Anime recommendations for the person who was over anime 15 years ago
August 26, 2021 6:22 AM   Subscribe

I used to watch anime regularly 15-20 years ago but got sick of a lot of the tropes (detailed inside). So I just stopped. But much time has passed and I can't write off a whole country's (or countries') animation. So could you recommend any titles?

Tropes I have little-to-no tolerance for:
  • Fanservice, particularly of characters who are children or appear to be children
  • Age gap relationships, including relationships that are supposedly not age gap but let's be real, the way the female character was drawn was to give the perception of an age gap relationship. If she is half the height of her partner I'm out.
  • Harems, either boy or girl
  • Dumb armor on female characters
  • Two-dimensional female characters
  • When they actually exist, Black people who are drawn like blackface
  • I'm not super into the idea of groups of twelve-year-olds with superpowers anymore, though that is not a hard line if the series is genuinely good. Plus I know school-aged protagonists can be kind of unavoidable and I have enjoyed anime with them (see below)
  • Seriously over-the-top gouts of blood and gore, especially when kids are involved
  • Will-they won't-they shit that functions central to the plot and persists for over fifty episodes
  • Plots where the protagonist trains to get unlimited power to defeat the first villain in Arc 1, then discovers more unlimited power to defeat the second villain in Arc 2, then discovers even more unlimited power in Arc 3 for Villain #3, etc
  • Male characters who are emotionally immature shitbirds and have nothing going for them but an incredible woman falls for them anyway
  • The shot where something terrible happens and the camera goes fishbowl and zooms in on the protagonist from an angle and their eyes have gone huge and their pupils are tiny and trembling (OK, this is not a deal-breaker but COME ON)

Anime and Western animated series I've liked or have not hated:
  • Cowboy Bebop at the time I watched it. At this point the treatment of Faye would annoy me. I think what I liked the most was that it was about adults and aimed towards adults.
  • Steven Universe and She-Ra. These were aimed at kids and I would prefer recommendations not aimed at kids, but I appreciate the the kids were drawn like kids and treated like kids.
  • Bojack Horseman
  • Kino's Journey
  • The Twelve Kingdoms (from what I remember)
  • Full Metal Alchemist (the first series, never saw the second)
  • Vinland Saga, but mostly only because I like the manga so much
  • Attack On Titan is fine, I guess
  • I liked that Puella Magi Madoka Magica was dismantling magical girl shit but I would've rather seen, like, a show about a former, now grown-up magical girl reflecting on her past or something
  • Probably others but my memory is bad
If it is any help here is manga: Vinland Saga, the work of Naoki Urasawa, Domu - A Child's Dream, Onward to Our Noble Deaths, and My Brother's Husband are a few (nowhere near all, but as said my memory's bad).

I realize I have listed no straight-up comedies, but it's not because I don't like comedies. It's because all of the anime comedies I can remember watching are just slapstick and full of fanservice and I'm not into either of those. I'm pretty meh about horror in general, especially since what I've seen tends towards the over-the-top gouts of blood thing.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (32 answers total)
I don't know if I'd call the new Masters of the Universe series anime, but if you liked She-Ra and want something aimed more towards adults, it ends up hitting many of the same notes. You might also enjoy The Dragon Prince on Netflix. Both feature women wearing at least somewhat-practical armor!
posted by jordemort at 6:43 AM on August 26, 2021

Watch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood! Yes, it starts out the same, but moves much more quickly and diverges from the original (to follow the manga). It’s justifiably on the top of many “best anime of all time” lists. I hadn’t seen the original, and was “meh” about trying it because I got over saturated with awareness of FMA and its merch, but I’m glad I gave it a shot.

Steins Gate is pretty good!

A recent top anime is Demon Slayer, but it might rub up against the tropes you don’t like, so maybe don’t try this one first.

Mushishi is chill and low key. Very relaxing.

Megalo Box — maybe I’ve only seen the first season, but it felt like a glowed up version of some classic sports animes.
posted by itesser at 7:12 AM on August 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

posted by VyanSelei at 7:29 AM on August 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

The Night is Short, Walk On Girl is a recent one I liked a lot. It does have some slapstick elements, but more than that it's quirky and mysterious and weird and it captures some of the particular charm of being a college sophomore in Kyoto. And Masaaki Yuasa's style is visually inventive in a way I really like.
posted by Jeanne at 7:31 AM on August 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

This one is 20 years old too, but did you see Haibane Renmei?
posted by esker at 7:31 AM on August 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am in a similar situation to you - used to have more tolerance for tropes, stopped watching for a while, then came back later on out of a sense of nostalgia and was pleasantly surprised. I'll have some more recommendations later on once I've had a chance to think about what I've seen and enjoyed recently, but I have found Anime Feminist invaluable in sorting through newer titles. Check out their reviews in particular.

Also, what streaming services do you use? Different titles are available on different platforms so I want to make sure I give you actionable recommendations.
posted by daikaisho at 7:42 AM on August 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

I’m currently watching Turn A Gundam (from all the way back in 1999) and I gotta say the protagonist is easily the most emotionally intelligent robot-anime-protagonist I’ve ever seen. Some weird stuff about race and some hinky stuff about teen girls but so far it’s been mostly women being smart and getting what they want, and interesting metaphors for colonialism that don’t quite map to reality but manage to communicate feelings about it anyway. Amazing soundtrack, top notch hand drawn cell animation, truly outrageous moon fashion, endearing mech designs.

I absolutely loved the short series Time of Eve (apparently it’s from 2008, time flies). It felt like the most precious kind of scifi short story collection all set in the same world. The aesthetic just sent me and each story was crafted with so much consideration. It’s all about androids and identity and making small meaningful connections.

Okay finally coming up on last year, please give a chance to Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! You’ve probably heard about this one, and I think it deserves every bit of acclaim it has. It’s sort of a slice of life show but it’s a love letter to animation and weird girls being weird friends. The art is funky and incredibly nuanced with so much fluidity and intelligence. The writing is hilarious but also the right kind of bitter right when it needs to be, and each character has a unique voice without going for full on stock comedy tropes. There is just a lot of joy that leaks out from the whole thing.
posted by Mizu at 8:11 AM on August 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Shirobako remains my all-time favorite anime. It's a love letter to the animation industry with a realistic spin, and a focus on how dreams don't always match reality. 5 women, all in various stages of their careers, supporting each other and their dream of one day collaborating on a show together.

If you like perfectly-executed, character-driven slice-of-life, you'll enjoy almost everything by Kyoto Animation. Their star director is Naoko Yamada, she's a brilliant storyteller & filmmaker. Some of her best work can be found in the following.

Sound! Euphonium follows a high school band on their journey to the national competition.
Tamako Market is a feel-good, super cute, and relentlessly positive series centering on a shopping district and its very unique inhabitants.
A Silent Voice is a movie that will simultaneously renew your hope in humanity and also destroy you. People can change.

There's a lot of bad anime out there. Blogsuki is pretty good at combing through everything that's come out in the current season and thin-slicing it, and they seem to have similar thoughts & tastes as you. Check them out too!
posted by spbb at 8:33 AM on August 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Ping Pong: The Animation?
posted by emmling at 8:36 AM on August 26, 2021

I hear you—I also tend to seek out anime that do not involve (or at least don't center) romantic relationships because some of the tropes about them are SO PAINFULLY BAD.

Trigun was one of those shows that I REALLY loved when it came out, but there are some elements (mostly centered around treatment of / reaction to women) that haven't aged particularly well and were a little tough to deal with on a modern rewatch. I still enjoyed it on the whole, but if Cowboy Bebop would annoy you now, it is possible this would too, for similar reasons.

I recently watched Jujutsu Kaisen and I REALLY enjoyed it. There is definitely a bit of the fishbowl-zoom-tiny-pupil effect and the characters are high school students, but they're not otherwise coded as being overly young. It is very funny and very action-packed, but not overly gory since they're mostly fighting spirits / demons. And no romance so far, unless you count Itadori's relatively pure himbo love for Jennifer Lawrence.

I loved Demon Slayer, but the first episode is STRONGLY violent toward children and it does have a little bit of the "I have reached maximum pow— oh, wait, not quite yet" trope, although it's not as ridiculous as some that I've seen. They do a very good job of showing the main character Tanjiro (who is absolutely delightful) training his whole ass off to improve in his demon slaying so it doesn't make it seem like he's become an incredible badass overnight or anything.

Also: I don't see it on your list, and at this point it's almost 20 years old (!!!) but if you haven't already watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, it is absolutely incredible and I recommend it without reservation. Definitely falls into the 12-year-olds with superpowers camp, and there is a teeny bit of entirely age-appropriate will-they-won't-they, but I seriously cannot say enough good things about it.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:37 AM on August 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have similar tastes. Some recent favorites of mine:

Moribito (Guardian of the Spirit) - strong female lead, great plot and character arcs.

Mushi-Shi - gentle, slow paced stories about man's relationship to nature spirits, based on ancient Japanese folklore. It can get a bit dark, but not overly so. It has beautiful watercolor landscapes and the dub is actually really well done.
posted by ananci at 8:39 AM on August 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

I tend to watch more animated films (especially Studio Ghibli), but I recently watched the first couple of episodes of Children of the Whales and it was really interesting (dramatic and beautiful - bit dark but definitely not horror) - and lacked fan service/inappropriate age gaps.

On the comedy side, I saw the first episode of Dragon Pilot and it's a fun parody of the "chosen one" tropes of lot of YA media. I don't remember cringe-worthy moments, though definitely some slapstick and body humour (well, dragon-body humour). (I need to get back to that one - it was really funny).
posted by jb at 8:46 AM on August 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

It might not be exactly what you'd describe as anime, but Kubo and the Two Strings is an amazing work of animation.
posted by SPrintF at 9:12 AM on August 26, 2021

Seconding Serei no Moribito.

Steins;Gate has some of the elements you said you don't like (sorta-but-not-exactly harem, fanservice) plus a supporting character whose main schtick is sexual harassment, which is usually one of my own deal breakers. And a trans character who isn't treated well.

I wonder if you would like Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle? It's a comedy about a princess kidnapped by demons who cares about nothing except improving her sleep quality.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is a comedy about drawing girls' manga. The main characters are in high school, but I don't think there's any of the tropes you hate. It pokes fun at some tropes of shoujo manga and gender stereotypes. No romance.
posted by henuani at 9:18 AM on August 26, 2021

+1 for Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, which is amazing and contains none of the tropes you identified.
posted by aparrish at 9:34 AM on August 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

I missed the fact that you don't like slapstick comedy. Sleepy Princess might not be for you then (although it is very well-timed slapstick).
posted by henuani at 9:37 AM on August 26, 2021

Basically everything directed by Sayo Yamamoto:

Yuri On Ice: Mid-20s professional figure skater faces a career crisis. Romantic comedy, but not slapstick.
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine: Sexy thief pulls off heists. Action/mystery. Has a lot of female nudity so YMMV but I really feel like it's coming from a female perspective - the protagonist is fully aware of her sex appeal and is using it deliberately (vs. the creepshots or cartoonish boob bouncing you see in other shows...) Her age isn't stated but she reads as being in her late 20s/early 30s. CW for implied sexual abuse of children.

She also directed Michiko & Hatchin, which doesn't have any of your NO list elements IIRC, but I never got around to finishing it.
posted by airmail at 9:57 AM on August 26, 2021

Seconding Nozaki, it's such good fun.


- ReLife (1 flag for your NO section may flag but all is not what it seems so if it seems OK stick with it. Can be sad at times.)

- Net-juu no Susume (Recovery of an MMO Junkie) - features adult characters

- Welcome to the Classroom of the Elite (this is a psychological one and the novels cover A LOT more of the story)

- My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected (In high school but with character growth)

- Hanasaku Iroha (another high school aged anime but rather mature)

- Yuru Camp - characters are in HS, but it's just good clean relaxing fun with zero fan service or anything of the sort. Highly recommended for colder weather though.

- Sakamoto desu ga is a comedy but isn't harem or fanservice-y at all.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:16 AM on August 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seconding Jujutsu Kaisen; Anime Feminist pretty much sums up why. I really like most of the main cast, and the female characters are great. (Nobara, the female member of the main trio, is not only smart, capable, and takes no shit from anyone, she goes completely feral in a battle near the end. It's awesome.) There is definitely blood and gore, and a substantial amount of body horror, but I don't have a strong stomach for either, and I was fine.
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 10:45 AM on August 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Psycho-Pass S1, cyberpunk dystopia from Gen Urobuchi (Madoka writer), adult female protagonist who wears sensible shoes most of the time. The first season tells a complete story, and I don’t recommend the other second season because it has different writers, different characters, and is basically a mediocre retread of S1.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:29 AM on August 26, 2021

One Punch Man is satirical enough that I think it warrants a look. Oddly enough I think the fighting moments when the lead character is fully shadow-eyed-angst-fight-face are the least interesting, but that's not really what the show is about.

Beastars trips face first over your rule about height/perceived age difference, but I found the characters, music, and (Japanese) voice acting very compelling! The English voice acting, not so much.
posted by panhopticon at 12:24 PM on August 26, 2021

+ Yuri on Ice and FMA:B and Haibane Renmei.

If you're okay with some teen drama, I'd like to recommend Princess Tutu and Princess 9. Tutu is about western fairytales, especially in their overlap with classical music and stage adaptions**, and P9 is about a women's baseball team being established in sexist AF 90s Japan. (It does have an emotional shitbird as the main love interest but like... the narrative discusses why and the characters usually react appropriately.)

I'd also tentatively recommend The Ancient Magus Bride.

on preview: yes Beastars, it's good, but it's also very horny. I wanted to mention that up top because a lot of your trope turnoffs involve horniness.

** There isn't a way for me to describe Princess Tutu in detail that makes it sound good. But trust me. It's good.
posted by snerson at 12:27 PM on August 26, 2021

Ok. One more.

Violet Evergarden, which I watched after hearing the soundtrack alone. Absolutely stunning from start to finish. Extremely heavy at times, and stunningly beautiful all the time. This is exactly what anime can (and often should) be.
posted by spbb at 1:14 PM on August 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

You might try Dorohedoro. It's been too long since I watched it to know if it bumps into any of your red flags, but the same things you don't like stick out for me too. It's about a man who's head has been mysteriously replaced with that of a lizard and he's trying to figure out why with the help of a well-realized gyoza chef. It's an interesting, unique setting, lots of novel world-building.
posted by roue at 1:53 PM on August 26, 2021

A couple of others:

Nana -- about two young women named Nana who become roommates (in the beginning) and pursue their dreams. Based on Ai Yazawa's manga of the same name. There is a lot of drama but it's good (I haven't seen all of the anime but I love the manga and from what I know, it's fairly close in tone).

Princess Jellyfish -- a bunch of "otaku" women live in a house & one befriends a cross-dresser. I haven't watched all of it but it's kind from what I watched and might be worth a try.

Kids on the Slope -- a group of boys in 1966 discover jazz, more or less. It's about teenagers but it's charming for the most part.

(I liked the first season of Psycho-Pass a lot but it does have some really stupid, over-the-top gore in the first few episodes. I'm pretty sensitive to that and I found it OK and if I remember it correctly, it's not too terrible as the series continues. But I also get if that's a dealbreaker for you.)
posted by edencosmic at 7:32 PM on August 26, 2021

Mob Psycho 100 by the same creator as One Punch Man and imo superior to OPM.
posted by vespertinism at 7:55 PM on August 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm the opposite sorta, around 20 years ago I started watching anime and with Crunchyroll sorta gave everything a shot (and perused old stuff) up until the combination of Covid and the KyoAni incident. Many blur into a Seinfeld "The one where X" as to actual details of the things you don't like. There are so many good ones in there that others have mentioned that are totally good if you haven't seen them before. They tend to fall into slice-of-life and Best Iyashikei Anime: 16 Healing Anime That Will Lift Your Mood. Search for that. You can also eventually pick worthy anime by the studio that produced it. A lot of them are teen-age (natch) but there are a few just real life things.

Some off the wall things that passed my "would tell my niece to watch if she was into anime" thing that sound horrible.

Girls und Panzer - Wikipedia was really just a fantastical 'sports anime' (which is another category that's pretty safe). Trying to save your school through intramural tank combat. What's not to love.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby - Wikipedia. Warning: they do the 3 episode rule of trying to get people to watch the rest so all the *bad* things are in those first few episodes. After that "surprise it was a trick" it's one of the nicest 'every girl is best girl and warm fuzzy and when you expect things to go "eww", they don't... everybody is awesome. It's another sports anime in disguise.

I also like Eureka Seven - Wikipedia as the first anime that made me actually watch 52 episodes (I'm a 1 or 2 season and the story is finished sort, not into never ending stories). It's mostly 20's and a few kids and sky surfing robots and great mystery and A-team like outlaws on the run from the power. Good soundtrack.

(There is an Anime Club | FanFare you might want to browse through.)
posted by zengargoyle at 1:46 AM on August 27, 2021

FWIW, some anime on CR. · GitHub is a list of a bunch of anime from '16 to '18 that was on Crunchyroll. Maybe jog some memories.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:09 AM on August 27, 2021

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood!- nope too long, seen it before, meh, unimpressed enough to not sit through a reboot.
Steins Gate - good
Demon Slayer - maybe, depends on if I got 'Demon Slayer' right. Still like pokemon or such for kids that never ends.
Mushishi - yep. Once my sister told me I would like X-files so I watched and did. Musashishi is the reverse, it's oddly satisfyingly spooky to make you think "queue X-Files" theme as you go to sleep. Watch it.
Trigun - dated, but the girls are Faye badass, sorta western-ish, would watch
Haibane Renmei - didn't finish but looked interesting and recommeded
Shirobako - Anime industry making an anime about working in anime industry.... watch.
Sound! Euphonium - who knew that HS band and competition was like that... another good 'sports' anime.
Dragon Pilot - cute, like many of Netflix partnered anime is not impalatable to western audiences. Pretty cute actually.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken - Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! - Opening | Easy Breezy - YouTube. Easily the best thing ever since I stopped keeping up. It's wonderful. You'll like it.
Yuri On Ice - Drama that hits your adult themes because yes it's totally real life gay. You might also want Sweet Blue Flowers - Wikipedia which is the other serious anime. Then there's the one I can't remember the name of that was also really gay. And I'm being just like serious not some trope.
Nozaki - slice of life, good.
Yuru Camp - See also: Encouragement of Climb - Wikipedia and yay! Sakura Quest - Wikipedia. And OMG the one about the motorcycle club.... there's another category of things that are thinly veiled tourism promotion funded by business sectors that are really good.
The Ancient Magus Bride - oh you're getting into Victorian gothic / Shakespeare sort of things. Worth it.
Beastars, it's good, but it's also very horny. - Edgy but yeah, decent.
There isn't a way for me to describe Princess Tutu in detail that makes it sound good. But trust me. It's good - Most of my "trust me you'll like it" anime that's hard to explain.
Violet Evergarden - also good.
Kids on the Slope - classic good

In the 15 to 20 years you haven't been watching things have happened. Gone are the pirated un-subbed VHS things. Gone is the "It's just Japan for Japan and that's OK for Japan", mostly.

Japan realized that there was a global market and certain things were not going over well for the rest of the world. Hence Crunchroll and other stuff. If you haven't been poking about anime in a decade and a half.... you've missed the change. There are still full on hentai eww horrible things, but a lot has actually transitioned into "suitable for world audience" because they finally figured out that that's where there's money to be made with licensing and such. It's not perfect, but much tamer than you remember from 15 -20 years ago. There are tons an tons of good anime if you're not aiming for absolutely perfect. Unless you search it out, there's much less gratuitous graar than there was that long ago.

There has been tons of good stuff over the past couple of decades.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:14 AM on August 27, 2021

Are you looking for movies too, or just series? If you want movies, check out pretty much anything by Makoto Shinkai. His work tends to be slower and somewhat elliptical and philosophical, not to mention stunningly beautiful.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 6:22 AM on August 27, 2021

Nthing FMA:Brotherhood, Mushishi, Violet Evergarden, Yuru Camp, Haibane Renmei, Princess Tutu, Yuri on Ice.

Tentative Nthing Ancient Magus Bride (has some overtones of the immature shitbird trope and age gap), Nana (complex female characters are front and center, but the drama can be overbearing), Princess Jellyfish (endearing fluff, but a bit over the top) and Jujustsu Kaisen (blood/gore/body horror might be too much for you).

Further suggesting:

Natsume Yuujinchou / Natsume's Book of Friends: After the death of his grandmother, Natsume inherits her journal which is full of bound spirits. Natsume decides to set them all free one by one while learning more about his grandmother's life.

Planetes: An oldie but goodie. The Space Debris Section is tasked with cleaning up the accumulated junk of decades from Earth's orbit before it can finally reach out to the stars. Great characters and complex look at the future of of space travel and humanity.

Hakumei to Mikochi: Follows the daily life of Hakumei and Mikochi, two tiny people in a big, wide world full of nature, beauty and friendship. The anime equivalent of a warm cup of tea and a comfy chair.

Yakunara Mug Cup: A stylistic twin to Yuru Camp. Himeno moves to rural Japan after the death of her mother, but continues to pursue her dream of creating the most beautiful pottery in the country.

7Seeds: Before a major asteroid hit, Japan seals away five groups of seven people to restart the human race in the event of a worst case scenario. They wake in the midst of the post-apocalypse. There's gore/body horror and some of it involves teenagers.

Ouran High School Host Club: Haruhi is a poor scholarship student at a fancy highscool who gets swept up into the popular kids group by ridiculous circumstance. A light-hearted love letter to shoujo that mocks and/or subverts major shoujo tropes.

On the manga side of things, if you enjoyed Vineland Saga there's some great psuedo-historical series running right now like Otoyomegatari, Hokuou Kizoku, Sengoku Komachi Kuroutan, Arte, Chichikogusa, and Fushigi no Kuni no Bird that you may be interested in.
posted by givennamesurname at 11:55 AM on August 27, 2021

Yuri on Ice
Mushishi (aimed at adults)
Haibane Renmei
Nastume Yuujinchou (essentially shoujo, but no romance element)
Seirei no Moribito (aimed at adults)

If you liked Kino's Journey you may like Wolf's Rain? Sort of slow moving melancholy early 00's fare, though the plot in WR arcs over the entire 30 eps instead of being episodic. More about the mood than the plot)
Gunslinger Girl (also slightly melancholy 00s stuff. Deconstructs the girls with guns genre. Complex young female protagonists and the show explores the fucked-upness of using young girls as weapons, and the relationships between adult handlers and their weapon girls (no romance, the adults feel like adults and the children feel like children). CW for mistreatment and dehumanising of little girls by some of the characters)
Revolutionary Girl Utena

Based on your dislikes, I would avoid:
Steins;gate (very weeby, gross MC).
Your Name and Weathering With You (Haven't watched his other stuff, but if you're exploring Makoto Shinkai, I'd avoid these ones. They're both male gazey/fan servicey in an non gender-equal way)
Girls und Panzer (bit fanservicey and weeby, and in the OVAs there was a requisite bikini-buying episode where all the little girls tried on bikinis for the viewer and lament about breast size etc, and there's also a hot springs ep)
Trigun (if you're iffy about the way Faye is presented in Cowboy Bebop, you'll be iffy about this one too)
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (I liked this show but be aware that there's an episode where she as an adult attempts (has?) a sexual relationship with a school girl (kinda). It otherwise has a strong complex female MC and is aimed at adults)
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 5:28 AM on August 29, 2021

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