It’s been about due time for me to update my 3x3x3x3, and I got to thinking about favorite anime. I’ve always enjoyed reading this post by Digibro in which he lists every anime that has ever been his favorite.
Neon Genesis Evangelion has been my favorite anime ever since I first watched it six years ago. So talking about how my favorite anime changed over time would be a story that ended way before I got more interested in finding good anime. Similarly, Utena, Monogatari and Planetes have been in my top 5 ever since I first saw them.
But #5 is a slot that has changed far more times. You’ll see a few favorites in here, and definitely some second and third favorites.
“What does anime mean? Pokemon and YuGiOh are the best shows ever.”
That terrible trio, Pokemon, YuGiOh, and Digimon were a dominating force throughout my youth, and like most kids Digimon was mostly left out in comparison to the others. When I encountered other kids anime like Cardcaptors and DBZ, they certainly surpassed it in importance.
But Digimon had a lot to love, particularly the Digimon movie. That moment when WarGraymon and MetalGarurumon come out of a near-death experience to merge together to form Omnimon was an emotional tidal wave. Fitting that years later, Mamoru Hosoda would be among my favorite directors.
I also hear that Digimon Tamers has aged really well. I have fond memories, so I really ought to do a straight watch-through of the show some time. With Chiaki J. Konaka on as the main writer, my interest is certainly piqued.
Yu Yu Hakusho
Another well-received show that I need to revisit and watch in full. Just as Digimon gave me my first taste of Hosoda and Konaka, this show gave me my first taste of Shinbo. Yu Yu Hakusho was pretty different from anything else I’d seen, in that its story was on a much smaller scale. Yes, there were over 100 episodes (I saw maybe 30-40), but they were split into smaller arcs that told smaller stories, the types I would become more fond of as the years went on. Yu Yu Hakusho’s blend of romance, drama, and action was truly something else, and while it never quite replaced Dragonball Z in my child mind in terms of importance, it expanded my idea of what an anime could be. The Dark Tournament arc, and comparing it to the Tenkaichi Budokai, showed that many shows repeated similar stories and devices, but used them in crucially different ways.
They won’t all be underappreciated masterpieces, I swear. Possibly the fourth anime I ever watched was Cardcaptors. I will not say “Cardcaptor Sakura”, because I have never watched Cardcaptor Sakura. I watched the terrible dub, Cardcaptors. I missed a lot of card introductions. I wasn’t let privy to which characters were gay. I just watched a little girl collect cards once a week. I’ll never forget when I showed a book to my dad, and he asked me if the show was supposed to be for girls.
Over the years, I found out the truth about Syaoran and Tomoyo, and my interest increased. But not to the point of actually watching the show. I wasn’t the type to do that yet.
I start to seek out “anime”, and consider myself a fan of “anime”. I realize this family of cartoons that share the same style are one thing. And I can even watch them with subtitles. At this point, I’m watching raws of YuGiOh GX and not understanding a lick of it. It’s my favorite show, dub or sub.
Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z
I didn’t have a DBZ-fueled childhood like some people did. I heard about Frieza all the time, but never actually saw him. I did see a good deal of Dragon Ball, and everything after the Cell Games, with no GT. And I was definitely up for it. The explosions, the blood, the ability to freely talk about death and destruction. Majin Buu must have been the strongest creature ever, because it took way too long to defeat him. Dragon Ball was its own set of fun and mysteries. I couldn’t believe that the two shows’ Bulmas were the same character though.
Zatch Bell/Gash Bell
I watched as much of this as I could on YouTube until I couldn’t find any more. Zatch Bell was addicting. The puppet battles were a cool idea, the lightning spells looked awesome, and Parko Folgore was the grossest man on the planet. The thing that really got me was Gash’s promise to be a benevolent king. The Kolulu episode where he made that promise was one of the most emotional scenes I’d seen up to that point.
Geez, it’s the Terrible Trio. When I started short-form anime, it was through three trashy shows that I was not within the proper age range for. This one was the worst. Onegai Twins is the story of two girls who fall in love with a stranger, but can’t do anything about it because one of them, and they don’t know which, is his long lost sister. It’s ecchi, takes place in a convoluted world with secret aliens, and fails to create any good romance between the protagonists. I ate it up. It helps that the opening theme was amazing.
The best of these shows, even if it wasn’t my favorite at the time. Chobits was about a porn-freak named Hideki Motosuwa, who finds an abandoned robot girl, Chi, and takes her in. It follows Chi’s development as she learns more and more, and eventually falls in love with Hideki. It was part romance drama, part sex comedy, and holds up fairly endearing. I haven’t watched it in nearly a decade, but I don’t resent having watched it.
The reason these shows take up my #5 slot is because they’re what I’m focusing on at the time, even as newer stuff takes hold. Loveless is a different case, because just as I stop considering Pokemon and YuGiOh to be particularly good anime, I start considering Loveless my favorite.
Do yourself a favor and don’t look up the plot of Loveless. I regret even knowing it.
Anyhow, from 2010-2011, I watched exactly four anime. We’ll call them the Legendary Top Four, or LTF for short. Among them was my lifetime favorite, Neon Genesis Evangelion (the second member), and the other three will make appearances further down the line. I would like to think that I liked all of them more than Loveless.
Haruhi had to have been my fifth favorite anime at some point. I was in love from the moment I watched it. A quirky, tropey scenario, cute interesting girls, and a love story made just for me. It was in (universal) episode 12, Live Alive, that the show really sunk in. Haruhi’s wish to be unique, with her mathematical knowledge that she never could be, resonated like few things I’d seen before.
The Interim (2011-2013)
From mid-2011 to mid 2013, I didn’t watch any anime. I had an easy top 4, but one show from before then was struggling for dominance.
Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
I watched Fumoffu for the first time at a friend’s sleepover, and it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. I binged it all soon after. I don’t know if I ever considered it my favorite anime, but I was certainly obsessed. I tried watching Full Metal Panic!, but as robot fights took precedence over high school comedy, I realized it just wasn’t for me. When I saw four widely beloved anime in close proximity to each other, it stayed strong in my heart. In fact, it may have even trumped one of them.
The first member of the LTF. I’d watched the L arc of Death Note in 2008, and while I wanted to believe that the rest is worth it, I took a break that ended up lasting two years. The convoluted plans were pure magnificence in my book, but the overly cynical and depressing plot and tone of the series did take away from it. It’s also possible that a lot of the show’s spark was in those L episodes, which stay two years further away from me than the end of it. Either way, I was fond of it for a while, but I had better shows waiting in front of me.
The Re-Weebing (2013-2015)
Eventually my friends got me back into anime. It started with stuff like Sword Art Online and Angel Beats, and later spread to stuff like The World God Only Knows and High School DxD. However, there was enough really strong stuff that none of those cracked the top 5
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
The fourth member of the LTF. I’m not sure how much I ever really valued Brotherhood. I enjoyed it immensely, but I also had a friend who rejected it in favor of the 2003 version I could never complete. When I found out it was considered the greatest anime of all time, I was surprised. But as I made the transition to finding my favorite anime, Brotherhood was probably #5 at some point.
Brotherhood’s strength is in how it expands on what little fans had to go on in 2003. Its explanations are elegant and engaging. Its ending is satisfying and makes sense, and more importantly, it’s happy. Brotherhood is pure anime sugar, as the number of characters it rewards and the quality of its fight scenes make watching it one of the most enjoyable experiences possible.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
A super dark show. I’d seen this with Eva, I’d seen this with Death Note. There’s a lot I have to say about Madoka, but at the time I watched it, it was a pretty simple evaluation. The twists and turns, the optimism, the attention to little details I found out afterwards, and the relationship between Madoka and her mom made the show a resounding success. At this point, a fifth favorite anime was more of a passing interest. But as my list grew, that changed.
I could tell Steins;Gate was awesome from the moment I first saw it. It was my first foray into the “Chuuni” genre of anime, so Okabe and Mayuri’s antics weren’t seen as annoying or cliche. My own Chuuni-ness made me root for Hououin Kyouma, and when his life was thrown into turmoil, we were 100% on the same page. Being consistently funny, engaging, and relatable, Steins;Gate was perhaps one of the first anime I felt was truly a masterpiece. I’ve always preferred my Gainax shows, but that first viewing of Steins;Gate blew me away.
I didn’t get the full brunt of FLCL when I first saw it, but I could see greatness when it was in front of me. The rapid change of styles, the kick-ass OST, and Canti’s design made the show a quick favorite for me. FLCL’s crazy, but it doesn’t let crazy get in the way of fun, or diminish the emotional impact of the story. Imagine me finding out its writer had more stories like that.
The Gate Opens (2015-present)
Revolutionary Girl Utena was my gateway anime. It wasn’t the first anime I saw and I’d binged many anime before it. But it was my gateway in the sense that when I saw Utena, a switched flipped inside me. I went from wanting to know what happens in a show, to wanting to have watched the greatest shows. I wanted to replicate the feeling of euphoria and obsession that show created in me, because after watching so many shows do that, I was no longer content to just let them fall into my hands. I watched as much anime as possible from that point on. Even if Utena was among the very best, seeing everything that came close would be enough.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
First, to clear off some old dust. TTGL was the third, and last unmentioned member of the Legendary Top Four. I binged the first 25 episodes in about a week before realizing I still needed to finish Eva. Maybe that was a sign that I liked it better, but I saw a selfishness in it. The show that entertained me boundlessly was clearly of secondary importance to the show that elaborated on the nature of my soul.
Because I watched them at the same time, Gurren Lagann felt like an extension of Evangelion, a little brother who had achieved similar heights. Where Eva was vicious, claustrophobic, and cathartic, TTGL was nonsensical, enormous, and badass. Its spirit of somewhat-ironic manliness became my outer shell, as Eva’s fears and promise to conquer them was my soft interior. As such, it was my second favorite anime for a long time, until I saw its successor, Kill la Kill. Today, those two shows do constant battle in my mind, Gurren perhaps having the upper hand. But watching KLK let Gurren Lagann become a memory of its own, no longer entwined with its older sibling.
Since I’d seen Baccano! pretty recently and was really satisfied with it, I figured it ought to be my fifth favorite. Its cast was a fountain of memes, its fights were bloody and breezy, and it functioned as a huge celebration of world-building and storytelling. The show was pretty much perfect in my eyes.
So why was it just a 9/10? I had something of a dilemma when it came to scoring when I got back into anime. The summer after I watched Utena, I created a spreadsheet assigning every anime I’d seen a score out of 100. Baccano’s initially high performance on this scale got me calling it my fifth favorite. Then I went back to MAL. My first instinct was to give every show its MAL score, but if I’d already scored a show it would keep that score. So old favorites like Haruhi and Death Note, and shows I felt strong affiliation towards like FLCL and Kill la Kill were 10s, even though they weren’t all shows I thought were better than Baccano!
Eventually, I changed everything’s scores, and also rethought Baccano’s individual category scores. When I started rethinking my scoring and ranking criteria, Baccano! sank. It’s recently made a comeback though, hitting an 8 again.
Kids on the Slope
This show is perfect. Great relationships, great characters, great music. I loved Samurai Champloo, but this was the show that made Shinihiro Watanabe one of my favorite anime directors of all time. Upon reflection, I’d say that rather than being a great show, Kids on the Slope is great at being a show. Nothing else has really felt so consistently right.
Another show from one of the greatest anime directors of all time. After loving Utena and liking Yuri Kuma, I finally got into “the penguin show”. It was hilarious and weird, like his other works. It also crushed me emotionally much like Utena did. But it looked so much better. This one was real competition for its predecessor, with its intense twists, abstract plot, and absolutely perfect aesthetic.
Kill la Kill
This show is a longtime favorite. Intense action scenes, a kickass Sawano soundtrack, and a focus on family made this the perfect adventure for me. Was it juvenile? Were its themes vague? Were its characters developed in a bunch of different directions? Yes, maybe, and yes. Kill la Kill is in a weird place between a hasty mess and plotted masterpiece.
My favorite punchline in anime appears in this show. That’s all you need to know, go watch it for 12 hours. A NisioIsin samurai action show with kickass music, this one was bound to go high on my list. Its world is one of the most interesting I’ve encountered. While it wasn’t the hot-blooded action that I’d wished for, the last three episodes are excellent, and in distinct ways.
Ping Pong the Animation
Ping Pong was another show that I picked up expecting something hot-blooded and brightly-colored. When I finished that first episode, I felt somewhat disappointed but also certain that I was watching a perfect show. By the end, I’d found a show that was not only perfect, but that resonated immensely with me as an artist. Ping Pong’s choices are staggeringly good, and whenever I revisit it I gain another layer of appreciation for it. That first episode is now one of my favorites.
In fact, Ping Pong was so good it made me doubt whether Planetes should be #4. Yes, Planetes makes me sob in its best moments. Yes its themes of space travel and corporate greed were incredibly compelling. Yes its breadth of situations and acuity in writing and directing them makes it above and unlike nearly anything else I’ve seen in anime. That’s why it has never left my top 5.
In some ways, I started Cowboy Bebop expecting Planetes. Personal drama, action comedy, space conspiracies. The show seemed so dull compared to what it promised. Then “Speak Like a Child” broke me. Then “Hard Luck Woman” hit and it all came together. Faye Valentine is one of my favorite characters in anime. Her arc alone made this show one of my favorites.
Faye aside, it’s kind of everything about Cowboy Bebop that makes it one of my favorites. Take her out and you still have the Big Shots sequences, you have Mish Mash Blues, and Real Folk Blues. You have Edward’s whole journey and Spike’s pathetic struggle with his past. You have Pierrot le Fou’s last moments. You still have the setting, which in itself is a concept that evokes great emotion in me.
Bebop’s not my type of show in the same way that Evangelion and Utena are. But its insight is the same. It’s saying the same things, just a little softer.
Bebop is really good, okay?
The Current Champion (2017)
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Is Madoka the deepest show? I’d say Welcome to the NHK and Legend of the Galactic Heroes explore their themes in greater and more relatable depths. Is Madoka a show that makes me particularly emotional? I’ve cried at Madoka, but I’ve sobbed at Anohana and Gunbuster.
Madoka’s fun though. Madoka gets me. The show’s train of thought, as it is expressed through its characters, as it is expressed aesthetically, as it is generally communicated through me by the experience of watching it, is completely in tune with mine. So much anime feels protracted and hesitant to me, but I always have fun watching this show.
So I like Madoka more than any other anime listed here, with Planetes as the only exception. When I want to engage with the story, it’s amazing. When I want to engage with the characters, I find them incredibly sympathetic. When I want aesthetic, I get aesthetic. Shows just don’t tend to do as much as this one does, and few others in the anime canon bring out what I love about writing.
What are some of your favorite anime? Do you have a place on your favorites list that’s constantly switching? Let me know in the comments!