Many people still have the perception that anime is liked primarily by children or, well, weirdoes. Seriously, be honest. We all remember in high school the kids who openly talked about anime were a little eccentric or odd. But like any entertainment medium, there are always going to be stereotypes and it’s going to take a little effort to find exactly what interests you. While a large portion of anime is indeed geared towards a younger audience (I know I was certainly drawn in by Dragon Ball Z when I was in middle school), it doesn’t always involve tentacle monsters, giant robots, skimpy schoolgirls, or sappy romances (though there is certainly plenty of that).
So for those who have always had a strong aversion to anime, whether because of its fans, content, or art style, you should definitely check out these ten shows and movies, as they represent the medium incredibly well in terms of character development, storytelling, visuals, and entertainment.
The Twelve Kingdoms (Juuni Kokuki)
Drawing heavily from Chinese mythology, The Twelve Kingdoms is an engrossing tale of an average student who is transported into a mythical world and is thrown into the power struggles that rage between the rulers of the world’s twelve kingdoms. The show might be a little off-putting to some at first since it is steeped heavily in fantasy and mythology, but the show really begins to shine with the growth of its main character, Yoko Nakajima, and the number of political plots that unfold around her. And while the show has a number of fantasy elements, the animation is crisp, respectable, and not over the top. The character designs are fairly realistic (as far as anime goes), and the world they explore, along with the show’s excellent story, should easily be able to capture your attention over the course of the 45 episode series.
Hayao Miyazaki Films
Alright, this one is technically cheating, but it is simply impossible to pick a single film from his collection of wonderful films. Miyazaki movies have almost become jokingly known as anime for people who don’t even like anime because of their superb visuals, fantastic storytelling, wonderful characters, and heartfelt messages of peace, love, and environmentalism. Miyazaki’s list of work is extensive, so you are bound to find something that you like. Whether you are interested in something more “childish” like Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro or whimsical like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, or Spirited Away, you are bound to find a film by Miyazaki that you will love. And for those who don’t care to read subtitles, Miyazaki’s films usually are given the best treatment in their translations and have solid voice work in the American dubbed versions.
Fair warning, this is perhaps the most “anime” of the anime on this list, especially in regards to its humor and animation style. It certainly took time to even grow on me and I’ve been regularly watching anime for almost a decade. But the show’s development of its two main characters, the snobby and arrogant Shinichi Chiaki and goofy Noda Megumi, as they fall in love is simply top notch. The show not only boasts a great developing relationship, but an excellent set of side characters, beautiful animation, and may even take your breath away with the amount of beautiful classical music that is included in the series, as the show centers around the lives of students at one of Japan’s most prestigious musical universities. If you happen to give the show a try and enjoy it, its sequels, Nodame Cantabile Paris Hen and Nodame Cantabile Finale, are equally enjoyable.
Perhaps the most mellow and simplistic show on the list, Mushishi draws heavily from Japanese folklore as it chronicles the tales of its wandering protagonist, Ginko, as he travels around the countryside attempting to deal with supernatural creatures called “Mushi.” The show is slow in its pacing and the entirety of the series operates in an episodic format, with no overarching plot line except Ginko helping villagers. But the show is breathtaking in its simplicity, and deals with themes of mortality, love, personal fulfillment, family, and desire. There is nothing over the top of ridiculous; just the calm and mellow stories of a man trying to help others.
If you happen to be a fan of either soft or hard science fiction, you definitely need to check out Ergo Proxy. Set in the distant future after a major ecological disaster has wiped out most life, humanity survives in domed cities, with humans co-inhabiting with androids, in what many would consider a utopia. But a virus breaks out, resulting in many androids developing self-awareness, and thus becoming threat to the fragile balance of in human civilization. The show’s setting is bleak but its aesthetic visuals are oddly enough made more enjoyable because of this bleakness. The characters are wonderful as well, particularly its android ones, and the show has heavy philosophical and psychological underpinnings, which are a bit overbearing at first, but result in a complex and satisfying story.
Hayao Miyazaki isn’t the only Japanese film maker to make excellent films, as Satoshi Kon and Shōgo Furuya’s Tokyo Godfathers tells the stories of three vastly different homeless people in Japan (a teenage runaway, a middle age alcoholic, and a trans-woman drag queen) who find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. The story unfolds as they try to find the child’s mother, and in the process their pasts (as well as their personal faults) are revealed to us in an incredibly touching manner. The movie highlights raw human emotions and is an absolute must see for people who love cinema.
The Ghost in the Shell Series
Whether you’re a fan of political thrillers or science fiction, Ghost in the Shell should easily captivate you from start to finish. If you’re at all skeptical, the series initially started in the form of an absolutely stunning movie in 1995, with several other movies following sporadically over the years. But the series is most well-known for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG. The show takes place in the not so distant future when mankind has reached a point where it can seamlessly fuse their bodies with machines, resulting in significant political and philosophical ramifications for humanity. The show is intelligent, deep, action packed, and takes itself very serious in its story telling and character development. Though, a fair warning is in order, as the voices of the Tachikomas are fairly annoying, regardless if you watch the subbed or dubbed version, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the show’s greatness.
Once again, another sci-fi show makes its way on the list, but Planetes is easily the most approachable and isn’t particularly heavy on philosophy or politics like Ergo Proxy and Ghost in the Shell. It realistically tells the stories of mankind’s exploration into space in the near future, as it follows the exploits of a team that collects debris in space. Despite its futuristic setting, Planetes thrives on its story telling and letting you see its characters grow and develop before your very eyes.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes (Ginga Eiyū Densetsu)
If any phrase could describe Galactic Heroes, it would likely be “space opera.” Taking place hundreds of years in the future, the show details a galactic wide conflict between the monarchic Galactic Empire and the democratic Free Planets Alliance (essentially, the German Empire versus the Allies). Some might initially turn away from the show because of its relatively low production values, particularly early in the series when the budget was low, but they quickly improve. The show spans 110 episodes as it tells the stories of dozens of deep and complex characters, with every individual being entirely significant to the development of the show. The show touches upon themes like the futility of war, the dark side of human nature, and humanity’s ultimate desire to survive. The show is truly epic in its scope and should easily be enjoyed by those enjoy science fiction, history, politics, and drama.
Simply put, Monster is a masterpiece and is the crowning achievement of what anime can achieve as a storytelling medium. The animation might be a little odd to some, as some of the character designs a little peculiar, but they do not detract from Monster’s sheer brilliance. Without giving too much away, Monster tells the story of surgeon Dr. Kenzō Tenma and his relationship with psychopathic murderer, Johan Liebert. The show takes place in Germany in the late 80s and mid 90s and deals heavily with the impact of East Germany’s psychological conditional training on young orphans. The show deals with incredibly dark themes of death, humanity, terror, and the fragile state of the human mind, but what truly sets Monster apart is its storytelling. Across 74 episodes the show tells an incredibly complex and deeply multifaceted story, with everything coming together at the end of the show’s mentally exhausting run. Even the most adamant critics of anime would have a hard time disparaging Monster and if you regularly watch anime and haven’t already seen it, it’s an absolute must watch.
There are of course dozens of others of anime shows and movies that could have been included on this list, but these were the selections I made. So for those who turn their noses up at anime for being too weird or childish, do yourself a favor and look into any of the shows or movies on this list and reevaluate your opinions! You are bound to find something you will enjoy!
Image Credits: mr.smashy/Flickr