Anime Romance Recommendations
October 17, 2020 8:11 PM   Subscribe

My favorite anime used to be Sailor Moon, but a rewatch of all its episodes (both the originals and the reboots) have made me realize that Mamarou and Usagi's relationship was really sad and toxic, especially once Chibi Usa shows up. What other animes are fun and thrilling like Sailor Moon and have romances that don't follow the same dysfunctional dynamic? Please exclude Avatar/Legend of Korra from your recommendations.
posted by Kitchen Witch to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, there's Cardcaptor Sakura, which is a classic and about younger kids than Sailor Moon so deals with some different issues. I always got lots of squishy emotions about the various relationships in the show and it's quite thrilling overall, but I also don't think Mamarou and Usagi are as toxic and sad as you feel they are (I absolutely get what you mean though!) From a similar era but entirely different tone and everything, there's Utena, which is an absolutely must watch, but is about serious, messed up, extremely toxic relationships and how to break free from them, and also roses and sword fights and turning into cars. You've probably watched both of these, though! Part of the issue is that Sailor Moon is so foundational for a lot of subsequent shoujo that you run into the same problematic relationship tropes everywhere else.

An incredible anime about kids coming of age in 60s Japan and learning about life and jazz is called Kids on the Slope. It has some wonderful relationships and deals with things in a mature way that really struck me, but I'm not sure it's the most romantic. The music is absolutely bonkers good and makes up in the thrilling department for the mundane setting.

If you're into robots at all, Eureka Seven is a really stylish show (imo) with an interesting relationship between the main characters who are teens as part of a ship crew of odd folks. I liked the way the teens actually felt like teens, and the setting is mysterious and intriguing.
posted by Mizu at 11:18 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]

I think it would help to understand what you find toxic about the show? I don't find that show particularly toxic, but do come at it from the perspective that it's star crossed lovers and that both of them really actually do care and respect eachother but wierd senarios get in the way.

What are you looking for TV to depict in a relationship?
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:25 AM on October 18

Hah, maybe I should have made my current perception of SM the focus of this Ask!

I think the thing that's putting me off the show is that Mamarou is frequently reluctant to acknowledge his relationship with Usagi, and in return Usagi is jealous, possessive, and insecure. The show uses both as dramatic points as well as comedic ones. This seems especially magnified once Chibi Usa appears. I find that story arc super weird now because of the dynamic that develops between the three both before and after they discover who Usa is.

Obviously the show isn't entirely that, and yes, Usagi is a teen who feels all things very deeply. It's just that the ongoing distant guy, clingy girl makes me sad as an adult, whereas the starcrossed lovers concept was totally exciting/romantic to 8 year old me when I first started watching.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 6:49 AM on October 18

Honestly I think that part of the second season is one of the most annoying aspects of the show too.

Thinking of anime that avoids that avoids this is harder . I prefer some very relaxing slice of life anime at this point (like
Shirokuma's Cafe) which is just totally laid back with simple little plots about zoo animals who work at the zoo. I've heard good things about Modoka Magica, but I've never watched it to recommend it.

What I have watched is Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, which is really fun ! There's is lots of mutual crushing but not really established relationship dynamics. I'd highly recommend giving that a try.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:25 AM on October 18 [1 favorite]

there’s Cardcaptor Sakura

I may be confusing the anime and the manga here because I watched/read both at the same time and it was a long time ago, but I remember Cardcaptor Sakura as being absolutely riddled with extremely problematic teacher/student “romantic” pairings.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:47 AM on October 18

The new Fruits Basket doesn't have as problematic a relationship (in my mind) since as the show goes on you learn why the characters are the way they are. It's still a little weepy and I'm convinced Tohru is actually a bodhisattva . All lot of older shoujo have that weird, unpleasant, toxic vibe (Hot Gimmick, SM, Fushigi Yugi) so my advice is pretty limited since I switched to indie comics years ago. It seems that stuff that's come out after Madoka seem better about it, don't know why.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:21 AM on October 18 [1 favorite]

Holo and Lawrence in Spice and Wolf are an adorable couple.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 9:46 AM on October 18 [4 favorites]

I was under the impression that anything by CLAMP (including Cardcaptor Sakura) is likely to have toxic pairings somewhere...

Madoka is a Magical Girl show, sort of, but it's not really romance the same way Sailor Moon is? There is a romance? and devotion, commitment, and self-sacrifice are huge themes. I enjoyed the show while watching it, but ended up feeling conflicted about the show after reading some analyses more recently. Idk, ymmv! It's short.

My sister loves Miraculous Ladybug, and I was *very* charmed by what I've seen of it so far.
posted by esker at 10:00 AM on October 18

Beastars on Netflix is quite good, I think. It's a complex relationship between a wolf and a rabbit in a world very much like the one in Zootopia. High school setting, as usual, but more mature than the usual.
posted by tomboko at 10:10 AM on October 18

Wotakoi! A real-world story about adult otaku in love. No sci-fi or fantasy elements. All the main characters are portrayed sympathetically, and one point of the story is how individual quirks should not only be accommodated, but are frequently what underpins what we like about each other. Originally streamed on Crunchyroll but seems to have moved to Netflix.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie is about a woman who becomes a NEET after becoming overwhelmed by anxiety and how she's coaxed out into the world again by a supportive group of fellow gamers, one in particular.
posted by ardgedee at 11:09 AM on October 18

* Revolutionary Girl Utena
* Star Driver.

If "fun and thrilling" doesn't necessarily mean "action" then:
* Bloom into You
* The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan (if you found at least something enjoyable in the original Haruhi series)
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 11:39 AM on October 18

If it doesn't have to be fantasy, and if you're okay with a gay love story, Yuri on Ice really is an exquisitely constructed romance story.

pretty gratifying to see multiple titles I've worked on the translation for in this thread
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:31 PM on October 18 [8 favorites]

I love Madoka, but even if you set aside the more problematic elements like the fanservice, the central relationship is not a healthy one. That's kind of the point of it.

Out of curiosity, I opened crunchy roll and started scrolling, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, maybe Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood? The romance between Ed and Winry isn't the main plot, but it is important.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:34 PM on October 18

It's been ages since I saw it, and it's a pretty different thing than SM. But Planetes had a nice relationship in it, iirc (and I remember it as a great show in general).

* Revolutionary Girl Utena

..........incredible show, everyone should watch it, but/and it's kind of completely, intentionally, absolutely centered on a vast multitude of dysfunctional relationships, breaking down and spotlighting the toxicity of so many stereotypical dynamics in anime and at large... There's one central relationship that (mostly?) isn't like that, but if the goal is to avoid watching people do terrible things to each other or have terrible effects on each other, this might not be the show to watch. (But it is great and everyone should watch it.)
posted by trig at 1:13 PM on October 18 [5 favorites]

I also recommend Spice and Wolf, although the romance aspect is more prominent in the second season than the first. Go ahead and watch it for the subtle and not-so-subtle flirtation, but the individual stories are mostly about a humble traveling merchant trying to profit in spite of the machinations of more powerful forces.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 1:27 PM on October 18

I would also recommend Bloom Into You, and most certainly say to read the manga, which completes the story. It's one of the best romances I can think of. I would also recommend the Kase-san series, but there is only an OVA. I love the manga, though.

Wotako! is also a lot of fun as a romance centered around actual adults, and this goes further in the manga.

Thinking about it, I can recommend a lot more manga than anime in terms of adult romance without a lot of dysfunction.
posted by ralan at 2:06 PM on October 18

I knew something had slipped my mind! Definitely Yuri!!! on Ice.
* Your Lie in April
*Planetes is good and has a romance? I can't remember if the romance was any good though.

if the goal is to avoid watching people do terrible things to each other or have terrible effects on each other, [Utena] might not be the show to watch.
If that is the goal, yes. I may have been reading the question too literally when trying to think of series that have a non-toxic relationship rather than ones that don't have toxic relationships.
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 2:07 PM on October 18

My other favorite anime (well... Anime adjacent) show is/was Miraculous Ladybug! It's also got me stressed out (I hate Kagami, dont @ me). I was hyperfixated on ML as soon as it aired but recently got tired of the will they/won't they stuff. I seek stability! And clear progress! Please! 😭 So much angst!!

Yuri sounds like a great fit, though. I can't believe that slipped my mind as a suitable alternative.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 3:15 PM on October 18

Kimi no Todoke is really good but idk if it would be classified as thrilling. No superheros or costumes, just normal people trying to live their lives. It's about a high school girl struggling to find friendship and love in a hostile environment where a lot of the other kids make fun of her and bully her because she's inhibited, has anxiety, and also, unfortunately, looks a lot like Sadako from the horror movie Ringu (known as The Ring in the USA). It did make me cry a lot but in a good way, not a bad way (like Clannad After Story is a bad cry, not a good cry, i hate that show). I don't want to give anything away but I will say it's worth checking out. The manga won a lot of awards and the anime adaptation was quite well-received. I haven't watched the second season yet, but the first season is ace.
posted by glonous keming at 4:07 PM on October 18

Yes, so much Yuri on Ice!!

Summer Wars - It starts with a fake dating trope and ends with all the wonderful found family and sweet but not over the top romance you might want, with adventure in cyberspace.
Whisper of the Heart - Ghibli movie in which two teenagers keep running into each other, and over time learn about each other's hopes and dreams. Lower on the adventure scale.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War - It's about a student council president and vice-president who like each other but are trying to get the other one to confess first. It sounds like it'd be terrible and problematic, but somehow it's charming and sweet in all the right ways.
The new Fruits Basket - It does have a bit of a love triangle, but also that just kind of stops at a certain point in favor of being charming. The romance is not problematic, but it does have a lot of emotional damage going on for all the characters and frequently makes me cry.
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl - I actually stopped watching after the first maybe 5 or 6 episodes, not because it was bad but because the first plot arc was so charming and perfect I could only expect it go down from there. I would have assumed it was problematic from the titular bunny girl, but it is surprisingly not exploitative about it.
Snow White with the Red Hair - There is a Very Problematic Issue in the first episode: the prince of the local kingdom tells the main character that she's going to be his consort. However, she runs away and instead the main romance is sweet and filled with hard working people with good intentions attempting to navigate a power differential.
Noragami - She's a high school student who is a fan of wrestling, he's a minor god who does work for hire with the dream of his own shrine. Oh, and there's a petulant dead teenager who serves as a sword sometimes. It's somewhere between found family and romance.
posted by past unusual at 8:11 AM on October 19

Whisper of the Heart is magnificent. If memory serves me correctly, its director was being groomed as Miyazaki's successor, but died suddenly (possibly from overwork?).

If we're recommending movies, Your Name is about a boy and girl who inexplicably begin to swap bodies; hilarity ensues, of course, but they start to form a relationship via the notes they leave for each other. Then (minor spoiler) it turns out they're also swapping across time (a couple of years), and their relationship becomes more dramatic.
posted by Gelatin at 9:31 AM on October 19

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid
Chihayafuru (kinda)
O Maidens In Your Savage Season (you'll know if this is what you're looking for after one episode)
Science Fell in Love (romcom)
reluctant mention of Ouran (deconstruction? kinda)
the Ancient Magus Bride (did someone say 'problematic but compelling romances'? I gotchu)
Waiting in the Summer
nth-ing Kimi no Na wa

disclaimer: would not recommend Whisper of the Heart

actually: maybe just post a list of shows you're thinking of watching, and we'll tell you which ones are garbage (there's a lot of trash these days)
posted by queen anne's remorse at 9:13 PM on October 19

Princess Tutu: A duck is transformed into the mythical ballerina Princess Tutu in order to save the shattered heart of a storybook prince come to life. A genre-critical fairytale and a cornerstone of shojo.

Akatsuki no Yona: A spoiled princess has to flee her kingdom with her loyal bodyguard after her father is killed in a coup headed by her beloved cousin. Coming of age narrative with fantasy/supernatural elements.

Anohana : The Flower We Saw That Day: Five childhood friends (now grown up and apart) are suddenly approached by the ghost of their long dead elementary school classmate who asks them fulfill her final wish. Modern coming of age with supernatural elements.

Akagami no Shirayukihime: A dedicated herbalist is chosen to become the concubine of the kingdom's prince due to her rare red hair. She refuses and escapes to a neighboring land where she builds a new life and new relationships. Fantasy romance.

Lovely Complex: A tall, rowdy girl slowly falls for a short, thoughtful boy which results in an exploration of a couple that doesn't fit cultural norms. Gentle and funny modern school romance.

Cardcaptor Sakura has a 4th grader in a relationship with/engaged to a 20-something teacher. I'd give it a hard pass if you're looking for non-problematic romance. Same for Utena and Madoka which are structured around problematic relationships (even though they don't condone them).
posted by givennamesurname at 12:16 PM on October 20

Two more now that I've had a chance to check my list:
* The Story of Saiunkoku. Similar caveat to Akagami no Shirayukihime, it takes a few episodes for the protagonist to get out of the initial gross situation.
* The Great Passage. If you're the sort of person who finds lexicography fun and thrilling.
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 2:37 AM on October 21

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