Anime 101

There was a formspring question a while back about what anime you would show a class, we liked it so we expanded it into a little post. Imagine you are a professor. You have students who have anime studies as a major. What titles should they be familiar with in their first year that introduces them to the major? Lists like this are never really complete especially when working in some sort of restriction like our 10 TV series and 5 movies but there is only so much time in a semester. It also becomes more difficult as the years go by and more and more shows are produced. But you can still attempt a good foundation. It is important to note that not all of these titles are necessarily the best representations of their genre. Titles were often picked because it helped show the full range of what anime has to offer more than being the pinnacle. The shows here are meant to show what anime can produce in order to help the student decide where they want to focus their studies. So here’s what we thought of, what would be on your list?


Astro Boy

There are earlier examples of Japanese animation before Astro Boy. But this is the title that would define so many elements of the anime medium. In a way, all other Japanese animation were prequels to this first episode. Its influence on any and all anime after it is unmistakable so what general intro class to anime cannot touch on the work of Osamu Tezuka? It can be used for lessons on how decisions about production, characterization, storytelling, and adaptation all would go on to influence modern anime.

Rose of Versailles

The Rose of Versailles is a most iconic melodramatic shojo anime. It embodied and defined much of the visual iconography and emotional drama for later shojo and influenced titles like Revolutionary Girl Utena and Le Chevalier d’Eon. It is also a perfect example of an anime that takes elements from another culture and makes it a very Japanese friendly product that is still true to its origins. It can be used for lessons on early shojo, cross-dressing, historical fiction, and gender politics in anime.

Urusei Yatsura

Despite not truly being a harem comedy, Urusei Yatsura would set so much of the formula for later shows in that vein. It has the added elements of sci-fi, fantasy, Japanese culture all in one show. And it introduced the world to the powerhouse Rumiko Takahashi as well as countless other talents involved in the show. Everything with comedy or romance is probably influenced to some degree by this one show. It can be used for lessons on comedy, romance, common character types, women writing for a male audience, and merchandising.

Dragonball Z

Shonen fighting is one of the most lucrative forms of anime. Universally exportable it brings in profits domestically and internationally like no other genre. Dragonball Z had unprecedented success which change genre it was a part of permanently. Everything from Naruto to Fairy Tale draws from the formula created here. There is a reason they keep releasing Dragonball Z in countless versions. It sells every time as a timeless classic when most other older anime is forgotten. It can be used for lessons on shonen, fighting shows, and the international market.

Sailor Moon

Despite the fact that the magical girl genre had been around for years, Sailor Moon changed the scene. It is the definitive modern magical girl show and the first to add sentai aspects to the formula that would influence much that came after in the genre. The international success can also not be underestimated. Sailor Moon was responsible for much of the female anime and manga fandom in the U.S. in the 90’s and is currently in a revival. It can be used for lessons on the transition from the to modern shojo, magical girl shows, the fandom in the U.S., and trends in English adaptions.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

It has been said several times by respected people that you can define the medium by looking at pre- and post- Evangelion anime. It changed the way the Japanese looked at mecha shows, characters, and the reach of merchandise. So much anime looks either to borrow, reference, or react to Evangelion that it’s influence is undeniable. And the current remakes in production add another layer. It can be used for lessons on mecha, modern anime, merchandising, and the rise and influence of the modern otaku.

Cowboy Bebop

An iconic attempt to use western culture to create an internationally successful anime. Unlike Rose of Versailles that took a very western setting and made it a Japanese story, Cowboy Bebop took a hodgepodge of western influences and to make a solid story. It succeeded but therefore made a title mostly embraced by the west exclusively. Cowboy Bebop was one of the heralds of the Adult Swim revolution in the U.S. which brought a new wave of fans to the table. It can be used for lessons on differences between the tastes of fans on either side of the Pacific, marketing to a western audience, music in anime, and advances in TV quality animation.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya

The poster child for modern anime, Haruhi created a powerful cultural zeitgeist that swept up fandom in a sea of trends and memes; a simultaneous deconstruction and celebration of the genres which spawned it. Completely self-aware it took on anime fans, modern archetypes, tropes, animation, and production cycles. It can be used for lessons on moe, fan service, and inward reflecting otaku trends.

Nodame Cantabile

Nodame Cantabile is a tremendously successful anime based on a hit manga that has elements of both modern josei and shojo. This is a look at anime for older and casual audiences outside of the normal student fanbase which succeeded in exactly what the Noitamina animation block wanted to do. Also a strong example of musical, school, and professional anime all in one. Plus it has amazing cultural penetration. It can be used for lessons on modern shojo and josei, comedy, romance, and embracing of anime and manga by the general public.

Cross Game

Mitsuru Adachi is another name that means successful and iconic series and Cross Game is the most recent success in a long line of them. Baseball is big in Japan so no doubt it is also big in their manga, but this series shows that there is more to sports anime than the game. Cross Game also highlights the classic-modern style of animation that uses crisp and clean techniques with older character designs. It can be used for lessons on slice of life shows, modern romance series, and the success and failure of sports genre around the world.


Original Gundam Trilogy

The definitive version of the show that spawned the most successful mecha franchise and the real robot genre. More polished than its TV predecessor, the Gundam movies produce an epic space story of war and the people affected by it. It is also early enough in time that it contains enough super robot elements so they can be discussed alongside the real robot elements. It can be used for lessons on anything sci-fi and robot as well as the power of franchises, remakes, and re-imaginings.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki are names that are recognizable even outside of anime circles. When you have to pick one and only one Ghibli, Nausicaa is a solid choice. It has a good mixture of the dark and light sides of Ghibli melded with its messages about war, humanity, and the environment. This film also trained or influenced so many people working in the anime industry today. It can be used for lessons on fantasy, family films, and the differences between television and film animation.

Ghost in the Shell

Anime fandom existed in the English-speaking world before Akira and Ghost in the Shell but these two films took the fandom to a whole new level. We picked Ghost in the Shell since it is an ongoing franchise that went on to have sequels, spinoffs, and solidified the director Mamoru Oshii in American fans minds. It is often considered the definitive cyberpunk anime. It can be used for lessons on early fandom, speculative anime, cyberpunk, and the growing influence of an international market on anime.


Satoshi Kon was an amazing, modern director whose films were beyond the scope of anime. In fact, he was probably renowned more outside of anime circles than in them. Paprika was his final film and it brought to life the world of dreams in an amazing visual spectacle. His narrative weaved one of mystery, illusion, and people caught between the two. A perfect example of art house anime that exists outside the normal categories. It can be used for lessons on mature subject matter, elevating the genre, and animation achievements.

Girl Who Leapt Through Time

A story about a huge subject, time and space, told through a narrow lens. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a modern classic. A vibrant and modern visual style that easily segues into the advantages and disadvantages of computer animation vs cell animation. It also has a family friendly but mature plot line based on a classic novel. It can be used for lessons on science-fiction and romance, coming-of-age stories, and modern anime.


13 thoughts on “Anime 101

  1. anon says:

    Take off Nodame Cantabile and Cross Game. You might like them a whole bunch but they aren’t important enough to be remembered a few years down the rode. It’ll look like those forum posts from ten years ago with Chobits at the top of their list of all-time favorite anime.

    • reversethieves says:

      I think you are looking at things for much too much of a western perspective. Nodame Cantabile was WILDLY successful in Japan and is a good blend of modern shojo and josei storytelling and design. Mitsuru Adachi is a cultural icon in the manga world and sports anime is an institution in Japan.

      ALSO these are not the BEST shows but the good shows at showing diversity.

      So maybe you should read a little closer Mr. Anonymous.

      – Hisui

  2. Yuri 'Arara' Oliveira Petnys says:

    Nodame Cantabile may not be important per se, but it is important as a representation of the modern anime in regards to josei and shoujo interests. It may be as good as any other famous, high-quality josei anime series, but hey, there aren’t much of them, right?

    As for Cross Game, as much as I loved it, I also don’t think it fits well with the whole purpose. Maybe to show how older designs adapted to the modern staples of anime, I dunno.

  3. kadian1364 says:

    If you were to teach this class with an eye on history and cultural relevance, wouldn’t you want to choose to highlight Adachi’s Touch instead of Cross Game? From what I’ve heard they’re virtually the same story, and Touch is the one fondly remembered by a generation of Japanese who grew up to love baseball.

    I also think the “plotless, romanceless school girls comedy” genre is prominent and distinct enough in the modern industry to warrant mentioning Azumanga Daioh, the template from which commercial otaku hits like Lucky Star and K-ON were directly molded from. It could teach more about moe, and anime-unique genres.

    I might briefly mention Record of Lodoss War as the D&D dungeon crawl-turned anime that influenced every western high fantasy-type title to come after. It could teach about Japanese interpretations of western mythological traditions and the cross-influence between gaming and anime/manga communities.

    Other than those, this post pretty much covers everything I would think of.

    • reversethieves says:

      Touch and Cross game do many of the same things but I felt that Urusei Yatsura covered most of the same animation ground but Cross Game showed a nice look at the modernization of a style. Like I said I did not pick shows because they were the best. I picked them because they as a whole hot as many different categories as possible.

      I felt that Haruhi touched on enough of the modern trends that Lucky Star and K-ON did not need to be added. Also Narutaki is still alive and adding input on the list.

      I left out several smaller genres just because there is only so much time in a semester. I did not cover gambling anime, salary man anime, pornographic anime, as well a several other smaller genres. I just felt fantasy anime was too much of a niche to make a big deal about. Plus Urusei Yatsura covered that to some degree.

      – Hisui

  4. Yuji says:

    Night Shift Nurses for the physiological side of anime, Cool Devices for the sociological side of anime, and Urotsukidōji or La Blue Girl for the theological side of anime. Hmm… it might be a good idea to save those for the senior year dissertation…

  5. TWWK says:

    I’m a big fan of Cross Game, but I, too, feel it’s a bit out of place. I think the rest are excellent choices.

    I once signed up for an anime class at my university. At the time, I think it was the only one being taught in the nation for college credit. Anyway, I ended up dropping it (I’m paying money to watch anime?!), but I was trying to remember the syllabus and what we were supposed to watch. I only remember one film – Barefoot Gen, and only because I remember thinking, “Why not Grave of the Fireflies instead?”

    Anyway, either of those films is probably a good addition as well.

    • reversethieves says:

      We thought of putting on Grave of the Fireflies but we did not want to do the typical Ghibli overload. IMHO the most important thing was to expose a student to as many different styles of anime as possible. That is why we picked Cross Game over something like Atashi no Joe or Aim for the Ace. The list was already leaning towards older shows and we wanted a few modern shows to contrast their style and animation techniques against the shows from the 70s and 80s.

      – Hisui

      • TWWK says:

        Those are great points. I did like how the list is very inclusive of all generations of anime. If you felt a sports anime was needed, it certainly makes sense to include a modern one that will maybe one day be considered a classic (and which demonstrates other important aspects of anime that you mentioned).

      • reversethieves says:

        If it is anything my original choice was Hajime no Ippo but Narutaki wanted Cross Game for its greater emphasis on the relationships. There are few WRONG choices. It mostly comes down to what you think are BETTER choices. IMHO most sports shows that are not Battle Athletes and Ring ni Kakero (both shows I like) would have been fine.

        – Hisui

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