Anime Club Picks: Crunchyroll

Librarians across the country run Japanese manga and anime clubs of all types, most frequently appealing to middle school and high school age fans.  In recent years it’s been trickier to navigate getting the appropriate licenses to show anime, but now the streaming site Crunchyroll has stepped up and offered access to their many streaming series to libraries.

Any club, library, or convention can sign up via Crunchyroll’s outreach service to gain a free subscription to their streaming service.  To sign up, you must agree to have at least two anime screenings during each quarter, or 90-day period, and fill out a feedback form after each screening.  As you sign up, Crunchyroll will ask a few questions — age range of viewers, shows you’re keen to screen, and whether you’re a member of YALSA, the library’s mailing address — and then you’re set to go.

The best thing about Crunchyroll is that they have a wide range of shows, both brand new and older, and if you sign up through their library service, there are no ads.

A few pointers for using Crunchyroll with your club:

  1. There are no age ratings on Crunchyroll, so think through which shows you’ll screen ahead of time.  If possible, pre-screen titles to be sure they fit with your club and community standards.  Teen members may not have quite the same radar as librarians for what’s appropriate, so initially it’s a good idea to take a look at series yourself.
  2. The videos are all streaming, so be sure you have either a solid wireless connection or a wired connection that will allow the videos to stream without interruption.  It’s incredibly convenient to have streaming choices, but it’s also terribly frustrating if your connection delays or disrupts play.
  3. The majority of videos on Crunchyroll are subtitled, not dubbed.  In my library’s club at the Public Library of Brookline, watching the titles with Japanese dialog and English subtitles is part of the point of the club experience.  However, if you have any members in your club who devotees of dubbed anime, they will be out of luck.

To help all of you librarians and clubs out there get to know the options offered, we’ve curated a list of the best Crunchyroll titles available for club screenings.  Read on and enjoy!

This list of over thirty recommended titles was compiled by our anime enthusiasts on staff: Jenny, Jessikah, Marissa, Thomas, and Allen.  If you have any questions, ask ‘em in the comments!

The Best of Crunchyroll

5CentimetersPerSecond5 Centimeters per Second

Distributor/Producer: CoMixWave Films
Release Year: 2007
Elevator Pitch: Two people who’ve gradually lost touch with one another look back at their once-close childhood relationship and wonder about what might have been.  This early Makoto Shinkai film is as quiet, beautiful, and melancholic as we’ve come to expect from anything he creates.  His fascination with animating the play of light is almost reason enough to watch his films.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of bittersweet romance and of films more focused on emotion and atmosphere than plot.  The slower pacing and adult-looking-back perspective will probably appeal most to older teen and adult viewers.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There’s not much of concern to note.
Direct link: 5 Centimeters Per Second

 

AnoNatsudeMatteruAno Natsu de Matteru

Distributor/Producer: Showgate (Sentai)
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: This series centers on a small-town teen witness to a strange explosion he later remembers nothing about.  He gets together with his friends over the summer in order to make a movie about aliens, not immediately realizing that the cute new upperclassman who has conveniently moved in with him for the interim may actually be an alien herself.  Pretty animation, unique characters, and surprising twists on a seemingly familiar premise make this funny, romantic, sometimes dramatic series worth a watch.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of other teen-boy-meets-alien?-girl stories, only with a little more emotional drama and a little less action (although there’s plenty of the latter bookending the show).
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Potential alien Takatsuki is clearly drawn with fan service in mind and doesn’t always go around the house in full attire.
Direct link: Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer)

 

ArakawaUndertheBridgeArakawa Under the Bridge

Distributor/Producer: NIS America
Release Year: 2010 / 2010
Elevator Pitch: When debt-averse corporate heir Ko loses his pants and falls off a bridge, he’s rescued by Nino, a beautiful but spacey young woman who lives beneath the bridge, claims to be from Venus, and asks him to pay her back by “experiencing love” with her.  Drawn into her community of riverside eccentrics–including a kappa-costumed chief, a star-masked guitarist, a well-armed nun in drag, and many, many others–Ko doesn’t realize just how well he fits in with the variously odd, ill, and wounded individuals who’ve found a home and acceptance on the riverbank.  Unpredictable, hysterical, and heart-squeezing.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of stories about quasi families, flawed point-of-view characters, and all around nuttiness.  The off-the-wall humor and personalities have a lot in common with Gintama, though perhaps a little more refined.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The humor can be a little adult in nature and there are occasionally-bared bottoms, but nothing graphic or gratuitous and no sex (despite what you might think from the premise).  Some of the characters may have more colorful vocabularies than others and there’s a good deal of humor-based violence with characters beating or shooting the tar out of one another with no lasting damage.
Direct link: Arakawa Under the Bridge

 

BeyondtheBoundaryBeyond the Boundary

Distributor/Producer: TBS (Sentai)
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Akihito, an easygoing boy of mixed human and youmu (a type of dangerous supernatural being) parentage, finds his immortality being tested daily by shy new student Kuriyama.  Having someone try to kill you every day gets tiresome. He eventually persuades her to practice her youmu hunting skills on actual threats, but personal and communal secrets and corruption could undermine their fragile friendship and put everyone around them in danger.  This series has some engaging drama and humor, but the attractive visuals and especially the fluidly animated action scenes are the clear highlight and make the less carefully tended narrative nevertheless worth your time.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of moe heroines, half-monster heroes, and emotional fantasy action.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Akihito’s friend’s year-older brother has an openly acknowledged sister complex played for laughs.
Direct link: Beyond the Boundary

 

 

BlueExorcistBlue Exorcist

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2011
Elevator Pitch: Learning that he’s literally the son of Satan understandably throws teenage Rin for a loop. Still, the love and support of family and friends and his faith in his own better nature help him to accept himself, build lasting bonds, and fight the forces of darkness that threaten their world.  To do that, he enrolls in a mysterious school for exorcists where he learns how to deal with other people as well as how to control his powers so he can someday take on his old man.  Rin’s a fun, surprisingly angst-free lead in this supernatural action series.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of teamwork stories, supernatural battles, and cheerful half-demon heroes who aren’t into brooding.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: A female teacher looks like a Gurren Lagann‘s Yoko wanna-be, only with less class and more ill-fitting attire and for no discernible reason other than to be tacky eye-candy.  Milder fan service crops up with a few other female characters. With all the demon fighting / exorcising, there’s a fair amount of fantasy violence.  Though it’s not gratuitous, it can be bloody, particularly with the emotionally intense yet narrative-essential death of a loved one early on in the series.
Direct link: Blue Exorcist

 

ChihayafuruChihayafuru

Distributor/Producer: NTV
Release Year: 2011 / 2013
Elevator Pitch: When shy boy Arata introduces kind tomboy Chihaya to the sport of karuta (a Memory-like card game in which opponents race to retrieve the card representing the second half of a recited classical poem), a fire is lit inside the middle-schooler and her life changes forever.  Even after Arata moves away, Chihaya lives and breathes karuta, forming a high school team along with her best friend and unnoticed admirer Taichi.  Together they take on the most powerful players in the country, including the reigning Queen.  Watching karuta-obsessed Chihaya strive for her team and herself, and watching those who love her try to slowly work their way into her clueless heart while doing the same, is a joy.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of sports series, poetry, classical literature, karuta (obviously), romance, and friendship tales.  If you enjoyed Hikaru no Go but want more giggles, emotion, and character development (and more action, as karuta combines both intellectual and physical prowess), this is for you.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: No content issues to speak of.
Direct link: Chihayafuru

 

ChisSweetHome2Chi’s Sweet Home: Chi’s New Address

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo
Release Year: 2009
Elevator Pitch: In this sequel series to Chi’s Sweet Home, kitten Chi’s human family moves to a new home and she has to adjust.  Short episodes follow her as she gets to know her new environment and neighbors and settles in.
Suggested Age Range: Kids
Appeals to: Cat lovers and those with a weakness for all things cute, fuzzy, and adorable.
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: There’s not much to worry about with this one beyond the potential for cuteness overload, although that may change as Chi grows up.
Direct link: Chi’s Sweet Home: Chi’s New Address

 

 

DurararaDurarara!!

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2010
Elevator Pitch: Mikado moves from the quiet suburbs to Tokyo’s frenetic Ikebukuro neighborhood to attend high school with his childhood friend, Kida.  One by one, Kida introduces Mikado to the colorful locals but warns him away from the more dangerous elements.  Unfortunately–or fortunately?–he can’t seem to avoid running into the latter, and soon the whole neighborhood is caught up in a complicated web of personal and supernatural secrets, underworld schemes, and corporate conspiracies.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of Baccano!‘s jumbled chronology, large and kooky cast, and smart, edgy, gleeful writing.  Urban legend and folklore fans, social media addicts, and otaku will get a kick out of this, as well.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Though this series isn’t nearly as darkly violent as Baccano!, gang warfare can get pretty rough, as can a mysterious slasher roaming the alleys.  Vending machines and lamp posts are used as weapons with surprising frequency (hee!).  A pair of issue-ridden siblings have a disturbingly codependent relationship.  A creepy teacher has his eye on a busty student.  And a prominent female character has a non-graphic shower scene.
Direct link: Durarara!!

 

EccentricFamilyThe Eccentric Family

Distributor/Producer: Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation (YTV) (NIS America)
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Modern-day Kyoto finds humans, tengu, and tanuki sharing the same streets, but tensions are on the rise since the tragic death of the tanuki patriarch several years ago.  Now his widow and four sons struggle to look after one another as politics, a bitter feud, and the dreaded Friday Fellows hotpot threaten far more than just the stability of their community.  Shape-shifting, phantom trains, and sake-fueled flying teahouses are just a few of the selling points for this funny, dramatic, and surprisingly moving series about the bonds of family.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of folklore, tanuki tales, family stories, and edgy, unpredictable weirdness and wonder.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes:  Yasaburo happily shape-shifts as a human girl for kicks while his mother regularly poses as a flamboyant human prince.  Also, an aging tengu flirts with his human protégé, who is the focus of most of the series’ fan service–she’s attractive, knows it, and uses it–but it fits her and isn’t gratuitous.  The fate of the boys’ father–and third son Yasaburo’s conflicted emotions regarding some of those responsible–takes the series into what might be uncomfortable territory for some viewers while simultaneously defining the show’s life-embracing themes.
Direct link: The Eccentric Family

 

FolktalesFromJapanFolktales from Japan

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: Three short tales per episode relate common Japanese stories from folklore, mythology, and history.  Some are cultural foundations, many are lessons on how to behave, and some are just plain fun.  Japan-ophiles will happily recognize the originals of many popularly referenced figures like Momotaro (the Peach Boy), Princess Kaguya (she of the bamboo stalk), the Crane Wife, and many, many others.  The animation style switches around from tale to tale–cartoony for some, delicately artsy for others–and all the voices are skillfully performed by the same two mature actors.
Suggested Age Range: Younger Teen
Appeals to: Fans of folklore and Japanese culture or anyone who wants to understand more jokes and allusions in their manga and anime without having to rely on an editor remembering to include translation notes.
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: This is marketed to younger kids in Japan.  A few of the stories can be pretty somber and there’s occasional simplistic violence.  But there’s also the likes of a tale revolving around a young wife who passes extremely forcible gas, so there ya go.
Direct link: Folktales from Japan

 

Free!Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Distributor/Producer: ABC Asahi
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: An all-boys swim team grows up and loses a founding member. The rest try to train up a new recruit and compete in a championship despite the return of their former friend as an opponent.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Gentle sense of humor, tales of friendship
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: This series is often billed as “fan service for girls” due to the cast of fit young men in swimming speedos. The camera’s gaze does not get pervy, but be aware the boys on this show will be in various stages of undress.
Direct link: Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

 

 

GankutsuouGankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Distributor/Producer: GONZO (FUNimation, Geneon)
Release Year: 2004
Elevator Pitch: Years after being betrayed by a friend and falsely imprisoned in an isolated space prison, Edmond Dantes returns to his former Parisian home in the guise of a fabulously wealthy and charming count from orbiting Luna in order to wreak terrible revenge on those responsible for his miseries.  But what will he do when innocents threaten to become collateral damage in his initially righteous vendetta?  Dumas’s classic gets a visually stunning, futuristic update, but the darkly fascinating conflict at its core remains the same.
Suggested Age Range: Adult
Appeals to: Lovers of the source material, slowly building psychological plots, complex revenge stories, science fiction, and groundbreaking visuals.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The psychological drama can be intense, with sex and violence more than mere suggestion.
Direct link: Gankutsuou

 

GargantiaGargantia on the Verduous Planet

Distributor/Producer: Production I.G.
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Endless intergalactic war is all Ledo knows until he finds himself cast away on a strange planet covered in water.  Now, Chamber the A.I. in his mecha suit is the only link to Ledo’s old life, and his only method of communicating with the strange inhabitants of a floating city known as Gargantia.  Can Ledo adapt to a quiet life on the high seas or will the echos of the war he left behind threaten his new found peace?
Suggested Age Range: Teen.

Appeals to: Fans of the Gundam series, Martian Successor Nadesico, Full Metal Panic, and even Last Exile should enjoy this.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: There is a bit of fan service in the way of busty female characters and an obligatory swimsuit episode.  The series also takes a rather dark turn in later episodes.
Direct link: Gargantia on the Verduous Planet

 

GintamaGintama

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo (Sentai for Gintama)
Release Year: 2006-2010 / 2012
Elevator Pitch: Instead of Admiral Perry and his “Black Ships,” aliens have forced 19th-century Japan to open its doors to the outside world(s).  A few years later, former rebel samurai and diabetic sugar-fiend Gintoki partners up with Shinpachi (a serious young swordsman and pop idol fan club member)

and Kagura (an alien girl with crazy strength and an appetite to match Gin’s) to run an odd-jobs business.  As they take on everything from lost cats to terrorist plots, the trio bicker amongst themselves, fail to pay the rent, get into trouble with / aid the Shinsengumi (Kyoto’s historical police force).  On top of that, they battle gang bosses, adopt giant alien dogs, befriend the unemployed, and generally laze around, save the day, and leave almost as many messes as they clean up.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of Shonen Jump (the magazine’s other series are often fodder for jokes), alternate histories, sci-fi, the Shinsengumi, samurai action, quasi-family stories, and utter ridiculousness that doesn’t forget that viewers have hearts as well as funny bones.  Viewers who enjoyed Samurai Champloo‘s mix of Edo era and Hip Hop culture and who appreciated the wackiness of its sillier episodes, might enjoy the goofiness and mash-up elements here, too.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The often-juvenile, fourth-wall-breaking humor can be pretty crass and there’s a lot of focus on bodily functions (though thankfully pixelation saves the viewer’s eyes from anything too scarring).  Swords and guns and other weapons get put to good use, with much of the violence fueling the humor and some the drama.  The sub translators do a great job of explaining as many of the non-obvious Japanese pop cultural references as they can (and there are oodles of fun references!), so there can be a lot of text flashing by on the screen.
Direct link: Gintama

 

GurrenLagannGurren Lagann

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2007
Elevator Pitch: Simon lives in a subterranean society, drilling holes whenever he can. He unearths the drill-shaped key to a giant robot, setting off a course of events that will lead to discovering the truth about the surface world and beyond.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Mecha/Action fanatics, big team efforts, strength gained from one’s burning passion for life
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Jiggle-related fan service and leering male gaze.
Direct link: Gurren Lagann

 

 

 

HanasanaIroha

Hanasaku Iroha

Distributor/Producer: Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation (YTV) (NIS America)
Release Year: 2011
Elevator Pitch: Teen Ohana gets shipped off by her single mom to live with her strict grandmother who runs a popular inn in a resort town.  As she struggles to fit in and get to know her prickly guardian, Ohana learns the value or hard work, comes to better understand her flighty mother and other family members, and starts to think about what she wants for her own future.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of coming-of-age stories and family dramas.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The fan service is mostly mild, although one of the guests is a writer of steamy novels and tries to use the young female staff as models for his work.
Direct link: Hanasaku Iroha

 

HouseofFiveLeaves

House of Five Leaves

Distributor/Producer: NIS America
Release Year: 2010
Elevator Pitch: Awkward ronin Masa hires himself out as a bodyguard only to learn that the man he’s protecting is actually part of a kidnapping ring called The Five Leaves.  The more Masa gets to know enigmatic Yaichi and his atypical cohorts, the more he’s drawn into their tightly knit group and the more he sympathizes with their complicated motives.  As the past catches up with them, Masa’s selfless heart may be just as important as his skillful blade in protecting his new comrades from their own demons.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of samurai stories, slowly unraveled mysteries, quasi family stories, and Natsume Ono’s haunted-eyed character art.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Yaichi’s past is not a happy one and a late flashback leaves little doubt as to the sad and bloody violence off-screen.
Direct link: House of Five Leaves

 

KurokosBasketballKuroko’s Basketball

Distributor/Producer: ADK (Bandai)
Release Year: 2012 / 2013
Elevator Pitch: Kuroko—indispensable yet invisible member of The Generation of Miracles, the core players of Japan’s greatest middle school basketball team—decides to keep playing, and growing, in high school despite the fact that his former teammates have all scattered to different schools.  Now his goal is to bond with his new teammates and show the old ones what can be accomplished when they don’t just focus on individual gain.  Fast, over-the-top basketball action, friendship, and teamwork take center stage.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of other fun and involving sports series like Eyeshield 21 and Slam Dunk!.  As with Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, due to the friends-and-rivals themes and the cast of attractive young fellows, yaoi fans seem to get as much (non-canon) fun out of the show as the sports lovers do the basketball.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The sub translators occasionally go with the mildly stronger four-letter alternatives when the boys are under pressure, but not often enough to ruffle too many feathers.  The doting father of the boys’ coach, a female classmate, is somewhat creepily obsessed with his daughter, but thankfully his role is minimal.  The requisite hot springs episode has veiled nudity from both sexes, but everything’s played for laughs and there’s no sexual content.
Direct link: Kuroko’s Basketball

 

LittleWitchAcademiaLittle Witch Academia

Distributor/Producer:  Trigger
Release Year:  2013
Elevator Pitch: Hoping to become just like her idol, a witch named Shiny Chariot, Akko enrolls in Luna Nova Academy.  Sadly, Akko has little magical talent, and her love for Chariot (who is considered to be hokey by “real” witches) makes her a bit of an outcast.  When Diana Cavendish, the most popular girl in school accidentally unleashes a dangerous magic on Luna Nova, only Akko can save the academy, by using Shiny Chariot’s magic.
Suggested Age Range: Younger Teen
Appeals to: Fans of Kiki’s Delivery Service could find much to like in this short.  A sequel is currently in production.
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: There is little to worry about when it comes to content.
Direct link: Little Witch Academia

 

MushishiMushi-Shi

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2014 / 2014
Elevator Pitch: Invisible to most, mushi are elemental life forms of seemingly infinite variety that occasionally cross paths with humans.  When these interactions lead to problems, Ginko remedies them.  Folklore, natural beauty, and deftly created atmosphere make this show the perfect antidote to life’s often frenetic pace. Please note: Crunchyroll only has the license for the OVA (original video animation) release and the sequel series, not the original Mushi-shi.  The first series is available on DVD through Funimation and streaming at their site.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of folklore and quietly absorbing supernatural tales.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The usually quiet tenor of the show (action scenes are rare but very effective) won’t suit all viewers.  Some of the results of human-mushi interaction can be quite dark and somber, but not in the way of graphic horror.
Direct link: Mushi-shi

 

 

MyLittleMonsterMy Little Monster

Distributor/Producer: ADK (Aniplex, TV Tokyo)
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: A friendless, serious girl focused on her studies unintentionally acquires an unpredictable, high-energy, semi-delinquent boyfriend with no social skills, significant emotional baggage, and a big heart.  Will sensible Mitty be able to calm Haru’s wild nature?  Will sweet Haru be able to soften Mitty’s cold one?
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of silly romantic school comedies plus emotional conflict.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Haru throws rape out as a casual verbal threat early on, and while it’s likely he has little idea what he’s saying, it’s still disturbing.  He also isn’t very careful when he gets excited or angry and accidentally bloodies Mitty’s nose on more than one occasion, though this is more clearly part of his character development and one hopes a second season will see him be more conscious and thoughtful of those around him.
Direct link: My Little Monster

 

NagiAsaNagi no Asukara

Distributor/Producer: Showgate (NIS America)
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Four middle-schoolers from an underwater village attend school on the surface and struggle to fit in without losing their heritage or their hearts.  Soon, however, the culture clash and the complicated emotional webs tying the kids from both worlds to one another take a back seat to larger concerns that could affect all life above and below the surface.  The atmosphere in this beautifully animated and carefully sound-edited show is almost a character unto itself including a sunlit seaside village of peeling aquamarine paint, rusting boats, and abandoned bridge supports leading nowhere.  The impressively depicted emotional development of the characters is just that much more reason to watch it.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of love polygons, “the feels,” and subtle fantasy world-building that leaves viewers increasingly goosebump-y and wondering what’s really happening in the bigger picture.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: One supernatural adult character is known to appreciate porn.  There are a few instances of very mild fan service, as with obscured nudity in relevant non-sexual situations or when one of the girls is accidentally walked-in on while changing, but nothing offensive.
Direct link: Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea)

 

NatsumeNatsume Yujin-cho

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo / ADK (NIS America)
Release Year: 2008-2011 / 2012
Elevator Pitch: Natsume has always been able to see yokai (supernatural beings that share the world with humans), but his misunderstood behavior has only gotten him shuffled from one family to another.  Now in high school and finally settled with kind relatives, he discovers his deceased grandmother’s secret book filled with the names of yokai she bested.  Since the potentially powerful book makes him vulnerable to greedy yokai, Natsume strikes a bargain with a strong yokai named Madara (who often takes the form of a tubby calico-ish cat, earning him the nickname Nyanko-sensei.) Madara protects him–and crankily complains–as Natsume returns names to their owners, makes friends, and learns to trust others and himself.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of folklore, quiet supernatural tales with a little action and a lot of emotion, and kitty lovers.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There’s no fan service, but some of the less pleasant yokai (and a few humans) Natsume encounters can be pretty unsettling and violent, though not usually graphically so.  Also, Nyanko-sensei is a hard-drinking yokai kitty.
Direct link: Natsume Yujin-cho (Natsume’s Book of Friends)

 

rwbyRWBY

Distributor/Producer: Rooster Teeth
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: The evil Creatures of Grimm are back. Hunters and Huntsmen, humans who can utilize the magical properties of “Dust” to create weapons, are Earth’s only hope. RWBY follows a group of teens in battle school as they train to become successful warriors. Can these new students set aside their differences and complete their training?
Suggested Age Range: Official DVD rating is 13+
Appeals to: This anime-style CGI series is fast-paced (each episode is between 6 and 11 minutes) and chock full of action. The music and graphics are amazing. The series is familiar yet unique, giving it wide appeal.
Suitable for Middle School? Yes
Content Notes: Mild violence during fight scenes
Direct link: RWBY

 

SpaceBrothersSpace Brothers

Distributor/Producer: Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation (YTV) (Sentai)
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: Brothers Mutta and Hibito have wanted to be astronauts since they were children, but somewhere along the way Mutta got sidetracked.  After headbutting his boss (and subsequently losing his job) at an auto engineering firm, awkward Mutta has the chance to rediscover his love of space and to catch up to his free-spirited little brother–who’s scheduled to be the first Japanese person on the moon.  The path won’t be easy for either of these wicked-smart goofballs, but their bonds of family and friendship, as well as the dedication and sacrifice of their colleagues and those who’ve come before, will support them through good times and bad as they strive for their dream.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Anyone who thought it would be awesome to be an astronaut when they were kids, who casually follows the doings of NASA or JAXA (Japan’s space agency), who can’t help but click on articles about Mars rovers or newly discovered dwarf planets beyond the Kuiper Belt, or who has grinned like a 10-year old while searching Youtube for Chris Hadfield videos.  If you enjoy stories that focus on character and plot development over wall-to-wall action, this show’s patient pace as it follows the daily ins and outs of training, team building, and near-future space science will be an inspiring, uplifting addition to your day.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There’s little fan service to speak of here, though the characters are adults in the main story and a joke here and there may be more directed at that audience (such as Mutta’s conversation with the doctor during his physical).  Similarly, adult characters drink and a few smoke.  Some international astronauts are depicted with unfortunate stereotypes, yet they are all portrayed as sympathetic characters whom the leads eventually get to know and respect as individuals.  The latter doesn’t make the former ok, but it softens any unintentional offense.
Direct link: Space Brothers

 

SwordArtOnlineSword Art Online (SAO)

Distributor/Producer: Madman Entertainment/Aniplex of America
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: Everyone is excited for the official release of SAO, an advanced Virtual Reality MMORPG, but the excitement quickly dwindles when players realize they are the subject of a horrific human experiment. Players are stuck in the game, with any death resulting in death in real life, until someone can beat the game.
Suggested Age Range: T+
Appeals to: One of the hottest shows of summer 2013, SAO effectively portrays every aspect of an MMORPG world as well as the realistic implications of being stuck inside the game, fighting for your life. Fans of virtual reality anime like .Hack//Sign, Summer Wars, and Accel World will love this; however, the series goes far beyond the virtual reality component, which is why it has been so broadly popular.
Suitable for Middle School? No
Content Notes: Lots of psychological warfare going on here in addition to game violence. Part two has more of that going on than part one.
Direct link: Sword Art Online

 

TegamiBachiTegami Bachi: Letter Bee

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo (Sentai)
Release Year: 2009 / 2010
Elevator Pitch: After his mother is taken away by strange men from the Capital, little Lag Sing follows in his idol Gauche’s footsteps to become a Letter Bee who delivers mail (and therefore heart) to individuals across their artificially lit world.  But once he arrives at Bee HQ, he learns Gauche has mysteriously vanished.  Never losing faith in his friend, Lag is determined to find and help both Gauche and his own missing mother while fulfilling his Bee calling and uncovering the truth behind their world’s artificial sun.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of fantasy, friendship tales, government conspiracy stories, sweet crybaby leads, and the color blue.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: To deliver letters, Bees have to use special heart-firing weapons (mostly guns) to dispatch giant armored insects that can leave human victims as nothing but empty shells.  One of the older female Bees is clearly uniformed for fan service reasons (though everything’s covered, it’s low-slung and plenty tight). Lag’s magical assistant, Niche, is a strange, stubborn little girl-being who doesn’t always agree to wear underpants (though as she and Lag are both such innocents, this is only played for humor).  Another magical being pretty much only bothers with “clothes” (e.g., her prehensile hair wrapped around her important bits like armor) for the sake of others’ sensibilities.
Direct link: Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee

 

TimeofEveTime of Eve

Distributor/Producer: DIRECTIONS, Inc.
Release Year: 2008
Elevator Pitch: In the near future, androids are the walking appliance servants of convenience. At the Time of Eve cafe, the cardinal rule is that nobody may discriminate between humans and androids. Androids frequent the cafe without any identifying features to distinguish them from humans. Each episode examines a different customer.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Thinkers, thought experiments, examinations of artificial intelligence
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: This series was originally released as six 15-minute episodes, but watching them all in one sitting like a movie works well.
Direct link: Time of Eve

 

 

TsuritamaTsuritama

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: Yuki moves constantly and has trouble making friends. The friends he makes on the island of Enoshima go fishing together, and together with a duck named Tapioca, they must stop an alien invasion. A breezy summer comedy that slowly builds toward world-at-stake adventure.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Breezy summer comedy
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: There is a girl who wears a bikini for the whole series, but her appearance is not subject to leering
Direct link: Tsuritama

 

 

UtakoiUtakoi

Distributor/Producer: ADK (Aniplex, TV Tokyo)
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: A handful of Japan’s celebrated 100 Poems, familiar to US viewers as those used in the competitive card game of karuta, are loosely adapted into prettily-animated, interconnected stories depicting their poets and the often bittersweet experiences that may have shaped and inspired their art.  Presenting the tales is witty Teiko, one of the authors and the man responsible for the poems’ compilation in the first place.  To balance the melancholy of many of the backstories, amusingly anachronistic framing devices have Teiko chatting up the viewer, appearing on a talk show gossiping about the poets as if they’re reality TV personalities, and taking on a fellow compilation editor in a YuGiOh-style poetry card battle.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of romance, historical fiction, historical literature, anachronism, and especially lovers of Chihayafuru who want to learn more about the poems and poets at its heart.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: As many of the poems revolve around romantic love, sex comes up both as a topic and as plot, though it’s treated with the same courtly decorum as period manners call for, so there’s nothing much on-screen beyond dramatic kisses, pillow talk, and winking wordplay.
Direct link: Utakoi

 

WitchCraftWorksWitch Craft Works

Distributor/Producer: Kodansha
Release Year:  2014
Elevator Pitch:  Honoka Takemiya is always crossing paths with the school “princess”, Ayaka Kagari.  What Takamiya is about to find out is that none of this is a mistake.  Kagari is a “Workshop Witch”, who is sworn to protect Takamiya from the “Tower Witches” who would misuse a power hidden inside his body.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of harem anime.
Suitable for middle school?  No.
Content notes: There is some suggestive dialogue, and several busty female characters vying for a piece of Takamiya.  However, the switched gender roles of Takamiya and Kagari set this series apart from other harem series.  Also, note that various historical methods of torture used to expose “witches” are referenced in a comedic sense.  It’s all very silly, but slightly disturbing.
Direct link: Witch Craft Works

 

YamishibaiYamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Before manga or anime, there were picture storytellers who’d use paper cutouts and lanterns to draw in and entertain their outdoor audiences.  Here the creators put that style to creepy use in this series of five-minute chillers featuring things like broken seals, haunted hospitals, and department store elevators that only go all the way to the “basement.”  Each starts out quietly enough but builds to a shock that can make you jump even when you know it’s coming.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of dark folklore, horror stories, and bite-sized scares that give you the heebie-jeebies (I don’t recommend watching the reverse “banzai!” story right before bedtime–unless, of course, that’s your thing).  The back lit cut-out style animation may appeal to those looking to see something a little different.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There’s no fan service, overly-strong language, or on-screen violence here, but the sudden reveals may disturb younger viewers.
Direct link: Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories

 

YouandMeYou and Me (Kimi to Boku)

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo
Release Year: 2011 / 2012
Elevator Pitch: Four childhood friends (an uptight scholar, a gentle nurturer, and a pair of sardonic identical twins) enter high school and go about their days talking and arguing about games, girls, homework, interest clubs, and whatever else comes up as they hang out at home and at school.  They soon befriend an outgoing transfer student and the five boys pick on and rely on each other as they grow up a little, wrestle with first loves, and watch nervously as graduation and change loom ever closer.  Silliness and warmth make this show about adolescence and friendship a happy mix of stress-relieving giggles and thoughtfulness.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of quiet, slice-of-life stories where not much happens but that’s perfectly ok.  If you enjoyed The Daily Lives of High School Boys and would like to try a similarly-themed show with a little less fan service, a little longer attention span, and more emotional investment, this is for you.  Also, there are random symbolic cats—so, yay!
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Studious Kaname’s mom is overly attached to him, which amuses his friends to no end but makes the viewer a little uncomfortable.
Direct link: You and Me