I think it’s pretty easy to see by now that I love anime. In the past three months, I think I’ve talked about and reviewed more anime features than Hollywood features, which totally has nothing to do with the fact that every movie is being delayed. No, I just love the genre itself. There’s so much creativity and passion behind each series that it’s hard not to find at least one show to adore. Even non-anime fans will admit to liking at least one animated series or movie from Japan.
So while we’re all cooped up inside, and since Tarah already covered pre-2010 recommendations for streaming anime titles, I elected to offer up my list of more modern titles to binge-watch. That’s not to say that I’m adverse to the classics, but I just find the stuff being produced now to be far more interesting than products from the 90’s and early 2000’s. It was a different time for the industry with different standards and I’d like to think with the recent streaming explosion and companies fighting for exposure, the standout titles are all the stronger for it.
I wanted to set a few ground rules though for this list. First off, I’m only considering titles that have over 24 episodes. While there are plenty of great anime series with 12 episodes (Beastars, Made in Abyss, and the ridiculous wonder that is Keijo!!!!!!!!, a series where women fight with their butts and breasts because sports), I wanted to select some titles that were a bit heftier that could take you a couple of days to get through. Second, I only chose titles that were streaming on any of the three biggest anime streaming platforms in the West; Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Netflix. Those are the most reputable and have the widest selection of titles. Finally, no easy choices. Most modern anime fans have heard of Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia, or One Piece so I’m going to stay away from the obvious choices. You may have heard of some of these titles, or you may not have. But they’re all worth watching and digesting at your own pace.
Isekai is a sub-genre in anime you either love or hate. The central premise of most isekai series is that you have a person in the real world who is either teleported or reincarnated into another world, usually a world of magic and wonder or, more often than not, a video game. Sword Art Online is probably the best and worst example of this sub-genre, with plenty more imitators popping up in its place. There are so many isekai anime released per year that its the equivalent to how popular Battle Royales are in the video game industry. While I can live with or without isekai, I do have to admit that when it works, it’s amazingly entertaining.
Overlord is an isekai series with a twist. The series follows Momonga/Ains Ooal Gown, the evil leader of the Tomb of Nazarick, a party in the MMORPG Yggdrasil. After the servers go offline, Ains is stuck in his character’s avatar and is trying to search for a way out of the game while every NPC gains awareness and come to life. Thankfully, he maintains all of his powers as an Elder Lich and the NPCs of Nazarick, who are slavishly loyal to him, aid him in his journey. Except Ains never tells them he’s trying to leave the game. Instead, he frames it to his servants as him taking over the world!
Overlord is actually a far slower show than one would expect. The series currently has 39 episodes under its belt, with the show spending most of its time fleshing out its world with several notable kingdoms, side characters with their own stories and motivations, and Ains establishing allies throughout Yggdrasil. It never feels like the show is wasting your time, but rather rewarding you for becoming invested in its world. Whenever Ains does decide to take action, it’s brilliant to watch. You know, in a gruesome, terrifying sort of way. To all of my Final Fantasy fans, imagine having to fight Yiazmat in XII with one life, alone, without ever healing. That’s how OP Ains is. For a slow-building political thriller, I can’t get enough of this show.
While Gatchaman as a franchise has been around for nearly half a century, most old-school Westerners may be more familiar with the Gatchaman brand as it was originally referred to here in the States. Back in the 70’s and the 80’s Gatchaman was adapted into two TV shows, the first of which being Battle of the Planets, with the other later series being G-Force. Regardless of how you know the team, the series received a reboot in 2013 that was by far one of the most refreshing and surprisingly philosophical anime series I’ve ever seen.
Over the course of two seasons, Gatchaman Crowds examines the nature of violence in relation to superheroes, explorations on people’s motivations to help others, social media as a major component of political change, for better and worse, gender identity issues, the disconnect between our online and real-life personas, and how technology’s rapid advancement may in fact doom us all. This is an incredibly complex show to watch that begs analysis and it has completely fallen off the radar. No one ever talks about this show despite being a reboot of a classic superhero property. This series is full of juicy explorations into politics and social engineering that you rarely, if ever, see in a superhero show, animated or otherwise.
Akame ga Kill!
The best way to describe Akame ga Kill! is it’s what you would get from an anime B-movie. There’s not a terrible ton of substance here, with the series more interested in over-the-top action and tons of blood, but that’s almost admirable in a sense. It’s a show where the heroes are righteous and the villains are insidious with both parties carrying weapons that can easily kill a couple dozen people without trying. If you want visceral action, Akame ga Kill! has you covered. The show isn’t subtle about its violence, and may sometimes border on reveling in violence for the sake of violence.
That’s because Akame ga Kill! actually takes a pretty bold risk for an action series. The show establishes fairly early on that no one is safe and anyone can die. Heroes, villains, everyone is on the chopping block, both major and minor characters. Sometimes a character will go out fighting like a hero, other times they’re torn to a million little pieces with their fleshy bits on full display for the world to see. It’s high action and high drama with very little breaks in between battles. Sure, those breaks may feature heaping tons of fan-service that won’t be for everyone (they weren’t for me), but that only accounts for a small handful of scenes in between the bloody spectacles.
Fair warning though; Akame ga Kill! has an anime original ending. The anime aired throughout 2014 while the manga finished two years later, meaning the anime had to take some liberties in telling a complete story. The story is satisfying at the end of the day, but there are enough major differences between the two versions that people tend to choose one or the other as their preferred rendition of the story. Me personally, I feel the ending of the anime has far more weight behind it with less fat on its edges, so it’s my go-to version to experience its world, characters, and unique blend of suffering.
As the only anime that is still currently airing (the second season debuts Monday April 6), Fruits Basket is a legendary manga from the late 90’s and early 2000’s that defined what it meant to be a shojo manga, or a manga aimed at teenage girls. It had an anime produced in 2001, but it obviously didn’t tell a complete version of the story and, while beloved, has its faults. With the 2019 series aiming to be a faithful and complete adaptation of the series, now is the time to watch the first season ahead of the second one!
The story follows Tohru Honda, a high school girl whose mother just died. She eventually meets the Sohma family while pitching a tent in a forest neighboring their estate, and moves in with them at their behest after discovering their secret. 13 members of the Sohma family are cursed by animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Whenever they are sick, stressed, or hugged by someone of the opposite gender, they transform into their Zodiac counterpart. Two of the members of the family, Yuki, the Rat, and Kyo, the Cat, start to develop feelings for Tohru as she begins to learn about their family and how nearly everyone is emotionally broken or haunted by demons from their past.
Fruits Basket is a decidedly more mellow show than any other series on this list. This is a show focused on fleshing out its large cast of characters and seeing what makes them tick. Sometimes the show can be charming and joyful, or it can show how some of the characters have undergone psychological torture for decades because of their conditions and other family members, most notably the mysterious clan leader Akito. No matter how you slice it, Fruits Basket does a wonderful job at leaving you with a warm feeling inside of you that is hard to ignore and even harder to dislike.
Blood Blockade Battlefront
So it was a toss-up for what would end up being my final recommendation. Should I go with something more niche or something that more people may find enjoyment in? After a few days of deliberating, I realized that this was my list and I could do whatever the hell I wanted with it, so let me talk about my favorite anime of the past decade, Blood Blockade Battlefront.
In a quarantined New York City (don’t get me started), monsters from space, other realities, and even Hell have slowly started to creep their way into our reality. The twist is that most, if not all of them, are pretty okay. Society functions as normal with monsters and human coexisting pretty well, minus a few bad eggs. When those bad eggs decide to present themselves, a clandestine group know as Libra are able to handle those situations, whether they be micro-terrorists on a cellular level, a runaway demon train piloted by a Lolita, or just trying to search for some good burgers. All of the members of Libra are strange in their own way, but the latest addition to the crew is Leonardo Watch, a young man who was given “The All-Seeing Eyes of God” by a demon which gives him a variety of eye-based abilities.
Blood Blockade Battlefront is an anthology series that does whatever the hell it wants, whenever it wants. It moves at 1000 miles a minute and never lets up on the gas, but gives way to some truly outstanding episodes and moments that need to be seen to be believed. Plus the show does not give two shits about what it airs. One of the members of Libra, Zapp, is a selfish asshole who is only interested in himself and usually gets the rest of the gang into trouble, but pulls through when needed, like when he kills a super powerful vampire because he was promised sex, complete with a thermal enhanced look at his crotch. There’s even an episode dedicated to how delicious Johnny Rocket is!
While Blood Blockade Battlefront can be dumb, and trust me it can get really dumb, there’s no denying just how passionate everyone who was involved in the production of this show was. The show features an anime original story in its first season that could have been groan-inducing for longtime fans, but quickly became one of the best things about the show. I didn’t think I could watch New York City, now called Hellsalem’s Lot, be threatened by Satan himself, but for Libra that’s just a Tuesday. Wrap all of that up in a love letter to NYC and Americana in general and you have a show that stands out from the crowd and is the definition of must-see TV.