So there’s anime you watch for the fun of it. And anime that works some neat, real-world details you didn’t know into the plot to make it more engaging. And then there’s anime that frog-marches you into class, shoves you into your seat, and starts marking up the chalkboard. And makes you like it anyway.
I’m sure this list isn’t by far all-encompassing; and if you know of a good series that isn’t on here, by all means please let me know in the comments!
The best part: All of these can be streamed for free on Crunchyroll!
Ninja Girl and Samurai Master (Nobunaga no Shinobi)
When a young ninja-in-training falls in a river, she gets rescued by none other than the soon-to-be-famous Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga has a vision of uniting all of Japan (by force if necessary), and Chidori accompanies him through the epic battles and other events that shaped early modern Japanese history.
And the laughs. Oh, the laughs! This series is utterly hilarious. And since each episode is barely five minutes, it’s not much of a time-sink.
Meow Meow Japanese History
The title says it all. Cats re-enact Japanese history. Geared more towards younger folk than the previous entry on my list, it’s still plenty entertaining for… not so young folks. Again, at ten minutes a pop, it’s not much of a time investment, either.
Based on the epic (and very much NSFW) manga by the same name, the anime version is a much more kid-friendly take on this historical fiction from the Warring States period in China. A peasant boy gets a shot at becoming a general and helping a young king carry out his dream of a united China. The animation is a little weird, but it’s still worth a gander. Give it a few episodes to allow the plot to really get going.
In the manga, Japanese versions of the Chinese names are used; so if you look up the historical folks under those names in an English dictionary, you won’t find them. The anime follows the same convention, but the subtitles for some reason replace them with the Chinese equivalents. So if you watch the subtitles, you should be able to get the names the characters would be found under if you want to learn more about them.
Miss Bernard Said
Four junior high (I think) students hang out at the library (mostly) and argue about books, all kinds of books! Every one of the 5-minute episodes explores some aspect of modern literature: from sci-fi to Sherlock Holmes pastiches, to the best mood to approach post-modern authors in, there’s a surprising amount of information in what is essentially an animated gag strip! Keep your finger on the pause button, though, because every twenty seconds some background info notes flash up on the screen to explain what the characters are wise-cracking about, and you’re going to want to take it in for a moment before moving on.
Folk Tales from Japan
Exactly what it says on the tin. Every episode consists of three Japanese folktales told in an engaging style. Appropriate for all ages and fun for the whole family! Like most of the other series on this list, it tends to be on the funny side. (The episode with the faceless woman was pretty creepy, though.)
There’s a similar series called Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories, but I haven’t watched that one. It’s simply because I don’t have time for it. It is absolutely not because I would then be unable to fall asleep that night.
Where would we be without this season’s most meta series ever, the anime about anime?! A high school girl decides to revive the school’s anime club. Insanity ensues. If you want to know how anime are made, check it out!
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
And if you’d rather learn about manga, this is your go-to series! A high school girl confesses to her crush, who turns out to be a mangaka and thinks that she’s asking for his autograph. As she gets to know him better, she gets drawn into his team of manga creators… and you can guess the rest!
Where would a list like this be without Hiromu Arakawa’s award-winning Silver Spoon? If you want to have fun learning about agriculture, with a sweet, sweet high school love story as part of the package, watch it. Even if you don’t, watch it. You’ll be glad you did. Silver Spoon is like nothing you’ve ever seen before or will ever see again, and Arakawa’s storytelling is at its prime. (And here we thought she couldn’t do better than Fullmetal Alchemist!)
I haven’t included sports anime here, because there’s just too many of them, and it’s sort of a given in these kinds of shows. (I’m including series like Hikaru no Go in the category of “sports”.)
Special mention should be given to Love is Like a Cocktail, which includes a recipe for a (usually) alcoholic drink in every episode, and Classicaloid, which features magic-empowered artificial lifeforms doing battle as reincarnations of famous composers of classical music. I’m not even sure that last bit made any sense. In any case, Classicaloid is a bit educational but actually is more fun if you already have a knowledge of the subject going into it, which is different than what I’m looking for in this post. Same with Drifters, the third anime mentioned in this list to include Oda Nobunaga.
In any case, if there’s another educational series you recommend, please let me know in the comments! Peace out!