Ah, Valentine's Day. What could be more romantic than an evening of dinner, dancing, and coming home to snuggle on the couch and tend to that ever-growing backlog of anime DVDs. But what to watch? Popping in Eiken or Grave of the Fireflies would be quite the faux pas on a night such as this. Let us be of assistance. Below is a list of the top ten most romantic types of anime, and special recommendations for each. Find a title you can agree on, grab your dakimakura, and bask in the warm glow of your HDTV.
The most basic type of romantic comedy, the harem consists of a single socially awkward male and five to ten young women who are inexplicably in love with him. The genre was inspired by Urusei Yatsura's Ataru Moroboshi and the luck with which he finds countless nubile young women from across, space, time, and other dimensions. Unfortunately for Ataru, many of these women wanted nothing to do with him. Tenchi Muyo! was the first harem anime in which space pirates, princesses, and galaxy policewomen fought for the love of our everyman hero. A popular genre to this day, with a tendency to be more comedic than romantic.
Recommendations: Tenchi Muyo!, Negima!, Clannad
Like the harem, except with genders reversed, and the IQ of the protagonist increased by 50 to 100 points. Rather than being socially awkward, the heroine tends to just be an everywoman who nevertheless finds herself surrounded by beautiful men. One of the first reverse harems was Fushigi Yuugi, about schoolgirl Miaka Yuki who is sent hurtling backwards through time to Imperial China. She is charged with gathering the seven Celestial Warriors, who just so happen to be beautiful men completely devoted to her. While more romantic than standard harems, the surfeit of characters tends to keep relationships from evolving.
Recommendations: Ouran Host Club, La Corda d'Oro, Neo Angelique Abyss
The other genre created by the influential Urusei Yatsura is the magical girlfriend, so named because the female love interest can use magic. Lum's magic, which included being able to shoot lightning from her fingertips, was largely used to keep Ataru Moroboshi faithful to her. Ah My Goddess! introduced a more benign magical girlfriend in the goddess Belldandy, who uses her powers to solve problems and help people. Much in the same vein is Video Girl Ai's Ai Amano, a virtual girlfriend designed to help ease lonely men's broken hearts. While these series are romantic for a male audience, women might be wondering exactly what they get out of the deal.
Recommendations: Ah My Goddess, Video Girl Ai, To Love-Ru
"Why won't he just make up his mind!" is the cry of many a fan of romantic comedy anime. But according to scholar Kuki Shuzo, the draw of series like Inu Yasha is in the indecisive longing. Writing in 1930, Shuzo sought to define the elements that comprised "Japanese chic". One of these elements is "bitai", often translated as erotic allure. Shuzo argues that bitai increases the closer you get to the target of your affections, but dissipates completely once the relationship is consummated. The key, then, is to get as close as you can without touching. Fans of Sundome will immediately understand. From Godai's drunken confessions in Maison Ikkoku, to Kaorin's silent suffering in Azumanga Daioh, to the subtle, unspoken yearnings of Patlabor's Kiichi Goto, many of anime's most memorable relationships-that-almost are are suffused with bitai.
Recommendations: Maison Ikkoku, Azumanga Daioh, Five Centimeters per Second
From Princess Knight to Ranma 1/2, anime has always had a love affair with switching sexes. By bending the rules of what it means to be a man, a woman, or both, anime is always able to provide a transgressive thrill.
Recommendations: Kashimashi, Pretty Face, Hana-kimi
Girl's love or lesbian relationships, a genre which has experienced a boom since 1998's Maria-sama ga Miteru. The term "yuri", meaning lily, is the counterpart to "bara", or rose, which is a slang term for male homosexuals. Girl's love relationships began to first appear in shojo manga in the 1970s in titles such as Our White Room and Brother Dear Brother. As yuri became more popular, in the 1990s, and 2000s, series by men and for men, such as Strawberry Panic, began to appear as well. The diverse genre features everything from stories of the lesbian experience in Japan to idealized relationships between moe schoolgirls.
Recommendations: Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, Revolutionary Girl Utena
While shonen-ai or boy's love themes became popular in the early 1970s with series like From Eroica With Love or Patalliro, the yaoi boom did not take off until the doujinshi scene of the late 70's and early 80's. Characters from series such as Captain Tsubasa and Saint Seiya were popular picks for smutty fan comics with "no climax, no point, no meaning". This phrase, "yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi" was abbreviated as yaoi. Distinct from "bara" or gay men's comics, yaoi is a genre about same-sex male relationships written by women for women. These idealized relationships are hugely popular, as anyone who has been to convention or a bookstore's manga section can attest.
Recommendations: Junjo Romantica, Embracing Love, Gravitation
After Rumiko Takahashi got ahold of the romantic comedy genre in the 1980s, the triangle was unable to keep up. If you're unable to skip ahead a few episodes in a series without needing a chart to keep track of the web of relationships, you have a love polygon situation on your hands.
Recommendations: Marmalade Boy, School Rumble, Kimagure Orange Road
It's love at first fight with these couples. After some initial clashing, you might discover that you and your worst enemy aren't that incompatible after all.
Recommendations: Tora Dora, Kare Kano, Whisper of the Heart
The genre classic. There is no better way to engender a love that will not die than to forbid it from happening in the first place.
Recommendations: Paradise Kiss, Emma, Karin
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