Written by: Nicole Castro
Published on: January 10, 2022 at 12:00 PHT (GMT+8)
Today (Jan. 10, 2022) is Coming of Age Day in Japan! It's a day when Japanese people celebrate their entry into the life phase of adulthood.
But as everyone knows very well, adulthood is no walk in the park. And growing into an adult (both physically and mentally) is an even tougher job. It's an incredibly long process of trial and error. Enter: coming-of-age anime!
These kinds of anime often focus on high school or university students who introspect on who they are and what they want to be. There's a lot of drama, angst, anxiety, but also transformation.
Without further ado, here are 10 anime that delve into the growing pains and victories as we make our way from adolescence to adulthood.
1. Great Teacher Onizuka (1999-2000)
GTO first aired in June 1999, but when you have an anime this great it lives on (and stays strong!) all the way to 2022. Eikichi Onizuka is an ex-biker gang leader who pursues his own unconventional path as a high school teacher. But it looks like he was destined for this role after all, since the students of Class 3-4 are delinquents themselves.
The Highlights of This Show: This anime is memorable for the depth and honesty it gives to depicting the lives of students who fall outside of the ideal high school student trope. Many of the Class 3-4 students are victims of bullying and sexual harassment and are therefore treated as losers and outcasts. This series even delves into the seriousness of suicide, and how having a great support system (like The Great Teacher Onizuka) can make a big difference in turning your life around at this crucial life phase.
2. Super Gals! Kotobuki Ran (2001-2002)
Super Gals! Kotobuki Ran misleads you into thinking it's just another cutesy shoujo anime, but it's surprisingly introspective and fleshes out the main cast very well. Ran Kotobuki dreams of becoming the epitome of a trendy, young Shibuya girl...which would've been okay if she didn't belong to a strict family of cops. And so begins the intricate story of Ran doing her best to remain true to herself while enjoying life as teenage girls do!
The Highlights of This Show: This show pays great respect to the struggles of teenage girls, especially in terms of love, appearances, and maintaining friendships at this delicate life stage. Ran's best friends Miyu and Aya have extensive plot development as well, so watching them with Ran always feels like joining a girls' sleepover with the most in-depth conversations.
3. Ouran High School Host Club (2006)
For all the shoujo high school life anime out there, Ouran is indisputably one of the most successful ones for being way ahead of its time. It is one of the first anime series to feature an unconventional female protagonist in the form of Haruhi. Haruhi is not interested in love or maintaining appearances when she enters Ouran. She's there to get her good grades and support her single-parent father. But she finds herself in an unexpected reverse harem situation when she joins the host club.
The Highlights of This Show: Aside from the crazy humor care of Tamaki and the other hosts, fans love Ouran for how Haruhi becomes an oddly perfect fit in this circle of friendship. And more importantly, the way she and Tamaki fall in love is gorgeously, awkwardly organic and doesn't rely on showy displays of charm typical of their host club work.
4. Kimi ni Todoke (2009-2011)
Kimi ni Todoke is another example of a shoujo anime that defies the usual tropes. Like Ouran, Kimi ni Todoke features an unconventional protagonist in the form of Sawako, a shy, socially awkward girl who struggles to make friends due to her uncanny resemblance to Sadako from The Ring.
The Highlights of This Show: In an era of anime full of toughie tsunderes and their male partners who were either too normal or too unusual with their backstories, Kimi ni Todoke was refreshing for how natural and normal Sawako and her love interest Kazehaya were. They are two, kind people who start out as friends and get to know each other gradually in a truly realistic way.
5. Assassination Classroom (2015-2016)
Assassination Classroom is another great anime featuring a great teacher who changes his outcast students' lives. Sure, GTO has done that kind of premise before, but Assassination Classroom takes the unconventional methods a little higher on the crazy scale. Koro-sensei is a monster who teaches Class 3-E how to assassinate him while getting top grades and pursuing their own dreams outside of their school's oppressive "survival of the fittest" system.
The Highlights of This Show: Once you get past the crazy plot, you'll find yourself falling in love with Koro-sensei and his bond with Class 3-E. And if you relate to the elitist school system that places too much emphasis on achieving good grades, you'll find yourself loved and accepted by Koro-sensei unconditionally.
6. Sakamoto Desu Ga (2016)
Sakamoto Desu Ga is that feel-good show when you're not in the mood for complex plot and just want maximum entertainment. Enjoy Sakamoto being downright weird, crazy, smart, and cool, all at the same time. It makes for unforgettable high school memories.
The Highlights of This Show: This show succeeds in not taking itself seriously while still delivering the heartfelt message that having fun is the most important thing in high school. You'll be surprised by how Sakamoto will make you feel like you don't want the good times to end.
7. A Silent Voice (2016)
A Silent Voice is one of the most serious and intensely emotional anime out there when it comes to character development. Shouya Ishida finds his life in shambles after taking things too far when he bullied deaf classmate Shouko Nishimiya back in elementary school. Even though he has turned a new leaf in high school and is even trying to befriend Nishimiya, both Nishimiya and their classmates will not accept his changed self so easily. And so begins an epic story of change, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
The Highlight of This Film: In our opinion, there is not a second of this film that isn't a highlight. This film bravely tackles depression, anxiety, strained friendships, bullying, and suicide, along with a realistic path towards conquering them. By the end of this film, you'll realize that forgiveness must also always come from yourself. And that people truly can change.
8. Fruits Basket (2019-2021)
Fruits Basket tackles the intricacy of human relationships like no other anime out there. And it's not just focusing on your typical high school love life. Every single character in this series has some sort of family trauma that they are trying to overcome as they build new relationships with others that break away from the vicious cycles of their pasts. We say you need no further convincing to watch this show.
9. Blue Period (2021)
Blue Period is the perfect anime for those who are going through the I-need-to-convince-my-parents-that-I-want-to-pursue-this-college-degree-instead-of-the-one-they-want phase. Protagonist Yatora Yaguchi is definitely that kind of high school student as he finds himself falling in love with art despite how it may not be the most lucrative profession in the eyes of society. His parents obviously don't see how he'll have a stable future with it, but Yatora is here to prove he's serious about this.
The Highlights of This Show: Blue Period doesn't shy away from the serious discussion about how art might not make money. But it also offers the compelling argument that when you're confident in yourself and in what you can do, you are at your most marketable. Try watching Blue Period when you need something to inspire you to be different.
10. Horimiya (2021)
Featuring one of the ultimate anime couples of 2021: Hori-san and Miyamura! Fans have not stopped talking about this show even in 2022. Among the many, many love teams in anime, Hori-san and Miyamura stand out for being the realest of high schoolers who take the time to get to know each other and become end game. We're all hoping for a relationship like this.
The Highlights of This Show: While it's Hori-san and Miyamura's chemistry that attracts people to watch this show, it's the relationship pacing that makes you finish it. Hori-san and Miyamura are a perfect example of how the people you develop the deepest bonds with (even platonically) are the ones whom you feel like you don't have to put up a brave face for. This show knows how to depict vulnerability even without an overly complicated plot, and you'll be cheering for everyone in the cast as they learn to remove their masks and be real to the ones who understand them.
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