Top 50 Anime Series of the Decade
December 4, 2009
This decade is a very meaningful one for my anime fandom. I started watching anime several years ago so naturally, vast majority of shows I have consumed were products of this decade. And as much as I enjoy writing and reading about anime, ultimately my fandom is defined by my favourite titles, which inspire and move me to write about them in the first place. So to celebrate and remember this, here is my top 50 anime series that aired at some point between year 2000 and 2009.
This list is not objective/thorough recommendation of best anime series of the decade, it is simply for my personal list of vaguely ranked favourite titles to be remembered. It is expected that I may not have watched your favourite anime, I may like anime you hate, and even possible that I may not like your favourite anime in the exact order you prefer. If you are open minded enough to accept this simple enough concept, then I hope you enjoy the read and maybe find some anime you might like.
Please note that this post is over 4000 words and 50 screenshots, so feel free to read only what you’re interested in.
50. Ergo Proxy – Ergo Proxy gets a lot of flak for being pretentious and I can offer no defense for it. What sold Ergo Proxy for me however wasn’t its philosophical nonsense, it was innovative direction of stand-alone episodes sitting within main plot. These episodes are truly outstanding in their unconventional methods of directing, simply brilliant examples of film-making in animated form. If you prefer atmospheric and artsy directions over solid writings and characters, give Ergo Proxy a try.
49. Tweeny Witches – Tweeny Witches is one of the most imaginative and enthralling children’s anime you will find. No doubt some will leave disappointed by how simple and childish it turn out to be. I ask only to loosen that pessimistic outlooks we develop as adults before hopping on Alice’s broomstick, and look around with more whimsical and innocent sight. There is genuine feeling under that childish simplicity. There is unfaltering light beckoning behind Alice’s naive smile. And there is magic. Enjoy the adventure and all its wonders.
48. My-Hime – Although lacking as a whole product, there are key moments where My-Hime simply breathes of creative fire. Sometimes the animation and other technical elements can be so good, the screen gleefully dance in flames of energy. Very few anime can boast as much of excitement and intensity as My-Hime‘s best moments, and I am sure to revisit them again for thrills.
47. Kanon 2006 – The stories of Kanon 2006 sings is like a melody in Pachelbel’s Kanon. Each melody is sad, like a girl hopelessly trying to reach out for someone, but also hopeful for precious promises we make. Each melody repeats itself with varying tone, different pitch, different feeling. And each melody comes together as a beautiful orchestra of touching stories of the girls and their promises. Its beauty lies not only in each individual melodies but in how they are all linked together to produce more wholesome, heart-warming music.
46. Natsume Yuujinchou – Aesthetics of Natsume Yuujinchou is as pleasantly subdued as its story-telling, which can be like a refreshing breeze in summer heat, or the warmth of a hug in winter. Simple, funny, soothing and heart-warming. Such are the appeals of this wonderfully healing anime.
45. Ef ~ tale of memories – I have no fond of moe or melodrama. Yet I want to recommend ef ~ tale of memories to anyone who can appreciate anime as a medium capable of great artistry and story-telling. Innovative cinematography, engaging narrative flow, evocative symbolisms and Tenmon’s heartfelt music; these are the wings that elevate ef from the ruins of failed melodramas to soaring emotional flight.
44. Oh! Edo R0cket - Going to the moon by building rockets in Tenpou era? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it. That’s because it is and the show knows it. Filled with self-awareness, humour and wit, Oh! Edo Rocket never misses a chance making fun of its own historical inaccuracies, as well as the idiocy of 2D drawn figures trying to be more than what they are; endearing characters in a beautiful story of hope and love. Funny thing is that we do fall for these characters by the end due to the kind of characterisation rarely seen in comedy series, and we can’t help but root for their hilarious attempt to reach the moon. Now that’s rocket science of storytelling.
43. Code Geass – There is little denying the sheer entertainment value of this unstoppable train. And what an exciting experience this was for me as anime fan! Sometimes speculating about future events, making fun of its ridiculous nature, or in my case, shipping CC x Lelouch and defending ‘HE IS ALIVE’ theory to the end. Although it isn’t going to win any award in my book, Code Geass offers an immensely fun and memorable experience for everyone.
42. Nodame Cantabile – How one’s life turns out arguably depends on one’s encounters with people. Although memories can imprison us, there is still hope of change through encounter. This is a humorous and well-crafted prelude to these two great musicians’ tale, a series of touching encounters and circumstances we will remember as Nodame Cantabile.
41. Kemonozume – “Neurotic, chaotic and everything in between, Kemonozume doesn’t simply break the conventional anime mold; it takes a sledge hammer and shatters it. Half of my brain is wondering what the hell I just saw. The other half can only think of one word: genius”. – Shadowmage
40. FMP: Fumoffu! – While I am not the biggest fan of Full Metal Panic franchise, FMP: Fumoffu! is an absolutely hilarious addition to anime comedy genre. Although not exactly high-brow, I highly recommend it to anyone looking to kill themselves with laughter. As well as delicious fanservice.
39. Ouran High School Host Club – What impressed me the most about this little gem was its artistry. Art and animation here are free, ready to deform at any minute and materialising itself in wildly imaginative ways in order to bring humour and characteristics of what could be conceived as clichéd situations. Sprinkle an ounce of self-awareness with a pinch of emotional touch, and you have one comedy concoction that will please just about anyone.
38. Samurai Champloo – What an incredibly seamless fusion of Edo-period Japanese and modern hip hop culture! Whether it be breakdancing sword fights or exercising unique blend of graffiti and caligraphy, Watanabe Shinichi has not once failed to cook up something deliciously hilarious, stylish, enthralling and surprising each episode. Although lacking emotional and philosophical depth of Cowboy Bebop, one can not ask for more from such a harmlessly funny and exciting entertainment.
37. Red Garden - Red Garden boasts some of the best voice direction in anime. Recordings were done prior to animation to allow voice actors to freely express character’s raw emotional states, and oh does it show when their words cuts like a knife. Add to this elegant character designs, quirky animated expressions and atmospheric direction by Kou Matsuo (Kure-nai), Red Garden is the place to visit for a quality dose of feminine melodrama.
36. The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi – A marvel of both ground-breaking ideas and flawless execution. Not only did it consistently surprise us week after week with the unexpected, it not once failed to carry superbly with the highest degree of animation and directing quality, whether it be fighting a giant cricket in alternate dimension, or being blown away by the best animated musical performance ever.
35. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni – Higurashi is a fascinating mix of opposing elements. There is light-hearted joy in irresistably adorable smiles of girls, but underneath that crawls malicious suspense and horror. There exists supernatural forces, yet the bloody hands of each murder are all very human. The characters want to believe and depend on each other, but they become demons by succumbing to doubts and malignant intents. Between what is magical and real, cute and frightening, and their will to believe and deceive, what is left is that inexplicable sense of impending doom at hearing a cicada’s cry admist the sunset.
34. Baccano! - Watching Baccano! is like setting a pack of dynamite on fire. We are at first introduced to a fantastic cast of the most unusual and bizarre quirks and personalities, mostly unrelated to each other. But their roads become intertwined, and there is that indescribable sense of thrill, suspense and anticipation at watching different plots advancing towards one big explosive finale. If you enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s Snatch!, then this is one dynamite entertainment you don’t want to miss.
33. Toward the Terra – A painfully underrated space opera. Not only does Toward the Terra feature some of the best visual designs, the characters are as immense and endearing as its relentlessly propagating plot. A timeless epic that is sure to inspire and move anyone who stumbles upon it, for many decades to come.
32. Gunslinger Girl – If only every ‘girls with guns’ series was as mature and well-written as this. When introduced to the girls brainwashed and trained to assassinate without second thought, we can’t help but feel sorry for their cruel fate. And yet, also glad for their opportunity to savour happiness in playing violin, playing with dolls, eating gelatos, and just enjoying life as pure as young girls should. Such is the melancholic beauty of Gunslinger Girls.
31. Princess Tutu - Under the fine delicacy of Princess Tutu you will find astoundingly daring approaches to break standard conventions. What you will see is truly greater and more genuine than any girl-meets-prince story you’ve seen. I only wish that you can also experience the inexplicable delight of watching Tutu remain true to herself by dancing with her own strengths, which was infinitely more beautiful than any fancy magic or costume. After all, not every duck has to become a swan through magic, be it fairy tales or anime.
30. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Although not as exhausting and intense as Oshii’s movies, one still has to earn the right to appreciate GITS: SAC by being attentive to heavy dialogues and political intrigue. Once you jump over the hurdles though, you will be treated to a wealth of creativity and intelligence of Cyberpunk genre, as well as empathetic characters of the second season (2nd GIG).
29. Mouryou no Hakko – This series could not have picked a better title than Mouryou no Hakko (Goblin’s box). Its mystery can initially seem like a goblin-like entity, because anything we fear and don’t understand tends to appear supernatural. As we follow different stories written inside the boxed perspectives of each character, we actually become more lost and deceived by this intricately web of heterogenously mingled plots! The web is untangled one by one in the end, as each opened box reveals a truth more horrifying and disturbing than the last. A masterfully crafted mystery that will blow your mind.
28. Paranoia Agent – The premise of Paranoia Agent is fascinating in that it explores prevalent social issues present in today’s insecure and xenophobic Japanese society. And Satoshi Kon uses his renowned art of stepping in and out of reality/dream to paint horrifyingly vivid psychological visions of stress and the ways in which people want to free themselves from such paranoia. It’s a minor miracle that a man like Satoshi Kon even got to direct a TV series and it will be foolish not to indulge ourselves by watching Paranoia Agent.
27. Denou Coil - Possibly the most mature children’s anime you will find, Dennou Coil is cute, funny, charming but also surprisingly intense and dramatic. It has the emotional depth that is rarely seen in children’s anime, if ever, and I wholeheartedly recommend what is surely one of the finest animated production of this decade.
26. Gungrave – The portrayal of friendship and brotherhood in Gungrave is perhaps the most beautiful one in the animated medium. Between your ambitions, friends and families, which will you choose? Which are you willing to forsake to protect what you value the most? What endures at the end is that eternally lasting friendship, stronger than any metal and more beautiful than any flower in the world. This is The Godfather of anime and I can not recommend it enough.
25. Fantastic Children – Astroboy-like designs, soundtracks evocative of 80′s, classic narrative style and animated by the veterans of Nippon Animation studio, Fantastic Children is one fine trip down to old school animation. The fact that a story as epic as this went unnoticed by many is a tragic shame, since one rarely gets to encounter a story and characters as gripping as those in Fantastic Children.
24. Bokura Ga Ita – As you can tell from my list, I don’t like romance anime. Well, most of them anyway. Bokura Ga Ita was different. At first, like one of the characters, it was hard to feel for a girl who would still date a guy that beats her, cheats on her and stand her up. But maybe there is no need to know why you truly love someone, just as there is no reason to know why coffee is warm to enjoy its warmth. And boy did this romance know how to make me feel warm inside.
23. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei – Chaotic would be an apt description of this outrageous comedy series. Do note that chaos is not randomness, it’s just that the comedy of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is so biting in black humour and relentless in pacing, it’s almost impossible to look at it with any semblance of order. Surely not for everyone, nevertheless it is easily my favourite comedy series of the decade.
22. Simoun – Aside from its complexity and depth, as well as some of the best designs, music and voice acting you will ever see in anime, it is also a mature look at Yuri in relation to our purity of adolscence. When these girls fly and draw beautiful lines in the sky, they are liberated from rules and obligations, and there is beauty to be found in their rebellious defiance, but also feelings that are honest and uncompromising. Simoun is, in a word, mystifying, and very few are as enchanting as its enigmatic world.
21. Casshern Sins - “Casshern Sins is visual poetry; evocative; melancholy; beautiful. This is when words are insufficient, it simply must be seen. Like ballet or wuxia, as if on stage, these characters spin, twist and jump, towards and around each other, every movement an indirect, evocative step forward, like feathers carried by winds of fate, blown across red pools and rocky desolation, secretly dancing to the soundtrack, transfixed by an insatiable desire to understand the other. It is emotion in action, confused, joyful, elegant.” – bateszi
20. Banner of the Stars – This sequel to one of the greatest space opera series (Crest of the Stars) has lost none of its charms. Subtlety governs just about everything here, including character interactions, humour, space battles and even fanservice. Banner of the Stars find it crass in explicit display of brutally butchered soldiers screaming horribly in pain, it much prefers to let silent cries of lost souls resonate under the quiet surface, ever so softly, but with a resounding ring of longetivity. Classy, philosophical, but not without its own share of witty humour and heated conflicts, the Stars Trilogy is a must-see for every fans of space opera.
19. BECK: Mongolion Chop Squad – Although a little unpolished in visual and engrish department, no anime can rock as hard as BECK can when it comes to a coming-of-age story (aside from FLCL). Pleasantly surprised you may be when treated to a number of electrifying performances, BECK‘s forte is still characters, and the show never misses a beat developing them to their fullest. You will learn to get annoyed with them, but also like them, love them as they grow, and rock with them harder than ever before.
18. Hataraki Man – A career can mean many things for different people. Sometimes a passion, sometimes a burden, and maybe bit of both. Hataraki Man thoroughly explores a fascinating microcosm of working people in Japanese society, giving generous amount of screen time to every single characters to capture their unique quirks, personalities, histories and most importantly, their perspectives and decisions regarding their work and life. And with consistently solid animation, flawless narrative flow and the level of maturity and sophistication rarely found in anime, one could not ask for more from this absolutely brilliant silce-of-life series.
17. Shigurui - Violent manga-to-anime adaptations are rarely better than its predecessor, simply because the animated violence can almost never triumph over the meticulously painted scenes we envision in manga. Shigurui is a miraculous exception to this in that the Madhouse studio managed to breathe life into the repulsive, yet absolutely captivating world of cruelty without losing an ounce of the original’s vigour. Shigurui sings song of merciless brutality, but does it with a voice of an alluring siren, and any hard-seasoned viewers sturdy enough to stomach gratuitous gore will be treated to an enrapturing symphony of disgust and pleasure.
16. Koi Kaze - The very premise of Koi Kaze is outrageous. How can you seriously expect anyone to swallow a romantic relationship between a 27 year-old salaryman and his 14 year-old sister? You don’t have to swallow it because Koi Kaze makes no statement. Doesn’t endorse nor condemn incest in modern society. There is only sense of desire and longing; of feelings that are beautifully transcendent, and woefully temporal. It saddens me to know that no anime like Koi Kaze will ever be produced for another decade or two.
15. Boogiepop Phantom – Forget the complexity of Evangelion or FLCL. With a timeline randomly jumping ten times each episode and nameless characters looking pretty much the same, this is by far the most difficult and demanding viewing one will likely encounter in anime. Beneath this enigmatic puzzle however remains grim tales of defeated hope and tainted innocence, as well as that fleeting desire to escape reality, and be lost in blissful memories of the past. Boogiepop Phantom is a confusing puzzle of haunting beauty that is sure to be treasured for many sturdy viewers.
14. The Twelve Kingdoms - One thing The Twelve Kingdoms excels over Serei no Moribito is its clear sense of direction and organisation, which brings together all the subplots and orchestrates them in an explosively dramatic finale. Sadly The Twelve Kingdoms still remains an unfinished masterpiece. It’s promising second arc was suddenly dropped and never picked up again, while its final arc pales in comparison to its previous arcs. Nevertheless, the first arc is an incredible character-driven journey of our heroine’s rise to leadership, while the third arc is an epic building of this compelling world as well as its fantastic characters. Perhaps its fictional world was always to be fragmented like Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, forever left unfinished, yet never to be forgotten once we do enter it.
13. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann - Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is very much like a drill. It starts out small, yet eventually spiraling out into something much more epic in scope and intensity. What’s even more impressive is its ability to capture a non-mecha fan like me, who usually complains about ridiculous plot holes and transformations, to vigorously kick reason to the curb and lose myself in the thrill of watching Simon and his friends beating the impossible. Animated by stylish Hiroyuki Imaishi (FLCL, Dead Leaves) and written by Kazuki Nakashima (award-winning playwright), TTGL has power of the drills that pierces through logic and strike at our heart, shouting blood-boiling cries of who the hell do you think we are.
12. Kino’s Journey – Kino’s Journey is less of a criticism and more of a tribute to human imperfections. Some things in this world, like massacring a group of innocent people for sport, are repulsively ugly. But the world is beautiful because of it, for if the children they gave birth to and held in their arms weren’t precious enough, would they have willingly killed all those innocent people for the children’s sake? Such is the beautifully grim nature of Kino’s Journey, utterly thought-provoking and enchanting journey into celebrating our imperfections.
11. Kaiba – Franz Liszt once described Beethoven’s delicate second movement of Moonlight Sonata as a ‘flower between two chasms’, which sat between its haunting first and relentless third. One gets a similar melancholic impression from Kaiba in that, despite all the depressing aspects of this futuristic world stripped off its humanity, we still find tiny sparkles of hope driving the series. Finding warmth and light at the edge of coldest and darkest places, watching Kaiba is a pleasure more than divine.
10. Aria – No anime can heal like Aria can. Serene, joyful and impossibly cute, it is a bliss to find beauty in even the most trivial things through Akari’s aqua-tinted lense. It’s too easy to become cynical in our real life, if only more people could visit Aqua and learn to appreciate tiny wonders around us. Now wouldn’t that make our world a brighter place to live.
9. MONSTER – Like a fine wine, the beauty of Monster lies in slowly savouring every moment of its deliberately sluggish narrative flow. Caring efforts are given to build up suspense, intrigue and terrifying revelations in each side story, but the series never loses its focus, for every mystery threads are weaved meticulously together in an explosive finale. MONSTER is a truly fitting title for this uncompromising beast, for we are rendered helpless at the mercy of its unbearable atmosphere, and the terror of its psychological drama.
8. Gankutsuou – A novel-to-anime adaptation of the highest distinction. It re-wrote half the content of Duma’s timeless classic, re-worked the setting of 18th century Europe into futuristic world of aliens and spaceships…and still came out absolute winner. A majestic amalgam of sheer ambition, innovation, visual ingenuity and technical brilliance. Give in yourself to the majestic flight of imagination it takes, inviting you to a visually and emotionally enthralling ride of something different and more refreshing to the novel. Gankutsuou is a monumental proof that adaptations aren’t always doomed to be cast as fading shadows.
7. Mushishi - To watch Mushishi is to drift into lucid dream. The world is rendered strange and bizarre, yet everything feels so beautifully integrated as a whole, it can not be described as anything other than sublime. Mushishi talks of abstract and surreal, yet we take them to our heart and leave mystified and enlightened. There is not a sense of ourselves watching this dream so much as ourselves in the dream. When we do wake up, there is only longing for return. And why not, Mushishi is the most absorbing and gratifying dream one will likely have.
6. Infinite Ryvius - Lord of the Flies of anime, only better. An incredibly intelligent and detailed look at the limitations of different political systems in the time of crisis, and although not as thoughtful as that depicted in Legend of the Galactic Heroes (which is impossible anyway), what is truly commending is its remarkable ability to capture fear, desperation, malice as well as hope of characters struggling to survive at the brink of demise. In a sense, Infinite Ryvius is an antithesis of Bokurano because nobody is willing to die, and the series sets this desperate search for hope into soaring emotional flight. Truly one of the most dramatic and intelligent anime one will find.
5. Mononoke – What a truly menacing beast of visual phantasmagoria! Boasting colours and textures so rich one might as well feel the series with eyes. Mononoke has undoubtedly the most uniquely beautiful designs and engrossing art direction of this decade, and its masterfully crafted mystery will crawl inside your skins, inch by inch, before the terrifying truth materialises itself tearing you apart limb by limb. Blissfully affecting as it is beautiful, Mononoke is this decade’s greatest truimph for aesthetics in anime. I am sure to hold this gem precious for many years to come.
4. Haibane Renmei – Haibane Renmei is an enigma. There is no finding out what’s behind the Wall, and no hints are given about the nature of haibane or the origin of just about everything in this perplexing world. These questions do not need answering however, for Haibane Renmei sings of wisdom and beauty too elusive and immense for our comprehension. A truly special place is Haibne Renmei, where we can spend an eternity swimming in a pool of thoughts, or losing ourselves in its rejuvenating warmth.
3. Planetes – Planetes is nothing short of masterpiece, it’s just so incredibly written and directed. What I loved the most about it was its mature, intelligent and emotional approach to the theme of love and understanding. In one scene, a scientist looks at the earth and shed his tears at remembering his country ravaged by civil war. “All we can see is earth, and even when you can’t see any borders from here…”. Perhaps more people need to look at earth from the above, because the truth is we are all connected together, and the only universal language that connects us together is love. Planetes is one of very few stories to actually make me feel that way.
2. Honey and Clover – One could spend an entire evening trying to find a four-leafed clover with friends without success. And the characters in the series struggle and run, defeated from broken relationships and mistakes that can’t be undone. It’s painful to watch. And yet there was meaning to searching for that special clover, fleeting moments that are as elusive as they are beautiful. Watching Honey and Clover is to discover layers upon layers of overflowing affections, to know that there was meaning to all those unrequited love and failed endeavours right here. All you can do is cry your heart out, bite the sandwhich, and savour it all with its bittersweetness.
1. Now and Then Here and There – The lesser I say about this series the better. One only needs to experience it. What I do want to note is that there is a shot of orange sunset that is absolutely beautiful. What a lovely scenary it would have been, if I did not know the sufferings it concealed. This is an adventure of a boy transfigured into horrors and affirmations of human life, where we are left to helplessly despair and rejoice at the worst and best of human nature. Boundless in its raw emotional power, Now and Then Here and There is my anime of the decade.