Japenese Media Recommendations¶
During my 20 month Japanese learning journey I've consumed a lot of Japanese media. It might not be enough to prevent me from being gatekeeped for self-identifying as a weeb, but I've seen enough to have opinions, so I'm documenting them here and hoping it inspires you to check it out as well. Light spoilers ahead about themes!
I'm going to avoid some of the obvious ones since almost every living being on earth has shilled the following mainstream animes. I've watched them and have also immensely enjoyed them, but I don't think I'm contributing any new opinion than the ones that are already out there.
- Attack on Titan
- Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
- Demon Slayer
- Cowboy Bebop
- Death Note
Animes I felt were overrated: * Hunter x Hunter * Spy x Family * Your Lie in April
Puella Magi Madoka Magica¶
When writer Gen Urobuchi, famously known for writing dark and gritty stories, was listed as the writer for an anime about magical girls, people weren't sure what to expect.
Madoka Magica is an anime about magical girls that turns itself upside down. It's this subversion of expectations that makes it hard for me to shill Madoka Magica without robbing people of the pleasure of wondering how a magical girl anime could feel a bit off...
If there's any single anime that I wished more people watched, it's Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Be sure to watch the movie "Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion" since it is the continuation of the anime series.
Shirobako is an anime about the anime industry. I enjoyed the anime during a phase in my life where I was going through some career turbulence. Shirobako shone a bit of light of some of the issues individuals may have with their careers. What kind of work do they want to do? How do they work with difficult people? How do they deal with imposter syndrome or negative feelings? This anime doesn't shy away from it nor goes too far deep in the jaded-and-woke antiwork commentary either. It just feels like a wholesome and relatable anime sprinkled with interesting characters, comedy, and an appreciation for how much work goes into making anime.
Not all visual novels are about porn! There are a lot of good stories that lend itself well to the VN medium. VN's allow readers to explore how their choices can affect the plot points, incorporate visuals and light animations with story, and bring often stellar voice acting into the medium. Visual novels have culturally been a low-barrier outlet for some writers to explore their ideas without the budget for an anime production or the labor intensity of drawing manga. This results in a flourishing industry that has created some amazing story-telling like the Fate and Steins;Gate.
Tokyo Necro is a fantastically produced sci-fi VN that explores themes around life and death, free will and fate, individual vs society, and man vs machine, all revolving around a hyped up plot of a squad of badasses fighting zombies in a cyberpunk setting. It includes animated action sequences and spectacular fight scenes and fantastic character exploration.
What I enjoyed particularly about this VN was how seemingly small choices lead to wildly different outcomes while staying true to each character's personality and motivations. There is a butterfly effect from each choice that creates a chain reaction of effects that create a completely new and refreshing plot that brings unexpected alliances together, uncovers new information that inform the overarching plot, and explores new themes about this inhabited.
Saya no Uta¶
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This is a fun visual novel that does meta-commentary on visual novels by pushing the limits of the story-telling mechanics, wrapped in a love story. Full of fun surprises, witty humor, and a divided fandom of best girl, this VN is not recommended for first timers until they are familiar with the medium.
Manga remains one of the few ways Japanese artists could maintain the entirety of storytelling control to themselves.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf Also Told a Lie Today (Ookami Shounen)¶
This manga is a gender bender romcom about a boy when crossdresses as a girl to get closer to his crush. Contrary to what Japanese culture may have you believe what would unfold with this premise, this manga has defied all my expectations by telling a story with mature and human characters. The whole story fits in 5 volumes, and the author doesn't milk the premise nor play into the typical tropes. Ookami shounen is probably my favorite piece of manga I've read so far (though tbf I haven't read that many).
Super hyped up manga and anime, I thought the anime didn't do a good job portraying the raw and visceral art style you'll read from Fujimoto's drawings. The world-building of this manga has been well fleshed out and it feels like an action-heavy series that keeps you on your seat.
Created by the some author as Chainsaw man, Fire Punch is a gritty story of a man out for vengeance in post-apocolyptic world. Fire Punch deals with themes of vengeance, salvation, purpose of life, and nihilism, packed in an action-filled, bloody story very similar to Chainsaw Man
Blue Lock is a battle-royale manga that uses soccer as the arena in which players face off each other. It subverts typical sports anime tropes around teamwork and unity by highlighting the importance of selfishness and ego. The art style is motion packed and the plot leaves you on the edge of your seat. The deconstruction of some aspects of soccer allows for interesting interactions. Former teammates become enemies, enemies because teammates. I feel like the recently aired anime adaptation of Blue Lock doesn't do the manga justice in showcasing the intensity of emotions and the stakes involved in the plot.
I have a bias against light novels because since light novels are text only (and I read them in Japanese), they require a high level of comprehension to understand the plot and a fast enough reading speed to not make the pacing feel like a crawl. As someone in my Japanese language learning server jokes, "anything can be an arc if you read slow enough".