Revolutionary Girl Utena
Considering how good Utena is, it’s probably the most criminally under-watched anime ever. I’m not going to pretend to be some genius who’s managed to unpack the meaning of everything in Utena. I doubt anyone has. So dense with below-the-surface storytelling that you’ll need a metaphorical machete and refusing to give any easy answers, Utena demands your full attention at all times. The payoff though… wow. The show follows Utena Tenjou, a girl who dresses like a boy and refuses to conform to conventional gender stereotypes, as she’s dragged into a series of duels with an ambitious array of characters to decide whose theory of change should be implemented. If you thought English class was fun and you want to watch a convoluted but chill-inducing dismantling of the patriarchy, Utena is here to blow your mind.
Utena can be found on Funimation.
This fast, furious, and hilarious dissertation on the pros and cons of the internet era manages the phenomenal feat of being both relentlessly fun and incredibly smart at all times. Following the emotionally-infectious Hajime as she gets inducted into an old-fashioned gang of vigilantes and proceeds to swiftly turn their dated beliefs on their heads, Gatchaman Crowds faces head-on issues like data-mining and the nastiness that can accompany anonymity and does so with informed optimism. For everyone who’s always asking ‘why can’t academic research ever be presented in a way that’s accessible and enjoyable to read?’ Gatchaman Crowds has got your back, putting a smile on your face while leaving you feeling full.
Gatchaman Crowds can be found on HIDIVE.
If you haven’t consumed enough fiction about puberty yet, FLCL (also known as Fooly Cooly) is here to shine. To be fair, FLCL is one of the best puberty stories out there, smart, dense, and backed up by a similar manic energy to Gatchaman Crowds. I’m not going to bother with a plot synopsis, and if you watch the first episode you’ll see why–there’s an incredible amount of creativity poured into the surreal world of FLCL, and describing the Events On Paper doesn’t really mean anything. At only six episodes, I’d recommend FLCL to anyone who just likes, well, good fiction.
FLCL can be found on Funimation and Hulu.
The Tatami Galaxy
All hail Masaaki Yuasa, who’s not only an incredible talent but a diverse one. Also responsible for the grounded Ping-Pong the Animation and the depressing Kaiba, Yuasa’s third entry on this list is an off-the-walls Groundhog Day story about a boy who shows up to college and finds that nothing goes the way he expects it to. Utterly glorious in art design and adept at capturing the hectic, unpredictable atmosphere of undergrad college life, there’s something to be said for a story that can juggle so many threads at once and then tie them all together into a cohesive fanfare of a conclusion. One word of caution though: this show is fast, so be prepared to pause. The words will often fly across the screen faster than you can read them.
The Tatami Galaxy can be found on Funimation.
Heavily inspired by Hayao Myazaki’s work, Flip-Flappers manages to run off the longest run of entirely-different-yet-individually-phenomenal episodes I’ve seen in an anime, jumping from Frozen to Mad Max to The Notebook in record time, all while advancing the growth of its leads and maintaining absolute excellence. The success of its overarching goals is up for debate, but on an episode-to-episode basis Flip Flappers is an incredible feat. Seldom does you reach the end of twenty minutes and feel like you’ve just watched an entire movie, but Flip Flappers makes that happen over and over again, making you cheer, cry, and occasionally cower with fear.
Flip Flappers can be found on Crunchyroll and HIDIVE.
The Eccentric Family
Perhaps the most theme-light show here, The Eccentric Family is a story of a messy, complicated family of raccoon-dogs, shape-shifting legends that blend into human society using their transformation powers. It’s a heartfelt, stylized journey through an urban fantasy world populated by mythological entities from Japanese lore and capstoned by a series of iconic moments. At its heart though, the show is as the title implies: a story about family, examining how important blood ties can be as well as how meaningless. No matter how you define your family though, The Eccentric Family is a stalwart believer in fighting for it.
The Eccentric Family is available on Crunchyroll.