We may be nearing the end of September, but back-to-school time is still in full swing. And despite the fact that my back-to-school days have come and gone, cooler weather and the sight of fresh school supplies never fails to bring back that old mix of nervousness, dread, and excitement. (I’m starting to think it’ll never really go away . . .) Thus, I’ve decided to embrace it by talking about some of my favorite school-themed anime!
As anyone who’s watched even a little anime knows, I’m pulling from a pretty deep well. Whether it’s because there are a disproportionate number of them or because it’s just my favorite niche, I’m hard pressed to think of more than a handful of anime and/or manga series that aren’t set in a school or that don’t include at least some sort of school-related element (if only of the “All these supernatural adventures are really killing my GPA!” variety).
There are many reasons why these series have such staying power. Whether or not we’re currently in school, we all remember what it was like and can easily identify with the trials and joys that the characters experience. Somehow, no dramatization of that realm seems overdone when compared to memories of our own school days (and if you know anime at all, you know that’s saying a lot). Beyond that, a school setting is the perfect microcosm within which to explore the vagaries of teenage romance, the volatility of young friendships, and the consternation and confusion that inevitably come with growing up.
And it’s for these reasons and more that these are my top three favorite school-themed anime series!
Ouran High School Host Club
Like most of my favorite anime, this one is a few years old, but in my opinion it’s just as fresh and funny as ever. Ouran tells the story of Haruhi Fujioka, a geeky tomboy who gets into fancy, prestigious Ouran High School by way of her smarts alone—instead of by dint of having loads of money, like 99 percent of her fellow students. Her androgynous looks lead her to be immediately mistaken for a boy by her classmates—that is, until the members of Ouran’s resident host club figures out she’s a girl soon after befriending her.
The host club (a concept that’s seen as a bit skeezy in the real world, but which is quite innocent in the world of Ouran) is a group of male students who enjoy entertaining their female classmates with drinks, treats, and refined (albeit highly flirtatious) conversation. By way of unfortunate yet ridiculous circumstance, Haruhi ends up working as an errand “boy” for the host club. But it’s not long until the club realizes that, as a girl who everyone thinks is a boy, Haruhi will be an asset to the club as a host; they figure that, as a girl herself, Haruhi will know best how to cater to the club’s patrons. The boys spend their time enjoying the endless hilarity the situation affords, while Haruhi quickly becomes the club’s most popular host without really trying.
This is a great series for those who enjoy the more absurd and silly side of anime. That said, while there’s lots of improbable shenanigans happening in each episode, there’s also a surprising depth to the series as the characters get to know each other better, and in so doing, get to know themselves.
Though Soul Eater is set in a school, it’s a much more fantastical one than most: the series takes place at Death Weapon Meister Academy, located in—where else?—Death City. The god of death (known quite simply as Death) is the school’s headmaster. DWMA’s students are of two types: those who have the magical ability to transform into special weapons used to fight off kishin (souls that have turned evil), and meisters, or those who wield the students-turned-weapons.
As the series starts, we meet Maka (meister) and Soul (weapon), two academy students who are well on their way to becoming a full-fledged meister-weapon duo. At first, Maka, Soul, and friends spend their time studying and taking out minor kishin. But soon, the villain of this tale emerges—it’s revealed that Asura, the first kishin, has been revived. Asura is poised to condemn the world to madness, something he nearly succeeded in doing many years previously, before being sealed beneath DWMA by Death himself.
What follows is a combined effort by the weapon students, meister students, instructors, and Death to keep Asura from escaping his seal and wreaking violence and insanity on the world once again. Will their efforts be enough? Or will Asura prove stronger than the fledgling fighters’ abilities?
Soul Eater is a great one for those who like anime with that YA feel, and who also love modern fantasy. It’s one of those series that uses themes that are familiar, but explores them via supernatual (and peculiar) settings. With good pacing, great characters, and a unique aesthetic, it’s one that’s sure to draw in new and longtime anime fans alike.
Most anime watchers will likely be familiar with Fruits Basket. It’s almost 20 years old (yes, really! I can’t believe it either), and it’s one of the most popular shoujo anime/manga out there—so much so that it’s almost passé. Regardless, it holds a special place in my heart; it was one of the first series I came across when I started getting into manga and anime years ago.
The series follows Tohru Honda, a recently orphaned girl who’s living on her own in a tent—she does so in hopes of escaping the unfavorable environment that is the home of the relatives who’d previously taken her in. When an avalanche ruins her forest home, she’s rescued by a classmate, Yuki Sohma, who invites her home with him. Soon, Tohru settles in as the roommate of Yuki and his cousin Shigure.
Tohru quickly learns that the Sohma family is under a curse. Twelve members of the family, including Yuki and Shigure, are possessed by the spirits of the zodiac. As a result, when they’re stressed, embarrassed, feel weak, or are hugged by someone of the opposite sex, they transform into the spirit of the zodiac animal they’re possessed by (leading to many uncomfortable and often hilarious scenarios). Sworn to secrecy about the strange affliction, Tohru is nevertheless determined to help the Sohmas break their curse. As the bond between Tohru and the Sohmas gets stronger, so does their resolve to find the cure. But will they ever succeed? Or are the Sohmas destined to be possessed by zodiac creatures forever?
Fruits Basket is simple and sweet, and it’s a great choice for those new to the world of anime and manga who are looking to get a feel for it and see what all the fuss is about—or for those who want to indulge in a little nostalgia. Though a lot of the episodes take place while the characters are in school together, it’s not as strongly school related as the previous two; however, it has a lot of same themes that makes Ouran and Soul Eater great, the themes of self-discovery and growing up strongest among them.
These are the first three series that come to my mind when I think of school-themed anime, but as I mentioned, there are tons of others! What are some of your favorites? What series have you not seen yet but have on your to-be-watched list?