The coming-of-age story is one of the most popular and prevalent narratives in anime, but the genre has seen better days. While coming-of-age anime are still being made and watched today, they’re not as big as they used to be. In fact, most of today’s recommended coming-of-age anime are the classics, not those that aired recently.
There are a lot of great coming-of-age anime out there that just had the misfortune of getting overshadowed by the genre’s biggest hits like Anohana, CLANAAD, From me to You, Watamote, and more. Now that streaming services made watching anime easier than ever before, there’s no better time than now to visit these overlooked gems.
10/10 O Maidens In Your Savage Season Was A Fun Look Back At Puberty’s Awkwardness
Puberty and sexual awakenings are some of the most normal yet taboo parts of growing up. Understandably, media that spotlight these awkward chapters of life are rare because of how touchy the subject can be. Meanwhile, O Maidens put this topic front and center, and gave audiences a uniquely zany yet nostalgic look back at growing up.
O Maidens didn’t show anything explicit, but the Literature Club’s grappling with desires and fantasies was relatable and hilarious enough. O Maidens’ biggest mistake was airing in Summer 2019. As a low-stakes coming-of-age story, it simply had no chance against blockbusters like Dr. Stone, Fire Force, Takagi-San, and more.
9/10 Waiting In The Summer’s Growing Pains Were Lost To Time
To stand out among its genre contemporaries, Waiting in the Summer added aliens to its otherwise typical coming-of-age story starring schoolmates living in the countryside. The gang’s emotionally charged summer of fun, heartbreak, and filmmaking struck a nostalgic chord with those who enjoyed, but that’s as far as Waiting in the Summer’s legacy went.
Waiting in the Summer came and went in Winter 2012, which was when coming-of-age hits like Daily Lives of High School Boys lorded the genre, and when the Shonen Jump Big Three were at their peaks. Today, Kaito, Ichika, and their friends’ young love are only really remembered by those lucky enough to have seen it.
8/10 Princess Jellyfish Gave Eccentric Women The Spotlight
Generally speaking, female nerds are rarely if ever seen in any form of fiction, whether it’s anime or not. When such characters do appear, though, they tend to be idealized depictions made exclusively for a male audience’s pleasure. Princess Jellyfish stands out not just by starring female otaku, but by portraying them in realistic and relatable ways.
Princess Jellyfish isn’t an anime about outgrowing one’s bizarre quirks in an erroneous understanding of what it means to “grow up,” but accepting them while still improving one’s self. Given its unique cast of characters and their heartfelt growth into better versions of themselves, it’s unfortunate that Princess Jellyfish is just a cult favorite these days.
7/10 Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 Was All But Supplanted By Japan Sinks: 2020
As far as most anime fans (especially those who subscribe to Netflix) are concerned, Japan Sinks: 2020 is the definitive anime about being forced to grow up in the shadow of a devastating earthquake. But before Science SARU adapted Sakyo Komatsu’s novel, studio Bones told a similar coming-of-age disaster story through Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.
The similarities between Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and Japan Sinks: 2020 begin and end with an earthquake wrecking Japan, since the former focuses on the Onozawa siblings whereas the latter stars a family. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is a dark (but not hopeless) story of growing up that, while good, was unfortunately overshadowed by a similar anime years later.
One of the most dominant anime genres in the 2000s was the romantic comedy, and Lovely Complex was one of this trend’s shining examples. Unfortunately, not all of these rom-coms were destined to become classics the way Ouran High School Host Club or Toradora! did. Lovely Complex suffered this fate, and it fell through the cracks of time.
Lovely Complex still endures as an underrated recommendation among older anime fans today, but it’s nowhere near as popular as it should be. Lovely Complex put its simple but effective premise of a short guy and a tall girl falling in love to good use, making it one of the best examples of how following a familiar formula isn’t always a bad thing.
5/10 Welcome To The NHK Was One Of The Most Sympathetic Look At NEETs
NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) are a fairly common anime archetype, with Osomatsu-San being the biggest exemplar of this trend. But before the Matsuno sextuplets claimed ownership of the “NEET” title, Welcome to the NHK was the premier depiction of socially awkward shut-ins who are (unfortunately) common in Japan.
Besides being a compassionate look at a hikokomori, what set Welcome to the NHK apart was that it starred a young adult in his 20’s instead of a teenager. Satou’s battle with his anxiety and insecurities was a darkly hilarious yet uniquely mature retelling of the typical coming-of-age narrative, but few if any anime fans remember it today.
4/10 The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya Seemingly Disappeared Overnight
It may be hard to conceive now, but there was once a time when The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya seemed to be everywhere. Haruhi and her SOS Brigade’s misadventures dominated the anime scene in the 2000s, but then the anime virtually vanished in a heartbeat due to the intense backlash against the infamous Endless Eight arc.
Not helping matters was how Kyoto Animation seems intent on forgetting Haruhi, as seen in their nostalgic tributes that conspicuously leave out Haruhi. Haruhi Suzumiya was the biggest coming-of-age/slice-of-life anime of its time, and its artistry and storytelling arguably got better with age, but it’s nothing more than a footnote today.
3/10 Honey & Clover Was An Uncommon Anime About College Life
When compared to high school stories, anime about college students are fairly uncommon, but they were practically rare or even non-existent in the early 2000s. This is what made Honey and Clover so special in 2005. Not only was it the compelling story of a group of college students from art school, but it was a massive franchise back in its heyday.
At the height of its fame, Honey and Clover spawned a successful anime, a live-action movie, and two different TV shows. Chica Umino’s story also won countless awards, with many praising her mature handling of a love triangle and other romantic complications. Unfortunately, Honey and Clover faded into obscurity as the years went on.
2/10 Maria Watches Over Us Was One Of The Most Pivotal Yuri Anime Of All Time
These days, yuri (or “girls’ love”) anime are pretty popular, and many of these titles wouldn’t exist if not for Maria Watches Over Us. Yumi and Sachiko’s love story was first published as a light novel in 1998, and it was one of the top-selling romance titles of its time. An anime adaptation followed in 2004, and it went on a successful four season run.
Maria Watches Over Us is credited for legitimizing yuri fiction in the 2000s and reviving the classic Class S genre (or stories about women’s romantic friendships) for the modern age. As the yuri genre made impressive strides, Maria Watches Over Us unfortunately faded into the background, even though it was the anime that re-energized the genre.
When it comes to Gainax’s anime, fans are quick to remember titles like Diebuster, FLCL, and especially Neon Genesis Evangelion. One Gainax anime that nearly everyone forgot about is Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, which is a shame since it’s arguably one of the most surreal and genre-busting coming-of-age stories ever told.
When Sasshi and Arumi’s idyllic childhood is abruptly ended by gentrification and other harsh realities, they escape into an ever-changing world of fantasy. Every episode of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi parodies a different form of pop culture and while the ending kind of muddies the overall message, the anime is still a wild adolescent ride like no other.
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