Real talk for a moment, here. There is a ridiculous amount of anime available on DVD, Blu Ray, and the Internet. While this is a dream come true for any binge-watching Netflixer type, us teachers squeeze every drop of productivity from every waking moment and certainly can’t afford to spend that kind of time narrowing down a few choice franchises from a list of thousands.
Perhaps you’re interested in starting an anime club. Maybe you want to bring particular themes from anime to parallel with topics discussed in class. You might just be clamoring for a way, however miniscule, to make an excuse to watch anime in the classroom.
Here are a handful of choice picks, in which I try and provide as much variety in theme, story, atmosphere, and characters as I possibly can, while still highlighting the utility of having these anime series in your classroom.
This animation production studio may very well be one of the most well-known sources for family-friendly Japaneses movies. Some of the most popular include: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away.
Themes: feminism, pacifism, adolescence, environmentalism, and a lack of good/evil dichotomy.
Essentially the original ‘magical girl’ series for Western audiences, Sailor Moon details five teenagers balancing typical young adult life and their newly-found powers in order to combat the forces of evil.
Themes: female empowerment, teenage middle school life, and positive life outlooks.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
This series turns the ‘magical girl’ trope on its head. Much like Sailor Moon, grade school girls become imbued with powers and must confront evil witches. While Puella is cutesy from its outward appearance, there are much darker themes at play, but still a very worthwhile anime to watch for high school audiences and older.
Themes: tragedy, humanity struggles, and perseverance.
A critically acclaimed series about a high school student who comes into possession of a journal in which any person whose name is written will die. This student is eventually pitted in a battle of the minds against the antagonist whose sole priority is to bring him to justice. The criminal investigation and psychological thriller aspects of Deathnote are what have captivated most of its audience. Much like Puella, darker themes abound, but are still absolutely worth exploring: morality, mortality, social commentary, liberty, and security.
One of the longest running epic space sagas to grace Japanese manga pages and anime screens, there are easily a dozen different storylines that all fall under the Gundam umbrella of mecha warfare. Brutality and graphic violence is surprisingly minimal, despite significant robot combat throughout the series. Themes largely revolve around military and social commentary, such as the effects of war on humanity, propaganda, and the Military Industrial Complex.
A staple of a large portion of children’s television viewing all over the world, this franchise runs in the tens of billions of dollars nowadays with merchandising, television, video games, and a host of other commercial items flying off of store shelves. The anime is still a solid introduction to the universe and imparts many useful lesson for children to take with them later in life as the main character spends his time traveling, making friends, gathering new Pokemon, and facing greater challenges.
Themes: biology, genetics, teamwork, perseverance, optimism.
This is an incredibly meta anime – it’s an anime commenting on anime and otaku culture. I especially love Genshiken because it addresses crossdressing in a somewhat humorous, yet realistic way. It opens the door for a variety of classroom discussions on lifestyles that may be perceived as ‘unusual’ or ‘different.’
Themes: Cosplay, anime, social cliques, empathy, lifestyle choices
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Yes, another time travel movie. No, it’s not riddled with all of the cliches of its forebears. This light-hearted story about a high school girl who discovers she has the ability to literally ‘leap’ through time (thus the title) is more of a YA novel version of the time travel trope. The main character initially uses her ability for typically teenaged life re-dos and then moves up to manipulate more serious events, leading to more serious effects.
Themes: friendship, romance, acceptance
To cap it off, I’d like to include a couple of my own personal picks: Cowboy Bebop and Persona: The Animation.
Cowboy Bebop has been regarded by a number of critics as one of the most iconic and influential contemporary animes. The stylish animation, memorable characters, homages to a variety of other media, and diverse soundtrack all coalesce into a wonderfully presented anime. This is sci-fi through and through, think Firefly for a Japanese audience.
Themes: learning from past mistakes, homage, musicality
Persona: The Animation has some fantastical elements all integrated into the lives of a handful of high school students trying to navigate their adolescent landscape. They travel to an otherworldly realm via the television in order to combat warped versions of themselves and other creatures, all while spending their extracurricular time investigating a series of murders that captivate their suburban Japanese city. While the relatability to ‘typical high schoolers’ is a commonly employed trope, their extraordinary circumstances are what really hooked me to this anime.
Themes: teamwork, adolescence, criminal investigation, secret keeping
If you have any questions about anime referenced above or need input on other anime titles, please contact me!