The second part of Dark Flame Master’s commission was for a list of the my top five college anime. My definition for purposes of this piece was any series that was set mainly at a university, or where the protagonist(s) is/are a college student.
This is another one of those requests that sounds easy but is actually maddeningly difficult. In the first place, there aren’t all that many college anime relatively speaking. Certainly not in context of how many high school and even middle school ones there are. In truth there are far more anime set in workplaces than colleges – it’s kind of a black hole in the anime landscape (a discussion of why would be a post all to itself, and not a short one).
The other reason why this particular request is a challenge for me is that as I was reminded of as I started thinking about it, this is a subgenre marked my many series which are widely loved which I personally don’t care for. Grand Blue (hate), Golden Time (great start followed by major shark jump), Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (one of the most annoying MCs ever). Even stuff like Moyashimon and Genshiken never really clicked with me despite being very popular. So if anything, this exercise was a reminder of just how rare really good college anime are, and that’s a real shame.
With that, here’s my personal list:
Youjouhan Shinwa Taikei – The Tatami Galaxy isn’t even my favorite Morimi Tomihiko series (that would be Uchouten Kazoku) but it’s still awfully good. And it’s a good fit for this list because in addition to being generally excellent, it’s very much centered around college life (Kyoto University, in this case).
Stein;s Gate – S;G – may in fact be my favorite show on this list, but it’s not one where the college aspect is a constant presence (for a long time I thought Okabe was much older). Still, research science is a key element, the protags are mostly college students or at least college-aged, and it’s a terrific piece of work (though the sequel falls far short of the original).
Nodama Cantabile – Another absolute gem that might have ranked higher if the university aspect were more prominent. Not that it isn’t important, but Nodama Cantabile is a series about music and creativity that just happens to be set (for a while) at the university level.
Hachimitsu to Clover – Honey and Clover seems to be the default setting for this question, the series more people naturally land on than any other. And I get that, as it’s very good and unquestionably revolves around the college experience. For me it’s one of those series I always feel like I should love more than I do – which is more of a “like”. I find it solid rather than sublime but it certainly belongs on this list.
Maison Ikkoku – Ah, Rumiko’s old chestnut. It belongs here too – while Yusaku isn’t in college when the series starts, it does eventually play a major role in the story. Maison Ikkoku is more about the titular setting than university life per se, but the connection is strong enough (and the field weak enough) for me to slot it in here.
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