AnimEducation: 9 Series Otaku Teachers Can Share With Their Students
No, Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei didn't make the cut.
‘Tis back-to-school season already! Everyone’s rushing to prepare for the next academic year. If you’re a student, you are most likely feeling a mix of excitement, anxiousness, or dread. And if you are a teacher…most likely those things too, especially when you have the scenario of a student asking you (as they notice your Edward Elric keychain) if you like anime.
I’ve been teaching for about two years now but have been into anime and fandom way longer. I work primarily with late elementary and middle school students and from a fannish perspective, that’s typically when young people become acquainted with the vast world of anime and manga. I am used to seeing students trading their volumes of Death Note and Attack on Titan before class starts.
For me, being in anime fandom was a means of making friends in school. The series available at my local Barnes and Nobles or Borders may have contained graphic violence, suggestive themes, and overall dark content, but it was all I could get my hands on. Now that I’m a teacher, and obtaining manga (legally or otherwise) is as easy as logging in to the internet, I want to help guide my students towards discovering great stories while being mindful of what they, their parents (and by extension the PTA), and the school board will react poorly to. I have always felt that bonding with my students beyond their academics is a crucial in sustaining relationships and fostering their growth. This past year, one of my student’s noticed that I had a One-Punch Man purse. I worked with a small group of 5th graders and what began as a casual conversation about the series eventually escalated into discussing themes of being a hero: how would heroes operate in the current world, and how we would approach heroes today? These conversations sparked unexpected insight from my students, who I learned were comic nerds as well. Even my non-fannish students joined in the conversation by relating to their own experiences meeting heroes and what the term meant to them. It was the most powerful experience imaginable for me as a teacher and as part of anime fandom.
While One-Punch Man may not be the ideal example of “school-appropriate,” I set out to make this list keeping in mind titles that are relevant to the individual or collective interests of my students while touching on topics for possible in-class discussions. (Note: I’m sticking with middle school as the minimum age group here. While I’m not trying to be preachy and say students shouldn’t be watching Attack on Titan, I still think that to make a new generation of anime fans, teachers should be mindful of what’s appropriate for students and won’t raise trouble. I put into consideration age-appropriateness, compatibility with curriculum areas (in particular Japanese culture/history, science, art, history, etc.), and also series legal and licensed in the U.S.)
My Hero Academia may be the perfect back-to-school AND beginner’s anime. It’s certainly relevant to students’ interests today as it involves superheroes while also being an engaging, positive, and poignant shounen series. It deals with students of a fictional world filled with those possessing “quirks” or super powers. Midoriya is our seemingly quirk-less protagonist who holds endless love for superheroes, especially All Might (essentially the Superman of the series). Yet All Might has some secrets of his own that lead the two to form a bond to help Midoriya find the secret to his newly discovered Quirk. Given all the dark ‘n’ gritty superhero fatigue, it’s refreshing having a positive and fun-filled series that shows heroism with so much love and optimism while still serving as an enlightening coming-of-age story. Students can feel empowered by whatever “quirk” they possess thanks to My Hero Academia and, as a teacher, you will strive to feel as influential as All Might to these lovable characters. You can watch the series on Funimation and Hulu.
This was the staple of my childhood and now that it’s back in serialization, the CLAMP trademark is still as timeless and progressive as ever! Cardcaptor Sakura is easy to get into and identify with since it’s about middle schoolers. Sakura is a chosen “cardcaptor” who must find all the Clow Cards, which hold tremendous power. With its magical setting, surprise twists, and overall reliability to Sakura, it’s a key series that’s classic to any age. The rest of the cast has positive character development and well-written relationships that provide great moral lessons for students. You can watch the series on Crunchyroll.
No matter how old you are, no can resist the adventures and shenanigans of five year olds. Yotsuba&! is not just one of my all time favorite series but it’s so accessible and easy to read! Our titular character lives her life with a single father and has quirky and fun encounters with her friends and neighbors. Despite its slow slice-of-life pace, this series will make you laugh out loud and never lets up on the charm. Suitable for all ages, the manga can be found in any library or bookstore.
Haikyuu!! for me is interesting since I find it has a large fandom interest among people who don’t religiously watch sports anime or anime in general. That’s because it’s a fun, often subversive, series with rich and memorable characters. Hinata is obsessed with volleyball but had little access to it in middle school. After a fateful encounter with Kageyama, a player blessed with talent but a huge ego on the court, the two find themselves going to the same high school and must learn how to work together on a rag-tag team. Both the manga and anime incarnations of this series are especially entertaining to beginners regardless of their knowledge of volleyball. It will also motivate you to be active as well! The DVD is out for the first season but you can watch it all on Crunchyroll.
If you give your students Legos or any other building material, they will devour it (hopefully not literally). Gundam Build Fighters will be the series that encourages them to build, design, and engineer their own robotics, even if they are not familiar with the Gundam mythos. GBF takes us to a world where everyone is obsessed with Gundams and shows their love by creating their own models to use in fun battles (rather than the typical political space opera). It best helps if you can get your school’s budget to invest in gunpla. You can watch the series on Crunchyroll.
Every couple of years, Astro Boy gets remade for a new generation. Yet the manga and 2003 series that aired on Toonami more than 10 years ago holds a special place in my heart as a young anime fan. Astro is a boy robot who must help protect the city by evil robots and criminals all while understanding the social stigmas of being a robot and the truth about his creation. Essentially, it’s a shounen version of Pinocchio and a universally accessible series that sparks many dialogues about social tolerance and how technology affects our lives. You can watch the series on Hulu.
I admit I may have wanted to write this rec list to specifically gush about Natsume. No matter whom I watch this series with, everyone loves it! Natsume Yuujinchou (Natsume’s Book of Friends) centers around our titular character, who is cursed with the ability to see yokai (Japanese ghosts). Because of this ability, he was frequently ostracized by his friends and foster families as a kid. Now as a teenager and adopted by the loving Fujiwaras, Natsume encounters a demon known as Madara, who due to a curse is constrained to the form of a fat cat called Nyanko-Sensei. The two work together to free yokai whose names have been captured and contained within a magical book once belonging to Natusme’s grandmother. Natsume is rich in Japanese folklore, mythology, and poignant stories and messages. I find it really well done at handling bullying and also communication. I personally connect to this series in so many ways that I cannot help but cry at every episode. You can watch on Crunchyroll or buy the DVD set, which contains the first two seasons.
Wandering Son is a special series in how it deals with emotional maturity and the exploration of gender at an age where we are most impressionable to what we see in the media. Two elementary students wish to be the opposite gender and end up discovering their identities through various encounters and hardships. They (and by extension the audience) learn what it’s like living with gender dysphoria and what the queer community in Japan is like as well as the culture’s attitudes towards transsexuality. This will resonate emotionally with students who may be already be questioning their gender or sexual identity. As the series’ primary setting is middle school, Wandering Son will give students a safe space for this vital discussion. Aside from its luscious animation and music, the series will become an ice-breaker for conversations students are often fearful of having in private or public. You can watch Wandering Son on Crunchyroll.
Princess Tutu may be the most cerebral of the series listed here; as it contains elements of fantasy, ballet, and fairy tales in a suspenseful and subversive way, it’s widely considered one of the best anime to come out in the last 20 years. I love this series dearly and for young audiences looking to see female heroes that are relatable, Princess Tutu is hard to beat. It’s essentially a retelling of the folk tale and ballet Swan Lake. A girl named Duck, who is a literal duck transformed into a young girl, goes to a ballet school where she encounters a boy named Mytho, a secret prince who has lost his memories. She fights for her life and love through dance, all while battling dark forces, ninja guitarists, and assorted villainy. All these battles help her uncover secrets about her fate and that of her friends. This is a great start to get people invested in action shojou, and its knowledge of classical music and ballet may appeal to students who aren’t typical anime fans. You can watch the series on Hulu.
Teachers, sound off! What anime do you like to recommend to your students? Students, what shows do you think would be valuable in your classes? Add your suggestions in the comments!
Featured image via Funimation
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Jordan Kass Lome is an art educator and researcher in Boston who helps develop creative marketing strategies for artists. She also loves to combine her fandom interests with her scholarship. She is currently finishing up a Masters of Education in Community Arts Education and probably expects to live the rest of her life as a village witch with lots of cats. Follow her work at godotforbroke.wordpress.com.
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