What Are the Must-See Anime for Attaining an “Otaku Card”?

My love of anime and need to express it to others knows no bounds. Most recently, it’s turned into a Facebook group for anime fans at my church (and as an Asian-American congregation consisting mostly of college students, we have no shortage of them). With summer fast approaching, and with most students having abundant time on their hands, I thought it would be a great idea to give these students a short list of series they might want to watch over the break, the idea being that since many are fans mostly of the popular series (ex. Naruto, Dragon Ball Super, Fairy Tail, Ghibli films), this would be a way to introduce them deeper into the fandom by exposing them to series and movies that are a little lesser known, significant in the world of anime, and really good.

In other words, I want more Honey and Clover and less Ao Haru Ride. More JoJo and less Bleach. More Paprika and less Spirited Away.

Those who finish this short list would have leveled up, and might be a little further down that horrible path toward being an otaku. They will have earned their “otaku card.”

What recommendations would you give me to pass on to this group?

featured image illustrated by Manmi | reprinted with permission


46 thoughts on “What Are the Must-See Anime for Attaining an “Otaku Card”?

  1. Hey man good to have you back! I’d recommend trigun fruits basket gunslinger girl steins gate cowboy bebop and clannad. These are what fueled my initial love for the medium. Anything I watch is always compared to these. Kinos journey was surprisingly good. I enjoyed arslan even though it isn’t close to finished. Lately I’ve found myself watching a lot of rwby which is an American anime. While a little too over the top for me I’ve heard great things about Gurren lagen. I’ll come back if I think of others

    1. Thank you, and thank you for the recs! Many of those are among my favorites as well, and some are even genre-defining. Gurren Lagann is over the top for me, too, but I have to admit that it’s a significant anime for a host of different reasons.

  2. Jojo, Fate/stay night, Akira, Deathnote, Haruhi. Mostly because these series get referenced a lot in other shows (So I ordered them by how often I think they’re referenced).

    1. That’s a good way of looking at this question, and other than maybe Death Note, those are all series that young mainstream fans are likely to have ignored. Thanks for the recs!

  3. Lesser known and yet significant, huh? I’ll list some anime which I think are rather unique or which used to be popular but have fallen out of favor.

    1) Galaxy Express 999
    2) Captain Harlock
    3) Ashita no Joe
    4) Serial Experiments Lain
    5) Wolf’s Rain
    6) Noir
    7) Excel Saga
    8) Fruits Basket
    9) Samurai 7
    10) Moribito
    11) Jubei-chan: the Ninja Girl
    12) Last Exile
    13) Escaflowne
    14) Crest of the Stars
    15) Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

    Well, that’s a nice list of anime for you to chose from. Please, let me know what your final list looks like.

    1. So much good stuff here. Plus stuff I haven’t seen. Noir was sooooo good, I watched it like 3 times. Plus Excel was just weird….I have to go back and watch it again to get freaked out.

      1. Excel Saga was certainly weird. I want to go back and watch it now that I’ve seen more anime and will better understand the parody. Noir is one of my favorites for sure, and I should have added Slayers indeed!

        1. Yeah, I will understand it better too. I had no clue what was going on….Noir was excellent with it’s seriousness and discussion on the church at the end. Slayers…all day 🙂

      2. I first watched Excel Saga via the DVD releases, and it was FANTASTIC because it included all these notes like VH-1’s Pop-up Video that explained a lot of the cultural jokes. I bet a series like Nichijou could use a similar framework for its release.

  4. I doubt that I need to tell you my first recommendation. (Hint: the title is two words, beginning with “H” and “R”.)

    I second several of the anime mentioned above: Kino’s Journey, Gurren-Lagann, Serial Experiments Lain, Noir, Crest of the Stars (and also Banner of the Stars), Moribito, Jubei-chan: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch.

    Others to consider:
    Mononoke, and anything else by Kenji Nakamura
    Mind Game (if you can find it) or The Tatami Galaxy, to represent Masaaki Yuasa
    Dennou Coil
    Redline, for sheer spectacle
    The first few seasons of Galaxy Angel, for comic relief
    Pupipo, to demonstrate that “short” doesn’t mean “shallow”
    Un-Go, a flawed gem
    Vampire Princess Miyu OVA
    Dirty Pair OVA

    And a couple of live-action films, for contrast:
    Kamikaze Girls

    1. As soon as I saw you replied, I knew you’d mention Haibane Renmei haha. Eternal thanks for sending that collection to me – it birthed so many things, including most recently a class I did at my church focusing on the series!

      Dennou Coil has forever been on my watch list…

  5. I’d suggest Haruhi Suzumiya, Akame ga Kill, and Black Butler as starters (and as three series with totally different genres). If they’re ready for a mindscrew, then maybe an Evangelion, Madoka or Kill la Kill, but only once they’re prepared for it.

  6. I´ll probably profit from all these lists myself. As for my recommendations, I´m a beginner and don´t know about the history of the medium, but for now my landmarks have been:

    1) For realism, Sakamichi no Apollon
    2) For deep cyberphilosphy, Serial Experiments Lain and Denno Coil
    3) For comedy, Nichijou and Ore Monogatari
    4) For slow, human fantasy series, Haibane Renmei, Mushishi and Kino´s Journey
    4) For high school romance, Clannad/After Story and Toradora!
    5) For drama, tragedy and hope, Now and then, here and there and Madoka Magica
    6) For emotional time travel adventures, Erased and Steins:Gate
    7) For clever science-fiction, LOGH and Time of Eve
    8) For innocence, Tsubasa: Sakura Reservoir Cronichles
    9) For high school team shows, the first sesons of Hibike:Euphonium and Big Windup
    10) For fantasy, FMA: Brotherhood, if it´s acceptable despite its philosophical problems

    And if I had no time for all, I would probably stick to the first of each group…

    1. Thank you for the recommendations, and especially for how you categorized them! The folks I’m giving recs to will probably have seen only one or two of the series you mentioned, if any at all (FMAB is probably the only one most will have seen).

      I’m reminded also that I really should get around to watching Dennou Coil. And be on the lookout – we should have a Hibiki Euphonium article coming up sometime in the near future!

  7. I’m a bit of a super robot and real robot series fan. For anyone in your group interested in that, here are one I can definitely recommend:

    Getter Robo Armageddon
    Mazinger Z: The Impact!
    Ideon (the infamous Tomino work, particularly the movies)
    Turn A Gundam (one of Tomino’s best works IMHO)
    Aldnoah ZERO (yeah, I know the second season got a lot of criticism, but I enjoyed it still)
    at least the first Full Metal Panic! series

    1. Oh, a different perspective. Thanks for sharing! I only know the first three by name and fame, but I’ve seen each of the last three, and they certainly fit. Thanks!

  8. Echoing some good ones already listed: LOGH, Crest/Banner, Akira, Mushishi, Lain, Moribito, Tatami Galaxy. Also
    Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 – remake of one of the biggest classics of all time
    Kara no Kyoukai – it’s an absolute shame F/Z is so popular while this flies under many people’s radar
    Planetes – top notch sci-fi romance that’s severely underwatched
    Nanoha and Princess Tutu – you aren’t allowed to talk about mahou shoujo if you haven’t seen these. Nanoha is also insanely popular outside of the West, funnily enough.
    Shin Getter Robo and/or Getter Armageddon + Gunbuster/Diebuster – Gurren Lagann is not a good answer because these were its inspiration and are better
    Macross DYRL and original Gundam + Zeta for the true mecha classics
    School Days – actually no, someone will get in trouble with the authorities, but it’s a pretty legendary anime that spawned one of the most international anime jokes ever
    Speaking of jokes, every otaku should know the history of anime cabbages http://imgur.com/a/2Bt2C
    That aside, probably Ghost in the Shell: SAC too which is especially relevant given the new live action which doesn’t exist.
    The list goes on, depending on genre and what you really hope to get out of it as far as “significance” goes (e.x. Eva is the most influential anime around and also bad).

    1. Recommendations:

      Cowboy Bebopalulaapoppahoommaumauramalamadingdongshoobeedowopdowop

      Neon Genesis Evangelist (Billy Graham voices Gendo.)

      The Melancholy of Haruhi Hirohito

      Surreal Experiments Lain

      Jo Jo’s Bizarre

      School Daze

      Ghost In the Can

      Steins Gate Thus the Defense Force Fought There

      Full Metal Alcoholic

      Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Crisco

      Jin Roh: The Wolfs’ Rain Brigade

      The Girl Who Schlepped Through Time

      Angel Beats ‘Em Up!

      Oy! My G-ddess!

      Howels’ Moving Time Share

      Kiki Goes UPS

      Spice and Wolverine

      Paranoid Agent

      1. Hmm…I think you added your own spin on some of those titles haha. Thanks for the recs!

        I actually recommended Cowboy Bebop to a friend recently, and she just didn’t get it. Like, she appreciated it, but the cultural references went over her head. It made me very sad. -_-‘

    2. Agreed on the true mecha classics, though I like the original Gundam movie trilogy better than the TV series, vice-versa for Zeta Gundam. I liked Macross DYRL, but there were some weird flaws and it starts in the middle of the story; you would need to watch the original series to make sense of DYRL.

      1. Definitely true there. I watched the original series just to experience the true original, and that had some real QUALITY animation. The gap between that and Zeta is so amazingly wide.

    3. I’m not going to recommend School Days just for that final scene. -_-‘ Haha.

      YOU DON’T THINK EVA IS GOOD?? Maybe you’re too young to appreciate anime from the late 90’s…

      Also, YES about Kara no Kyoukai. I think it’s just the barrier for this show in the west – too expensive to buy, not distributed legally through streaming, and limited even in the less-than-credible streaming channels through which it was available. But SO good.

      1. Hey I listed anime from every decade since the 70s! I don’t think it’s a matter of age…I remember for Eva’s 20th anniversary, there was a Japanese thread that was basically like “remember when we all watched this when it first aired and were awestruck by the finale? Now we are adults and look back and realize….actually it just sucked lol” Not saying that’s a majority consensus or people weren’t being somewhat facetious but sounds like you’d be a little surprised at how common the sentiment is =P

        1. Oh, well I know the ending is pretty much hated – even when I first watched around 2004 it was that way – but I’m surprised that the series as a whole is thought of that way. :/

          1. Evangelion is a “Do Not Discuss” title at Christian Anime Alliance.

            I picked up the boxed set years ago and made it through the first disc. I want those two hours of my life back. I’ve got better ways to waste time than wallow in Hideaki Anno’s neuroses. If you think it’s a great show, fine, but think very carefully before showing it to anime newbies.

            1. Evangelion wouldn’t make the list I show forward, regardless, simply because of the kind of content that lead CAA to ban it from their forums. I’m providing suggestions to college folks whose spiritual welfare I also need to think about, so a great many of these titles can’t make the cut, regardless of their possible value!

  9. Ooh! This is a fun question because I’ve been intentionally trying to ‘legitimize’ my understanding of the (otaku) anime culture by going through the influential/classic series. Although entirely subjective and incomplete, I’d recommend:


    Eva is just really big, covers many themes, blows peoples’ minds, and has a cult following. NHK is a sober look at the whole culture. K-ON marked the start of anime songs making it big into charts, perhaps the biggest in the ever popular KyoAni CGDCT, and I think is the gateway into slice of life.

    Other favs:

    Fate/stay night

    I’ve yet to watch JoJo and many other important pre-2000s series. And there are giants like Gintama that I just haven’t had the courage (or time) to venture into. There’s sort of the all ages long running shows like Conan. Gundam is obviously a class of its own. The Monogatari series is perhaps the best example of an overarching meta narrative of the otaku culture, though it can be too much for some.

    Modern classic?
    Maybe Hyouka, Shirobako, or… actually maybe all of this depends on the demographic and taste. Not that stating that’s any helpful in giving recommendations! 😛

    1. Usagi Drop

      Non Non Byori

      Nausicaa is foundational

      Porco Rosso is overlooked and terrific

      Wolf Children

      Whisper of the Heart

      Only Yesterday

      Your Name. the second it’s available

      Voices of a Distant Star

      Millennium Actress

      A couple of live action films to give a point of reference:

      Late Spring

      Tokyo Story

      1. Voices of a Distant Starrrrrrr. I wonder if more people will discover that anime because of the success of Kimi no na wa.

        All great recs and all important series/movies. Thank you!

      2. I think that movies, while certainly fantastic, are moving away from the ‘otaku’ anime scene. From what I understand, Japanese people who don’t watch anime would still have watched many of these movies. Perhaps this perspective isn’t relevant here here but I think that movies are somewhat less anime in that regard; there is a shift in the audience that the movies are being produced for.

    2. Those are ALL really good recommendations, and actually along the lines of what I was looking for, pieces that are “representative” for anime, while still also being accessible and very good. I’ve built my list and included a couple of the series you recommended actually. I also included SHIROBAKO, but went with some others in place of (that was a hard one for me to leave out).

      1. Here’s my list :3:

        Soul Eater (If they’re into Bleach and Naruto they’ll enjoy this one)
        Gankutsuou: Count of Monte Cristo (This is one of my favorite anime in the entire world, for reasons that are obvious but *more* obvious when you realize that Franz looks and acts a bit like a genderbent version of my sister, and I resemble the anime’s Albert genderbent in like aaaallll the ways…without the incest that’d imply!! ^___^;;;; )
        Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
        The Princess and the Pilot (Haven’t seen this but have heard it’s excellent)
        Princess Tutu (Ditto on whoever brought in this one— Especially for Christians somehow, this is top of its class)
        Valvrave the Liberator (But only if they can tolerate an anime that is completely and utterly ridiculous/just for fun)
        Shin Sekai Yori (I would mandate that people watch this one as an explanation for how racism works if I could)
        Full Metal Panic (Also for fun)
        Gunslinger Girl (Only if they have a high tolerance for black as pitch)
        Serial Experiments Lain/Haibane Renmei Technoxlyze (I put these three in the same general category, but the last is also only if they have a tolerance for sin so black it seems like the Abyss is staring into you)
        Cowboy Bebop
        Black Butler (If you’re prepared for what it implies, the first season is phenomenal)
        Hellsing Ultimate (If you like gore with your philosophy)
        Kill la Kill (If you can tolerate getting naked and really, really mature themes <___<; )

        Also Last Exile, for everybody forever. Other than the bizarre ending, this is another one that's just absolutely top of its class in everything it does. And if you want an average anime that I like for entirely personal reasons (Mainly because it reads exactly like a Roleplay I'd DM for my best friends), go for The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye.

        Also Nagi No Asukara and Your Lie In April for young adult drama, and Utena for a classic Ikuhara mindscrew. (If you like that last one a lot, you're almost guaranteed to love them all, although the most Biblical one by far is Mawaru Penguindrum. That one is also my favorite for the exact same reason. If God is the master of Fate, than the only way to change divine Fate is through "the Devil." Or through Jesus Christ. But you probably will not like what Sanetoshi has in mind…)

        1. Haha noooo because that’ll open up a cup of worms. But if you message me on Tumblr I might pass it along. 😉

  10. Evangelion is the obvious answer. The emotional depths it probes and controversial soul destroying content is necessary for ‘toughening up’ your tolerance for controversial exploitative content in anime.

  11. I would recommend Slayers, especially the newer seasons as they have better animation. As well as the Shelter music video….and Kids on the Slope is another goody.

  12. I hope it’s not too late for me to leave a few more suggestions:

    Any church anime group has to give Angel`s Egg a try, not only is it one of the finest anime experiences out there but it`s also only 70 minutes long, so it won`t be too much trouble to watch together. It`s one of the best anime movies- in fact, one of the best movies- ever made, it`s beautiful, and especially for a person who thinks about faith a lot, it`ll give lots to think about.

    I wish people talked more about Ping Pong The Animation, it`s got one of the most tightly-written character-driven stories every created and its art style is radically interesting. Its themes of finding your place and understanding your limits should work especially well with a younger audience, but any group should be able to appreciate it.

    And finally, Makoto Shinkai`s two most recent movies should definitely be viewed by any anime group. Kimi no na wa. is a deservedly popular movie, it`s gorgeous and well-made, but in my opinion Kotonoha no Niwa is a much better and more interesting story… it`s arguably more beautiful, too. Also, Kotonoha no Niwa is a beautifully-human story where people don`t know quite how to communicate and relationships never really turn out perfectly, gahhh I just love this movie man.

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