Anime is something that can be absolutely captivating and completely enthralling at any stage of popularity, but just like any form of media entertainment, there are some hidden gems that get swept under the rug. Here are some series that you should definitely watch, whether you're a newbie to watching anime or a seasoned veteran. Most of these anime are more than a year or two old, and are in no particular order. Hopefully you'll find something new to enjoy!
WARNING: There may be some mild spoilers! You have been warned!
Even having watched hundreds of anime, Darker than Black has continued to be one of my Top 5 favorite anime. With two seasons and a set of OVAs to bridge the gap between them, Darker than Black becomes a much more complex and breathtaking ride than you may initially think. This series focuses on a person with psychic powers, referred to as a contractor, named Hei and his blind partner, Yin. Ten years prior to the story line, a curious gate formed out of an explosion in Tokyo, called "Hell's Gate" that caused these contractors to appear. Hei is one of the most renowned and powerful contractors, and along with Yin, they work for one of the many rival agencies vying to unlock the mysteries of Hell's Gate. As the first season moves along, it slowly changes from an episodic texture to reveal an indepth plot that keeps raises more questions than answers that are provided. However, if you keep watching through the whole series, I think you will find that the suspense and questions are well worth the wait! The anime was first released circa 2006, so while it may not have the shine of some of today's anime (I'm looking at you, KyoAni), it does have it's own aesthetic appeal and the style is definitely an attractive one, even if it isn't as "high-tech" as a lot of today's anime. The music is also fitting and interesting and this helps add to the mood of suspense and the feeling that something much darker is at work; perhaps, something Darker than Black!
Opposite of Darker than Black, Tegami Bachi, also known as Letter Bee, is a much more feel good kind of show. Following a young boy named Lag Seeing through his adventures to become a Letter Bee, essentially this world's extreme version of mailmen, we watch him grow and make friends with other Letter Bees as he attempts to find the Letter Bee who had made him want to achieve this in the first place, Gauche Suede. Much to his horror, he finds that not only is Gauche no longer a Letter Bee, he is also missing and has been for some time! Determined to find him, Lag delivers letters to all reaches of the world while in search of his role model, making friends and solving problems along the way. Given two seasons, there is plenty of follow-up on the main plot issue, and although it can be episodic, there is also a deeply running current underneath all the light-hearted friendship and adventure that gives it some dark undertones. This gives the series some depth and age that it might not otherwise have. After awhile, you will undoubtedly find parts of this story tugging on your heartstrings relentlessly, in more ways than one. Again coming out in the late mid-2000s, the animation shows it, but is nonetheless appealing and attractive. The overall color scheme is very cool, manipulating many shades of blue and black, with plenty of splashes of color to standout against the otherwise cool texture. I find that while relatively simple, this color combination seems quite relaxing, comforting, and almost nostalgic at time and these feelings imbue most general recollections of the series. Overall, this is a fairly laid back anime with some hooks in it that will drag you further and further into the world it creates.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san is a pretty recent anime, and is unlike either of the two so far. Featuring a few well known seiyuu (Japanese voice actors) and recent animation style, it seems like it would be one of those anime that wouldn't make much of an impression just based on the synopsis, but anyone who decides to actually watch it would beg to differ. From the absolutely ridiculous (but ultimately fitting) opening sequence and horrendously infectious opening song, to the actual content of the episodes and the characters themselves, this anime is downright hilarious! If you're not having a good time and need to watch something funny, this should do the trick. With a doll-like little girl, a motherly Fox Spirit, a free-loading Tanuki, and an obsessive Dog Spirit all living under one roof, the antics and situations that befall the characters and their interactions with each other every episode never fail to make your sides split from laughter. However, beware that there are some episodes that will unexpectedly hit you right in the feels.
Hamatora, even though it got two seasons, is still wildly underrepresented in its fandom size and its hard to understand why. The first season catches your attention with flashy power displays, interesting fights and its fair share of humor, even if the plot is a little slow to be revealed. However, once the ride starts, it doesn't stop. It's far from exaggeration to say that the roller coaster this show takes you on will turn you on your head and play with your emotions. Hamatora is about a two-person detective agency who uses these special powers that only certain people have, called Minimums, to solve their cases. They occasionally get help from their friends who all hang out at the restaurant they call headquarters, Cafe Nowhere, and their police friend, Art. However, things are not always as they appear and the plot starts to thicken and darken until you aren't sure if this was the same show you had started watching by the end of the first season. The second season even ups the ante further, keeping you guessing with several plot twists and moments that keep you holding your breath because you don't know how things will progress. While a little heavier in action, drama, and suspense content, it doesn't lose its occasional comic relief which is definitely necessary, particularly in the second season. This one will definitely play with you, so make sure you're prepared going in to it!
5. Death Parade
For those of you looking for a little more depth in what you watch, this is definitely one to add to your list. The audience is presented with several mysteries to solve, some of which are obvious and others that are not apparent until a few episodes in. Do not let the infamously lighthearted opening sequence and infectious song fool you-this is not a series to be taken lightly. Quindecim is a bar run by the bartender Decim and he gathers souls in limbo after they die and challenges them to a Death Game, which will help Decim as the arbiter decide whether their souls will be cast into the void or sent for reincarnation. There is one soul who comes to him, though, that causes an upset in his usual routine, and this is where the mental depth comes in. Through this soul's journey and existence and the things the audience finds out about Decim and his circumstances as well as some of the other characters', many questions of morality, fairness, impartial judgement, as well as appreciation of life and how one values it and lives it are raised, many of which are left up to the audience to comes to their own conclusions. The ending song and sequence is a much better indicator of the feel of this series than the opening, but the opening is fantastic nonetheless. Give this one a try if you like anime that raises open-ended questions and makes you think, of course all the while integrating plenty of realistic emotional and mental turmoil, and displays of the best and worst parts of human nature.
Aoharu x Kikanjuu is a twist on a typical survival anime. There is battle, tons of action and suspense, the mental anguish and strategy that goes on in a battle/survival type anime, but the "twist" is that no one is actually dying because they fight with airsoft guns! This anime has all the emotional intensity and mental anguish that you come to expect from anime with any kind of survival element, but the characters in the main team, Toy Gun Gun, are all extremely lovable and quirky, each in their own ways, and they all get to see the end of the season! Here again, there is a character who it is made clear is not gender binary conforming. This is kept as a secret because of fear that the other two will exclude them from something they now enjoy doing with them even if they tried to not admit they liked it at the beginning. However, this obstacle is eventually overcome successfully. Because of how recent this one is, the animation is absolutely stunning and sparkles in every sense of the word, but it isn't distracting from what's going on, it just adds dramatic effect when things get crazy. The music is also great. The opening and ending songs are reminiscent of a sports anime with the same sort of catchy, adrenalized melody and hooky chorus that tends to get you even more pumped up for each episode as it goes on.
Samurai Flamenco definitely goes in the pile of anime that you watch expecting one thing and are given something entirely, whole-heartedly different. In some ways, it's different in refreshing, interesting ways, and sometimes it's different in absolutely absurd and laughable, but still enjoyable ways. Hazama Masayoshi is a 19 year old model who has always wanted to be a superhero and is completely obsessed with them and all that Tokusatsu has to offer. Upon discovering some things that his grandfather left to him, he decides to become Samurai Flamenco and stop evil deeds from being committed. He starts out with really small things like catching someone littering or smoking in a no smoking zone and generally he gets laughed at, beat up plenty of times, and even gets brought to the police for disturbing the peace. Oh the irony of vigilante justice! However, his mishaps with the police introduce him to someone who plays one of the most important roles in Masayoshi's life, Goto Hidenori, the police officer who is often in charge of dealing with him. They become close and in addition to becoming friends, Goto takes on watching over Masayoshi and all of his exploits, also helping him to stay out of trouble with the police. In time, Masayoshi becomes a sort of quirky version of Batman, and it seems to be a generally light-hearted super hero wannabe comedy. That is, until about halfway through, when all the stops are pulled out and everything takes a turn for the dark and insane. And it doesn't stop there. It gets crazier and crazier with each episode, but through everything, Goto is always there for Masayoshi and their relationship becomes a saving grace as well as source of unconditional love and support for Masayoshi as well as for Goto. This anime is one of few that addresses same sex relationships in a non-focal, but normalizing and undistracting way and is one more reason to watch this series.
Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider is pretty new, having aired this passed fall. As much of a mouthful as the name is, it certainly gives you plenty to think about. The first episode leaves the audience wondering what is really going on, but it is worth it to keep watching, as the second episode really starts to get into the core of the plot. Starting as a locked room murder mystery, it pulls you in as you try to figure out the age old question of "who done it?". Unlike most murder mysteries, this one is pitting three geniuses against each other in a battle of wits and the ultimate in attempting to outsmart one another. Naturally, when you put three people of superior intelligence against each other, even in a two vs one situation such as this, other things start to become a part of a crazy murder mystery. In this case, the complex issues that come up questions concerning morality, human nature, and what freedom means to each person. Through these questions and the radical answers the series presents, it forces the viewer to think deeply about they truly believe to be right. This one is definitely a thinking oriented series and keeps the audience interested and intrigued at every turn. Be prepared for some soul searching on this one.
Terror in Resonance is a masterpiece pioneered by the genius duo of Shinichiro Watanabe as director and Kanno Yoko as composer. The plot and characters aside, the soundtrack alone is absolutely astonishing. As someone with a significant musical background, the music is so beautiful, breathtaking, and emotionally wrought in such a particular way that it seems to speak directly to the depths of your soul. Icy, yet expressive in a delicate way that balances with this anime so perfectly. Even if you don't watch this series, you should at least give the soundtrack a listen, because there really is nothing like it. I would argue this is the greatest anime soundtrack since Cowboy Bebop, which was also written by Kanno. The plot is a politically and morally centered one focusing on two boys, named Nine and Twelve who have an unknown agenda that they are trying to achieve through the use of terrorism in Tokyo. They acquire an accidental and unlikely accomplice, named Lisa, who makes a deal with them to in order to escape one of their plots that she gets caught up in, successfully. This anime follows them through intense twists and turns as Lisa develops her relationship with the two boys and their plans begin to ratchet up in intensity. The mental and emotional anguish also piles on higher and higher as the climax in the last episode comes to a devastating head. This anime is a must watch work of art for everyone.
Mushi-shi is best described as a connoisseur anime. While lacking in action and drama, it makes an impression through it's beautiful animation, artistry and storytelling. This series is episodic, and it follows the life and travels of the only real recurring character who is also the protagonist, Ginko. Ginko is a traveling Mushi-shi, and he helps rid people of bad Mushi, which are sort of like naturally occurring spirits, that have attached themselves to them. Along the way, the audience learns little about Ginko, but it's enough to satiate the watcher's basic curiosity. Though it has its own pace, and never feels hurried or suspenseful between episodes, it is actually very satisfying and relaxing. This balance of satisfaction and relaxation given to the audience with every episode along with its pure, natural beauty in every aspect, including the music, captures those who watch in awe and keeps you watching.
Eden of the East takes the agenda of a political anime and fuses it with the intensity and unpredictablility of a survival type anime. There are 12 contestants, called Selecao, and each one is equipped with 8.2 billion yen that they have access to via a special cell phone they were given. The goal is to use this money to both win the competition and save the world by becoming the next major leader, and nothing is off limits. You can kill the other contestants, and if you spend all the money before winning the game and being the last one standing, you will be wiped out via The Eliminator, whose identity is a mystery. Takizawa Akira is the one Selecao that the audience gets to focus on because of the protagonist who gets caught up and involved with him, Morimi Saki, and he claims to be the true king and therefore he needs to win this twisted game. This anime follows them through the game to try and save the world using a new and interesting technique. When the anime ends, be sure to continue to find out how the story ends by watching the three movies that come after the 11 episode season! Check this out to see if money really can change the world.
Yet another masterpiece that comes from the fearsome duo of director Watanabe Shinichiro and composer Kanno Yoko, Kids on the Slope is an anime based on making music and friends. A group of three kids gets together because of their love of Jazz music, both listening to and playing it. The plot intertwines plenty of drama and emotional angst and growth that pulls the viewer in wholeheartedly, all while fascinating their ears and overwhelming their senses with the virtuosic Jazz music that mingles through the entire series from the opening song of the first episode to the ending of the last. This is a journey that you need to take with Kaoru, Sentarou, and Ritsuko as they figure out life and themselves through playing music that they love, all the while attempting to not lose the music on their own individual paths.
13. Kono Danshi / This Boy Series
This little "series" is composed of several different OVAs, but most recently includes a full season as well, that all have different plots, different characters, and different situations. However, the one thing they all have in common is love. These OVAs are all about love and learning that you never know who the renowned "One" for you will be, and it doesn't matter what kind of circumstances you find yourself in, but the important thing is that when you truly fall in love with someone, you trust in that love and allow it to help you. The characters are always in extreme situations, like one where the boy who falls in love suffers from an odd disease that makes his skin become hard and crystalline and it acts up even more in uncomfortable social situations. This odd disease is obviously a parallel to people who have social anxieties or maybe some physical skin ailment, but it's portrayed in a fantastic way to make the gap even bigger between him and the person he falls in love with to accept him. So you aren't surprised, yes, these all focus on romantic relationships between male people. However, that is not where the emphasis lies. In fact, there is never a "but we're both guys..." rebuttal to either ones advances. Rather than being concerned about the sex of their bodies, they are instead concerned that their love will not be returned because of other, more individual and personal circumstances. One thing that makes this series extraordinary is its emphasis on a pure, innocent, love and showing that all different kinds of people can fall in love and also be loved by that person, if they would just have patience and believe in the person who loves them and that they love. The animation has its own charm, but it can take a little bit to get used to. It is not like the glamorous animation of other studios, but it doesn't need to be. If you can adapt to the style, it will absolutely be worth it. This series has a lot to offer and teach, and it's a necessity for anyone who hasn't watched it.
As far as sports anime go, they're usually filled with the same formula and tons of adrenaline that keeps you on the very edge of your seat the entire way. While this one is based around a sport, in this case fishing, and bringing friends together through a team that all wants to engage in the same sport, it follows almost none of the other sports anime tropes. There is no real competition, but instead the addition of a boy who claims to be an alien and another boy who is supposedly undercover hunting for said alien. Another factor is length. Most sports anime span several seasons covering the fall and subsequent rise of the main team, showing the audience growth along the way. However, this one is a mere 12 episodes and doesn't feel like it needs more. While many of us would like to see more due to the heartwarming nature and sweet, pureness of the relationships formed between the characters and the adoration from the viewers, there is no need for more, and that is beautiful all on its own. This anime is also very visually interesting as it makes thorough use of lots of bright, vivid colors, and the opening song will make itself right at home in your ear, getting stuck in your head over and over and making you long to watch them all fish together again!
Also a new comer to the anime scene, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry aired during the Fall 2015 anime season. Initially, it seemed like it would be another relatively interesting magic school type anime with a typical shounen protag surrounded by his own personal harem of gorgeous bishoujo witches. However, it soon becomes clear that there is something very special and progressive about this anime. The way they handle various social issues with their characters is not only exceedingly rare, but downright fantastic. WIthin the first two or three episodes, we are introduced to a Transfemale character, named Alice, who becomes close friends with the rest of the little group that surrounds the main character Kurogane Ikki. Now of course, she isn't the first Trans character to be in anime or manga, but it is rare to find one and on top of that, they treat her exceedingly well in the context of the series. It is never made an issue that she wants to be referred to as a woman, or that she wants to be called Alice. They even allow her to have a female roommate and use the female bathrooms and such without issue! If this respectful dealing with a Trans character wasn't enough, they also deal with other social issues that may have been botched (or maybe not even addressed) in other anime. The two main characters, Ikki and Stella Vermillion find themselves in a relationship and genuinely caring for one another, but their relationship sees palpable and healthy growth throughout the series! There are two particular instancesthat stand out. One is when they have just started dating and Stella, being a literal tsundere princess, feels a little anxious about how popular Ikki is becoming with everyone and because he's a genuinely nice guy, she feels like she can't tell yet when he's flirting and whenhe isn't. Naturally, she begins to follow the old "simple misunderstanding turns into a huge, avoidable mess" trope. Fortunately, one of her friends stopped her, and instead suggests she just talk it out with Ikki before anything goes haywire. Well, surprise! She actually does it. They talk about their feelings in a healthy and open way and problems solve themselves. The second instance is when they are in the perfect setting to consummate their relationship, and Stella even brings it up, but Ikki gently turns her down, and they go back to cuddling as if it never happened. All in all, this anime is a good watch just for the treatment of social issues. Sure, there are a few "anime-isms", but overall, this is a solid watch that should be seen and enjoyed for the social issues as well as all those strong female characters! Femininity doesn't mean you're weak, and boy do the girls around him show it!
Honorable Mention: Kimi to Boku / You and Me
Kimi to Boku was one that I stumbled upon by chance. I saw some gifs of it on Tumblr and the caption said you needed to watch this show if you hadn't because it was very cute, heartwarming, and just an overall good show. Now, a vague description like that isn't enough to persuade most people to watch a show, but the gifs looked cute so I thought I would take a chance on it. I'm so glad that I did. Not only was it very cute and heartwarming like the caption promised, but this anime has a very human quality to it that, a lot of times, is overlooked in anime, or it's covered up with supernatural abilities, special circumstances, or just made into an overused hero vs villain cliche. However, that is not the case here. There are no superpowers, no real special circumstances (unless you count the boy who is a foreign transfer student), and no hero vs villain action. While this may sound like a simple Slice of Life type anime, this one seems to take itself a little more seriously than most Slice of Life anime seem to, but without draining the interest, humor, and lighthearted moments out of it that can be taken away when Slice of Life anime take themselves too seriously. It focuses on a group of teenage boys who are just learning to deal with life and the growing pains that naturally come with it, especially during adolescence. If you're looking for something to just make you feel good and connect you with a group of relatable characters without the addition of too much emotional drama and tension, this is your anime.
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