One of the best ways to improve your Japanese is, of course, by watching anime, so we’ve put together a list of great anime of different styles and genres that you might not have heard of before!
1) Astro boy 鉄腕アトム(1963)
The history of Japan’s Anime history starts with Osamu Tedzuka. He pioneered the long format manga focusing on story arcs which lasted more than a normal comic strip would allow for. Tedzuka was also the first person to make a weekly anime TV series. This was a huge and unprecedented task. Tedzuka was successful however and helped to lay the foundations of the anime industry. Astro Boy is a robot with the heart of a human whose story illustrates a bright modern future after the bleak world wars.
2) Sazae-san サザエさん (1969)
Sazae-san holds the Guinness World record for the longest-running TV anime series: 48 years and counting. That’s 20 years longer than the Simpsons! Watching Sazae-san at 6:30 on a Sunday evening has become a weekly ritual for Japanese people across all generations. The story itself is a light-hearted family comedy, but it has a dark side. It coined the term “サザエさん症候群(Sazae-san syndrome)”, which is a type of depression that you experience when you hear the opening theme of Sazae-san, when the weekend isn’t over yet, but you know it’s 6:30pm and you are already thinking about work on Monday.
3) Lupin the Third ルパン三世(1971)
A comedic rendition of an action manga about a group of thieves. They are a Robin Hood outfit, only they do not give to the poor. Acrobatic escapes, impossible gunfights, deadly katana attacks; the visual work is very fun and you will grow to love the good-natured characters in the show. Lupin the Third has been remade multiple times, and in 2015 the 5th season was aired. If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli films, the 2nd season may interest you which had Hayao Miyazaki on the creative team.
4) Your Name 君の名は(2016)
This Sci-fi based upon a shamanistic myth tells the story of a boy from the big city and a girl from the rural countryside waking up in each other’s body and then setting out on a quest to discover why. The director, Makoto Shinkai, made it his mission to graphically capture the beauty of Japanese landscapes, both in the city as well as the countryside. His success will take your breath away.
5) 5 centimeters per second 秒速５センチメートル (2007)
One of Makoto Shinkai’s earlier works 5 Centimetres Per Second is a visual and musical poem of bitter-sweet romance. The director’s love for Japanese culture is lovingly woven into the film. He manages to capture the essence of daily life in Japan, right down to the smallest detail.
6) STEINS;GATE シュタインズ・ゲート (2011)
Based on a science fiction video game, where the mission is to travel back in time and make the right choices to save your friend’s life. For mystery lovers who enjoy the subtle art of foreshadowing, you will love this anime. Concentration must be kept at all times to pick up the clues if you want to solve the mystery. The show is famous for being a slow burner, a slow starter that gradually develops into a veritable helter-skelter of emotions.
7) Bakemonogatari 化物語 (2009)
The protagonist is a half human, half vampire, who rescues the female characters around him who are haunted by monsters. Do not underestimate this anime based on its girly cover, nor scorn it by assuming it’s another Twilight inspired chick-flick. It is based on a novel whose plot relies on clever wordplay. This anime is only recommended if you are willing to take on the challenge of linguistic circus…
Here is a taster: one of the monsters that appear is called 重し蟹 (omoshikani), which deprives you of your weight. Weight in Japanese is 重さ (omosa), and the word for heavy is 重い (omoi), which sounds identical to the word feelings (想い). The sound of the word for “thoughtful”, 想いし (omoishi) changed to 重し (omoshi =weight) over time. This monster is actually a god (神 kami) in the form of a crab (蟹 kani) and what it is doing is alleviating the emotional ‘weight’ of that person’s thoughts.
8) Ping Pong ピンポン (2014)
Historical anime based on mangas can be either a hit or a miss. The animators are constrained by the original body of work, or their animation skills develop and push the story to further heights of success. Ping Pong is definitely the latter. Peko is a star ping pong player who aspires to become the world champion. Smile is Peko’s friend who plays ping pong just to kill time but has a natural talent which captures people’s attention. People around Smile care about his talent more than he does, and the constant pressure put on him causes his self-confidence to unravel.
9) The Tatami Galaxy 四畳半神話大系 (2010)
If you are looking for something different, The Tatami Galaxy might be the one for you. The story follows a university student who appears to be living in a parallel multiverse. He joins an on-campus society without much thought, where he meets his friend and enemy, Ozu. Ozu becomes his “black cupid” that either helps or ruins the main character’s romance with a girl Akashi-san. Every episode ends with the line, “if I had joined a different society, my student life might have been slightly better…”, and the wish is granted and the same character restarts his student life all over again! The mesmerising use of colours and tongue-twistingly fast narration accelerates and heightens the hallucinogenic corkscrew effect of the looping storyline.
As Memrise’s Japanese Specialist, Kana looks at ways we can make learning Japanese a joyful adventure.
She finds Japanese 親父ギャグ (dad jokes) hilarious and is often looking for ways to say them in English… 車が来る、まあ！” Trolley approaching! Oh golly!”… Okay, she is clearly still learning.