Some of you may know this already but I’m a time travel otaku. Like I nerd out about the physics of it even though my understanding is superficial to put it generously. In fiction, it’s a device I get fascinated by when it’s done well and appreciate the effort when it’s done badly. I’m just a hopeless fangirl. And so, I was baffled when I realized that I never made a time travel anime list. Like this is a natural fit!
And then I started writing this post and remembered why. There are a ton of anime that use time travel. Heck, depending on how you decide to interpret it, every single isekai could be said to fall in that category. Throwing a character into an unfamiliar time is just as obvious a way to built conflict as throwing them into an unfamiliar place or role.
And so, I needed to narrow the playing field, like a lot. So first, I decided to use instances where time travel is isolated. By this I mean we are sticking the same “place” and only changing around the timeline. That write off any shows where characters travel to the past and end up in completely different worlds, etc. Basically, no more sticky isekai questions. It also ruled out Kyousougiga sadly.
Second, I wanted shows where the time travel element was actively used throughout the series and important to the plot. So anything with a character waking up in the past or future and then having adventures from that point on is out!
And this is how I managed to come up with my 5, very mundane picks for time travel anime. I think these are going to be super predictable…
I know I said no isekai but this is different. Subaru didn’t just travel once from his homeworld and time to another, he constantly goes back in his current timeline…by dying. It’s sort of an emo Quantum Leap! I’m not entirely sure how important Return from Death is to the plot. What I mean is that I know it features a lot but I wonder if you could tell a similar story without that mechanic. By making the time Subaru succeeds a bit harder to achieve and having him learn needed info without dying. I feel like it would be possible but I’m not sure if it would work.
Still, the time rewind device is ingrained in the identity of the series and in many ways sets the show apart from the herd. I honestly think it belongs on this list. And I am curious to know how it actually works.
On the other hand, I think Erased is a series that simply doesn’t exist without time travel. It’s crucial to Sotaru’s character development that the grown-up, disillusioned and bitter person he has become is the one to go back and save Kayo. And it’s something he can do only because there is an unexplained magical thing happening to him, which emboldens him and revives his faith, and because he is back to a time when possibilities seemed endless.
The more time passes, the more I remember Erased fondly. I wish they made another series in this genre. I think that time travel and murder mystery happen to pair really well together. The gain, I think time travel pairs well with most things. Time travel comedy is awesome!
I have to say the top 3 spots on here are completely interchangeable. It’s more like three no. 1s.
So I love endless eight. I adore it. I think it’s by far the best part of the franchise and just one of the best moments in anime. And I know some of my readers think I have brain damage because of this. I get it. It’s not for everyone. It is however precisely for me.
I find that Haruhi is a series with a lot of amazing ideas but it doesn’t always bring them across in the most effective way. However, in endless eight, I saw all the potential for a deep introspective and well… melancholy piece of science fiction really materialize. The time travel element is brought out slowly, without fanfare and as reality dawns on the viewers, the happy sunny summer holiday full of fireworks and fun times slowly takes on horrific implications. In this, time travel isn’t simply a narrative device, it moderates the tone and completely changes the impact and meaning of the entire arc. Did I mention that I really love endless eight? I should rewatch that arc.
I mean c’mon! The theme is time travel anime, I’m not going to leave Steins;Gate out. My relationship with the franchise is much more through the games. In fact, this is the series that got me into visual novels in the first place. And sure, it’s a boring choice and everyone would have it on their list. But there’s a reason for that. Steins;Gate is about time travel.
Like everything about the series revolves around it. And it even makes very earnest attempts to do the math on everything. I respect a time travel story that explains its time travel. I understand that it’s a bit of a dicey undertaking and risks alienating most of the fans, but I like it.
Steins;Gate is another show that I’m not sure could exist without the time travel element. Although I do think the anime could be reworked to a dimension hopping story instead of time travel, the game on the other hand is very focused on the moral and physical implications of time travel specifically. It’s a great game!
That title… Is this a surprise to anyone? I did say the top three spots were random. And just to be clear, I’m not putting these in order of how much I enjoyed the series per see but more in how much I enjoyed the use of time travel within these series. And I have to say, in Madoka, it was a game-changer.
The time travel bit comes in later in the series than a lot of the other shows on the list, except for Haruhi. And it completely changes everything. It is the single more plot-relevant element in the entire show. It’s both the catalyst, the antagonizing incident and the resolve of the narrative. And it brings Madoka from a surprisingly violent story that seems to relish in misery, to a deliciously cruel joke.
I personally love the use of time travel in Madoka. It’s more restrained than in a lot of these other shows and we don’t actively see most of it, but the implications are so broad and all-encompassing in unpredictable ways.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for you…today! I know, I know, these are all super safe picks. But what can I say, I do in fact really like how all these shows used time travel. Do you have a favourite time travel anime? Is it the Girl who Leapt Through Time or Your Name? I also left movies out of my list. I forgot to mention that. If only there was a way I could go back and fix that.