Although I no longer watch anime shows (TV series, films, OVAs/OAVs) as assiduously as I used to, I still manage to check out the lineup of new shows each season, and then decide which ones to watch during my free time.
Most of the time I don’t even bother to read the synopsis or take note of the cast (voice actors or “seiyuus”), because I prefer to trust my gut in these matters.
I have no particular yardstick as to which shows to pick up and follow until the end, but usually it takes me no more than 2 or 3 episodes to decide whether to dump or stick with a series. As a rule, I tend to go for comedy, slice-of-life, adventure, and fantasy shows, although very often, a series would be a combination of genres. It’s not particularly efficient, but this system works for me.
Every once in a while though, I come across anime shows that I instantly feel good about — some of them can be so compelling that I just cannot imagine myself NOT watching them. I haven’t made a definitive list of these shows, but I can remember each one of them vividly because I tend to rewatch (several times!) them later.
Over the years, this fluid list kept expanding and realigning as more noteworthy shows appeared and I became more “discerning” (so to speak). These shows — in no particular order — include Barakamon, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi (or Erased!), Working! (Season 1), Flying Witch, and lately, Made in Abyss (which is about to end soon). This doesn’t include other shows that I also happen to like, but which — despite their sterling qualities — will never make my list of favorites because they lack consistency, coherence, or staying power, and because they failed to leave a sense of urgency that would compel me to stay around and watch them repeatedly long after they first aired.
I loved the shows I have listed above for various reasons. For example, I was utterly entranced by Barakamon because of its memorable characters (Handa-kun, Naru, the village people), simple story, lush art, and quaint humor. And if there is a second season, there is no doubt I would watch it, too. This also goes for Flying Witch. It’s not much of a standout compared to some of my favorites, but its lush scenery, laid-back pastoral charm, and gentle humor have a way of tugging at your heart and stay there for some time.
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was just a sheer delight. It’s one of a handful of shows that literally left me gasping for breath as I struggled to contain my laughter (with tears streaming down my face, to boot!). I loved its endearingly zany characters, even the minor ones, and the catchy soundtrack. One reason why Barakamon and Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun fared so well among viewers was their well-cast seiyuus, who effortlessly turned in pitch-perfect performances with top-notch comedic timing.
I usually stay away from psychological trillers, especially when they are burdened by a suffocating tragic event, but Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi is one of those rare shows that creep up on you, then grab your heart and never let go. Its opening episode is probably one of the best I have ever seen in this field. Before you know it, you’re well and truly hooked, and you know you will never have peace of mind until you find out who the real culprit is, and if the protagonists and his friends will survive until the end. Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi is more popularly known as Erased! among Western viewers (presumably because it’s easier for them to remember and pronounce?).
There have been 3 seasons of Working! to date, but really the best season was the first one because it had novelty on its side. It has a quirky plot, an outstanding soundtrack, and a bunch of wild and wacky characters, who seem to thrive in bringing out absurd levels of hilarity even in the most mundane of situations. At its core, Working! is a silly and heartwarming restaurant-themed show that will leave you chuckling.
I’m reassessing this list because there is one show — Made in Abyss — that will most likely push its way up (high!) in my list. Its last episode airs tomorrow (Ep. 13; Sept. 29) as a 1-hour special. I am already bracing myself for its emotional and visual impact, because — yes, it’s that good. Everything about it is so well done that it’s hard to nitpick over the details — awesome cast, beautiful animation (the breathtaking vistas, the intricate details, and the sheer breadth and width of the abyss will leave you gaping in awe), perfectly calibrated soundtrack, rich source material (manga), and a plot that is simultaneously simple and complex. Its well-nuanced visceral punch will put your unprepared heart through the wringer before leaving it in a quivering heap after it’s done with you.
One only needs to check out the countless video clips that show up in Youtube (live reactions, reviews, comments, discussions) as soon as an episode is aired to know that Made in Abyss is now basically a phenomenon among anime fans. If you don’t have enough time to understand why, just go and watch Ep. 10 of Made in Abyss. If you can go through this episode without emitting an involuntary wince, whimper, scream, or a curse, then leave a comment below and let me know why.