Anime and manga with artistic merit: recommendations.

fOx

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Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei

It gets tired of it's initial premise (a teacher wanting to commit suicide (but not really))
But then after that picks a Japanese social custom and plays around with it with every episode.

For your consideration:


Meru's "meru-meru" and "pioriparapiridora" sounds are my notification and text sounds, respectively.
Studio shaft have pretty experimental animation in general. I had some issues with madoka's writing, and I don't think bakemonogotari translates very well into english, but everything they make has interesting animation and direction techniques. Sayonaro zetsubo sensei is a pretty brilliant satire, at moments.
 

Asita

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It's stretching it a bit, but there's one thing in Durarara!! that I really liked visually and want to bring up here. It's pretty easy to tell where you're supposed to look in Durarara because...well, the unimportant background characters are undetailed. If the character is important to the scene or story, they'll be easily identifiable and in full color, but if not they're just presented as gray outlines.



And yeah, that takes some getting used to, but by the end of the first season it blindsides you with how they made it work. On the one front, it neatly reflects how a good chunk of the characters are detached from the world around them in one way or another. Then there's the focus on the "color" gangs. And then there's episode 11, which focuses on a confrontation. One party brings thugs as back up, the other comes alone...kinda...He came alone, but he'd suggested that a lot of like-minded individuals meet up at that same place and time. Cue him sending out a message on group-chat...and everyone's phone starts ringing. And all of a sudden all those background characters are story important and interesting, transforming this:



Into this:



And I just love that transformation, seeing that wave of color and detail wash over the wall of grey. While I think that on the whole Baccano (which shares same author) is easily a better series than Durarara, I absolutely adore what the art team did for this scene.
 
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Casual Shinji

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I'd say everything is already covered here.

I'll give shout-out to a Tree of Palme, which I can't say is that good, but is visually very interesting. It's directed by Takashi Nakamura who I don't think is that well known, but he has what is probably my favourite style in anime, which is a mix of Katsuhiro Otomo and Hayao Myizaki.
 

Houseman

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And I just love that transformation, seeing that wave of color and detail wash over the wall of grey. While I think that on the whole Baccano (which shares same author) is easily a better series than Durarara, I absolutely adore what the art team did for this scene.
Stuff like that makes me cry for some reason. Something about crowds really gets to me. I tear up just thinking about it.

One example from Sakurasou is that they're playing an interactive game with the crowd and everyone has to yell out their hopes and dreams, but everyone is reluctant to do that in front of their peers, but then one of the protagonist's side-character friends in the audience goes first, and then someone else goes, and gradually the whole audience is shouting.

Another example is from Naruto Shippuden , when they're fighting one of the final enemies, Naruto realizes that he can pass his chakra off to other people and power them up. When he does so, it makes them glow red. So he does his shadow clone thing and runs around giving high-fives to the army that's with him, and from the perspective of the enemy, you see this red glow slowly spread among the crowd.

A final example is from a song in MLP, where Pinkie comes back to her rightful place as the town's cheerer-upper, and the crowd just goes "Pinkie!"

I dunno, man, crowds.
 

Mister Mumbler

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Patlabor 2

I think my favorite part about this, outside of the amazing animation is that fact that they took the accurate approach by making the ATC and aircraft speak English to each other like in reality.
 

Asita

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Stuff like that makes me cry for some reason. Something about crowds really gets to me. I tear up just thinking about it.
You know another one that gets me on that front? The fourth opening to FMA Brotherhood, "Period". You get the two brothers, each on their own, eventually running through each other and frantically looking around. Mei and Winry show up, then we get an overhead shot of a few more people, a few more characters are added...and they quickly multiply to fill the screen, representing the people that have been a part of their journey and the reason that they (and we as the audience) care about what happens to their home. I'd say I love that moment, but to be honest as the Brotherhood openings are among my favorites...I'm kinda biased.
 

Chimpzy

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I just realized this thread has an appaling lack of Tezuka Osamu. I mean, we're talking artistic merit in anime and manga, which can't be complete without what is basically the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney and Jack Kirby rolled into one person. The man pretty much single-handedly codified many of mange/anime's most enduring tropes and stylistic characteristics. His work can only be described as seminal.

Also while I'm here, shoutout to Legend of the Galactic Heroes, cuz why wouldn't I?
 

SupahEwok

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Also while I'm here, shoutout to Legend of the Galactic Heroes, cuz why wouldn't I?
I mean, while I adore LotGH, it's not exactly a standout for any kind of animation accolades...
 

Drathnoxis

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This thread wouldn't be complete without mention of Madoka Magica. Experimental artstyle, check. Themes of existentialism, check. Fantastic music, check. Just really, really good, check.
 

SckizoBoy

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I'll probably cop a load of flack for this selection, but eh, I'm a complete and utter retard when it comes to my preferences in anime (no accounting for taste, as they say):

Hourou Musuko - accusations of wokeness will probably fly with this, but I don't think any other manga even tries to approach pre-adolescent gender dysphoria with anything like a similar level of maturity, it's problem being that it's a bit too mature for its own good
Infinite RYVIUS - think Lord of the Flies in space, haven't seen it in a while, but as I remember, it handled the source material pretty well
The Sky Crawlers - another Mamoru Oshii film, the story itself is pretty damned depressing (but it starts out with one of the best animated dogfights put on screen) and at the time (might still be relevant if I kept up with more anime releases) was considered an allegory for stagnation in the anime industry/fanbase
Fuujin Monogatari - I haven't watched this in a long time, but I recall enjoying its quaint and endearing feel, included because it's art style is very unconventional
planetES - one of the most grounded hard-science sci-fi titles ever made IMO and considers one of those really mundane things that no-one even wants to think about, that few other sci-fi concepts do, as its premise and makes it work: trash collection in space
Moyashimon - I'm putting this here just for fun, but it's unique for anthropomorphising micro-organisms and making it educational without resorting to fan service when doing so (there's fan service provided by a couple characters, don't get me wrong, but that doesn't get in the way of Microbe Theatre or the series' soapbox nature towards food science)
Related to the above is Gin no Saji (which is a good showcase for the shit family owned farms go through just to survive, or not survive as the case may be, as well as a soapbox for food science of a different variety) and Mari & Gali (a very slapstick series whose intent I really don't know except to bring maths and physics to students). Whether you consider scientific merit in an entertainment medium to be of artistic merit is your choice, though, I suppose.
 
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Chimpzy

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I mean, while I adore LotGH, it's not exactly a standout for any kind of animation accolades...
Not really, no. But there's more roads to artistic merit than just excellence in animation. Like the scope of storytelling. And few go bigger than LotGH.
 

Neuromancer

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Not really, no. But there's more roads to artistic merit than just excellence in animation. Like the scope of storytelling. And few go bigger than LotGH.
I should finish LotGH sometime. Just haven't felt motivated after what happened in episode 82.
 

TheMysteriousGX

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If you hadn't posted Dungeon Meshi, I would've. Don't know Witch Hat Atelier. Might check that out.
I've only got the first volume so far, so I can't vouch for the overall story thus far, but the lead in is good and the art is phenomenal:
 

Gordon_4

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It’s probably minor compared to most examples here, but I’ve got a special place in my heart for the mishmash of Cyberpunk, hair metal and mecha that is the original Bubblegum Crisis.


It’s music is probably the most memorable thing about it since it was cut short compared to the remake, Tokyo 2040, which had a larger story arc.

But you just can’t beat the OG for music and visual flair.
 
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Tsun Tzu

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Hey, that sounds neat. I'm into the Holy Scriptures! What's it about?
I suppose it's really about the main characters realizing the potential for evil within us all, ultimately triumphing over said evil after numerous sacrifices by way of vigorous calls to our lord. It makes a strong case for letting that sort of religious fervor into your heart. Deep, deep inside.

Couple that with the very real, very modern concerns regarding gender fluidity in intimate physical relationships (with god) and you've got a classic.
 

Ghostrick Dorklord

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I highly recommend a good portion of Kyoto Animation's catalog. I really genuinely believe they're the greatest animation studio ever because of one simple thing; They know how to animate life. KyoAni has a lot of great animation quirks to them, namely the fact they heavily use body language. Not only this is a good example of show and don't tell but it takes advantage of anime's visual medium. You can tell what the characters are thinking by just looking at them. It feels more natural than having the characters narrate what they're doing which is common in anime a lot and it gets pretty old fast. Its also very subtle though so you might not pick up on what emotion is trying to convey but its a very effective method, especially when they focus on slice of life stories. There's this one shot that I really like from Hibike! Euphonium where Reina places a single finger on Kumiko and you see how detailed the animation is when they show how Kumiko's face contours as Reina slides her finger off it.

As I did mention KyoAni does focus more on slice of life anime over like mecha or battle manga but honestly this studio made me love the genre a lot that its my favorite. Their stories are more grounded and down to earth but they do their best to make the mundane look fun and exciting. Chuunibyou does a great job illustrating this as focuses on a group of high schoolers but a few of them have very vivid imaginations that ends up making very big but detailed action scenes. The story does remind the audience that the end of the day despite how fantastical these scenes they're just a bunch of kids messing around, fighting each other with an umbrella and ladle for example. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya does something similar where everyone but the main character Kyon is actually some superpowered being where their powers come up from time to time and it messes with reality in humorous ways like rigging a baseball game. But I do think K-ON does show the mundane every life being fun and exciting the best because there's no gimmicks attached to it. Its just a band of girls just having fun and while it was dismissed as much when it was first airing there's a narrative in the story, namely the fact that you have to enjoy life as much as possible before its all gone but even then the show does remind that there's no true end to happiness, just one chapter has to close for new ones to open. I love stuff like this to say the least.

I think the most accessible of KyoAni's work is Violet Evergarden which is about a woman who was a child soldier that lost her arms in war and had them replaced with metallic prosthetics. She decides to become a letter ghost writer because she wants to discover the definition of love which was the dying words of her commander. The series focuses on her every day when she meets a new client who want to write a letter but don't know how to go about it. Violet herself isn't attuned to her own emotions which does get in the way of writing at first but she slowly discovers what those emotions that others want to convey. I really love this series and consider it to be KyoAni's magnum ops because I think it hits all the right notes. Violet is both a character who learns from her experience while other people learn from her and try to become better people. I did find one character to be relatable on a personal level which was the playwright who was in a massive rut due to personal reasons and needed inspiration to continue writing. Episode 10 in particular made me breakdown crying very badly which is saying a lot. For a story about an emotionless girl its a very emotional experience to say the least and its one of my favorite things ever.


I could go on and on about why I love this studio so much but I think I'd be here all day. However I want to make a special mention to Liz and the Blue Bird as well. Its the spin off movie to Hibike! Euphonium which I'll admit holds it back a little bit but its another amazing watch. Liz and the Blue Bird is a good example of showing off another character's story within a different universe since its about on par with the original series but it doesn't put any of the previous characters on a pedestal where they're background characters at best. But yeah I love KyoAni and I do want to give more shout outs to other series I feel also need more love.


Surprisingly one of my favorite anime of all time is actually Revue Starlight. Its about a group of girls in a theater school who are trying to be the top star in these bizarre auditions called Revues in order to get any wish granted for them. Its very theatrical as its well a stage play in every episode but I love it for similar reasons as I do as KyoAni's works. Its a very visual work that uses its visuals for its advantage while also being a musical and I really love music elements in anything. Every frame of animation in Revue Starlight was some kind of hint of symbolism to it and it has creative fight scenes. For example...


...In episode 3 our hero and main character Karen faces off against top star Maya Tendou in the Revue of Pride but every single shot is dedicated to showing how outclassed Karen is; The spotlight quickly gathers around Maya after Karen's entrance as she makes a dynamic entrance on a swan, Maya easily stabs through the chandelier in the middle of the room with grace while Karen only clumsily slices it off its chain, and throughout the entire revue Maya literally has the high ground to the point where the stage itself never gives Karen any room making it seem like Maya owns the place. Even the song Hokori to Ogori (Pride and Arrogance) features this as Maya eventually takes over the song despite it starting out as a duet. Its easily the most memorable moment in the entire series because of how charismatic Maya is and how much she toys with Karen. Always brings me to awe whenever I see it.


However I do think this series is actually best on its rewatch so you can understand it better. A lot of symbolism and foreshadowing went over my head on my first watch which is why I didn't had a lot of fun watching it at the time. A lot of it was very abstract and I didn't understand a lot, especially when I find it comparable to Utena. When I watched it again after understanding the bigger picture I really ended up loving it so much. After major reveals I ended up loving a certain character a lot to say the least. I came to this show because I heard several BanG Dream! seiryu, namely Aina Aiba and Ayasa Itou, were involved but I ended up loving Moeka Koziumi's performance the most and I was shocked to hear that this was his first major role in anything. But that's just me.



I think the final recommendation I have is Sora Yori mo Yooi Basho aka A Place furthers than the Universe which I'll be referring to as SoraYori from this point on because its a long title. Its a story about making impossible dreams impossible; A group of girls want to go to Antarctica for different and personal reasons but are ultimately mocked by because no one believed they can do so because they're high school kids. I really love this one because the characters are really fun and the fact they're trying to do everything they can to make their dream come true. There's a lot of focus on the adventure and the tribes and tribulations that comes with it. You'll want to root for these girls to get to Antarctica as much as possible despite everything going against them.


Its a big emotional rollercoaster to say the least. Its often fun but there's a lot frustration that comes with the struggle as well. I think its honestly because to watch it as little knowledge of it as possible since its again about the journey and you shouldn't know what happens during it until it actually happens. I promise its worth your time. I do need to rewatch it again but I'm waiting for it to be winter again to fit the theme. I'm weird I know but it adds to the experience. I really love this one a lot and it was a surprise hit.

I do want to do some honorable mentions but I feel like I'm talking too much. I would recommend A Certain Scientific Railgun a lot because its very fun and has great action, characters, and soundtrack but it held back by being a spin off to A Certain Magical Index. While this means there's events from the main story referenced here but it kind of creeps in too much but I still recommend watching Railgun first anyways if you're curious because knowing little of Railgun's season 2 (which is a 5 episode arc in Index's first season) gives it more emotional weight. Also Mikoto Misaka is a great character study since she's very 3 dimensional compared to most anime characters. Also there's School Live which all I'll say is just watch the first episode completely and decide if you want to continue from there. And there's Assassination Classroom which I again won't say about much since it is airing on Toonami and needs to be experienced as blind as possible. I'm sorry for rambling too much but its how I am with stuff I love.
 

TheMysteriousGX

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The Great Pretenders just *oozes* style. Fantastic visuals, and amazing soundtrack, etc, etc.