From the New World
In a nutshell: many centuries have passed since humans gained telekinetic powers and promptly decimated themselves in war. In the future, we follow Saki and her friends as they grow up in one of the remaining villages, interacting with fellow humans and mysterious sentient creatures living close by.
I like science fiction. World-building can be fascinating for its own sake, and this was a fun thought experiment of how humans can organize a society to withstand the darkest depths of human nature. On top of that, it features amazing character work in both Saki and Squealer, with a nail-biting thriller finale making up for the slow drag of the early episodes.
Ping Pong the Animation
In a nutshell: we follow various high school table tennis athletes as they train and compete for the championships.
The character work in this story is just too well done for me not to respect: Kong Wenge finding a place to call home, Kazama suffocating under expectations, and Peco merrily enjoying himself and teaching Smile to do the same. All of these journeys are tightly meshed into 11 episodes with multiple emotional highlights.
In a nutshell: The Count of Monte Cristo, a classic revenge story, retold in SPACE
As a teenager, I loved the novel The Count of Monte Cristo for its angsty revenge tale. I enjoyed the anime for the same reason, as the Count was as fascinating as ever, and I liked how the shift in focus to Albert highlighted his growth and relationship with those around him (particularly Franz, bless his soul).
Little Witch Academia
In a nutshell: Akko is a girl who makes up for a lack magical talent with a never-say-die attitude. She goes to a school for witches in hopes of becoming like Shiny Chariot, the witch who inspired her as a child.
There is a lot to love about the series: the animation, Akko’s boundless energy, Sucy’s snark, and much more. However, what draws me the most to Little Witch Academia is its story of magic as inspiration. Inspiration is what Lotte receives from the writers of Nightfall, and it’s what she gives back to the current author to convince the latter to start writing again. Inspiration is what Akko receives from Shiny Chariot, and it’s what she gives back, with her indomitable spirit, to everyone around her. It lets us do marvelous things. And to be honest, with such a powerful message, I think everything else in the show is of secondary importance to me.
In a nutshell: Okabe, a self-styled “mad scientist” accidentally invents a time machine, and finds himself embroiled in a shadowy conspiracy plot with his best friend essentially taken hostage.
This was one of the first anime I watched, and helped convince me what anime can achieve. Okabe’s antics and personality were hilarious on my first watch, and held up decently on rewatch. The thriller aspect was engaging. The plot structure of digging layer by layer into trouble and fixing it layer by layer was also pretty cool. To top it off, it’s such a treat to watch the relationship develop between Okabe and Makise, from engaging banter to mutual support to a deep-rooted trust.
The Monogatari series (only certain arcs)
In a nutshell: a teenaged boy gets involved with girls and supernatural occurrences, except the latter actually represent the girls’ psychological conflicts.
I’m going to cheat here and only include certain Monogatari arcs: namely, Hitagi Crab, Sodachi’s arcs, Kanbaru’s arcs, and anything focusing on Hanekawa. The problem with the Monogatari series is that every arc starts off with at best indulgent banter that I don’t care for, and at worst Araragi being a pervert towards children. Once in a while, however, the emotional climaxes more than make up for the drag. At its best, the Monogatari series is about confused, broken people: people who hide behind facades, suppress their desires, distrust good-natured help, or unhealthily want to sacrifice themselves for everyone. I relate deeply to these stories. I love seeing these people hurt each other, learn from each other, and make various inroads on becoming better people.
In a nutshell: we follow a wandering exorcist as he provides services to people afflicted by mushi, which are supernatural creatures co-inhabiting our world.
Mushishi is episodic, meaning that the best episodes can send shivers down my spine with their thoughts on the love, empathy, and the human experience in general, while the worst episodes are entirely skippable. Throughout it all, I enjoyed Ginko’s attitude as a healer: he respects the choices and customs of the people he heals (like the girl who brings rain), he understands that sometimes there is no cure (like with the endlessly working guy), and sometimes he does nothing except facilitate people putting their relationships back together–because healing is not only in physical health, but in social bonds as well. Through the ups and downs of the interesting and less-interesting episodes, I always appreciated Ginko’s attitude.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
In a nutshell: mythical monsters are attacking Tokyo and the only ones who can stop them are troubled teenagers piloting giant robots.
This was probably the second anime I watched. When I first watched it, I liked the world-building and the action, but I got progressively confused about the plot, the symbolism, and the philosophical musing as the series took an introspective turn. Four years, a manga, and a rewatch later (as well as having viewed multiple write-ups and videos), I’ve come to realize that what I appreciate about Evangelion is surprisingly simple. Like Monogatari, Evangelion is a study of broken people, with their own traumas and issues and ways of coping, forced by the apocalyptic premise to negotiate their identities and their coexistence. Like Monogatari’s arcs, Evangelion too ends on a hopeful note that its protagonists might achieve self-acceptance if they continue to try. And that’s a message that can’t be said often enough.
Note: some resources that may be helpful include the Evamonkey’s episode guides, UTS Reviews’s two videos, and Crandol’s analysis on ANN. Oh and I totally read the wiki to figure out what exactly happened at the end.
In a nutshell: trying to escape their past, three bounty hunters (and a kid and a dog who hop along for the ride) wander through space looking for their next bounty and (who knows, maybe) a sense of purpose.
The thing about episodic series is that you’ll get your share of good episodes and bad ones, but the good episodes in Cowboy Bebop are outstanding. I was giggling at the mushroom episode, on the edge of my seat through the Pierrot le Fou episode, and generally awash with sweet melancholy at the episodes delving into the characters’ pasts. Cowboy Bebop tells a tragic story of aimless wanderers chained by their pasts, each trying to cope in their own way. You either move on, or you go out with a bang. The animation exudes confidence and style, and the score is excellent (the entire sequence from “Rain” to “Green Bird” in episode 5 still gives me the chills). All things considered, Cowboy Bebop is simply a well-put-together series.