First written: 5/20/2014. Updates and additions at the end.
I watch anime sometimes. Weekly, usually. Maybe twice weekly. It’s really the only TV I watch.
Sometimes I only watch a few episodes of a show before giving up; sometimes I watch the whole thing because it’s something to watch with my housemate, and sometimes I really, really love a show. Here’s some of the stuff I love. Some of it is available via streaming; others only by DVD and some stuff I don’t think ever made it off of VHS legitimately.
(There’s a lot of anime out there I’ve seen some or all of and not loved. There’s even more anime I haven’t seen, especially of recent origin. This really is only a fraction of the anime I’m familiar with. For stuff I’ve enjoyed but have reservations on recommending see the bottom.)
The Devil Is A Part-Timer: Demon lord loses a war in Fantasyland and escapes to earth, where he’s stuck in the form of a human. The Chosen Heroine follows him to finish him off and finds her powers sealed. Hilarious and also awesome in non-humorous ways. Adolescent_ok. 12ish episodes. Friendships and some romantic humor but no real romance.
Gargantia On The Verdurous Planet: A pilot raised to war in a post-Earth galactic empire finds himself on an Earth he thought had been abandoned, where the remnants of humanity live on the post-global-warming oceans. It’s thoughtful science fiction about culture shock and culture clash. Adolescent_ok although it goes dark places. 12ish episodes. Character-based with a sweet lightly sketched romance.
Puella Magia Madoka Magica: A 14 year old girl in a near-future near-Earth discovers the existence of magical girls and is invited to join them on their important mission. This is my favorite piece of anime; it is visually beautifully, narratively stunning, searingly emotional, heartbreaking and inspirational. It is technically adolescent_ok but I suggest parents preview it first because it’s intense and short enough to easily preview. It’s actually written by the same guy who did Gargantia above. 12 episodes. Characters are motivated by love but it is not a romance in any standard way.
No Game No Life: A teenager and his kid sister are the best gamers ever, as well as shut-ins; they are invited to another world where everything is ruled by games, and swiftly take over a country. It is funny and features the hero being awesome a lot, with lots of gameplay analysis. It also features a portion of sex comedy, but no romance. I don’t think I’d show this to a younger adolescent unless they were crazy about games; the hero’s lapses into teenage sexually frustrated social anxiety are _funny_ but possibly confusing to the younger crowd. 12 episodes.
Sword Art Online (season 1): A new game that offers full immersion via technology is hijacked by a maniac who forces everybody to stay logged in or die in the real world. In-game deaths = real world deaths. Our hero is really good at the game. The story covers several years of the hostage situation with a not-unreasonable look at the consequences in-game. It features a normal (meaning not anime comedic/dramatic) romantic relationship between hero and heroine. Adolescent_ok, a bit of darkness. I do NOT recommend the second season, in which the heroine becomes a maiden in a tower and is subject to constant rape threats– but the first season basically stands alone at 14 episodes.
FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: FullMetal Alchemist is the story of a pair of teen brothers who are both prodigies at using the magiscience of their country: alchemy, which can rearrange atoms assuming you don’t ask for more than you provide. But they’ve paid a serious price for being too sharp for their own good; the elder has a (steampunk-esque) prosthetic leg and arm; the younger has an entire prosthetic body. It’s a story about war and genocide and family and fighting back, but it’s also firmly a YA story. Anybody who can handle The Hunger Games series can handle this. 64 episodes.
Pandora Hearts (manga preferred): I suppose I should wait until I finish reading this to recommend it but I love it so far. It’s a dark fantasy where some people can bind extraworldly creatures in order to get powers. Done legitimately, everything’s cool and they even stop aging. Done illegitimately, the extraworldly creature eventually pulls its summoner into the Abyss and destroys them. Oz, our hero, is thrown into the Abyss for mysterious reasons, and can only escape by making an illegitimate contract with a surly teenage girl named Alice who is the biggest baddest extraworldly creature in the pit because she can turn into a 9 foot tall homicidal bunny called B-Rabbit. Don’t worry, this is supposed to be mysterious. It has beautiful art and a heartrending story about love and betrayal and sacrifice, with an interesting setting underneath it. I don’t yet know how it ends. The anime is pretty but ends way, way before the manga does with an ending I refused to even watch. But until then it’s a nice way to experience it. The opening credits are beautiful. Dark but adolescent_ok.
Angel Sanctuary (manga only): An extensive, complicated story about a female warrior angel reborn as a cursed human boy who falls in love with his sister. It’s actually wonderful, featuring great characters with strong motivations exploring an interesting world. It’s got a number of love stories but isn’t really a romance. It also isn’t for kids; rape and suicide show up at least once, as well as a fair amount of violence and in-setting racism. Despite all this, I consider Setsuna (the hero) as the male equivalent of Sailor Moon. Many volumes.
Red Data Girl: It’s set at a high school and it features a teenage girl with magical powers and glasses, and the cranky boy who is supposed to protect her, but what it really reminds me of is a Patricia McKillip novel, where the focus of the story is not quite what you’d expect. It has great characters and an interesting world/backstory that isn’t explored quite enough. 12ish episodes. Adolescent_ok. Mild romance.
Beyond The Boundary: It’s set at a high school and features a teenage girl with magical powers and glasses whose blood is a weapon. Literally. She makes a sword from it and fights monsters. The hero is an extremely nice sensitive young man who is half-demon and insists on befriending the girl. This time she’s the surly one. The world and supporting characters here are just as interesting as in Red Data Girl while having an entirely different feel. Adolescent_ok. Mild romance.
Gosick: A Japanese exchange student at a European boarding school in between the World Wars meets a strange, brilliant girl who lives in the library and solves mysteries for her detective brother. They bond. A touch of magic realism with some alternate history rather than straight history or fantasy; not as much of a Sherlock pastiche as I expected from her fixation on her pipe prop. 24 episodes, basically a slow romance. Adolescent_ok
Toradora: She’s rich, short, fierce and misanthropic. He’s nicer than he looks and her next door neighbor. They’re in love with each other’s best friends and decide to help each other out. High school-based. Funny and serious by turns, it’s pretty much a straight-up romance complete with character studies of supporting characters. 25 episodes. Adolescent_ok
The Vision of Escaflowne: A high school girl is pulled into a fantasy world with mecha which is dealing with the imperalistic ambitions of a particular nation. She has limited magic powers, which various people find useful. It has amazing music and a pretty powerful, well-directed story, but an art style that takes some getting used to. It used to be my favorite anime. It is romantic adventure, and 26 episodes long. Adolescent_ok. It is old and may be hard to find outside of YouTube.
RahXephon: This involves mecha and a love out of time story. I watched it a long time ago, too quickly and the setting was complicated enough that I don’t want to take a stab at it. But it’s about aliens invading and music and a boy with a strange connection to a mecha, and it has the same composer as The Vision of Escaflowne, and I remember being satisfied by it when I finished it. It has all the symbolism and complexity of Neon Genesis Evangelion while also respecting the audience. I have no idea if it’s adolescent_ok, but probably.
Cardcaptor Sakura: Sakura is a grade schooler who acquires magical powers and a mission to capture magical cards. She doesn’t transform but her best friend loves cosplay so she manages to have a different costume every episode. It is middle-grade ok and excellently written. It also features subtle same-sex relationships (and Sakura’s best friend’s less subtle fixation on Sakura). Many episodes. I haven’t actually seen all episodes. DVD Rental may be your best bet, or a grey market streaming site.
Soul Eater: The God of Death’s implements are people. People who change into weapons. They need to level up to serve Death properly. Thus they partner with meisters to train, and go to magical high school in Death’s domain. They also go on missions to fight monsters. This is an important part of leveling up! This is often silly, with mild sex comedy (although not involving the heroine) and a fantastic, surreal art style. This also takes some clear inspiration from Twin Peaks, and deals extensively with madness and some child abuse. Watch the opening credits sequence I link above; it’s awesome. I wouldn’t show it to a kid under 14 unless they asked for it specifically. Many episodes.
Fruits Basket: An extremely sweet character drama about a teenage girl who gets involved with a family cursed to sometimes turn into representations of the Chinese Zodiac. The heroine is convincingly wonderful; her adopted family is fascinating, the character drama is legitimate. It’s more magic realism than fantasy: there are no problems that require turning into a zodiac animal to solve them. 26 episodes and the anime ends before the manga does, with a unique ending. Some of the music from this show was played during my wedding ceremony.
Revolutionary Girl Utena: A teenage girl who wants to be a prince attends a boarding school where she tries to rescue another girl from her abusive boyfriend. This leads to magical complexity and serious character drama. Also, sword duels under an upside down floating castle. A classic. Created by the original director of Sailor Moon, it perfectly meshes vision, narrative and characterization. Not really for younger adolescents without adult supervision; it features both sexual situations and sexual abuse. If you want to know more, ask me.
The Legend of El-Hazard: This show. There are many versions of this show and I don’t even know which and what is available. Kids+teacher go to magical world. Hijinks ensue. It was one of the earliest shows I watched and I’m mentioning it because 1.) the ending blew me away and 2.) it is the only show ever where I remembered the heroine’s name but not the show’s name. Ifurita. Actually, I don’t know if she counts as the heroine and I don’t care. Ifurita. I had to look up your show, but here you go, honorary mention on my list.
Noragami:Take Kenshin, Soul Eater and Bleach and blend into a fresh world and absolutely amazing characterization and relationships. Gods in contemporary Japan. 12 episodes. Dark and funny but adolescent_OK in that the majority of the darkness comes from adolescence. Well, and all the ghosts.
Penguindrum is weird. It’s by the guy who directed Utena and, boy did Utena’s success give him the ability to do whatever the hell he wanted. This show is recognizably his. And I’m procrastinating on actually describing it because it’s the most symbol-heavy show I’ve ever seen and my favorite description of it is kind of a spoiler. But it’s a story about love and obsession and damage and guilt, and buried under all the symbolism and silly penguin imagery is a firm core of actual speculative fiction.
Swipe if you want to see the premise described from the far side: It’s a show where the most important character in it dies before the story starts, and isn’t even mentioned directly until the sixth episode, and it’s about the consequences of her death.
24 episodes. Despite the cute penguins, do not show this to anybody you consider an innocent child. It features stalking, rape, child abuse, mental illness, mass murder, and oddly sexualized situations. Despite all that it’s also thought-provoking, cute, heartwarming and funny. If you binge-watch it you’ll be in a complete daze afterwards.
I read this first as a manga volume and I was really torn on whether I wanted to buy more, so when I heard it was going to be a streaming anime I jumped at the chance to find out more. I’m glad I did. A plague wipes out most of the population of earth, vampires show up to pick up some of the pieces and steal them away to underground kingdoms, while the rest of the world stumbles along in post-apocalyptic fashion. That’s the first five minutes. The protagonist is initially presented as a bog-standard shounen action boy: he wants to fight, doesn’t want friends, and is supernaturally competent in not-very-sympathetic ways. (I said, “Like Ichigo from Bleach but without Ichigo’s likability.”) Fortunately, the supporting characters introduced at this point are AMAZING. The primary girl character is a trickster-type, which is shockingly unusual to see in a girl dressed in a school uniform. She’s also the (functional) Lt. of the military team she and the hero are part of, while the Sgt. is also a girl and… okay, I could go on. The supporting characters are fantastic, and they keep you watching until the rest of the story kicks into gear and drags you forward. I’ve only seen 12 episodes because they’re taking a break before doing the second half of the season. The reason for the title has just come into play.
No overt romance although there’s some extremely strong emotions. Definitely adolescent_OK. Violent but not gory.
This is a really well-written supernatural romance show. High school girl with a sad backstory does something kind and finds herself appointed the local god for her trouble. She connects with the previous god’s fox spirit familiar, and very, very slowly, they fall in love while she gets involved in all sorts of situations related to a human becoming a god. The two existing seasons aired a few years apart and as of the end of season two, the romance has still not resolved–but it’s progressing and the rest of the show is funny and wise and charming. Definitely in the same vein as Fruits Basket above, although Nanami is a lot more feisty than Tohru and her boy is a (loyal, powerful) trickster rather than a traumatized teenage boy.
It has light seasonal arcs and shorter multi-episode stories. 27 episodes available so far. Fine for all ages.
As of this posting I’ve seen three episodes of this show and I already think it belongs here. It’s not quite a ‘grab people and shake them’ thing but only because it is not an intense show. It’s presented as a recounting of the adventures of a stylish superhero team in New York City after it’s been half-swallowed by the netherworld, as narrated by nearly-ordinary-guy Leo Watch. But Leo Watch isn’t ordinary; he has magical eyes, and the show seems to be about perception on more than one level. It is has all the style and writing of Cowboy Bebob with all the joy and fun that show lacked. It’s about the characters rather than their adventures as a crime fighting team, so we get lots of details on their personal interactions and choices while most of a drug running investigation takes place in summary. I kind of love it.
I won’t give an age recommendation yet because I haven’t seen enough.
I was doubtful when my anime-watching buddy suggested this show. Wasn’t it a resurrection of some old sentai show from the 70s? I don’t like old anime very much. But… a couple of episodes in I was REALLY REALLY EXCITED by it. See, the Gatchaman team, which lives by traditional superhero values from the 70s (like secrecy, and exceptionalism), gets a new member. She sees their magical notebooks that allow *gasp* instant communication and raises with ‘smartphones’. The show basically starts with the old Gatchaman concepts and then leaves them way, way behind as Hajime demonstrates over and over again that superpowers are cool (and should not be kept secret, jeeze!) but that cellphones and social networks allow all of humanity to be heroes when needed. See how ‘CROWDS’ is bigger than ‘Gatchaman’ in the image? That’s exactly right. The show is a joyful paean to the potential power and positive impact of a widely used social network. And yes, there’s a bad guy and it’s a creepy one (one of my favorites, actually) and the story talks some about the nastier consequences of networks but overall it’s an incredibly hopeful show, with lots of wonderful ideas. I really want to babble about some of them, but I’ll resist so you can discover it on your own. But I’m delighted that a new season is about to start.
The first season (12 episodes) wrapped up nicely. Probably ok for anybody who wants to watch it.
Shows I Enjoy But Only Recommend In Special Circumstances:
Bleach (too long). Rurouni Kenshin (too long). The World Is Still Beautiful (odd romance, borderline reccommend_ok).