Anime is, of course, Japanese animation, and manga refers to Japanese comic books. There are literally hundreds of anime and manga that can be considered “fantasy” — but they’re definitely not all created equal.
Here are what I consider to be the top five:
5. The Works of Yuu Watase
It was impossible to pick just one of Yuu Watase’s works for this list, but she is best known for Fushigi Yugi, the story of Miaka, a school-girl who is transported into a book, The Universe of the Four Gods. There she discovers that she is the Priestess of Suzaku and must gather the seven Celestial Warriors in order to summon Suzaku and receive three wishes.
Two other of Watase’s fantasy series worth reading are Alice 19th and Ceres: Celestial Legend. All three started as manga while Fushigi Yugi and Ceres were also made into anime series. The anime are good, but I would recommend starting with the manga as the stories are a bit more fleshed out, especially for Ceres.
4. Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 film Spirited Away is a beautiful and captivating Alice In Wonderland-type tale. The movie follows a teenager named Chihiro who is unhappy to be moving to a new town with her parents. In route, they discover what appears to be an abandoned amusement park which they decide to explore. After her parents find a stall filled with food, Chihiro wanders off and meets a boy named Haku, who urgently tells her that she has to leave. Finding her parents turned into pigs and that the park has come to life with all manner of spirits, Chihiro is forced to give up her name to the witch, Yubaba, in exchange for a job at the spirits’ bathhouse.
Spirited Away is the only anime to have won an Academy Award, having won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2002. The English release is done well and features some top voice talent.
3. The Queen’s Knight
Anyone who has been to Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle probably remembers the terrifying wooden bridge that extends over a gorge overlooking the castle. This is the bridge that Yuna, the main character of The Queen’s Knight, falls off of while visiting her mother in Germany. The Queen’s Knight is actually a manhwa, or Korean comic book, created by Kim Kang-Won.
Yuna is rescued by a knight named Rieno who takes her to the land of Phantasma to be its queen in exchange for saving her life. A curse lies upon Phantasma that encases the land in endless winter until the queen finds love. When spring does come and the land awakens from its sleep, Yuna is immersed into a court with a long history of politics and intrigues, but refuses to conform to the mold of queens in the past, each who has come to a tragic end. My only complaint is that, sadly, TOKYOPOP published only 12 out of 17 volumes before canceling the series, leaving fans hanging.
2. The Vision of Escaflowne
The Vision of Escaflowne, a 26-episode anime series that aired on Japanese television in1996, tells the story of a high school girl named Hitomi who is abnormally good at tarot cards and has latent psychic talent. After a warrior and dragon appear at her high school track, she is transported by her grandmother’s pendant to the world of Gaea, a small planet that exists behind the earth’s moon. The warrior is Van, the king of Fanelia and the only one who can pilot the legendary guymelef, Escaflowne.
Hitomi becomes embroiled in the fight against the more technologically advanced, Zaibach Empire who wishes to take over all of Gaea and revive the ancient power of Atlantis. The story is, simply put, amazing and addictive, full of twists and turns with just the right amount of action and romance. If that weren’t enough, Escaflowne boasts an incredible musical score, composed by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi, that holds its own against the best movie scores. (Seriously. I’ll fight anyone on this!)
In 2000, Escaflowne: The Movie, an alternate re-telling of the series, was released.
1. Record of Lodoss War
It should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Record of Lodoss War that it lands in the top spot, especially considering its pedigree. Lodoss War began as serialized transcripts from D&D campaigns that were published in a Japanese magazine in the 1980s. As their popularity grew, multiple manga series and anime series were developed.
One distinct feature is the artwork, which is some of the most beautiful you will find in any anime. The anime is divided into two parts, the OVA and TV series, Chronicles of the Heroic Knight (there is also a sequel, Legend of Crystania). There are some continuity problems between the two series, and I find the OVA to be the superior of the two. The OVA has the distinction of being perhaps the only anime I can watch in the English dub without making me want to dribble acid into my ears. The dub for Heroic Knight, on the other hand, is horrible and I recommend watching with subtitles.
The OVA centers on the adventures of Parn, a village boy who takes up his father’s sword to become a fighter, and his companions as they fight the forces of Marmo. The first eight episodes of Heroic Knight continue Parn’s story, but then the focus is shifted to a new young hero, Spark.
Record of Lodoss War episode 2
(Note: Unless otherwise noted, I strongly recommend viewing the anime in the original Japanese with English subtitles. In most cases, the English dubbing is horrible.)
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