I’ve made too many top ten movies and games posts, but have never even made a proper top ten anime post. So it’s time to start mining this particular avenue of clickbait substituting for substantial content.
I don’t think my taste in anime is too esoteric or contrarian, so don’t expect too many surprises. For the sake of simplicity I’m not distinguishing OAV series from actual TV shows.
At six episodes, the entire runtime of FLCL is only slightly longer than the average modern blockbuster movie, but within that span it manages to cram an entire TV season’s worth of story and character. While nominally another adolescent coming-of-age story, it feels like a surrealist restatement of anime as a whole, taking different genres and dozens of familiar tropes and rearranging them into something weird. It matches this with animation that reaches Chuck Jones levels of gonzo madness and energy. Neon Genesis Evangelion may have been the Gainax show that blew my teenage mind, but recent rewatches have confirmed that this is the one with the most staying power. Equally poignant and hilarious.
(I’m not entirely convinced that this show required a followup, but I’m nevertheless a bit excited about the upcoming sequel series)
2. Serial Experiments Lain
Unfortunately the second slot is taken by a show arguably even more obscurantist and bizarre, if not more sedate. Lain means so much to me that it’s hard to summarize in a paragraph, but its basically been the definitive cyberpunk title for me, trying to translate the content of the genre into form. And I guess in that regard it was one of the gateway drugs to me pretentiously running my mouth about that sort of stuff.
3. Princess Tutu
Ahiru is the best magical girl because she defeats her enemies by dancing. And she’s a duck.
4. Kill la Kill
Crass and demented, yes, but also endlessly creative and manages to keep a downright relentless, manic pace throughout its entirety without becoming tiresome. It’s a near perfect action show and an almost inspirational example of what you can accomplish in animation on a relatively small budget.
5. Haibane Renmei
On the other hand, Haibane Renmei is perhaps the tenderest, most sensitive anime that never descends to treacly sentimentalism. It takes some serious discipline to construct a fascinating, ontological mystery setting and treat it merely as the backdrop for a profound character study.
Trigun is everything I’ve wanted a superhero story to be, with its larger than life heroes and villains, strong, probing examination of the “with great power comes great responsibility” schtick, and amazing set piece action sequences. Bonus points for its more thoughtful than usual use of religious themes and images.
7. Cardcaptor Sakura
It’s the most elegant take on the whole collectathon-style story, and also extremely cute.
8. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
If we’re going to talk about giant manly transforming robots fighting while people yell a lot, then I’m afraid Gurren Lagann is the perfection of the form. That final transformation in the last episode always sends shivers down my spine.
9. Macross Plus
I remember this being the first anime I saw as a kid to make me feel sophisticated, in that the characters were fighting not to save the world but to see whose transforming robot plane would get bought by the military. In retrospect it’s a lot of boilerplate melodrama, but it’s still a slick, stylish piece of animation, and I’ll take it over Mad Men or whatever other drama cool people are supposed to watch. It unfortunately got a bit overshadowed when the same creative team went on to make…
10. Cowboy Bebop
Yeah, yeah, amazing soundtrack, really cool, film noir, Bruce Lee, etc. Etc.