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Essential Anime

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The purpose of this entry is to highlight the most influential anime in the most influential genres. It catalogues series by their relationship to their genre — as Trope Makers, Trope Codifiers, Deconstructions and Reconstructions — and films by release date.

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Series by Genre

Genres Codified Pre-1991note 

    open/close all folders 

     Anime as a Whole  

Makers & Codifiers

  • Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom, 1963). It is considered the second "true" anime series ever produced. The first, which began in 1962, is called Instant History. The latter appears to exist only in mentions on web pages (a search of for the hiragana/katakana title returned no entries). Although all but forgotten in the United States, Atom is something of a cultural institution in Japan, where the title character's early-2000s "creation date" was practically a national holiday. And a CGI feature film version reached theatres in North America in October 2009.
  • Kimba the White Lion (Janguru Taiteinote , 1965). This series from Osamu Tezuka was the first TV anime produced in colour. The story of a lion cub becoming king of the jungle after the sudden death of his father bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain popular movie made decades later.

De & Reconstructions



  • Record of Lodoss War (1990). A straightforward (i.e. tropey) adaptation of a first-edition Dungeons and Dragons game, and an excellent example of cross-cultural osmosis. Codified a Japanese take on Western Fantasy, inspiring elements of early JRPGs and the Legend of Zelda series.
  • Dark Fantasy: Berserk (1997). Mixing Dung Ages medievalism with demonic horror, this series adapted from the manga Berserk by Kentaro Miura is well known for its beautiful story and its utterly nightmarish monsters and violence. It focuses on a one-eyed mercenary badass with a giant sword who seeks vengeance against his former commander and best friend for betraying him in one of the most unforgivable manners imaginable, and roams the world killing any demon that comes for him.
  • See also the Isekai folder below.

     Humongous Mecha  

Makers & Codifiers

De & Reconstructions

Transforming Mecha


     Magical Girl  

Makers & Codifiers

  • Sally the Witch. Often considered the first Magical Girl Anime, based off the Manga of the same name. With the original series airing between 1966 and 1967 and originally appearing in black and white for the first 17 episodes. Spawned a sequel series and had a large and lasting impact on Shojo Anime.
  • Himitsu no Akko-chan (1969). One of the first and one of the most defining examples of Magical Girl Anime. Based off a Manga of the same name and sporting two remakes, running from 1988 - 1989 and 1998 - 1999.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura (1998). A magical girl series by CLAMP. Besides simply being wildly popular, the show broke many of the genre molds and proved that kawaii; did not have to equal fluff. The main characters, Sakura and Li Syaoran, return later as alternate incarnations in the universe-hopping Tsubasa Chronicle.

De & Reconstructions

Magic Idol Singer

     Romantic Comedy  



Makers & Codifiers

  • Unbuilt Trope: See Urusei Yatsura below, under Magical Girlfriend.
  • Tenchi Muyo!: The first OVA series, along with Ranma, introduced non-Japanese audiences to the unwanted harem genre. Followed by Tenchi Universe, the television continuity, which aired in Japan in 1995 and differs significantly in scope from the original 1992 OVA. Tenchi Universe was then followed by several other series with (mostly) the same core cast and situations (but with often radically different implementations), as well as three motion pictures. A third OVA series released in 2004 extends the original OVA plotline, but leaves matters just as unresolved as its predecessors.
  • See also Ranma ½ below, under Shounen Fighter. This series is a Trope Codifier for Love Dodecahedrons—every member of the Unwanted Harem has his or her own unrequited love interest—and Belligerent Sexual Tension, of which it is often considered the best example (the trope was once named "Takahashi Couple").

De & Reconstructions

  • School Days deconstructs the Unwanted Harem trope by going in a completely different direction from Ranma 1/2. Ranma asks the question "How does an honourable man deal with multiple obligations to marry?" School Days asks "What happens if the guy decides to boink ALL the girls?" Answer: Nothing good. Aired in 2007. Also the source of the "Nice Boat" meme.
  • Affectionate Parody: Ouran High School Host Club a show that both is and delightfully parodies a shojo romantic highschool comedy/ reverse harem, making fun of fangirls, moe, gender differences, teenage angst, romantic hero stock characters, yaoi, yuri and all with a shower of rose petals and a nudge on the fourth wall.

     Shoujo Drama  

Makers & Codifiers

  • Trope Maker: Princess Knight (Ribon no Kishi, 1967). Distributed under the title "Choppy and the Princess" in America, Princess Knight followed the adventures of Princess Sapphire, a young girl who was mistakenly given the heart of a boy and a girl, and how she was raised as a boy in order to inherit the throne of her country in order to thwart the efforts of Duke Duralumon. The story shows Sapphire's interactions and conflicts with people and her own heart, staples of shoujo that still hold to this day.
  • Trope Codifier: The Rose of Versailles. The highly influential 1979 anime/manga that changed Shoujo anime. The historical drama lasted for two years. Notable for being one of the first Shojo anime series. Equally notable for being a hit worldwide except for English-speaking areas, where it remained stubbornly unavailable until 2013.
  • See also the Magical Girl and Magical Girl Warrior folders.

     Shounen Fighter 
Note that most of these series come from Shonen Jump, the most popular shounen magazine in the world.

Makers & Codifiers

  • Trope Makers:
    • Kinnikuman (1983). Started as a gag-filled parody manga of Ultraman in 1979, but by 1980 it became at least semi-serious. The fights mostly revolved around straight-up Professional Wrestling at first, but it wasn't long before outrageous and outlandish attacks began to slip into the series. Kinnikuman is more in line with later Shonen than North Star in terms of its lighter tone, and, like North Star, it spawned a franchise that's still around today.
    • Fist of the North Star (1983). This series featured over-the-top martial arts fighting (which was very gory in the manga, but mostly sanitized as shadows or glowing white liquid in the anime) and pretty much defined the Shonen fighting genre in manga and anime of the 80's, with many mangas trying to imitate its style untile Dragon Ball redefined the Battle Shonen genre. The main series ended in 1988, but material is still produced every so often up to this day.
  • Trope Codifiers:
    • Dragon Ball (1986). The first shonen fighting series to get really popular in America; the second half is credited with popularizing anime worldwide. Became the most popular series in Mexico during the nineties. Like Fist of the North Star, the franchise is still active to this day, despite the original story ending decades ago, with Toei providing numerous non-canon films, two canon films, two sequel shows, and too many video games to count.
    • One Piece (1999), Naruto (2002), and Bleach (2004): known overseas as "The Big Three", these Shonen Jump properties brought anime to the forefront of Western pop culture after Dragon Ball Z ended and are considered to have refined the latter's tropes during the beginning of the 21st century.

De & Reconstructions

  • Parody: Ranma ½ (1989). Based on the manga of the same name by Takahashi Rumiko, Ranma 1/2 is a fusion of harem comedy and shonen fighting, and was, along with Sailor Moon, one of the early-1990s gateway anime for North American fans. Codified the Martial Arts and Crafts form of parody.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: Attack on Titan (2013). The story of the remnants of the human race fighting mysterious giants, Attack on Titan takes stock shonen tropes to their logical (and often fatal) conclusions, though it becomes muddied later on when humanity comes back from the brink while also discovering dark secrets about itself and its enemies. Generally credited with the revival of anime in Western pop culture, Attack on Titan has become as popular as fellow shonen series that play their tropes straight.
  • Satire: One-Punch Man (2015). The fighting shonen genre typically begins with the main character being relatively weak then throughout the series makes him/her stronger. This series begins with Saitama already being established as the universe's strongest man, being able to defeat any enemy with a single punch. Ironically, it's not a Shonen, but a Seinen.
  • Reconstruction: My Hero Academia (2016). Set in an Urban Fantasy version of Japan where people are born with superpowers, My Hero Academia follows a powerless boy who becomes the protege of the greatest hero alive, in the wake of a supervillain uprising. Considered the Spiritual Successor of the Big Three and has risen to prominence comparable to its predecessors.
  • See also Kill la Kill below under Magical Girl Warrior.

     Space Opera  


  • Space Battleship Yamato (a.k.a. Star Blazers, 1974). It was the first popular English-translated anime that had an over-arching plot and storyline that required the episodes to be shown in order. Even while being toned down a bit by editing, it also dealt with much more mature themes than any other productions being aimed at the same target audience at the time. As a result, it paved the way for the introduction and popularity of future arc-based, plot-driven anime translations. It also heavily addressed Japanese thoughts about WWII, the nuclear bomb, and so forth.
  • Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Character created in 1953, first animated in 1978. The series that launched the Leijiverse proper, and one of the archetypal examples of the Space Opera genre.



     Sports Anime  

Makers & Codifiers

  • Trope Maker: Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants) (1968). The "star" of the story is Hyuuma Hoshi, a young pitcher dreaming of making it big in the majors like his father had until the older man was injured in World War II and had to retire. Star of the Giants established that baseball anime almost always star the pitcher- as opposed to American baseball shows that tend to depict other positions almost as often as the pitcher.
  • Trope Codifiers:
    • Captain Tsubasa. Many series followed Captain Tsubasa, the most important sports comicbook (not just manga) in history, having brought interest in football in Japan, where previously it was unknown, and inspired an entire generation of football players across the entire world. The Hero is a natural soccer loving boy, but still need others to learn and progress. A lot of Shōnen tropes were used too.
    • Modern: Slam Dunk. While there had been sports anime before it, '"Slam Dunk'' established many of the genre conventions later anime would follow. It also was written with the purpose of educating viewers on the sport: just as Sakuragi is learning the rules and techniques of basketball, so do we by following his progress.
    • Shoujo: Attack No. 1, based on the 1968 manga and airing starting in 1969. Kozue Ayuhara comes to college and joins the volleyball team, shows talent that impresses the coach and eventually the other players, and through intense training rises to become one of Japan's Olympic champion volleyball team. Trope Maker for many of the shoujo sports anime tropes, including having a crush on the male coach.
    • Romantic: Touch. One of Mitsuru Adachi's first major works. Touch established him as dominating the subgenre of sports with romance, which he continues to this day with recent works like Cross Game. It also established as obligatory the tragic background story for the hero and the use of sports as a catharsis for the complications of life and romance.

Genres Codified Post-1991note 

     Adult Swim  

These series are notable for their impact on a certain generation of Western fans rather than genres in their home country.


Makers & Codifiers

  • Codifier with Shoujo Romance: Fushigi Yuugi. It started its run in 1992 and features an ordinary high school girl, Miaka Yuuki, who is transported into another world where she learns that she is the priestess of the god Suzaku and must find the seven Seishi, people with special ties to Suzaku, most of whom also happen to be handsome young men. Elements of the "ordinary girl stumbles into world where she is revered as a priestess/goddess/queen/person with otherwise special destiny which somehow links her to one or more Bishounen who will inevitably fall in love with her" plot turn up in a lot of other series which came later (Inuyasha, The Vision of Escaflowne, Kanata Kara, Red River, Harukanaru Toki no Naka de...).
  • Sword Art Online. A light novel series turned anime in 2012, it follows a gamer who gets trapped in multiple video games and has to fight in order to make it out of them alive. One of the first anime of The New '10s to gain mainstream recognition, Sword Art Online is considered the shaper of isekai in its modern form and paved the way for the Stock Light-Novel Hero archetype.

De & Reconstructions

  • Deconstructions:
    • Re:Zero: Starting Life in Another World. A web novel series which was given an anime adaptation in 2016. Follows a teenage NEET whose sanity is challenged when he is mysteriously pulled into a fantasy world where he is repeatedly put in lethal situations as he tries to adjust to this new reality. It became a Sleeper Hit and one of the most popular anime of 2016.
    • Deconstructive Parody: KonoSuba: God's Blessing on this Wonderful World! A one-shot web novel turned light novel series turned 2016-2017 anime, KonoSuba tells the story of a NEET who is taken to an RPG-Mechanics Verse after death and forms a party with less-than-pleasant caricatures of RPG archetypes. Makes fun of the "grand quest in another world" plot by having its protagonists being more concerned with money and food than defeating the Overarching Villain of the story. Like its 2016 contemporary Re:Zero, KonoSuba exploded in popularity when it first came out.

     Magical Girl Warrior  

Makers & Codifiers

De & Reconstructions

  • Deconstruction: Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997). Compared stylistically to The Rose of Versailles, it combines a chivalric romance story about a duel for a princess's hand with a surreal, Jungian thriller. Its post-modern narrative and feminist themes distinguish it from any other anime ever made.
  • Reconstructions:
    • Genre Throwback: Pretty Cure. The most popular modern-day magical girl show in Japan. It plays many tropes straight again, but with a post-modern flavor and Dragon Ball-styled physical fighting.
    • Kill la Kill (2013). Made by a crew including most of the alumni of fellow Reconstruction Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill makes fun of several magical girl tropes (magical outfits become skimpy armor, Transformation Sequences are [even more] flashy and overdrawn, magical wands and attacks are replaced with modern day weapons of mass destruction, etc.), but ultimately embraces them.

     Magical Girlfriend  

Makers & Codifiers

  • Unbuilt Trope: Urusei Yatsura (1981). The first major work by Rumiko Takahashi might be a parody of the Magical Girlfriend fantasy if there were an earlier straight example. The show's poster girl, a cutesy alien named Lum who habitually wears a tiger-striped bikini, is easily one of the most recognizable anime characters in history; because of her, the bumbling, well-meaning Magical Girlfriend has become an archetype in its own right.
  • Trope Codifier: Ah! My Goddess (Aa! Megami-sama; OVA 1993, TV 2005). The standard-bearer for the Magical Girlfriend genre, Goddess is based on a long-running manga which started in 1988.

     Mind Screw  

Makers & Codifiers


Makers & Codifiers

  • A proper look at the Mons genre would require going into Video Games, particularly the Trope Maker, Shin Megami Tensei.
  • Trope Codifier: Pokémon (1997). A major multimedia franchise, Pokémon was the first major Mons series to be targeted towards children, and also the first to make it across the Atlantic; though the RPG series is the true core of the franchise, the anime tends to be the more well-known version. Since then, most Mons series have followed the graphical stylings and kid-friendliness of the Pokémon franchise. It's also something of a template insofar as the adaptation of video games to anime, of which it is by far the longest-lived and most successful.

De & Reconstructions

  • Deconstructions:
    • Digimon Tamers (2001). The first anime to ask the question: "How would the existence of Mons work in real life?" Well, the government gets involved, many of the kids become emotionally traumatized, people die period, and cities get levelled. Also had an unprecedented level of depth compared to its predecessors, which were themselves no slouches in that department – the characters get a huge amount of development, and there's a whole website explaining the sheer intricacy of the world-building process of the series. The hardest Mons series on the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.
    • Shadow Star (2003), by Mohiro Kitoh, perhaps best known for his other genre deconstruction, Bokurano. The premise of the genre, namely that kids gain control of powerful beasts and go on adventures, gets twisted by averting the last part: instead of going on adventures the children form terrorist groups to shape the world as they see fit, and being a immortal one-man army, they are pretty effective and deadly, develop symptoms of A God Am I and reap a lot of hate. Controlling this power turns the kids life to worse since they get sucked into the conflict. Almost all owners of a shadow dragon die before the series ends.

     Slice of Life 

  • Unbuilt Trope: Sazae-san (1969-). Based on the 1946-79 comic strip depicting ordinary life in Japan. When it first started airing, it was considered very liberal and supportive of strong women in Japan; today, it is seen as enshrining traditional Japanese life. The anime is notable amongst animation buffs for being both the longest-running animated series in the world and the last still-running animated production to utilize traditional animation.


  • Trope Codifier: ARIA (2005). ARIA is often identified as a trope codifier for "pure" Slice of Life anime. Set in a fantastical world, yet there is little or no adventure beyond the typical life issues we see on Earth. For people who like lovely imagery of beautiful girls against a wondrous backdrop, this Slice of Life series is a nice change of pace from the action and fanservice of most other anime. Known for a slow pace, and beautifully drawn scenery. Often compared with the earlier manga Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou.

Schoolgirl Series

  • Trope Codifier: Azumanga Daioh (2002), which can best be described as anime sketch comedy. Originally aired in five-minute segments during the week, which were then combined on Saturday into a half-hour episode.
  • Moe Codifier: K-On! (2009). A comedy about four (+1) adorable girls who form a Rock & Roll club and grow into their responsibilities as bandmates, students, and senpai — when they aren't goofing off and drinking tea instead of practicing. Director Naoko Yamada's naturalistic approach to the characters appealed to a wide audience and inspired many imitators, which lead to the association of "cute girls doing cute things" with Slice of Life. Also the first anime to have an opening theme, "Go! Go! Maniac," top the Oricon charts.
  • Parody: Haruhi Suzumiya (2006). A slice-of-life in name only, this light novel adaptation puts a twist on the standard school club plot with its eponymous character, whose boundless imagination (and her excessive jerkassery) combined with her supposed reality warping ability creates a number of fantastical scenarios for her to enjoy, and her fellow club members to deal with. Notable for causing a worldwide cultural impact when it first came out; in Japan, it proved that light novels could be a credible medium for anime adaptations, and in the West, it became one of the first non-shounen series to become widely popular in the anime fandom.

Films by Release Date

  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no Tani no Naushika, 1984). Post-apocalyptic SF/Fantasy story about the futility of war and Man's place in nature (both extremely common themes in postwar Japanese culture) and the dangers of biological warfare. Its success paved the way for the founding of the highly influential Studio Ghibli.

  • Angel's Egg (1985). Perhaps the purest expression of True Art Is Incomprehensible as applied to animation, this visual tone poem by Mamoru Oshii is as gorgeous as it is impenetrable.

  • Project A-ko (1986). For many US fans, this Schoolyard Comedy meets Sci-Fi Parody was the first feature-length anime available, while in Japan its surrealist humor influenced later works such as Excel Saga, Azumanga Daioh, and Kill la Kill. It directly inspired the 2003 American film Xtracurricular.

  • Choujin Densetsu Urotsukidouji (Legend of the Overfiend, 1987).note  One of the most notorious anime films of its era, this extremely explicit horror film was shelved in the children's section early in the Western anime boom. Urotsukidouji and its many hentai imitators established the once-common stereotype that anime is nothing but violence and rape; All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles is named after an outstanding feature of its exceptionally unpleasant scenes of sexual violence. If that didn't turn you off immediately, the film remains a powerful work of horror.

  • AKIRA (1988). A philosophical Mind Screw of a film based on a much longer and even more complicated manga series. This was another of the first anime films to cross the Pacific to any appreciable audience. It shocked many US fans straight out of the Animation Age Ghetto with its gritty visuals and stark violence. This film is also notable for its highly fluid & detailed animation, particularly in comparison to most other anime and to animation in general at the time of its release.

  • Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka, 1988), from director Isao Takahata and Studio Ghibli. A tragedy about two children struggling to survive on their own in World War II Japan, based on a semi-autobiographical novel that was well-known in Japan in the 1960s-70s. Widely regarded as among the finest and most artistically sensitive films ever made, let alone animated.

  • Ghost in the Shell (Kokaku Kidotai, 1996). A cyberpunk thriller concerning cybernetic police operative Motoko Kusanagi and her struggle to uphold the law in a future where humanity and technology have merged. The first of a widely popular anime franchise that includes the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series. Also notable for influencing Western sci-fi flicks, most obviously The Matrix.

  • Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 2001). Considered by many to be the best work by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro, a spoiled ten-year-old girl who must work in a surreal bathhouse for Japanese spirits to save her parents. Won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

  • Your Name (Kimi no na wa, 2016). The movie that passed Spirited Away in world-wide box office returns.


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