There are many elements that make up a good anime - animation, art, character development, setting, theme... the list goes on. One of the most important elements is the plot, or the events that occur within the story. While no anime is complete without each element in place, plot is crucial. A show that isn't beautifully animated can still be well-loved if the plot is top-notch, but a pretty show with no substance will often be swiftly forgotten.
The best anime plots can be about anything, from an old man's career as a storyteller to a journey to the bottom of a mysterious abyss. To make an anime with a good story, no particular events are needed. Instead, the plot must stay compelling from start to finish - viewers need to care about what happens next. The plot also needs to be clever or surprising without seeming forced. If it's complex, it needs to be able to balance all elements without forgetting them, and if it's simple, it needs to find a way to stay engaging.
It's not easy to create a truly excellent plot, but these anime get the job done.
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Three amateur scientists accidentally invent a microwave that can send messages back through time. This changes the flow of time and creates multiple timelines, each more perilous than the last. Successfully keeping track of multiple timelines and making them all converge in a satisfying way is a feat that not all anime can achieve.
Steins;Gate keeps all its balls in the air without sacrificing character development, theme, or artistry. It's one of the most popular anime of the last decade, and for good reason.
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Japan has been taken over by imperialists from Britannia, but they aren't taking it lying down. A guerilla group springs up to fight for the nation's freedom, and it's headed by Zero - also known as Lelouch Lamperouge, son of the Britannian king. Lelouch has a special power called the Geass, which allows him to control anyone's behavior by looking at them. This is only the bare bones of what proves to be a deeply complicated story.
It does a beautiful job of starting with a simple power struggle and gradually adding layers to the plot.
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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood tells the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric as they try to restore their bodies after an attempt to bring their mother back to life using alchemy leaves Ed missing a leg and an arm and Al's spirit without a body. As they pursue this personal goal, they find themselves dealing with homunculi created by a power-hungry man who craves godlike powers and dealing with the repercussions of a terrible conflict. FMA successfully weaves every element of its story into a satisfying overall story.
The 2003 version of Fullmetal Alchemist also features an excellent plot, but its ending is bizarre and nonsensical, and it is overall a more character-driven story than Brotherhood is, so the award for best plot goes to Brotherhood in this case.
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Death Note is one of the most beloved anime in recent history, and for good reason. When Light Yagami receives a magical notebook that takes the life of anyone whose name is written inside, he decides to use it to create a crime-free world. The anime follows his descent from well-meaning kid with way too much power to evil megalomaniac who will do anything to achieve his goals.
But this anime is more than a story about a man defeated by his own hubris - it also features an engaging rivalry and a suspenseful sequence of events that makes it impossible to watch just one episode.