There is a long history of anime that has been infamously labeled as "weird," from relying on the most intricate lore to adding unnecessary tropes or plot twists. As a result, some viewers, particularly those in the West, automatically disapprove of anime and are unwilling to watch anything that has been compared to "a fever dream." These viewers are unaware of the extraordinary variety that the medium brings to storytelling, as well as its capacity to stay grounded.
While many shows continue to perpetuate the notion that anime is "out there" and "bizarre," some more recent works have found a way to tell the most iconic and compelling tales without pushing their audience too far. Each of these television shows maintains a tight, center-focused plot that keeps all of its components firmly in place while letting the amazing narrative shine.
The Fear of War Remains the Foundation of the Vinland Saga
As a young boy, Thorfinn lived in the quiet lands of Iceland. Though he had the love of family, friends, and neighbors, every day proved a struggle in the icy plains. After discovering the tragic history of his people and a heavy introduction to the warriors known as Vikings, the boy's life is turned upside down as he grows up in the throws of war and chaos. Thorfinn finds himself among these wicked mercenaries, and despite opposing their love of murder, money, and achieving glory on the battlefield, his morals become just as muddied as he chases after revenge. Vinland Saga proves to be a gritty coming-of-age story centered around the tirade of the Vikings.
With action at the forefront, there's nothing supernatural involved in the physical feats of each character. Especially regarding Thorfinn's growth from an innocent boy to a cutthroat killer, the challenge of overcoming human limitations becomes a significant benefit to the story's development. Anime is known for its over-the-top action, relying heavily on supernatural lore. With Vinland Saga, however, there is a simplicity in the action scenes. While there are various details across the story, it's a fairly easy plot to follow supported by the most engaging and morally ambiguous characters.
Violet Evergarden Focuses on the Emotional Journey of the Hero
After her last mission leaves her with prosthetics for arms -- and the loss of the only man who ever treated her with dignity and love -- Violet must find her way through civilian life and grief. Though she is promised a new home with the Major's family, Violet can't adjust to civilian life and is taken to the CH Postal Company. There, she learns about the occupation of Auto Memory Dolls, women who are hired by civilians to write letters to their loved ones. Despite appearing devoid of emotions and her own personality, Violet is driven to become an Auto Memory Doll to understand the last words she heard from Major Gilbert: "I love you."
Once the premise is in motion, Violet Evergarden focuses on just two things: relationships and human emotions, never straying into cliches or plot devices. Although the central focus of each episode is Violet and her emotional journey toward inner peace and understanding, the narrative also includes significant side stories. This series promises an emotional tale of growth in a straightforward and effective manner by keeping plot points within the realm of these two recurrent elements. The anime that will make you cry is another name for it.
Haikyuu!! Approaches the Sports Narrative with Realism
Though his short stature puts him at a disadvantage, aspiring volleyball player Hinata Shoyo aims to become a superstar in the game. In his first official volleyball tournament, he's faced with the notorious "King of the Court" Kageyama Tobio, who's considered a force to be reckoned with among athletes but a poor teammate. Though both athletes failed to go far in their last middle school tournament, they have high hopes for their upcoming experience at Karasuno High. Working together as teammates and pushing each other as rivals, Hinata and Kageyama prove to be just what Karasuno needs to put itself back on the map as champions.
Even though Haikyuu!! contains many typical anime elements, it stands out among sports series because it doesn't elevate its lead character. Even characters who would be considered "villains" in the conventional sense of the word have incredibly strong character development. The creators of the anime demonstrate their comprehension of athletics as a discipline in which aspiring competitors compete to see who is better at playing the game. Even the main characters experience loss, and the narrative has a moving way of illustrating the heartache associated with aspiring to be a champion. Because of its realistic approach, sports fans may even choose Haikyuu!! as their first anime.
Given Draws Attention to the Influence of Music in Times of Tragedy
Guitar novice Mafuyu is stuck with broken guitar strings and a heavy loss weighing on his heart; he carries an Electronic Gibson everywhere but doesn't have a clue how to play. Meanwhile, guitar prodigy Ritsuka happens across Mafuyu one day at school and, upon seeing his melancholy state, fixes his guitar strings. With renewed hope, Mafuyu begs Ritsuka to teach him how to play, but Ritsuka has become jaded in his own musical career. Seeing Mafuyu's excitement in becoming a musician restores Ritsuka's passion for the art. They find their way through the industry in the amateur band, Given, as they learn what music means to them and how it can help overcome tragedy.
Although Given's musical journey includes a romance as a sort of side plot, the narrative is anchored by the songs they play and their emotional resonance, which stems from their feelings and connections. Each character is developed with great care, and the darker parts of their journeys are handled with care as well. Their development continues to be the main focus of the story, and rather than existing alongside it, it is highlighted by the music they play. Given is a 12-episode limited series that keeps viewers guessing because its story is concise and told without many tropes or stereotypes.
Blue Period Honors and Beautifully Demonstrates an Artist's Journey
Despite hanging out with delinquents, Yatora Yaguchi is one of the top students at his high school. Career-wise, he initially planned to aim for a job that would make him a lot of money; he comes from a lower-class family and understands the struggle of finances all too well. To his surprise, Yatora discovers a raw talent and passion for painting. Delving into fine arts, he dreams of becoming a professional and honing his skills so he can be one of the few people accepted into Tokyo University. Blue Period takes a deep dive into the world of aspiring artists, showing how important self-expression and discovery are as Yatora puts everything on the line for his dream.
Blue Period builds its protagonist up and emphasizes his need to create and express himself. This not only creates a great character worth rooting for, but also is one of many examples of what art means to a variety of people. By teaching the basics of this industry, viewers can understand the many styles and applications used by each character. This anime is the perfect overview of fine arts that also allows the art pieces themselves to be at the center of development. By remaining focused on the art and the artist -- without any gimmicks like in various culinary anime -- Blue Period takes its craft seriously to tell a compelling story about striving against the odds.