A Comprehensive Guide to Selecting your Top 5 Anime

by eternal on November 3, 2009

Top 5 Anime[mikeneko ringo]

Ah, the good old favourites list. It’s a tradition as old as anime itself – perhaps older – but it hasn’t lost its significance over the years. Your Top 5 list is the first thing people will notice about you on MAL, aside from your profile picture and your total completions. It’s the first thing that comes up in conversation when you’re meeting up with your fellow otaku at a convention, and a good list might make the difference between a good first impression and an awful one.

However, contrary to popular belief, there is more to creating a Top 5 list than selecting your 5 favourite anime. In order for a list to be effective, you must consider several other factors, which include – but are not limited to – an anime’s critical reception, popular reception, and cultural significance.

Does that sound pointless to you? Are you silently thinking that a favourites list should be nothing more than a favourites list? Skepticism is understandable, but if you’re willing to bear with me for the next thousand words, we just might get to the bottom of this.

Now, it’s true that people are more likely to notice your #1 anime before your #5, but because of that, your first choice is of the utmost importance. Therefore, following the traditional list format, I’m going work my way up in reverse.

#5 – The Good-But-Not-Great

Your 5th favourite anime shouldn’t be a difficult choice to make. What you’re looking for is something that’s good – preferably something unique that pushes the boundaries of its genre – but ultimately falls short of being a true masterpiece. It might be awkward to place real masterpieces in this position because the fans of said shows are bound to ask why you placed it below a noticeably inferior story. Of course, the show should still be something that you’d rate a 10, but I’d advise you to steer clear of the big-name titles. A good example would be ef – a tale of memories: the show uses a distinctive visual style to tell its story, but it’s hindered by its visual novel roots and moe character designs. An acceptable excuse line of reasoning.

#4 – The Obscure Gem

Ah, obscurity. The word that makes the high-brow critics giddy with excitement. Nothing proves your experience and knowledge as an anime fan more than placing an obscure title in your favourites list. It proves that you have taste, and that you can see things that the average fan can’t.

However, there’s one major pitfall to the obscure gem tactic: how do you know that the show you picked is good? Certainly, many lesser-known anime can be better than they look, but how do they compare to the true legends of the medium? Can one honestly say that Earth Girl Arjuna is better than Ghost in the Shell? Obscure, artsy picks are great for the 4th position because they prove your intellect without forcing you to make claims that are difficult to back up.

#3 – The Classic

I don’t need to tell you that classics are a necessity in every Top 5 list. In every medium, there are a few gems of greatness that appeal to a wide audience while maintaining an above-average ability to convey their message, either intellectually or emotionally. These are the works of art that are praised across the culture, known to the youth in the following generation as a natural part of the universe. Romeo and Juliet are symbols, not characters; lightsaber is no longer a proper noun.

It is essential to pick one of these world-renowned classics as one of your favourites, even in the world of anime. Titles such as Cowboy Bebop and Grave of the Fireflies are a good starting point. They’re the kind of shows that every fan must watch and enjoy, because every fan in the previous generation has watched and enjoyed them. However, since you don’t want to risk sounding like a beginner to the medium, mainstream classics should remain near the middle of the list.

#2 – The Work of Art

Art in anime has always been a touchy subject. However, it is indisputable that some series and movies were directed with enough care and attention to reach the same level as the films we revere in Western society. These are the stories that possess enough social, cultural, or emotional value to survive through the ages — true paragons of the medium. The selection of your 2nd favourite anime should be based largely on the shows that you feel passionate about, but you must remember to choose something that has met positive critical and popular reception. Solid choices include 5 Centimeters Per Second and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

#1 – The Unique, Obscure, Classic, Artsy Masterpiece

In other words, a combination of all of the above.

In a nutshell, your favourite anime should reflect all of the traits that made your previous shows selectable, minus the flaws. A #1 choice must be simply perfect, and you must be prepared enough to back up this claim. It’s a difficult task, but as a budding member of the otaku community, it is one that you must undertake. A favourite anime must be original, pushing the boundaries of its genre; it should be relatively obscure and unknown to a casual fan. It must be a classic while simultaneously not being mainstream; a well-respected show that is only known among those who are “in the know.” On top of that, it should be able to demonstrate expertise in various areas of the art form, proving that it can be shown to your 50-year-old film professor without any embarrassment.

But most importantly, above all of the aforementioned prerequisites, your all-time favourite anime must be something that you can defend. It doesn’t matter if you like it: so long as you arm yourself with the right quotes and terminology and literary jargon, you’ll be prepared to triumph against any plebeian Anime Suki amateur who dares to stand in your way. And if you’ve been following my advice, your #1 choice will be something that the entire community can stand behind, meaning that any naysayers will be blaspheming against anime as a whole. With an impregnable shield and a battalion of cleverly stolen words, you are guaranteed to earn the respect of your peers.

However, it is highly recommended that you pirate the occasional K-ON episode to enjoy in your downtime. If anyone catches you, just say that you’re taking notes for your next great essay on Why Moe Sucks!


– – – – –

To clarify: yes, this is a satire against arguments based on Top 5 lists, partially inspired by TJ Han‘s wise words from a time long past. However, it is not a satire against the recent “What do your top 5 anime say about you?” trend, which is a fun exercise for everyone, if not a little redundant.

Put simply, the self-proclaimed connoisseurs who attempt to factor objective analysis into a show’s enjoyment are always a great target for attack, especially since they’re not as rare as I’d like to think. Favourites are, and always will be, a measure of a person’s enjoyment. Viewers enjoy fiction for objective and subjective reasons, and unless you want every Top 5 list to look like the one above, keep in mind that people assign these ratings based on their own internal scale of quality. It would be quite a world if we were all afraid to speak up for the shows we genuinely enjoy instead of the shows we’re supposed to enjoy.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

ghostlightning November 3, 2009 at 5:26 am


#5 Legend of the Galactic Heroes
#4 Code Geass
#3 The Prince of Tennis
#2 Gundam 00
#1 Bakemonogatari



mefloraine November 3, 2009 at 5:29 am

Right, so picking anime at random wasn’t the correct choice.


Scamp November 3, 2009 at 6:13 am

Oh, those ‘self-proclaimed connoisseurs’. How I hate those people. Anywho, this looks like fun sooo…

5: Last Exile
Chosen because it’s in that catagory of anime that you’ve heard of, been meaning to watch but never get around to it. You always need one of these just so you can say to people ‘What? You haven’t watched Last Exile/RahXephon/Great Teacher Onizuka?’

4: Jungle Wa Itsumo Hale Nochi Guu
It has added effect because of the totally confusing Japanese name that’s impossible to translate correctly, adding to it’s obscurity. Added points if it’s actually made this decade and yet people still haven’t heard of it.

3: Death Note
You’re missing a vital one in there. I think you really need to have a popular one because nothing makes you out to be more of an elitist if you can wholeheartedly admit you like something that’s popular to dislike.

2: Kaiba
Took me a while to come up with this one. Was going to use this as the obscure gem but it’s too recent to put in there

1: Baccano
Just try argue with that one bitch!


gaguri November 3, 2009 at 7:16 am

I don’t know if people enjoy works for objective and subjective reasons. I think it’s all subjective, and we are only being objective about how it might subjectively appeal to us. I say how ‘it might’, since why and how we become connected to a fiction is a complete mystery. There are lots to say about, say, an artistic anime like Mononoke, you can objectively talk about its textures, colours, amazing direction and writing, the list goes on and on and on imo, but at the end of the day anime is more than sum of its parts and something more simple like K-On! can have bigger impact on someone than what Mononoke can offer because it’s all subjective when it comes to audience-anime interaction. Not everyone has to be a critic about what they watch, although being a critic helps picking out its technical merits (which is not necessary to enjoy something).

For me, I’m just more attracted to, and more moved by works like Mononoke than lighter entertainments like K-on!. I can talk about the anime itself in objective terms, like its visuals and direction, and I can relate how it ties to its themes, etc. but that’s just something interesting I can point out and talk about, and not something I would use to define my enjoyment (or rather, the reason why I become immersed in it).


ETERNAL November 7, 2009 at 5:30 pm

That’s definitely the truth. The shows with more technical merit tend to be seen as “elitist” and can give off the wrong image, but it’s quite possible to be genuinely moved by them. I’m sure that most true LoGH fans would agree with that.


2DT November 3, 2009 at 7:19 am

On a related note, I wonder how many people genuinely like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, versus people who simply read about it on Wikipedia and say they like it.


ghostlightning November 3, 2009 at 3:10 pm

The members of the LotGH MAL club definitely count.


schneider November 4, 2009 at 2:45 am

Woe to those who would pretend! :(

It’s not something you can just read up on, I think. It strikes at the heart just as much as it strikes at the mind, so people who do so would miss up on A LOT of stuff.


animekritik November 3, 2009 at 7:25 am

ach, that was an entertaining read. by that measure i could come up with the following list:

5 – Marmalade Boy – good but not great due to the studio’s decision to extend the show by an extra unplanned 25 episodes or so.

4 – Marmalade Boy – These days it’s pretty obscure. I imagine most people haven’t seen it.

3 – Marmalade Boy – Every fan of every generation must watch and enjoy this.

2 – Marmalade Boy – No doubt it’s a work of shoujo art.

1 – Marmalade Boy – I defended the series in my blog. My defense was so superior that I RECEIVED NO COMMENTS / REBUTTALS. Word.


usagijen November 3, 2009 at 7:41 am

That made this Marmalade Boy-hater LOL XD


Ryan A November 3, 2009 at 9:18 am

OMG, thank goodness I wasn’t drinking anything atm.


usagijen November 3, 2009 at 7:58 am

Recently, I found myself thinking of my Top 5 anime favorites (or at least those I placed in MAL), and realized that my list is just a bunch of pretentious crap. I watched them, thought they were awesome, but didn’t genuinely love them (sorry Darker than Black, Princess Tutu, Honey and Clover), at least not yet. I hate how objectivity got in the way of this ‘cheap selection’.

I thought it was an insult to the series to be included in my list when my feelings weren’t real yet, so I removed them first. From now on, I say “Objectivity be damned!”


ETERNAL November 7, 2009 at 5:40 pm

For better or worse, I feel the same way. It felt blasphemous for me to assign shows like Gundam 0080 an 8, but it would be even worse to make the whole thing up. I don’t mind looking like a typical soft-hearted moe fan~


Ryan A November 3, 2009 at 9:29 am

Yea, objectivity can be sought, so long as we realize it’ll never happen. I personally don’t have my Top 5 or w/e listen anywhere, but it’s an interesting concept as usual… maybe I should do this one day…. oddly enough I think there would be more comedy/slice/lovecom than anything in my picks, with Bebop being #1 (typical, but for many reasons). Other titles would probably include (unordered) FLCL, The Crest/Banners, the Nodame’s, the Minami’s, possibly an Ouran or FMP!… and I’d like to say School Rumble, but the anime wasn’t that great for the source material.

So in the end, I really don’t know… but I likely can name a bunch which aren’t top 5/favorites… wait, what’s the difference in top 5/10/20/etc and favorites >_>


Mia November 3, 2009 at 10:55 am

Come on, make a guide for your top 20 favourite anime, you now you want to


kadian1364 November 3, 2009 at 11:15 am

Nice read. Made all the funnier because my actual 5 fits to a goddamned T! Zing! Now I got all those anime arrows sticking through my chest. :)

How about the process of selecting Honorable Mentions? It’d be something like:
Honorable Mentions is a supplementary list of 3-5 additional anime titles that both expands on the common themes among the top 5, but also broadens your public image and experience.

Typically includes:
1) One silly s’life/pure comedy series you actually like more than something in your top 5, but doesn’t belong there because of less universal acclaim. However inclusion in your Honorable Mentions widens your rep as a connoisseur with an open mind.

2) Something similar to one of your top 5 with a twist, but usually not as good. Reinforces genre preferences you want to portray.

3) A “Guilty Pleasure”, whatever the hell that means.

4) One recent, purely mainstream title to show that you still connect to the common fan.

5) Finally, another, even more obscure show that befuddles both those who don’t and do know, just to say, “Don’t try to define me! My tastes are unpredictable man!”

With that, your well crafted Internet image is secured among the fans new and old, and anybody who is anybody will look to you for expertise and wisdom.


ETERNAL November 7, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Not bad! It not only proves your experience, but also protects you from the criticism of posts like this!


OGT November 3, 2009 at 11:50 am

To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme and figures of speech, then ask two questions: 1) How artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered and 2) How important is that objective? Question 1 rates the poem’s perfection; question 2 rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining the poem’s greatness becomes a relatively simple matter.

If the poem’s score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness.

A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great. As you proceed through the poetry in this book, practice this rating method. As your ability to evaluate poems in this matter grows, so will, so will your enjoyment and understanding of poetry.

(I know it’s from Dead Poets Society but it was ripped almost verbatim from Perrine’s Literature)


ETERNAL November 7, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Of all the random references to pull, this is probably the most relevant. Good job :D


Blowfish November 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Haha you pretty much summed up why I hate all those fabricated Top 5 Lists ^^
I mean way too many people care about their image than listing shows they actually really like



lolikitsune November 3, 2009 at 12:53 pm

#5: Aria the OVA: Arietta

#4: Aria the Animation

#3: Aria the Natural

#2: Aria the Origination

#1: Honey & Clover

… why are you looking at me like that?


Slypheristic November 3, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Ok, Let’s try this.

#5: AIR TV (it works, right?)
#4: Excel Saga
#3: Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
#2: Hidamari Sketch (literally art rofl)
#1: Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei (the entire series.)


lolikitsune November 3, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Suzumiya is a classic now…?
Jesus fuck.

That’s so wonderful.


schneider November 4, 2009 at 3:12 am

Sounds fun, lemme try!

#5 – Getter Robo Armageddon (would’ve been great-to-excellent if Imagawa never left~)
#4 – Tekkaman Blade (debatably obscure but I know very few people who’ve watched this)
#3 – Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind (har har)
#2 – RahXephon (It’s calling me again~)
#1 – Wings of Honneamise (come on!)

Yeah I pulled this one out of my ass…


Hyro November 4, 2009 at 9:24 pm

I thought this was pretty true. I hate trying to rate things on pure objectivity. It just doesn’t work. A good example is as follows. An English teacher in high school was teaching us MLA essay format and it’s uses. He straight out said that the structure of MLA is great for essays, but crappy for things such as love letters.
Imagine writing a love letter in such a format. Introduction: in which you state your thesis (i.e. I love you). Body: consisting of arguments to prove that your thesis is, indeed, correct. Conclusion: In which you powerfully restate your thesis. See? Soulless.
I’m really bad at making top five lists anyways. I like too many shows :P


Shiro, Long Tail's November 5, 2009 at 10:28 am

Prior to reading this I didn’t put much thought into the order in which people place their favorites on MAL, mostly because I didn’t realize you could reorder them OTL.


Sam November 5, 2009 at 3:00 pm

My mal fits too!
5. Bakemonogatari (so close, and yet so far. blame Shaft and blame 24min limitations)
4. Glassy Ocean (not obscure enough? not a series? then Kuruneko)
3. Azumanga Daioh (beautiful, funny, deep, getting old)
2. Mushishi (unbeatable artsiness, in story and animation)
1. FLCL (short sharp sexy surreal)

Honourable mentions:
1. (One silly s’life) Ichigo Mashimaro or Sketchbook ~full color’s~
2. (Reinforce) Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei
3. (Guilty Pleasure) Hetalia Axis Powers? Colorful? Railgun? Needless?
4. (purely mainstream) Soul Eater and One Piece
5. (confuse) Cromartie High or Dead Leaves


Misu November 7, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Top 5 anime? PFFF, where’s this notion come from? I maintain a list of all my anime, separated into two distinctly easy to differentiate categories: like and do not like


TopAnimes.Net November 16, 2009 at 3:44 am

This is also a good way of selecting your top animes. Thanks!


Aorii November 17, 2009 at 8:19 am

Nice list that gave me quite a few things to consider, thanks! Surprisingly, my top anime pickings seem to already be roughly following this guide, except of course some of the orders are swapped.

As far as they go, all anime have shortcomings. I’ve yet to see a series that’s perfect in every way, be it tying up loose ends, pacing, character consistency, etc. But hitting one end of the masterpiece in anyone’s book should be enough to put it up for consideration. I think that’s what separates the lower ranked to the higher ranked in the top 5: the lessers (#4 & #5) are those who hit one of the fields you loved with such intensity that you don’t mind it screwed up many of the other parts, while the top (#1 & #2) has to satisfy one’s demands in… maybe all but one field.

Take me for example, my #5 (Da Capo II Second Season) managed to build up and execute a chain climax better than any series I’ve seen and made me baw endlessly for multiple episodes in a row, even on second and third rerun. But there isn’t anything else I’d say its a masterpiece of.
My #2 (Infinite Ryvius) however, is a slightly obscure Sunrise masterpiece that fell short of perfect only because they rushed somewhat on the end. Give it ~3 more episodes it would have been undisputed, in my book anyhow.


N June 30, 2011 at 6:09 am

1. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
2. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
3. Cowboy Bebop
4. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei / FLCL
5. K-ON!


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