Whether or not they know it, this is a subgenre of anime that most fans know and many can probably recall their first experience with it.
Why is that?
Perhaps we should back up and ask what “iyashikei” is first.
Iyashikei is a Japanese word that means “healing” and, according to TV Tropes, is a genre focused solely around creating a soothing effect on the audience. They tend to be set in worlds with little to no conflict in order to create that healing effect. That’s not to say this genre is free of conflict; the conflicts just tend to be on a very small scale without high stakes. There are some that defy that part of the definition as we’ll see later in this list.
So how is this obscure, niche genre something most anime fans know?
Many of Studio Ghibli’s films create the healing sensation that the niche iyashikei genre is known for. Movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro are the biggest examples. If you enjoy those movies, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy these particular series. These are in no particular order.
K-on!! is perhaps one of the most popular and mainstream of this particular genre in the anime community. Many people have undoubtedly seen it, but it’s a pretty great, accessible place to start looking into the genre past Studio Ghibli. It simply follows the adventures of the Light Music Club as they struggle for relevance in their school and to bring new members in.
This is the quintessential “moe” anime. It’s basically cute girls doing cute things and also a very great example of the genre. While it is moe, there is still very much a story structure. The characters, though humble and down to earth, are the main driving force in it. From Yui’s ditziness to Mugi’s occasional complete lack of knowledge of how the world really works, this is a bit of a longer anime that will warm your heart.
ARIA The Animation
This one is reaching way back into the archives of modern anime. The first season of ARIA aired in 2005 with thirteen episodes. Despite that, it remains extremely highly rated on MyAnimeList. With a ranking of 1061 and popularity of 1008, those numbers speak for themselves. Due to that, the anime does run at the older 4:3 aspect ratio rather than the modern 16:9, so be prepared for black bars up the side of the screen. Despite the era it was created in, the animation is still detailed, fluid, and absolutely breathtaking.
This is a very simple, lighthearted series that focuses on the three main characters, Akari, Aika, and Alice, as they attempt to become full-fledged Undine or professional gondolier guides. The setting of this particular anime is Neo Venezia on the planet Aqua in the 24th century. Aqua was formerly the planet Mars, terraformed over several generations after tragedy befell Manhome (formerly Earth) and made it more difficult to survive there. Neo Venezia is a faithful replication of Venice, Italy, hence the focus on gondolas.
Neo Venezia is a place of magic, wonder, and supreme beauty. Life is relatively uncomplicated for the girls, filled with amazing magical moments large and small. One episode focuses on Alicia, Akari’s mentory, attempting to take her to a special place in a forest. They fail to find the place Alicia wanted, but they find another place of beauty and wonder in its place.
That episode sums up the entire anime in a nutshell. This anime is less about the destination and more about the journey. It fills you with a joy for life and appreciating the small moments in ways many other anime can’t replicate.
This is a longer series with three seasons. The first and third have thirteen episodes and the second has twenty-six. There are also a couple of OVAs.
Natsume Yuujinchou/Natsume’s Book of Friends
Natsume Yuujinchou is another series that reaches back to older modern anime, but it’s a standout in the genre. The first season aired in 2008. On MyAnimeList, it has the overall ranking of 175 with its popularity being 278.
This series is based around Natsume Takashi, a young fifteen-year-old boy that can see youkai. His parents died when he was young and he’s been bounced around from family member to family member who didn’t want him until his current guardians actually did. There, he discovers a book his grandmother, Reiko, had. She could see youkai like him and, when she was young, collected many of their names in a book. As names give power, every youkai in the area and even many humans want to get their hands on the book for their own ends. Natsume’s goal is to return the names to the youkai so they won’t be enslaved.
While this premise sounds complex compared to the others on this list, for the most part, the plot is simple enough to follow along. It may also sound like it gives a formula to every episode, but it doesn’t. Many episodes do focus around giving youkai their names back, but plenty also focus purely on Natsume and his human friends. There are two also ongoing subplots that are somewhat high stakes that involve two humans trying to get the Book of Friends. However, these higher-stake plots only pop up once in a while with the focus mainly being on the shenanigans Natsume and his misadventures with the youkai world.
This is definitely quite the long anime with over fifty episodes, but that’s split up over six seasons with each having about eleven to thirteen episodes. It’s a time investment if you wanna watch everything, but it’s in small enough chunks that it’s easy to get through. If you’re a fan of Japanese mythology, slice of life, and/or just a story that flows slowly over time with character development, this might just be the series for you.
There are many more examples of iyashikei anime out there such as Tamako Market, Kamichu!, Barakaman, and many more; this is just a small sampling of anime that might help get you started in the genre. These series are honestly a great remedy after having a stressful day or week.
Aria The Animation. (n.d.). MyAnimeList.Net. https://myanimelist.net/anime/477/Aria_The_Animation
Iyashikei – TV Tropes. (n.d.). TV Tropes. https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Iyashikei
Natsume Yuujinchou (Natsume’s Book of Friends). (n.d.). MyAnimeList.Net. https://myanimelist.net/anime/4081/Natsume_Yuujinchou