A little while ago, on a complete whim, I tweeted out the following question: Which current anime do you think people will still be talking about in a decade or two? I was thinking about Eva and Bebop, and trying to figure out why certain titles seem to stand the test of time and stick with us.

Some of it is the fickle hand of random luck or popularity, certainly, but there are other factors. I was wondering if we’d created another one of those in the next generation of animes. I actually got quite a few answers and it was pretty interesting to parse through them. Obviously the people who follow my blog’s twitter account are a peculiar sample and not necessarily representative of the larger audience. I mean they’re the elite! Still, it did lead me to some musing.

anime thinking
carry the two…

One of the things that immediately struck me was that there was no clear consensus. Some answer came up a bit more often like Hunter x Hunter, Sword Art Online, Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia. There were a lot of votes for Made in The Abyss as well but people seemed resigned to consider it unlikely. A few shout outs for Your Name as well. Then an assortment of various interesting titles such as Kill la Kill, Mob Psycho, Little Witch Academia, High Score Girl (?),  Food Wars… I’m going to stop. There were quite a few. Sadly no one mentioned Land of the Lustrous or a single sports anime despite how much notoriety some have gathered. I mean we still hear about Free and Yuri on Ice regularly.

I was surprised no one mentioned Fullmetal Alchemist. I would have figured that one was a clear choice. Or Pokemon. Well actually Pokemon may already be past the decade mark… I looked it up, it’s 21 years old!

We should keep in mind that  the question was not which anime deserves to still be discussed but which one will randomly stick around in the popular consciousness. As such, it’s no surprise that most people’s votes went to fighting shounen. Heck a lot of them air for over a decade so it’s sort of a safe pick. You know, like betting a dollar on the price is right.

whatever you say…mam…

And that’s perfectly fair. When most people think anime they think Dragon Ball, Naruto or One Piece. I do too and quite like those shows. But for some reason (probably because I’m a jerky anime snob) when I think anime classic, my mind immediately goes to those gritty sci fi series I mentioned. Along with Akira and Ghost in the Shell. For me Serial Experiments Lain also had a very deep impact but I don’t think it ever quite made the same splash as those other titles.

I’m not sure if it’s a sign of their time, but all those stories also have something in common. Single season shows or movies, their lasting relevancy is not tied to long airing time. All of them happen to be somewhat dystopian with traditional science fiction trappings. Not a single suggested title for the next anime classic falls into that genre. Times have changed…and yet..

The market was very different at the time. The world outside of Japan had a much more limited variety of anime to choose from. This reduced competition made it easier for any single show to stand out and audiences were much more forgiving. There was no “Eva already did that”, before Eva. Yet, it’s not as if the studios necessarily knew what they had on their hands either. They tried things, some got lucky.

the rest, we never hear about

I kept thinking about the question for a while. My twitter followers had a lot of great suggestions. They’re probably right about most of them. But what about the next single season more adult oriented show? Is there something other than episode count that will make a show stick out in the memory of the public.

One thing I have noticed is that most of these shows have some sort of shock factor. A moment or twist that make the audience snap to attention (for better or for worse) or at least an overall sense of unease to keep viewers off balance. We need more than just a great story, we need some type of tangible disturbance.

Another is the “seriousness”… In general comedies aren’t considered in the same light as dramas. Of all the titles I listed only Bebop has consistently comedic moments and I really wouldn’t call it a comedy at all. I used the term *gritty* or one could also say *dark*, however both adjectives can be hard to qualify. I guess it comes down to treating the narrative with a certain degree of solemnity. If the plot presents all the events as meaningful and important, the audience will follow.

Also they use dark colours. None of that pastel nonsense… This is why Humanity has Declined doesn’t stand a chance!!!!

I don’t make the rules

Finally I think sci fi comes up so often because there’s a certain timeless nature to it that’s not as present in slice of life or more realistic stories. Realistic isn’t the right word…you know what I mean. Seeing someone pick up a landline has a tendency to take me out of the moment, you know.

Taking all these super general guidelines, this are the shows I’ve decided would be talked about for some time to come:

Puella Magi Madoka Magica. People still talk about this series a lot. Probably because if the Latin title… It made an impact and started a trend. Ok it probably didn’t bring actually start the ok genre bait n switch, but it certainly popularized it. Whether good or bad there is so much to talk about in this series, no wonder people still mention it.

Death Note. Let’s face it, this is one popular mofo. Popular enough for Netflix to take the time to whitewash and adapt it. You (and everyone else) may have hated that but it’s still an undeniable sign of the series perceived marketability. Not to mention that stunts like that will keep us thinking about this show for a while still.

I have not seen it

Fullmetal Alchemist. Ok higher up in episode count but come on. Just this year a friend’s kid finally got into anime and what did it? FMA of course. People aren’t done with this one yet.

Psycho Pass…hmm there seems to be an abundance of Gen Urobuchi in my picks. What can I say..?the guy does memorable stuff. Out of all these shows, I believe Psycho Pass is the one that fits the most neatly with those giants of yesteryear. A very mature sci Fi dystopian story bathed in a tense murky atmosphere, it tackles basic issues of freedom versus security (peace) and the concessions each of us are willing to make for either. As these themes are central to the human experience in society, they are sure to remain relevant for many years to come.

Hmmm this kind of turned into a top list. Oh well, those are fun too. So what qualities do you think are necessary to make an anime stand the test of time.? Do you know any classics in the making?


43 thoughts

  1. Actually I bored of your blog but I ended up finding that list in the end quite better so… What I wanna is hurray your list saved the day

  2. As others have already opined, you won’t know the true impact of a something until enough time has passed and people are either still talking about it or it enjoys a resurgence thanks to new audiences.

    For me personally, the only titles of “recent” times that truly fits that criteria at the moment are Death Note and When They Cry, but give it time I reckon AOT will join them, and whilst I am not a fan of it, probably SAO as well if it doesn’t implode through oversaturation of its product.

      1. Well, it took over decade to come to the UK because of licensing issues which helped increase its reputation and mystique in the interim, and if you read my review, you’d see it I found it still held up and was worth the wait.

        So yes, I’m confident it deserves classic status. 🙂

  3. Of all the attempts to describe what makes something a classic, my personal favorite was by the journalist Italo Calvino, who said that a classic, “Has never finished saying what it has to say.” In other words, no matter how many years or decades go by (or centuries, when you start getting into works by Homer and Shakespeare), it still finds ways to speak to the hearts and minds of new audiences. Now those new audiences might hear a different message than the original audiences heard, but that’s fine, because what they take away is still just as profound to them.

    It’s also been noted (by the American Library Association) that most of the great classics were transgressive in some way; they didn’t just follow the norms and trends of the community, but dared to say something new or different that wasn’t in step with everything else coming out. The ALA was talking about books, of course, but that can equally apply to movies and anime. Certainly no-doubt classics like Gundam, Eva, and Madoka were mold-breakers in their respective genres when they came out. And Miyazaki never gave a damn about the latest anime trends; he was always off in his own little corner stubbornly doing things his own way.

    If you asked me to pick a few anime that aren’t no-doubt classics yet, that I feel like have the potential to reach that status, these are a few that come to mind:

    Fate/Zero: A very appealing premise (who doesn’t like the idea of a battle royale between famous historical and mythical figures?), thematically meaningful story with a strong undercurrent of Greek tragedy, and the Fate franchise as a whole just seems to be getting more and more popular every year as more people discover it.

    A Silent Voice: Much like what happened with Isao Takahata, I have a feeling that in 20 or 30 years more people are going to start looking back at Naoko Yamada’s career and belatedly realize how much of a gift her contributions to our favorite medium have been. It’s too soon to say if A Silent Voice is going to be remembered as one of her absolute best – she’s still young and still growing as a filmmaker – but I feel like it has that potential. I know it’s a movie that’s stayed with me ever since I saw it.

    Yuri on Ice: This is going to come down to legacy and staying power. If it can keep its fanbase, and especially if it actually becomes the trailblazer for greater LGBT inclusion and representation in anime that I know some people are hoping it will be, then it could reach the exalted heights of classic status. If that doesn’t happen, then it could just end up being this generation’s Gravitation, a yaoi series that used to be extremely popular about 15-20 years ago that’s been long forgotten by everyone except us old-timers.

  4. FMA aired back in the early/mid 2000s, it’s already got a decade and a half behind it. It’s a shoo-in as a classic, because it already is one. 😉

  5. Monogatari Franchise comes to mind. MHA is set for a long run and may become a classic if they keep up the good work. Possibly Kara no Kiyokai. Revolutionary Girl Utena. From the New World has a good chance. I’d love to see Bloom into You develop into a classic. Vampire Slayer D is a classic but it is so old nobody remembers it.

    I think we’re more likely to talk about bodies of work rather than individual works. KInd of like we talk about Hitchcock’s body of work more than any one movie. Miazaki’s body of work. Shinkai’s body of work. Satoshi Kon’s body of work. Kunihiko Ikuhara’s body of work.

    Stuff like that.

  6. Monogatari! Hands down!
    It will never be mainstream like Death Note, but Evangelion wasn’t either. I mean, it’s a timeless by design story of adolescence! The structure alone is just so- 😲
    It was designed to thrive in a memetic, story-filled world! The perfect marriage of individualism and collectivism! Out of all the light novel series trying to explore adolescence and the human condition, there’s really none that beat Monogatari! That’s why I vote it as the best of the trend of light novels anime adaptations!

  7. I feel like most of the hardcore ‘classics’ of anime are those titles that purposefully didn’t attempt to be thought of in that way to begin with. For instance, I don’t think that, prior to gaining popularity, anyone on the staff of Evangelion would have predicted it would become a classic – the budget was low, there were major production issues, etc. Ditto with Bebop, with many of the staff reportedly highly doubtful of the project’s success because of production woes, other than Watanabe himself, who had to try and emotionally rally the animation team. I don’t know if anyone expected Akira to become the classic it did when it was first made either – at that time, anime films were notorious for pouring vast amounts of money into artistic visions that gained comparatively very little financial returns.

  8. Those are interesting mentions. As far as I’m concerned, Madoka, Death Note, and Full Metal Alchemist are already way beyond the point where they have to prove themselves. Psycho Pass, I’m not sure. It’s my impression that the second season hurt it’s reputation a little. It’s definitely got staying power, but not on the same level as your other three picks.

    All those anime, mind you, came out before the great legal-stream expansion (around 2013/14?), which is a game changer, IMO, as a lot more people have easy access to a lot more title. Not the same degree of pre-selection. As it is, Netflix is trapped in the old distribution model, which is why shows with potential, such as Little Witch Academia and Hi Score Girl may be slower to get going in the fandom, but might actually have more impact with a casual audience. It’s too early to tell.

    I think classics have some sort of (sub-)cultural impact. To Madoka et al., I think you have to add K-On! and Love Live, both of which made enough waves to get recognition in mainstream media (though in the case of Love Live it was more a recognition of puzzlement as far as I can tell). Yuri on Ice!! was influential enough to get a mention at the olympics. This year’s A Place Further than the Universe made some top 10 list in the New York Times (I think “Top 10 Foreign TV Shows”, or something like that). All those shows have a chance, mostly because to spill over genre boundrys a lot of people must care a lot.

    Attack on Titan was huge, too, but it might die from overexposure: recent manga developments didn’t seem that well received, I think, and the recent season excitement was… low? How that will impact the legacy of the first season, I can’t tell. Meanwhile, there are lowburn shows which never seem to make really big waves, but which seem to have dedicated and loyal fans; the recent announcement of season 3 for Chihayafuru reminded me of that. Hyouka has a good reputation, and Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju might follow in that vein.

    There’s been a lot of backwards orientation in anime recently. It’s interesting, for example, to read anticipation threads for the new Boogiepop anime that comes out next season. Apparantly it’s going to stick to the source more closely than the previous anime? I haven’t seen the first anime, and I know nothing about it’s source (I think a light novel?). The industry’s been definitely on retro trip these last few years, and it looks like we’re seeing more of that. I mean we’re getting a new Dororo anime (last seen in the late 60ies?).

    Comedies do have their own classics section: Excel Saga, Slayers, Azumanga Daioh, and Zetsubou Sensei are shows I’d consider classics. Yuru Yuri does have a chance, there, I’d say. It’s the CGDCT send-up out there. Konosuba has strong potential, too.

    Flying Witch isn’t going to be an overall classic, but it’s set some sort of benchmark in the slice-of-life genre, I’d say. People are still talking about it, but only in that context. We’ll see if that will last. Similarly, you’re not going to get past Haikyuu, if you’re a sports fan.

    Basically, I think if you know about a show that’s older than ~2013/2014, it’s already stood the test of time, because those are the shows presented to the initial wave of fans who came with the expanding market. I think those sort of events have an impact: being one of the first shows to become popular during a time of market expansion should give shows a good push.

    1. I’m very excited about boogie pop. I’m not sure how many different shows can take a big place in the general mind of the public. Less than a dozen I think. Maybe 6…

  9. Besides your classics like Cowboy Bebop and Steins;Gate, there are certainly some newer anime that will be talked about. I think My Hero Academia for sure will still be discussed. The series really set a standard for a great superhero story. Besides that, I think Rascal Does not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Your Name, Sword Art Online (the series could still be airing in 10 years lol), Attack on Titan, Konosuba, Re:Zero, and Kill la Kill would be my guesses for series that will still be talked about.

  10. Attack on Titan, Ghost in the Shell SAC, amd Fullmetal Alchemist will definitely be considered classics. Possibly KonoSuba as well.

    As far as comedies go, Urusei Yatsura still is considered a classic, I see no reason why modern comedies can’t be viewed in the same way.

  11. I think it is really hard to pick what will stick. It is the same with books. Many classics didn’t sell well on release and it was only after the author’s death that they picked up popularity. Sometimes through re-release, sometimes through someone studying them and talking about them, and sometimes just through random chance.
    With anime it is even harder to predict because even a show that is talked about a lot during its season can be quickly forgotten once the new season starts. I know the modern anime I’d love to see become a classic (but know it probably won’t) – March Comes in Like a Lion. That one has some pretty timeless messages and ideas about being human and is just beautifully executed.

  12. This is going to sound odd but I believe that Blend S will be seen as a classic. The reason I say this is because, even to this day, people still cosplay as all the characters.
    Erased would also be seen as a classic, with it’s phenomenal story line.

  13. Hi Score Girl is a great suggestion – especially if it gets a proper ending in March – but it seems like romcoms probably aren’t given their rightful due when considering “classics.” The show Hi Score Girl most reminds me of is Kimagure Orange Road, which to my mind is an absolute classic. But I don’t know that the anime community agrees!

    (Relatedly, how many shows of any kind from 25 or 30+ years ago are still considered classics? Rose of Versailles? The original Macross? What about something like Gall Force or Project A-ko? They’re all certainly well-known, but do most modern fans really think of them as classics? I hope they do, but I’m not sure…)

    Anyway, one possibility I’d suggest from the current season is SSSS. Gridman, assuming it ends well in the next two weeks. It’s been utterly brilliant up to now, and I think if it pulls off a strong finish, it’s likely to be a show that connoisseurs remember especially fondly come 2030 or so.

      1. Look at what the folks over at Glorioblog have been writing about Gridman. For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of mainstream appeal, but it’s definitely developed quite a following in certain circles as a show that’s truly special. Of course, that could all go up in smoke if the last couple of episodes blow it!

  14. I think in my mind Full Metal is already a classic haha. On every must watch anime list it is in the top 5. I guess in my head I thought it was older than it was.

  15. I guess I don’t know at the moment. It’s hard to tell what is going to be popular with other people, unless it’s a shonen battle series, so I guess we all just have to wait and see what sticks around. Man, that’s going to be a long wait.

  16. Hmmm…’classic’ anime is something that is different for each generation. People growing up on MHA will probably view it as a classic, while I just see it as another attempt to carry the Shonen “Big 3” torch. That’s not a comment on quality, but just how people view things differently.

    I view High School DxD as a classic anime, but will the same be said for Demon Lord this season? Or what about Darling in the Franxx? Hell, if there is anything out of this year’s anime that will be considered “classic” it’s either gonna be Golden Kamuy, or Zombieland Saga.

  17. I was not around for this question, and since the topic is interesting, I say the new classic from recent years will be the most memed ones, because un/fortunately, memes have now become the lifeblood of a lot of anime.

  18. Interesting post. I don’t really have an opinion on it though because what I like and what the mainstream likes are vastly different things. And what’s considered a “classic” is usually defined by the mainstream so it doesn’t interest me!

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