This is not a Best Anime list. This is a Favorite Anime list. There are shows with better writing, better art, and/or higher quality that didn’t make my list. I used the criterion of rewatchability. Back in the day people would assemble their Desert Island lists of books or albums or movies – the 10 choices you’d take with you if you were going to be stranded on a desert island. The way I made my ranking is by asking myself... what if the cutoff were 8? 5? 3? and so on. What would I miss if I didn’t have it? These are the series I could watch over and over.
For my purposes, a series can be a TV series or an OVA series, but it must have at least 6 episodes. I’m allowing myself to take all seasons of a series.
Here is my list of favorite shows, in order:
1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (12 episode TV series by Shaft, 2011)
My favorite series is a relative newcomer. Here are some things that make this show special:
- Beautiful, beautiful art, animation, and direction – especially for a TV series
- Wonderful, powerful music that fits the art perfectly – excellent work by composer Yuki Kajiura
- Likable, lovable, sympathetic characters
- Excellent pacing – every single episode moved the story forward, oftentimes in unexpected and delightful ways. There was not a single clunker – not one wasted episode in the bunch. And every episode left the viewer hungering for the next installment
- Story – an ambitious, emotional story told perfectly in 12 episodes. I think this is the first anime I’ve seen that gets the scope and number of episodes exactly right. The dialog and plot were expertly crafted - finely woven with foreshadowing and back-references
- Lack of Stupidity. A lot of shows are marred by one stupid aspect or another... or by some annoying side (or main) character. Madoka Magica is simply intelligent drama
- Rewatchability. I’ve already watched these episodes more than I have for any other series – except for Gunbuster and possibly Koko wa Greenwood. One of my measures of a great series is how much I want to rewatch the show. I think I’ll be rewatching this show many, many times
I think Episode 10 was the best of the series – a perfect episode. It is the hub that ties everything together. And Akemi Homura remains my favorite of all the mahou shoujo.
The ending left us with a lot interpret and to reflect on. I like that you can’t draw black and white conclusions or interpretations. I suspect that my feelings for the episode are going to build up over time – every little scene will develop a special thought, insight, or emotion. Nuances and ramifications from this episode are going to sneak up on people, I think. People who really study this episode in depth are going to discover a subtle and intricate tapestry. I believe the brilliance of the episode will take time to reveal itself. For some people, this episode is going to look much better over time.
Also, something that people forget is that the main characters are 14-year-old middle-school girls – not high schoolers. The maturity, wisdom, courage, and selflessness they show is well beyond their years. All things considered, they made awfully good decisions. I know at 14 I couldn’t have held a candle to them.
2. Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster (6 episode OVA series by Gainax, 1988–89)
For 20 years until 2011 this was my favorite anime series, far outdistancing any others. Character designs were by Haruhiko Mikimoto, one of the best in the industry. The art at times is magnificent, and the direction by Hideaki Anno is masterful. The music is strong and memorable. I have always loved that watching Gunbuster is like watching a movie.
The weakest parts of Gunbuster are in the first episodes. Gunbuster is at its core a parody, so it can’t be taken very seriously – especially early on. The tongue-in-cheek aspect of Gunbuster is something I really enjoy – but it also is a weakness that lets a totally serious show like Madoka Magica earn more points.
For additional amusement, note how long it takes for Gunbuster to actually appear in the series. Compare this to how long it takes for mahou shoujo Madoka to appear. Maybe I really like series where the title character is absent! (^_^)
3. Yagate Kimi ni Naru (Bloom Into You)(12 episode TV series by Troyca, 2018)
Not only is Yagate Kimi ni Naru my favorite manga series, but Troyca did an incredible job taking an already photogenic manga and porting it to anime. The art, cinematography, direction, animation, music, and voices are all outstanding. The anime follows the manga so closely that even Nio Nakatani’s little side vignettes are included. I loved every minute. The anime captures many of the subtle little clues and moments that Nakatani sprinkled throughout the story. And, importantly, the anime makes each character glow. Nio Nakatani crafted each character in Bloom Into You to bring serious thought, questioning, and passion to this romantic story.
The only disappointment is that the 13 episodes covered just over half the manga – getting into the first part of Volume 5. This would be a perfect anime series – if it had finished.
4. Violet Evergarden (13 episode TV series plus OVA and two films by Kyoto Animation, 2018-2020)
KyoAni is a beloved anime studio whose talent and heart knows no bounds. Violet Evergarden is perhaps their finest TV series, graced with the highest quality of art, animation, direction, sound, and writing. The story of Violet Evergarden is poignant, complex, emotional, and beautiful. Violet herself experiences many difficult events and grows throughout the series. KyoAni excels at showing us the thoughts and feelings of the characters in the stories. Violet Evergarden contains both episodic and overarching stories – and it’s a series to be watched over and over, experiencing something new each time.
5. Bakemonogatari (15 episode TV series by Shaft, 2009)
Bakemonogatari is simply a wonderful show. I’m a fan of Akiyuki Shinbo, who has directed a number of series that I love – Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Hidamari Sketch, Pani Poni Dash! – plus Bakemonogatari. It was Pani Poni Dash! that introduced me to Shinbo’s unique pacing/editing/tongue-in-cheek directorial style – as well as his avant-garde OP animation style. Bakemonogatari is fascinating to watch because of the distinct and artistic look that Shinbo dictates. The music is also strong – the OP songs composed by Meg Rock plus the outstanding ED performed by Supercell and Nagi Yanagi. Beautiful instrumental versions of the OP songs are placed at powerful moments in the story.
I wish I knew more Japanese, because Bakemonogatari is drenched in wordplay. I love wordplay. Nisio Isin’s stories are solid yet creative. Bakemonogatari holds together well. I don’t know how much is due to Shaft and how much is due to Nisio Isin, but I’m highly entertained by the result.
I found all the characters to be likeable – and am transfixed by Hitagi Senjougahara. I keep trying to understand her thought processes. Regardless, Tsundere-chan is great fun to watch. All the characters have superb seiyuu, and Bakemonogatari is as much an audio feast as a visual one.
6. Koko wa Greenwood (6 episode OVA series by Asia-Do & Studio Pierrot, 1991–93)
I suspect nobody else in the world has Greenwood in their top ten. I don’t know how to explain why this comedy is near the top of my list. All I can say is that there are some parts of Greenwood that I can watch over and over. I think the series is really well done, and the animation looks nice. I own the manga in English and Japanese.
7. Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou (26 episode TV series by Gainax, 1998–99)
Kare Kano is a bit of a mixed bag. The romance is great, and the first eight episodes are awesome – and those are the episodes I can watch over and over. These include very innovative and marvelous direction by Hideaki Anno. The Heart of Gainax shows through.
After that, we get side stories and things are hit-or-miss. On the desert island, as long as I have the first eight episodes, I’m good.
8. Aria (3 TV seasons, 54 episodes by Hal Film Maker, 2005–08)
Aria is a totally beautiful production, and every episode is a joy to watch. There are even some emotional moments. I love Aria. It’s healing and optimistic.
As a series, Aria has some minor issues, though. The characters don’t really develop or change. How they behave and react in Epidode 1 is pretty much the same in Episode 50. And I never strongly identified with any of the characters, which is unusual for me in an anime series. Because it’s a slice-of-life series, there’s no plot – no destination. Still, the ride is pleasant.
9. Dirty Pair (2 TV seasons plus OVAs, 36 episodes by Sunrise, 1985, 1987–90)
Ah, the Lovely Angels. I relish shows that have good banter, and the relationship between Kei and Yuri is what makes this show so engaging. (Well... that and crazy fun action...) Even the limited animation from the mid-80s can’t slow this team. I’ll probably wear out my Dirty Pair DVDs. (Coming to Blu-ray in North America in 2022!)
10. Bubblegum Crisis (8 episode OVA series by AIC, Artmic & Youmex, 1987–91)
Another 80s series that makes my list, Bubblegum Crisis doesn’t hold up that well over time. It makes my list because the show is a sentimental favorite. BGC is the first anime to rock me; I still listen to the soundtrack music on my commute to work. The battlesuits are silly, but the characters are likable.
High-quality shows that I really like... and you’d think they’d be on the list... but they aren’t shows that I’m into rewatching with the same frequency as the ones on my list:
- Haibane Renmei
- The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
- Azumanga Daioh
- Grisaia no Kajitsu
- Kino no Tabi
- Hourou Musuko
- Lucky Star
- Kaleido Star
- Ghost in the Shell
- Clannad / Clannad After Story
I’m listing these mainly so you don’t think I forgot something. They are presented in no particular order.
My favorite shows are more like comfort food – you wouldn’t necessarily want to serve them to guests. This is not a showcase of the best anime in terms of story and production quality. It’s just the stuff that I like – for whatever reason.
There are many, many anime series I enjoy or have enjoyed watching... and a great many series in my library... but it was really hard to pick 10 for my Favorite 10 list – not because there aren’t great shows – but because there aren’t that many shows I can truly watch over and over without wanting to skip parts – out of annoyance, boredom, or other discomfort.