Top 10 Josei Anime [Updated Best Recommendations]

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Josei, in Japanese, means “woman”. But for manga and anime lovers, it is a more complex word, as it refers to all stories of which the target audience are women in the late teens- adulthood age bracket. Does that sound vague? Well, it is. It doesn’t limit the stories to genre, but to readers, and given the kind of things women like to read, it basically means almost any “mature” story that can be enjoyed by female readers.

Within the vague limits of the category –as it is not really a genre- we have some masterpieces. Of course, first we need to be able to distinguish between the ones that are actually shounen –amazingly, a lot of Josei is confused with shounen-, the ones that are more for the yaoi-loving fandom, and the ones that are very mature shoujo.

But fortunately, we have more and more anime that is definitely Josei now, so it’s time to update an old recommendation list here.

10. Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi (Utakoi)

  • Episodes: 13
  • Aired: Jul 2012 – Sept 2012

The Hyakunin Isshu is an anthology of 100 romantic poems, written by many poets and compiled during the Heian period. They’re considered some of the best poems of the era, and are very important to the Japanese culture –as we will see a bit ahead on this list. Uta Koi is, in the own words of the author, a “super liberal” interpretation of said poems.

If you enjoy romantic stories, Uta Koi is right up your alley. While the poems themselves are not connected to each other, Uta Koi manages to make a whole narrative connecting them, making the characters related to each other and thus creating a family history out of the poems, even managing to connect the Tale of Genji, another literary masterpiece, to them. In the end, 13 episodes seem to be too short. The animation is gorgeous, the colors are beautiful, and it’s a great way to start our list on the tenth place.


9. Natsuyuki Rendezvous (A Summer Snow Rendezvous)

  • Episodes: 11
  • Aired: Jul 2012 – Sept 2012

This starts like a known and well-loved story: Man falls in love with woman, decides to get a job at her store to be able to win her heart. So far, it’s a tale as old as time and nothing to write home about. But here, things change. Because while Hazuki –the man- does start working at the flower shop owned by Rokka to catch her attention, there’s also the small problem of Rokka’s dead husband, Atsushi, who has been haunting the place to make sure that Rokka doesn’t forget him. But unfortunately for both men, Hazuki can see Atsushi, so they both have to work together in order to help Rokka be happy.

As you can see, Natsuyuki Rendezvous is a complicated love story built from an apparently simple love – triangle. Because it touches on the themes of love, loss, grief and, most importantly, being able to move on after a loved one’s passing, it is far more mature than most love stories we’ve seen in anime. Because of this, and the superb animation, it more than earns the ninth place on our list.


8. Ristorante Paradiso

  • Episodes: 11
  • Aired: Apr 2009 – Jun 2009

Nicoletta has been raised by her grandparents after her parent’s divorce. Her biggest wish is to become a chef, and thus, she has started working as an apprentice at the Casetta dell’Orso, as the only female in the staff. Through her eyes we see the lives of the rest of the wait and cook staff, and the lives of the clients of the small restaurant in Rome. It’s a slice of life that has more than one main character, and can transport you to the beautiful Italian countryside.

Ristorante Paradiso is a perfect example of one of the best strengths of the Josei stories: It is not an epic, long adventure, nor a huge romance with a thousand twists. It is just a snapshot of real life, with real problems such as divorce, not knowing what to do with your life, secret families, and tough choices. Because of this, Ristorante Paradiso is definitely the eighth josei anime you need to watch.


7. Gokusen

  • Episodes: 13
  • Aired: Jan 2004 – Mar 2004

When you are the granddaughter of a Yakuza boss, you have a very limited scope of choices for your future. Especially if you are the only one in line to inherit the family business. This is what happens to Kumiko Yamaguchi, who has been raised by her grandfather precisely to take over for him when he’s ready to retire. But her dream is to be a teacher, and to her surprise, her Grandfather agrees. It’s the rest of the family who wants her to quit and keep with the family tradition.

Gokusen follows a classic genre: The new teacher who can and will do anything in their power to inspire and help a group of students. It’s a story we know well, from “To Sir with Love” and all the way up to “Bad Teacher”, and it never fails to entertain us because deep down, we all know that a teacher that is not cut the same way as all the rest is what most kids need. And because of this, Gokusen climbs all the way up to the seventh place on our list.


6. 07 Ghost

  • Episodes: 25
  • Aired: Apr 2009 – Sept 2009

Teito Klein is a young amnesic slave that has managed to climb through society’s ladder to end up studying at the prestigious Barsburg Empire’s military school. The day of his graduation exam, he uncovers a years-old conspiracy that has to do with his true origins and his father’s murderer. Due to this, he and his best friend end up in a quest for revenge, and the recovery of the old Empire that was destroyed by the Barsburg.

If this sounds like a shounen to you, we understand. 07 Ghost is an action packed fantasy, full of everything that makes a shounen adventure. But of course, this is due to stereotypical ideas we have about shounen, shoujo, and lack of knowledge about Josei and Seinen. Which makes it a perfect show to prove that not all Josei is romance or slice of life, and that is the reason why it’s the sixth place on our list.


5. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

  • Episodes: 13
  • Aired: Jan 2016 – Apr 2016

Once Yotarou left prison, he promised himself he’d never return: nor to jail, nor to the life of crime that made him end up there. His new goal is to become a Rakugo performer, and become a master of traditional Japanese storytelling. Soon, he manages to worm his way into becoming the apprentice of one of the best Rakugo performers in the area, Yakumo Yuurakutei (And the man who actually inspired him to take this path). Through his relationship with Yakumo’s protégée, a young woman named Konatsu, they both make Yakumo rekindle his passion for Rakugo.

With Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, we’re back to the period drama and slice of life that make most of our list. It has a lot to its credit, starting with the portrayal of the Shouwa era, as well as the Rakugo performances that are not a common subject in manga due to the nature of the performance, which is a very dark humor. If you are interested in a period piece that also deals with the dark side of grief and moving forward, our fifth choice is the series you need to watch.


4. Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish)

  • Episodes: 11
  • Aired: Oct 2010 – Dec 2010

Amamizukan is an apartment building that doubles as a safe space for the tenants who live there, as it has a very simple rule: No male tenants are allowed. Thus, the women are free to be themselves and indulge in their various geeky passions. Tsukumi, who wishes to be an illustrator, loves jellyfish; Chieko, the manager, adores traditional Japanese clothes and dolls; Mayaya is obsessed with the Records of the Three Kingdoms; Bamba loves trains; and finally, Jiji loves men older than her. There’s also Juon, a yaoi manga writer, but she rarely leaves her room as she is a hikikomori. But when Tsukumi meets Kurako, a very stylish young woman, things start to change. Especially as she realizes that Kurako is not really a woman, but a man with a passion for cross-dressing.

Kuragehime is a very interesting series that challenges some gender stereotypes very common in Japan. It takes a very common scenario: The otaku meeting a more “normal” member of society, and turns it on its ear by changing the gender of the main characters. It also has a very interesting take on interpersonal relationships in modern times, as well as a refreshing view of women who are not interested in romance, but rather focus on other areas of their lives. For all these reasons, Kuragehime is the fourth choice of our list.


3. Nana

  • Episodes: 47
  • Aired: Apr 2006 – Mar 2007

Nana Komatsu is a naïve 20 year old who wants to leave the provincial life of her native hometown and travel to Tokyo following her boyfriend, Shouji Endo. Nana Osaki is a proud punk rock vocalist that also left her rural hometown for the streets. After abandoning her popular band to pursue a solo career, she boards the same train as Nana Komatsu in direction to Tokyo. That chance meeting is the beginning of a strange friendship, that leads them both to help and support the other in their search of happiness.

Based on the manga by Ai Yazawa, Nana is a very curious anime. The manga is not a Josei, despite its mature themes and the fact that Yazawa’s work is more popular among young adult women than teenagers, it is a shoujo. And yet, if one doesn’t know that Nana was originally published in the Cookie magazine, it would be easily mistaken for a Josei. This is appropriate for the story: It is a coming of age story, about leaving your teenage dreams behind and following your adult goals and resolutions with new strength and about ceasing to play around and becoming more responsible with our acts. Due to these reasons, we decided to add it to the list, as a gateway anime between shoujo, and more mature Josei in the third place.


2. Nodame Cantabile

  • Episodes: 23
  • Aired: Jan 2007 – Jun 2007

Opposites attract. That is possibly the best way to describe the relationship between aspiring composer Shinichi Chiaki and the skillful, but incredibly messy, piano student Noda “Nodame” Megumi. There’s almost nothing in common between them. Both are talented pianists, but Chaki is far more focused on the technique, while Nodame loves improvisation. Chiaki is organized and clean, Nodame at some point had mushrooms growing in her hair. There is literally nothing that Chiaki can say that he likes about Nodame… and yet, after a few months of studying together, he fell in love with her.

Nevertheless, Nodame is not a typical romantic comedy. There are no easy answers to the love Chiaki feels for her; or for the choice he has to make between his love for music, his passion for conducting, and his love for her. There are no rivals, no funny triangles to create hijinks. It’s all a very mature story where the real challenge to make their love work is communication between the couple: Just as in real life. And because of this mature take on the old tale, Nodame Cantabile is the second place on our list.


1. Chihayafuru

  • Episodes: 25
  • Aired: Oct 2011 – Mar 2012

We began our list talking about the Hyakunin Isshu, and we will end it in the same note: the influence of this particular poem cycle in Japanese culture. As we said before, it is an anthology of 100 poems, all around the theme of love. And one of the most curious elements of Japanese culture is the game of Karuta, a game where the players have to match the first part of the poem read aloud with the second part, written on cards in front of them. Sounds complicated? It is, as it requires speed, reflexes, and a prodigious memory.

When she was younger, Chihaya Ayase used to think it was not fun. To add to her troubles, she had no real ambition of her own, and was content to be her sister’s cheerleader. But a chance meeting with a boy named Arata Wataya makes her change her world view as he impresses her with his passion for the game, and soon she decides that she wants to become the world’s best female karuta player. And so, Chihayafuru follows her through her quest, as well as introducing us to the fascinating world of professional Karuta, and to the amazing personalities of other players. A beautiful animation around gorgeous poems, Chihayafuru is still our number one suggestion for getting to know, and love, Josei anime.


Final Thoughts

Josei, unlike shoujo, shounen, and Seinen, tends to be more character-driven. Yes, we have epic adventures, but in the end, we are far more interested in the characters that live said adventures than in the stories themselves. The writers create wonderful worlds, both in ancient Japan and in modern times, but they’re not as intriguing as the people who live there.

So, which one is your favorite? Do you agree with our list? Did we miss your personal choice to introduce people to the wonderful world of Josei anime? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments.

Adalisa Zarate

Writer

Author: Adalisa Zarate

The fan with the rainbow hair. Has been an anime fan all her life. Lives in Mexico City for the time being.

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Original Article Below


Strictly speaking, josei is not a genre. Rather, it refers to any animated/illustrated work aimed at Japanese women from ages 18-30 (or 18-40, depending on what source you're looking at). Most josei stories delve into the romance and slice-of-life genres, though you'll occasionally see fantasy, comedy and even horror.

If you exclude the manga-only works, the live-action movies/TV shows, and the yaoi (since they have overlapping demographics), you can count the number of josei anime on one hand. That's a shame, really, because many josei works are high quality. For example, you have:

10. Hachimitsu to Clover (Honey and Clover)

  • Episodes: 24
  • Aired: Apr 2005 – Sep 2005

Let's start this list with a classic josei piece. Honey and Clover follows Yuuta Takemoto, an art major without a clear sense of where he wants to go. Although he finds friendship with the quirky, fun-loving Shinobu Morita and the mature, no-nonsense Takumi Mayama, he doesn't really gain his footing until he meets Hagumi "Hagu" Hanamoto. Hagu's unique mix of innocence and maturity captures Takemoto's heart, and changes his worldview for the better.

Like most slice-of-life series, Honey and Clover doesn't have a discernible plot. But since the characters are well-rounded, you'll care about them when they experience rejection and heartbreak — which are recurring themes in this series. Shinobu, for example, may seem like a carefree guy on the surface, but he's actually fighting his own demons like everyone else. At the risk of spoiling this show further, I strongly suggest you watch it right this instant.


9. Pet Shop of Horrors

  • Episodes: 4
  • Aired: Mar 1999 – Mar 1999

"Horror" and "josei" may seem like an odd combination, but this series manages it. In this chilling tale, there's a strange pet shop in Chinatown, run by an equally strange man named Count D. He sells pets to people, who need some mystical way to make their hopes and dreams come true. But there's a catch: The pet owner must follow the terms of the sales contract to the letter — or else.

Apparently, no one is able to hold up their end of the bargain, because they invariably end up with horrible fates. This eventually catches the attention of Leon Orcot, a young homicide detective. Suspecting that Count D was behind everything, Leon begins his quest to uncover the truth behind the pet shop.

As with all good horror tales, Pet Shop of Horrors is more complex than it lets on. Sure, it has its fair share of gruesome scenes that'll make you squirm in your seat. But it also raises questions like "How far will you go for the things you want?" (Oh yeah, there's some homoerotic subtext between Count D and Leon, if you're into that sort of thing.) Overall, the show has a different take on what it means to be good, evil and human.


8. Omoide Poroporo (Only Yesterday)

  • Episodes: 1
  • Aired: Jul 1991

Everyone feels nostalgic about their childhood, and this Studio Ghibli film knows it. Omoide Poroporo revolves around 27-year-old Taeko Okajima, an OL (office lady) who retreats to a countryside village for her vacation. During her stay there, she helps out the farmers, reflects on her memories as a 10-year-old, and comes to terms with a budding romance.

As expected of a Ghibli work, this was a box office hit in Japan. Only Yesterday paints a tender yet realistic portrait of growing up: Taeko remembers both the good (her crush returned her feelings) and the bad (her frustration with fractions) of her days as a little girl. Although the film goes back and forth between the past and the present, the flashbacks never feel jarring. Also, GKIDS will release this movie in U.S. theaters come 2016, so watch out for it!


7. Shirokuma Café (Polar Bear Café)

  • Episodes: Episodes: 50
  • Aired: Aired: Apr 2012 – Mar 2013

At first glance, Shirokuma Café looks like a cutesy children's show. It has talking animals, pastel colors, and a wholesome, relaxing tone overall. Once you get into it, however, you'll realize there's more to it.

For one, it's different from most comedies that rely on randomness to work. Shirokuma fires off Japanese puns like a machine gun, while Penguin is just as proficient as a tsukkomi (straight man). As for the main character, Panda, I found him tolerable enough — though some of you may be put off by his constant whining. The voice cast includes heavyweights like Jun Fukuyama, Takahiro Sakurai, Hiroshi Kamiya, Daisuke Ono and Yuuichi Nakamura, so have fun guessing who's voicing who.


6. Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish)

  • Episodes: 11
  • Aired: Oct 2010 – Dec 2010

In an apartment complex called Amamizukan, everyone is a geeky woman. For example, Tsukimi Kurashita knows anything and everything about jellyfish. Banba is into trains, Jiji is into old men and Mayaya is an expert on everything related to the Three Kingdoms. Even the apartment's manager, Chieko, is obsessed with Japanese clothes and Japanese dolls. They're all able to live quiet lives, because of their compliance with one condition: No guys are allowed in the Amamizukan.

Everything changed when a beautiful woman helps Tsukimi win an argument with a pet store owner. The woman follows Tsukimi to the Amamizukan, and spends the night with her. However, the next morning reveals that the "woman" is, in fact, a man named Kuranosuke Koibuchi! What will Tsukimi do if the others find out?

The unique plot isn't the only selling point of this anime. You'll bust your belly laughing at the girls' quirks and antics as NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training). At the same time, Kuragehime is a heartwarming story about being yourself, in a society that pressures you to be like everyone else. Granted, the anime could've ended on a more satisfying note, but this doesn't detract much from its overall quality.


5. Paradise Kiss

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: Aired: Oct 2005 – Dec 2005

Despite the premise, you don't have to watch/like "Project Runway" or "America's Next Top Model" to appreciate this show. If you want an earnest story about following your dreams, Paradise Kiss should be on your "Must-Watch" list.

At the show's center is Yukari Hayasaka, a high school girl who's uncertain about her future. She winds up with a fledgling clothier group called Paradise Kiss — comprised of the fashionable Isabella, the rocker Arashi, the cute Miwako and the magnetic George. With these friends, Yukari discovers more about herself, and falls in love with George along the way.

Everyone in this show is unusual and relatable at the same time. This makes it easy to root for them, despite the fact that they live and breathe the mystical world of fashion. The animators also displayed a mind-blowing attention to detail (just check out those clothes!), and somehow managed to get Franz Ferdinand to sing an ending song called "Do You Want To." Considering all the effort put into Paradise Kiss, is it any wonder it's one of the most well-known anime series?


4. Sakamichi no Apollon (Kids on the Slope)

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: Apr 2012 – Jun 2012

This anime is set in the summer of 1966, when Kaoru Nishimi transfers to Sasebo on Kyushu Island. Because he constantly moves from one place to another, Kaoru has a hard time making friends, and becomes a withdrawn, introverted kid as a result. But when a local boy, Sentarou Kawabuki, befriends him and introduces him to jazz music, Kaoru learns more about love, friendship and personal identity.

If there's one word that sums up this anime, it's "unforgettable." The show will take you on a rollercoaster ride of laughs, tears and heartfelt moments. All the characters receive development: Kaoru gets out of his shell, Sentarou deals with his scars and Ritsuko learns to move on. And, as you've probably heard a million times before, you'll listen to the jazz music from this show long after you're done with it.


3. Usagi Drop

  • Episodes: 11
  • Aired: Jul 2011 – Sep 2011

While attending his grandfather's funeral, 30-year-old Daikichi Kawachi notices a strange little girl flitting about the house. For some reason, the rest of the relatives ignore her, so Daikichi investigates. He discovers that the girl's name is Rin Kaga, and that she's his grandfather's child out of wedlock.

Realizing that no one else wants to care for Rin, Daikichi takes her away, and resolves to raise her on his own. The problem is, he's a bachelor, so he has zero experience with child care. Fortunately, Rin is mature for her age, and they become closer throughout the series.

This is probably one of the most diabetes-inducing shows I've ever watched. Through Rin, Daikichi learns to be a more responsible adult, while Rin just grows more and more adorable with each episode. It was also fun to watch their interactions with the Nitanis, who were heavily hinted as their future love interests. Hopefully, if this show gets a second season, the animators will develop those relationships a little more. (Yes, I've read the manga, and… Well, let's just say I'm in denial about the events in the second half.)


2. Nodame Cantabile

  • Episodes: 23
  • Aired: Jan 2007 – Jun 2007

Shinichi Chiaki has it all: Good looks, a flair for piano-playing, and a lofty ambition to make music with the best-of-the-best of Europe. Unfortunately, his fear of flying, coupled with his perfectionist tendencies, don't make him the most pleasant person to be around. So when fellow university student Noda "Nodame" Megumi — a sloppy, aimless girl who's a skillful pianist in her own right — falls in love with Chiaki, all hell breaks loose.

On the surface, Nodame Cantabile seems like a typical romance story: Chiaki and Nodame meet, fight, love and try to achieve their ambitions all at the same time. However, the show avoids being cliché by centering the conflict around the couple's internal struggles, rather than third-party love interests. Of course, the classical music is arguably the highlight of this show — with many viewers signing up for lessons because of it!


1. Chihayafuru

  • Episodes: 25
  • Aired: Oct 2011 – Mar 2012

Chihayafuru is unusual in that it's both a sports and josei anime. And not just any sports, mind you: The show's about karuta, a card game that requires extensive knowledge of Japanese poetry and syllabary. Fortunately, you don't have to be a karuta expert to enjoy Chihayafuru.

At its core, this anime is about passion. Chihaya Ayase, the main character, didn't have any real ambition, until a boy named Arata Wataya introduces her to the aforementioned card game. Ever since, she's wanted to become the world's best karuta player.

Of course, it won't be easy for her. The other karuta players have their own reasons for succeeding too: Some play because they're naturally good at it; others play because of the challenge the game offers. Some play to win; others enjoy the game as it goes along —regardless of the end result. With this diverse cast of characters, you're bound to find at least one person to root for.


As you can see, many josei stories are character-driven. They treat otherwise mundane topics — like love, growing up, and finding yourself — with so much care and thoughtfulness, it's hard not to be engaged with them. If you're still unsure about what "josei" means, you can read our "What is Josei" article, or drop your questions/recommendations into the comments below!

Issa M.

Writer

Author: Issa M.

Issa is a pen-wielding mercenary by day, and an anime fangirl by night. She might seem anti-social at first, but she's actually quite friendly once you get to know her. Also, she's learned to like Google+ after getting locked out of her own Twitter account for some mysterious reason, so say hello to her there!

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