Kino’s Journey is the perfect one-a-day show, a series of philosophical and psychologically driven vignettes set in a steampunk world and strung together by the reflections of the titular character. There’s no overarching plot here, but most of the show’s short stories are compelling on their own, offering subdued, thoughtful reflections on a variety of concepts tied to the human condition. In addition, Kino themselves aren’t static — the experiences throughout the show change them, and it’s this growth that truly makes the show so endearing. A second season was technically released recently, but it’s a terrible reboot. I only recommend the original. Hipster, I know.
Kino’s Journey (2003) can be found on HIDIVE. (Note – Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World is the similarly-named reboot, avoid it.)
Akage no Anne
One of the first projects worked on by the now world-famous Hayao Myazaki, The 1979 World Masterpiece Theater adaptation of the classic Canadian novel Anne of Green Gables might not be a pitch most people jump at, but if any part of that made you curious, I’d implore you to give this a try. Akage no Anne is a relatively faithful adaptation of the novel, but with a significant amount of high-quality original material seamlessly added to fill in the novel’s time skips. There’s just a ton of effort put into this production, and the result is a fully-immersive experience that captures Anne’s progression through childhood into early adulthood at a meticulous pace.
Akage no Anne unfortunately isn’t on any legal streaming sites right now.
Hyouka’s got that classic high-school anime setting, but I firmly believe it goes in this category. Centered around the energy-conserving Oreki as he solves relatively low-stakes mysteries and tries to figure out what to do with his life, Hyouka has the hearty fun of a high-school show but with the focus on character headspace of something like Catcher in the Rye. Put those together using Kyoto Animation’s unmatched attention to small bodily movements and rich backgrounds, and you end up with an endearing but introspective look at one boy’s growth alongside his far more exuberant friends. For those looking, there’s also a touch of romance and drama (what can I say, it’s a highschool,) though it’s far from the focus of the series. Also, the opening is a banger.
Hyouka can be found on Funimation.
Aria the Animation
Perhaps the most genuinely relaxing show in this section, Aria is pretty much the anime equivalent of ASMR. Following a group of gondola rowers around a Venice-styled fictional city, Aria is all gorgeous backgrounds and pleasant one-off stories about the girls’ encounters in the city. It’s fairly fluffy, but if you’re looking for something kind yet not brain-dead to help you unwind, Aria is just the ticket. Unlike with Kino, if you like the first season the next two just get better, so you’re in luck. Oh, and it has no relation to the next show whatsoever.
Aria can be found on Crunchyroll.
Ping-Pong the Animation
I’m not usually one for sports shows. I find that applying the battle-shonen formula to actual real-life games just leads to wholly unbelievable versions of actual games that I could just, ya know, watch. Ping-Pong is an exception though, in part because it doesn’t use that formula but mostly just because it’s a good story. It’s definitely the most high-energy production in this section, but the core of Ping-Pong lies in the quiet moments where its protagonist Hoshina grapples with the joys and terrors of what it means to find passion in life. I won’t deny it though: there are also some hype games of Ping-Pong to be found here.
Ping-Pong can be found on Funimation.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
The progenitor of the modern slice-of-life show, Haruhi is an example of how sometimes the first is also the best. It’s protagonist, Kyon, is a perpetually-grumpy cynic who meets the boisterous and borderline-psychotic Haruhi and has his tranquil world flipped upside-down. I won’t pretend this one isn’t without its groan-moments: half of modern anime isn’t stuck in a horrendous slice-of-life rut for nothing. But the underlying charisma of both of the show’s leads is a force to behold, and combined with its capstone movie The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya the show manages a satisfying reflection on the way our attitude shapes our surroundings.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya can be found on Funimation and Crunchyroll. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya can be found on Amazon.