All ratings are accurate as of 12/03/2015
Not every anime can be Aldnoah.Zero or Hell Girl. There's definitely a time and place for heavy, dark stories, but we all have to cheer up at some point. Whether slice-of-life or adventure, comedy or romance, short or long, we challenge you to suppress a smile while watching something from this list.
MAL Rated 8.44, Ranked #128 | Aired Summer 2008 | Produced by Brains Base
If you try to see the good in everything...
After Takashi Natsume's grandmother passes away, he inherits her mysterious Book of Friends. The book's title is a bit of a misnomer: within it are the names of many youkai, or spirits, that Natsume's grandmother enslaved. Like Yubaba in Spirited Away, Natsume's grandmother stole the names of the youkai to bind them to serve her, and Natsume decides to use the book to free them all...even the evil ones.
Keep tissues on hand for this one, because it's heartwarming and heartbreaking throughout. Many of the youkai in the Book of Friends appear evil at first, but are actually misunderstood and shunned by humans and youkai alike. Natsume shies away from his duty to the youkai at first, but his own abusive past leads him to sympathize with them and gradually heal. An episode of Natsume's Book of Friends may make you cry, but those tears will always end up as tears of joy. And as we all know, happy tears are the best kind!
MAL Rated 7.90, Ranked #660 | Aired Spring 2009 | Produced by Kyoto Animation
If you've ever wanted to start a band...
High school freshman Yui Hirasawa joins the light music club just to have something to do after school. The only problem is that she doesn't know how to play an instrument! Yui and her bandmates may not be the most musically gifted students, but what they lack in experience they make up for in dedication.
As high school slice of life goes it's fairly standard: there's the friendly girl, the serious girl, the ambitious girl and the airhead. But while K-On! starts out mostly focused on schoolgirl antics, the girls' dream of starting a band and playing the Budokan slowly builds steam. If you have a musical background, you'll see a lot of yourself in Yui and friends, whether they're saving money to buy a guitar or gushing over Jeff Beck's technical skill. Cute, relatable, and with a great ear for rock, K-On! might be all the motivation you need to pick up an instrument again. Even if you don't play instruments, the adorable cast and their happy days of club activities are sure to cheer you up!
MAL Rated 8.10, Ranked #414 | Aired Fall 2013 | Produced by Silver Link
If you grew up in the middle of nowhere...
With all that goes on in the cities of Japan, rural slice-of-life is surprisingly underrepresented in anime. Enter Non Non Biyori, set in the out-of-the-way village of Asahigaoka. The show follows five girls ranging from first to eighth grade. They're all in the same class, because Asahigaoka is just that small.
The adventures of Asahigaoka's schoolgirls are bite-sized stories with little continuity; each episode is titled like a diary entry, such as "Summer Vacation Started," "We Made Snow Houses"...and "I Became A Ghost and Tried Hard." If the titles alone didn't already have you smiling, watching the girls interact is sure to make you happy!
It's also insanely pretty. Non Non Biyori is set in a lovingly drawn and detailed countryside, from the forested mountains surrounding the village to the one schoolteacher's family's rice field. If you're not lost in the scenery, you'll be aww-ing over the girls' friendship, with all the innocence, curiosity, and even romance that it has to offer. Rural life has never looked so tempting"
If cute children bring out your maternal or paternal side, also check out Barakamon!
MAL Rated 8.68, Ranked #43 | Aired Spring 2014 | Produced by Production I.G
If you like playing volleyball...
After seeing a volleyball match on TV, pint-sized Shouyou Hinata starts his own volleyball club. Although he's the only member, he practices hard every day for months. Eventually he forms a team of amateurs to compete in the school tournament, only to get wrecked by star setter Tobio Kageyama, the "King of the Court." Then in high school, they're put on the same team!
It's fun to watch former archenemies get used to each other. Kageyama in particular is a joy to watch; initially he bristles at his upbeat teammate, but learns to work with Hinata to make the whole team stronger than any one of its members alone. The team dynamic is excellent: all of Hinata and Kageyama's teammates are quirky in their own way, but don't hesitate to step up for each other. Ever tried your hardest at something, only to get smacked down? Ever wanted someone to help you up afterward? You might get hooked on Haikyuu!! The characters' camaraderie will make even non-sports fans smile!
MAL Rated 8.06, Ranked #449 | Premiered Mar 2, 2013 | Produced by Trigger
If you're a Harry Potter fan...
In just over 20 minutes, Studio Trigger immerses you in the most magical school this side of Hogwarts, full of fantastical creatures and mysterious artifacts just waiting to be discovered. Heroine Akko Kagari's boundless curiosity is stoked from the beginning by a magical light show that puts any mortal fireworks display to shame. Little Witch Academia knows wonder, and it doesn't hesitate to wow you.
What follows is the prelude to a story of learning, perseverance, and maturity, as Akko works with her more naturally gifted classmates to save the school from a monstrous dragon. Everyone has a part to play in the explosive finale of Little Witch Academia; although we aren't with the characters for long, the strength of their personalities leaves us wanting more. Happily, a 53 minute long movie, Little Witch Academia: Mahou Shikake no Parade was released!
MAL Rated 7.49, Ranked #1533 | Aired Winter 2005 | Produced by AIC
If you want to see good things happen to good people...
Keiichi Morisato is a hardworking, loyal college student; like many male romantic comedy protagonists, he's a bit of a doormat. When he dials a wrong number and ends up calling Heaven, the goddess Belldandy appears to grant him a wish—so he asks for her to stay with him!
The challenges of Keiichi and Belldandy's relationship create an unpredictable formula as they interfere in each other's lives. One day Belldandy is enlisted to save Keiichi's auto club; the next she's protecting him from demons. All the while they dance around confessing their feelings—Keiichi's too shy and Belldandy's too naive. Then her sisters move in, and things really get messy. With an adorable romance and the most relaxing opening you'll ever see, Ah! My Goddess is the perfect palate cleanser after a deliciously lewd summer season.
MAL Rated 8.53, Ranked #91 | Aired Spring 2011 | Produced by Kyoto Animation
If awkwardness makes you laugh...
Its English title is My Ordinary Life, and that's pretty much all there is to say about it. It's a series of loosely connected episodes in the lives of several high school students, who do ordinary things like throwing birthday parties, playing pranks, and taking tests. You could start anywhere and it would make the same amount of sense.
One of the students is a robot. A pint-sized mad scientist makes a scarf that allows cats to talk, and the principal squares off against a deer in a life-or-death wrestling match. Nichijou is fun because it's ordinary and bizarre at the same time, taking big things lightly and small things seriously. The episode where protagonist Yuuko Aioi buys coffee is a masterpiece of awkwardness that will leave you happily giggling all day.
MAL Rated 7.74, Ranked #927 | Aired Spring 2010 | Produced by Shaft
If you think you were born in the wrong world...
This one's downright weird, and that's a good thing. Young professional Kou Ichinomiya aims to be a successful industrialist, vowing never to be in anyone's debt. That changes when he nearly drowns in the Arakawa River and is saved by Nino, a girl who lives under a bridge. Kou reluctantly offers his life to Nino, embarking on a profoundly odd life in a shantytown under Nino's bridge. Kou discovers what true happiness is about.
Comedy is all about contrasts, and Arakawa Under the Bridge is made of them. The rich kid living among denpasan (a Japanese term describing eccentric people) is a constant source of hilarious culture clash: for example, the chief, an old man in a monster costume, insists he's a centuries-old kappa. As Kou adapts to his new home, you'll grow to find that the village makes a screwy kind of sense.
MAL Rated 6.64, Ranked #4526 | Aired Summer 2015 | Produced by Office DCI
If you're a foodie...
This is the shortest anime on this list, and that's part of what makes it great. Wakako-zake is a series of two-minute shorts about a hardworking woman's love for good food. After a long day at the office, there's nothing Wakako Murasaki loves more than finding a good dish at a new restaurant.
Wakako leaves work, goes to a small eatery and gives us a blow-by-blow account of what goes into making a good dinner. The show never deviates from that formula, and it doesn't need to. The peace of sitting down to well-made Japanese cuisine is infectious enough on its own. Wakako's happiness is palpable in the "pshuuu" of bliss she utters every episode after the first bite. If you've ever wondered how an anime can exist without a plot, look up Wakako-zake. Then go whip up some monkfish liver in ponzu.
MAL Rated 7.81, Ranked #813 | Aired Winter 2014 | Produced by Bones
If you thought Cowboy Bebop wasn't funny enough...
About every other season, the anime industry gives us a show that isn't afraid to be balls-to-the-wall insane. Space Dandy was that show back in 2014. There's no continuity to be found here; alien hunter Dandy and the crew of the starship Aloha Oe can end up marooned, dead, or erased from existence and show up for the next episode as good as new. If there are no consequences, how can the plot possibly be interesting?
Because it's just too funny. Dandy and his engineer Meow are lazy womanizers barely held in check by obsolete robot QT, crossing the universe in search of adventure and hot girls. Their ridiculous luck and surprising skill under pressure get them out of the craziest situations, particularly a holy war between vest-worshipers and underwear-worshipers. Each episode has a different animation director, so the action always stays fresh. Few anime can claim to be as fun as Space Dandy—or to have an English dub as pitch-perfect.
MAL Rated 8.39, Ranked #162 | Aired Winter 2008 | Produced by Imagin
If you think Settlers of Catan needs more romance...
This one is sometimes described as "Economics: the Anime", and that's not untrue. Traveling merchant Kraft Lawrence is our protagonist, and much of the plot revolves around his business dealings in a Germanesque medieval setting. The rustic fantasy is disrupted by a young girl named Holo, who is actually a 600-year-old wolf goddess.
What follows is a slow-and-steady romance that starts, continues, and ends in a business relationship: Lawrence allows Holo to travel with him and see the world in exchange for companionship and advice. Though their dynamic starts off rocky, the two are drawn ever closer as they fend off crooked merchants and the forces of the Church. You might be surprised how closely you follow the financial side of it, even as you get hooked on the unconventional love story.
MAL Rated 9.05, Ranked #10 | Aired Sring 2006 | Produced by Sunrise
If you don't take anything seriously...
A friend pitched this to me as "Japanese South Park." While not nearly as crass, Gintama is full of social commentary and parody. Set in the late Edo period (early 1800s) in a Japan ruled by aliens, it tells the story of ex-samurai Gintoki Sakata, a freelancer who does odd jobs according to his obsolete samurai code.
Like Nichijou, this anime finds unlikely humor in mundane situations, such as a battle of wits between Gintoki and his roommates over how to split up the last of their food. The goofiness makes a great contrast to Gintoki's clinging to tradition, and as the show progresses it lampoons everything from shounen clichés to real-world politicians. Want to see a villain beg for mercy so he can watch his favorite show one last time? Gintama might be for you.
MAL Rated 8.62, Ranked #58 | Aired Fall 1999 | Produced by Toei Animation
If you fancy an adventure on the high seas...
Pirates are always in style, and in the world of One Piece there's never been a better time to be one. The Golden Age of Pirates is upon us, sparked by the dying words of their king, who challenged the world to find his buried treasure. So begins the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates.
Though the search for the legendary One Piece is the centerpiece of the series, Luffy's quest is as much about meeting new people and discovering new lands as it is about getting rich. Though based mostly on the seas, the vast world ranges from mountains to deserts and enormous underwater palaces. Luffy's crew is as diverse as the lands they explore, including an intelligent reindeer and an undead jazz musician. Oh, and they all traded their ability to swim for superpowers. Not sure how that works on an ocean? Watch One Piece and prepare to laugh.
MAL Rated 7.93, Ranked #618 | Aired Spring 2007 | Produced by Kyoto Animation
If you're in high school (or wish you still were)...
Four girls attend school together. One is lazy but intelligent. One is a star student and a tsundere. One is clumsy and forgetful. One is an overly friendly rich girl. Archetypes? Sure. But beyond these familiar personalities and their humorous clashes, Lucky Star is also incredibly relatable. There's little in the way of major plot, putting the focus on the silly antics and conversations between Konata Izumi and friends.
You're certain to see a little of yourself and your friend group in this show. Whether the girls are working part-time to pay for manga, competing in a bread-eating contest, or discussing what makes someone a lolicon, this show finds the best kind of humor in the mundane. Teenagers make big things out of little things, and that skewed perspective is ripe for comedy.
And Many More...
Anime can tell every conceivable story and convey all kinds of emotions, and some of the best are psychological thrillers and dark fantasies. But for every Death Note there is an Azumanga Daioh! We need to take the happy and the heavy together, or those feelings wouldn't have any meaning. Even if you're the type who doesn't bat an eye at Monster, break up the serious every once in a while with something cheerful. You'll appreciate both all the more.