Hey, it’s a listicle! Everyone loves listicles, right?
Actually, there is a reason for this particular list; after my recent post about the lack of anime with female leads, I looked back over some of the shows I’ve watched in recent years and tried to pick out the ones that had adult characters as their focus.
Uh. Not a lot, as it turns out. My original shortlist had sixteen titles. Sixteen, out of the dozens and dozens of shows and OVAs I’ve watched. And that’s including stuff like ‘Yuri On Ice’, ‘Steins:Gate’ and ‘Golden Kamuy’ which I eventually cut from my list because they still have at least one lead character who’s under 18.
There’s plenty of stuff that’s not for kids but which still has young lead characters – ‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ comes to mind, given that JoJos three, four and five were all still young enough to be in school.
I know that the biggest share of the anime audience is young people, but at the same time there are still plenty of grown-up anime and manga fans – after all, some franchises have been running long enough that their original teenage audiences will be well into adulthood now. And there are creative teams catering to those adult audiences – it’s just that those adult-oriented stories are sometimes harder to find.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some ‘My Hero Academia’ and there have been plenty of underrated school-set comedies in the last few years, like ‘Sakamoto Desu Ga?’ and ‘Clean Freak Aoyama’kun’. But sometimes I want to watch relatable adult characters doing grown-up stuff like going to work and navigating relationships. Adult-focused sci-fi and fantasy would be even better.
So I’ve collected, in handy listicle format, some of my favourite shows with adult characters. If there’s a show you think I’ve overlooked, tell me in the comments. Chances are I’ve heard of it but haven’t watched it yet, but if there’s something I’ve missed completely then I’d love to hear about it! There’s no real order to my list, although I do have my own clear favourite. Also, the temptation to give this piece a clickbaity ‘Top 10 Adult Anime’ title was incredibly tough to resist! Guess I’m not all that grown-up after all…
10. Shirokuma Cafe
I wasn’t sure at first whether this could actually make the list, given that Panda’s age isn’t actually stated. But he’s old enough to have a job and isn’t in school, so I’m going to count it.
If you haven’t seen this quirky slice-of-life comedy, you’ve missed a real treat. Shirokuma Cafe is literally what the title says – a polar bear runs a cafe, and his patrons are a mix of sentient animals and humans. And these aren’t Bojack Horseman-style anthropomorphic animals – they’re actual animals, real sized, walking like animals do. Except they talk and have jobs and hang out in a cafe. It sounds odd but…well, it is odd. Except it works.
It’s an ensemble comedy featuring a NEET panda who works at the zoo as a part-time panda, a penguin who has nothing better to do but hang out at the cafe, and the titular polar bear, who lives for making puns and teasing the rest of the cast. The human cast are just as entertaining as the animals, with cafe employee Sasako and zookeeper Handa getting their own sub-plots and sweet ship-tease.
Casting-wise, it’s a seiyuu fan’s dream, with the three main roles played by Fukuyama Jun (Panda), Kamiya Hiroshi (Penguin) and Sakurai Takahiro (Shirokuma), and Endo Aya and Hatano Wataru as the non-animal leads. Practically every big-name seiyuu from the time it was made pops up somewhere, from Ono Daisuke to Miyano Mamorou.
Think of it as ‘Friends’, but with animals. And no Ross.
9. Samurai Flamenco
The anime industry has produced some excellent deconstructions of the superhero genre in recent years, but in amongst the likes of ‘One Punch Man’ and ‘My Hero Academia’, this send-up of tokusatsu shows seemed to slip by almost unnoticed.
I understand why: the animation and character designs are nothing special compared to similar shows, and for a Western audience the focus on the Japanese masked ranger traditions rather than American-style caped heroes may not be as accessible.
Police officer Gotou finds a naked man in an alley. That’s the least weird thing that happens in this show. The naked man is Masayoshi, a pro-model and self-styled masked hero. Taking it on himself to turn vigilante in a homemade costume, Masayoshi seems to have gotten himself in over his head, even with Gotou’s reluctant support. Then, when things sort of look like they’re working out, suddenly things get a bit…well, when another anime makes a sudden unexpected plot-twist, I’ve started to describe it as “going a bit Samurai Flamenco”.
The show does have its flaws, but for all its bizarre twists and turns, it has heart, and a real sense of fun, and it’s never predictable. Its romantic sub-plots aren’t exactly run-of-the-mill either, and the secondary characters are all unique enough that they could have their own shows in another universe.
8. Princess Jellyfish
The anime doesn’t cover the whole manga, which is a shame as it’s a story that feels like it’s just getting going as it hits the end of its run.
Focusing on adult women living in a share-house (and average-looking, geeky women at that!), this comedy-drama follows Tsukimi, an aspiring illustrator with a love of jellyfish, and her unexpected friendship with cross-dressing Kuranosuke, son of a politician. It deals with young adult problems like the threat of eviction and navigating awkward social relationships, and it’s refreshing to see nerdy women portrayed as sympathetic characters (true, there are laughs intended at times at the expense of Tsukimi’s housemates, but we’re still meant to root for them and they are generally good people).
Even if josei stories aren’t your usual thing, ‘Princess Jellyfish’ is worth a look for its fun characters and a storyline that’s more about personal growth than totally focused on romance.
7. Skull-faced Book Seller Honda-san
A lot of shows about adult characters focus on co-workers. In this case, the focus is on the work itself, with the recurring characters there to comment rather than be the show’s driving force.
Based on a manga by an actual book-shop employee, this anime will ring true to anyone who’s ever worked in retail. For Honda-san, the job is a full-time calling rather than a part-time gig to pave the way for something else, and for real grown-ups who feel like they’re settled into a regular day-job, it’s a fun and light-hearted reminder that even the most mundane of jobs have their high points.
Its quirky art style and fast pace make it fun to watch, and it’s composed of short sketches making up 10-minute episodes, so it’s easy to dip into. I recently re-watched it with a friend who works in customer service, and we both kept nodding along and saying, ‘that happens all the time!’
I love sports anime, for several reasons, but since most of them revolve around high school teams, there’s sometimes a level of disconnect for me once the action moves away from the sport itself. ‘Megalobox’ (and it is a sports anime, because Hosoya Yoshimasa is in it*) picks the more mature sport of boxing as its focus, and the older characters become more relatable as a result. Gearless Joe isn’t a newbie still learning the sport, and there’s no novice to act as an audience surrogate to whom everything is explained. We’re thrown straight into the world of augmented boxing, at pro level and amateur underground fights.
It also means the stakes are higher for all characters as a result; careers and livelihoods are on the line alongside the championship, giving the drama more of an edge than a high school tournament might.
The older characters presumably erase any guilt at watching shirtless buff dudes in close contact with each other, if shirtless buff dudes are your thing.
5. Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori
Another café-based slice-of–life show, Rokuhoudou somehow slipped under the radar in 2018, going up against huge titles such as ‘My Hero Academia’ and ‘Steins:Gate 0’.
The show focuses on four men who run the titular café, an out-of-the-way place with a focus on desserts made with love and artisanal tea and coffee – a hipster’s dream without the pretension. Over twelve episodes, the staff solve customers’ problems with their culinary prowess, teach the importance of appreciating life’s simple pleasures, and try to keep up with the demand for their unique gastronomic offerings. There’s a teased-at sub-plot about the café owner’s corporate sell-out brother which doesn’t come to much and presumably was further developed in the manga – it’s there, I assume, as a sequel hook, although whether we’ll get a second season remains to be seen.
It was the cast that initially drew my attention – anything with Suwabe Junichi is a must-see for me, and he’s joined by Ono Daisuke, Nakamura Yuuichi and Yamashita Daiki. There’s also pleasure to be found in watching male characters not bound up in competitive relationships outside of a romantic setting. It’s not a show to watch with shipping goggles on; instead, it’s refreshing to watch positive friendships between men, free of the shouting and fighting that comes with male-led shows in other genres.
If you want a show that’s more of a soothing experience than a tightly plotted drama or adventure, then Rokuhoudou is perfect – it’s soft, sweet, and as warming as a good cup of tea.
4. ACCA: 13 Territory Inspection Department
Political dramas are not usually my thing, but this twelve-episode series from the Winter 2017 season caught my attention for its unusual art style. There’s a lot going on in this story, making it difficult to summarise beyond ‘government agent inspects agency sub-departments while being spied on himself’, but if you like tightly plotted drama and intrigue, this is definitely worth a look.
The show also occasionally has a bit of a travelogue feel, as each episode takes lead character Jean Otus to different states in the show’s fictional country of Dowa. There’s a fair bit of food porn too, and if the show doesn’t leave you craving toast then you’ve not been paying attention.
3. Psycho Pass
I’ll admit to only having watched the first season of this; I’d heard less-than-great reviews of the second season, and I was perfectly satisfied with the ending of the first.
I have a thing for near-future dystopian sci-fi, especially when there’s mind control and technology involved. The concept of a state where people are so unused to crime that they don’t believe an assault is real when it’s happening in front of them is both exciting and disturbing. When I watched this show with a friend, we had a lot of conversations about how the tech might actually work, which suggests to me that the story does a good job of making its premise believable and relatable. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of the minor characters (maybe that’s just me), but I found the plot gripping enough to give it my full attention.
If anyone wants to sell me on the second season, then please give it a try!
I can’t believe I almost missed this one off my list!
Perhaps because it doesn’t look like anime? The cast are all animals, with the odd animal pun thrown in for good measure (Retsuko’s boss is an actual chauvinst pig), but look beyond that and you’ll find a funny and relatable story about the pressures of being a twenty-something in a dull job with co-workers who aren’t quite friends.
This is a show I recommend to people who aren’t anime fans. Retsuko is a believable and likeable character, even when she makes inadvisable choices, and you root for her even while understanding her reasons for wanting to take the easy way out sometimes. The show has positive messages about women supporting each other in the workplace, and a romantic sub-plot that’s refreshingly likeable and sweet.
My favourite adult anime is possibly the silliest on the whole list. But that’s part of its appeal. I love the crudeness and the honesty of life with siblings. It’s also a creative show in terms of some of the skits; having the actors play alternate versions of the characters in different worlds is a fun approach and keeps the show from getting too bogged-down in the domestic life of the Matsunos.
I know a lot of fans of the older ‘Osomatsu-kun’ shows disliked the lack of focus on Iyami and Chibita, but I find the skits hilarious, particularly season one’s ‘Accident’, which perfectly sums up each of the brothers’ roles in the family and their relationship with each other.
The show also manages to catch the viewer completely off-guard with the occasional blow to the feels. ‘ESP Kitty’, ‘Jyushimatsu In Love’ and ‘Iyami, Alone In The Wind’ all brought tears to my eyes. All the opening and closing songs are total ear-worms, and every character is both likeable and despicable. The cast is (intentionally) top-tier, and season two’s summer episode had me in stitches for the simple concept of six of Japan’s biggest seiyuu standing in a booth making cicada noises.
Ignore the fact that the characters look like muppet-Beatles. Or don’t. Celebrate anime with alternative character designs. Celebrate anime that shows adults can have just as much fun as kids. And celebrate anime that lets big-name actors make cicada noises.
There is a (small) number of other shows I could have included but didn’t, for various reasons. These include:
‘Run With The Wind’ – I loved this show so, so much, but the college setting still gave me a sense of ‘not quite adulthood’. The characters are still growing into themselves, and there’s very little grown-up pressure outside of one character’s search for a job. Still, do watch this one, as it was one of the better shows of 2018.
‘Space Dandy’ – I have a complex relationship with this show. Loved it for the art, direction, storylines and acting. Hated it for its treatment of female characters.
‘Dramatical Murder’ – this adaptation of the visual novel did a pretty decent job of conveying the cyberpunk storyline and the cutting of the relationship plots didn’t feel like a massive loss. Still, the animation wasn’t great, and it didn’t hit me as emotionally as some scenes in the game.
I know, I know, you’ll have a show in mind that I’ve missed here. There are shows I have heard great things about but just haven’t seen, like ‘Love Is Hard For Otaku’, and shows that are just not my preferred genres, like ‘GATE’. But if you have any recommendations, do let me know in the comments.
* Hosoya Yoshimasa is in every sports anime. Therefore, every anime with Hosoya Yoshimasa in the cast is a sports anime. That’s the rule.