Jonathan's 20 Favorite Anime (Pt.1)

I've been talking about anime for years now, but I don't think people have a clear view of my tastes so far. Figured the best way for you all to get an idea is to just make a list of my favorites already. I did a top fifteen way back when, but that list is now lost to time and is horribly outdated. My taste has grown, and I've seen far more shows worthy of mention. The list I'll be presenting in two parts is a completely different beast. I hope you all enjoy, and hey; maybe you'll find out about a show you never realized was out there.

I'll start off with my bottom ten...

20. Desert Punk

I keep finding that I have very strange taste. Some of the shows I've enjoyed the most are the kinds usually jeered at by the larger public, and for good reason. Still, I have a habit of finding good in the crude, and Desert Punk is probably the best example of that. It's an ecchi comedy mixed with an action series set in a post-apocalypse future, where one mercenary named Kanta makes a living via odd jobs in the great Kanto desert. He's the legendary Desert Punk, a man who never fails a job ...until the first episode, when he's tricked by a busty rival named Junko, and the majority of the series is watching the talented pervert slowly sink lower and lower. His assistant, the tiny Kosuna, doesn't help matters much.

Desert Punk is basically two different shows smashed together. The first show within the first cour, which follows Kanta and Kosuna getting in wacky situations while trying to complete jobs, and includes the ridiculously hilarious episode where Kanta and Junko end up locked in an underground bunker. It's raunchy as the worst tits show, but it somehow manages to be hilarious because of that vulgarity. The second half introduces the main story and builds on some ideas only briefly brought up earlier, and the series status as a cynical dark comedy starts to make more sense.

At its heart, Desert Punk is about how people have a habit of being self destructive, and how neither idealism nor realistic views can fixed the larger problems at hand. It makes this the butt of the joke at first, only to start taking it far more seriously in the last quarter, ending with a series of powerful twists that somehow resonated with me. A show that pulls off drama so well, despite including so many damn sex gags before, is definitely something special, and I've never forgotten the series since I first saw it. It also has an amazing dub. Eric Vale as Kanta is more amazing than you'd could possibly imagine.

19. Outbreak Company

I have a few recent series mixed on here, but only because they really surprised me by just how much I gelled with them, not just because they were really good (Ping Pong isn't on here, for example). Outbreak Company, a 2013 series I caught when I started regular seasonal watching, was completely unlike anything I had ever seen up to that point, and even still today. It tackles the interesting subject matter of cultural imperialism and does it in a really inventive way. The set up as a Japanese otaku recruited by the Japanese government to act as a cultural ambassador to a fantasy kingdom found in a portal, while Japan itself is trying to get access to the various magical resources of said world. It has a lot of elements I normally detest, mainly a semi-harem thing building up, but it also uses these troublesome elements to swerve into far more interesting situations.

For example, there's a scene in an early episode where the main character mistakes the lizardman gardener as a trespasser after bumping into him in the dark, and smacks him a few times with a cooking spoon in the confusion. He tries to apologize afterwards ...but the joke is suddenly made dark and revealing as we learn that this sort of treatment is common for non-human races in this world. The series reveals the horrible truths of the fantasy world by introducing them through gags (some wonderful, like a fujioshi lecturing grade schoolers about BL), then revealing the full context. It's brilliant and allows the show to build depth between the various characters by showing some of their lesser qualities first, then starting arcs where they overcome these qualities. Even the real world characters are affected like this, especially when politics work their way back into the plot.

On paper, Outbreak Company looked like it was going to be one of the worst shows of its season, but as I watched more and more of it, I kept finding myself laughing with it and thinking on the various issues and questions it presents. It's a very clever series that only wants the audience to think it's stupid, just to make its content all the more powerful and affecting by contrast. That's incredibly difficult to pull off, but it's done here just so perfectly.

18. Kino's Journey

I like episodic shows. Most of them just aren't that interesting, so I don't remember too many I've seen. While I have a huge soft spot for Samurai Champloo, it didn't make it because there are just three other shows with a similar format I personally love far more. The first of them is Kino's Journey, a very somber and reflective show that constantly balances between social commentary and fantastical tales.

Every episode takes place in a new setting, as the main character, Kino, and her talking motorcycle move from place to place and take in the area within the span of just a few days. Every episode also has a bit of a cautionary tale to tell, such as one particularly strong episode where Kino helps out some travelers with a broken caravan on the trail. I dare not give away the ending. There's a moral to be told in nearly every episode, and these morals are all based on some form of real world events, including one episode critical of group think in modern day democracy.

Watching this series always feels very rewarding. It tackles very heavy subject matter, but with a true sense of maturity most anime has trouble getting down like this. It's quiet, slow moving, and it lets the events seen speak for themselves, or at least not outright state what the views of the creator's are on the matter. Mouthpieces are mostly absent, creating a show that leaves you a bit different than you started, based solely on your own interpretations. It's the time of show that grows with you as you grow older and rewards rewatches.

17. Casshern Sins

I vote that Tatsunoko give every show they've ever made a modern reimagining, because the last three have just been so masterful. The first of those, Casshern Sins, is another episodic series that tries to be a reflective walkabout, even when the plot finally kicks in fully in the second half. It also takes the original premise of the franchise, with mankind in a post-apocalypse time being saved by Casshern from his fellow machines, and turns it on its head. Casshern isn't the hero anymore, or even a character with agency. He's an amnesic blamed for the death of the entire world, and the people left in this world are either dead humans or mad robots slowly rusting away in an endless desert.

Where Kino's Journey is harsh but realistic, and the other series is much stranger and positive, Casshern Sins is oppressive and nihilistic. I mean that quite literally, as the ultimate theme of the series deals directly with death. Amazingly, this depressing subject is treated with a masterful hand, looking at every emotion and thought that deals with the end of all things. History, memory, personal impact, and even the reason for living in the first place are all explored with great care, resulting in some truly touching moments.

The series is also crushingly beautiful. The character designs were done by Yoshihiko Umakoshi, who has this really sleek, fluid look with strong expressions. They serve the series well, especially in all of Casshern's flashbacks, which have these frightening moments where Casshern freaks out while blood is washed on his face. It's a stroking style that matches the harsh desert settings and decayed wastelands that were once towns and cities. Hope and despair are balanced perfectly, and so many scenes from the show are still ingrained in my memory. The horror of Casshern's carnage filled rampages, the characters watching a peaceful sea, the beautiful fields of the past. I'll never forget it.

16. Selector Infected/Spread WIXOSS

Let me stress this; I don't just like WIXOSS, I am obsessed with it. Samurai Flamenco almost inspired that same level of obsession in me, but WIXOSS clicked with me in a way I didn't see coming. It's a sort of dark magical girl series (sort of) about young girls playing card games and taking part in a contest to decide the next "eternal girl" and make their dearest wish come true. Everything goes horribly wrong very, very fast, and the entire series becomes like a strange dream that twists from loving memory to esoteric spell of insanity, where the music starts to erode and break apart, and the world around the characters gains darker shades of color and sketchier textures. It looks and sounds more wrong the longer it goes on, and then there's the actual thematic meat.

I know Madoka dealt with wishes before, but not quite like WIXOSS did. Instead of tackling how wishes aren't always pure, it deals with actually trying to make those wishes real, and how human nature has a habit of making us worse for it as we become more and more desperate. People get exactly what they want, but the how is where the game reveals its true malice, and it's brilliantly cruel. The story also beats along in a very different way, setting up expected developments, only to skew in a completely different direction with an unforeseen play.

The series logic has more holes than swiss cheese, and a few interesting subplots are dropped (Ruko's personality problems, mainly), but it ends in a nearly perfect way, with incredible villains and a beautiful climax. Just how it tells its strange tale makes it stand out to me more than almost anything else I've ever watched, and I feel that it will only grow on me as time goes by. WIXOSS is so insane yet unexpectedly clever that I can't help but love what it tried (and succeeded) to do.

15. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)

Hey, even I have some obvious choices. And yes, I have seen Brotherhood, it's good, I just prefer the first anime.

Fullmetal Alchemist had an impact on me. I watched it in my Adult Swim days, and found myself becoming hooked to it in short time. It was unlike any other show I watched up till then, with a mature style that explored darker material (the cost of scientific advancement, genocide, ect) with the gravitas it deserved. My definition of "mature" at the time was based on bad comic books written by various writers from the dark ages, so I needed FMA to bash some sense into me with some good old trauma. To think, I could have been one of those guys cheering on dick artists who draw sexy cover variants after women readers complained about rape imagery on a cover of their favorite comic if not for this series. FMA literally made me a better person.

The series was also thematically powerful. Unlike the more shonen style hopeful of Brotherhood and the manga, the first anime was more about Ed and Al coming of age in a way that taught them the harsh truths of the world, and how they had to soldier on despite, even if they don't always get exactly what they want. I'm one of those guys who actually likes the sequel movie because it hammers this home, with the two ultimately ending things by making the best of a bad situation and finding a way to smile through. That particular lesson has really served me well as I've been in a tailspin of financial distress for years now.

And let's be real; Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, and Lust are all infinitely more interesting here than their Brotherhood counterparts, and the version of Pride used here brings out a brilliant twist on two different homunculi from the source material. Even if it lacks the same spectacle and scope, as the ultimate stakes are just to save one person and not an entire country, it resonated more with me. FMA 2003 tapped into something very personal and emotional in its journey, and while it wasn't as exciting in the end, it left my jaw on the floor far more often, especially in the case of Scar's storyline. To this day, the first FMA anime is a near masterpiece.

14. Jing the Bandit King

This is my favorite episodic series of them all. I know, it seems odd. Jing lacks the grim edge of Casshern, and the reflective philosophy of Kino, but it makes up for this in personality. Jing is about a master thief and his crow sidekick that he can use like a gun (magic!) and their various adventures around a strange fantasy land in a quest for amazing treasures. Like, they even try to steal the abstract concept of time at one point. Where Kino and Casshern cement themselves in a grounded world, Jing has a much more fluid reality that changes as necessary to better serve the story at play. The result is one of the most creative works I've ever seen, probably only topped by Space Dandy.

There's something mesmerizing about this series. It just throws out so many odd things that it keeps you watching, like a skeleton man who can't stop drinking alcohol he can't possibly swallow, or a woman who changes out her face every day. The entire series runs on fairy tale logic, teaching a moral or value from the magical circumstances the various characters find themselves in, with Jing as the straight man who soaks in all the oddity. It's captured most powerfully in Seventh Heaven, the series' movie special, involving Jing trapped in a prison, where he meets a ghost and learns of its grief. It's a truly beautiful film, particularly in how it uses wordplay alongside its scenic segments.

I also must mention the art style, which mixes in a lot of angular designs in a surrealist edge. Lots of strange patterns litter every background and setting, and characters have strong outfits and hair styles that you can't possibly ignore. It would be suffocating if not for the slow direction that invites you to absorb it all in parts. The energy created by all these strange parts has left the show seared on my brain, not even in a way the original manga could (and it was pretty fucking odd as well).

13. Princess Tutu

This is the only other magical girl thing on this list, but it's also one of the best I've ever seen from the genre. It also has a lot of meta commentary on the nature of writers, which is almost a guaranteed way to get me to like something. Princess Tutu has a silly premise, where a duck gets a crush on a human prince and wishes to become a real girl, becoming a ballerina in training (still named duck) via a magical item given to her by a strange old man who lives in a realm of gears. People fall victims to their lesser desires and get possessed, Duck helps them by dancing it out as Princess Tutu, and she tries to open the quiet prince's heart by collecting the pieces of it from those possessed people. Oh, and several people are also talking animals. Just roll with it.

The series seems to end on a storybook like ending ...but that's only the halfway point. The series goes from good to great from there, and the whole meta narrative kicks in with that weird old man. He's a famous writer, and he's directly connected with the events occurring in the world. Worse yet, the story he's envisioned is a tragedy. The series then becomes a slowly shifting subversion, as characters start betraying their established archtype, and others become aware that they're part of a story and start seeing the seams that make up the world's patchwork. Yet despite all this, Princess Tutu does something I never expected it to do from these developments; Have the heroine win.

Things like this rarely work out well without a hint of tragedy, but the characters of the story refuse to give into the writer's whims. The world around them begins to fall apart, yet Duck keeps dancing for the sake of those she cares about and their happiness. The climax is one of the best I've ever seen, and the happy ending is so incredibly earned by everyone involved. Even the mean rival character ends up being one of the most sympathetic cast members. Princess Tutu has depth and the ability to explore horrible things with amazing ease (including abusive relationships), but it also leaves you with a smile, despite all the darkness it surrounds itself in.

12. Trinity Blood

Trinity Blood will always be my go to example that execution means everything in the end. Nothing about the series is particularly original or even clever (it outright steams from other works like Trigun), but it makes up for it in just sheer quality. The future world vampire epic is given a beautiful, dark style that uses a lot of heavy shadows, with very pretty character designs that contrast well with the brutal fights held within. The characters are all very likable and well written, with even a few bits of unexpected depth mixed in. The villains are some of the most evil and effective I've ever seen (especially that sadist monster Dietrich). And the score ...YES. I normally don't talk about music in anime, but there are some soundtracks that leave aghast, and Trinity Blood is definitely one of them. Fucking Kresnik is the best anime character theme ever. Period.

This was a GONZO adaptation of a light novel, so by all accounts, it should have been just terrible. I have read some of the light novels, and they have a lot of writing problems, especially that weird romantic relationship they tried building between Abel and Esther. The manga adaptation was even worse. But the anime made a ton of changes, and all of them for the better. Count Gyula is changed from manic jerkass to tragic villain to almost tear enduing effect, Dietrich is toned down and made more menacing through what little we see him do, stories are fused into each other for the sake of Esther's development, and the relationship between Esther and Ion still remains one of the most beautiful relationships I've seen in all my years.

The series isn't perfect (the ending is rushed a little, and Abel gets pushed aside a bit too long), but there's just so much I love about the series and its world. The majority of those good qualities come from Esther, one of my favorite anime heroines ever. She's not a badass (though she is trained in firearm use and can kill a vampire if push comes to shove), but her struggles and how she deals with them make her really relatable to me for some reason I can't quite put down. As far as idealists go, Esther is one of the better ones because she doesn't start out that way, she learns to strive for that ideal, no matter how difficult it may be. It's a bit inspiring to me. I'd love to see a new series made one day just so I can see more Esther, especially with her new role established at the series end.

11. Noein

Trinity Blood is proof that execution applies for a lot, but Noein is the exact opposite. It's a very messy series with an ending that tries working in a completely pointless subplot that only serves to apply exposition, and it's dragged out ridiculously long. However, its thematic core makes it fascinating to me. It's a series about time and its nature, from the perspective of memories and quantum mechanics, working in a lot of multiverse theory and cramming in tons of conversations on time travel and causality. While it lacks a little at its heart compared to other shows I've listed out, its mind is what makes the show stick out, and what heart is there grounds it.

The series starts out strong, as main characters Yu and Haruka deal with adolescence problems and try running away, only to be attacked by a bunch of strange men in cloaks, including a man who refers to himself as Yu. Things start to trip out from there, as alternate futures are thrown around, Haruka starts to try to understand her status as a time god, and two spies try figuring out the truth behind an experiment to control the forces of causality itself. All while this is happening, there's drama between Yu and his hyper-obsessive mom, in-fighting among the time travelers, and the mystery of Noein, the lord of Shangra-La and the grand enemy of all of time and space. It's a lot to take in, but the series uses more time than necessary to make everything work out.

It's very hard sci-fi, but its balanced out by human elements and simple characters. Haruka is the key to making the series work, as she tries to understand the new concepts surrounding her, but making her decisions based solely around her understanding of people. Despite the trouble her parents went through in marriage, she decides not to travel back and break them up because she sees that they were once happy together. She fears the loss of her memories, but she doesn't let that fear destroy her. She even tries to help out her friends in a bad future, putting them back together and helping them realize the happiness they can still experience. Even Noein himself is surprisingly human, as his entire birth is made from a hellish experience that would drive any person mad, making him a perfect foil to both Haruka and Yu. Add in strong back story for all the various side characters, and the series becomes a beautiful little tale about how humans can come back from the most horrible experience for the sake of others. However, it also acts as a cautionary tale, though I won't spoil how. That bit of emotion and heart gives context to all the theoretical physics talk, and there's a bit of realism in the writing that similar shows like Steins;Gate lacked. Noein is an interesting mess that we need more of.


The second part will be up next week. See you then!


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