I’ve seen me lots of animu in the last decade. I started watching this stuff in late 2001, and it’s ruined my life ever since. That being said, I felt it was my obligation to impart upon you the fact that there are good anime out there. It’s not all moeblobs and slice of life bullshit. So, as it’s so trendy to do right now, I’m giving you my list of the 20 Most Awesomest Anime of 2000′s. Keep in mind that even though I have ranked these, they are all equally awesome. My list probably won’t sit well with the pretentious arthouse goons or the moe-loving fapboys, but rest assured these anime are actually good shows.
20.) Boogiepop Phantom (2000) – This is one of those series where the fun comes in figuring out what the hell is going on. It’s a supernatural thriller, with each episode taking place from the point of view of a different character. I love the washed out color palette, the haunting music, the “realistic” look of the characters (i.e. no crazy hair colors), and the non-linear story. Instead of spoon feeding the viewer, it allows you to deduce what really happened on your own, although this may require multiple viewings. As the “angel of death,” Boogiepop doesn’t really have a name that would inspire fear in anybody, but if you watch this series late at night with the lights off, you might get a little freaked out.
19.) Paprika (2006) – A film from a true master, Satoshi Kon. While Millenium Actress is probably his most praised work, I find that there is something intangibly better about this movie. Kon continually plays with themes of identity and reality, and he does so to perfection here. In a future world where people can use technology to enter dreams, a doctor is attempting to use it to help psychiatric patients. She uses a persona known as Paprika. As the movie progresses, the line between what is real and what is the dream world blurs. Eventually, things spiral out of control, and climax in one of the weirdest and most incredible finales ever put to film.
18.) Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu (2003) – This is a series that doesn’t have quite the lofty artistic aspirations of the previous two entries. However, I’ll be damned if it isn’t a hell of a lot of fun to watch. I would place this amongst the top three funniest anime series I have ever seen. As a sequel to Full Metal Panic!, it requires you to be familiar with the characters. If you are, then there are plenty of laughs to be had. Each episode is comprised of two 10-minute segments which are loosely related. As the series goes on, things become more manic and out of control. There is a ton of action and comedy, which are blended perfectly. You’d be hard pressed to find a funnier series. Also, the animation and acting are both top notch.
17.) Gunslinger Girl (2003) – I find it nearly impossible to find a single flaw within this series. The story follows a group of pre-teen girls who are bionically upgraded, and turned into assassins by the Italian government. Obviously, the premise is cliche and overdone. However, the execution is the real payoff. The show takes a very realistic and serious approach. It doesn’t have any of the typical anime “circle eyes,” nosebleeds, or giant sweatdrops. The animation is extremely detailed, and the violence is short and graphic and terrible, just like it would be in real life. The violence is not at all glamorized, which is what makes the series so compelling. It is interesting to watch as it is a snapshot of a period in the girls’ lives, not a lengthy, epic storyline. Be sure to avoid the inferior second season.
16.) Wolf’s Rain (2003) – Without a doubt this is one of the most tragic anime I’ve seen. Don’t go into this one expecting something uplifting, because you certainly won’t get that here. According to an old legend, when the end of the world comes, Paradise will appear; however, only wolves will know how to find it. Although wolves are believed to have been hunted to extinction nearly two hundred years ago, they still exist, surviving by taking human form. The story is essentially one big road trip to find Paradise. Here, it isn’t about the destination, but rather the journey. One of the things that made this series great was that I never knew what would happen next. The writing was fresh and original, and rarely veered into cliched territory. It had great animation, fantastic music, excellent acting, and a phenomenal story. You owe it to yourself to watch this.
15.) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) – This film is able to blend comedy and drama perfectly. The human emotions on display here are completely genuine. The story centers around a high school girl who gains the ability to travel back in time. Unbeknownst to her, she only has a limited number of “leaps,” and she uses them to fix frivolous things. While the animation is a little rough around the edges, you will hardly notice. The story is so compelling you will easily get sucked into the film. It has a great story, and is a lot of fun. There are moments that will have you laughing, and others on the edge of your seat. It is truly a masterpiece.
14.) Voices of a Distant Star (2002) – Even though this is just a 25 minute OVA, you can’t deny this is a powerful short film. At first you think it will be about giant space robots fighting a war against aliens. But it really isn’t about that at all. It’s about loss and hope. If you’ve ever been in love or lost someone important to you, then you will find something to identify with here. As Makoto Shinkai’s first major work, it shows a level of maturity that he (unfortunately) has not yet been able to recapture. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic show, and one I cannot recommend enough.
13.) Welcome to the N.H.K. (2006) – I’ve already given this one a full review on my blog, so I’ll spare you the details. I love that this is a character-driven story, and that they show natural growth throughout. They don’t grow so much that it’s unbelievable, or so little that it’s frustrating. It’s a perfect snapshot of a short period in the lives of otaku. It’s a great, satirical look at the world of those who watch anime. Much better than that crap anime Genshiken. Every self proclaimed fan of anime needs to watch this show. They will find a lot of themselves in the characters. Without a doubt, this is Gonzo’s best series.
12.) Sword of the Stranger (2007) – It’s really rare for Japan to actually produce a good samurai tale. Akira Kurosawa basically closed the book on the genre with his opus Seven Samurai. While the first Rurouni Kenshin OVA/movie was indeed excellent, there has been little else samurai-related that was worth a shit. It seems that the Japanese can’t help but add a bunch of mystical shit and idiotic super powers (e.g. Basilisk) which ruin everything. What I love about this movie is that it is a samurai story set in the real world. Sure, the bad guys believe in the supernatural, but nobody has any super powers. It’s a straight-forward good vs evil movie. It’s nice to see sword fighting without spell-casting or powering up. And that is what makes it so refreshing. It’s a simple tale, with great action, incredible animation, a compelling story, and wonderful acting. You really can’t ask for anything more than that.
11.) Read or Die (2001) – Yomiko Readman A.K.A. The Paper (or Zah Peipah if you’re weeaboo) is one of my all time favorite anime characters. As I mentioned for Sword of the Stranger, I generally like it when anime take on a completely realisitic approach. This OVA, however, is the complete opposite of that, and I still love it. Here we have a bookworm superhero whose power allows for the manipulation of paper. She uses it as transportation, shields, weapons, pretty much anything. I think it’s the most unique super power I’ve ever seen. The OVA is only three episodes long, and is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. There’s nothing heavy here, just light plot, great action, and a kick-ass soundtrack. There is also a TV series that followed, although it was vastly inferior to the OVA.
10.) Paranoia Agent (2004) – Another entry from Satoshi Kon, and this time it’s a TV series. And this is a seriously cracked out, David Lynch-esque series. A mysterious boy named Lil Slugger is appearing all over Tokyo and assaulting people. Strangely enough, each person is undergoing a crisis, and after they are hit with Lil Slugger’s baseball bat, they seem to have an improvement in their lives. As with all of Kon’s work, the line between truth and fiction are blurred. Hidden beneath the stories is Kon’s own commentary about modern day Japan, as well as humanity itself. While this show can be a head-scratcher at times, it is a lot of fun figuring out what’s going on, and who exactly is Lil Slugger.
9.) Aim for the Top 2! Diebuster (2004) – As a sequel to Aim for the Top! Gunbuster, this six episode OVA had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, it delivered in spades. In fact, I find it to be superior to the original. It takes place approximately 12,000 years after the events of the first OVA, so it is indeed a loose sequel. However, there are many nods and echoes to the original in terms of both homages and plot points. As in the original, this anime follows a young girl as she dreams of going into space, only to fight hordes of space monsters. The animation is top-notch, the action scenes incredible, and the plot twists a bit surprising at the end. It continues the hyper-kinetic look and feel of FLCL, and it should as it has the same director, Kazuya Tsurumaki.
8.) Spirited Away (2001) / Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) / Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (2008) – Hayao Miyazaki is the man. Pretty much everything he makes turns to gold. That’s why it’s so hard to just pick one of his movies. All three that he directed in this decade were incredible in their own rights. I’m not sure where Miyazaki gets his crack, but it must be good stuff. He always has vibrant visuals and fun (if not slightly insane) stories. His movies aren’t just for kids, they appeal to everyone.
7.) Monster (2004) – This is another one of those near-perfect series with nary a flaw to be found anywhere. It also features an amazing cast of characters including Inspector “I am Japanese” Runge, DOKUTAH TENMA, and the scariest villain of all time, Johan. Monster is an epic 74 episode series which tells the story of Doctor Kenzo Tenma as he attempts to track down the psychopath/sociopath Johan who has ruined his life, as well as the lives of many others. As the story slowly unfolds we learn more about the depths of Johan’s cruel insanity. And it further cements just how much someone needs to stop him. While the series can move a bit slowly at times, it is never dull. There is always something happening, and it is usually quite suspenseful. Even though this show doesn’t get a lot of love from most anime fans, it really should. It’s incredible. This is storytelling at its best.
6.5) Detroit Metal City (2008) – First of all, my apologies to Johannes Krauser II. When I initially made this list I had yet to see this series, and after watching it, I realized it demanded a position. Krauser is the Emperor of Hell (as well as Death Metal), and is the star of the show. DMC has a simple, yet hilarious premise. It features a shy, extremely gentle (some would say a pussy) man named Souichi Negishi who wants nothing more than to become a light-pop music star. Unfortunately, things don’t pan out for him, and he winds up as the lead singer of the world’s most infamous death metal band, Detroit Metal City. His on stage persona, Krauser, is so hardcore that people actually believe he is a terrorist from Hell. He’s just that metal. The comedy stems from Negishi’s attempts to keep his true self separate from his secret life as Krauser. While this seems very sitcom-ish, it actually comes across far better. I guarantee you that the execution and originality of the jokes will have you laughing your ass off. I have never laughed harder at any anime (or live action) series. If you like comedy, if you like anime, you have to watch DMC.
6.) The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006) – This series is a phenomenon. Never before have people been so obsessed with an anime. Otaku were performing chereographed dances in the streets of Japan by the dozens, dressed up as the characters. And there is a good reason why they were so obsessed. This is a great series. The episodes are mixed up and tell the story in a non-linear way, which makes it difficult yet fun to figure out what’s going on. There are crazy plot twists, and it turns out that Haruhi is an incredibly important figure in our universe. The main character and narrator, Kyon, narrates with hilarious sarcasm, and provides a perfect foil for the manic Haruhi. There is a lot to love here.
5.) Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002, 2004, 2006) – There are three dates listed here to correspond to the two seasons of the TV series, and the film. This is a tour de force of storytelling. Each season and the film manages to tell a complete story, yet there is an overarching plot that encompasses all three. The story takes place in the future, and revolves around Public Security Section 9. They investigate various cyber-crimes which have serious implications for the government, as well as the world at large. It posits interesting philosophical ideas about the nature of humanity, consciousness, and the soul. And, unlike Mamoru Oshii’s inferior 1995 and 2004 movies (set in a different continuity), it manages to do so while having ample amounts of action. It is never boring, and is always entertaining. This series is a masterpiece.
4.) Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) – This series follows the adventures of Edward and Alphonse Elric in a fictional, industrial revolution type of world. While it boasts great animation, fun action sequences, great acting, and a cool soundtrack, those are not the reasons I love this show. I love it because the story is great. The bond of brotherhood between the two main characters is strong, and it is the main driving force behind everything that happens. There aren’t a lot of anime with magical powers that manage to pull you in emotionally, but this one does. From beginning to end you will experience all the same emotions (love, anger, sadness) that the Elric Brothers feel. This is a huge testament to great storytelling. Even though some critics say this is overhyped, I dare them to find any series that is as emotionally involving and as endearing.
3.) Haibane Renmei (2002) – Another masterpiece series, this time coming from long time character designer Yoshitoshi ABe. I find this show to be incredibly relaxing. There is something about its laid back pace and relative lack of urgency that really chills me out whenever I watch it. Don’t confuse that with boring, because this series is anything but. It follows the story of the Haibane, young angel-like girls, who live in a strange walled city that they can not leave. The real mystery here is figuring out what exactly are the Haibane. One theory promotes the idea that the city is the afterlife and they are children who have died, and the sin-bound ones are those who committed suicide. There are some hints dropped throughout the series which do seem to back that up. However, it is left widely open to interpretation, so you can feel free to think whatever you like. This is another strong, character driven tale, which is one of the best anime of all time, not just of this decade.
2.) FLCL (2000) – This is highly regarded as one of the best and most insane anime ever produced. As a six episode OVA from Kazuya Tsurumaki, it practically invented the hyper-kinetic style of anime. The plot revolves around Naota’s life as a young boy in a sleepy town, doing nothing particularly interesting. One day he is hit in the head with the guitar of a space pirate named Haruhara Haruko. Things quickly spiral out of control as aliens and robots sprout from Naota’s head. Essentially, it’s a coming of age story, but it is also so much more than that. It’s a quirky, wild, schizophrenic ride with awesome animation, references to everything from Evangelion to South Park, and a cool story. The soundtrack is also legendary amongst anime fans. This is a show you will never forget.
1.) Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007) – Coming from late in the decade is a series that is the ultimate homage to the giant robot genre. It mixed together disparate bits from a bunch of different shows, and combined them into what has got to be the most exhilarating series ever produced. It’s shocking that the pace never lets up. It gathers momentum, and when you think they can’t keep this up, they somehow manage to do so. For 27 episodes. It features the most epic final battle ever, and the animation quality remains superb throughout. Despite featuring robots so giant they can hurl galaxies at one another as weapons, this series has a surprising amount of depth. What I love about Gurren Lagann is that it has excellent character arcs. The main character Simon goes from being a shrimpy coward, to coming out of Kamina’s shadow, to becoming the ultimate badass. The other characters like Yoko, Kittan, and Viral also have good, complete character arcs. It’s surprising how few anime actually tell a complete story, or have characters that show truly significant growth. This anime does both of those things, and does them exceedingly well. Gurren Lagann is an optimistic story, and also promotes the nature of humanity (or of all life in general): always move forward, and never give up. Those are themes that I like, as opposed to the typical anime theme of: moeblob merchandise. It’s impossible to watch Gurren Lagann and not cheer for the good guys as they face seemingly insurmountable odds. And it would also be impossible to find any anime more epic, grander in scope, than Gurren Lagann.