At a Glance: 'Spice and Wolf'
Intro and Summary:
Holo is a wolf goddess of the harvest in a remote village. Lawrence is a traveling merchant. Holo decides one day that she's simply had enough of being the village's mascot. She wants to explore the world, and eventually, return to her homeland in the north. So she hitches a ride in Lawrence's wagon when he leaves town.
Holo proves to be capable of helping Lawrence in business, but she is emotionally sensitive. A bond of course forms, slowly but surely between them, but both parties will probably keep insisting "it's just business".
Spice and Wolf
Light Novel by Isuna Hasekura
Manga, OVAs, DS Games (2)
Often described as 'an economics lecture + a nekked furry', but that's not really all there is here. It's a beautiful, grown up, romantic story that evokes powerful emotions. It's also a medieval setting focusing on the realistic and mundane, rather than big supernatural forces or epic struggles between good and evil. It feels more like stepping into actual history (adding a magical furry goddess) than into a fantasy world.
The main thing that's interesting is the relationship between Holo and Lawrence. Both of them have years of isolation in their past in common, and this is something they bond over. Both of them have street smarts, talent, and wit. However, neither felt over-powered or without weaknesses. Lawrence is smart, but he doesn't know everything. Holo is powerful, but she can be hurt and has emotional vulnerability. Adventuring together seems to help both of them grow as people, and that's a really beautiful thing to watch.
I'd recommend Spice and Wolf if you want a romance that's sweet but realistic, about adults, not a harem, not overly fanservice-y, and that does not infantilize women. There's a lot of points this anime gets just because of all the things it could be, but isn't. And I'd definitely recommend the light novel as well.