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The 5 Best Slice of Life Anime of All Time

I want to watch a series that will caress my eyeballs.

Ginko surrounded by Mushi

Dear anime, I’m tired today.

I’m feeling a sense of ennui. A sort of wistful romance mixed with melancholy. I’ve been listening to Cigarettes After Sex on repeat and I feel like shedding magical girl tears. I don’t want to watch things explode today. I don’t want to be titillated or horrified. I want to be soothed. I want to watch a series that will caress my eyeballs. A series that will lay my weary head across its bosom and say “there, there” as I cry quiet, sparkling tears. I want a series that feels like five minutes of unbroken eye contact with the one I love. I want a series to remind me of all of the joys from my childhood that the cruel, turning world has caused me to forget.

In short, I want to watch a slice of life anime. Because life is a lot right now. And maybe if I can get a little purchase on the emotions of other characters, I can begin to understand the complexities of my own.

So in order to stop crying, or maybe cry it all out, these are the anime that I’m going to watch today. I need to get sponsored by a tissue brand or something, because I’m gonna go through more than a few boxes of those suckers.

Violet Evergarden

(Kyoto Animation)

Violet Evergarden is a show with some explosions, yes, but very few. For the most part, it’s a show about feelings. Specifically learning to understand one’s own feelings by helping untangle the feelings of others. The main character, Violet Evergarden, was a former child solider. She killed a lot of people and she was really good at her job. The problem is, her job also killed her commanding officer (who happened to be the love of her life) and blew both of her hands off. Don’t worry, she gets a pair of cool robot hands in order to keep on living life. The problem is, she doesn’t have any other skills besides murder. Well, except for typing really fast. Her robot hands help with that.

She eventually finagles her way into a job writing ghost writing letters for people who are struggling to put their feelings towards the recipient into words. The letters come in all forms: love letters, letters of gratitude, and apologies. She isn’t good at the job when she starts, because the poor thing isn’t in touch with her emotions whatsoever. And honestly, I probably won’t be either if my commander died right in front of me and my hands were taken off my a grenade.

The beautiful thing about this show is that Violet is able to process her emotions by helping others, and by externalizing this process of healing, she is able find more insight into her own emotional wounds than she would have been able to if she was dealing with them alone. The series is slow burn, romantic as hell, and gorgeously animated. It’s one of those shows that make you want to cry once you see the title card. I think I’m a’gonna start now.

Mushishi

(Artland)

While many peeps might argue that this show is fantasy rather than slice of life, I would tell all those peeps to stfu and let me cry in peace. I think that the most important thing that defines the slice of life genre is not whether or not it is based in the real, modern world, but whether it captures the slice of life tone. That tone is emotional, understated, romantic, and melancholy. I can’t think of a show more befitting of these adjectives than Mushishi.

Set in 19th century rural Japan, the plot concerns a traveling medicine man and “mushi master” named Ginko, who helps people who are negatively affected by mushi. What are mushi? I’m glad you asked! It’s difficult to define mushi, so I’ll start by defining them by what they are not. They are not animals, plants, fungus, or some weird kind of bacteria. However, they do share characteristics of all those things. They are beings that are the closest to the “source of life” also known as the spiritual “river of light” that permeates the universe. Because they are more like spirits than actual living things, they get up to some pretty weird shit. For instance, one kind of mushi feeds on sound. Normally it lives in waterfall caves where is can feed to its heart’s content (if it has one). But sometimes this particular mushi makes a home for itself in people’s ears, causing them to slowly go deaf.

That’s where Ginko comes in. Ginko travels around helping people who are affected by harmful mushi, and finds ways to heal the afflicted person. The series is set against a gorgeous scenic backdrop, and Ginko’s travels often lead him over misty mountain tops, lush forests, quiet villages, and lots and lots of soft rain. It’s not as much of a tearjerker as it is a meditation. A lullaby. But I’m gonna figure out a way to cry to it anyway.

A Silent Voice

(Kyoto Animation)

Okay, you wanted to cry? This is a slice of life film that will make you do exactly that. It’s about a high school boy named Shoyo Ishida who used to be a total asshole in elementary school, but is now trying to redeem himself and find forgiveness. How was he an asshole? He bullied a deaf girl named Shoko Nishimiya. Total dick move. However, it is common knowledge that kids are generally all jerks, and Shoyo is no exception to that rule.

After leaving elementary school (and his former dickhead friends who helped him bully Shoko) Shoyo enters highschool and becomes a pretty well adjusted kid. He also comes to the very adult conclusion that he was indeed a real bastard to poor Shoko, and honestly I give him props for that. Eventually he runs into Shoko, but panics, and instead of apologizing to her he asks her if they can be friends. She says yes, and so begins a slow burn, tearjerker romance between the two of them that is honestly breathtaking. It’s a gorgeous story of love, redemption, and accountability. And it provides a sweet glimmer of hope that people actual can change if they really want to. Oh god, just thinking about the ending scene makes me want to start sobbing.

Your Name

The characters of no name with a star between them
(CoMix Wave Films)

If you haven’t heard of Your Name, you probably spent all of 2016 living under a rock. And after the results of the U.S. presidential election that year, I don’t blame you. Your Name is one of the biggest anime films of all time, and was for a period of time the highest grossing film in Japanese history. It’s a story about a high school boy named and girl named Taki and Mitsuha who wake up one day in each other’s bodies. One thinks that some Freaky Friday hijinks is about to ensue, and it does for a little while, but eventually shit starts getting wild.

The two begin leaving messages for each other on scraps of paper and even on each other’s skin (omg romantic), but Taki finds that he is unable to get in touch with Mitsuha when he tries calling her on the phone. Eventually, the period of body switching ends when a mysterious comet starts drifting closer and closer to Earth. Naturally, the pair begin to miss each other once they stop switching bodies, and so they try to find each other in the real world. Their search, however, is unsuccessful, and the reason why is an awesome plot twist that you’ll just have to discover for yourself.

This movie is an absolute thrill ride of emotions, and while it lacks the grounded subtlety that the slice of life genre is generally known for, it makes up for it by being perhaps the most romantic movie I’ve ever seen. I mean these kids love each other so much they’ll drink each other’s spit. No, I’m not making this up. Yes, it’s gross. Yes, it’s a way more complicated plot point than I’m letting on. And yes, it is wickedly romantic. Nothing says true love more than ingesting someone’s bodily fluids. I’ll know I’ve found love when someone licks the tears off my face.

Kino’s Journey

(A.C.G.T.)

Okay, I might get in trouble here for putting this one instead Clannad: Afterstory, which is one of the greatest slice of life anime ever and you should totally watch it. But I’m going for a hot take here. I think that Kino’s journey is a slice of life anime, but like Mushishi, it’s not grounded in the real world. However, it matches the tone of many slice of life anime (with a few exceptional moments). Kino’s Journey is about a little transmasculine teenager named Kino who travels the world on their talking motorad named Hermes. They have one rule: they can stay in a place no longer than three days.

They run into all different kinds of people, from weird religious cultists, to mind readers, to cannibalistic human traffickers. While this makes it sound like the series is going to be action packed, you’d be wrong. The series is mostly focused on the strange melancholy of the world, and the restless ennui that propels Kino through it. Like Violet Evergarden, the series is punctuated with violence, but this violence is simply a small slice of the life (see what I did there?) of Kino. It’s a “day in the life” exploration of a character with a very unusual life, and that’s what makes it so interesting. Fantastical locations, strange people, and dangerous situations are commonplace for Kino, and they are left generally unphased by their encounters.

However, Kino is a deep thinker, and often engages in charming philosophical conversations with her pessimistic motorcycle companion. If you can get over the fact that this isn’t a series about sad high schoolers falling in love with each other, then I think you’ll quite enjoy it.

(featured image: Artland)

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