With Doctor Who on hiatus for 2016, fans needing to get their fill of time-travel shenanigans with a witty, charismatic main character have to seek comfort away from the warming glow of the BBC. If you’re a Whovian who has exhausted all the obvious media choices, or if you don’t want to delve into the show’s daunting 50-year history just yet, here are some anime recommendations to help ease the pain of no new episodes until Christmas. What follows is an eclectic collection of titles, all featuring the things we know and love about Doctor Who.
Do you love it when The Doctor shows up mysteriously and then drops some knowledge that will change a person’s life forever?
Then you might like xxxHoLic.
Lurking beneath the somewhat unfortunate title is an extremely stylish supernatural series. Created by the all-female manga group CLAMP, xxxHoLic features Yuuko Ichihara and her reluctant assistant Kimihiro Watanuki. Yuuko is the proprietor of a very bizarre antique shop. She grants wishes, and all she asks in return is for something of equivalent value. It could be an object, but it also could be an idea, like love or a memory.
Yuuko’s vast knowledge and enigmatic nature suggest that she’s a lot older than she looks, like The Doctor. And she travels between different universes, earning her the nickname “The Dimension Witch.” If you end up liking this show, you might also consider another anime Yuuko is featured in, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, where she’s even more mysteriously insightful.
Do you love when The Doctor shows off his smarts while solving some confounding mysteries with his companion?
You might like Beautiful Bones: Saburako's Investigation.
Ostensibly a mystery series, Beautiful Bones takes great care in sculpting episodes which explore the meaning of life through death. Sakurako Kujō is a woman who is obsessed with bones, all kinds of bones, animal as well as human. Since she’s an expert on how living things decay, she’s often called on by local law enforcement to help with murder cases.
Sakurako encounters a high schooler named Shōtarō Tatewaki, who becomes her assistant and her constant foil. His disgust and fear of bodies stripped of flesh are countered by her fascination and love for them. She not only wants to know how these victims died but how they lived as well. What sounds like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and the FOX show Bones is actually more of a meditation on the importance of life. And Sakurako, like The Doctor, is fascinated with how much humans can get done in our relatively short lifetimes.
Is your favorite part of Doctor Who is when the TARDIS ends up in bizarre places?
Let me introduce you to Kino’s Journey.
Set in an extensive world which may or may not be the far future of our own, a young traveler named Kino embarks on an epic road trip with her motorcycle, Hermes. Yes, she’s named her motorcycle because it has a mind of its own, and is Kino’s only traveling companion. Her traveler’s rule is to stay in a country for three days and two nights, assuming that one can learn all about a country and its people in that short period of time.
All the countries Kino visits are dystopias in one way or another, and the people she meets often seem less like real people with real personalities and more like vague representations of humanity. Kino is never allowed to get close to anyone, and she’s forever the outsider, just like The Doctor. Also, she’s running away from home because she didn’t agree with what was required of her, just like The Doctor. For Kino, the world is not beautiful, and therefore, it absolutely is beautiful. She finds beauty in flaws. Sound familiar?
Do you like when there's a lot of weird stuff happening that only The Doctor knows how to fix?
You're going to love Mushi-shi.
Set in medieval Japan, this anime series features a class of invisible creatures known as “mushi.” "Mushi" literally translates to “bug” in Japanese, but these invisible creatures are much more than ordinary insects. The mushi resemble microscopic organisms, and their presence can make humans sick or transform them in bizarre ways, much like when humans are subjected to strange alien environments in Doctor Who. The mushi hold no ill-will towards humanity. They’re just doing what comes naturally.
The main character is Ginko. He is a mushi-shi, a person who can cure people of their mushi-related afflictions. Part doctor and part naturalist, Ginko wanders the countryside tracking the migration patterns of mushi and curing people who have been tainted by them. He has no real home, relying on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter. Like The Doctor, Ginko’s expertise is often underestimated, and the people who distrust him inadvertently risk their lives.
Do you love the witty banter between The Doctor and his companions, and the possibility of them learning from each other along the way?
Try out Spice and Wolf.
This series features a wolf goddess named Holo and a merchant named Kraft Lawrence. Holo and Lawrence become traveling companions because she needs passage to the north and he’s headed north to sell his goods. During their long journey, Holo teaches Lawrence about the natural laws among animals, which don’t seem that different from Lawrence’s experiences with businessmen.
An anime about capitalism? It actually works extremely well, because the two main characters are so engaging. Holo, the Wise Wolf, believes that she has nothing to learn from humans, but she soon discovers the benefits of interacting with the human world. Lawrence, for his part, requires a lot of rescuing by Holo, but he also learns about the ways of wolves, and how they’re not so different from humans after all.
Are you a fan of The Doctor's space adventures and love it when spaceships have a female crew?
You should check out Bodacious Space Pirates.
Yes, it’s another unfortunately named anime with a spectacular premise. The show is set in the far future, and humans have colonized other planets. Marika Kato finds out that her parents were space pirates, and the recent death of her father makes her the new captain of his pirate ship. Marika has to learn how to become a pirate, as well as navigate the difficulties of being a high school student with a full-time job as a captain of a ship. There’s lots of outer space adventures, lots of pirate hijinks, and Marika recruits the fellow members of her Sailing Club to help run her ship, resulting in a pirate crew made up of cheerful high school girls. Privateers in space? It’s a grand Doctor Who tradition.
Do you like how The Doctor’s enthusiasm draws a lot of eclectic people into his social circle?
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is for you.
It starts out as a typical slice-of-life anime featuring the energetic and somewhat overbearing Haruhi. She’s the founder and president of the SOS Brigade, a high school club dedicated to finding evidence of aliens, time-travelers, and espers in the real world. The club members, apart from resident skeptic Kyon, all wish to indulge Haruhi’s eagerness to explore the world. As the series goes on, the evidence for the supernatural begins to mount, but not in the ways that Haruhi can imagine. Multiple universes, a Doctor Who trope staple, also play a large role in this very popular series.
Plus there are actually multiple ways to watch the series, allowing the viewer to participate in a kind of time-travel of their own. The original television broadcast route reveals the overall plot in brief increments and out of order. There’s also the so-called “DVD order,” which sets the episodes up chronologically. This allows for an understanding of the narrative arcs without too much confusion.
Is The Doctor’s friendship/rivalry with The Master your favorite thing? Do you enjoy it when The Doctor angsts over his past mistakes?
Trigun might be your jam.
It’s an older anime series but a classic. Vash the Stampede, dubbed “The Humanoid Typhoon,” has a ridiculously large bounty on his head. But all he wants to do is eat donuts and live his life in peace. However, his past is slowly catching up to him. Haunted by his actions and by his malevolent brother Knives, Vash travels through a desolate frontier landscape, but he tries to get through it all with a smile on his face. Vash’s personality is very Doctor-like. He genuinely loves humans, even though (spoiler alert) he technically isn’t one. He always tries to see the positive side of people, even when they wrong him. And he still believes in redemption, even if he doesn’t seek it for himself.
If you really love timey-wimey shenanigans, like time loops or changing the past to affect the future, these three anime series are some of the best in the genre:
Steins; Gate, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Erased.
Steins; Gate is considered not just one of the best time travel anime shows, but one of the best anime shows, period. An eccentric doctor and his assistants (you see what I did there?) develop a way to send messages to the past, and eventually, they expand this by sending people’s personalities through, effectively time-traveling along their own timelines. As always, it’s not all fun and games in the lab. There’s a shadowy company that’s trying to steal the technology, and of course, time travel carries disastrous consequences for the intrepid main characters.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica works as a deconstruction of the Sailor Moon/magical girl trope, as well as a magical girl show in its own right. One of the main characters has the power to travel backward through time, and she uses it to attempt, over and over again, to prevent a major death from happening. Things never go quite as planned for her, despite her future knowledge and her time travel ability. So it’s ultimately a tragic tale of futility. Pretty heavy for a show that features cutesy anime girls.
Erased is the newest anime on this list but just as compelling as the rest. Satoru Fujinuma is a young man with the ability to travel back in time to prevent incidents from happening. For example, he witnesses a traffic accident and leaps a few minutes in the past, stopping the driver from careening onto the sidewalk. He has no control over this ability, and when his mother is murdered and he’s framed for the crime, he suffers an anxiety attack and faints. When he wakes, he discovers that he’s in 5th grade again, in his 10-year old body, and now he must race to stop the kidnapping and murder of a fellow classmate.
Doctor Who might not be back until the end of the year, but that doesn't mean fans have to live with the drought of new adventures. Got any more anime recommendations for Whovians? Share them below!