anime ever created, it sure does start of very slow. The first episodes, while still good, were nowhere near as good as I anticipated it would be. It started to turn around episode 8, improving significantly when Ed arrived, but it wasn’t until episode 13 when it finally hit me. As the credits rolled down the screen with the song ‘Space Lion’ playing, it finally dawned on me why. This truly is one of the greatest anime of all time.
13: Full Metal Alchemist + Brotherhood
After some deliberation, I’ve decided to lump both the original and Brotherhood together. Brotherhood reminded me, both through its strengths and through its faults, why the original Full Metal Alchemist was such a good story. This is shounen at its finest. Well, it would be if you could combine the pacing of the first series with the sense of epic timing (like comedic timing, except with *phwoar* instead of laughs) in Brotherhood. Then you’d have the perfect shounen. But until someone makes that anime, we’ll have to do with FMA.
Mushishi is a bit of an outlier from all these super dramatic anime that inhabit my favourites list. It’s quite calm and mellow, telling the story of a travelling doctor/merchant/expert on these mysterious creatures called mushi. But being mellow doesn’t stop it from being awe-inspiring and powerful in its actions and stories. It’s about the unflinching, uncaring and immoral awesome power of nature. The sort of frightened wonder you get from seeing an avalanche crush a suburb or a rainbow in a thunderstorm. Its quiet power is the source of its wonder.
11: Infinite Ryvius
Ryvius is painful to sit through. As the situation aboard the spaceship gets progressively worse with each episode, the viewing experience becomes even more gruelling and difficult to watch. You want these characters to get over their problems. To redeem themselves and succeed in their lives. Why can’t they all just get along? It’s a magnificent character study, probably the best out there. Plus, the ending makes it worth sitting through those previous gut-wrenching episodes.
10: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
One of the best told stories anime has ever produced. You know that because of how obvious each plot twist and revelation felt in retrospect. Everything about it was so deliberately set out to play with your expectations, dropping in plot twists just before you started expecting such a thing was going to happen. It was visually inventive too, with the Shaft visuals actually adding something to the story for a change, and included one of the greatest anime antagonists of all time. Kyubey you magnificent bastard, I will never forget you.
9: Legend of the Galactic Heroes
One day, your mind will start to stray. The latest moecrap that fans are going gaga over starts eroding your will to live. The moster-of-the-week old mecha show that was hyped up by older fans insults your intelligence. Eventually you’re mind will turn to that quietly yet relentlessly praised anime. If, after reading the reviews and the descriptions, you still want to check out this anime, then you have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to. For those who are the type of person to search out all 110 episodes of Legend of the Galactic Heroes will adore it. For that reason, I’ll never recommend this anime. For only you will know when you’re ready for it.
Want to show somebody what anime is truly capable of that no other medium of entertainment can properly convey? Shove a copy of Gankutsuou in their faces and let them watch and be amazed. Like the rest of my top 10, this is one of those shows in which everything clicks. Topped off by our favourite homoerotic Count, this paragraph is yet another letter mourning the loss of Gonzo in the anime world.
7: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012)
Let me blow your mind with a revelation: Style can be substance. The execution of a style can in itself be a reward with a lot of depth that informs an underlying narrative the story is trying to convey. Jojo’s is about over-dramatisation and the extremes through which humans can go. Through the ridiculous model stances the characters hold to the way they deliver their lines, they all inform this wider theme. The colour design is honestly my favourite part of this show because of how it feeds into this theme so completely. What’s most telling is how so much better this version of the Jojo’s manga is to the previous crappy OVA attempts, which goes to show how important the style is to realising its potential. Jojo’s is everything other shounen anime want to be.
Berserk is flawless. There’s not one misstep throughout the entire series. No scene is shown without it having meaning. No twist is introduced without prior foreshadowing. Never once did the pacing drop or get too fast. Not once did a someone act out of character and their development all worked naturally. It all wraps in on itself to create one brilliant story. Berserk is perfect.
5: No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!
Watamote is a highly focused single character study that goes straight into Tomoko’s deepest desires and fears. It follows her self-deception, loneliness and desperation as she comes to terms with her own social anxiety and tries to break free of it. The reason I hold the series in such high regard is because it does all this through the medium of comedy. It’s a stark yet sympathetic, unflinching and yet balanced portrayal of a lonely figure and never loses its sense of humour. This is what comedy is capable of achieving, and I wish more tried to do so.
Baccano is distilled entertainment. This was 16 episodes of pure, unadulterated and mightily violent entertainment. Psychos bouncing off other psychos while the lesser nutters get out-nutted by the wilder folks as the crazed kids fight the sudden heroes and mass destruction on a small scale. There is no good and evil. Only nutters, and that’s how I like it.
3: Code Geass
Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here? This is Code Geass, the series with the honour of giving the name to this very website you are reading. Yet even this blog is but a small shrine to a single second character in the almighty encompassing creation of the Code Geass universe. Do not be fooled, this anime will not be forgotten in the coming years. A modern classic in every sense of the word, I’ll make sure of that myself.
2: Legend of Black Heaven
The strangest thing about my love for Black Heaven is that I’m not the target audience for it. I was only 20 years old when I watched it, probably a bit young to be experiencing a midlife crisis don’t you agree? But the feelings and intentions got through to me. One giant metaphor through the medium of space opera and heavy metal just to convey the feelings of our ordinary salaryman going through an identity crisis. Imagine if the first time I watched this was when I was 40.
1: Death Note
Yeah, this is a really boring choice as number one isn’t it. It’s the most popular series on MAL and the most common one to rank inside peoples top 5. So why is it my number 1? Because it gave me the rush. It gave me a feeling of sheer energy and enthusiasm, as though there was nothing in my life that could possibly be more exhilarating than watching what was on my screen.
If you want our other writers’ individual lists:
Alternatively, you can read our joint Top 30.