Anime recs please?

I’m tired of talking about writing, race, gender, politics, and all that other heavy crap. Let’s talk cartoons!

It’s no secret that I’m an anime/manga fan, especially since I mentioned in the afterward to The Broken Kingdoms that the World Tree was at least partly inspired by the giant sakura in the shoujo series Mahou Tsukai Tai!*. But I have to confess that I haven’t been a power user of anime or manga in about ten years, so I’m not up on the latest/hottest/coolest stuff. In fact, to my shame, I now get most of my anime as dubbed stuff via the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, and most of my manga in English translation. Once upon a time, I would never have been caught dead watching dubs, let alone those adulterated for American TV… ::sigh:: Alas, my geek cred has become a casualty of my lack of time.

Which is the reason for this post. I need recs! I have no time to sift through the long-tailed mountain of stuff out there these days, but I know some of that stuff is pretty cool. I’ve seen a little of it, and want more. So here’s what I’m liking these days, and why, if that will help you out:

  • Fullmetal Alchemist: I collected the manga for awhile, until a very long gap between some of the English-language volumes annoyed me into stopping. Watching FMA: Brotherhood, tho’, so may resume the manga eventually. Anyway, what’s not to love about this series? It was steampunk before there was steampunk, has magnificent characterization, plot intricacies that make me jealous, and superb artwork.
  • Noein: This is quite possibly the most beautiful anime about theoretical quantum physics I’ve ever seen. …Okay, it’s the only anime about theoretical quantum physics I’ve ever seen. But emphasis on the beauty: I didn’t actually like the art at first, but it won me over. Or maybe I just associated its artwork with its brilliant, heartrending storyline, and liked it better. Whatever. I have a thing for physics love stories.
  • Darker Than Black: I don’t know why I like this series. It’s not at all my usual thing… and yet there’s something about the badass, nihilistic, somehow pathetic Contractors that fascinates me.
  • Bleach: I’m a shoujo fan by preference, but I’m not opposed to a little standard shounen fightfest now and again. It’s cathartic. But Bleach is probably the limit of “I’ve gotta get stronger!” stuff I feel like watching these days, and it’s worn on me. Still, I’m willing to consider something new.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: (Both seasons.) Also not my usual taste. Still, I’m willing to endure the technobabble and look-how-cool-post-cyberpunk-is blather for more interesting (to me) existential questions about who qualifies as human in the time of posthumanity. Also, I want a Tachikoma. We could have long rambly arguments about the nature of existence, and then it could BLOW UP SHIT.
  • Blood+: The original movie was boring as all get out. The shoujoized reboot was perfect for me: excellent characterization, some interesting nonhuman biology, solid action. And OK, Hagi.
  • FLCL: This one took awhile to grow on me. It made no sense, and not in a good way. But a few rewatches helped, and once I figured out most of the in-jokes, I love it.
  • Code Geass: CLAMP designs, more junior Machiavellis than Utena, scads of Ho Yay and Foe Yay — it’s crack, but it’s good crack.
  • Wolf’s Rain: I’m actually not a fan of most Bones stuff. ::dodges hatestorm:: I like their work! Just don’t usually love it — but this series I loved. It’s postapocalyptic poetic, and Yoko Kanno’s score just made it.

Some guidelines:
-I miss shoujo. Not enough of it gets imported to the US. Please suggest some?
-No problem with violence or sexuality, but not a fan of sexualized violence (e.g. rape). There are exceptions I’m willing to tolerate if they’re well-handled — see Blood+. Otherwise, no.
-Stuff that does not feature racial stereotypes or caricatures would be SUPER, thanks.
-I prefer subtitled works to dubs, so don’t be afraid to suggest those to me. But my Japanese is pretty much at the level of a two-year-old’s, so nothing raw, thanks.

*Which I highly recommend. It was also partly inspired by The Little Prince, specifically the image of a planet consumed by baobabs. Also highly recommended.

ETA: I’m actually quite familiar with anime and manga up to about 2002 or so, especially in the shoujo genre. So to clarify, it’s recent recs that I need, thanks!

69 Responses »

  1. @Thea — OMG, girl–who are you?? Your recs hit so many of my “best series of all time” it could’ve been my own list! (I mean, for Fafner and Hikago alone–those are my 2 favorite series of all time and very few people have seen/read them!) Have you seen the new Fafner movie yet?? The consensus seems to be that it was worth waiting these past 6 years for. XD (but I haven’t seen it yet–gah, can’t wait!!)

    Oh… uh, maybe I shouldn’t be stealing space on Nora-sama’s blog to do this. ^^;;; Visiting your blog~~

  2. Well, you’ve already seen the top two I was going to recommend (FMA and Code G). BUT, never fear, because I have a few more. Not sure if they’ll be up your alley, but I enjoyed them.

    Michiko to Hatchin – I can’t really say why I like this, as I’m usually a fan of intricate plots, BUT…the one good thing about it for me is that it was set in a Brazil-inspired setting, and it shows. PoCs abound, and they’re not stereotypes. Oh, and don’t ask me why this matters, but…the main character actually changes clothes…sometimes more than once per episode!

    Chevalier D’Eon – this one’s got a nice political story, combined with some mystical elements – and par for the course in Japan, a subversion of Christianity. Fun! Good, non-over-the-top swordfighting scenes, and based on a historical cross-dressing French spy, but now with an interesting twist.

    Oh and I share your opinion on Darker than Black. The show makes no sense to me at all, but there’s something really appealing about it.

  3. I was glad to see others have recommended Skip Beat, Princess Tutu, Nana, Ouran High School Host Club (manga is much better than the anime!) and Library Wars already.

    Here are a couple more I don’t think I saw:

    -Saiyuki: a radical retelling of the Monkey King story, Journey to the West. 4 anti-heroes go on a journey west to stop the bad guy. Cool characters with a lot of attitude (the priest smokes, drinks, curses, carries a gun, his favorite lines are “shut up,” “die,” and “I’ll kill you”), amazing art. The manga consists of 10 vol for the Saiyuki series and 9 vol so far for the sequel Reload series. There is a prequel Gaiden series that hasn’t been released. Season 1 and 2 of the anime are excellent—the English dub is so much more colorful than the Japanese dub. Skip the Reload anime. . . they must have switched directors or writers or something. . . it is an awful adaptation.

    -Alice in the Country of Hearts manga: take Alice in Wonderland, add a reverse harem for Alice and lots of guns and violence. Interesting story.

    -NG Life manga: cute hilarious shojo story. My brother even recommends this title. A cast of characters are reincarnations of people from Pompeii who died when the volcano erupted. Keidai, the main character, remembers his past, and it weirds him out to see the other reincarnated people in his life with new relations to each other who do not have memories of the past, such as his wife is now the boy next door, his best guy friend is now a girl, his sister is now his mother, and his rival is now his father, etc.

    -Maid Sama manga: high school romantic comedy shojo series. Misaki is the demon president of her high school (formerly an all boys school), ruling with an iron fist to clean up the boys’ behavior and make the school appealing to girls. The problem is she works part time as a maid in a maid cafe, and she does not want the boys at school find out. Of course, you know her biggest rival is going to find out. Anime available only in Japanese.

    -Bride of the Water God manwha: the water god, Habaek, takes a human girl as his bride. He has a secret, though. By day, he appears as a little boy, and at night, he appears as a man. Of course, his bride does not know, so drama ensues. Beautiful art.

    -Princess Ai manga: Courtney Love collaboration about an angel who can rock and roll.

    -Descendants of Darkness manga and anime: Tsuzuki is a slacker shinigami and is one of the most powerful around but does not apply himself, plus dealing with the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Death. This series features one of the creepiest villains. Anime is 12 episodes long and features a couple of the stories from the manga, and you can hear Yugioh when Tsuzuki gets serious and fights. Manga went on hiatus a couple of years ago.

    -Pretear: Anime take on Snow White, magical girl style with a reverse harem. It features one of the spunkiest heroines. A villainess is destroying nature, and only one girl has the power to fight her, except the 7 “dwarves” (a group of guys ranging from cute little boys to hot guys) have to find her first, convince her she is the One, and get her to fight. Not really for little girls, though. The first episode alone featured just about every curse word, except for the f word, and there are some scenes that are a little risque, like the transformation scenes look a bit wrong. Short manga series availiable with different story development.

    -Dramacon manga: Maybe not technically manga because it is written in English. A hilarious look at the what goes on at anime conventions.

    -Yakitate Japan! manga: This is a shonen series, but it is a hilarious series all about bread making. There are bread making contests and tournaments that fit right in with other fight mangas. Anime available only in Japanese.

    -Gokusen anime: Slightly older series. It’s like a female GTO (another good series about a former delinquent and gang member who becomes a high school teacher). A female yakuza boss has big dreams of becoming a high school teacher, and her dream seems to be coming true, but she is saddled with the worst class. Her yakuza background keeps coming up (and her yakuza family keep showing up to keep an eye on her, too), so there are a lot hilariously awkward situations.

    -These titles were released a few years ago by smaller publishers, so they may be out of print.

    -Land of the Blindfolded (a girl can see the future and a boy the past, so what do they when the others around them are “blind” to what they can see?)
    -Penguin Revolution (a girl finds herself hired to be a manager to a budding actor at a prestigious agency)
    -Her Majesty’s Dog (a girl psychic and her dog demon. He is usually a cute guy but can fight in demon form when she gives him energy via a kiss, but no one can know about their powers. So yeah, they seem a bit weird to others, but there’s room for plenty of comedic moments and stories involving misunderstandings and cover ups.)

    I don’t consider myself particulary familiar with what’s big or popular, but these are some of my favorites :)

  4. Ergo Proxy is a killer. You’d love it. It’s got a sophisticated plotline with loads of twists and cliffhangers. Also has a very deep story, based on Descartes works (also other philosophers.)
    And since you’re watching Bleach, I think you’d like Naruto, too. Ninja stuff, daring heros and heroins, twists and angst + thrill.
    Also, Samurai Champloo is a good watch.
    Eden of the East is a good one. Not as good as something like Code Geass, but still good.
    Noir, is the story of a professional killer suffering insomnia.
    Vampire Knight – both the anime and the manga, though they differ greatly in the way they end – is a really well-crafted series.

  5. By the way, would you believe that there are fans of your books as far as here in Iran? :D

  6. First, some seconding. I, also, would recommend Kamichu!, Mushi-shi, Eden of the East, Moribito, Ghost Hound, Gintama, Fruits Basket, and Princess Jellyfish.

    You mentioned your unease re: Tales from Earthsea. It’s not the best Ghibli film and wasn’t terribly faithful to the books. Knowing that going in though, I found I did enjoy it. However Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo, the films released before and after Earthsea, are better I think.

    Some stuff I don’t think has been mentioned:

    Monster- a crime drama where a man goes on the run after being accused of a series of murders he didn’t commit, but he knows who did and tries to clear his name. Dark with a emphasis on psychology. The anime is somewhat slow paced, but I really enjoyed it. The manga was Junot Diaz’s answer when Time asked him what his guilty pleasure read was, which since I loved Oscar Wao piqued my interest. It ran in a seinen magazine. The anime is on Hulu

    Beast Player Erin – a fantasy about a girl raised in village of beast tamers. Her mother is an outsider so both she and the protaganist are view with suspicion by society. Her mother’s people have a different kind of relationship with the animals. This philosophy results in both professional success at times but persecution at others. It’s also a little slow at times but really enjoyable. My only major gripe was that the sub on Crunchyroll was pretty shoddy and became a distraction at times, not sure if there’s any better options out there. It was originally a novel and I think it could easily be shojo but the manga version ran in a shonen magazine. As I mention the anime is on Crunchyroll.

    Natsume’s Book of Friends – another fantasy series (my favorite kind). This time about a boy who inherited the ability to see spirits as well as a book binding several powerful ones from his grandmother. Since the owner of the book can command the bound spirits, Natsume is frequently harassed by spirits trying to take possession of it. He decides to solve this problem by finding the bound spirits and releasing them. Rather than the find-them-all-quest tone that setup could have had, the series is more about the relationship Natsume establishes with these spirits and some of the humans who are also connected to the spirit world. I found it touching at times and always engaging. In something of a reverse of Erin, despite the male protag the manga ran in a shojo magazine. The anime is on Crunchyroll.

    Spice and Wolf- another fantasy though a little different since the male lead is a traveling merchant and a lot the action centers on economic intrigue. The female lead is a wolf god who takes the form of a girl with wolf ears and tail. How you feel about this one from the reactions I’ve seen largely depends on how you feel about economics and animal-girls. I’m interested by the former and can enjoy the latter so long as things don’t get too fanservice-y so this one was right up my alley. Originally a series of light novels, the manga ran in a seinen magazine. The first season is on Hulu.

    For some further recs, you might want to look up Noitamina on Wikipedia. It’s a programming block on Fuji Television that seems to specialize in non-shonen stuff and the article lists the past shows aired. I’ve been using it as a way to find new-to-me anime and thus far haven’t hit a bad one yet. Several of the shows that have been rec’d here are from it like Eden of the East, Princess Jellyfish, and Fractale. The shows range from relationship dramas to horror and from contemporary to period pieces but in my experience so far they’ve all been quality. And it’s been on since 2005 so it fits your time range. It looks like a lot of these shows are on either Crunchyroll or Hulu and some of those that aren’t are available on DVD.

  7. You should check out One Piece. There’s so much in that series that I think you would love, especially the development of characters. Best anime ever.

  8. Actually, FMA the manga came to a (very satisfying, I thought) close last year, so this might be as good a time as any to start to read it again. And it’s not TOO long, compared to other successful shonen series (yes, I’m looking at you, N.)

    Manga (not anime) featuring strong and well developed heroines, based on what I’m reading here and as far as I know :

    Definitely Basara (by Yumi Tamura), extremely strong and thoughtful storytelling and character development over the course of the series, which is a staple of that author. (Anything by Tamura IS good for you, as much as I understand “you” through your work. Which I love.) Most people I know can’t get past the way she draws though… which is a shame.

    Skip Beat is good too, mainly for it’s atypical heroin. The actor’s journey is interesting too.

    I’d give Claymore another try, if only because it does takes a bit to get it’s own vibe, and because the author isn’t the type to abuse the “male gaze” thing a lot of shonen-seinen-and even shojo authors are complacently using. I was a big fan of his previous series, a shonen who featured another very strong female character (not the hero of the series, but very clearly the second main focus) and never showed her in a way that made me uncomfortable. Which is why I was a bit surprised by the way the claymores were sometimes depicted. I suspect a bit of editorial interference there, actually.

    Is Fumi Yoshinaga’s “My Darling Daughters” translated in English ? If yes, it’s a one shot little jewel that you have to read. It’s a very insightful collection of intertwined stories about mother-daughter relationships, women in today’s (japanese) society etc. It’s really good and weirdly one of her lesser known manga.

    And for something completely different, how about reading Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk, or Real ?(are those even translated ? Sorry about that, I’m actually not a US citizen and I read my manga in japanese.) I have no interest in Basketball, but Slam Dunk is genius, if only for the graphic evolution you can witness thought the series ^^. And it’s actually a great character series. And Real is the same (wheelchair basketball this time, still a great character series).

    Mushishi I didn’t read, but it has a great rep among people I know whose taste I mostly trust.

    Otherwise, I’d concur on most of was posted here, except for Yû Watase (fushigi yûgi), whose idea of an heroine makes me cringe.

    As anime series go, the only one I saw lately was Ergo Proxy and I really liked it. I’m a lot out of touch anime wise too (I might take advantage of this thread of comments for my own viewing purposes, by the way. ^^)

  9. For light but totally off the wall comedy I would recommend My Bride is a Mermaid. Its as if an animator heard studio Ghibli was doing an anime version of Hans Christian Anderson’s little mermaid and decided that they should combine that story with Tenchi Muyo, Ranma 1/2, and Sailor Moon. I am not saying its derivative its quite unique I’m just pinwheeling to find something to compare it to because its so strangely appealing.

    For best overall recontamination I would say F.L.A.G.
    It is a mecha anime that examines the role of photojournalists in war. Its a beautiful stylized animation that is actually seen through the perspective of a camera lens the entire series shifts from the different types of cameras on a warzone whether it be a webcam or a soldiers night vision camera. You would think this was bad but in a way only a good anime can it makes the potentially ridiculous amazing.

    There is action but it is mostly about the impact images can have on the world. Even this cynical world can be moved to peace and war over the strength of photos. In this case the title comes from a photo of the United Nations Flag flying in the moonlight silhouteing the leader of an embatled country praying on a rooftop with a young girl. A completely unplanned and beautiful photo that became splashed across every possible screen across the world. That Flag became a symbol for peace and because of that it was stolen and the journalist who snapped the photo is assigned to the task force going to retrieve it. Which just happens to have the worlds first functioning mecha. I’m not doing it justice. Please consider it. Its a plot you have to see and experience to understand why it was dubbed an instant classic.

    I have long heartily recommended the two films of Mamouro Hosda. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and his latest Summer Wars. Both are instant classics that defy any genre other than anime

    I’d also recommend any of the post 2002 releases of the late Satoshi Kon you might not have seen. Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika, paranoia agent.

    I’d also read or Die a short OVA about a girl who can control paper and again you can’t condense the plot in a way that does it justice without your own examination.

    Kino’s Journey is my favorite anime. It’s like Galaxy train 999 on earth with a talking motorcycle. It’s aurally brilliant and its episodic nature makes each story feel like a self contained gift. The ending may be shocking or bittersweet but the Journey that’s what makes the whole thing worth it. It’s a meditation on travelers themselves but filled with plenty of action and triumphant synchronization of everything that makes anime great. I can not recommend this enough.

  10. I apologize for my apparent lack of grammar and context above. I blame the fact that its much later than I generally stay up and your blog was a welcome diversion. A recent lack of anime accompanying a lack of sleep are colluding to addle my brain. I’m off to bed now.

  11. Read or Die (OVA + the TV series)
    Guerren Lagan (WARNING: resembles FLCL)
    Slayers Series
    Twelve Kingdoms
    His and Her Circumstances (Shoujo)
    The Girl Who Lept Through Time

    Also, I love Studio Ghibli, but NOT Tales of Earthsea (it was directed by Miyazaki Gobo NOT Miyazaki Hayao).

  12. Yay, anime! I looked over it a second time and there is sort of a distinct lack of shoujo (I watch it sometimes, but it doesn’t generally stand out to me as being excellent).

    Natsume Yuujinchou ( with a guy who inherits his grandmother’s book full of spirits’ names and undertakes (with some help) to give them back. A nice, quiet show.

    Occult Academy: ( Time travel! Demons controlling a dead body! Psychic powers! And one pissed-off granddaughter in the middle of it all coming to terms with her grandfather (who is the dead body in question).

    Star Driver: Bones. it’s sparkly. And really focused on libido. Don’t let that turn you off, though, it’s awesome. (Huh, it really is like Utena with mecha if I phrase it like that.) (fansubs:

    Durarara!!: ( This is how to do simultaneous storytelling. The first two episodes drag; after that they all start weaving together and it turns into this katamari of a story that runs out of control (to awesome effect).

    Katanagatari: (fansubs: Yes. It says “Sword Story.” It is pretty as a picture and twelve one-hour episodes of fantastic journey, evil ninjas, betrayal, love, and command.

    Also, all the episodes of fullmetal alchemist brotherhood in both sub and dub form:

    Madoka Magica (same link as star driver) is also an excellent series but so very dark.

    I loved Saiunkoku Monogatari (I have no idea where to find it now besides ‘on my hard drive’) but it isn’t the prettiest anime, or the fastest moving. Someone else above had prettier words for it.

    There’s always more anime, but those have stood out to me as stellar examples of the current form (besides Haruhi which you mentioned was already on the list).

  13. Jumping on the bandwagon late, if you’re looking for shoujo Kuragehime is pretty nice.

  14. Just a P.S. – I’ve seen the first five episodes of Madoka Magika now and definitely recommend it. It has that “wonderland gone wrong” vibe from Magic Knight Rayearth and some fascinating graphics. Jarring sometimes, but beautifully done.

  15. Revisiting this thread to look for more anime to watch!

    Have watched all but the last ep of Princess Jellyfish (Kugarehime) and I’m quite enjoying it.

    Intend to watch Stardriver.

    Both based on recommendations here.

    Someone mentioned Yakitate! Japan manga. I watched the anime and boy, is it compelling. Somehow! If you like watching Food Network, it’s a definite must. It’s about bread!!

    Earthsea was tragic, especially coming so close to SyFy’s whitewashed trainwreck. But watch Ponyo. I won’t say it’s my favorite Studio Ghibli, but it’s right up there.

  16. Beck

    Sorry, not really new (though its been rereleased recently as a slow priced single box), and probably not exactly to spec (I really just kinda glossed over the post, double sorry for that, and didn’t read the comments except to do a “find” to see if anyone else had recommended it), but I love your work and I see that your taste (and recent non-hardcore-ness) in anime intersects with my own quite a bit, so I had to mention it.

    Its all about the music (as in being performed by characters in the show, not just background stuff), and this is a strange case where the English dubbed version is light years better than the original Japanese (I know because I hunted it all down so I could listen to whole tracks rather than just hearing it chopped up in the show, an OMG is some of it just hideous, and one of the best tracks just doesn’t exist in the Japanese; the US producers did some really clever slight of, well, mouth I suppose, and came up with something alot better for the climax of the show). Actually, that starts at the beginning of the last disk of the show, and I spent an entire NaNoWriMo, going down to my basement/office after everyone else went to bed, and firing up this disk, minimizing its window, and hammering away at the keyboard for the hour-and-a-half-or-so that it runs. Worked pretty well for me, so another reason I felt I should recommend it.

    Disclaimer: Beck, along with my father-in-law’s retirement crisis and some “fortuitous” employee discount/gift card circumstances, is responsible for me now playing a bit of bass and guitar. In fact, I’ve already been through the initial OCD period of learning all the technical and historical minutia about guitars that I could stomach and spending my weekends haunting guitar stores, fondling the kit I didn’t need and couldn’t afford. Out the other side of my OCD period, I’m the proud owner of one of the best electric basses that I’ve played at any price (and I paid like 17% of its MSRP, 10% of which I had as a gift card burning a hole in my pocket, to boot), an inexpensive semi-hollow electric 6-string, a cheap but nice classical, and a fantastic, stress relieving hobby that some folk don’t even mind listening to (in small doses, at least ;-p ).


  17. I would definitely recommend Aoi Hana and Hourou Musuko. The mangas are written by the same author, and both are really beautiful animes. They are also some of the best stories of lesbian and gender identity that I’ve seen, and the graphics are gorgeous.

  18. as a late reply to this….i think you would like Katekyo hitman reborn and tengenn toppen gurenn lagann (i think that was righ) and also mayeb kuroshitsuji…maybe~
    uhhhhh shoujou wise ummmm ouran high scholl host club? pretear sailor moon yadda yadda yadda >.< also chobits :D
    so yea…thats all i can think of umm manga wise try trinity blood….cant really think of anything else…
    hope that helps ^.^

  19. Another late reply, whoo! (although by this point you have enough good recs for a year)

    Fantasy/sci fi, shoujo and shounen:

    Pandora Hearts: similar to Darker than Black with the noir style and psychology, but more fantasy-oriented (and a lot of Alice and Wonderland callouts). Shounen, but more than a bit of Ho Yay.

    Crest of the Stars – I don’t usually like space operas; I find their gender dynamics annoying. But I had to make an exception for this one; it’s familiar yet gloriously free of stupid clichés that normally come with the genre, and there are a lot of fun space battles as well.

    Twelve Kingdoms – Ditto what people said about it earlier, although it’s not certain the series will ever be finished and there are a lot of loose ends… I really hate that!

    Wagaya no Oinari-sama (aka “Our Home’s Fox Deity”)– A fox god comes to live with the heirs to an old Japanese priestess family; wacky hijinks ensue. It is cute and funny, but also puts new twists on old tropes. Not really much romance, though; technically shounen. (and I second whoever recommended Kamichu; if you like Aria, I think you’ll like Kamichu)

    Non-fantasy shoujo:

    Nodame Cantabile – Lovely manga/anime about music and love. Nodame is my kind of heroine; she’s bright, stubborn, and persistent almost to a fault. As it’s about music, you should probably watch the anime.

    Princess Jellyfish (Kugarehime) – I like, but it also just aired and it’s super short. I’m holding out hope it’ll be reserialized (I can dream, right?)

    Kimi ni Todoke – see Kugarehime, except it actually DID get another season. (which just finished)

    Lovely Complex – Nicely self-contained high-school romantic comedy about a couple of hilarious teenagers and the crazy antics that teenagers get up to. They’re a bit overdramatic, but never annoyingly so.