Good Family-Friendly Anime

39. picture1No doubt there are a few similar articles scattered about the net, but this one is written with a couple of specific things in mind – and simply listing a bunch of G-rated (and therefore ‘child-safe’) anime isn’t one of them.

First off, the below titles are all televised anime that I consider to be decent quality – mostly because I didn’t want to get stuck creating yet another list of shows that was either based on card and video game franchises, or else made up of heavily-censored fighting anime (Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, etc. etc). Secondly, they’re anime that can hopefully be enjoyed not only by kids but also by their parents or older siblings, since I think it’s important that people who prefer to watch with their children or younger brothers/sisters can do so without feeling like the show is insulting their intelligence. And finally, I wanted to try and include a variety of anime that wouldn’t appeal to any single demographic. There can be a pretty big difference between what a 7-year old girl will love and what a 12-year old boy will, so I’ve done my best to include a range of shows that are hopefully not exclusive of any one age group or gender.

Note that I’m deliberately leaving films off this list – mostly because I feel that many films generally receive a lot more mainstream attention than do television shows, while my aim here is to cover titles that are less likely to be known or thought of by the more casual anime viewer.

Aria (2005-2008)

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Spanning three seasons, Aria is a science-fiction series (sort of) set on a terraformed Mars (now named Aqua) sometime in the 24th century. I say ‘sort of’ because while the setting does indeed categorise this anime as sci-fi, Aria is a utopian fantasy that focuses on nothing more serious than a young woman named Akari as she undergoes her training as an apprentice gondolier. Essentially, the backdrop is a version of Venice in which nothing truly bad ever happens, since there’s no villain to speak of and no evil in existence. What we have instead is some lovely artwork, a good-quality soundtrack, and a large cast of women who really, really like to row boats. And when you come right down to it, it’s the characters that are most important in this series – their hopes and dreams, their friendships and rivalries, and their everyday life as gondoliers. Clearly this won’t keep the action-only fans entertained, but despite the tranquil pacing I think that many people will find this title to be surprisingly satisfying.

Cardcaptor Sakura (1998-2000)

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This is a magical-girl and CLAMP classic, and despite me classifying it as a children’s show, it’s actually one of my favourite anime of all time. The series follows Sakura and her adventures after she accidentally sets free a set of magical cards, which she is then charged with recollecting in order to stop an unknown catastrophe from befalling the world. The story sounds relatively simple and it is, although the sophistication with which it’s told means that there’s a lot here for adults to appreciate. There are hints of both male and female homosexual relationships, and many of the characters are far more complex than they first appear, but there’s nothing that I would consider unsuitable for kids (even if America/Canada apparently disagreed and censored the crap out of their own version, Cardcaptors). In all honesty, I have yet to come across a more charming magical-girl series than this.

Dragon Ball (1986-1989)

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I’d prefer to think of this title as being in no way related to its successor, Dragon Ball Z, because in all the important ways it really isn’t. While the latter is a long-winded action/explosion-fest involving plenty of heavy grunting and staring contests, the former is primarily an adventure series that follows Goku during his childhood years. The comedy aspects of the series are actually funny for the most part, and while there’s a lot of good guy vs. evil villain in both shows, Dragon Ball’s focus is more about the people than random monsters or aliens, and thematically has more to do with friendship and journeying than anything else (although rest assured, there’s still fighting involved). It has its occasional darker moments but usually remains light-hearted; even the uncut version, which features a few naughtier moments (i.e. Goku running around starkers, making comments about Bulma’s bust, etc.) is nothing I’d personally consider offensive. The anime has also aged quite well, and shouldn’t be overlooked just because of what came afterwards.

Princess Tutu (2002-2003)

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Of all the titles listed here, this is the one I’d probably say is the most ‘adult’. Not because of the violence (pretty much nonexistent), not because of any kind of sexual representations (again, not the focus of the series at all), but because it’s a bit of a mind-trip. Nearly everything is a metaphor for something – it’s like a classic German fairy tale got mixed in with a less creepy version of Black Swan before being thrown into anime-form and then gleefully subverted by its creators. The result is a story about a duck who was transformed into a young girl and attends a private ballet academy. Just go with it, okay? Princess Tutu is basically a magical-girl series that uses dancing in place of fighting, but it’s also an allegorical fantasy and a startlingly intense drama if you’re looking in the right places. In other words, it’s perfect for a wide range of age groups, and one of the most intelligent children’s anime I’ve seen to date.

Tegami Bachi/Letter Bee (2009-2011)

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It’s been a long time since I was so emotionally affected by a shounen series – or by any series for that matter. With a strong mix of fantasy-adventure and drama, and with a truly excellent cast of characters, Tegami Bachi takes place in an alternate universe; a land of perpetual night where postmen (‘letter bees’) make their deliveries through highly treacherous terrain armed with just one gun and a bodyguard. The guns don’t fire actual bullets though, and the bodyguard isn’t usually human. If that sounds more than slightly strange, don’t leap for Wikipedia – no additional information is required to thoroughly enjoy the whole thing, and in fact, I think this is a series best enjoyed when you just dive straight in. Despite some of the darker and more complex themes, the most objectionable material in the show amounts to nothing more than a scantily-clad female using her magical hair as a bikini (in one episode only, as she’s an extremely minor character), so this is a perfectly appropriate title for children. The story carries straight over into the second season, Tegami Bachi Reverse, but the payoff is well worth it.

Uchuu no Stellvia/Stellvia of the Universe (2003)

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An easily digestible but relatively serious science-fiction series, Stellvia mostly takes place in the year 2356 AD, where our heroine Shima becomes one of the newest recruits of the space academy Stellvia. While this naturally involves saving the world a couple of times in later episodes, much of the story is about Shima herself as she acquires new skills and grows as a person, and about her relationships with and between her circle of friends. There’s a little here for everyone I think, since the more standard fare you’d expect to find in a sci-fi anime set in space such as mecha are combined with a healthy dose of drama, romance, and coming-of-age themes. The animation is solid as well, making Stellvia a pretty good visual experience on top of its strong storytelling.

And just in case you’ve exhausted all the above possibilities, here are a few other suggestions:

Black Jack, specifically the televised version (2004-2006). I don’t recommend the OVAs for younger audiences, but the TV series seems a little more child-friendly while still carrying plenty of weight. The main character clearly has some moral issues as far as his work goes however, so adults might want to check it out first before deciding whether or not they want their kids or younger siblings watching.

Digimon, specifically the first two seasons (1999-2001), which I briefly discussed in this post.

Kamichu! (2005). If you’re not uptight about religion or spirituality, this is one of the sweetest anime you’ll ever see. It still manages to be incredibly entertaining though, blending slice-of-life, the supernatural, comedy, and a hint of drama into a refreshing and mostly light-hearted show.

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto/Someday’s Dreamers (2003). A somewhat serious yet very heartwarming series that sounds magical-girl but is actually more a soft slice-of-life drama. However, be warned that the spin-off series is nowhere near as good and will probably make most kids fall asleep.

Ookiku Furikabutte/Big Windup! (2007-2010). Your basic sports anime (baseball) that I somehow actually like. It mentions masturbation once or twice but otherwise should be fine even for younger audiences.

Zoids, specifically Chaotic Century (1999-2000). It’s far and away the best series of the franchise but is possibly overlooked a lot thanks to all the action figures. Well, that and the blandly average New Century series.

Question of the post: What’s been your favourite family-friendly anime that you’ve watched to date? Was it something you saw back in your childhood years, or is it something you discovered as an adult?

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28 thoughts on “Good Family-Friendly Anime

  1. Hmm, I think Aria might be a little dull for some kids, as soothing as it is. Princess Tutu is an interesting choice. I loved it, but I am an adult and could pick up on the things the show was saying about storytelling. On the other hand, introducing kids to classical music is never a bad thing. Cardcaptor Sakura is sheer quality from beginning to end.

    The only one I have qualms with is Letter Bee. I just couldn’t handle some of the hackneyed stories it tried to tell. I dropped it, in spite of Niche, who rocks. Maybe I got tired of Lag crying all the time, too. It’s been awhile.

    As for others, I would suggest Magic Knight Rayearth. Maybe not for very young children, but I think older ones could handle it.

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    • Yeah, Aria probably just wouldn’t cut it for people who wanted a bit more action or excitement, as I noted in the article.

      Honestly, I adored Letter Bee from beginning to end. I loved the characters, got especially emotional during the second season (seriously, me getting that emotionally invested in an anime just doesn’t happen all that often, let alone anime that are aimed primarily at boys), and thought there were some fantastic ideas and storytelling going on. However, I can also see why it might not appeal to everyone. I think kids would be just fine though.

      Magic Knight Rayearth is an interesting choice. I’d be inclined to back that up, although I confess I never actually made it through the first couple of episodes.

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  2. I haven’t seen some of the anime on this list, but Dragon Ball and Cardcaptor Sakura were a big part of my childhood. I didn’t watch Princess Tutu until my teens, but I wasn’t very interested in all the ballet. I enjoyed the classical music though.

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  3. …What, all those crazy violence fests from my old video rental store don’t count? Haha. In retrospect, I probably wouldn’t be able to categorize a lot of my earlier anime as full fledged fun for the whole family kind of programs. So I actually don’t have a whole lot of nostalgia I can pull from in that department.

    So my most favorite or comprehensive one would likely be Polar Bear’s Cafe from the past few years. It has cute animals of all kinds for the super young kids who can’t follow the dialogue, while older kids and teens will be amused by or able to identify with a certain set of character narratives (Panda hates work, Penguin’s relationship shenanigans, Grizzly looking a lot more “edgy” than he really is, etc). Adults will find great enjoyment in the various elements of reflective nostalgia the older characters have for where they came from and where they are, or things like the mom’s going to a modern boy band concert and the like. There’s also Polar Bear’s dad puns. Good lord does he have (entirely delightful) dad puns.

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    • Yeah, I’m probably in a similar boat, in that my first exposures to anime (while consciously knowing what anime was) aren’t exactly what I’d call child-friendly. Likewise, I ghosted video shops and picked up all the classics (since it was all the video shops had at that time) – Akira, Grave of the Fireflies, Ninja Scroll, Armitage, Perfect Blue… you know, fun for the whole family. :p

      You know, I’ve seen Polar Bear’s Cafe around a lot but never actually seen any of it. Perhaps I’ll have to take a peek.

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  4. As I’ve brought before, my parents could be a little strict about the content of cartoons we were allowed to watch, so when I pick something out for my siblings, I try and stay within my mom’s comfort zone, or just try to make sure she won’t walk by at the wrong moment. I’d live to get my 10-year-old brother into Letter Bee, so long as mom doesn’t catch those very rare moments you mention! I suggested that one to my sisters, but it hasn’t been as high on their priority list.

    That said, Digimon is a family obsession–I mean, tradition–and my obsessive sisters have devoured CCS (which they shared with the little brother I mentioned), Princess Tutu, and Kamichu, and we all enjoyed Zoids together a really, really long time ago when it was dubbed on TV. Most of these were things I had seen before and approved for my sisters, and at most I’d watch over their shoulder for the parts I really liked. The best anime I watched for the first time all the way through with my sisters was Dennou Coil, which was engaging and intelligent and quality the whole way through. I wish I would have had the aforementioned little brother join us, too!

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    • I think Dennou Coil’s definitely another great example of a great title that’s still quite family-friendly. It was actually on this list’s draft version in fact, although I ended up taking it off last-minute, because I want to talk about the show in a bit more depth for a later article. 🙂

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  5. Very nice list – thanks for compiling this! And by the way, very pleasantly surprised to see Zoids included – Chaotic Century is a terribly underrated show!

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    • You’re welcome – I’m happy if it can be of some use. And I agree, Chaotic Century really is quite underrated; I think it’s a prime example of a kids show that actually has a lot of interesting and intelligent things to say while still being entertaining and ‘safe’ for children, but is unfortunately often thought of as vacuous and/or low-quality because of its target audience and action figure franchise.

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  6. Three words: Future Boy Conan. I am going to raise my children on this series. By far my favorite Miyazaki work. It’s just so damn cool. Such a good series.

    My uncle, on the other hand, loved watching K-ON! with his family. I think that’s interesting, because they are (fairly) devout Catholics. His does love his American comic books, so I guess that helped?

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    • Ooh, good call! Always great to see an appreciation of some of the classics.

      K-On! is an interesting choice. I mean, the anime is based on a seinen manga, but I don’t think there’s anything in the series that could be considered unsafe/undesirable for children, so I guess the demographic doesn’t really matter in this case.

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  7. Nice, as you already know Princess Tutu was the anime I used to introduce my god-daughter to anime when she was 3. At 7 it is still one of her favourite television shows and she has probably watched the box set I gave her close to 20 or 30 times!

    Thanks for the other suggestions too, I have to admit I haven’t see Aria or Stellvia, and despite introducing you to Letter Bee I haven’t seen anything past what we watched in Japan. I’ll have to get onto those ones.

    One thing I do notice is that there is a shortage of good anime for children that has been dubbed into English. Cardcaptor Sakura is one that I absolutely enjoy and would love to introduce my god-daughter to, but the dub is just one that I can’t stand so I have put it off until she is up to reading subtitles!

    Also notice my correct use of commenting 🙂

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    • Ahh, that’s right, I had forgotten you used Princess Tutu for your god-daughter’s first anime viewing experience. A pretty good one too, if it’s still a favourite of hers!

      Aria is one of those titles that’s beautiful and heartwarming, but also potentially incredibly boring if you want any kind of complex plot or any type of action whatsoever. That said, I maintain it’s a really good series.

      Ugh. Yes, the Cardcaptor Sakura dub is fairly awful. For various reasons, 90s children’s anime especially tends to be pretty bad in the dubbing department. Since about the mid 2000s though, I think dubbing in general has gotten markedly better.

      I notice your correct use of commenting and give you my full approval. 😉

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  9. hmm well Speed racer is the one that comes immediately to mind. honestly i never knew this was an anime when i first watched it, but it was one of my favorite shows of all time. it’s a bit cheesy and the animation is from the 60’s but it’s still one of the best family freindly animes i’ve seen. not one sex scene (not even a bikini to my memory), not one cuss word.

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  10. Thanks for the post. I will check out Princess Tutu, for now, looks interesting. We checked out (my daughter and I) Cardcaptor Sakura but I think the artwork was suggestive, i.e. it appeared to me as if the characters were riding around on phalus shaped objects and I wasn’t keen at all for my daughter to watch the show. Anyone else have the same impression?

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    • Wow… I honestly never even considered any kind of suggestiveness towards the characters and their flying around. I mean, it’s a wand – basically a pink magical broomstick. But who knows, maybe that’s just me and everyone else is secretly thinking of penises the whole time.

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  11. Wow, wow, wow! What a fantastic post, Artemis!

    I did notice a minor typo–“Cardaptor Sakura” should say “Cardcaptor Sakura”–but other than that, I loved this list and the detail you put into each entry. I’m amazed that I didn’t think of Dragon Ball, since I greatly preferred its heart and humor over the rather repetitive and bland Z saga. And I admire how you didn’t just throw in a bunch of ‘merchandise anime’ (e.g., Pokémon — I love the games but got sick of how repetitive and drawn out the anime was, like with Dragon Ball Z) and leave it at that. Never to mention that on a few occasions, even shows like that have gotten into extremely intense or downright perverse territory that I’d never want to expose children to. I think Princess Tutu and Aria interest me the most out of these entries, the former because I like deep thinking and the latter because its description kind of makes me think of the gentle but thoroughly enrapturing storytelling of Kiki’s Delivery Service (https://projectedrealities.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/movie-review-kikis-delivery-service/). And I have fond memories of Zoids, especially since I just couldn’t get into the few Gundam anime that were available to me when I was young. I loved Seed when I got older, but of course, I’d never recommend that for a family audience.

    The thing I notice about these anime is that since (being family-friendly anime) they can’t rely on fanservice or extensive violence to carry an episode, they have to find other ways to maintain the viewer’s interest, so in my mind that would leave more room for intricate storytelling. Or moe comedy, who knows, but from a child’s perspective that might be just as good. On that note, I thought the first episode of Axis Powers Hetalia, of all things, was adorable–right up until the curse word at the very end–but then you have the issue of whether and perhaps how to talk to a child about discerning and ignoring the perversity that’s present to some extent in the fanbase. Granted, My Little Pony and Pokémon have had to deal with that for years, so maybe discussion of this is just something to withhold until the time is right.

    I did watch Hamtaro quite often as a child, though. Loved that show, and I still think it’s adorable, but I can thoroughly understand that its aggressively cute personality could perhaps turn tweens off. Regarding other anime I saw while growing up, I don’t know how on earth Tenchi Muyo ever got censored enough to appear on Cartoon Network’s after-school block, but in the bigger picture I think if you have to do so much censoring to a show that you alter its target demographic entirely (I never got into One Piece but have heard a few stories), I think a different show needs to be picked.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

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    • Ah, thank you for pointing out that typo! I’ll fix it up shortly.

      Now that you mention it, perhaps Aria does have a certain similarity in terms of general vibe to Kiki. And I agree, Hetalia can be pretty darn adorable at times, although there’s just so much fan-pandering going on there (some of it rather cheeky in nature) that I can’t really think of it as being a good family-friendly anime. I enjoy the show personally though. 🙂

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      • You are welcome! Thanks for getting back to me so quickly; I always appreciate hearing from you. I watched a ton of Hetalia and routinely found myself wishing it were something I could recommend for families, even if I really liked the show otherwise, as you did.

        I wonder if developing economies around the world will someday allow for other kinds of animation (e.g., African, Middle Eastern, Indian) animation to cross the oceans and reach the West as anime did. The thought of this kind of excites me.

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  12. My first anime was Another (watched it when I was 10), but it probably isn’t something I should recommend, even though it helped me to get rid of my fear for darkness :3

    (Princess Tutu is amazing ^^)

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    • Haha, yeah, not exactly a title I’d recommend for family-friendly anime. Princess Tutu is indeed amazing though – proof if it was ever needed that it’s entirely possible for a single anime to appeal to extremely wide audiences, particularly in terms of age.

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