Each of us has their guilty pleasures, the things we enjoy that our friends, or family, may not. Maybe even things we enjoy but others actively dislike. Worse, there may be people who shame us for enjoying these things — or at least we have a feeling that they might — which is the feeling that leads to the guilt aspect of guilty pleasures in the first place. For a lot of you reading this, anime is this kind of guilty pleasure. You can learn about one of Peter Payne’s 2018 anime guilty pleasures with a simple click, and a little reading (hint, it has Caretaker in the name).

As little as a decade ago, all anime could have been considered a guilty pleasure in North America. While there’s still some shame associated with anime in some communities, that stigma has been falling away rapidly in the West. Movie theaters now show the most recent Dragonball Z movie, or even a Mahou Shoujou Lyrical Nanoha film, to take advantage of the growing anime fandom. Fans of Dragonball or Pokémon are especially lucky.

Despite the general change in the public perception of anime, the guilty pleasures of anime are enjoyed by the fandom, and with anime’s stigma, it was often anime’s strangeness that drew us to it in the first place. That’s the way guilty pleasures stand out, and make us feel unique because the feelings of enjoyable shame come from a blend between ourselves, and our environment. Watching a pantsu-laden, fan service anime is all about experiencing something different from more conventional shows and regular Western media.

I’m going to explore anime guilty pleasures over two articles, and we’ll look at two origins of the guilty pleasure feelings: anime that’s embarrassing due to shameless, blatant fan service, and anime that’s embarrassing because other anime fans, including your friends, don’t like it.

Kaguyasama LoveIs War Meme - Anime Guilty Pleasures

The shame (terror) of fan service.

Fan service can appear in any show, sometimes completely out of the blue. This is most shocking when a show you’d expect to have fan service, like a Slice of Life semi-harem show, goes ages without any, and then suddenly the camera pans down, and there’s a panty shot. No reason for it, just pantsu. As a result, fan service is an element of anime that people can get used to, perhaps if you introduce it to them slowly, but panty shots, and cleavage, in particular, can also come at very uncomfortable moments. Enjoying random fan service is a mild guilty pleasure, especially if it’s something that you’ve refined to a point where you’re judging it based on quality, whether it fits the tone, and on other points (I may do this). Still, there are shows that are seemingly defined by fan service, what we’ll call fan service shows for this article, and these are where the strong guilty pleasure of fan service comes from.

Let’s address a less common form of fan service: nostalgia-driven fan service. This kind of fan service is a lot rarer, or at least harder to notice for Western fans, in anime, because it’s reliant on older material, usually in the same story universe. This is the kind of fan service every new Star Wars movie has traded on heavily with glamour shots of the Millennium Falcon, among other things. In anime, a lot of these references are to manga, visual novels, or even CDs, that we are less likely to have been exposed to in the West (though that situation is changing). Thankfully, this kind of fan service isn’t really embarrassing and doesn’t usually count as a guilty pleasure, unless you’re embarrassed to be enjoying the same property you have since you were a kid.

Fan service shows, the highly sexual kind, are a different story. Sexual content can be embarrassing when it goes on too long or goes too far. A show whose entire reason for being is jiggling breasts, panty shots, and clothing damage (and ensuing nose bleeds), isn’t something you want everyone knowing you enjoy. Many of these shows actually have solid plots and deal in adult themes that are rarer in Western media, combining dangerous situations with opportunities for hope, love, and true friendship. A show like Freezing — with clothing damage and lots of jiggle physics — is too embarrassing to show to a non-fan, but deals with harsh conditions in a far more adult way than a show like Dragonball Z — where death is cheap — does. People die, strive against all odds, and act with true heroism. I enjoy it for the plot, and the vast tracts of land, but can’t help but be embarrassed because of how blatant it is, no matter its quality otherwise.

Fan service shows are risqué and vary widely from serious and dangerous to humorous and ridiculous. We enjoy them for a variety of reasons, which are usually enhanced by the fan service. They stand out compared to most Western content and provide a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t make them any less embarrassing.

Fairy Tail Clothing damage - Anime Guilty Pleasures

I guess Natsu doesn’t wear enough to suffer family-friendly clothing damage.

Check out Part 2 to read about guilty pleasures that you might even keep from other anime fans, and my conclusions on approaching guilty pleasures. Please share your own anime guilty pleasures in the comments, or on our social media.

About the author

Adrian Salomons

An anime fan since the early 2000s, I've taken a lot of inspiration from the novelty, modernity, anachronisms, and yes, even the insanity, of anime and manga, and put it to use in creative writing. I specialize in speculative fiction that can combine technology and science with magic and superstition, thanks to all the anime that showed you could do exactly that. Now I'm trying to bring that love of anime and my appreciation for what it's done in broadening my horizons to the fine folks at J-List, with a little writing experience thrown in for good measure.