I've been an online writer for years. I have many different interests, ranging from anime and Japanese culture to animals and art.
The Ever-Changing Fantasy Genre
The fantasy genre encompasses a lot, there are just so many different sub-genres that it really boggles the mind. The genre has certainly seen many changes over the years. You may wonder which entries are worth watching. It's a tough question but let’s see if we can give a decent ranking.
Here are some things to keep in mind for entries on the list.
- Because the fantasy genre is so broad, this list is going to simplify things a bit. First off, the anime must take place primarily in a fantasy world. This means no historical stuff like Inuyasha or urban fantasy like Sailor Moon. I’m counting Attack on Titan as more of a post-apocalyptic story, so it’s not on the list, though that could change. Again, this is more of a recommendation list than ranking what is the best. Also, I won't count stories of a character going to a parallel dimension or a computer game world. This type of anime is its own sub-genre called isekai. A lot of my favorite fantasy anime fall into this category.
- There must be some kind of fantasy element such as magic interwoven into the story and there should be some emphasis on worldbuilding of some kind. This means anime like Saiunkoku Monogatari, Snow White with the Red Hair, and Arslan Senki are not on the list as they focus more on political narratives and have little to no magic. Even Made in Abyss falls in this category as there doesn’t seem to be any magic elements in the world as of the first season.
- It must be a TV show. The series can have movies alongside the main storyline or as alternate stories, but I won't count standalone movies.
- Anime series were graded based on taking their MAL scores and review scores and then averaging them to get a better idea of their quality. This helps keep my subjective opinions at bay even though the MAL scores mean little sometimes. Series are then ranked based on things like plot, characters, worldbuilding, and general enjoyment.
Don’t be too disheartened if your favorite didn’t make the list. There are a ton of titles out there and the list could change because there are constantly new releases. But for now, these are ones that I recommend you should watch.
Ten Fantasy Anime to Watch
- Fullmetal Alchemist
- One Piece
- The Seven Deadly Sins
- Yona of the Dawn
- Guin Saga
Magi is an adaptation of the 2009 shonen manga by Shinobu Ohtaka. The manga ran from June 3, 2009 to October 18, 2017. The anime series had two seasons and a prequel spin-off following the character Sinbad.
This is a fun action anime that weaves the use of magic very nicely into the narrative. The characters, especially the main ones, are all appealing and interesting. They do fit the standard model of shonen protagonists but they are all likable.
The world of Magi is a very fun one. The starting location has an Arabian setting. This is rare to see in anime and there is enough diversity in locations to keep the world fresh. The magic system also gets expanded in the second season.
Magi is by no means a deep, thought-provoking anime but it never tried to be. It’s a fun action anime that is done well.
Unlike Magi, Claymore has a darker tone and features a more medieval European setting. This series is based on the manga by Norihiro Yagi. It ran from May 6, 2001 to December 4, 2014. The anime is only one season. Therefore, it doesn't cover the entirety of the manga.
The story is about a sect of women warriors, called Claymore, who must slay demons called Yoma. The reason they can slay the demons is because they are part Yoma themselves. The story follows a low-ranking Claymore named Clare, who is out for personal revenge
Claymore is more of a plot-driven show than a character-driven one. The plot never drags and it pulls the viewer into the dark world of the story.
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Moribito is interesting as the books it was based off of children's literature while the anime has a more adult tone. The book series was written by Nahako Uehashi and the first book was published in July of 1996. The anime ran from April 7, 2007 to September 29 of that year.
The story follows a young prince named Chagum, who carries the water demon inside his body. He is protected by Balsa, a spear-carrying warrior who has sworn to save lives instead of taking them.
The world of Moribito is beautiful. It has a more Asian take to the fantasy setting. The art and animation is stunning.
The pace does lag in parts and some have called it boring. However, the story is quite moving and the characters are all very well fleshed out. Its approach is simplistic and this gives it a classic feeling.
The story reaches a poignant conclusion which tackles topics like the beauty of nature, life, and human relationships.
7. Guin Saga
Guin Saga is based on the series of books by Kaoru Kurimoto. The series began in 1979 and is still running. Kurimoto passed away in 2009 and Yu Godai and Yume Yohino have both written volumes that came out in late 2013. There have also been two manga series. One was by Kazuaki Yanagisawa, which ran from 2001 to 2003. The other was by Hajime Sawada, which ran from June 2007 to June 2010. The anime premiered in April of 2009; Kurimoto passed away the following May of that year.
Fun fact—Guin Saga is the longest continuous running series written by a single person.
The story follows a mysterious warrior named Guin. He has amnesia and the only thing he can recall is the word Aurra as well as his name. He also has the head of a leopard. He meets a pair of royal twins who have fled from their kingdom after a coup.
Guin Saga has a good balance of political schemes, action, and magic. The story does shift around a lot but the world is very interesting and detailed. The characters are very compelling as they all have shades of gray. The music in the show is also gorgeous.
One issue with the anime is that its sole season ends with a cliffhanger. There is a lot more story to tell as the series of books has 137 volumes. Maybe someday they will continue the story but the anime is worth a watch.
6. Yona of the Dawn
So here is my subjective opinion coming through. Yona of the Dawn is one my personal favorite anime and manga. As you can probably figure, the anime is based on the manga by Mizuho Kusanagi. It began on August 4, 2009 and is currently still running. The anime premiered on October 7, 2014 and ended on March 24th, 2015. There are also three OVAs which aired between September 18, 2015 and December 19, 2016.
The series is a shoujo about a princess who is exiled after the murder of her father. Along with her protector and childhood friend Hak, she tries to gather four warriors of prophecy to aid her.
Yona has an Asian fantasy setting, which is always nice to see in an anime. It does a great job of blending genres together like action, comedy, some romance, and politics. It also has a good heroine journey/coming-of-age story interwoven into the narrative. Compared to other shows of the same style (I won't name names), it does a great job of developing all the characters.
One of the issues with the anime is that it ends right as the bigger plot begins as Yona gathers her companions. Hopefully it will get more seasons in the future. I really hope it does. Ao needs more screen time!
5. The Seven Deadly Sins
Another favorite of mine. This show and manga surprised me with how much I enjoyed it.
The first season ran from October 5, 2014 to March 29, 2015. There have been two OVA series. The first one ran between June 17 and August 15 in 2015. The second OVA, which Netflix labels as Season 2, ran between August 28 and September 18 in 2016. Season two ran from january 6th 2018 to June 30th 2018. There is also a movie set to come out end of 2018. The manga was written by Nakaba Suzuki and it began its run on October 10, 2012; it's still currently running. There are also spin-offs of the manga including one that reimagines the characters as high school students. It's weird.
The story starts off with Princess Elizabeth fleeing her kingdom after the Holy Knights stage a coup. Her goal is to try to find a group of criminals who are called The Seven Deadly Sins to help her.
What makes this anime great are the characters. They are all a lot of fun in different ways. The cast makes this story entertaining as the plot is very arc-based for most of the first season. Later plot points are threaded into the show but not too much is really explained, just enough to make one curious to see how much the characters let on to what they actually know.
The show isn't very deep or thought-provoking but it's a fun action show with great characters and a talking pig.
Slayers is a classic fantasy anime that was based on a series of novels by Hajime Kanzaka that ran from 1989 to 2000. The first season of the anime premiered on April 7, 1995 and ran until September 29 of that year. There have been four additional seasons plus some movies and OVAs.
The main character, Lina Inverse, is one of the most popular anime characters ever as she has a large fan following and is a critical darling. She has also had cameos in other media such as in the game DOTA and in the French comic book Les Légendaires Origines in 2014.
The plot of Slayers is your fairly standard magic and adventure tale in a medieval fantasy world. While there is magic and worldbuilding, the success of the series lies in its characters. They all balance out their crazy personalities, which creates a lot of great comedy and some serious plot points.
Considered to be the Game of Thrones of the anime world for its dark and brutal world, Berserk is a hallmark anime. The manga is written by Kentarou Miura and it began on August 25, 1989. It's still running, though it does go into periods of hiatus. Most manga do at some point.
The first anime series, which is considered the best version, began on October 7, 1997 and ended on March 31, 1998. The first series covered the Golden Age arc, which ended on a tragic cliffhanger that left fans begging for more. In 2016, a sequel series came out.
The sequel season is very polarizing. Not only do they skip arcs, they also use ugly computer animation. For the sake of this list, I'm recommending you to watch the first season and read the manga. The sequel season is not completely unwatchable but the CG animation doesn’t make it easy, especially when there are beautiful hand-drawn parts that taunt the viewer with what could have been.
The series follows a mercenary named Guts who joins a group that is led by a charismatic man named Griffin. Griffin is full of ambition to the point of ruin.
Berserk has a gripping plot with well-developed characters. Just be warned that the ending will get you.
2. One Piece
One Piece is an anime institution. It’s considered one of the big three shonen series. It's based on the manga by Eiichiro Oda, which premiered on July 22, 1997 and is still running. The anime has been running since October 20, 1999 and currently has over 800 episodes. It's daunting to start watching the series as it could take a person years to even catch up. There are also over 20 movies. It’s a monolith of an anime franchise.
The plot follows pirates on a quest to find an infamous treasure called the One Piece. They have many adventures as their search takes them throughout the world. The characters are all fun and their adventures are imaginative and engaging.
There is a reason this show has been going on as long as it has but there are some polazing opinions among fans. With that said, this is one of those anime series that every fan has at least heard of more than once.
Kudos to those who are still watching it and started at the beginning.
1. Fullmetal Alchemist
Speaking of anime that everyone is familiar with to some degree, we have Fullmetal Alchemist. I will be counting the 2003 version and the 2009 Brotherhood adaptation. The manga was written by Hiromu Arakawa, it ran from July 12, 2001 to June 12, 2010. The 2003 anime deviated from the plot of the manga and had an original story. The show was popular on its own but fans wanted a version that was a faithful adaption. In 2009, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood came out. There are also OVAs and a movie for each version. There is also a live-action movie coming out.
Both adaptations center around the Elric brothers trying to regain their bodies after they failed to bring their mother back with alchemy. As each story progress, they learn about the darker truths of alchemy.
Both versions do different things better than the other. Brotherhood has rich worldbuilding and explanations of alchemy while featuring fast-paced action. The 2003 anime focuses more on the drama of the story and keeps the alchemy grounded. It also fleshed out the antagonists more. This is especially true in regards to the homunculi as they are made out to be much more sympathetic. This doesn't mean that Brotherhood isn't dramatic when it needs to be. It can be gripping and tense.
You can watch either one but both are enjoyable and worth viewing. Many people do consider Brotherhood to be the better adaptation.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.