Here we are, on the topic of romance, what with Valentine’s Day being a couple weeks ago.  Romance is one of those widespread genres that falls into a role similar to comedy, in that it can be found in many works even when it isn’t the main focus.  In anime, many of the series that do put romance at the forefront tend to fall into the shoujo and seinen categories, but that doesn’t mean you can only find the genre there.  While researching the subject, I didn’t get to every series I wanted to (sorry, Ore Monogatari), but still found plenty of series that fit the bill just fine.  So, here are my top ten romance anime that I have seen.

#10 – Ah! My Goddess! – Or it can also be Oh My Goddess!, if you so desire.  The story follows Keiichi, a college student who accidentally calls the Goddess Help Line and causes the beautiful Belldandy to appear and grant him one wish.  When he thinks it’s some elaborate prank, he wishes for Belldandy to stay with him, and the story begins.  Despite the awkward beginning to their relationship, Keiichi and Belldandy turn out to be a good match and quickly develop feelings for each other that naturally progress as time goes on.  They’re later joined by Belldandy’s two sisters, Urd and Skuld, and the series mostly plays out in romcom fashion with the fantasy elements one might expect of a premise involving goddesses.  It’s a pleasant and relaxing series overall, with the occasional tense moments thrown in for good measure.

#9 – And you thought there is never a girl online? – Two years prior to the main story, Hideki proposed to a fellow player in an MMO for an in-game marriage, only for the player to tell him that she is really a man in real life.  Embarrassed and heartbroken, he swears off the in-game marriage system until getting involved in a guild and being proposed to by one of his guildmates.  Upon meeting his guild members in real life, he finds out that his in-game wife is actually a girl, his guildmates are also girls, and they all go to the same high school.  The premise sounds silly – and it is – but less focus is given to the ridiculousness of the situation, while more is given to Hideki and his guildmates trying to help the player of his in-game wife come to terms with the differences between fantasy and reality, as she acts like everyone is his or her respective character.  It’s a fun but sometimes depressing story about coming to terms with real life, and showing that love can become real even if it starts as make-believe.

#8 – Spice and Wolf – Another case of a goddess turning out to be real, with this one.  One night, a travelling merchant by the name of Lawrence finds a girl in his wagon, who turns out to be Holo, a local wolf goddess of the harvest.  She tells him that she wants to return to her homeland, as she has fulfilled her purpose and the townspeople are losing faith in her to begin with, so the two set off on a journey to the north.  Of course, it isn’t that simple, and the road is filled with danger and other complications.  The romantic aspect of Spice and Wolf takes some time to start building momentum, but it’s still a fun ride.  Both Lawrence and Holo can be cocky in their own rights, so the banter and romantic tension between them is entertaining.  The series can be a bit slow in places, but is still worth a try.

#7 – Kokoro Connect – One day, a group of five high school students begins switching bodies with each other at random.  Thanks to the being known as Heartseed, the five go through several supernatural events aside from simply body-swapping, and their relationships are constantly strained and tested.  Kokoro Connect is a tense and sometimes uncomfortable story that makes the viewer wonder what one really knows about the friends in one’s life.  Switching bodies is only the beginning of the supernatural occurrences thrown at the group of teens, forcing them to learn things about one another that some of them would rather keep hidden.  However, it does result in a lot more honesty among them, and leads to their relationships becoming closer, whether romantic or platonic, depending on who is involved at any given moment.  It’s the kind of series that might make you think, “How would I handle a situation like this?”  Even outside the romance aspects, Kokoro Connect is an interesting one, for sure.

#6 – Dusk Maiden of Amnesia – I covered this one a bit in October, since Dusk Maiden is a pretty good horror series.  But, it’s also a romance story, so here we are again!  The Paranormal Investigations Club at a certain school specializes in…well, take a guess.  However, the club was founded – and is still overseen – by the spirit of Yuuko, a girl who died in the school many decades ago and has no idea why.  A large part of the story involves trying to figure out the circumstances of Yuuko’s death, but that’s more of the horror side of things.  More on topic, Yuuko wants to be with Teiichi, a member of the club and one of very few people who can actually see her, so she often teases him, flirts with him, and occasionally gets violently jealous if any other girl shows interest in him.  You know, like any healthy relationship between a living person and a ghost.  Dusk Maiden strikes a decent balance between the romance and the horror, so I’d recommend it to anyone looking for either.

#5 – Shuffle! – If you need more proof that the “gods and goddesses” trope comes up weirdly often in romance anime, here’s another one.  Or maybe I just happen to keep stumbling into them.  Shuffle takes place in a world where humans live alongside gods and devils, who are equally friendly and amicable species that just so happen to come from different places.  It falls into the setting of a “harem” series, meaning the main character has several options for potential love interests, owing to its source material as a visual novel (the eroge variant, although it barely carries over here).  What Shuffle does better than a lot of harem series is balance its cast, giving plenty of development to each love interest and rarely, if ever, leaving anyone by the wayside for too long.  Not only that, but the main character actually settles on a single girl, rather than leaving an ambiguous ending or jerking around the audience.  That might not sound like much, but for this kind of setting, it’s surprisingly uncommon.

#4 – The World God Only Knows – Keima is known online as “The God of Conquests” because of his ability to “conquer” any dating sim game that he plays.  In real life, his classmates consider him a huge geek and usually don’t have anything to do with him.  When Keima receives a message about his achievements, he thinks it’s a challenge for some new dating sim; instead, he is accidentally caught up in helping Elsie, a demon who is tasked with collecting evil spirits possessing various girls around Keima’s town.  Now, Keima has to apply his vast knowledge of dating sims to real life to try and get said possessed girls to fall for him so that the evil spirits will have no void in the girls’ hearts in which to reside, and the spirits can be captured.  The premise is just as ridiculous as it sounds, and the series parodies plenty of the typical clichés found in other romance series, especially with an antisocial nerd at the helm.  The story grows into something far bigger and more complex as it goes, but the core aspects barely change.  Keima uses his gaming prowess to get girls to fall in love with him even though he doesn’t want to do the job, Elsie often fumbles her way through her side of the job, and the whole thing is funny and surprisingly heartwarming.

#3 – Toradora! – Ryuji has a crush on his friend, Minori.  Minori’s best friend, Taiga, has a crush on Ryuji’s best friend, Yusaku.  Ryuji and Taiga start trying to help set each other up with their respective crushes, often spending time together and coming up with various ideas.  Eventually, rumors circulate that the two are dating, and they both discover that they’re actually developing feelings for one another.  Add in Ami, Yusaku’s childhood friend, and the whole thing is a recipe for one big tangle of romantic interests.  Toradora is a relatively complex romcom with an emphasis on drama.  I’d liken it to Kokoro Connect in some ways, but without the supernatural aspects.  The group of teenagers develop a great deal through their interactions with one another, and find that love isn’t as straightforward as they thought.  It’s a good series with a good cast, and that’s about it.  Go check it out.

#2 – Plastic Memories – In the near future, special androids called Giftia exist, which have all the personality and emotions of humans.  However, Giftia have a lifespan of only about nine years before their memories need to be wiped and replaced, lest they go berserk.  Tsukasa ends up joining Terminal Services, a company specializing in the retrieval of Giftia in their final days and wiping their memories before the degradation into madness.  He’s assigned the Giftia partner of Isla, whose own lifespan is nearing its end.  Despite that, the two fall in love, and the story becomes a mix of happy and sad as they try to do what they can in the short amount of time before Isla’s “death.”  Plastic Memories is one of the newer anime on this list, but quickly cemented itself as one of my favorites in both the romance and sci-fi genres.  It can get depressing at times, especially in the final few episodes, but not so gut-wrenching that it becomes difficult to watch.  Plus, Isla might just be one of the most endearing characters I’ve seen in anything, and her personality makes it impossible to root against her relationship with Tsukasa.  Just keep a few tissues handy for those moments when the series hits you right in the feels.

#1 – Amagami SSAmagami is based on a dating sim game, another of those stories where the main character has several potential love interests to choose from.  However, unlike Shuffle, this one takes a very different approach to the formula.  Two years ago, Junichi was stood up on Christmas Eve and had his heart broken.  By the time of the main story, he is still wary of romance, but finally capable of opening up a bit and letting others in.  What makes Amagami stand out is that the anime plays out more like a collection of short stories, in which each love interest gets her own timeline.  Each character is present in the others’ stories to varying degrees, but the anime spends a few episodes developing the relationship between Junichi and whichever girl is the focus, then the next story starts from the beginning with a different love interest.  This way, each person gets equal attention, completely different scenarios can be explored each time, and there is only one instance of any kind of clash between characters in one scenario (that I remember, anyway).  And then the second season does the same, but with epilogues or “part twos” to the respective timelines.  It’s nice to see each character get the same amount of focus and development, and Junichi is a good guy, so it helps that the viewer wants him to be happy.  No catch to this one; it’s a pure romance series through and through.

Honorable Mentions – Ouran High School Host Club, Cross Game, Date A Live

A lot more goes into a good romance series than simply “person A likes person B.”  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the story should be bogged down by extra drama just for the sake of making things interesting, but it doesn’t hurt to mix things up every once in a while.  Some of the best romance stories out there, anime or not, are a result of their complications.  It can be equally nice to sit back and watch something as straightforward as Amagami SS or as complex as Kokoro Connect, depending on what you’re looking for.  I feel like it’s a genre with some stigma considering the usual demographic, but there is plenty to love.