sailor moon with heart eyes

Illustration by Max Fleishman

These are the shows to binge if you want your heart to go doki-doki.

If you’ve ever watched anime, 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

1) Clannad

best romance anime Screengrab via YouTube

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.

2) Toradora!

romance anime Photo via Charlie/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

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.

3) His and Her Circumstances

romance anime Screengrab via nozomient/YouTube

Originally aired in 1998, His and Her Circumstances posed a now-classic plot in the 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 its 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.

4) Kimi ni Todoke

best romance anime Screengrab via Ladyyxlf/YouTube

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.

5) Nodame Cantabile

best romance anime Screengrab via Nodame Cantabile/YouTube

Great romances are all about a potent combination of characters, and Nodame Cantabile‘s leads are a near-perfect example of that. Megumi Noda, a brilliant but bumbling music student whose life is a mess, falls in love with arrogant composer Shinichi Chiaki as soon as they meet, but Chiaki is forever irritated by her. They are a classic comedy couple, and deeply entertaining to watch. The friends they make at their music school fill in a terrific story that you’ll want to enjoy in all its forms (there is also the manga its based on, a Japanese live-action adaption, and a Korean one!). Streaming on GoGoAnime.

6) Maid-Sama!

romance anime Screengrab via Little Happiness/YouTube

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.


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7) 5 Centimeters Per Second

best romance anime Screengrab via newq3xm/YouTube

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.

8) The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

top romance anime Screengrab via AnimeLab/YouTube

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.

9) Lovely Complex (LoveCom)

Screengrab via carmen dreamers/YouTube

Risa Koizumi, a 5-foot-8-inch girl is much taller than the average student her age, while her boyfriend Atsushi Ōtani, is only 5 feet 1 inch. Their height difference makes for a slew of good jokes, but there’s an innocent, sweet spring romance overarching it all. Add in some excellent supporting characters, and LoveCom ends up being a very satisfying watch. Streaming on AnimeStreams.


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10) Say “I love you”

Screengrab via Hannabee Entertainment/YouTube

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 series also got a live-action adaption in 2014. Streaming on Crunchyroll.

11) My Little Monster

best romance anime Screengrab via NIS America/YouTube

Shizuku Mizutani is the 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.

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