I will do my best to avoid spoilers unless they are absolutely necessary for context. If you happen to be reading this and are not huge into anime / into anime at all, I'll mark the ones that I would consider "good for people who are not huge into anime" with (*)
The list is not complete, but it will be sufficient.
Cowboy Bebop (*)If you read this blog at all, you already know my feelings about Cowboy Bebop.
Samurai Champloo (*)Actually my least favorite of the Watanabe shows I have seen, but that's like saying something is your least favorite thing that you like.
DorohedoroA comedy mystery action romance cooking slice of life show about hyperviolence, grot, the wizard mafia, magical drugs, meddling devils, the inevitability of chaos, the malleability of identity, and very buff ladies. It was designed to pander directly to me.
Space DandyThis is a special show. Just as soon as you think you've settled down into the hilarious adventures of this goof at space hooters, you are treated to some truly fantastic animation and some retrospective episodes that are way deeper than they should have any right to be. It has time for reflection and quiet and beauty among all of its (excellent) gags, less as punctuation to the wackiness and more just as aspects of that world that it's all jumbled up in. Now that's a part of basically all of Watanabe's work but I find it the most pronounced here, given how far up the absurdity dial has been turned.
Baccano! (*)This show is just concentrated fun: an ensemble cast of supercolorful characters jumping across plot threads and timelines in Depression-era America and more manic hijinks than one can reasonably know what to do with. It's got bootleggers and alchemists and mobsters and solipsist murderers and goofballs and it maintains all the spinning plates all the way through and it just don't stop. Everyone is cool, everyone gets to shine, dub's fantastic, it's chaotic without being a mess, it's short and funny and worth your time. A show to recommend to non-anime people.
Kekkai Sensen / Blood Blockade Battlefront (*)I had an acquantence in college who did poetry. He centered one work on fernweh, which he defined not as wanderlust but as "homesickness or nostalgia for a place you have never been". That's the feeling I get with this show. It feels like it belongs in the 9:30 PM slot on Toonami, on a Saturday evening half a lifetime ago now (not surprising considering it's an adaptaion of another work by the man behind Trigun). It's comfort food.
It's also a rollicking good time. New York City is now
Impossible amounts of bonus points go to the fact that the first season has an anime-only romance subplot and it's actually good. Could have been terrible, but it's just a couple teenagers being sweet on each other and it's wonderful.
Main downside is that this show goes hard on dimming the screen when the effects are going off as an anti-seizue measure, which can be quite annoying. Definitely watch the dub.
BokuranoThis show could easily be written off as a janky, ugly NGE ripoff, and that would be correct. It is jank incarnate, lord of high house jank, ruler of all the janklands, but...my biggest issue with NGE has always been the contrivances to ensure terrible things happening - contrived tragedy isn't tragedy, it's farce. Bokurano avoids that thanks to how it treats its characters.
So there are 14 kids who, each in turn, have to take the pilot's seat of this giant alien robot. This is going to kill them. Just getting the thing to move does one of them in, but they've got to get it moving because there are other robots out there and spoilers to boot. Every episode is just a roulette wheel, and one by one you check off the characters in the OP. Dead and gone, or just waiting for their number to come up.
That's some big woof already and it's made worse by the fact that the cast are a pretty mundane and believable cross-section of middle school kids. Some of them are real shits, others are god damn heroes, a lot of them are in between, but all of them get their spotlight moment. So when things go bad (and they will go horribly bad), it hurts. Even the shit ones.
Also worth mentioning at how the adults involved in this whole giant robot thing are actually not horrible monsters. When the giant robot shows up the government immediately tries using adult pilots. When that fails they do their best to take care of them, and here's where a huge shoutout to Capt Tanaka, who feels like a direct rebuttal of Misato in NGE.
Tengen Toppa Gurren LagannWhere do I even begin on this one? There are other shows on this list that I like more as stories, there are characters that I enjoy more, but thematically TTGL has aged like fine wine and has only grown more relevant with age. It's also super difficult to talk about because everything I want to go into detail on hinges on plot developments that are better off
Yes it's a show about shouting and explosions and giant robots and hot-blooded men making nonsensical declarations of hot-bloodedness, but it's also a show that hinges on the power of positive male relationships and role models as a means of surviving existential despair and avoiding self-destruction.
There's a sequence about coping with grief that...yeah. I appreciate that part a whole hell of a lot nowadays.
Plus Sorairo Days is a banger.
The Melancholy of Haruhi SuzumiyaMan, I had no standards in high school. This show is terrible and the more I think about it and its undue influence on anime as a whole, the more hterrible it becomes.
PlanetesIt's got mid-aughts shlock to it (mostly endearing) and the ending / how the main relationship plays out is blah (not endearing at all), but the science is solid, the goofs are fun, and it's trash collectors in space. I am a simple man with often simple needs and this show delivers on a lot of them.
Death ParadeOne season in an afterlife bar that was fine enough. Left a lot to be desired in the end, especially considering the opening theme is one absolute jam...if terribly nonindicative of both tone and how much we are actually going to deal with those characters.
Kill la KillIf you stop watching at exactly 15 minutes and 0 seconds of episode 1, this is one of the most solid 8.5/10 shows out there. Then you get to the 15 minute mark and to call that particular event both heavy and cackhanded is unreasonably generous.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (*)I never watched the original FMA, but I watched Brotherhood week to week over the course of a year as it was airing, and recently rewatched the entire series. Good news! It has held up like a rock over the last decade (sans some very not-great stuff involving a major VA)
If you know, you know. If you don't know, I encourage you to get to know. That's the review.
It's real good.
Attack on TitanI checked out when they revealed that the implacable incomprehensible horror was spearheaded by teenagers with superpowers, and I had been thinking I was watching a different kind of show.
Ergo ProxyI swear I watched it at some point but I'll be damned if I can remember it.
My Hero AcademiaI watched up through the tournament arc and it was fun, but around that point I started getting real uncomfortable about how Bakugo is one step removed from being a murderer and the school does nothing about it, and disappointed that the plot would not aim itself squarely at tearing down Endeavor (abusive parent and eugenicist). But it's fine. Filled a niche, no desire to return.
ErasedGod I am conflicted about this show. It starts off strong, it starts off SUPER strong. The premise is strong (time travel murder mystery!) It does a fantastic job of setting up characters and their relationships and the situations of their lives, and actually handles some really rough subjects with exceptional amounts of understanding and tact...but the process of actually solving the mystery is so limp that I barely remember it now despite being all-in at the time. There are some properly heartwrenching scenes that I had completely forgotten until I started looking up refreshers for this post because of how blah the ending was. And that's a damn shame.
But it's also got Sachiko in it, and she's a shoe-in for Best Anime Mom of the Century
Mob Psycho 100 (*)Easily the best representation of an autistic protagonist I've seen in media in general, beautifully animated, legitimately hilarious, excellent dub, I recommend it without hesitation to anyone whether or not they even like anime. Wholeheartedly devoted to doing its own thing and impossibly refreshing in its themes of "power and privelege are overrated, find self-worth in making yourself better"
The Body Improvement Club are the best, and will remain the best unto the heat death of the universe.
Kabaneri of the Iron FortressGotta give it credit this show gave you a super clear warning to jump off the bandwagon when that pink-haired sephiroth-looking guy showed up.
Vinland Saga (*)It's probably one of the only "out for revenge" plots I have seen that I can really get behind and enjoy - Thorfinn's obsession with revenge is so single-minded and narrow that he has effectively destroyed his life in pursuit of that goal. He could have had his revenge and gone back home ages ago, but he's blinded himself to any reality that doesn't play out according to the narrative in his head. He's a one-trick pony and it's killing him inside.
If it were just Thorfinn, it would likely be unbearable. Thankfully, we get a robust cast of secondary characters that not only break up the monomania of Thorfinn's revenge, but also actually move the plot forward. Askeladd gets shit done, and Thorkell might be the funniest son of a bitch on this list. Every scene he is in gets torn up by the roots and stolen.
JoJo's Bizarre AdventureAll reviews of JJBA are tautological.
Carole and Tuesday (*)I've been writing this for like six and a half hours now. Just watch the opening, that's my review. It's good. Music is good. Rotoscoping is good. It's on Mars.
Legend of the Galactic HeroesI stalled out around episode 60 of the original due to external factors. A very slow burn, but I say it's worth it. The plot is always moving forward in some way, because the plot is not necessarily handcuffed to the characters - they move and shake things, but the big sweeping movements are founded on the greater social picture. Things happening cause other things to happen not because that is the plot on its own, but because those are the natural consequences of that thing happening.
It's like Star Wars (it is not subtle when it wants to rip it off), but if Star Wars is actually about an actual war in the stars. There are plotlines that hinge on supply trains and it is engaging as hell.
The remake is very, very solid on its own and a good place to start: you can easily jump back to the original if you want more.
Keep Your Hands of Eizouken! (*)I was sold on this show in less than five minutes, before the theme song of the first episode even ran. Here, I'll link the clip.
You see it, right? It's The Moment. This show gets it. There are a whole lot of anime about highschool girls in a club doing a thing and I find no appeal in them as a rule, but Eizouken is the exception. Eizouken gets it.
And it delivers. The visuals are excellent throughout, from the fantastic mindscapes to something as mundane as the laundromat. The main trio of chuckleheads (Asakusa the small ADD worldbuilder gremlin, Misusaki the medium-sized energetic animator gremlin, and Kanamori the tall pragmatist manager gremlin play off each other masterfully. And through it all there is the sense that this is a show made by people who really care about what they're doing, celebrating but not fetishizing anime as an artform.
Eizouken gets it.
I got interrupted before I could finish this show and haven't been able to get back into it, but five episodes is more than enough to recommend it