Because anime's a medium, rather than a genre, you can find most any kind of story expressed as anime -- and yes, that includes love stories. Here are anime romances set in the past, present and future - boys and girls, maids and royalty, samurai and commoners, gods and mortals -- even human and not-quite-human!
No list of anime romances would be complete without this milestone title. Adapted from the manga of the same name into a short OAV and a two-season TV series, it's the adventures of a well-meaning young man whose lucklessness in love is changed forever when he gets an angel from Heaven as a live-in girlfriend. Said setup has inspired countless other shows, but none of them have the same level of heartwarming affection as this one. It's not the most dramatically sophisticated show -- its plotting is mostly frothy, supernaturally-fueled comedy -- but for sheer smiles, it's hard to beat.
Set in the repressed and staid years of Queen Victoria's England, this touching and beautifully-assembled series (again, adapted from an also-excellent manga of the same name) traces the blossoming of romance between a maid and a man of power and privilege. Class divisions make it impossible for them to be together, but they persevere anyway. It's slowly paced, but all the more effective for that reason, and garnished with a lot of patiently-observed period detail.
3. Eureka Seven
There's no love quite as thrilling or heartbreaking as first love, and Eureka Seven is an ode to just that, set against a backdrop of sky-surfing giant robots. Young Renton runs away from home to join a gang of mercenary pilots, and among them is the girl he's fallen head-over-heels for: Eureka. Then things grow very complicated, and Renton's puppy-love adoration for Eureka is forced to mature into something far tougher. It's a gorgeous show on many levels, but especially the emotional ones.
Cherry blossoms fall at this speed, or so we're told. It's an oblique point of entry for a film that deals just as obliquely and indirectly with its subject, a romantic triangle that takes place between three high schoolers, and sees things from each of their perspectives. Very little actually happens in the film, so don't expect a fast-moving story. But for some that only makes the overall emotional impact of what happens -- the sense of love lost and lamented -- all the stronger.
Tohru Honda's a girl who remains cheerful in all circumstances, even when she's homeless and squatting in a tent on someone else's property. She's welcomed into the house of the Sohma clan, a rather fractious group that's bound together by a bizarre curse -- but she may well be the best thing for a household that divided against itself. And then there's the way she and Yuki Sohma, also a classmate of hers, grow that much closer together despite all that happens. Adapted with some abridgement from an equally-enjoyable manga, it's heartwarming in the best way: most everyone involved is a genuinely good person just looking for the best place to express their goodness.
At the prestigious Ouran Academy, Haruhi Fujioka stands out like a broken finger: she's unglamorous, of no particular background, and has all the assertion of a broken traffic light. Then she blunders into the school's "host club" -- a lounge where the handsomest boys in the school lavish attention on the girls. Haruhi has no reason to be there, but then she knocks over an (allegedly) expensive vase -- and the boys in the club gleefully draft her as one of their own, especially since she's androgynous enough to pass for one of the boys anyway. But then romance begins to blossom between her and the outgoing (bordering on manic) host club leader, Tamaki Suō, who's got it into his head that she's the one for him. He may not be right, but he may also not be all that far from wrong, either.
The setup is that of a classic "reverse harem" story -- one girl, many guys -- but the payoff is a romance full of wit, tender humor, and hilarious left turns that even the characters themselves hardly see coming.
Tsukimi's a girl with all the glamour of a paper plate and the social skills of a dishtowel, but a passionate love for jellyfish and the exacting eye of a true artist. Then a chance encounter at a pet store brings her into contact with Kuranosuke, a brassy, sassy, outré young woman -- er, man -- who turns Tsukimi's life upside down and inside out. Things grow even more complicated when Kuranosuke's politician brother Shu enters the picture, and soon a three-way tug-of-war for Tsukimi's very confused heart takes place.
The real greatness of Princess Jellyfish isn't just that it's funny or heartwarming (although it most definitely is those things), but that it's also about something genuine -- in this case, the urge to be your true self and not simply what society expects of you. And everyone, from the flamboyant cross-dresser to the shy misfit girl to the straight-laced politico, discovers here how they have masks they can both put on and take off.
Girl-girl romance as surreal fantasy, or maybe the other way around. At the exclusive Ohtori Academy, the tomboyish Utena is drawn into a circle of intrigue that involves a classmate -- the gentle, reticent Anthy Himemiya. The romance here is, for lack of a better word, allegorical: there's many levels of meaning at work in this deeply unpredictable series which defies easy classification.
There's multiple romances running through the storyline of Kenshin, but the most crucial is the one that develops gradually between the title character, a wandering swordsman now operating under a self-imposed vow never to kill, and a feisty female teacher in a struggling dojo. There's just as much emphasis in this show on the action, the historical backdrop (it's set in the 1870s, the period of Japan's first rapprochement with the modern West), and the diverse character gallery, but the romance is as good a reason to watch this show as any of the others. Adapted, with some mutilation, from an even-better manga series that has earned fan bases of both sexes.
Doomed young love seems to be a staple of Japanese romances, and this series fuses that sentiment with, of all things, science fiction and high-tech warfare. A young man discovers, quite abruptly, that the girl he's fond of is in fact a lethal war machine. (The original English title for the series was She: The Ultimate Weapon.) The level of heartbreak spun out from this premise makes this show qualify not just as a three-hanky story but one where you'll burn through the whole box of tissues. And if the ending doesn't break your heart, chances are you haven't got one.