Like all animation, anime has the inherent ability to educate as well as entertain. While many writers use the medium to teach esoteric life lessons on morality, others take the idea of teaching much more literally. Since anime has existed, it has been used to teach children and adults about the world we live in. Doraemon is one of the oldest series known to do this, but it is far from the only example.
Balancing storytelling and teaching is not easy, and for every educational entertainment series worth watching, there are at least as many failures to avoid, particularly as they fail in the « entertainment » part of the work in question.
10 Observe: Silver Spoon
For most otaku, simply knowing that Hiromu Arakawa wrote this series is reason enough to invest time in it. But this show about leaving town behind to go to agricultural school is a long way from Full Metal Alchemist. Arakawa herself grew up on a cow farm in rural northern Hokkaido. Silver Spoon demonstrates his wealth of knowledge on the subject.
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Watching Yuugo Hachiken adapt to the Ooezo Agricultural School, audiences learn everything from riding a horse, dressing a deer, raising cows, to the internal struggle that ensues when raising an animal for food. The series is about growth and gratitude, and the countless ways people can live fulfilling lives.
9 Skip: ClassicaLoid
It seems unfair to refer to ClassicaLoid as edu-entertainment, but what else could this graceless mess be called? Apparently there seem to be lessons to be learned here. After all, the show’s cast features bizarre caricatures of renowned classical composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and more, living together in a mansion in rural Japan.
One could assume that this show could teach its audience about these historical figures. But there is practically no plot, and the music is intentionally slaughtered in favor of being silly. Anyone looking to learn more about music should head elsewhere.
8 Watch: Moyashimon
Moyashimon doesn’t pretend to be anything other than educational, sometimes to his detriment. But for anyone interested in microorganisms, the series provides a wealth of information. Rather than seeing spirits like dozens of other protagonists, Moyashimon’s hero Tadayasu Sawaki is gifted with the ability to see microbes, appearing only to him as cute mascot-like characters reminiscent of the NHK mascot Domo.
Like Silver Spoon, this series is set at an agricultural college, where this talent comes in handy, and through Sawaki’s eyes, audiences learn everything from how to make sake to the dangers of E. coli.
7 Jump: Hetalia
The main problem with Hetalia: Axis Powers is not that it is not educational. In many respects, Hetalia offers a wealth of historical information. But choosing to portray each nation as an anthropomorphic caricature and then pit them against each other is problematic at best and downright offensive at worst.
Many of the characters encapsulate xenophobic and racist stereotypes, a truth exacerbated by a part of the fandom that often « amuses itself » with the series’ racism, including one particularly notorious incident involving Nazi salutes at a Hetalia cosplay photo shoot on 2010.
6 Observe: Cells in operation
Cells at Work started out as something of a sleeper hit when it aired in early 2018, but its popularity since then has only grown. For anyone familiar with Fantastic Voyage or even movies like Osmosis Jones and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the premise isn’t particularly novel. The public witnesses a microscopic world from inside the human body, following the daily life of anthropomorphic cells and bacteria.
The real trick is the trapeze act that the show performs, balancing elements of comedy and action along with a healthy dose of biology fundamentals. For anyone who can’t remember what T cells are or what macrophages do, Cells at Work is here, and season two has just started airing.
5 Jump: Sekkou Boys
Sekkou Boys is really a head scratcher. It features possibly the weirdest known group of idols in anime, « The Rockies », which is made up of the busts of Greek and Roman statues. It is not made up of characters based on the statues, but of real statues without arms.
The series appears to teach audiences some art history, but the weight of the outlandish premise gets in the way of any deeper level learning. Overall, the series feels like a strange and wasted opportunity.
4 Watch: Wandering Son
BL and Yuri manga and anime enjoy a rabid fan, and there are plenty of gems in the genre. However, queer fans are often among the first to remember that there is no shortage of genre tropes. For this reason and more, Wandering Son is an invaluable addition to the budding LGBTQ + anime landscape.
Wandering Son tells the story of two young trans boys in modern Japan who live their daily lives and face gender dysphoria. Trans issues are treated with care here, and while the series is not perfect, it teaches viewers to look beyond the cliches that many indulge in and consider the reality of being gay in the modern world.
3 Skip: Element Hunters
Good intentions aren’t always enough to put on a compelling show, even when your heart is in the right place. Element Hunters was produced with the explicit intention of educating its audience in the field of chemistry. Unfortunately, hampered by a distracting plot in which scientific elements are lost and transformed into monsters in a parallel world called « negative earth, » the show mostly stumbles over its own two feet in the process.
2 Watch: Bakuman
Perhaps the most commercially successful show in this category, Bakuman delves into the manga publishing industry, inviting fans to witness the many trials aspiring mangaka faces on the way to their dreams.
While the show is certainly a coming of age story, it does its part of education, introducing stakeholders at every stage of the publishing process, both in regards to the reward and the challenge. While any anime about manga is bound to view the subject through pink glasses, Bakuman is not afraid to point out the flaws of the business, sometimes with heartbreaking effect.
1 Jump: Thermae Romae
There is no question that Thermae Romae has a stroke of comic originality worth celebrating. The series deals with time travel with a certain Bill & Ted air. Thermae Romae tells the story of a Roman emperor who visits modern Japan and uses everything he learns there to improve the bathhouses of his time.
Although it’s a nice idea, the gimmick wears out quickly and teaches us little, which could be why the series failed to take hold with most audiences.