So I wrote my Top 30 Shows of All Time list, and that was great and super convenient for a while, until I came to a startling revelation – there are more than thirty good shows, and even worse than that, people keep making new ones. Clearly there’s no way I could have predicted this turn of events, but I’m doing my best to take it in stride. And in the spirit of promoting More Good Things, I’ve decided to create this Additional Top Shows supplement.
I don’t really want to cut off shows when they fall out of the thirty – I’d rather recommend more good stuff than less, and the number was initially envisioned more as a quality marker than a hard, arbitrary line. And so instead of having shows disappear and be gone forever, shows that drop out of the thirty, or that just barely don’t make it, will instead find their home here in the Top Shows Addendum. I hope you enjoy this jumbled list of Slightly Less Top But Still Pretty Great Shows!
Samurai Flamenco is a messy friggin’ show, but that’s actually part of its charm. It jumps from genre to genre, villain to villain, never content to simply tell one story and be done with it. Part super sentai parody, part subdued character drama, part societal critique, and all ridiculous, it somehow manages to hold itself together and make some grand overarching statements about the nature of heroes, justice, and how we view the world. Almost anything I say about Samurai Flamenco would ruin part of its charm, so all I’m going to say is: it’s pretty great. Uneven, yes. Flawed, for sure. But also brimming with energy, creativity, and NICE JUSTICE.
Here’s my essay on Samurai Flamenco.
Samurai Flamenco is not available outside of Japan.
I’m not really an atmosphere-focused guy, but Serial Experiments Lain is just so very good at atmosphere that it demands my respect regardless. Its soundtrack, visual design, and constantly unnerving direction promote a vivid sense of alienation, claustrophobia, and paranoia, all perfect for a show so focused on the strange, identity-stressing nature of the internet. Part mystery thriller, part surreal horror story, Lain builds an acute inner reality stressed by every element of its production, and all of its strengths contribute to the central questions of what creates or defines a reality or self.
Like all the other shows in this area, Maoyuu is not a perfect show – but it is certainly an ambitious one. Though somewhat weighed down by awkward pacing and mediocre romantic elements, it rises above itself in its attempts to chart the progression of history, human nature, and the pursuit of a just society. Its characters work as both human beings and ideals in a larger frame, its conflicts are tangible and relevant, and its peaks are just tremendous. Even if you consider the show no more than a justification for its central speech on the nature of humanity and the value of education, it’d still be worth a watch. And surround that speech with a fantasy drama this engaging and intelligent, and you’ve got a show well worth the price of entry.
Though it’s not quite as fully realized as Watanabe’s best work, Terror in Resonance certainly doesn’t lack for ambition. It tells a story of youth in revolt that touches on the meaning of terrorism, the alienation of modern society, culture clash across the post-war generations of Japan, and plenty else besides. It doesn’t fully explore all of these ideas, and its overt narrative is a messy thing, but at its best moments, it perfectly evokes a kind of hopeless optimism and yearning for escape that highlights both the beauty of youth and the various cages of adulthood. Plus, Terror in Resonance is one of few anime that looks legitimately filmic – its direction, use of lighting, and soundtrack all contribute to put it in an aesthetic bracket few shows can match. It’s a heart-on-sleeve production, and beautiful besides.
Here’s my essay on Terror in Resonance.
Terror in Resonance is not yet available outside of Japan.
Haruhi is a strange one – a diverse muddle of genres and priorities that occasionally stumbles and ends up largely redeemed by its followup film. The actual show Haruhi is basically the archetypal light novel adaptation grandfather of so many modern shows – mysterious powers, wacky school shenanigans, lots of episodic adventures. All of that probably sounds kinda ho-hum at this point, but Haruhi elevates itself in all sorts of ways – the excellent production, the vast variety of genres it spans, and the way it only occasionally brushes at the darker implications of its premise all make it very satisfying episode-to-episode. And considering how popular Haruhi once was, it’s all the more impressive that at this point, people often say Disappearance “justifies” the series. That’s maybe a little hyperbolic, but it’s also kind of true – Disappearance is an absolutely fantastic piece of work.
Haruhi Suzumiya is available at Amazon.
Death Parade gives every appearance of being a schlocky, exploitation-focused production. The premise is tailor-made for melodrama, and there seems to be an inherent cynicism implied in its structure. Fortunately, the execution elevates this show to near-classic status. That starts with the direction and visuals, which are dynamic and beautiful, continues with the very classy soundtrack, and ends at the stellar writing. Death Parade has the unenviable task of making us feel sympathy for characters within half an episode of getting to know them, but the show nails its vignettes again and again, and the ultimate building story about the value of life itself comes together in a melancholy and deeply affecting final act. Not all episodes are equally good, but overall Death Parade is an equally rich and accessible drama.
Here’s my review of Death Parade.
Death Parade is not yet available.
I know Sekai Seifuku probably looks terrible, but seriously. Well, not entirely seriously – Sekai Seifuku is in large part a comedy, and is powered partially by Looney Tunes absurdity, Community-style heart-on-sleeve character humor, and a sense of surreal whimsy all its own. But this show builds its ridiculous ingredients into something legitimately heartfelt – a quirky, occasionally bleak adventure focusing on the meaning and power of family in all its forms. It’s funny and endearing, inventive and earnest, and likes its protagonists themselves accomplishes far more than you’d ever expect. As with all comedies, Sekai Seifuku is bound to be hit or miss – but if its humor works for you, there is a lot to love here.
Here’s my essay on Sekai Seifuku.
Sekai Seifuku is not available outside of Japan.
The Flowers of Evil is a legitimately painful experience. It’s heavy, oppressive, and relentless – a hard show to watch that only gets more soul-crushing as it continues. Some shows are meant to be enjoyed, but Flowers of Evil is meant to be endured – its paranoid internal monologues, alienating soundtrack, and beautifully ruddy backgrounds all weave together to create a horrifying internal world. And yet, through that horror, it actually creates something intensely moving. It’s a work of tremendous atmospheric potency, a story that pulls no punches in evoking the anxieties of adolescent with every element of its production. And when the veil of anxiety lifts and the characters actually scream their emotions at each other, it erupts in moments of overwhelming catharsis. It’s beautifully painful, yes, but it’s also just beautiful.
Here’s my review of Flowers of Evil.
Code Geass is dumb fun that is so confident in its own madness that you have to laugh along. It’s probably the best example of a tradition recently upheld by JoJo, where a show can be good, bad, and so bad it’s good all at the same time – its narrative is ludicrous and characters absurd, but it’s so sincere and so good at being entertaining that it sells you on everything by sheer force of personality. Popcorn is an art form, and Geass is a master of its craft – it does everything larger than life, and weaves a convoluted thriller/drama with such a sense of scale and fun that it’s impossible not to get carried along. The glorious, unapologetic summer blockbuster of the anime world.
Code Geass is available on Amazon.
Paranoia Agent is master director Satoshi Kon’s one and only TV anime series, and he certainly made the most of the opportunity. Horror is an incredibly difficult thing to get right in animation, but Paranoia Agent is nerve-wracking psychological horror through and through. Flawed and uncertain characters are hounded by the grinning Shounen Bat, and through their compelling personal stories Kon slowly paints a haunting portrait of a world in decline, full of haunted individuals unable to come to terms with their own lives. The show is also an audio-visual feast, evoking a strong sense of atmosphere and alternately coming off as traditionally filmic or wildly creative. Things get a little shaky in the show’s second half, but that doesn’t really diminish Paranoia Agent’s stature as one of the best horror-dramas out there.
Paranoia Agent is sadly out of print at the moment.
People have described Baccano as the anime version of a Tarantino movie, which to me seems like kind of an insult to Tarantino. Not because Baccano is bad, but because the things the two share – a penchant for non-linear structure and a love of ultraviolence – are basically the least interesting things about Tarantino movies. And Baccano itself is impressive in all sorts of other ways – ridiculous and fun and breathless and breezy, it juggles time periods, endless characters, and rampant subplots with an ease resembling controlled madness, coming off as a slight, entertaining crime caper in spite of all its ridiculous convolution. The end result is closer to Guy Ritchie than Tarantino, but Baccano is ultimately its own thing – an entertaining ride well worth the ticket.
Baccano is available at Amazon.
Slice of life isn’t generally my scene, but K-On! is just too generally excellent at what it does not to highlight. Ostensibly a story about a high school band, the show is really just a derpy comedy that ends up doubling as a surprisingly affecting mood piece. And K-On!’s director, Naoka Yamada, is one of the best in the industry at both of those things. K-On! soars on the strength of consistent tiny gags and wondrous scene-setting, building up its characters through humor while simultaneously establishing their school as a truly living place through great composition and framing. It’s a very breezy show that’s generally easy to relax with, but it’s the last half of its second season where it becomes something more. Building on all its small pieces of character work and tonal drama, it offers an honest and heartfelt expression of the end of a beloved experience. The cast’s last months of high school go by in a rush of goodbyes and final performances and gifts to old friends, making for a surprisingly moving conclusion to the “girls goof around in their afterschool club” show.
Here’s my review of K-On!’s second season.
K-On! is available at Amazon.
Though I don’t find it as compelling as Utena, Penguindrum is still stuffed with all the brilliant Ikuhara-ness that makes that show shine. Vibrant characters, plentiful visual inventiveness, a rich mix of ideas (this time concerning family, childhood, the nature of society, fate, and all sorts of other stuff I’d rather not spoil)… Ikuhara shows are busy, but Penguindrum manages to tie all this substance to a fast-paced, compelling central drama. What would you do to save the people you love? What composes your identity, and what is your identity really worth? The show is wild and absurd, but it stays grounded by virtue of the resonant issues it grapples with, along with the passionate, flawed, endlessly endearing family at the center of its spin.
Penguindrum is available at Amazon.
This show’s pretty textbook Urobuchi – one part compelling fantasy setting (a thoughtcrime-obsessed dystopian cyber-future), one part fun tweak on a classic genre (crime procedural by way of Bladerunner), and one part cynical yet optimistic attack on the inhumanity of utilitarianism, as well as the poignance of human nature. It’s fun as a straight crime drama, it works as a sharp-edged exploration of how society always creates friction with the individual, and its aesthetic is all kinds of stylish. Not Urobuchi’s best work, but standard Urobuchi is much better than most anime out there.
Psycho-Pass is available at Amazon.
Gurren Lagann is absolutely Not My Kind of Show, but it’s just so good at what it does that I have to love it anyway. The energy, the enthusiasm, the soundtrack, the fantastic visuals – it’s an exuberant love letter to mechs, hyperbole, and hot-blooded enthusiasm, and you’ll either absolutely hate it or end up swept away. It’s also pretty funny (though this is mixed with plenty of stuff that’s pretty not funny), has a broad and endearing cast, and even has one point of actual intelligence – Rossiu, whose arc and conflict possess a depth bizarrely out of whack with everything else the show is doing. Rossiu’s existence is probably the tipping point that knocks this show onto this list, but if you’re in the mood for pure, silly entertainment, Gurren Lagann is happy to entertain.
Gurren Lagann is available at Amazon.
Gargantia is both the most complex exploration of Urobuchi’s ideas he’s yet attempted and likely the most deliberately personal story of any of his works. By tying his usual ideas about utilitarianism and human nature to the story of one young man finding purpose in a new, unfamiliar society, he turns Gargantia into both a positive story about the rewards of embracing adulthood and an exploration of the purpose of society in the first place. Gargantia’s also just an enjoyable show to spend time with – the world of Gargantia is rich and beautiful, and the way the show shifts between full genres throughout its run does a great service to both Ledo’s journey and the impact of Gargantia as a setting. It’s fun, pretty, and possibly the most unassumingly thoughtful of all of Urobuchi’s shows.
Here’s my review of Gargantia.
Gargantia is available at Amazon.