My previous top 10 was rather badly written and mostly just a fanboy-fest, so I decided to rewrite it from scratch. Because everyone seemed to find it a better idea to just go with a top 20, here is my reworked top list of the 20 anime that I consider to be the best of the best.
Some notable series that didn’t make the list are Toward the Terra (great science fiction plot), Hi no Tori (excellently told remake of Osamu Tezuka’s classic), Mysterious Cities of Gold (old yet awesome children’s adventure) and le Chevalier d’Eon (excellent storytelling in 17th Century France).
#20: Now and Then, Here and There
I’d like to start of this top 20 with what is probably one of the darkest series about a bunch of kids in existence. Now and Then, Here and There isn’t afraid to touch upon what most series consider taboo to show the harsh realities of child abuse and extortion, and it does so magnificently. Its second half may be a bit less impressive than the first, but that first half is an amazingly written story about an at first sight very annoying young kid.
Ever since I finished this series, I’ve kept looking for another series that would match the terrific execution of Mushishi, but it really does seem that it is one of a kind. Every episode shows a different yet deep story about the clash between humans and strange creatures called `Mushi`. There are many different episodic series out there in which the lead character travels around and meets different people with their own problems, but out of all of them I consider Mushishi to be the best. The storytelling is always poignant and yet natural, and it always has a serene atmosphere. There are a bunch of stories near the end that miss the mark a bit, and the quiet pacing is definitely not for those who want action, but this is still a series that very rightfully established itself as a classic.
#18: Figure 17 – Tsubasa & Hikaru
Figure 17 is another very slowly paced series: it really takes its time to slowly let its story evolve, but that really allowed an incredibly in-depth look at the two lead characters. The long and slow slice of life scenes also formed a stark contrast with the action scenes, which were dark and brutal, and put the protagonists against what probably are some of the smartest monsters out there. with a fantastic OP and soundtrack, Figure 17 took various risks and it will be boring to a lot of people, but for me it really worked.
#17: Kaze no Shoujo Emily
Lucy Maud Montgomary has been the most famous for her Anne of Green Gables, which is a very fine story as well, but in my opinion Emily of the New Moon (or Kaze no Shoujo Emily, as it’s called in Japanese) is even better. It may not be as realistic as Anne of Green Gables (but then again, Anne of Green Gables is one of the most realistic anime ever), but it creates a very engaging and heart-warming drama around its four lead characters, who all have their own talents and are struggling to develop them. It’s got these wonderful themes of working towards your dreams, but the best part of this series is its finale, in which the characters all grow up and you get to see exactly what remains of these dreams. It’s a deep and insightful shoujo-series, with a strong yet flawed female lead character Emily.
#16: Mouryou no Hako
Mouryou no Hako is quite possibly one of the smartest anime out there. As a mystery-horror series, it packs an amazingly creative back-story, but it’s really the execution that sets this series apart. With a huge focus on complex dialogues and monologues to flesh out the setting, story and everything around it, the creators were able to build up this series really well until the eventual climax, which ranks among my favourite endings. Obviously this isn’t a series for those who don’t like series with lots of talking. In fact, there are two particular episodes that consist out of nothing but a bunch of people sitting in a room and talking, which can really get on your nerves if you don’t have the patience for it.
#15: Strange Dawn
Fantasy is a popular genre in anime, but Strange Dawn sets itself apart from the others by subverting a ton of clichés and stereotypes that are associated with the genre. It’s got a very strong cast, and it puts a huge amount of detail in just about everything. The chibified characters may lead you to believe that this is going to be a light-hearted adventure, but make no mistake: this series is dark and mature. It’s perhaps a bit too dramatic at times, but it remains a riveting series that continuously plays with your emotions. The characters are incredibly well portrayed and acted, and especially the two lead characters are a joy to watch throughout the entire series.
#14: Les Miserables: Shoujo Cosette
Those who know this blog probably know that I’m a huge fan of the World Masterpiece Theatre. The way these series manage to flesh out and develop their characters is nearly unrivalled. the series that got me into this franchise was Les miserables, and IMO it’s also the best one I’ve seen so far. It starts out like a regular shoujo series about a cute girl that lost her parents, but slowly it turns to a small revolution in the 19th century France. With a huge cast of characters that complement each other extremely well, this ended up as an epic series. Fans of the book do need to get warned though. A lot made it past the censors, but there’s one particular twist that unfortunately didn’t make it. I think you can imagine which one it is, and I agree that it could have made this amazing series even better if it was included.
#13: Fantastic Children
Few people will have any clue about what the hell is going on during the first part of Fantastic Children, but its storyline soon grows into one of epic proportions. It provides a very imaginative setting and does a fantastic job in portraying its characters, who are all in the middle of it. With some of the most amazing plot twists out there, Fantastic Children always kept you guessing at what was going to happen next.
Kaiba really was a show that was its time far ahead. Masaaki Yuasa in front of the direction gave this series an absolutely unique look, and the setting it played with was full of the most creative ideas. In fact, I can hardly remember any idea that wasn’t creative. The way you have no idea what’s going on, and how the story slowly unravels as you go along only makes it better. Kaiba is really an outstanding series in every way, aside from its ending perhaps, which does end up a bit rushed for such an otherwise excellent series.
#11: Bokura no
Bokura no is one of those series that took a huge gamble and went with a different story than the manga it was based on, which turned off a lot of manga-readers. However, from the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the manga, there really is a lot to like about this series. The premise of the whole series is dark and haunting, and the creators make optimal use of this when fleshing out the characters. The graphics are simple, but they fit the series extremely well, resulting in what is in my opinion Gonzo’s prettiest series. The way the plot develops is one that always keeps you guessing, and the series completely switches mood and themes every few episodes or so, while still remaining consistent as a whole. It’s a very varied and engaging series, that even though it apparently lost a bit of depth from the manga, still stands among my favourites.
#10: Birdy the Mighty Decode 2
I’m a HUGE fan of Kazuki Akane, the director. Time and time again, his distinct and powerful style of storytelling gets the utter best out of any premise, and he is my favourite director by far. At first, Birdy the Mighty Decode, a remake of an OVA from the nineties, didn’t seem up the same standard. The first season has a lot of flaws, and is even flat-out horrible for those who hate teenagers in anime. Still, the second season improves on it in every single way. It has a dark and mature storyline that is a joy to watch, from beginning to end. It has some of the best animated action-scenes I’ve seen, and at the same time it manages to flesh out the characters in subtle and believable ways, while also paying attention to bring the city it’s set in come to life, rather than making the characters act among a bunch of cardboard boxes.
#9: Shoujo Kakumei Utena
Well, what is there to say about Utena that hasn’t been said yet? It’s an absolute classic, that takes the concept of weirdness to a whole new level, and somehow makes it awesome. Just about everything in this series is symbolic, even the seemingly endlessly repeated frames that give a strange ritualistic feel to the series. With a rock-solid direction and incredibly deep characters that get explored almost non-stop, this is one of the most unique shoujo series out there and still stands strong as such more than ten years after it originally aired. Heck, I’m not sure whether to call it shoujo at times. It’s got so many different genres put in one, I’m hardly sure what exactly to classify it as.
#8: The Third: Aoi Hitomi no Shoujo
You might wonder why I still put The Third at such a high place in this list. While seemingly random at first, I still consider The Third to be the single best series at fleshing out a single character. Honoka still stands as one of my favourite characters ever, simply because she’s so down to earth, and yet incredibly versatile. This isn’t the series which made my favourites because of an incredibly complex story, or some incredibly emotional or exciting parts. Instead, it is an all around enjoyable series that really manages to bring its cast alive, portraying them as ordinary people rather than a bunch of stereotypes. This series knows when to be subtle, and when to pack a punch and I still gladly remember it, even though it’s been three years since I watched it.
#7: Haibane Renmei
It’s interesting: the more I think back to this series, the better it becomes. Haibane Renmei started off a bit slow, but it closed off with one of the strongest finales I have ever seen. It has both a very imaginative setting, and truly excels at its character-development. This incredibly in-depth look at its main characters is what sold this series for me, and in the end this turned out to be one of the most emotionally intensive series I have ever watched, despite its short length.
#6: Shion no Ou
Shion no Ou: THE series that showed that board games aren’t boring. This series has one of the most addictive pacings I have seen, which especially in its second half gets the best out of the characters. This is a series with a really creative animation director, who makes sure that just about every shot is unique and kicks ass. The Shougi matches in this series are also of the kind that just keep your attention, whether the outcome is predictable or not. At times, the series has a bit of trouble mixing its murder mystery correctly with the Shougi matches, but the end results definitely pay off, with the characters going through memorable changes, and the murder mystery getting enough time to finish with a great conclusion.
The past entries have probably made you suspect that I like a lot of series that take their time in telling their story. The epitome of this effect is of course .Hack//Sign. The pacing is incredibly slow, but it offers an deep and imaginative story in return. I especially like how they took the concept of MMORPGs, and focused on its essence: socializing, while leaving the endless grinding and random battles mostly for what they are. .Hack//Sign was the first anime I watched from fansubs, back when I discovered the wonders of the Internet, and in retrospect I couldn’t have chosen a better series to start with. Deep, philosophical, smart and unfortunately very slow for anyone without patience, I still consider this among my favourites.
Simoun: the single best character-study I have ever seen. There are these kinds of series that just can’t be classified in a genre, and Simoun is definitely one of them. It takes a lot of different directions as it explores the lives of the various characters in this series; every single one of them deep, imaginative and impactful. Just about every character in this series left a deep impression on me, and not just the main ones. The plot progression of this series is so incredibly fresh that I have seen nothing like it, even in the years after it there hasn’t been any series that tried to even come close to its brilliance.
#3: Vision of Escaflowne
While a lot of my favourites are slow-paced, my Top 3 consists out of fast-paced and action-packed series that combine fantasy with science-fiction in one way or the other, all linked to a main character that grew up in our “normal” world. It’s perhaps a bit of a formulaic concept because there are lot of series that simply abuse this premise in an uninspired fantasy-series, but these series show the amazing things that you can achieve when this concept is pulled off right. The Visions of Escaflowne is set in a rich and imaginative setting and it has a strong story that only gets better as it goes on. It’s a multi-layered epic with a great action and direction (courtesy of Kazuki Akane) and even though I watched this more than four years ago it still stands among my favourites.
#2: Noein – To Your Other Self
Noein is another series by Kazuki Akane, and out of all of his series this is the one that shows him at his best as a director. It’s got an absolutely unique art style that’s messy, yet very appealing to the eyes and with a selection of some of the most amazing action scenes. It explores issues as time travel, alternative dimensions and more personal ones as distance from the ones you care about. It’s got a cast of very appealing characters, who at the same time remain natural and feel like a couple of real teenagers. Although it does have its share of teenaged angst that might turn off a few people at times, and it also could have used a bit more consistency in its pacing, but with a great characterization and a fascinating plot, this series still stands among my favourites.
#1: Mahou Shoujotai
I guess a lot of people found it strange that this was my number one, especially after that awful fanboyish “review” I wrote about it in one of the early days of this site, but for me Mahou Shoujotai is the series that has made the most impact on me out of all of the series I’ve watched. It’s about a bunch of kids, and tends to be immature, but what I found so amazing about it is its direction and the experimental nature of the series. At the time, it was for as far as I know the first anime that recorded the voices before the animation process, and the neat thing is that you can actually see the creators improve and get better. In the same way, there are tons of ideas stuffed into this series in just about every aspect. The direction made sure to get the best out of the short 8-minute episodes and there were always very creative and immersing camera-angles present. The story explores traditions and customs, and the endless optimism of Alice really stroke a chord with me. But yeah, this endless optimism can get on people’s nerves. The characters in this series are diverse and endearing, but they can easily get on people’s nerves due to their strong beliefs and childish outlooks. Nevertheless, I consider it to be the best anime ever, and I really doubt that any series is going to come and take that place away. Although it would be awesome if I were wrong in this.
So that’s it.These are the 20 anime I consider best at this point. As it’s been a while since I posted my last top 10: what is your current top 10 (or 20, or whatever) Anime?