Ever wondered what exactly it is about high school animes that draw people to them?
If there’s anything anime is well-known for, it’s the ability to capture what a distant memory feels like. Even the most elaborate storylines that take you far from a world like ours hold hidden anecdotes in their filler arcs that remind you of a personal memory. But beyond all the crazy plotlines and world-building fantasies exists what can only be described as mundane, slice-of-life animes that don’t typically come with dystopian themes and complicated endings. You guessed it, I’m talking about an anime starter-pack staple, high school animes.
Now, as someone who didn’t particularly love high school, it was a shock to me that most of my top-rated series on MyAnimeList.net are high school animes. Don’t get me wrong, high school was okay, but I never had strong emotions attached to memories from that phase in my life (or so I thought). Thinking back, I just lived day by day—going to school in the morning, attending flag ceremony, having the occasional lunch with friends, joining extra-curricular activities, endlessly pacing back and forth along corridors. My friends and I talked about grades, plans, life, love and everything under the sun. Nothing about high school was grand, let alone interesting. But somehow, high school animes challenged that very idea and introduced me to what the world of anime could look like when shrunk down from extravagant fantasies to what feels like a life we’ve all lived. And it’s in this shared experience of familiarity that we realize that maybe high school was so much more than we remembered.
It’s like finding color in monotony
When you think about it, high school animes don’t really have a plot. Sure, we’re gunning for that one guy to finally confess his feelings to that one girl he’s been eyeing forever or finally watch this character break out of her timid shell. But in essence, there isn’t a pressing force behind anything in the show—it was just school. And for all of us, that’s what high school was like. Day in and day out, we would come to class and leave, then return the next day. But what happens in between?
It’s these 15-minute recess breaks, school projects, class interactions and even trips to the restroom that we find our high school animes gravitating toward. We don’t need to see some robot crash into the rubble of a classroom to make for an exciting plot, but simply witnessing two friends share a lunchbox can send chills down our spine as it takes us back to a memory we can collectively sit with and say, “That’s literally me!”
Of course, animes do an excellent job of making simple scenes like this feel more blissful than we remember them to be. From the music to the animation, these moments in any high school anime take us back to moments from our youth and paint those monotonous high school memories with light and love—something we don’t really allow ourselves to feel. Then, all of a sudden, while watching the simplest of scenes, we begin to heal a part of ourselves we never realized needed healing.
Rediscovering who you were
And how it shaped who you are now
Part of the experience of watching a high school anime is getting introduced to the many characters that make up the fun and chaotic environment of the classroom. From all the people you’re introduced to throughout the show, there’s at least one person you can identify with. Whether it’s the shy kid, the weird guy or the popular girl, the struggles and victories they go through somehow resonate with you, almost as if you’re looking at a version of yourself you once knew.
This rediscovery of who you were in high school can sometimes be unsettling. I remember having a similar out-of-body experience when I would see bits of myself in characters I initially didn’t even dare associate myself with. But in these unsettling moments, you learn to appreciate the journey you went through and how you handled it, serving as a reminder that you wouldn’t be the person you are today without having made those decisions years ago. In some ways, your high school experiences define you more than you know, and it's high school animes that give you the space to realize and appreciate that more.
In hindsight, it’s not that complicated
But it sure felt like it
Whatever you went through in high school may have seemed complicated, but, in hindsight, it is just a tiny smudge of your existence. Especially when watching the climax of some of these high school animes, it can get frustrating seeing them deal with their problems inefficiently like the small squabbles between best friends or even minor inconveniences at the iconic school festival. But it’s when you start telling yourself, “This could easily be solved if only they’d talk it out,” that you take a step back and realize the same could be applied to your own life.
It’s funny and rather nostalgic when you realize some of the petty problems these high schoolers have happen to be some of the biggest hurdles you had to cross yourself back then. But looking at it now, the soft chuckle of endearment that escapes you is not just a sign of maturity but a reminder of time gone by. And sometimes, as cliché as it sounds, you can’t help but miss it.
What are some of your favorite high school animes?
Words Vanessa Tiong
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver