One subject that’s fun to explore is what makes a given anime a true work of art, something so special that you know you’ll be watching it 20 years from now, discovering new themes you missed before. I asked J-List’s Facebook and Twitter followers to give me their top anime masterpiece suggestions, and here’s the list we came up with!
What Makes an Anime Masterpiece?
Naturally, we’ll all have different criteria for what makes an anime masterpiece in the first place, and it’s fun to consider what these might be. Here are some of my own criteria.
- The show should be made with great love and care by the animators, with flawless execution by the staff.
- The work should have made a strong impact on its genre, influencing other creators in the future.
- It should be a complete work with a proper story resolution.
- The story should be something that affects us deeply enough that we’re called back, again and again, to appreciate it in new ways with each re-watching.
The Top Anime Masterpiece Works According to J-List Customers
Of course one anime that many fans have at the top of their list is Cowboy Bebop, a bold sci-fi/western anime from Shinichi Watanabe that’s so perfect, fans largely declined to support the Netflix live-action version.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a show that’s loved by so many fans, a total remake from the ground up was demanded by fans, because the first 2004 series wasn’t perfect enough.
What are the best anime remakes in history? Here’s a blog post for you!
One of the most influential time-travel anime series I can think of, Steins;Gate was based on the popular visual novel published by JAST USA. When a group of young otaku scientists accidentally invents the machine that turns the future into a dark dystopian world, can they find a way to fix things?
An anime so good, I forgave Netflix for messing up many elements of the anime industry. It’s the story of a former soldier who must find a way to move on after the end of a terrible war, and is one of the most beautiful shows I can think of.
Another anime masterpiece, Your Lie in April is a light-hearted romantic comedy about a girl who plays an April Fool’s prank on her crush. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Another outstanding anime, Made in Abyss is the story of a girl on a quest to find her mother, who went missing deep in a mysterious and ancient abyss, making it a cross between Laputa Castle in the Sky and 20,000 Leagues in Search of Mother. It’s a truly beautiful story that I hope you watch!
Can an anime masterpiece be based on an 18+ visual novel series, and be loaded with sexy fanservice? In my book, yes! The Grisaia series is the perfect blending of a dramatic story, iconic characters, and sexy visuals that are fun to watch.
The Grisaia 18+ visual novels are on sale on JAST USA right now, during their Lunar New Year sale, if you want to pick them up!
Another anime that I consider a classic is Haganai, aka We Have Few Friends, about a group of high school kids with no friends who form a club…but somehow fail to realize they’ve actually become friends with each other. Do you agree or disagree with me?
Another anime many fans consider to be a true anime masterpiece is the Monogatari Series. Great animation from SHAFT and outstanding characters voiced by Japan’s top seiyu make it a real treasure.
Another legendary anime that had a deep effect on the kinds of stories that have been told ever since was 2006’s Death Note. One thing I really enjoyed was the quality of the writing of this series, which really left fans on pins and needles while they were watching. When I think about the rise of Narou-kei
fanfiction writers web novelists, some of which leave a bit to be desired in the writing department, I am amazed at the high quality of the stories and structure of Death Note.
Before he made the epic Your Name, anime director Makoto Shinkai was wowing us with works like The Place Promised in our Early Days. It’s the story of three high school students who share a dream of someday visiting the mysterious Ezo Tower in Hokkaido, which extends all the way up to space. As with all of his creations, you’ll still be thinking about the film weeks or months later (at least).
When you grow up with a really special anime, you generally don’t expect that it will be remade someday in a form so perfect, you literally can’t say anything negative about it. That’s what happened with Space Battleship 2199, and the later Space Battleship 2202, which allowed me to revisit my favorite characters and story in ways that I never thought I’d be able to do.
Finally, one of the true gems of storytelling over the past 15 years was Code Geass: Lelouche of the Rebellion, an intensely satisfying story about an alternate world in which the evil empire Britania has occupied Japan. Lelouche has acquired a superpower that can make others do what he commands, but will he be able to free his home in the end?
Thanks for reading my post exploring what makes a great anime masterpiece. Did we miss your favorite anime? Post it below, or reply to us on Twitter!
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