These are the shows to binge if you want your heart to go doki-doki.
If you’ve ever watched anime online, you know that Japan adores romance (unless you watched Legend of the Overfiend, which is clearly not romance). While love is a treasure at any age, Japan’s has an affection for high school romances, when we’re all our most awkward and unsure. If the idea of reliving those days makes you feel a tingle of excitement, these shows should go on the list for your next streaming binge.
The best romance anime series
Clannad‘s main character, Tomoya Okazaki, is coping with the loss of his mother in a car accident and a father lost in his own sorrow. Osazaki’s heart is broken: He has no interest in school activities and feels life has no meaning. Then, third-year student Nagisa Furukawa enters the picture, and he agrees to help her revive the school’s defunct drama club. Based on the visual novel of the same name, Clannad wades into dark waters early but sets the stage for a meaningful relationship between its characters. It’s a great reminder of how people can change one another’s lives if they show up at just the right time. Streaming on Hulu. —Colette Bennett
While Clannad takes the serious route to love, Toradora! is a classic example of what happens when a tsundere falls in love. When Taiga Aisaka, a character with a short fuse and an attitude who the whole school fears, meets protagonist Ryūji Takasu, she dislikes him at first. But as they conspire to help their best friends fall in love, the plotting backfires, landing Aisaka and Takasu into a situation they never saw coming. Despite seeming like a lighthearted romantic comedy at first, Toradora! has depth and is a really rewarding story to watch unfold. Streaming on Crunchyroll. —C.B.
Originally aired in 1998, His and Her Circumstances posed a now-classic plot in the romance anime world: a perfectly poised student hides a secret life as a slob. Yukino Miyazawa’s school image is threatened by the arrival of golden boy Soichiro Arima, who is top of their class. As the characters grow to know one another, they see that they both have private lives that don’t match their public personas—and that it’s quite alright to be who you really are. Directed by Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno, this series is every bit as touching more than a decade after its release. Streaming on YouTube. —C.B.
Students saving one another through friendship is a popular reoccurring theme in many romance series, and Kimi ni Todoke falls right into line. Female student Kuronuma Sawako is made fun of at school for having a name similar to that of Sadako, the evil creature from the acclaimed Japanese horror film Ringu. But when popular guy Kazehaya Shouta befriends her, her idea of who she is starts to change. Delicately handled and told with great reserve, Kimi ni Todoke is a beautiful tale of school romance that will deeply move you. Streaming on Crunchyroll. —C.B.
5) Yuri On Ice
Yuri On Ice, the figure skating gay romance of your anime dreams, is something you might not have ever known you wanted. That it even exists is special. Anime, particularly romantically themed anime, is an overwhelmingly heteronormative artform. Yuri On Ice changes that,. Watching Yuri come to terms with his feelings for Victor feels like watching a real romance unfold. This isn’t a race to the bedroom, but rather a tale of personal growth. By the season finale, if you’re not overflowing with joy, we’ll have to assume your heart is cold enough for Yuri to skate on. Streaming on Crunchyroll. —J.M.B.
The secret life theme returns when Misaki Ayuzawa, class president of former all-boys school Seika High, is busted by a good-looking male student named Takumi Usui who’s found out something about Ayuzawa she doesn’t want anyone to know: she works part-time in a maid cafe to earn money to support her family. While it seems like a simple blackmail situation at first, a relationship of mutual respect grows between the two which soon turns to love. Streaming on Hulu. —C.B.
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Written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, 5 Centimeters Per Second is a poignant story of two people who fall in love young and how it affects them throughout their lives, even after they have been separated. The story begins when Takaki Tōno meets Akari Shinohara in middle school after she transfers and ends when both are adults, looking back on what was. While the ending is not a traditional one for a love story, it’s the sort of tale that stays with you long after the credits roll. Shinkai’s other works are equally thoughtful as well and worth a watch. Streaming on Crunchyroll. —C.B.
When Sorata Kanda is kicked out of his dorm for keeping a stray cat, he moves into Sakura Dormitory and meets Mashiro Shiina, a famous manga artist who has no idea how to care for herself. The dorm head assigns Kanda to take care of Shiina, setting up the classic frustration chemistry that so many romance anime lean on. Despite having been done before, it’s a great watch, and a solid entry in the rom-com genre as well. Streaming on Crunchyroll. —C.B.
When a dark curse is placed upon a family, each member must deal with turning into an animal from the Chinese zodiac whenever they are touched by a member of the opposite sex. The synopsis for Fruits Basket sounds like a horror movie, but it’s actually the backdrop for one of the best romantic comedies in anime. Centering on Tohru Honda, a teenage orphan who comes to live with the cursed Sohma family, Fruits Basket swings from mood to mood with a surprisingly light atmosphere given half the cast is cursed. Tohru isn’t just a love interest, but a comforting force who helps the entire family come to terms with their plight. Light on action but full of lovable characters and beautiful animation, Fruits Basket is a classic of romance anime. Sadly, it only ran for one season, but its 26 episodes tell an enthralling, compact story. Streaming on Hulu and Funimation. —J.M.B.
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10) Say “I love you”
In another instance of the “popular boy coaxes frightened girl out of her shell,” Say “I Love You” introduces Mei Tachibana as a cynical girl who is afraid to trust others because of an early childhood experience. Popular classmate Yamato Kurosawa notices her, and their relationship begins to change both of their lives as they come to trust one another. Based on a manga, the romance anime series also got a live-action adaption in 2014. Streaming on Crunchyroll. —C.B.
Shizuku Mizutani is the type of student who only cares about her studies, earning her the nickname “dry ice.” She meets classmate Haru Yoshida, an absent seatmate who others think of as intimidating when she is assigned to deliver class handouts to him at home. The two become friends that slowly fall in love, although Mizutani takes much longer than Yoshida to admit her feelings. The series shows us that there’s much more to these characters than how they’re seen in public. Streaming on Crunchyroll. —C.B.
12) Kamisama Kiss
Nanami is a homeless high schooler aimlessly floating through life when she is offered a chance to live in a shrine, only to discover she has become a literal local God. Forced with learning the in’s and out’s of her new position, Nanami quickly discovers being a God isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—but at least there are cute spirits doing their best to win her heart. Kamisama Kiss is just as much about finding a home as it is about romance, adding a layer of depth to proceedings that might otherwise get bogged down in melodrama. Don’t expect lots of flashy animation; this is one where the story is what truly shines. Streaming on Hulu and Funimation. —J.M.B.
13) To Love Ru
It’s a tale as old as time: boy loves girl, girl doesn’t know boy exists, intergalactic space princess appears and starts causing trouble for everyone. You know, that story. To Love Ru is a hysterical cross between Super Bad and Weird Science, with a healthy dose of Star Wars thrown in for good measure. The show’s sexual content is handled with an eye for slapstick, but under the jokes about horny teens and super hot aliens is a sweet coming-of-age story about the struggles of young love. It’s not hentai, but there’s a fair amount of nudity in this romance anime, so be forewarned: To Love Ru is only recommended for mature anime fans who appreciate a healthy dose of immaturity and action with their comedy. To Love Ru also features some of the best action in a Harem anime, so if the jokes in the first episode don’t grab you, the giant robot squid fight will. Streaming on Crunchyroll. —J.M.B.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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