(This list doesn’t include Sailor Moon or Cardcaptor Sakura, because even though those are probably the best, I haven’t seen them all the way through. I’ve only seen 3-5 episodes.)
7. Vampire Knight
The Day Class of Cross Academy is made up of human students, and the Night Class of Vampires. Yuuki (female lead from the Day Class) and Zero (one of the male leads) must oversee and protect the peace between the classes, especially since the Day Class is unaware of the Night Class being Vampires. The idea is to coexist. It seems to work, and there to Yuuki’s delight, there are charming and interesting members of the Night Class like Kaname Kuran. However, Zero hates vampires. As tension rises, will peace be maintained? As she falls in love, will Yuuki be devoured by Vampires?
Yes, I know. This definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s one of those girly vampire stories like Twilight. And by the second season finale, it’s not a better love story than Twilight. However, the series has value as a widely popular show for girls, and one whose popularity has remained even ten or twelve years after its production. The animation is truly beautiful, as long as you like Studio Deen’s style with skinny bodies, huge eyes, and sharp noses. Famous seiyuu such as Yui Horie and Mamoru Miyano appear in the series and perform their roles well. Also, if watched without any expectations of it being remotely “scary,” Vampire Knight can be surprisingly eerie on occasion. I recommend both seasons, but prepare for an unpopular conclusion to the second. 😛
6. Princess Tutu
Ahiru is a simple duck living in a pond in within a medieval-looking city closed in by walls. However, she can see the Prince, Myuuto, from her pond, and dreams of being with him. A magic pendant turns Ahiru into a human, and she takes ballet classes with the surprisingly apathetic and withdrawn Myuuto. Before long, Ahiru learns that her role in this storybook world is to be the ballerina hero, Princess Tutu, who collects the pieces of the Prince’s broken heart and puts them back together.
Based on the art style and the title, Princess Tutu seems like it be something for five-year-olds, but there is quality storytelling and character development in it, as well as some deeply thought-provoking content and psychological elements. No, it won’t go Madoka Magica on you and start beheading cute girls, but it will make you stop and think about the nature of that world, the plights of the different characters, the question of free will, the role of authors and storytellers, and the theme of life being like a story. I highly recommend Princess Tutu; the only warning to add is that you have to be patient to reach the good stuff. It takes till at least the halfway point for the somewhat formulaic story to begin its surprises.
5. Maria-sama ga Miteru
Protagonist Yumi begins highschool at the all-girls Catholic school Lilian. There, she meets and falls in love with Sachiko, a member of the student council and a beauitful senpai. Maria-sama ga Miteru focuses on a number of female characters and their relationships, from friends to sisters to something more. There are four fantastic seasons.
This series, which is somehow still pretty obscure after so many years and seasons, is known for some of the most famous shoujo ai couples and tropes in anime. In the modern scene, shoujo ai and yuri shows are rarely targeted at girls, but at older males. (Take Flip Flappers as a rather controversial example.) However, Maria-sama ga Miteru is of the shoujo genre as well as shoujo ai– it’s about girls who like girls, and its target audience is girls. That’s actually pretty rare. Anyway, I respect this series a great deal as a shoujo and a girls’ love, as well as a show that set the stage for many others.
4. Full Moon wo Sagashite
12-year-old girl Mitsuki wants to become a singer, and has always been great at singing, but she’s unfortunate in that she has cancer of the throat. The two Shinigami Tukto and Meroko inform Mitsuki that she only has a year left to live, a fact which only makes the girl want to sing more. Thanks to Takuto’s magical help, she temporarily transforms into a beautiful, blond 16-year-old girl and becomes a professional singer in that form, calling herself Full Moon. As she works as a popular singer, Mitsuki hopes to one day soon be reunited with ehr crush Eichi, who moved away before she could tell him she liked him.
Full Moon wo Sagashite (Searching for the Full Moon) is a long-lastingly popular anime, though maybe more obscure than some others on this list. What makes it interesting? Many young viewers expected this show to be more light-hearted and funny, but for the most part, Full Moon is heavy, dramatic, and sad– or depressing, even. One of the main recurring themes is death. Characters must constantly deal with mortality, sadness, regrets, unfulfilled wishes, and broken bits of hope. The ending is exremely powerful and sad, too. I like this show a lot, but don’t get too far into it without some tissues.
3. Revolutionary Girl Utena
Utena Tenjou begins highschool wearing a boy’s uniform and shaking everyone’s ideas of what should be. Rather than be a princess to be rescued, Utena wants to be a prince that rescues the princess. That’s because she was so inspired by a prince who once helped her in the past after her parents died. After she sees her upperclassmen in the student council abusing a girl named Anthy, Utena tries to stop it, and is challenged to a duel with swords. The winner “wins” Anthy, and of course, Utena intends to free her.
You’ve probably heard of this show since it’s well acclaimed, and has been around for over 20 years. In my opinion, Revolutionary Girl Utena is a classic anime that everyone should try to watch. If you don’t want to sit through 39 episodes of “Absolute Destiny” (kudos if you get it), then at least watch the OVA movie, The Adolescence of Utena, which summarizes the events. The same director Kunihiko Ikuhara who made Utena later went on to direct Yuri Kuma Arashi, Mawaru Penguindrum, and Sarazanmai. That means the story is a little weird, but full of deep meaning, interesting themes, and odd metaphors which at first mask some very dark content.
2. Snow White with Red Hair
Shirayuki, meaning Snow White, is named for her fair complexion, but known around town for her bright red hair. Her life as an herbalist ends one day suddenly, when a foolish prince tries to force her to become his concubine. Shirayuki runs away to another kingdom. While traveling, by coincedence, she meets and befriends the new country’s Prince, Zen. Shirayuki tries to settle into her new life of being an herbalist for the royal court, but schemes to remove her, and schemes to harm Zen, are abundant.
This show isn’t deep or meaningful in the same way as Utena or Princess Tutu, and it doesn’t touch themes of mortality and epic redemption like Full Moon, but nevertheless, it’s one of the two shoujo shows I enjoyed watching more than any of the others. Akagami no Shirayuki is a modern shoujo classic. Female lead is strong, feisty, capable, and intelligent– plus kind, polite, and forgiving. She’s a great role model for young girls. Prince Zen is likewise a great role model for boys, being brave, earnest, physically active, quick-witted, and most of all, considerate of the woman he falls in love with. It’s rare to see a main couple that doesn’t perpetuate any of the casual sexism we see so often in anime. I love this couple and I love Snow White with Red Hair!
1. Ouran HSHC
The king of shoujo is here! Ouran High School Host Club is an iconic and classic shoujo school comedy with romance. After she breaks a vase worth 8 million yen, main character Haruhi Fujioka is mistaken to be the errand boy for the Host Club, where “all the handsomest boys with too much time on their hands entertain girls who also have too much time on their hands.” Eventually, the Host Club members, led by Tamaki Suou, realize that Haruhi is a girl. They let her be a member of the Host Club, where she crossdresses without a care and enjoys being “fussed over by a bunch of girls.” As all the members of the Host Club fall in love with the unique Haruhi, comedy and drama ensue.