While we’re currently smack-dab in the start of a new (and very promising) season of anime, sometimes committing to a new show when you don’t know how it will turn out can be a stressful thing. Fortunately, there are plenty of excellent series from past seasons piling up on various streaming seasons—a lot of them in high quality and for free if you don’t mind a couple ads (not sure whether a show is available in your region? because.moe is an extremely handy search engine). And while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying another action-packed tournament arc or gut-wrenching drama, here are a few options if you’d like to put off your building anxiety spiral with something a little bit more soothing.
1. Azumanga Daioh
Summary: A chronicle of the daily lives of a group of friends from their first year of high school to graduation that mixes the mundane with the surreal and absurd.
Every single “absurdities of daily high school life” anime to come out in the last 15 years owes a debt to this series. Azumanga turned a series of four-panel gag strips into solidly paced 20-minute episodes built around a theme, hitting the audience with a variety of gags and slow-burn non-sequiturs destined to be memes while also slowly building up a true sense of affection for the cast (well, most of them; the pedophile teacher jokes have aged like warm milk, even with the cast universally grossed out by his existence). The girls have archetypal traits but also feel grounded and familiar, and it even has a few moments of real, effective pathos. This one’s a classic for a reason.
2. Laid-Back Camp
Summary: After a chance meeting with stoic solo camper Rin, high schooler Nadeshiko finds herself running full tilt into the world of winter camping.
Hobby anime can be difficult to pitch because their formulas — involving low-key semi-edutainment about hyper-specific subjects — can sound baffling and dull to more casual anime watchers. An exceptional hobby anime can even spark your interest in subjects you know for a fact you wouldn’t enjoy with real life. Laid-Back Camp is a prime example, as it makes sleeping outside on the ground in the dead of winter look unbelievably cozy and welcoming. The scarves look marshmallow-fluffy, views breathtaking; this show even makes instant cup ramen look amazing. If you ever wanted a show that was just the meal scenes from a Miyazaki movie, this is the one for you.
3. A Place Further Than the Universe
Summary: Anxious high-schooler Mari has always held herself back; but when she hears about fellow student Shirase’s unstoppable determination to go to Antarctica to find her missing mother, Mari is finally inspired to step into the unknown.
More literally than metaphorically chill but easily one of the best anime of 2018, Place Further feels like top-tier YA fiction given animated life. All four of the main characters feel like real teenagers, and the story handles issues like unresolved grief, anxiety, and bullying with an understated touch that never feels melodramatic. It’s also breathtaking as an adventure series — while I teared up during multiple episodes, it was as often out of joy as catharsis. If you want to take a various trip with a truly wonderful cast and experience a satisfying, complete story, I can’t think of a better series.
Summary: Shy, anxious Yuki has his life turned upside down by the arrival of boisterous oddball Haru, who claims to be an alien and demands Yuki help him catch a very important fish. Unfortunately, Yuki’s never so much as touched a fishing pole before.
Rendered in soft, lovely pastels and loaded with the aesthetic of a 1950s B-movie, Tsuritama is the embodiment of charm. It performs the ultimate hobby anime achievement of making fishing, the ultimate punchline for “boring pastime,” into an engrossing affair, and tells its story effectively in a compact 11 episodes. While it technically concerns a world-ending conflict, the show is much more concerned with quiet relaxation and flourishes of charming weirdness, like the extremely tall and definitely high-school aged Akira and his duck Tapioca, who are keeping an eye on Haru for the secret organization DUCK. The show folds a bit of the “hilarious foreigner” tropes into his character, but it’s minimized by how sweet and affectionate the writing is from top to bottom. Sometimes painfully relatable for anxiety sufferers and ultimately triumphant, it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket.
5. Tanaka-kun is Always Listless
Summary: Tanaka’s only goal in life is to spend every day in sleepy repose. But somehow, his classmates’ bizarre problems keep finding their way into his life.
The titular Tanaka-kun has never been a more relatable figure than in the midst of a global pandemic. His deadpan despair at having a full day of doing nothing interrupted by someone else’s problems is a consistent well for comedy, and the show excels at showing off a strong ensemble cast to bounce off of its calming central figure. The jokes get surreal on a regular basis and aren’t afraid to stretch out a silence for a good punchline, making it the kind of show where you give a nodding “heh” of appreciation every so often — only to burst out in a laugh at the most unexpected moment. Sleepy but smart, this is for anyone who likes seeing a joke stretch its weirdness wings while hanging out with some extremely likable characters.
6. How to Keep a Mummy
Summary: Sora’s globe-traveling father always sends him cursed objects. But this time, Sora opens his mail to discover an adorable palm-sized mummy.
“I would like to watch videos about socializing stray baby kittens, but I would like it to involve mythical creatures.” If that statement applies to you, then have I got good news. Mummy makes the extremely wise choice not to let either its titular creature nor the pets Sora’s friends find themselves adopting talk, so this truly does feel like the relatable, slightly panicked experience of having to learn how to care for a tiny, helpless creature with no road map. The show takes a light touch with the stress element though, and while there’s a melancholic undercurrent to certain episodes it always comes back around to the healing sight of tiny animal playdates.
7. Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu
Summary: When shy, anxious Bocchi and her one-and-only friend Kai find out they’re going to different middle schools, Kai delivers an ultimatum: they can’t talk to one another until Bocchi has made friends with every member of her new homeroom class.
To anyone who’s ever had social anxiety, here is a relatable series for you. Bocchi is a painfully real-feeling kid, and the main thing that keeps this from being the anime version of Eighth Grade is the writing’s dedication to rooting for her slow success — without, crucially, falling into callous pablum about how she needs to just power through and “get over” her anxieties. The small handful of friends Bocchi accrues, each with a name punning on their predominant personality trait, are a supportive lot who have one another’s backs through the excruciating experience of living through puberty. Anime about middle schoolers don’t always feel like they’re made for the group they’re about, but this is definitely something one could chill out and watch with any ten-year-old likewise stuck at home.
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8. My Roommate is a Cat
Summary: Subaru is a novelist, an introvert who became an outright recluse after his parents’ sudden deaths. When he ends up taking in a stray kitten, his world slowly begins to open back up.
Probably the conceptually heaviest title on the list, My Roommate is a Cat walks a fine line with its writing. The show divides its point of view between Subaru and his cat Haru, even giving the latter an internal monologue, yet somehow avoids coming across as insufferably pwecious. Perhaps that’s because the show can be a bit grim about the realities of life for a stray, including some implied animal death. Yet things never feel like they’re engaging in gratuity or suffering porn, nor are the show’s serious moments undermined by the abundance of cute cat antics. It might be a heavier show than some viewers will want to engage with right now, but its journey toward a story about recovery and found family is a worthwhile one, well told.
9. Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san
Summary: Honda works at a certain bookstore, and though he loves being a bookseller the waters of customer service are rough.
The value of “relaxing” for this one is going to vary wildly from person to person. Some find themselves overwhelmed with sympathetic anxiety while watching Honda’s day-to-day struggles answering customer requests and fulfilling frustrating requests from higher-ups. Others see it as an intensely cathartic venting experience, and you’ll know within one 15-minute episode which camp you fall into. What makes Honda-san interesting is that it doesn’t fall into the Clerks ethos of exasperated worker vs asshole customer — the majority of questions our protagonist gets are enthused and well-meaning, with some bit of social awkwardness standing in the way instead. It walks a fine line of relatably frustrated but still gentle at heart, and anyone who’s ever worked a service job is likely to recognize themselves in Honda or his colleagues.
10. Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun-
Summary: The girls of the pastime club love to play games. Except they’re not a real club, and half the time the games are an attempt to troll each other. But isn’t it the thought that counts?
This one is on the list for anyone seeking a comedy with a little more bite. Asobi Asobase shares the “point and laugh at these assholes” framing (and similarly skilled execution thereof) of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, cloaked behind a deceptively soft art style that the animation takes glee in twisting into grotesque shapes. This show loves to let its female characters be gross and foul, but beneath that novelty is a backbone of clever writing that pulls the show back with just enough mutual affection between the characters to keep it from feeling alienatingly cruel. Its one downside are the handful of sketches centered around Aozora Tsugumi, whose half dozen or so appearances are accompanied by a sour whiff of transphobia. Thankfully, the show’s sketch-based format makes it easy to blaze past the failures and on to some of the best black comedy in recent years.