In time travel anime, and despite the existence time-loops, stable and malleable timelines and parallel dimensions, there’s really only two types of travel that one can accomplish: from the present to the past or future, and from the past or the future to the present. Plot-wise, these two kinds of time travel anime can be further divided into two subgroups: one where every action has massive consequences, and one where time travel is only a device to comment on the era that the protagonist is exploring (from now on, “Time Camping” instead of “Time Travelling.”)
As a rule of thumb, Time Camping media tends to be pretty uncomplicated and does not leave you with an aftertaste of bitter existential dread, but Time Travelling shows are more rewarding to watch if you are into intricate narrative mechanics. This list contains both, because here at CBR we are really considerate human beings that really look out for you.
If you can only watch one time-travel show this year, this is the one you should tackle. Not only does it have perfect time-travel mechanics (of the stable time loop / parallel timelines kind), but it also has diverse character designs, for once, as well as a protagonist that suffers from sesquipedalian loquaciousness who is played in Japanese by Mamoru Miyano, and in English by the incomparable J. Michael Tatum.
Both voice actors manage to pull the best tour de force of their careers as Okabe, the main character, unravels as the consequences of his time-travel adventures pile on and on and on, it is voice acting beyond anything that Disney can pull.
9 Noein: To Your Other Self
This show could also be titled Quantum Physics 101. In a universe divided between two factions, the Shangri-La that want to destroy the time-space continuum, and the Lacryma who won’t let that happen, the key to saving everyone is the Dragon Torque, who is actually Haruka, the protagonist.
The main issue with the show is the massive amount of exposition, but everything can be forgiven as the writers have taken a lot of care to properly use quantum theory as the almost mystical motor of the story. It’s also a great mix of genres, because it manages to combine those really chill slice-of-life episodes with epic space battles and almost-magical girls without breaking any string theory on the way.
8 Sagrada Reset
Do not be fooled by the appearance of slice-of-life school anime, this is camouflage for an X-Men level backstory chock-full of philosophical dialogues. Kei, the main character, lives in Sakurada has eidetic memory, like Haruhi Suzumiya’s Yuki, and his good friend Misora has the power to reset time up to three days back.
They both join the Service Club in order to help people, but just as the end of the first episode completely changes the slice-of-life premise on its head, you will soon realize that there are other powers moving the pieces of this small village. It is this close to becoming a David Lynch movie.
7 The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
If Noein is a great quantum primer, Haruhi Suzumiya’s series really gets its collective hands dirty playing with time slime. Although in it first season it establishes time as a stable line with occasional closed-loop paradoxes and rare time earthquakes (where everything can be destroyed, but you know, that’s par for the course when Suzumiya-kun is involved,) it sometimes likes to misdirect viewers into the appearance of alternate realities or split timelines, although these usually resolve at the end of the narrative arc. Every derivation has a mathematical formula, so Haruhi Suzumiya will make the Sheldon Coopers of the world incredibly happy.However, where the Haruhi series has a very novel approach is in establishing the difference between the way that humans can perceive and manipulate time and how would a very advanced AI that is not subjected to our physical limitation, with infinite storage space, deal with the same issues. For that, check out the Endless Eight story arc, and your mind will be blown.
6 Future Diary (Mirai Niki)
Yuki, a normal teenager, gets dragged into a battle to the death to become a God. His main weapon? A very special cellphone where he receives messages and tips from his future self, and that allows him, to some degree, to foresee what will happen. However, all the other combatants have a cell-phone too, and what they can learn from it is determined by their personalities and weaknesses, and it has the best antagonist ever: Yuno.
Future diary has a tournament format, in which every episode features a fight between the kind of weak Yuki and the other deranged candidates to become a God. However, the way the mechanics of time travel are developed here (of the unstable timeline / parallel worlds category) is very interested and well thought out, so this one is a definite recommendation if you don’t mind the fact that it strays a little bit into the realm of action fantasy. You will also like it if you loved Dead Man Wonderland.
5 Erased (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi)
It is difficult to talk about Erased without mentioning The Butterfly Effect and the videogame Life is Strange, because both of them share a lot of themes and mechanics with this plot. Satou, the main character, can travel backwards in time a few minutes to stop disasters, and he doesn’t quite control it.
However, when he’s accused of the murder of his own mother, his mysterious gift sends him back 18 years, to his high school days, right before one of his classmates was murdered by a serial killer. Satou really wants to save everyone around him, but if you have watched The Butterfly Effect, you will know that this is not as easy as it sounds, even for someone with time-travelling powers. The soundtrack really adds to that mystery-thriller aspect, and the sound mixing is just excellent and if you watch the series with headphones, it will pull you right into the world.
4 The Girl who Leapt Through Time (Toki o Kakeru Shōjo)
Makoto, an outgoing high school girl, falls on top of a walnut-shaped object and gains the ability to literally leap through time, a miracle that she promptly uses to make her life a little bit easier in a myriad different ways. She’s feeling great when she realizes that she also has a number tattooed on her arm, which represents the total amount of time leaps that she’s allowed to make.Although this plot is not epic in any way, shape or form, it introduces a very intriguing concept: the idea of cumulative time-leaps which work a bit like using your third genie wish to ask for more wishes. Very beautiful to watch, and also very slice-of-lifey if you are off-put by historical time travel or elaborated time-space sci-fi.
3 Tatami Galaxy
Tatami Galaxy’s is framed within a Groundhog Day device of a single day reseting unto itself. The protagonist, Watashi (Japanese for “I”), keeps reliving the same first day of college and trying to get the perfect “rose colored” college life, but even he doesn’t know what that means.
Although the structure of all the episodes is very similar, the great thing about this 11-episode series is the incredibly original style and the fantastic soundtrack. The conclusion is very cool too, as it highlights the optimistic lesson about every time travel narrative: that the most important thing is not to make the perfect decision, but to make a decision and enjoy it to the max.
2 Thermae Romae
If you have 45 minutes and you are craving that reliable 80’s movie plot of bringing a poor wifiless loser from the past to the present, we’ve got you covered with Thermae Romae. When Lucius, ancient thermae (Roman bathhouse) architect gets fired, he also manages to time-travel to modern Japan through a Roman bath sinkhole. Insert shock reactions at concepts like Japanese toilet technology and soda pops.
This is one of the most unique and hyper-focused concept anime in this list, and also the most lighthearted. If you finish the 3-episode anime series and want to keep watching, they also made a brilliant live action movie that will make you laugh so hard that you scare your neighbours. You are welcome!
1 Nobunaga Concerto
Nobunaga Concerto is Peak Time Camping; Saburo, a very scatter headed high school boy, travels to the Sengoku era and ends up taking the place of Oda Nobunaga, the leader of the Akechi Clan, because he looks just like him.Nobunaga Concerto is more concerned with telling you the facts and showing off its stunningly realistic rotoscope technique than in helping you connect with the characters. They also managed to end the season with a major cliff-hanger and no second season on sight, but it is still a must see. (And if you don’t have time to watch even one episode, at least take a look at the ending song, which takes closing credits in anime to a whole new level.) Take a look if you loved Inuyasha but you would like to feel that indie creativity seeping through your screen.
NEXT: 10 Best Samurai Anime