40. The Seven Deadly Sins (Nanatsu no Taizai)
Synopsis: The Seven Deadly Sins were a group of betrayers who had forsaken their royal kingdom and assassinated their king. After missing for years, a princess of the kingdom thinks that their order isn’t just, and seeks the Seven Deadly Sins for help.
Setting/Genre/Tone: A medieval style fantasy world. | Action, Adventure | Funny, Serious
Number of Episodes: 24 (2014-2015) A new season has been announced.
I judged this one from the beginning, considering it to be an uninspired shounen that wouldn’t amount to much. It has an unimpressive start. Let’s just get that out of the way. What this series evolves into, on the other hand, is a whole other animal, one that definitely secures a spot among my favorites. This action series goes from mildly entertaining to downright gripping once the later episodes start rolling by. A lot of long running shounen tend to remain stagnant or have a story without long legs to carry it’s narrative weight into the later episodes and beyond. Seven Deadly Sins, however seems to be thinking long term with a story that ramps up in every quality with each new arc.
Each of the Sins is a new character to learn about. Some may make for boring introductions at first, but after watching myself become invested in a character I initially didn’t care about, I knew this anime knew how to speak to me. Not to mention its action scenes definitely hits the high quality you could expect in a popular shounen series.
The Seven Deadly Sins has already left a lot of long running shounen in the dust, but there’s still a small dosage of fan service that bothers me, and I’m not particularly raving about the character designs. These are just small things that keep this anime from reaching the heights of my favorites, but you can absolutely rest assured that if this anime continues, it’s potential is up there with the greatest.
Decisive Episode: Episode 7 (Touching Reunion) This is the episode that really demonstrates the strength of the character back stories, which only gets more pronounced as the series progresses. It does take quite a bit of patience to notice the fine layers this anime adds on bit by bit.
Studio: A1 Pictures
There is a lot of anime tropes, but none of them are shoved down your throat. The most prominent is the fan service between the two main characters, with a healthy dosage of crazy battle attacks and weird names for abilities. Not to mention the talking pig mascot.
39. Spice and Wolf (Okami to Koshinryo)
Synopsis: Holo is a wolf goddess who has blessed a rural village with verdant growth for years. As times advance, mankind is becoming less reliant on her. Feeling that the village doesn’t properly worship her anymore, she decides to reveal herself to a traveling merchant named Kraft Lawrence, and asks him to take her to her home far in the north.
Setting/Genre/Tone: An old-age world with a bit of fantasy |Adventure, Romance | Intelligent, Uplifting, Charming
Number of Episodes: 25 (2008-2009)
Spice and Wolf is an anime that completely blew away my skepticism of this being some weird erotic anime, because it absolutely is not. Maybe if you’re an insufferable bigot who thinks that just because an anime changes into a human, resulting in a brief flash of nudity, it’s complete perversion. Spice and Wolf is actually a very intelligent and charming anime that doesn’t give in to the demand of fan service, and instead, replaces it with completely natural charisma between the two main characters. Holo flirts, like a real woman, not like a stereotypical anime girl who falls for the main character.
In fact, above all of this, Spice and Wolf boasts a very unique, and fully developed focus on economics, because Lawrence is a merchant, and that’s what he studies. Most of this anime is trade-offs between watching Holo and Kraft strengthening their bond through cute little excursions, and Kraft teaching Holo about the way money and commerce works in this world. The laconic dialogue lets the world speak for itself as well, making the world they are traveling through one that you almost feel like you’re experiencing yourself. It’s an anime about a journey, and the entertainment you make along the way, and Spice and Wolf seems like the perfect journey, in that respect.
Of course, I have some small quibbles. Kraft sometimes comes off as a bindlestiff than a fully fledged traveling merchant. I was always rather puzzled as to how Kraft managed to overlook certain things, essentially rendering his attention to detail useless. Holo is perfect, however. I’ll take all the Holo I can get.
Season Specifics: The final season has a semi-conclusion but ultimately it doesn’t wrap up the story since the source material goes even further. The need for a third season is painfully apparent.
Decisive Episode: Episode 6 (Wolf and Silent Farewell) Widely considered one of it’s best episodes, Wolf and Silent Farewell pushes both the chemistry and drama of Holo and Lawrences relationship to the limit as well as seeing Holo’s wolf form properly for the first time. It’s worth getting to this episode because it should be the one that makes you care for the duo more than any previous episode.
While Holo is pretty much a prime example of “anime character design” the world and story they embark on is surprisingly realistic, and the fan service is nowhere near what many expect.
Synopsis: Mikado Ryugamine decides to move from his rural town to the busy city of Ikebukuro. He finds himself witness to several odd events happening around the city. They appear to have no relation to each other, but eventually all of these characters’ individual stories intersect and cross paths, some mythical, and some very dangerous.
Setting/Genre/Tone: A realistic urban sprawl with a lot of fantasy peppered in. | Dark Comedy, Mystery | Funny, Intelligent, Dark
Number of Episodes: Durarara – 24 (2010) Durarara X2 – 24+ (Current) | A new upcoming season in 2016
Durarara is the better Baccano, to me. I feel they are both arguably better in certain ways, but when it comes to an anime about multiple character with their own stories, then I’m choosing the one with my preferred group of weirdos, and Durarara wins in that respect. Both anime have phenomenal character personalities, but for every one that I loved in Baccano, there are two in Durarara. On top of that, being a fan of Japanese culture, I found the setting naturally enticing. Besides that, it’s the same old antics from the Baccano days. Violence and comic relief side by side creating a strange dark comedy tone that rarely gets replicated these days.
Unique to Durarara is the overall flexibility of the story. I feel like much more “happened” in Durarara, and I felt like the individual stories were a bit more creative. The grim tragedy of the headless biker, the emotional turmoil of Kida, and the completely secretive genius of Mikado. The plot twisted and turned with more tenacity in Durarara, and I love it for that.
My main complaint with Durarara is the sheer relentlessness of the story, and the limited appeal. It’s about gangsters in Japan, and while I love the visual style, there were times where I just didn’t care about the gang wars. I am always enraptured when we delve deep into the story of a singular entity, but when it zooms out to highlight what’s going on between the gangs, I always lose focus.
Decisive Episode: Episode 4 (Utterly Alone) Unlike Baccano, Durarara’s story isn’t set up with an exposition heavy opening, meaning it will take a few episodes to get used to everything going on. By the end of episode 4, you will have met pretty much all of the main cast and you can decide then if all these characters’ stories will be enough to carry you to the end.
Studio: Brains Base
Durarara is inevitably more “anime” than Baccano because it takes place in Japan, and has some high school characters, but besides that, the story unfolds very much in it’s own articulate style.
37. Sword Art Online
Synopsis: In the near future, gaming has reached the technological capacity to be played virtually using a headset. When Sword Art Online launches, all the players who log in find out that they can’t log out and are stuck in the game. They learn that they are in a life or death situation where the only way to escape is to beat the game, and if you die, so too does your real body. Kirito is one of these players who has experience from the beta who rallies his own group of people to survive.
Setting/Genre/Tone: Multiple types of virtual game worlds ranging from fantasy to sci-fi | Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance | Sad, Uplifting, Psychological
Number of Episodes: Sword Art Online – 25 (2012 | Sword Art Online II – 24 (2014)
Sword Art Online is very hard to consider one anime anymore. There are arcs that I’d place higher on this list, and arcs that wouldn’t even match the quality of my 200th favorite anime. As a result I just randomly placed it here weighing all the arcs in one fell swoop. So let’s break this down one arc at a time. The Aincrad arc, Sword Art’s inaugural debut as a popular anime was great. It had powerful romance and felt like a breath of fresh air to the action anime genre. It would rank right at this spot on my list. Then there was the Alfheim arc which I felt was utter garbage, despite the stunning vistas and character designs it brought with it.
Then we move on to season 2 which brought on the Gun Gale arc which was my another of my favorites. It dropped the adventure characteristics completely and turned into a psychological drama that tackled some very serious themes such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That was followed by a mini arc that was pointless and detrimental to the series as a whole. Finally, we ended on a high note with the Mother’s Rosario arc which was just as good, or if not, the best arc in the series. It brought Asuna to the forefront and made her just as important to the story as Kirito in season 1. I especially like this because the anime popularized this duo, but it was always about Kirito and his girl, never Asuna and her guy. Mother’s Rosario balanced that perfectly. In the end, the one thing that ties it all together is the flowing, colorful combat, and the pure quality of animation. A-1 has not disappointed in this entire anime.
So obviously the whole anime is hit or miss. It changes so much that there is bound to be an arc you just are not fan of. Luckily the three biggest arcs so far resonated quite nicely to me so I will gladly put Sword Art Online this high in the rankings, thanks in large part to it’s aesthetics that simply have not dropped in quality at all.
Season Specifics: The second season of Sword Art Online is almost completely different from the first season. It takes place in a different game, turns into a psychological drama rather than a romantic action-adventure, and introduces an all new supporting cast. While I like both of them equally, many will prefer one over the other.
Decisive Episode: Episode 4 (The Black Swordsman) or Episode 8 (The Sword Dance of White and Black) I listed two episodes here because there are two large aspects of Sword Art that seem to separate the fans into two groups. The romance lovers and the action junkies. Episode 4 will satisfy the action hunger because it’s the episode that paints Kirito as a bad-ass powerful hero. Episode 8, on the other hand, is the whimsical introduction of Kirito and Asuna’s chemistry after dealing with all the other girls that try to get to Kirito in the previous episodes.
Studio: A1 Pictures
You have your typical “anime” action style as well as a bit of fan service fueled by Kirito’s Harem which attracts one girl after the other.
36. Silver Spoon (Gin no Saji)
Synopsis: Yuugo Hachiken enrolls in an agricultural high school in an attempt to break the monotony and disappointment in his own life. His journey becomes a completely transformative experience because of the people he meets.
Setting/Genre/Tone: A very practical agricultural high school setting | Drama, Comedy | Funny, Intelligent, Uplifting
Number of Episodes: 22 (2013-2014)
Life will trounce and overwhelm you, oftentimes leaving you feeling like you have no purpose or clear idea of what you want to do with your life. That is what Silver Spoon is about. It is NOT about cows and chickens. Silver Spoon, like Gargantia is an effortlessly though-invoking anime that frames life in many different ways. Is life simply to continue on the legacy of what your parents are leaving for you? Is the life of an animal wasted if it’s used as food? Is your life truly aimless just because you don’t have a goal? Silver Spoon is probably the best slice of life anime I’ve ever seen, and it just so happens to take place in a farming school.
I can’t speak enough on just how easy it is to relate to Hachiken. He has an amazing personality of finding delight in helping others, yet he grows increasingly worried about his own life, which he feels like is just wasting away. The reasoning behind which, is actually COMPLETELY explored. This isn’t a simple character trait, it’s a dynamic aspect of his entire being, and the anime does an amazing job of discussing it by having his friends slowly impose their ideas of life onto his own, which finally influences him to make his own decision. It’s all pure character growth, and I’d say that anyone who is a fan of anime with great characters would easily find this anime inspiring and fun. It completely trounces it’s first impression of being a farming anime.
Of course, it doesn’t all start this way. It takes a while for the true ideas of this anime to come into fruition. In fact, it’s not until the second season that I actually started considering this anime for a spot on this list. By the time that season wrapped up, it was guaranteed to have a spot somewhere because it was that meaningful.
Decisive Episode: Episode 6 (Hachiken goes to stay with the Mikages) – Until this episode, the drama doesn’t really kick in. It’s all inspiring and clever, but it’s this episode that finally adds on the layers that turn Silver Spoon into the thoughtful drama it truly is.
Studio: A1 Pictures
The characters make a lot of “anime” faces, but there’s not much else to notice as far as anime tropes go. Having the setting be a school isn’t trope-ish in this respect, and is actually extremely relevant to the character development.
Synopsis: In an Arabian inspired fantasy world, Aladdin is on a quest to find the rest of his genie’s people. He teams up with two other main characters and embarks on several magical journeys while slowly getting caught up in the battle between empires across the globe.
Setting/Genre/Tone: An ancient Arabian setting with it’s own laws of magic | Action, Adventure | Funny, Sad, Mystical
Number of Episodes: Magi: Labyrinth of Magic – 25 (2012-2013) | Magi: Kingdom of Magic – 25 (2013-2014)
Magi is much more than conculcating through a labyrinth and opening a sarcophagus to find hidden treasure, although that does happen here and there. Magi has proven that it can handle grand stories that sweeps across multiple nations. At the forefront is the young trio of heroes who have all won me over more than once. Aladdin is a pure force of joy and hope that might as well be contagious. Alibaba is a man with his heart in the right place, though with an emotionally distressing past, and Morgiana is just a beautiful character who lived her life as a slave, and has a severe inferiority complex because of that. These three simply journeying together was already enough to make this a great anime.
Then the second season started, and it became clear that this anime was here to stay. The second season focused much more on the powers that rule the world of Magi and their continued interactions with each other. It’s rather Game of Throne in that every kingdom has their own reason for wanting power, and have things you could agree with, or irrefutably decline. This led to an obvious increase in the sheer impact that the events have on the world. Magi felt much bigger, all of a sudden, and yet it still managed to hang on to the emotional core that made the first season so fun in the first place. I really hope Magi continues into the hundred episode league because it deserves it.
So obviously there’s something wrong if it’s not higher on this list, and that’s because there are too many damn characters in this anime. Seriously, ease up on the introductions, before I can even remember one, they transform into a completely different looking version of themselves. It’s not really the act that there are too many, but that they don’t have enough distinction to really tell them apart. It really is a bit too much and definitely weakens their presence when you barely remember, or perhaps have already forgotten, who they are when they make their surprise reappearance.
Decisive Episode: Episode 3 (Magician of Creation) It’s not until this finale to the first mini-arc that you see who the three main characters are, as well as the typical pacing and storytelling style this anime uses. If you don’t like certain aspects at this point, it will probably remain constant until season 2 which takes a turn towards dark drama and political intrigue.
Studio: A1 Pictures
The main character loves boobs, the transformations are ridiculous, and the powers are very exaggerated. However, the pace is still slow so it’s not like all of this is being slapped in your face in rapid succession.
34. My Love Story (Ore Monogatari)
Synopsis: Takeo is a big, overexcited guy who is best friends with a smooth, handsome guy. He is used to his friend getting the attention of all the girls, and he wonders if there will ever be a girl who is drawn to him.
Setting/Genre/Tone: A modern day high school in Japan. | Romance, Comedy | Uplifting, Charming, Funny
Number of Episodes: 24 (2015)
Some romance anime balance a perfect mixture of heavy drama and lighthearted romance to really widen the range of emotions you feel, but what if an anime just took that lightheartedness exclusively, perfected it, and shot it into your face every episode? That’s My Love Story, an anime so uplifting, endearing, and excitingly warm that it almost puts other happy anime to shame. Only, My Love Story would never shame anything because every freaking character is like an altruistic angel incapable of a single dirty thought.
Now this doesn’t mean this anime is so constantly giddy that it loses it’s grip on reality. This anime puts its heart into making relatable situations, especially when it comes to the main character, Takeo. He is quite unlike any other main character I’ve seen. He’s a bundle of energy running rampant, and full of innocence, yet he worries, doubts, and is suffering a harsh reality of believing he’ll never have a romantic fate. This anime takes a lot of normal tropes or predictable things associated with the romance genre and flips them off their feet. The name My Love Story with it’s awfully generic construction becomes ironic because this is anything but a typical love story.
So how is this anime so cute? How does it transcend other romance anime that also do the whole “feels and moe” thing to death? It’s partly because this anime is so genuine. There are no cliche villains or bad boys/gossip girls trying to disrupt the pace. This is a story of a world where most people are good, and this anime does an amazing job or portraying it. Finally, a large part of the cause of the abundance of charm is from the animation itself. One could say that this is the chibi-art, mastered. There are dozens upon dozens of quick cutaways to the main characters doing something lunatic-like and they always land solidly. Every episode does its best to not let that goofy smile leave your face, and that’s something that comedy’s struggle to do in this day and age.
Decisive Episode: Episode 1 (My Story) It only takes one episode to understand how funny, nice, and hilarious the characters and writing are. Everything from here is smooth sailing.
This anime is relentless with every shoujo trope known to man. Chibi faces, bubbly artwork, and a frenetic sense of energy. Takeo is an over the top character while Rinko is a classic shoujo girl. You can’t escape the “anime” with this one.
Synopsis: Chihaya Ayase had a childhood friend named Arata who introduced her to the skill-based poetry card game Karuta. On the eve of Arata moving to a new town, they vowed to keep playing so that they could see each other in tournaments. Chihaya has not loosened her grip on that promise one bit, but has yet to see Arata again.
Setting/Genre/Tone: A realistic school setting | Drama, Comedy, Sports | Funny, Uplifting, Artistic
Number of Episodes: 50 (2011 – 2013)
Chihayafuru is an unlikely anime that somehow had me floored with it’s unabashedly emotional journey of kids playing this competitive card game called Karuta. It puts the pulchritude of Karuta at the forefront which is a truly admirable thing, yet still delivers an exhilarating drama. Karuta is a card game played by reading, studying, and hearing poetry. That’s about as beautiful as a card game can get. The true charm of this anime, though, is the childhood promise that the main characters made, and how it affects their lives. The promise to keep playing in order to reunite one day was taken most seriously by the main character Chihaya. She is the heart of this anime. She’s a beautiful woman with a quirky and awkward mindset, and unshakeable determination to be the best player. Her outrageous drive is both the fuel for the story, and the comedy. It’s great that the anime knows how to make fun of their own characters.
Now this is a sports anime. Karuta is quick, tiring, and very competitive, even in real life. And as a sports anime, Chihayafuru still manages to be absolutely splendid. The mental fortitude it takes to memorize the cards, adapt to what poems have been read, and not overreact at the wrong moment creates a very palpable feeling of suspense. On top of this, the anime just looks gorgeous. The artful depictions of what the poems mean, the intricate Kimono’s the players wear, and the atmospheric music form this entrancing feeling that I haven’t really felt in another anime.
Of course, there are some small things holding this anime back. This is one of the few anime I love that actually contains melodrama, and what I consider melodrama is anemotional moment that, for whatever reason, is portrayed as more emotional than it really should be. Chihayafuru has a lot of that, but luckily everything else about the anime is so terrific that it hardly deterred me, especially when it’s all done so poetically.
Decisive Episode: Episode 4 (A Whirlwind of Flower Petals Descend) – The first three episodes are all evocative flashbacks, so it’s really important to make it to episode 4 which brings the time to the present and the story actually begins. If you don’t like the “feel” of the present day cast of characters then you’ll know from here that you won’t have to go any further.
While there’s absolutely no fan service, this anime does carry one big anime trope and that is the mental monologue and quantum dialogue where this anime spends a lot of time on what the characters are thinking and will stop time to let the characters voice their reactions to instantaneous things.
32. Rage of Bahamut (Shingeki no Bahamut)
Synopsis: In the fantasy world of Mistarcia, demons and gods teamed up to trap Bahamut thousands of years ago and split the key into two pieces. In present day Mistarcia, Favaro is a bounty hunter who comes across a human woman who stole one half of the key from the gods.
Setting/Genre/Tone: A high fantasy mythical wold | Action, Adventure, Comedy | Funny, Charming, Mystical
Number of Episodes: 12 (2014) A second season has been confirmed
Rage of Bahamut should have sucked. It really should have. It was initially perceived as an Attack on Titan Clone, and it’s based on a fantasy card game, meaning this should have been a complete cop-out. To everyone’s surprise, this anime turned out to be a swashbuckling, clever adventure anime with astounding animation quality and a memorable cast of characters. The first, and easiest comparison is Pirates of the Caribbean. The nonchalant way that fights move across the area in an almost comedic way, as well as the main character being a complete wise-cracker who has a rugged, uncaring personality that’s reluctantly roped into a journey is all easily comparable to Disney’s pirate series.
Where that comparison ends is the epic fantasy part. Yeah, that small little part. The part that has angels, gods, demons, dragons, and humans all crossing paths in a truly monumental world. Rage of Bahamut balances purposeful storytelling with misadventures of a hilarious group of characters to create a fun and completely different series of events every episode. Laughing in the face of danger has always been an aporia to me, but this anime takes it in stride.
Where my patience was tested a bit was wondering how long before the main character will finally have his pivotal role. He remains very aloof to this whole situation for a good while, so a new viewer might find themselves waiting for the character defining moment in which he becomes a true hero, or anti-hero. He eventually does become something more than a slick mercenary who cracks jokes, but he’s already perfectly entertaining the way he is. Orange afro and all.
Decisive Episode: Episode 1 (Encounter Wytearp) – This anime comes together perfectly in this premiere episode. The slick-witted action, the upbeat adventure tone, and the delightfully intense epic fantasy design all bounce off each other wonderfully. Many would fear it’s just a fluke, but every episode brings back that same magic and quality every time.
This is probably as close to western-blockbuster as you’re going to get. If it wasn’t for the fact that they are speaking Japanese, I wouldn’t even guess this came from Japan.
31. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
Synopsis: Hikigaya is an anti-social loner who has a strange sense of pride in the way that he handles his friend-less way of life. It’s not until he’s forced to do a community service style club that his views and ideas are challenged, especially by the other member of the club, who is also her own brand of anti-social.
Setting/Genre/Tone: A modern day high school in Japan. | Drama, Romance | Intelligent, Funny, Serious
Number of Episodes: Season 1 – 13 (2013) Season 2 – 13 (2015)
So, you know how I rambled on and on about the fuzziness that was in My Love Story, and how it’s a perfect depiction of the goodness of people and how its romance is so energized and infectious? Well, let’s completely derail that because, while SNAFU is still an extreme view of romance, it’s from a completely negative standpoint. Enter: One of the best main characters for a romance anime ever.
SNAFU has one thing absolutely going for it, and that is the depressingly logical, and self-sacrificial Hikigaya. He’s a breath of fresh air if I ever saw one. He despises people. He detests romance. He is deemed by his classmates as inferior and he thinks that fact is a cruel pleasure to enjoy in this world. This isn’t a story about love changing him into a “good” character either. He retains this viewpoint while developing romantic feelings which is such a mindblowing thing to watch unfold. SNAFU’s characters have very complex personalities and intricate looks into each of their minds that makes it borderline psychological. The character flaws are deeply humanizing making them some of the most well-rounded characters I’ve ever come across in any medium.
This praise is offset somewhat by the fact that the high school setting limits the scope of these characters somewhat. There is a lack of drama and impact because of the strong focus on the character’s psyche. The things that are actually happening aren’t all that pivotal to life in general, but they provide the perfect avenue to explore their complex thought processes at length. This is why SNAFU isn’t nearly as easy to recommend as other romance anime on this list, but I personally found it more gripping and easy to relate to. Listening to Hikigaya’s musings becomes addicting and in the few episodes where drastic character moments do happen, it pays off in spades thanks to its thorough character development. This is a romance with an oddly specific characteristic, and one almost entirely unique to the romance genre. It’s worth watching just for that, but the story is yet to be finished. It ended in a torturous cliffhanger that is hiding the ending that is hopefully as grandiose as the complex monologues in the series is making me think.
Decisive Episode: Episode 1 (Youth Romantic Comedy is wrong as I expected) Hikigaya’s incredibly grim viewpoints are well communicated in the first episode. Just don’t think that this is an anime about him becoming “nice.” He stays this way throughout the duration of the anime. That does not mean he doesn’t develop. He just doesn’t change his core personality.
Studio: Brains Base (Season 1) Feel (Season 2)