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The 11 Best Time Travel Anime of All Time

The incredible Mamoru Hosoda’s latest film Mirai hits select theaters this week, and its story about a magical garden that functions as a gateway for time travel got me excited to revisit some of my favorite anime time travel stories. With so many options out there, it’s easy to find yourself entangled—quantumly or otherwise—in a whole realm of titles. So on today’s episode of The Dan Cave, we’re gonna tachyon a few options for you with a rundown of the best time travel anime you need to put in your eyeballs.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Image: Madhouse

If you could you go back in time and fix minor mistakes in your life, would you do it? As much as I’d like to think I have self control, I would be screwing up the time stream more than a barrel of butterfly poison in a heartbeat. And that’s exactly what Makoto Konno does in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. And like so many Ashton Kutchers before her, Makoto discovers that altering her actions can lead to terrible consequences, especially for those around her. What follows is Makoto using a limited number of leaps through time to try and fix what she managed to break before time itself is irreparably broken. As for me, I’d probably run out of leaps on some trivial nonsense like changing what appetizer I ordered the other night to something tastier. How was I supposed to know the calamari was a bad choice?!

Steins;Gate

Image: Funimation

Let’s be honest, if I didn’t include this, it would open up a rift in space and time as we know it because Steins;Gate is one of the best time travel anime in every reality. It’s he story of a self-styled mad scientist, Rintaro Okabe, who invents weird gadgets in the “Future Gadget Laboratory,” which is really just an apartment he shares with his pals: the ditzy Mayuri and the horned up hacker Daru. Together they create the most ambitious crossover since Catdog: the Phone Microwave. Except this doesn’t just let you nuke Hot Pockets through the power of emoji; it lets you send text messages back in time. What follows is a tangled web of love, lies, and murders most foul as they begin altering the flow of time as we know it. Mostly it’s a case study in why you should be extra careful the next time you send someone a regrettable late-night text. These things are literally called D-Mails. I mean, come on.

Mirai Nikki

Image: Funimation

Do you ever have conversations with yourself? I spend what scientists call “an uncomfortable amount of time” talking to myself in the car every day. But that’s just my overactive brain. When high school student Yukiteru Amano talks to his imaginary friends, Deus Ex Machina and Murmur, they turn out to be the god of space and time and a servant of the gods, respectively. Yukiteru is gifted a diary from this deity that is filled with entries about brutal, bloody battles that take place in the future. They describe a horrific battle royale between Yukiteru and 11 other people who possess these mysterious diaries. Fortunately for Yukiteru, his classmate Yuno has sworn to protect him, and murders basically everyone who tries to come for him. Unfortunately for Yukiteru, she is also madly in love with him and may have some ulterior motives. All of this just makes me deeply grateful that I deleted my LiveJournal before it could plunge me into a competitive slaughterfest.

Thermae Romae

Image: Discotek Media

Not every time travel anime has to be about preventing the apocalypse. Sometimes they’re about being a fish out of water enjoying new experiences. And that’s exactly what happens in Thermae Romae, the story of a Lucius, an ancient Roman architect who designed bathhouses that is suddenly transported to modern-day Japan where—surprise, surprise—he has the time of his life at Japanese bathhouses. And much like luxuriating in steaming hot water, it’ll leave you feeling nice and toasty inside.

Occult Academy

Image: A-1 Pictures

In the year 2012, aliens invaded planet Earth. Faced with certain destruction, mankind sent time travelers back to the year 1999 in order to prevent the coming apocalypse by destroying an artifact known as the Nostradamus Key, which triggers the eventual alien invasion. It’s up to Maya, the headmaster of the titular spooky high school, and a time traveler named Fumiaki to hunt down the key, and wind up fighting everything from demons to mothmen to chupacabras along the way. So in other words, this is the true story of Bizarre States.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Image: Aniplex of America

Fighting evil by moonlight, horrifying everyone who watches it by daylight, never running from a real fight, this absolutely isn’t sailor moon. Madoka is an incredible, subversive take on the magical girl genre and while it isn’t a time travel anime per se, time travel does factor into the plot in a way that will genuinely surprise you and leave you reeling long after the credits roll. That is, of course, if you haven’t already been thrown for approximately 45,000 other loops by this frequently surprising and surprisingly freaky series.

Orange

Image: Crunchyroll

What would you do if you got a letter from yourself in the mail? I’d probably try real hard to remember if this was some sixth grade project and when I realized it wasn’t, I’d probably start freaking out. When it happens to high schooler Naho Takamiya, she is skeptical until enough corroborating events happen to prove that it’s from her 26-year-old self in the future. The note is full of tips on how to correct small mistakes in her own life, but more importantly it contains a warning about a transfer student named Kakeru. Be careful around him, it urges, as he is not around in the future. From that cryptic warning springs a heartfelt, humorous and highly enjoyable shoujo romance that wins points for style if not for originality.

Zipang

Image: Geneon Entertainment

One of my favorite books when I was younger was William R. Forstchen’s The Lost Regiment, which tells the story of a Union Army regiment from the Civil War getting transported to an alien world. Zipang checks off many of the same alt-history boxes with its tale of a platoon of modern-day Japanese soldiers who suddenly find themselves transported back in time to World War II. With their knowledge of world history and their advanced military strategy, they could feasibly win the war for Japan. But the Japan of World War II is much different than the one they left behind. And despite their intentions not to get involved or alter history, things go to hell in a handbasket faster than I can eat my body weight in takoyaki, which in case you don’t know is uncomfortably quick.

Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World

Image: Funimation

Subaru Natsuki is having a terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day. After leaving the convenience store, he finds himself ripped from the world he knew and transported into a fantasy land. He befriends a half-elf girl named Satella…only to get murdered by a bunch of goons. When Subaru wakes up, he isn’t in some sweet hereafter; rather, he is living the same day over and over again. Can he use his knowledge of history to avoid getting killed, or is he doomed to be the world’s saddest and meatiest GIF of all time? You’ll just have to watch to find out.

Nobunaga Concerto

Image: Fuji TV

The best history teachers really know how to make the past come alive. Unfortunately for Saburou, his teacher sucked and he had no interest in Japanese history. Which is unfortunate because before he knew it, Saburou found himself transported back in time to the Sengoku Era, dropped at the feet of none other than Oda Nobunaga, the legendary legendary Japanese daimyo who attempted to unify Japan during the late sixteenth century. Even weirder? The two look almost identical. And before he knew it, Saburou was no longer a high school student, but the stand-in for one of Japan’s most high-profile military figures. The rest, as they say, is history. Specifically historical fiction.

Erased

Image: Aniplex of America

Some people possess incredible abilities. Usain Bolt can run faster than anyone on Earth, Kyle Hill can climb like a spider monkey, Kid Rock can smell a pig from a mile away. And in Erased, manga artist Satoru Fujinuma can travel back in time moments before something horrible is about to happen to him so he can try and prevent it. When his mother is suddenly and brutally murdered, Satoru finds himself transported back in time all the way back to 1988, when he was in elementary school. This time, he has a chance to prevent a very different tragedy: the abduction and murder of one of his classmates, Kayo Hinazuki. And when it’s done, you’ll find yourself wishing you could travel back to a time before you’d seen it so you can watch it all over again for the very first time.

And those are some of the best time travel anime of all time! But tell me—which is your favorite? What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.

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Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of books about Star Wars and the Avengers. Follow him on Twitter (@DanCasey).

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