5 Anime for Back-to-School Season

School life seems to be a part of most anime out there. And that makes sense, because a lot of anime and manga are created with a high school readership in mind, turning everyday life into exciting adventures with otherworldly characters, magical powers, or (more often than not) half a dozen girls who all really like the protagonist.

As we kick off back-to-school season — as students, teachers, or just bystanders with memories of our own school days — let’s take a look at some back-to-school anime. In particular, I’ll be looking at anime where school life (and occasionally the school itself) is an integral element of the storyline.

From superheroes to duelists and everything in between, here are five school life stories to get you started.

My Hero Academia

Even if you’re not an anime fan, you’ve likely heard of this big-hitter shonen series. It walks the path of series like Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach as a major player in the ranks of anime. And, like all those other shows before it, it stars a kid with big dreams.

Izuku Midoriya lives in a world where almost everyone in the world has a superpower (or “quirk”), big or small. Think magic in the world of Xanth: you’re likely to have something, even if it’s largely useless. Sadly, Izuku — nicknamed Deku (“worthless”) by fellow students — is one of the few quirkless in the world. That puts a major crimp in his dream to be a superhero like his personal idol, All Might.

That all changes when Deku becomes the ninth holder of One For All, All Might’s secret transferrable quirk. Now, with fellow heroes in training at U.A. High School — including the explosive Bakugo, the hot-and-cold Todoroki, and the gravity-controlling Ochaco — he’s training up to follow his dream and bring down the villains of his world.

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Revolutionary Girl Utena

Private schools are pretty weird to begin with. But usually their version of “weird” only goes as far as the principal’s kids dropping acid under the stairwell and trying to steal $500 worth of keyrings from Disney World. Apocalypse conspiracies and single combat rarely enter into it.

Revolutionary Girl Utena takes place at the high-end (and dubiously run) Ohtori Academy, where the Student Council challenges each other to regular fencing matches. Sounds like fun, until you learn that the winner of the match earns exclusive girlfriend rights to a girl with a sword in her chest, and theoretically will eventually be able to gain magical powers by entering an upside-down castle in the sky.

This whole scene is upended when Utena Tenjou, a transfer student with dreams of becoming a prince, sticks her nose in and becomes a duelist in order to liberate the sword-bearing Anthy. She’s not interested in sky-castles; she just wants the Student Council to let Anthy be. Of course, it’s not that straightforward, as she learns when Ohtori’s namesake steps out of the shadows.

Revolutionary Girl Utena was an early work by director Kunihiko Ikuhara, who would go on to bend minds further with Penguindrum, Yurikuma Arashi, and this year’s Sarazanmai.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

More than just a series with a catchy ending theme and dance routine, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is one of anime’s best examples of chuunibyou: a complex suffered by middle and high school kids where they believe they have special powers or are magical beings. Except in this case, it’s all true. At least, it seems that way more and more as time goes on.

Haruhi is attractive, smart, and athletic, but she only wants one thing: to hang out with paranormal people. Time travelers, espers, aliens, sliders, and the like. But she also takes a liking to the extremely normal Kyon, who also happens to be our narrator. Kyon gets volun-told into the “Saving the world by Overloading it with fun Suzumiya Haruhi Brigade,” or S.O.S. Brigade for short. Three more members eventually arrive, granting it the five total needed to be recognized as a club.

There are just two things Haruhi doesn’t know. One, three of her members really are everything she was looking for. The bookish Yuki is a data-being created to serve as a human/alien interface. The adorable Mikuru is a time agent from the future. And Koizumi is part of an agency of powerful espers. They’re investigating the second thing Haruhi doesn’t know: the world appears to have been rebooted three years ago, and Haruhi herself seems to have done so with her own unknown, godlike powers.

The problem is, if Haruhi knows that everything she’s curious about is staring her right in the face, she may get bored and unwittingly perform another reboot. So the S.O.S. Brigade’s real task becomes keeping her engaged without giving the game away… resulting in giant insect attacks, parallel universes, and a summer vacation that goes on forever (even for the viewer).

Here Is Greenwood

The last three entries have been a bit world-shaking, so let’s bring it down to something calmer: a bunch of boys in a boarding school who like being weird and pranking each other.

Here Is Greenwood started as a manga in the late 1980s, and got an OVA adaptation in the early 90s. Our hero is Kazuya, a guy with some of the worst luck in love ever. He fell for his tutor, who then went on to fall in love with and marry Kazuya’s older brother. Unable to handle living in that situation (and I can’t blame him) he applies to enter boarding school. And then gets in a car accident. And gets an ulcer. And lots of other things that delay him.

When Kazuya finally makes it to Ryokuto Academy, he ends up in the Greenwood dorm: a renovated psych ward where all the weird students end up. He can’t even make it three days without being the subject of a dorm-wide prank, but eventually he settles into the strangeness of his fellow students… with the possible exception of the guy who carries a motorcycle to and from his room. And the fact that Kazuya’s older brother — one of the people he was attempting to avoid — is the school nurse.

The cute, silly, slice-of-life rom-com is only six episodes long, and rest assured Kazuya does eventually have a happy ending.

Honey and Clover

I haven’t forgotten about you, art school kids.

Honey and Clover was created by Chica Umino, who also created the very popular March Comes in Like a Lion. This series focuses up on art school life — in particular, the love geometry among five students.

Yuuta, Takumi, and Shinobu all share a dorm at art school. Yuuta is a second-year trying to find his way in life. Takumi is a fourth-year who sidelines as a helper at a local design firm. Shinobu is a sixth-year who can’t seem to graduate because he disappears to a mysterious job for weeks at a time. Also in the mix are the gifted first-year Hagu and third year ceramics genius Ayumi. Now here’s where it gets fun.

Ayumi loves Takumi. Takumi loves Rika, the woman whose design firm he helps at. Yuuta loves Hagu. Shinobu also loves Hagu. Hagu just really likes drawing.

Honey and Clover is a show fraught with emotional drama, but it’s also one of the softest things you’re going to see in your anime watch list. Plus, it’ll really hit home for art students and people in creative industries.