10. Emma: Victorian Romance
Emma: Victorian Romance is a romantic drama that offers up the classic premise of “love overcoming social status” in its focus on the developing relationship between young maid Emma and the heir of a wealthy upper-class merchant family named William Jones. This isn’t just an anime that falls under the clichéd maid premises you would find in romantic comedy titles that pander to the otaku crowd. This series offers up a believable take on the connections that Emma has with the elder employer she serves in the form of former governess Kelly Stowner and even exploring how the two meet one another alongside Emma’s harsh past. It is also very meticulous in its exploration of the Victorian era English society that Emma is set in with accurate depictions of popular sites, clothing styles, customs and societal norms of the time period. This first season of the series is focused on the slow build up of Emma and Will’s relationship before it becomes well known and tensions flare when others learn of it. However, the series does lack a proper ending as its second season would not air until another two years later. Still if you want a classic romantic premise to look into with a very accurate depiction of a historical time period, definitely check out Emma Victorian Romance.
9. Aria the Animation
A relaxing slice-of-life title to get into, Aria the Animation explores the everyday developments of young apprentice gondoliers Akari, Aika and Alice in a futuristic version of Venice, Italy on the planet Aqua. The series is quite notable for its vast and beautiful scenery shots depicting accurate depictions of various famous sites in Venice, its friendly, likeable cast of characters and calm and serene soundtrack. This is a definite watch for anyone wanting a mellow, wholesome and relaxing series to get into.
8. Honey and Clover
Being one of the first josei manga titles to be adapted into an anime series, Honey and Clover explores the complicated romantic developments and career-deciding dilemmas faced by several art school students. Sometimes bordering on melodrama and other times being inspirational, the series mixes around elements of comedy and drama exploring the situations faced by its cast such as mellow male lead Yuta Takemoto, the eccentric Shinobu Morita and child-like, talented artist Hagumi Hanamoto. Outside of the romantic elements, Honey and Clover believably explores the career decisions made by the cast and actually goes several years with the cast as they go through their years of art school. The series is notable for its pastel-like animation style sporting soft colors and a decent amount of visual detail with its scenery and characters. This is a definite watch if you are a fan of josei titles.
7. Eureka 7
A worthwhile mecha title to check out, Eureka 7 features the exploits of 14-year old Renton, the mysterious young female pilot Eureka and the band of renegades known as Gekko-State going up against Dewey Novak and the militaristic UF Force. The series is prominently focused on Renton’s coming-of-age as he comes to learn of the reality surrounding Gekko-State’s revolt, Eureka’s origins and the corruption of the UF Force’s under Dewey’s influence. The series does explore a number of themes throughout its run with its characters such as religious tolerance, personal identity and responsibility, parenting and moving on from past tragedies. A unique element to Eureka 7’s mecha theme is their occasional recreational use thanks to the liftboards equipped to the LFO units piloted by some of the characters, with the hobby being popular in the world of Eureka 7 and many of the Gekko State members being skilled lifters themselves. Besides lifting being one of the show’s animation highlights, the show has a great amount of quality in its animation with a good amount of detail put into its various character, mecha and ship designs; as well as battle scenes being fluid, intense and diverse with ground and aerial battle sequences that involve humans and LFOs.
Some folks have compared the animation and plotting to Kamichu to a Studio Ghibli film and while the series isn’t among the beloved studio’s works, it still stuck out prominently enough when it aired in 2005. While the series seemingly appears as an “everyday lives of high school gal pals” slice of life-type series at first glance, female lead Yurie’s status as a goddess and her regular interactions with different spirits and gods offer up some fun and unusual elements to the typical slice-of-life premise. While the series doesn’t bother exploring how Yurie acquires her powers as a god, it does do well in exploring the complications within her life as she juggles her duties as a god and the awkward experiences of growing up with her crush on a classmate. Kamichu mixes around elements of comedy and light drama in exploring the developments faced by Yurie and those close to her thanks to her divine status. The series has great quality animation for a TV anime series featuring bright, vivid colors and plenty of detail in the designs of vast, beautiful scenery shots and character designs that do closely resemble the Studio Ghibli animation style. Animation within the series is fluid and lively with many characters shown to move about onscreen at once and some scenes feature Yurie making use of her powers to perform her duties and deal with spirits causing mischief within her town.
5. Fantastic Children
Don't let the old-school, simplistic character designs fool you. Fantastic Children is a serious drama that interweaves several story arcs that become more closely connected to one another as more details are unveiled concerning those connected with Helga, the Befort Children and the GED Organization. The series creates enough mysteries surrounding the motivations and origins of many of the characters in the series to the point where when a plot twist comes around, you genuinely wouldn't see it coming. The main cast gets a good amount of development in terms of knowing the type of people they are and their pasts, as well as some powerful character chemistry as they face their ordeals in this series. Fantastic Children makes for a great title to look into if you like epic-style dramas.
Mushi-shi is an anime title that is quite serene and laid-back with its storytelling approach. This episodic series centers on Ginko's encounters with people who each have their own conflicts with the forms of mysterious life known as Mushi. Each episode provides a sense of how each person lived their lives before and during the times they are affected by Mushi. Ginko is then given the task of solving whatever problem that the Mushi is giving. With exception to Ginko's appearance, everyone he encounters live in a feudal Japan lifestyle so attitudes and ways of basic living are accurate to the time period. Different themes regarding the presence of the Mushi introduce lessons in each episode which involve themes such as acceptance, loss, sacrifice, guilt, and survival. In addition, there are no fast-moving and intense elements such as action, violence, and comedy. This anime encourages you to just sit back and enjoy the stories being told. The stories even have different outcomes. Some are able to end happily thanks to Ginko's knowledge of the Mushi causing problems. Others end tragically as there is only so much that Ginko can do to help those who are suffering. A couple even provide depth on Ginko's past and reveal what led him to become a Mushi-shi. This mellow mood also went into the show’s presentation with vivid, beautiful settings of scenery and the mellow soundtrack featuring new age and traditional musical tracks. Yet another perfect relaxing title to get into if you do not mind the episodic storytelling style of this series.
3. Paradise Kiss
One of the first popular josei titles released in 2005, Paradise Kiss takes a look at a young woman’s beginnings towards becoming a fashion model discovering all the successes and pitfalls of the profession and the circumstances that lead her into the profession. This made for quite an original premise for an anime series as the challenges of the fashion world were portrayed quite accurately in Paradise Kiss as there was a great amount of attention put on such pressures as developing clothing designs, the application process for modeling and photo shoots for magazine publications. The personalities of the characters involved in the fashion world are portrayed quite well, as the viewer will get a sense of a world that exists outside of the normal lives they experience. Outside of the fashion environment, the series also explores the sexual tension in relationships between characters, especially with George and Yukari. This goes well with the outside worldly environment in which Paradise Kiss achieves. Animation wise, the character designs and background scenery were richly saturated in color and detail with an intricate amount of detail put into the clothing designs being modeled by Yukari.
2. Gankutsuou: Count of Monte Cristo
As covered in my top 25 best anime video, Gankutsuou offers up a suspenseful, futuristic take on Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel of a mysterious count seeking revenge on three influential and corrupt Frenchmen who incriminated him for their misdeeds. The show slowly builds up the Count as a cunning and tragic villain who deceives and humiliates the targets of his vengeance, even using the young son of one of his foes as a pawn to provide information on his old foe. It is one of Gonzo’s better works featuring lifelike settings of notable landmarks of France and having its moments of fluid and intense animation in battle and transport sequences.
The mystery/ suspense series continued picking up steam into 2005 for me as it slowly unveiled more about Johan Liebert and the twisted inner workings of Kinderheim 511; continued Dr. Tenma’s pursuit of him; and introduce more characters with connections to the twisted titular foe and find their morality pushed to the breaking point thanks to the young man’s manipulations or come to believe in Tenma’s innocence as they gather more details on Johan.
10. Rozen Maiden
Don’t let the seemingly cute appearance of the dolls fool you into thinking this will be bait for the otaku crowd. Rozen Maiden is a series that mixes comedy and drama, which is focused around a middle schooler named Jun dealing not only with his life being complicated with the antics of the living magical dolls known as Rozen Maidens, but also coming to grips with a traumatic experience that has driven him to isolate himself from the outside world. The series tends to get a bit dark and serious at points in dealing with the emotional baggage that some prominent characters, both human and dolls, carry with them from past tragedies or conflicts over their very existence. In some instances, you even get to literally see the inner worlds of these characters which are shaped from their innermost thoughts and emotions as a result of the powers of the dolls. This is a beautiful looking series with plenty of vivid color and detail coming from the scenery and characters, especially with the designs for the Rozen Maiden dolls and the inner worlds of the characters. The series does have some plot elements left lingering which appear to be addressed in the later TV season of the series. But the series offers up something quite original and fun with its very premise and is worth checking out if you don’t mind the cute appearances of the show’s doll characters.
9. School Rumble
This fun little comedy romp takes the typical clichés of high school romantic comedies to new heights with the romantic misunderstandings between the various characters leading to enough over-the-top antics from all involved. The show was quite unpredictable with its humor as you never knew what to expect with its cast, especially with male lead Kenji Harima as he kept getting himself into one nutty predicament after another because of his misunderstood interactions with several of School Rumble’s female cast members. The cast members are likeable and have good chemistry with one another, both comically and naturally as friends or classmates. The show often parodies anime and elements of popular culture, as well as subverting some of the typical plot formulas you would find in romantic comedy anime. This is a definite watch if you are looking for something different from the typical high school romantic comedy mold.
8. Le Portrait de Petite Cossette
This visually impressive and disturbing anime OAV explores the deteriorating physical and mental condition of young artist Eiri as he interacts with the spirit of dead 18 century girl Cossette. The series is quite notable for its hauntingly beautiful visuals which have vivid, bright colors and plenty of details for its scenery and character designs. This detail in animation clashes with the violent and dark world that Eiri enters as he connects more with Cossette and submits to some nasty torture scenes within her world inside the old mirror that contains her spirit and more light is shed on the young man’s connection to the vengeful spirit which reveals some tragic irony in their twisted relationship. This is a wonderful twisted watch for those that get delight out of its horrific and gothic lolita themes.
7. Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad
This was quite an original premise for a shounen series as Beck focused around the titular band members of the series forming and going through their struggles to become a successful rock band. The series prominently focuses on everyday teen Koyuki as develops more confident and assertive in himself thanks to his interactions with lead guitarist Ryuusuke and the other young men who come to form the band, as well as dealing with possible love interest and Ryuusuke’s younger sister Maho. The series believably explores the challenges faced by Beck as they try to synch together as a band, struggle to get contracted to a record label and get confronted by some problems from Ryuusuke’s past. Beck also makes mention of musical genres and influential musicians for the rock genre at points throughout the show coming from either Ryuusuke’s influences for rock music or lessons that Koyuki takes on guitar playing. Anyone looking for an original premise for an anime title should give Beck a shot.
6. Fullmetal Alchemist
FMA continued its solid quality into 2004 with the Elric brothers continuing to delve deeper into the origins surrounding the Philosopher’s Stone and the connection that the Homunculus have to it. The remainder of the series is where the plot starts picking up steam when secrets concerning how deep the military is connected to both mysteries and notable characters find themselves either coming into conflict with their personal beliefs as they realize their own flaws and even having to put their lives on the line to accomplish what they want. This take on FMA does offer up additional positives over the manga and later Brotherhood adaptations where the Homunculi are portrayed to be tragic, sympathetic villains and the show takes on a mature mood as it explores how characters like the Elrics and Roy Mustang come to terms with their moral conflicts. However, the series does suffer some flaws with this original take on the source material where the ending does come across as a bit sloppy with how things get resolved (and a cheap excuse for the subpar Conquerer of Shambala movie the following year) and some characters could have been given bigger roles. Still though, I still found this alternative take on Fullmetal Alchemist to be of better quality than I did for the manga and Brotherhood versions, even if there are those that prefer them for being the original source material for the franchise and more faithful to the manga respectively.
5. Kurau: Phantom Memory
A sleeper hit for 2004, Kurau was overshadowed by the many popular titles that aired throughout the year. However, this hidden gem of a title is definitely worth a look. Balancing action and drama, the series focuses on a freelance mercenary named Kurau whose exposure to the energy of an alien force called Rynax caused her to be fused with the Rynax giving her superhuman abilities and creating a “pair” for her in the form of a young girl she names Christmas. The two come to bond with one another as they try to reunite with Kurau’s father following a years-long separation from one another while trying to avoid the forces of the GPO, an organization setting out to capture and eliminate Rynax-human fused beings like Kurau and Christmas. The show’s prominent focus is on the emotional bonds that connect people together and this is prominently shown with the Rynax pairs who rely on one another for companionship with the emotional connection believably shown throughout the series with Kurau and Christmas. The animation for the series is also notable as it features a solid visual presentation and fluid action scenes coming from Kurau and Christmas’ confrontations with GPO forces and other Rynax. Definitely give this series a look if you haven’t watched it yet.
4. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2 GIG
Perhaps my favorite part of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, 2 GIG crosses into political thriller territory when Motoko Kusanagi and the other members of Section 9 become entangled in thwarting terrorist attack which eventually becomes something much worst as more details on the terrorists and their connections are revealed. The complicated conflict slowly unveils more elements to the conspiracy with the terrorists which eventually leads to multiple factions, counting Section 9, clashing over the stability of order and government in Japan. The situation believably challenges the teamwork and skills of the members of Section 9 as they come to clash with some influential figures among the terrorists, refugees and government while tasked with preventing all hell from breaking loose in the tensions between these factions. 2 GIG retains the impressive presentation of Stand Alone Complex’s first season featuring highly detailed and vivid settings, great use of CG-rendered animation shown with robot units like the Tachikoma that blend in almost naturally with the regular animation and fluid and intense battle scenes coming from a variety of situations such as hand-to-hand, gunfights with multiple characters and the occasional clashes with heavily armored mechs. Definitely worth the time to watch if you crave sci-fi/ action titles with a smidge of political thriller tossed into the mix.
3. Paranoia Agent
The only Satoshi Kon work for a TV anime, this mystery/ suspense title does enough to keep you guessing over the nature of the mysterious kid known as Shounen Bat as he attacks random victims facing different crises of sorts. The earlier episodes of the series are focused on exploring the differing problems faced by each of Shounen Bat’s victims before he struck them down from a popular kid ostracized by his classmates for being suspected to be Shounen Bat to a teacher dealing with her split personality. The later episodes slowly unveil the true nature of the seemingly young assailant and all isn’t what it seems with him and what one comes to learn of Shounen Bat can be quite the surprising shocker as two of Kon’s earlier films (Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress) were effective at messing with the viewer’s perceptions of reality thanks to their effective use of narrative transitions and Paranoia Agent does just that. The series features Satoshi Kon’s trademark animation style of realistic landscapes and character designs. If you’re a fan of Satoshi Kon’s films, this is a definite watch.
2. Koi Kaze
As covered in my top 25 anime video, Koi Kaze offers up a believable, honest and tasteful look at how siblings Koshiro Saeki and Nanoka Kohinata handle their incestuous attraction to one another. The series allows one to take the role of observer in the pair’s developments and neither condones nor objects to their relationship as it leaves the audience to judge for themselves whether or not they would approve of such a relationship. Because of Koi Kaze’s controversial subject matter, it won’t be for everyone. But it is perhaps the best incest-themed title you can come across for an anime as it doesn’t dabble into melodrama and perversion when anime makes use of the taboo for a plot element.
Another of my top 25 anime, Monster is an elaborate mystery/ suspense title dabbling into the limitations of human morality as Dr. Kenzo Tenma hunts down serial killer Johan Liebert, a young man whose life Tenma saved and whose murders that he is being blamed for. The series introduces a wide cast of characters connected to elements of Johan’s past and slowly reveals elements to the titular monster’s past that keep you wondering if he is a tragic villain born from government corruption or an unredeemable monster. Johan also makes for one of anime’s most memorable villains for his manipulations on the vulnerabilities of his victims which drive them to the brink of insanity and usually suicide. A definite watch if you crave mature stories for your anime viewing.
10. Rumic Theater
While I’m not normally a fan of Rumiko Takahashi’s long-running franchises like Inuyasha and Maison Ikkoku, this anthology of short works from the well-known mangaka offered up some decent quality stuff for me. The shorts are prominently focused on everyday situations with some bizarre element tossed into the mix, offering a nice mix of comedy and drama. From a housewife trying to hide a penguin from her animal-loathing apartment building manager in The Tragedy of P to a teenage girl antsy about the reasons for her family’s heavy spending despite their debts in Aberrant Family F, Rumic Theater offers up some enjoyable watches for those interested in episodic short stories.
9. Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu
The more comedy-driven season of the Full Metal Panic franchise, Fumoffu expands on what I found to be the best element of the series: Sousuke letting his military training lead to crazy predicaments due to his lack of common sense in living life as a civilian and Kaname having to reprimand him for his antics. This season offered up quite a number of memorable laugh-out loud moments for me compliments of Sousuke’s antics such as being a drill sergeant to a team of timid school rugby players Full Metal Jacket style, thrashing criminals under the guise of a Bonta-kun costume and setting up traps to deal with Kurz’s perverted intentions during a hot springs resort trip. This is a definite watch for anyone who is a fan of comedy anime titles.
8. Twelve Kingdoms
With the series pushing on into 2003, there are three more arcs that Twelve Kingdoms dived into with two expanding upon elements to the world of the series and another focusing more on Yoko as she becomes the ruler of the kingdom of Kei. Your mileage could vary on how well you enjoy the two expansive arcs as they don’t add on much to the main story of Yoko and one of them concludes without a proper ending. The second arc with Yoko makes for more of the better stuff you can expect out of the series as she tried to adjust to her duties as Kei’s ruler and better understand the living conditions of the commoners within her country’s provinces. Yoko’s developments crosses paths with two young women around her age facing dilemmas of their own such as a former princess exiled because of her father’s corrupt rule and a girl from Yoko’s world whisked into the world of the 12 Kingdoms. This arc separately explores the developments of Yoko and the two women as their fates become entwined in dealing with corrupt activity from some of Yoko’s subordinates governing Kei’s provinces trying to manipulate political affairs to obtain more power with no regard for whoever is in the way of their goals. The content for this arc is noticeably more violent than Yoko’s first arc featuring some nasty death and torture scenes, as well as bringing up some interesting themes relevant to the world of Twelve Kingdoms such as questioning the divine workings in which a ruler is chosen and how a person responds to the great amount of power they receive as a ruler. Despite the minor setbacks of the mentioned two arcs, Yoko’s second arc more than makes up for their shortcomings by offering up some of the title’s best developments and dramatic material.
7. Rumbling Hearts
There aren’t too many dating sim adaptations of anime I’d be willing to admit I enjoyed watching with how clichéd the plot and characters can be in them. Yet in the case of this adaptation to Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, Rumbling Hearts offered up some powerful romantic drama coming from the complicated love triangle involving male lead Takayuki Narumi and two possible love interests Haruka Suzumiya and Mitsuki Hayase. While the series does start off as your typical dating sim knockoff, some shocking events that develop with Haruka by the end of the show’s second episode serve to drive much of the drama you come to see throughout the series as she develops amnesia from the circumstances that lead her to being hospitalized and in a coma for over three years. The situations regarding romantic developments are quite shaky throughout the show and the characters are shown to make stupid decisions as a result of the emotional trauma they faced from Haruka’s situation. It believably explores the ramifications of the character’s actions where relationships become strained and even end as a result of their decisions showing how life doesn’t always go the way you would imagine. This helps keep the series fairly unpredictable as you keep wondering what will develop with the characters as events press on in Rumbling Hearts and it is a definite watch if you like romantic dramas in your anime viewing.
6. Gunslinger Girl
This worthwhile and character-driven action-drama focuses on a secret Italy counter-terrorist organization called the Social Welfare Agency which makes use of young girls as cyborg assassins. The show’s prominent focus is on exploring the backgrounds of many of the girls within the Agency and the unique chemistry they have with both each other and their handler. Each of the girls we come to connect with come from tragic backgrounds and have differing relationships with the older men who are their handler where they can be anywhere from surrogate siblings to tools of the trade depending on the mentality and personal beliefs of the handler. The series is notable for its great looking artwork and animation sporting realistic details of firearms and various Italian settings, as well as fluid movement coming from characters as they move about and engage in battle scenes. While the show does have its shortcomings with offering an actual plot and fleshing out backgrounds on the various handlers and cyborg Triela, the series is still worth a look if you are into character-driven dramas.
5. Kino’s Journey
This interesting little gem focused on the journey of young traveler Kino through various exotic and sometimes hostile countries as he experiences the lifestyle of said country and leaves after three days of being within each country. The series is philosophically driven with the series exposing some pretty dark elements to the seemingly peaceful countries Kino visits such as oppression, censorship, tyranny and self-preservation; which make for great debates for one to question whether the choices of culture and government in said countries are justifiably right. What makes this series notable is that Kino takes on the role of a neutral observer where she doesn’t meddle in the affairs of each country unless the people drag her into it or her life becomes threatened. It is an episodic series featuring different points of Kino’s journey where she is either helping other travelers, pondering over her observations of a country she visits, dealing with those who threaten her life or conversing with her talking motorcycle Hermes. There is even an episode which explores the heroine’s past before she became a traveler offering the same dark elements to its seemingly innocent setting. Those who enjoy deep-thinking anime titles like Serial Experiments Lain should give this series a look.
4. Fullmetal Alchemist
The first FMA series was off to a solid start in its Fall 2003 debut when the manga source material was adopted and the anime is notable for its different style of pacing, plotting and mood. While the manga was fairly conventional in exploring the different adventures of the Elrics with fast pacing and black and white morality with the convictions of its characters, the first FMA series took on a more mature and slow-paced storytelling style where the Elrics often find their personal beliefs challenged by those they encounter and took its time for one to connect with its characters thus making dramatic developments with them more effective. For instance, compare the Elrics’ failed transmutation of their mother and the Nina incident in pacing and mood to see how effectively the drama of the scenes are conveyed between this series and the manga/ Brotherhood remake. The series also knew when to properly time its comedy, a major problem with earlier chapters/ episodes of the manga and Brotherhood as comedic gags happened quite frequently and killed the mood of more serious scenes. With these major differences in the feel for this first animated adaptation of FMA, it stands as my preferred adaptation of the series which I enjoy.
Appearances can be deceiving when you come across this anime adaptation of the subpar Playstation 2 video game. While the first episode seemingly comes across as your typical revenge-obsessed story with Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowell, the story transitions into the past the next episode and you get to see perhaps one of the best anime adaptations of a video game you can come across. Gungrave’s anime adaptation expands upon its video game material by exploring the past bond between Harry and Brandon, how they became involved with the Millenion crime syndicate and eventually drift apart due to their differing personal beliefs on how to work within Millenion. The various characters that the series introduces are fleshed out enough where you can connect with them and everybody has their redeemable traits and not portrayed to be completely evil as when one witnessed them in Gungrave’s first episode. The first half is mostly down-to-earth in exploring the crime-infested affairs that Harry, Brandon and others within Millenion get involved with thus one shouldn’t expect the undead armies created by Harry to pop up at all throughout Gungrave’s first half. Still if you don’t mind crime action-dramas mixed with elements of the supernatural, then Gungrave should be a title worth your time to look into.
2. Tokyo Godfathers
As I covered in my top 25 video, this third Satoshi Kon film offers enough exploration on the backgrounds of the likeable homeless trio of Gin, Hana and Miyuki as they try locating the parents of an abandoned baby throughout the streets of Tokyo during the holidays. The movie features Kon’s typical animation style of realistic details for characters and the city environments of Tokyo. This is a definite look if you are a fan of Satoshi Kon’s work.
Another anime I discussed in my top 25 video, Planetes features a near-future look into man’s colonization of space and the potential issues that could develop from it such as space pollution, diseases, monopolization of space resources and terrorism. It also explores the inner conflicts and developments faced by a space sanitation worker named Hachirota “Hachimaki” Hoshino as he ponders over whether or not he can follow his dream of being an astronaut despite his low-paying job and the potential rift it would have in his relationships with people close to him. I found it to be one of the best sci-fi titles I have had a chance of seeing from the world of anime and believe it is worth a look if you have an interest in looking into a believable “what if” scenario of the challenges that develop from space colonization.