In 2017 I created a list of my top 20 favorite anime and have regretted doing so ever since. I am constantly watching new shows and discovering new favorites. My taste in anime is always shifting and even shows I held dear at one point in time might not even make the cut come next year. So… why not try to give it a good update? And hell, while I am at it I might as well extend the damn list to 50!
I present you the 2019 update of my top 50 anime. A year filled with new discoveries, catching up with the Gundam series, and the reassuring knowledge that I still love obscure shows nobody else cares about.
#1 Higurashi – When They Cry
Adapting any novel, VN, or manga into anime is a challenge, but taking on the renowned horror-thriller masterpiece Higurashi was a project that seemed doomed to fail. Studio DEEN, putting aside their less-than-stellar animation work, took it on anyway and gave the world a complete and satisfying adaptation, that manages to capture the emotions and frightening atmosphere of the visual novel. With its excellent cast of characters and stellar direction work, Higurashi retains the #1 spot.
Love is a beautiful thing and few people will deny that Toradora presents some of the finest romance in anime. The story of Takasu and Taiga is absorbing and emotional, as they vow to help each other score a date with the other’s best friend. It’s a show that offers much hilarity and cute romance, but also doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to drama and character development. It has become a tradition to rewatch the show every year, and I keep finding new things to love about it each time.
In an alternate world where people use life-sized androids instead of pocket-sized smartphones, society is beginning to show some cracks. When robots become increasingly lifelike and their intelligence allows them to accurately mimic human emotion, what do you do when people fall in love with them? Chobits was one of the first anime I watched online and also one of my first DVD purchases back in the day. It’s a show near and dear to me, and certainly deserves praise for having one of the cutest protagonists in anime.
#4 Puella Magi Madoka Magica
I have my qualms with Gen Urobuchi, but can’t deny that the man crafted a modern-day masterpiece with his work on Madoka Magica. With a surreal visual style and a gripping soundtrack by Kalafina, Madoka is an artsy show with a lot of emotional punch to it. A captivating story about the mental and physical struggles of being a magical girl, with touches of romance and existential drama. I didn’t expect it to replace Lyrical Nanoha as my favorite mahou shoujo anime, but here we are.
#5 Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
Lyrical Nanoha was not the first series to realize magical girls could be kick-ass heroes that appeal to both genders, but it certainly reconfirmed the point. We got to see Nanoha and her friends grow up, battle intergalactic villains and magical super-monsters, and wipe out entire cities with enormous lasers. Few shows have battles that get me as hyped as the ones in Nanoha and few shows can claim to have a cast a likable (and preposterously large) as it does. Then again, most shows don’t get to span 20 in-universe years across countless multimedia releases.
#6 Azumanga Daioh
The Azumanga Daioh opening song makes me so happy and joyful I might play it at my own funeral. This show is what sustains me in life; an unrelentingly pleasant and endearing comedy show about characters that are so lovable. The story spans a whole 3 years and chronicles how these characters grow up throughout high school, dealing with childhood crushes, a growing wish for independence, and weird teachers that are probably nicer than the kids give them credit for. Here’s hoping for a Yotsuba anime one of these days.
#7 The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Haruhi is a show that defined the mid-2000s for me. An excellently-directed comedy show about a girl who, unbeknownst to herself, is a Goddess for whom the universe changes its laws at her whim. Everything she wishes will become reality and thus a group of friends, most of which were created by her wish to have friends, operate in secret to keep her in control and prevent world-altering events from occurring. The show is consistently funny and creative, but also comes with an amazing finale in the form of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.
#8 Girls und Panzer
I have no problem admitting that Girls und Panzer is, technically speaking, fucking stupid. It’s a ridiculous show with a dumb premise, but as a fanatical lover of tanks… how could I not fall in love with this show. It’s a celebration of military history and hardware, packaged as a completely safe sport practiced by cute anime girls. It’s paintball with tanks and actual explosions, spiced up with questionable national stereotypes too funny to get mad about.
#9 Elfen Lied
Its review continues to be my most-viewed article on this site and Elfen Lied continues to be an all-time favorite show. With a gripping musical score and a cruel story filled with shocking twists, Elfen Lied knows how to captivate its audience. I won’t say it’s amazingly written and it is still misery porn, but it does it so damn well that I find myself taken in by it. Lucy is such a cool protagonist and I find myself rewatching her terrible, terrifying story almost every year. I don’t think I have any other DVDs that have seen this much use.
#10 Ms. Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
Dragons have haunted me across many a video game and D&D campaign, so it was a tough sell for Ms. Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid to convince me that dragons could be adorable creatures. I am thoroughly convinced nowadays. Adapted from a fantastic manga by one of my favorite authors, Ms. Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has the iconic creatures of medieval fantasy take up a new life in the human world, where they make new friends, spout philosophy about the temporary nature of life, and… find love? Maybe? It’s a fantastic show with such a broad appeal that I’d almost recommend it to any fan of anime.
#11 Neon Genesis Evangelion
Important lesson: sometimes things are insanely popular because they’re actually damn good. For years I postponed getting into Neon Genesis Evangelion because I feared it couldn’t live up to the hype. But, my God, does this show live up to its hype. It’s an amazing mecha series filled with philosophy, intriguing characters, wanking on your comatose friends, and giant robots stomping alien invaders into the ground. I won’t pretend to understand the full scope of its story, but I sure know that I enjoyed watching it.
#12 Cutie Honey
Rarely have I made a secret of my love for the mahou shoujo genre and few magical girls are as dear to me as Honey Kisaragi. The Cutie Honey franchise has been ongoing since 1973 and currently counts 5 TV series, each of which reinvented the franchise to fit the current times. Whether it’s the 70’s original, the dystopian New Cutie Honey from the ’90s, Gainax’ Re:Cutie Honey from 2004, or even Cutie Honey Universe from 2018, each of these shows would make the cut if I put them on this list separately.
Trying to keep these paragraphs concise is a tough job when talking about the likes of Simoun, which is really a show that becomes impossible to explain. A war story about a highly-advanced theocracy fighting to maintain its exclusive access to its life-saving technology, child soldiers who are born genderless until they decide what they want to become, technology powered by love between pure maidens. It’s a bizarre mixture of ideas that somehow works really damn well.
One of my favorite shows of recent years, ERASED is a fantastic murder mystery about a cynical man who is framed for the murder of his own mother, right as she was about to blow the lid on a murder case that deeply affected him in his childhood. As he flees the cops, Satoru suddenly finds himself back in 1988, occupying the body of his childhood self, and given an opportunity to set things right. He must save the lives of his childhood friends and uncover the identity of the murderer, which would also mean his mother is never killed in the present-day. I found myself getting deeply attached to these characters and, while the mystery itself lacks surprises, the story around it I found enthralling and full of emotional moments.
#15 Sound of the Sky
Hope you like Amazing Grace, because Sound of the Sky will make damn sure you can whistle along to it by the end of it. It’s an intriguing show about the garrison of a border town during a period of fragile peace that might shatter at any moment. All the soldiers have interesting stories to them and are involved with the town and its unique culture and folklore. It’s also just a pretty show with an amazing music score, which hopefully explains why I still use a screenshot of its most iconic scene as the header for this website.
I think it might be impossible for anybody not to love Nichijou. It’s a goofy show with so much passion and love worked into it that I could rewatch it a bajillion times. Every sketch is amazing, every character endearing, every second worth turning into a funny gif. If you have any fondness for slice-of-life comedy anime, you owe it to yourself to watch Nichijou.
Probably the most relatable anime I have ever seen, Genshiken is about a group of college-aged otaku who are part of a geeky anime club. New member Kanji Sasahara is reluctant to join the group and further develop his passion for anime, but eventually gives it a try and is soon introduced to all kinds of otaku pastimes and products he never knew existed. It’s a show about comic cons, gunpla, cosplay, doujinshi circles, visual novels, and buying hentai without looking like an awkward ponce. And, most importantly, it’s about growing up as an otaku and whether it’s possible to keep up that lifestyle while taking on a job and forming a family.
#18 Humanity Has Declined
Anime can be weird from time to time, it’s something that we know and love about it. Then there is Humanity Has Declined, which is weird on an entirely different tier. A show about a post-apocalyptic scenario where humanity is dying out, to be replaced by the magical weirdos known as Fairies. The show follows the work of a mediator between humanity and fairykind, as she is involuntarily dragged into bizarre adventures and has to somehow persuade the fairies into cleaning up their messes.
#19 Soul Eater
Were it a complete adaptation of the manga, I have no doubt Soul Eater would rank in the top 10. As it stands, this anime version with an original ending is some of the most kick-ass shounen stuff out there, held back by some unresolved plot threads and an ending that left everybody kind of lukewarm. It’s still a fantastic series with a punk rock aesthetic and amazing characters, but I’ll never stop hoping for a canon remake.
#20 Hyouge Mono
The warring states period of Japan was a fascinating moment in time and one best remembered for its heroic samurai and brilliant generals. Hyouge Mono does feature these people, but tells the story from the perspective of a minor vassal hoping to start an artistic movement in Japan and expand his collection of beautiful treasures. He is up against some of the greatest artists of his time and has to balance his own ambitions with his responsibilities at Nobunaga’s court. Even an art collector can’t escape the clutches of war.
#21 Made in Abyss
I was hesitant to put Made in Abyss on this list. Despite being a fantastic show with an adventurous storyline filled with hardships and shocking twists, its first season has mostly been setup and we are still waiting for its continuation. In a time where even greats like One Punch Man can falter, I feel forced to contain my enthusiasm for this show somewhat. Maybe next year, or whenever season 2 hits, we’ll see Made in Abyss jump to the top of the charts. It has the potential to be an all-time classic… once somebody actually finishes the darn thing.
#22 Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World
Following a similar trend as Made in Abyss, Re:Zero is a show that took the anime community by storm, yet is still awaiting sequels that can conclude the story. When it launched, Re:Zero quickly became the isekai show for everybody. Its enjoyable world and plentiful fantasy tropes appealed to many, as did the grim storyline filled with characters that have real depth to them. It’s an isekai political thriller murder-mystery action-romance series. Ambitious stuff.
Even though I was severely disappointed with its second season, Amanchu has proven to be a literal life-changing anime for me. Since watching it, I decided to pursue a long-held ambition of mine and have taken up open water diving. I am currently still in training and working towards certification. Just like Futaba Ooki in the show, I have had to overcome a lot of challenges already and I am not just talking about financial ones. It’s tough, but I am still thankful to the show for giving me the confidence to push on and give this hobby a try.
#24 Tatami Galaxy
Tatami Galaxy was a show that I was hesitant about at first, but once its sprawling, fast-paced plot started clicking together, I was sold. It’s the bizarre story of a student, reliving all the various ways in which his college life could have unfolded and how his quest for friends and romance would fail, oftentimes at the hands of Ozu, who is either a bad friend, a monster, an evil deity, or something else entirely. Tatami Galaxy might not appeal to everyone, but it found a fan in me.
#25 Haibane Renmei
I have a fondness for weird anime with philosophical bends, which is certainly a category that broadly fits Haibane Renmei. Its plot is deliberately confusing and mysterious, but knows at what heartstrings to tug and delivers a beautiful, melancholic story about a group of friends stuck in a city where they are treated as second-class citizens. Again, I will not pretend to understand the entirety of the show’s subtext, but I can’t deny that the process of getting there is immensely interesting and gets me thinking.
#26 Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt
Panty and Stocking are two angel sisters who have been banished from heaven because one is a gluttonous goth girl and the other has sex with every man she encounters. The two of them are now stuck on Earth under the questionable guidance of a priest and must slay monsters to earn their redemption. Panty & Stocking is peak Gainax stuff with a lot of inspiration taken from American cartoons, making it quite unique in the anime landscape barring Hiroyuki Imaishi’s own FLCL.
#27 Shugo Chara
Imagine a Persona anime with a magical girl coating. That is pretty much Shugo Chara in a nutshell. Or was it an eggshell?
This is another show with a lot of content to unpack, but at its heart, it’s a show about a group of kids with magical powers fighting an evil corporation. Their magic stems from little pixies that embody the good qualities they can grow up to possess. However, if they choose to shun these pixies, they will eventually vanish or turn bad, and their childhood hopes & dreams will never come true. It’s a fascinating idea and a good fit for the magical girl genre.
#28 I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying
This series of anime shorts explores what happens when a jobless otaku blogger meets a beautiful woman and somehow they end up clicking together quite well. Hajime and Kaoru are a strange couple, held together by their strong love for each other and a mutual desire to figure out what will make them truly happy. It’s an unconventional romance story with characters that I really grew fond of and Cool-Kyou Shinja’s usual flavor of endearingly weird comedy.
#29 My Hero Academia
Izuku Midoriya’s quest to become a hero despite being born without superpowers is probably the most amazing thing happening in shounen anime at this moment. It’s a series I still keep up with and which has yet to disappoint me for even a single episode, not counting the somewhat-mediocre movie. I am excited to see what more lies in store for Deku and his classmates and, in particular, what might happen with All Might in season 4 and onwards. The wait is killing me, I tell you.
#30 Excel Saga
Parody is a surprisingly hard genre to pull off within anime, which you wouldn’t say if you saw how effortlessly Excel Saga pulls it off. While its subject matter may be a tad outdated for the modern-day, it’s still a show I can appreciate for its dark comedy, characters, and poking fun at classic anime series, genre tropes, and the anime industry as a whole. The first episode is about executing the manga’s author as punishment for his degenerate works of fiction, and that is just the first of many amazing storylines.
Monogatari is an amazing and sprawling story with dozens of individual series and a few movies that all add to its enormous plot and develop its intricate characters. It has a few mediocre moments throughout and it can be hard to follow, yet I still rate it highly because of how impactful the good moments are. I fell in love with the series’ surreal visual style and the lewd comedy it has to offer, which was enough to keep me coming back, even after some of the less-enjoyable arcs.
#32 Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Speaking of series that got all the room they needed to develop an epic story… Fullmetal Alchemist. A fantastic saga about two brothers looking for a mystical item to undo a mistake of their past and slowly uncovering a conspiracy with world-altering consequences. With over 60 episodes, FMAB has all the time in the world to weave together an intricate plot and develop its heroes and villains. It also satisfies a few niché criteria that I really appreciate, like its early-industrialization setting and militaristic themes.
#33 Non Non Biyori
If you are looking for a slice-of-life show to soothe your mind and calm your spirit, then I’d invite you to watch Non Non Biyori. It’s the lovely tale of a bunch of children who live in a village so remote that they are the only students at their entire school, which has since fused all its classes and grades into one. It’s a delightful collection of stories about these kids and the little things they do to make life out in the countryside enjoyable for themselves.
#34 My Daddy Long Legs
It feels like cheating to include My Daddy Long Legs because part of its appeal lies in how it adapts a classic novel by American author Jean Webster. Then again, this was the bread and butter of the World Masterpiece Theater and their 40-episode anime adaptation really should be judged on its own. It tells the story of a poor orphan receiving sponsorship from an unknown benefactor to attend a regular school and how she tries to hide her true identity from classmates and figure out who the mysterious Daddy Long Legs truly is. It adds a lot to the novel and brings it to life with beautiful animation.
#35 Chi’s Sweet Home
I love cats. In fact, between tanks and cats, it’s really hard to decide which one holds my preference. Chi’s Sweet Home is a long-running series of anime shorts about a little kitten being adopted by a small family who lives in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. We both get to see the family try to hide Chi and figure out how to care for a cat, as well as how Chi herself interprets her humans and learns about the world.
We may never see a complete adaptation of Kentaro Miura’s magnum opus, but the 1997 TV series by OLM comes damn close to satisfying what people are looking for in Berserk. A gritty dark fantasy story about a ruthless, unloved mercenary finding a permanent home in the army of the charismatic commander Griffith. It chronicles their rise to power and political significance and shows how both Guts and Griffith deal with the changing times. It’s not a replacement for the manga, but it wisely decided what parts of it to adapt and does right by them.
#37 Stop!! Hibari-Kun!
Hibari is the only son of an influential yakuza family, but she has decided to live her life as a woman and continuously resists her family’s attempts to make her manly again. It’s an anime I often talk about for its fantastic portrayal of an LGBT protagonist who fights back against discrimination and overcomes her would-be bullies. It’s also a great comedy series with romantic elements that you don’t see in other anime. And all that, way back in 1983.
#38 Violet Evergarden
After the conclusion of a prolonged war, former child soldier Violet finds herself separated from her beloved commander and unable to fit into a non-military society. She takes up work as a typist who writes letters for people and, through interpreting the true feelings of her clients, begins to uncover her own emotions that she had to hide away while growing up in wartime. Violet Evergarden is a Kyoto Animation production that plays right into the studio’s strengths and sets a new bar for their animation work. It’s a visually stunning show with a plot that’s full of tragedy and drama; it’s able to consistently deliver tear-jerking scenes and uses those to greatly develop its protagonist.
#39 Witchcraft Works
Trying to be a fan of this series has proven to be difficult. Witchcraft Works was a show I much enjoyed, but which didn’t find much of an audience when it first started airing. It was never licensed for a physical release, though eventually picked up by Crunchyroll for streaming, and we get maybe 1 volume of the manga per year. Still, I have a lot of passion for the fantastic magical world of Ryu Mizunagi’s urban fantasy love story and am eager to see where the plot is going. I hope it continues to involve penguins.
Diebuster is the amazing follow-up to Hideaki Anno’s late-80s mecha series Gunbuster, created by his protegé Kazuya Tsumuraki and made to celebrate Gainax’ 20-year anniversary in 2004. It takes the melodramatic space opera that Gunbuster was and takes it into the 21st century, injecting the series with a more lighthearted and energetic tone, but keeping the giant space battles. I did not like Gunbuster at all, but Diebuster made me retroactively happy that I watched it anyway.
#41 Maria the Virgin Witch
Witchcraft is a storytelling theme I much enjoy and few shows have executed it quite as well as Maria the Virgin Witch. Set in France during the Hundred Years’ War, this story tells the tale of the witch Maria who lives in the woods, makes medicine for the locals, and routes the armies of England and France by summoning giant monsters from folklore. Though she tries to prevent war, various forces and even God himself disapprove of her and scheme to undermine the powerful witch.
#42 One Punch Man
Saitama is a superhero who defeats everything he encounters in just one punch. While he started doing hero work for fun, nothing has posed him a challenge in a long time and his unrivaled power has gone unacknowledged by the larger superhero community. It’s a hilarious story that frequently had me laughing like a maniac, but supplements that with genuinely impressive fight scenes and a story with deeper themes than immediately apparent.
#43 The Devil is a Part-Timer!
The devil has been defeated, his armies shattered, and he is forced to flee through a mysterious portal with his last-remaining general. The two of them end up on earth, broke and without magic. Their only option? Part-time employment at the local fast-food joint.
Surprisingly, the two of them adapt quickly and begin to take a liking to their new lives, until old enemies begin to make their way unto Earth as well, looking to continue (and finish) the fight. A shame they never made a season 2, but I still intend to read up on the novels once they are finally done writing the damn things. 24 volumes… fucking hell…
#44 Everyday Life with Monster Girls
Some might call me a filthy degenerate, but I can appreciate a good ecchi show from time to time. And as far as ecchi are concerned, few are as solid as the fantasy show Monster Musume, where a young man is tasked with taking care of a growing number of monster girls as part of a cross-species exchange program. Every girl is a creatively-designed take on traditional fantasy creatures and they get into countless problems as they all start living together and find themselves falling in love with the same man.
#45 Gunsmith Cats
As a lover of old school OVA series, I would be remiss not to mention Gunsmith Cats and its spiritual attachment Riding Bean. Both of them are kick-ass, crime-fighting action series, with Gunsmith Cats centering around two female mercenaries who run an illegal gun shop. It’s like an American crime thriller given a mid-90s anime overhaul, and that is right up my alley.
#46 Mysterious Girlfriend X
My love for bizarre anime is once again made apparent. Mysterious Girlfriend X is a questionable romance story about a boy called Tsubaki who becomes addicted to the saliva of his mysterious classmate Mikoto Urabe and falls victim to withdrawal symptoms soon after. When she discovers he has been a little pervert, Tsubaki and Urabe enter a relationship out of necessity. However, as the two learn how to interact with each other, an actual romance begins to form. It’s very strange and I won’t blame anybody for skipping it, but there is definitely more to it than its bizarre premise implies.
#47 El Cazador de la Bruja
El Cazador is a beautiful action anime by the now-defunct Studio Bee Train. It’s set in central & south America, and follows a Latina gunslinger as she works to protect a girl with mystical powers from bounty hunters, corporate goons, and various other forces looking to acquire her. It’s a cool series with a setting you don’t typically see in anime and a duo of likable characters at its center.
#48 Serial Experiments Lain
Is there a term that describes that feeling of being “pleasantly confused”? I won’t pretend to be some genius that watched Serial Experiments Lain and knew exactly what it was about on my first viewing, but I did immediately appreciate the show’s tone, aesthetic, surrealism, and characters. I had to read through Wikipedia’s episode summaries to keep up with the plot, but it felt like a fun, cyberpunk puzzle that I was slowly piecing together.
#49 Yuru Camp
The genre of “cute girls doing cute things” is heavily contested and, with so many great shows out there, it leaves you wondering if maybe all the all-time greats have already been made by now. Yuru Camp arrived in 2019 and proved there is still gold to be mined here, offering a relaxing story about a group of friends who like to go camping together. With beautiful visuals and interesting details like making social media a big part in how the girls communicate, Yuru Camp managed to sneak into the list at #49. Perhaps with another season and some time, we may see it jump ahead next year.
#50 Tokyo Mew Mew
It should be noted that even the #50 spot is a prestigious achievement. With some 550 unique anime under my belt now, this list represents less than the top 10% of everything I ever watched. Tokyo Mew Mew is an amazing show, so don’t let it ranking at the bottom fool you.
This is a classic mahou shoujo show about girls who work in a maid café and also secretly protect the earth and the environment from alien invaders. With five fantastic main characters and a roster of devious bad guys, this was a show that hooked me in. I watched those 50+ episodes in no time at all and was amazed at the show’s great character arcs and the larger plot it develops despite of the episodic format. And while Mew Mew Power was a disaster, I gotta admit that Bree Sharp’s “Team Up” makes for a surprisingly catchy OP.
That’s it! 50 great anime!
I’ll probably have changed my mind about the order already by the time this goes up, but it was a fun challenge to assemble this list. Maybe next year we can add another 25!
Have a safe transition into 2020! Be careful with fireworks! Sieg Zeon! See you all next year!