By NICK CREAMER
As perhaps the most unabashedly feast-or-famine holiday around, Valentine’s Day is a time for either treasured memories with loved ones or maybe just a whole bunch of ice cream and TV marathons.
Fortunately, whether you’re celebrating the season alone or together, there’s plenty of anime out there to help you get in the spirit, with lots of them already available right now on Crunchyroll. From first crushes to destined loves and flirty traveling companions, anime runs the gamut of romance, and today I’ll be offering just a few shows that represent the mushier side of drama. In no particular order, here are some romantic highlights to bring some warm fuzzies to your day!
OK, I said “no particular order,” but in truth I meant no particular order except for Toradora. Toradora stars the diminutive Taiga and mild-mannered Ryuuji, who wind up working together after each learns the other has a crush on their best friend. The chemistry between Ryuuji, Taiga, and each of their friends is consistent and endearing, and Toradora follows these charming characters through all manner of romantic adventures. Toradora is also blessed with perhaps the best sarcastic best friend character of all time: Ami Kawashima. Combining lovable characters, thoughtful dialogue, and high drama theatrics, Toradora is the full romantic package.
While Toradora may star one of anime’s best romantic ensembles, Spice and Wolf might have the medium’s all-time best romantic couple. Lawrence is a merchant in a vaguely medieval world, shipping raw materials for profit all across the land. Holo is a wolf god, a spirit abandoned by her believers who now seeks a voyage home. Together, the two of them trade snipes, sell goods, and generally make the most of their time on the road. Spice and Wolf is a rambling road trip with two very likable friends, a slow romance that truly embodies the importance of the journey.
Of course, romantic love isn’t the only kind of love worth celebrating. Kyousogiga does indeed have some romantic love (between a magical painter and a drawing of a rabbit!), but it’s also suffused with many other kinds of love: love of family, love of home, and love of the world itself. Starring three siblings suspended in a mystical version of Kyoto, and livened by the little sister they never knew, it’s a madcap story that spins from first romance to family breakdown and a final, difficult reunion. It’s a beautiful and creative story that embodies what love is all about.
Getting back to the strict romances, My Love Story offers something too few anime get to: a couple in an actual, committed relationship. Gentle giant Takeo ends up confessing to his crush Rinko within the first few episodes, and the rest of My Love Story involves the two of them and their friends exploring the actual hurdles of a young relationship. Starring a great cast and dangerously suffused with cuteness, My Love Story is basically a warm, lovey-dovey blanket to snuggle under.
Unfortunately, sometimes love isn’t quite that easy. White Album 2 falls at the far end of romances, centered on a love triangle that puts all three of its members through the emotional ringer. White Album 2 is defined by distinctly thoughtful characterization and brutal dramatic turns, as its protagonists Haruki, Kazusa, and Setsuna all grasp at happiness on the edge of young adulthood. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first White Album—this story’s entirely self-contained, offering a brutal dramatic package for anyone who’s ready for it.
Love doesn’t really get any easier when you leave high school, though. Starring two girls who share a name you can probably guess, Nana follows punk rocker Nana Osaki and starry-eyed Nana Komatsu as they seek fame, fortune, and romance in the often confusing adult world. Nana brings a world-weary perspective to its drama, acknowledging that no romance is meant to be, and that sometimes life brings us to places we never expected to go. Nana understands that love is great, but sometimes just getting by is hard enough.
Those last couple picks got a little heavy, so let’s lighten things up a bit. Actually, I Am stars the loose-lipped Asahi Kuromine, who secretly has a crush on his classmate Youko Shiragami. But as it turns out, Youko has a pretty serious secret of her own: She’s actually a vampire. Having discovered her secret, Asahi swears to tell no one, and so begins a ridiculous series of frantic harem escapades. Actually, I Am distinguishes itself from most rom-coms by starring a cast not defined by antagonism, but firm friendship (and also being vampires/aliens/etc). All of this show’s characters like each other – they’re just too stupid to successfully fall in love.
I’m stretching a little to include this one among a bunch of romances, but Katanagatari is centered on such an endearing core relationship that I couldn’t leave it out. Katanagatari is a story about the strategist Togame and martial artist Shichika, who journey together across Japan to collect 12 mythic swords. The show is beautiful, has an excellent musical score, and is full of thoughtful conversations on legacy, identity, and much else besides, but the building relationship between Togame and Shichika reflects the true wonder of love—how finding someone important to you can help you discover yourself, and grow in directions you’d never expected. Kataganatari is many things, but it is definitely a standout romance.
There’s just something about music and romance, I guess. Kids on the Slope begins in the summer of 1966, and focuses on two jazz-loving teenagers: Kaoru and Sentaro. Combining a coming-of-age story, terrific musical performances, and plenty of romantic drama, Kids on the Slope offers a beautiful and life-affirming reflection on the power of music to uplift us and bring us together. It’s an excellent character story and fascinating period piece.
Incidentally, if you’d like even more shows that scratch that music/romance itch, I’d check out the career-spanning Nodame Cantabile and the beautiful Your Lie in April.
10) From Me to You
Let’s end on something nice and peaceful. From Me to You stars the shy Sawako and energetic Shota, and offers a slow and satisfying journey into a very gentle romance. Giving us a close look at all of Sawako’s insecure thoughts, From Me to You exemplifies a well-worn approach to shoujo romance. Bolstered by its strong secondary cast and full of endearing moments, From Me to You is fine comfort food to anyone searching for an easy-going love story.
And that’s it from me! I’ve covered a pretty wide stretch of shows here, but there’s always more romance to dig into, and even more shows that hide stellar romances in larger stories. Just from skimming through Crunchyroll’s own genre entries, I can already see half a dozen more I’d be happy to recommend. Either way, I hope you find something to enjoy, and please treat yourself and those you love this Valentine’s Day!
Nick Creamer is a Crunchyroll contributor.