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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.