The shōjo (also shoujo or shojo) and josei demographics often get the short end of the stick when it comes to anime adaptations. However, that didn’t keep 2017 from being a great year for these two types of female-oriented anime. From action to romance to drama, the shows on this list pushed the envelope in terms of what girls find appealing, proving their tastes are just as vast and varied as their male counterparts. With that out of the way, here are the top 10 shōjo and josei anime of 2017.
IDOLiSH7 is a show about people with potential lacking the blueprint for success. Tsumugi Takanashi’s father thrusts her into the role of manager for an up-and-coming, seven-member male idol group. The boys, while unique and with fabulous hair, have only just met, but the chemistry between them is undeniable. They are meant to be stars, and the inexperienced Tsumugi will guide them there, albeit haphazardly.
The only problem: they aren’t ready for their debut, and neither are we. Instead of plunging us into popstar heaven, we see how the band struggles to find an audience and Tsumugi to overcome her Imposter Syndrome. The slower pace is refreshing, as it allows ample time to develop the relationships between characters.
IDOLiSH7 is only two episodes in, but we are already rooting for Tsumugi and the future idols. Not to mention, the music is catchy.
Kenka Banchou Otome – Girl Beats Boys
If you’re into watching girls defy gender roles while simultaneously taking down the patriarchy, then Kenka Banchou Otome is the anime for you. Hinako Nakayama is an ordinary girl who never knew her parents. But don’t assume this is a story about her grief. It is a tale of her strength. The victim of blackmail, Hinako finds herself trading places with Hikaru Onigashima, a frail boy who claims to be her twin. He’s also the member of a powerful Yakuza family.
Hinako is forced to hide her identity as she attends the notorious Shishiku Academy, an all-boys school where fighting for the top spot is as normal as homeroom. Of course, Hikaru’s reputation precedes him, and he expects Hinako to rise through the ranks to keep the family name intact. Hinako not only kicks ass, thanks to years of martial arts training, she also develops meaningful relationships with a ragtag group along the way. Not bad for someone without a family.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
The intertwining stories of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju do not need to be told; they have to be. Whether amidst the backdrop of war or modern technology, life goes on and traditions fade. One man, Yotaro, an ex-convict, hopes to change that. Instead of returning to a life of crime, he has one goal: to perform rakugo, a form of traditional and comedic Japanese storytelling.
To perfect his newfound passion, he becomes the apprentice of the legendary Yakumo, an aging storyteller who cares for his deceased colleague’s daughter. The four of them — the ex-con, the woman with natural talent but born the wrong gender, the injured former dancer, and the long-gone brash ruffian — all have one thing in common: the need to preserve a dying aspect of their culture and themselves. Their stories are linked through time, giving viewers a glimpse into oft-ignored parts of Japanese history and culture. The fresh perspective is necessary and a must-see for Western audiences.
Tsuki ga Kirei
Tsuki ga Kirei is subtle. Something you wouldn’t expect from a school-life anime. The story focuses on the budding romance between two middle schoolers, Akane the track star and Kotarō, an aspiring novelist. While their hobbies may make them appear to be opposites, they are actually both quite shy.
So, instead of relying on expository dialogue or exaggerated actions and emotions to advance the plot, Tsuki ga Kirei tells its story silently. The action is found in the moments in-between — in averted gazes, shifting feet, long pauses, and innocent smiles. In fact, Tsuki ga Kirei is not a story. It’s a feeling. It’s the butterflies in your stomach when saw your first crush, except slow-building and ever-present. Of course, if relationships existed in their own perfect bubbles, there wouldn’t be conflict. Watching the two deal with pressure from the outside world is where the story truly shines.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride
It isn’t hard to see the hints of Miyazaki and Disney in The Ancient Magus’ Bride. The scenery is breathtaking, full of vibrant greens and deep earth tones. The background and its mix of colors serve as characters themselves, helping to convey the emotional depth of the story. This is fantasy in its highest form. Magic, fairies and otherworldly creatures abound, but at the center of everything is a 15-year-old girl named Chise.
Chise’s story is full of tragedy. Able to see creatures that others can’t, she is often misunderstood and considered a nuisance by others. The family she stays with makes it clear that she isn’t welcome there, or anywhere. What’s a girl with no place to call home to do but sign her life (and hand in marriage) away to a not-quite-human magus? Chise’s attempt to finally find the home she’s always wanted is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and a must-see for fantasy fans.
Saiyuki Reload Blast
The Saiyuki series has been around in one form or another since the ‘90s. But don’t let that deter you. Saiyuki Reload Blast is the perfect starting point for new fans. Years of character development means Sanzou Genjou and his three companions already have a solid rapport with one another. No tedious world- or character-building here. Saiyuki Reload Blast gets right to the good stuff — killing demons and helping villagers.
The show is fairly formulaic. A band of guys with amazing hair (because what is Josei without holding spray?) go on a Journey to the West-esque journey jam-packed with Old West-style battles. The story isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it doesn’t have to when the main characters are so interesting. Their leader is a gunslinging Buddhist monk who swears, drinks and smokes to his heart’s content for Pete’s sake. Despite their stylish yet ragtag appearance, you can’t help but feel like one of them as they drive around in their jeep, bantering and killing baddies.
Nino Arisugawa is not your typical shōjo protagonist. In fact, she isn’t even a normal girl. She wears a mask over her mouth, not to prevent illness but to keep herself from screaming. Huge headphones cover her ears everywhere she goes, and she is always singing. Often, as if no one is watching, although they usually are. She sounds terrible, but her voice draws people in regardless.
After two heart-wrenching, childhood goodbyes, Nino spends her time singing near the shoreline (and everywhere else), hoping her voice will lead Yuzu and Momo back to her. It works, but Yuzu wants Nino all to himself, and Momo wants nothing to do with her. They are all bound by music, a source of pain and catharsis for them all. A love triangle ensues, but ultimately Nino’s struggle to find her voice, to be heard, is what steals the show. If you are feeling angsty, Anonymous Noise is the love song for the troubled teen inside of you.
Code: Realize ~ Guardian of Rebirth ~
Based on an otome game, Guardian of Rebirth is the kind of guilty pleasure show that appeals to Hallmark Christmas movie lovers. Shut away in a mansion by her father, Cardia lives in isolation. She is a monster. At least, that’s how everyone else sees her. Thanks to her father, her poisonous skin causes everything she touches to rot away. On top of that, her earliest memory is from two years ago when her dad told her to never fall in love.
If you weren’t already getting literary vibes, you will when you realize she is soon rescued and surrounded by historical, fictional hunks such as Arsène Lupin, Victor Frankenstein, Van Helsing and more. If you just want to watch a bunch of handsome hunks come to the aid of a lonely and beautiful girl, look no further. Sure, the plot takes a few surprising and soap-opera-like twist and turns but makes no profound statements. Just sit back and enjoy this over-the-top drama for what it is.
In URAHARA, Mari, Rito, and Kotoko work to open a pop-up shop in the Harajuku district, the fashion mecca of Japan. The animation is as unique as the kawaii outfits found on the streets there. It oozes childhood, especially when coupled with its pastel color palette and realistic depiction of young girls’ bodies.
Though the artwork is unique, it is the sneak peek we get at modern Japanese culture that is most appealing. So appealing, in fact, that aliens decide to take it for themselves. That’s right, in addition to fashion, URAHARA also tackles cultural appropriation. To stop these culture vultures, the girls are given powers to defend the one place they feel most at home. The show suffers from the “monster of the week” trope, but the battles are fun and take a backseat to the bond the girls have with each other. Oh, and there is a talking fried shrimp. Who doesn’t want to see that?
Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Recovery of an MMO Junkie comes at a time when the average millennial hasn’t quite figured out how to “adult.” The protagonist, 30-year-old Moriko Morioka, grows tired of the corporate world, quitting her job to become a NEET. Soon, she starts her life anew, but not in the real world with the rest of us. No, Moriko chooses to flourish in an online game beyond the pleasantries and exhausting rituals of reality.
Moriko’s relatable personality outshines Recovery of an MMO Junkie‘s predictable love story. In a society where everything is online, it is refreshing to see an adult struggle with basic social interactions in a realistic way — in an anime. Moriko only leaves the house out of necessity, without giving her hair or clothes a second thought. Yet, when she plays online (as a male character), she can be her true self. The meaningful relationships she develops are familiar to all of us and make this a must-see for millennials.