There were a lot of anime that were considered for this list and, in the end, didn’t make it on. In the process of choosing my top five romance anime, I looked for series that I’ve found myself going back to and those that have done something unique with their stories. I ultimately decided not to include OVA’s, movies, or feature films if only to make sure this list wasn’t full of Ghibli movies. I have enough reviews covering my opinions of most of his movies already. Below are five series and two honorable mentions that I thought encapsulated all of the different facets of a good romance anime. Whether it be great characters, an interesting setting, the ability to parody shoujo anime to perfection, great animation, or a combination of all of these, a series has to be more than just great romance to make it onto this list. I hope you enjoy this last top 5 list and I encourage you to check out the other three that I’ve posted this week. So starting at number one, here are my top five romance anime.
Sakura Kinomoto is an elementary schooler who spends her days rollerskating to school, practicing baton throws with the cheerleading squad, fighting with her older brother Toya, and staring dreamily after her brother’s friend Yuki. One night while alone, she hears a weird sound in her father’s library. While investigating, she finds a book with a weird-looking cover and opens it, setting loose all 52 magical Clow Cards into the world. With the help of the guardian of the cards, Kero, the mysterious staff he gifted to her, and her best friend Tomoyo, she sets out to recover all the cards before they can cause trouble for the whole town. But what happened when a transfer student from Hong Kong shows up at school? Will she be able to collect all the cards before he does?
As you could probably tell from my last review, I am a huge fan of Cardcaptors, so much so that I have legitimately thought of getting a tattoo of her magic circle. So it probably comes as no surprise that I would put its anime in my number one spot. Cardcaptors remains for me the best magical girl anime to date and one of the best young shoujo romances. CLAMP’s story and designs are ones that resonate with young girls who love to dream while also teaching life lessons about family and love. Combine their ideas with the production quality of studio Madhouse, and we get an anime that doesn’t rely on magical girl cliches that has held strong for 70 episodes and two movies.
One of the reasons I love Cardcaptors so much is because of its ability to tell a compelling magical girl story without falling into the typical cliche traps. There are no battles against an ultimate evil like aliens or creatures of darkness, but instead we get conflicts with characters and beings that are multifaceted in nature. The cards themselves are just doing what their nature dictates, but also have the ability to love and respect Sakura and other characters throughout the series. Eriol and Syaoran are the other big conflicts and we come to see Syaoran slowly fall in love with and see Sakura in a new light while Eriol has many different motives behind his actions besides causing trouble. There is so much to talk about with this series and, in the end, I need to sit down and write a proper review one of these days. But, love for family, friends, and that special person are all cornerstones of its story, giving a truly sweet narrative about growing up with a magical twist.
Nana Komatsu is a naive 20-year-old who is helpless in her lack of understanding of the world as she grew up in a small rural town. After her boyfriend moves to Tokyo for school, she spends a year saving up her money to finally follow him to the city. Nana Osaki grew up in an equally rural town but is striving to become a professional musician. After the lead guitarist of her band and then boyfriend moves to Tokyo for a chance at being in a bigger, more famous band. In her quest to break into the music scene, Nana Osaki decides to move to Tokyo as well. It just so happens that these two women with the same name meet on the same train to Tokyo, quickly become friends, and start living together. Through love and heartbreak, will they still be able to remain friends?
Nana is one of those series that is daunting to consider reviewing when you look at the almost 50 episodes to its name. However, I’ve told myself I would get to it eventually even if I have to split the reviews up into multiple parts simply because it is that great of a series. All of these shows on this list are ones that I would consider returning to multiple times, and I swear I have watched this series at least three times so far. Again produced by Studio Madhouse, the visuals in this series are fantastic, capturing that almost punk aesthetic that goes so well with the musical nature of the show. Madhouse does a great job in capturing both the everyday moments of these two girls living together and the high-energy concert environments.
Beyond animation, Nana has a very gripping story about love, loss, and friendship. The story follows the conflicting ideals of both Nana’s, with Nana Komatsu seeking love and happiness while Nana Osaki seeks fame and recognition. Even with these contrasting dreams, both of them find a way to respect each other for their differences, and their friendship becomes one that can transcend relationships. This is a story of growth as well, with Nana Komatsu coming to find out she can’t rely on her boyfriend for everything and Nana Osaki working hard to make her own way musically in fast-paced Tokyo. It’s really interesting to look at both the close relationships of these girls compared to their romantic relationships.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
After being released from prison, Yotaro knows exactly what he wants to do: become a rakugo performer. However, rakugo is an art that is often passed from master to apprentice, with chosen apprentices taking on their master’s name once he retires. In order to be the best, Yotaro decides to learn from the best, but the great Yakumo has never taken an apprentice in his whole career. Something about Yotaro intrigues Yakumo, though, and he finds himself joining Yakumo’s dysfunctional family that includes a red-headed, fiery adopted daughter. After finding out that her real father used to be an apprentice under Yakumo’s predecessor at the same time as him, Yotaro convinces his new master to tell them the story of the now deceased Sukeroku which takes them all back to the 1930s.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a romantic drama that rivals some of the best romantic dramas in story and character. It gives us a unique setting in which it sets interesting characters with deeply entwined histories to work out their problems and confront societal changes. The history of the art of rakugo is something we haven’t seen yet in at least the anime realm, and when added in the context of a Japan wracked with western-influenced cultural changes, it creates a great backdrop for the telling of these particular character’s stories. There really isn’t enough space to discuss the intricate nature of this show, but you can find links to my full review here and some Youtube reviews here that go more into detail.
What really caught my attention when it came to this show was the amount of detail given to body language by the animation team. Rakugo is a craft that relies on an actor’s ability to display a wide variety of characters without moving their lower body. To be able to truly capture the nature of a given story, the animation team had to have been able to accurately display those little movements that can transform a person into someone else. This is carried throughout the show, regardless of whether they are performing or not. In terms of romance, the show gives us a timeless story of love between two brothers broken by the love of a woman told in the classic Japanese style of high drama.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
When Sakura tries confessing her feelings for Nozaki, she mistakenly blurts out that she is his fan not knowing that he is actually the famous shoujo manga author Yumeno Sakiko. With autograph in hand, Sakura decides to use this new knowledge to get closer to Nozaki even if he might never see her as anything other than a friend. But Nozaki has also had his eye on her as well, and enlists her to be his assistant as he goes through the process of researching, creating, and publishing his manga while being generally clueless about love.
This anime is one of those light-hearted shows that I will return to again and again. The comedy, romance, and characters of the show made this a strong contender for a high spot on this list. Combined with its penchant for discussing shoujo manga tropes both through its characters and through the creation of Nozaki’s manga, the show makes for a great discussion point about what makes good shoujo manga. Much like Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi, the show itself gives us a window into the creation and publication of serial manga in Japan. When you add in one of the best jazzy opening songs, great backing music, and fluid animation from Studio Doga Kobo, this series becomes one of the best rom-com animes.
To me, the purpose of this anime is not really the romance aspect, rather it is great for the pure parody of the shoujo genre it gives us. Through the eyes of the clueless Nozaki-kun, we see the ridiculousness levels that typical shoujo tropes can be brought to. The combination of Sakura and Nozaki plus all the side characters make for great moments of comedy that I think all lovers of shoujo manga can relate to. When we look deeper at the side characters, however, we get to see an interesting take on the concept of masculinity and femininity through the personalities of Mikorin and Kashima. Mikorin is a playboy that is constantly unsure of himself and is the inspiration for Nozaki’s female lead in his manga. Kashima is a stereotypical tomboy who has attracts all the attention of the female students. So while this anime is mostly focused on parody, there are moments where we can see a deeper discussion of certain topics. You can see my full review here.
After moving to Tokyo to try her hand at becoming an illustrator, Tsukimi now lives in the Amamizukan apartment building where no men are allowed and every tenant has their own obsession. Unable to find work and scared of social interaction — especially with those deemed stylish — Tsukimi prefers to draw and admire jellyfish, an obsession brought on by a trip to the aquarium with her long-deceased mother when she was a child. When the energetic and stylish drag queen Kuranosuke forces himself into her life by saving the jellyfish she had been admiring at a pet store, she must hide the fact that he is a man from the rest of the tenants of Amamizukan. But as Tsukimi struggles with her feelings for Kuranosuke’s brother and Kuranosuke tries to understand his feelings for Tsukimi, all the tenants must face the impending destruction of the only place they really feel they belong.
Princess Jellyfish is one of those animes that thrives on the strength of its characters. One of the main reasons I’m drawn back again and again to this series is because of the uniqueness of the characters both in their designs and their personalities. On top of this is awesome animation from Brain’s Base — who brought us Baccano and Spice and Wolf — that helps showcase the series’ focus on fashion and unique personalities. I have to say that if you want a nerdy show that comments on both otaku and NEET culture, you don’t have to look any further than Princess Jellyfish. Just watching the opening is enough to get an idea of what the series is about with its references to Singing in the Rain, Kill Bill, and Star Wars. When we get into the meat of the series, we see that one of the main focuses is obsession as each character has their own things that they geek out over.
This show manages to combine great comedy and character driven moments to create a great romance story focused on developing self confidence and acceptance. Through Tsukimi’s relationship with the two very different brothers we see a developing narrative of learning to love who you are and accepting people for who they truly are. We also see a really interesting representation of gender expression through the character of Kuronosuke who finds he’s more comfortable in women’s clothing. Through his relationship with this group of nerdy girls, he finds a place that accepts him for who he is. Through his actions and support, these character grow to develop self-confidence and allows Tsukimi to further develop her love for jellyfish through fashion. You can read my full review here.
- Snow White with the Red Hair