I’m in my early 30s, which means that since I got into anime when I was around fifteen years old I have now literally spent more than half of my life as part of this wacky fandom. From this point on I will have spent more years of my life as an anime fan than not.

In these last fifteen or so years I have watched a lot of shows. Like, thousands and thousands of hours. Back when I started we didn’t have broadband internet access and imports were basically an impossibility, but the various anime groups and clubs traded low resolution fansubs burnt to spindles of CD-Rs, and that’s how we got our fix.

The first anime I watched, when conscious of what “anime” was, happened to be the non-canon Macross 2: Lovers Again film. This was also when I first encountered the superlative artwork and character design of Haruhiko Mikimoto.

I have to be grateful that at the time we didn’t have much choice in what we watched, because I got exposed to some amazing golden age titles from the 80s such as the original Macross, Orguss, Megazone 23, and many others. This is probably why I still prefer the art-style that was prevalent in the mid-80s to mid-90s. The glossy modern shows generally lack the charm and feel of titles like Video Girl AI or Super Dimension Century Orguss.

Not that I can complain about the state of things today! A combination of three paid streaming services provide me with more anime than I can hope to watch and there are plenty of modern titles that I have enjoyed as much as anything I have watched in the past. Recently I’ve been blown away by Knights of Sidonia, felt wonderment at Seven Deadly Sins, and just flat out enjoyed titles like GATE, Overlord, and RE:Zero.

My Best 5 Anime

Still, there are five shows that I feel have really stuck with me over the last fifteen years. Of course, whenever anyone puts together any sort of “top” list no one will agree. This is MY top five. If you’ve never watched any of these five then my only hope is that you might give them a chance and maybe you’ll love them as much as I did.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion Collection

Yes, yes. I can hear you cringe all the way over here. It’s cliche to say you think Evangelion is the best show ever. Yada, yada. Blah, blah.

The thing you have to remember is that when I first watched Evangelion (about 10 years after it aired) there was no hype. I didn’t even have internet access. I had no idea what the hell the show was. I had no idea that it was supposed to be special. It was just another show that made its way into my hands and, frankly, I watched whatever I got my hands on.

This show blew my mind to pieces. I have watched the entire 26-episode run no fewer than 20 times in the last fifteen years (I counted them). Everything about this show clicked for me. I spent significant amounts of time thinking about Evangelion. The themes rattled around in my head. Revelations about what things meant came to me in the shower. I guess this show was to me what LOST was to a lot of people. All of this happened without the benefit of really being part of a global fan community and EVA has stuck with me ever since. While the show is definitely not for everyone to like, it is one that every person who cares at all about the medium should watch at least once. Like Akira or Ghost in the Shell, Evangelion rightfully has a place in anime history as an important work.

Buy On Amazon

Crest & Banner of the Stars

Crest of the Stars

I have a hard time deciding whether this is my number one favorite or if Evangelion is. Today I feel like this is number two, but it’s a difficult choice.

Simply put, Crest of the Stars and its follow up Banner of the Stars are in my mind definitive epic space opera stories. Not just in anime, but in all media. If Hollywood had any sense this is the property they would be developing, not GITS starring Black Widow.

The anime is an adaptation of a series of novels by author Hiroyuki Morioka. I have since read the manga adaptation and translations of the novels. The first book was published in 1996 and, in true George RR Martin style, Morioka has still not finished the series. Like Ice and Fire fans, I fear that I may never see the end to this story.

I have had a hard time describing this series to people. Often I describe it as “Lord of the Rings in Space”, which does it a disservice. Still, the parallels to Tolkien’s world building and use of conlangs can’t be denied. The Abh race (to which the main characters belong) have their own functional language and Morioka is just as detail-oriented. This appeals to me personally as someone who loves lore and deep world-building in fiction.

The best part of the series has to be the characters. Jinto, the audience viewpoint character, has a masterful dry wit and personality. The real star of the show, Lafiel, is one of the best depictions of a female character I have ever seen in any medium. She’s smart, assertive, self-sufficient, and consistently subverts the long list of princess tropes. She’s not alone, as the other characters, regardless of gender, are as unforgettable.

The way that space battles are depicted was another thing that I loved about this series. They really bring home the mundane terror and essential helplessness of fighting in space. Sure, a lot of the mechanics are implausible, but applied consistently in-universe they feel real. When you die in space from enemy action you’ll probably never see it coming and wouldn’t be able to do anything about it if you could.

Look, stop reading this and go and watch this show. It’s a better use of your time.

Buy On Amazon (Crest of the Stars) Buy On Amazon (Banner of the Stars)

Record of Lodoss War (OVA)

Record of Lodoss War OVA

The first Lodoss War OVA sticks with me for mainly one reason: peerless characterization. The plot and setting were about as vanilla a fantasy as they come and, given that this was based off a story that was developed as part of a D&D game, that’s no surprise.

No, the real magic of Lodoss War comes from the journey the characters take through this run-of-the-mill fantasy world. Parn, the main character, and Deedlit the elf are especially notable. However, it is the story of their enemies Ashram and the dark elf Pirotess that I have never been able to shake.

In fact, it is largely the subplots that the adventurers break off into which really held my interest. The OVA is short and sweet; though more has been done in the series since then, nothing has matched the first one as far as I am concerned.

Buy On Amazon

Code Geass

Code Geass

Where do I even begin with the calculated gut-punch that is Code Geass? If people could digitize tragedy and burn it onto a DVD you would get a box set of Code Geass.

Anyway, it has a lot going for it and is brilliant for much the same reason as Death Note was so good. The main character is actually pretty evil (or maybe just an antihero, if you prefer) while being a bona fide genius. It feels good to root for the bad guy, and watching the Machiavellian machinations of Lelouch as he tries to literally rule the world is supremely entertaining.

Yet, it is the wanton disregard for the feelings of the viewer that makes me come back to this one. Real life is not about happy endings and Code Geass understands that far too well.

Buy On Amazon


Chobits complete

I have really liked a lot of what CLAMP has done over the years, especially X and Angelic layer, but Chobits will forever be with me.

Sure, this show is a bit heavy on the ecchi elements, and on some level the adult me cringes a bit at some of these things. But at its core Chobits tells an amazing love story while also asking deep and important questions about what it means to be human, and the role of artificial intelligence in society. Most importantly, it also deals with a world where people are more interested in interacting with their tech than with each other. This was years before the smartphone revolution, but the overtones are eerily similar. Chobits is a show with very serious themes coated in beautiful art, delightful characters, and a cheery exterior. It made me laugh, cry, and ultimately think. I certainly could never forget it.

Buy On Amazon

Sharing is caring!