Remember how I’ve said I don’t like anime?
So much for that blanket statement. Like so many sweeping claims of its kind, it has proven completely false. It has taken ten years and a lot (a LOT!) of trial and error, but my husband has finally helped me find some anime I seriously enjoy, and I’ve even branched out into manga. (Me! The girl who used to get confused by comics!)
Note: If you’ve read my post on Spellbound Scribes, you can scroll down through this bit and check out my recommendations at the bottom of this post.
There are a few things I’ve learned along the way to finding anime I love. The first is that saying, “I don’t like anime” is a little akin to saying, “I don’t like animated feature films or television, regardless of content.”
Okay, that’s exactly what it’s saying.
My first exposure to anime was when I was probably twelve years old, and a friend of mine fell in love with Sailor Moon. She watched it, she carried the lunch box, she wrote fan fiction, she tried to turn me on to it. She failed. Again, in high school, a friend loved The Power Puff Girls. I tried it, I scoffed, I moved on. By the time I got to college and landed a roommate who loved anime, my experience was enough to give me a sinking feeling when we met in person. “Oh. She likes anime. Nope.” She tried it on me (I have no idea what we watched), I didn’t like it, she moved out.
Ha. No, she didn’t move out over anime. But it felt that way at times, like my dislike of anime was a dogmatic schism between me and people who could otherwise have been my friends. After that experience, I settled happily into a cozy, sheltered world of disliking anime, with friends who never even gave it a moment’s thought.
Cue meeting my husband. He likes anime, and cartoons of all colors, genres, and levels of satire. While he pretty quickly realized that I’ll never like anything in the Family Guy, Futurama, Archer, and, yes, The Simpsons oeuvre (it’s to do with the colors, animation style, and voices), he insisted that there did exist anime I would like. He just needed to find it. It became his quest, and I continued stubbornly stumping along, dismissing most of his suggestions.
Eventually, guilted by his continual efforts, I set three guidelines for finding Kristin-Approved anime:
1. The artwork needs to be pretty.
2. The cast needs to include strong female characters OR, at the least, the male characters can’t all be sexist a-holes.
3. A fantasy or fairy tale element is preferable, but not strictly necessary.
I asked that his suggestions meet two of those three criteria. We’ve crossed the eight-month mark on those guidelines, and we’ve found a handful of anime that I really like (see below).
But I’ve also discovered that anime is not always super heroes, creepy monsters, or giant machines, though I’ve enjoyed series that fall into all of those categories! And watching shojo anime does not in fact make one a connoisseur of creepy schoolgirl things, though there are also anime and manga targeted at older women. In fact, not only are there romance stories, “slice of life” stories, and some pretty serious erotica stories, there are historical stories, folkloric stories, hard-sci fi stories, and mythical stories.
Bottom line: anime cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a vague assumption about girls with pink hair. I hereby humbly eat my words. Again.
So if you’re interested in following me down the anime (and even manga) path, here are some of those Kristin-Approved series* I mentioned. Mild spoilers follow.
1. Princess Jellyfish: This is hands-down my favorite anime so far. It spoke to my heart, and I binge-watched it in mere days. It tells the story of a group of otaku women who live in the lone holdout building in a neighborhood targeted for gentrification. The story actually manages to parallel the women’s feelings of awkwardness and isolation with their love for the “retro,” eccentric old building they inhabit, and their push-pull relationship with the outside world is crystallized in their reluctant friendship with a “Stylish” who has acceptance problems (and secrets) of his—I mean, “her”—own.
2. xxxHolic: This one meets the pretty artwork and fantasy criteria, though the relative strength of the female characters is debatable. The show follows the story of Watanuki, a teenager who can see spirits, who agrees to work for a wish-granting witch in exchange for having his powers dampened. I’m not gonna lie, this one and the creatures in it have been an influence on my own fiction.
3. Mushishi: Gorgeously animated (seriously, incomparable artwork), this series is about Ginko, a man who protects people, usually rural villagers, from supernatural creatures/spirits called Mushi.
4. Noragami: Teenage girl Hiyori Iki is transformed into a half-phantom after a near lethal accident, and she works with struggling god Yato to, well, have adventures, fight spirits, stay grounded in the physical realm, and redeem Yato himself. That’s not a great description, but I’ve just started watching/reading this one and it’s fantastic so far.
5. My Little Monster: Scholarly loner “dry ice” girl Shizuku Mizutani becomes involved with “monster” boy Haru Yoshida, and together the two learn how to socialize and even love in a world that seems to neither want nor respect them. Meant for a younger audience, this one I could have loved when I was a shy and awkward pre-teen.
6. Neon Genesis Evangelion: Need I describe this one? Yes, it’s old. Yes, it’s incredibly successful and popular. Yes, I’m a late-bloomer. No, I haven’t watched it all the way through yet. Mecha, teens fighting the apocalypse, kids thrust into grown-up responsibility in a really adult story. I’ll pre-approve this one.
7. Howl’s Moving Castle: Yes, this one is also old(er) and well-known. No, I don’t know if a Japanese adaptation of an English book counts as anime: that’s way beyond the scope of this post. But I freaking LOVED this movie, and I want everyone I know to watch it. A witch’s curse turns a young girl into an old woman, and ends up seeking help from Howl and his cursed-demon friend Calcifer. That description does not do it justice. Go watch it now.
8. A Bride’s Story: Psych! This one’s not an anime. It is, however, my very first manga, and I love it. Set in central Asia in the late 1800s, this historical romance tells the story of an arranged marriage between a 20-year-old woman and a 12-year-old boy. Yes it does. And it’s not even a little creepy. Instead, it’s a nuanced exploration of cultural norms in an often unrepresented time and place, and it follows lovable, thoughtful characters in their personal journeys. The books focus as much on the side characters as they do the bride and her young husband, and every volume is worth a read. Check it out if you’re at all into historical fiction. (P.S. This one is also N. K. Jemisin-approved!)
So there you have it. Consider these series Kristin-stamped, and I highly recommend you try them out. Have you seen any of these? Based on this list, do you have any more recommendations for me?
*Most of these are manga as well as anime, but, except where mentioned, in this list I’m really referring to the anime. I plan to read Princess Jellyfish and Noragami. Howl’s Moving Castle is a different beast altogether.