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I don’t remember when I started watching anime. As far back as I can remember, there was always an anime series on TV: from the ones based on books like Andersen’s Tales, or Dairy of a Young Boy, to all the magical girls a child could watch. I’m also a big comic book fan, so there was some overlap there: the first manga I read was Mermaid Forest, due to a small mix up in an article where they confused Mermaid Forest with Ranma ½.
In the mid nineties there was a boom for both comic books and anime in my country –thanks to both the Death of Superman and Saint Seiya-, and I started getting deep in the culture; I’ve written for magazines, doujinshi, and now here in Honey’s Anime, because somewhere between that first Saint Seiya episode I watched (The fight between Pegasus and Dragon) and today, I managed to get a great job: Watching anime professionally.
So here are my top five of all time. You will notice there’s a lot of old school anime. Not that I don’t love the newest series, but there’s something to be said about your firsts. Among other things, they have more time to become your favorites, as you get to watch them over and over again. Missing from the list, however, are the stories based on my other passion, baseball, because I have to be honest, I like more baseball manga than baseball anime. Although Major is amazing and you should totally watch it.
5. Saint Seiya (Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac)
- Episodes: 114
- Aired: Oct 1986 – Apr 1989
When mankind is threatened, Athena and her 88 Saints will protect it from all danger. Or so the legend says. Unfortunately, in modern times, the Sanctuary itself has been breached by the darkness, and the latest reincarnation of Athena is in mortal danger. Seiya and his four companions, all of them Bronze Saints, and the lower ranked Saints that protect the Sanctuary, are the only ones faithful to Athena and to the protection of Earth.
Saint Seiya is probably the most popular shonen anime in Latin America, as well as an inspiration for some other anime following it in Japan. While some of their storylines –in particular the ‘will they, won’t they’ situation between Seiya and Saori- can seem a bit clichéd now, back in the eighties it was something new. Each of the Bronze Saints have very distinct personalities, from the loyal to a fault Shiryu to the lone wolf Ikki, which means everyone gets to have a favorite. And that is not counting the villains and the other Saints that appear from time to time.
Although the manga storyline wasn’t completed in the first anime run, the fandom was strong enough around the world so that in 2003 it got a sequel that finished the manga story, to add to the franchise that already had six movies, a prequel and a little later also got a spin off.
Saint Seiya Bd-Box PV
4. Ie naki Ko
- Episodes: 51
- Aired: Oct 1977 –Oct 1978
Remi Barberan has bad luck. At 10 years old he finds he is not his mother’s son, and gets sold to a traveling musician, Vitalis, by his estranged father. When he gets used to the traveling life, and grows to love Vitalis, the old man and half the animal troupe they have for their act die in a harsh winter. And that’s only half of the episodes of the series based on the French novel Sans Famille by Hector Malot.
This is another series that is not well known outside Japan, but it is one of TMS Entertainment classics. Directed by Osamu Dezaki, with the help of Kobayashi Shichiro in the art direction, and character design by Akio Sugino; Ie naki Ko was also one of the first anime that attempted to create a 3d effect for some dramatic scenes.
Ie naki Ko is one of those series that seem designed to make the audience cry, and it succeeds very well. It’s a story of heartbreak and loss, while at the same time managing to be about the pursuit of happiness and true friendship. A true drama, with some truly gorgeous art, as well as an amazing soundtrack, that every anime fan should watch at least once.
Ie naki Ko PV
- Episodes: 36
- Aired: Oct 1982 – Jun 1983
Mankind is not alone in the universe, and the crash of a mysterious and gigantic spaceship is the evidence. Fearing a future invasion, the Earth government unites under one single entity and start repurposing the spacecraft, renaming it SDF-1 Macross. Unfortunately, the lack of understanding of exactly how the SDF-1 works, causes that, upon an unexpected attack, the ship and the city that was build around it are transported to the other end of the Solar System.
Macross is a pillar of anime, even if most people outside Japan got to know it as the first part of Robotech, back in the eighties. It was directed by Noboru Ishiguro, and included the work of Hideaki Anno as a key animator, as well as Character Design by Haruhiko Mikimoto, all of whom would go on later to other famous series. It has drama, romance and some amazing space battles, even with the limitations of the animation techniques of the eighties.
If you haven’t watched Macross, there are not enough words in this article to recommend it. The franchise itself has some weak points, such as Macross II and Macross 7, but also great jewels like Macross Plus and of course, the original series. If you decide to give them all a chance, you will not regret the time invested.
Macross Opening Creditless
2. Maho Shoujo Madoka★Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 2011 – Apr -2011
Make a contract, get a wish, become a magical girl. That is the promise that Kyuubey, a strange white creature that identifies as an Incubator, makes to Madoka and Sayaka, after they save him from a dark magical girl named Homura. It seems easy, fun, and a way to help those who are in need. But while Sayaka jumps at the chance, Madoka seems a bit more reluctant as she wants to know what could be the downside of being a magical girl.
Magical girls are a staple of anime. From the original Sally in 1966 to the current seasons of Pretty Cure, there’s no year that goes without a magic girl show. This makes it a little hard to do something new with the premise. And yet, Puella Magi Madoka Magica manages it in just twelve episodes that become a rollercoaster of emotions from the opening episode where we see Kyuubey hunted and hurt, to the amazing ending that people should never spoil.
As it’s a recent series, there are a lot of spoilers about Madoka Magica and it’s sequels. There is a chance that when you read this, you already know about the big surprise in episode 3, as well as the other big revelations afterwards. But seeing the scenes is much better than just reading about them, so if you haven’t yet had the chance, this series should definitively be in your “to watch” list.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica Trailer
- Episodes: 74
- Aired: Apr 2004 – Sep 2005
A man is responsible for the life of those he saves. At least, that’s the belief Dr. Kenzo Tenma has followed his whole life. Unfortunately for him, one of the people he saved was a young psychopath who years later would become a serial killer. Unfortunately, the German police is convinced that Tenma is the one guilty of a series of murders in the hospital where he works, so he is forced to escape in order to find his old patient, to prove his own innocence.
Adapted from a manga by Naoki Urasawa, Monster is one of the greatest thrillers in anime, without competition. Even when we know the identity of the real killer from the first episode, Urasawa still manages to create suspense every step of the way. Added to that, there’s no such thing as secondary characters in his work. Every character we meet has a specific role to play, and the way in which those roles are revealed is part of the magic storytelling that only Urasawa is capable off.
Monster is an amazing trip that every suspense lover should watch at least once, preferably without many spoilers. A great gateway to the work of Urasawa, and a series that one can share even with those who are not very familiar with anime in the whole.
Putting this list together was really hard for me. I’ve been watching anime since the early 80’s, so actually managing to narrow it down to only 5 was just short of torture. Even then, I couldn’t tell you which one is my number 1 and which one is number 5, so I just leave you with this recommendation: Watch them, enjoy them, and come back to tell me what you thought of them, and what are your favorite 5 anime series of all time.