Fans of Japanese animation are quick to point out that it’s not just for kids, with less of the stigma that’s attached to its Western counterpart. Still, even anime tends to be heavily youth-oriented, and fan favorites can quickly fade into obscurity.
For a quick example, ask an anime enthusiast about Bubblegum Crisis. Depending on their age you’ll get a description of either the 1987 direct-to-video series, the 1997 TV reboot, or directions to the closest convenience store where you can buy a pack of Bazooka.
As further proof, in a recent poll people in Japan revealed which shows turned them into lovers of anime, with completely different top five lists for fans in their teens, 20s, and 30s.
The survey was carried out by website Charpedia, garnering 10,000 responses with a nearly even split between the sexes (494 men, 506 women). A whopping 77.2 percent of participants were between the ages of 10 and 29, with the rest 30 or above. Below are the top five, broken down by age group.
Fans aged 10-19
5. Kuroko’s Basketball
A basketball story for the new generation, Kuroko’s ditches predecessor Slam Dunk’s scenes of chubby neck-slapping for more of good-looking high schoolers getting sweaty on the court, making it a hit among sports fans and female otaku.
That picture is a surprisingly representative capsule of what you can expect from K-On!, which is about a group of friends hanging out, eating snacks, and sometimes playing rock music (note the guitar case propped against the wall). Your characters don’t have to do much to keep audiences entertained when they’re all cute girls though, which lands this series from Kyoto Animation in the number four spot.
This story about 19th century Japan is also a story about aliens conquering the country, but mostly it’s about how eccentric samurai Gintoki gets by in this strange new world. Gintama’s never reached the same dizzying heights of popularity as contemporaries Bleach or Naruto, and at times it’s even poked fun at its own struggles in the marketplace, but its unique setting and offbeat hero found enough supporters for a 200-plus-episode TV run and multiple movies.
2. A Certain … Series
We’re not trying to be vague with this slot, which lumps together A Certain Magical Index and its spin-off, A Certain Scientific Railgun. Starting as a series of novels before spreading to anime, manga, and video games, the franchise takes place in a school for scientifically and physically gifted teens in Tokyo.
1. Sword Art Online
A tale of gamers having their conscious trapped in a virtual RPG world, many English-speaking fans who started out with high hopes for Sword Art Online had them dashed as its focus shifted away from adventure and danger part-way through its first season. It’s been smoother sailing for the series in Japan, though, with a second season airing right now.
Fans aged 20-29
5. Prince of Tennis
In some ways a precursor to Kuroko’s Basketball, Prince of Tennis also built up a huge female fanbase not just for its TV anime, but for the manga it was based on and the stage musicals that came later.
4. Digimon Adventure
Digimon Adventure took the monster-rearing aspect of Pokémon and added a surprising amount of dramatic weight to it, thanks to the directorial talents of Mamoru Hosoda, who would later go on to direct Summer Wars and Wolf Children.
3. One Piece
Because an anime doesn’t get past 650 episodes (and counting) without winning a few hearts (or busting up at least one relationship).
2. Card Captor Sakura
Over the last 20 years, one of the most powerful trends in anime has been the huge growth in the number of female fans. Monster-hunting Sakura Kinomoto proved that a girl could carry a show stuffed with supernatural action, and that girls were here to stay in anime fandom.
1. Sailor Moon
You know everything we said about Card Captor Sakura? Double it. Actually, triple it.
Fans 30 or above
Many fans have either forgotten about Slayers or got into anime after its popularity peaked. But in its heyday, the series, which alternates between spoofing and celebrating fantasy storytelling conventions, was hot enough that it produced five TV seasons, four full-length theatrical features, and more than 50 novels. Besides, how can you not love an anime that, like clockwork, features an episode about hilarious fishmen once per season?
4. Dragon Ball
The archetypical super-powered fighting anime for boys, Dragon Ball and its direct descendent Dragon Ball Z were such hits they’re still making new movies for Goku and his gang.
3. Mobile Suit Gundam
The granddaddy of mecha sagas, and one of the first anime to look at giant robots not as superheroes, but as tools of warfare that man could use for good or evil. While the franchise’s very first TV series had so much trouble finding an audience that it was cancelled during its initial broadcast run, Gundam has since rallied to become a cultural icon, money-making juggernaut, and even a Tokyo sight-seeing attraction.
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
The angst-filled offspring of the granddaddy of mecha sagas, Evangelion took a handful of plot points from Gundam (kid with poor relationship with his father falls into giant robot cockpit and becomes humanity’s best hope for survival), then filtered them through the emotionally raw and exhausted mind of director Hideaki Anno. It struck a deeply resonating chord with viewers, who still discuss and debate its themes to this day, putting it in the number two slot for mature fans. Congratulations, Eva!
1. Space Battleship Yamato
Space Battleship Yamato, which debuted on TV in 1974, is so old it predates anime’s saturation with giant robots, as you won’t see its characters regularly climbing into mobile suits, labors, guymelefs, or any other sort of humanoid war machine. Creator Leiji Matsumoto’s unapologetically melodramatic space opera was also so successful that it spawned sequel series, theatrical versions with cool tricks such as going extra widescreen mid-movie, and even a recent live-action film and critically acclaimed rebooted anime series.
So there you have it, 15 series for the next time you’re in the mood for an anime marathon and want to compare and contrast different eras, or just looking to see what gets fans a little older or younger than yourself fired up. If you’re planning to watch them all, though, get cracking, because the next group of future classics is just 10 years away.
Sources: Charapedia, Jin
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