My Top 20 Anime Recommendations

I have been watching anime for years. To be honest, I haven’t even scratched the surface of it because the world of anime is vast. My fascination with the field is primarily of love but there is an academic interest to it as well. So while I have many more to delve into, these 20 are my two bit in that direction.

No 20: DEVILMAN Crybaby

Akira Fudo and his friend Ryo Asuka are trying to face off a race of demons who want to eliminate humans. Ryo’s solution to the problem? Turn Akira into a demon. The transformation becomes key to the deconstruction of what is human.

Devilman Crybaby is not an easy series to like. The psychedelic animation, gratuitous violence, explicit sexuality might be a little overwhelming. But if you can get past that, it is an incredibly powerful commentary on violence and humanity.

No 19: Forest of Piano

Kai grew up in the red light district of the town. Playing on the abandoned piano in the forest becomes his escape from a world that is prejudiced against him for the bare details of his background. When young pianist Shuhei ends up in the forest on a school dare, he meets Kai. Their friendship introduces Kai to Ajino sensei who wants to train him to play better.

Music animes happen to be one of my favourite genres. Forest of Piano is wonderful because it is not just about some divine talent in playing an instrument but how the world of classical music decides who can and cannot play music publicly. The series’ ability into entering the politics and pressures of the world of classical music, its demands on the artistes is deftly handled.

No 18: Fruits Basket (2019)

The Sohma family suffers from the zodiac curse – when touched by a member of the opposite sex, who is not a fellow zodiac, they transform into the animal. Tohru Honda, a plucky girl trying to make her way in the world after her mother’s death, ends up as Shigeru Sohma’s housekeeper. The role gives her a roof over her head and financial independence. So begins her close interaction with the Sohma family and their strange curse.  

While the transformations sound comic at best and inconvenient at worst, the series is actually a lot darker in that it explores abuse, absentee parents, abandonment and trauma. It may seem like there are far too many bad parents in the Sohma clan, but it actually makes sense because being a zodiac animal brings prestige to the individual family so there is tacit approval of the abuse meted out to them.

No 17: Kyo Kara Maoh

Yuri Shibuya is an idealistic, conscientious high schooler who steps in when he sees his classmate being bullied. The bullies annoyed by his preachy attitude, leave the classmate and frogmarch Yuri into the nearest bathroom to flush his head as punishment. Being flushed in a toilet bowl however becomes Yuri’s least problem when the water opens a portal into an alternate world. In this world, Yuri is proclaimed the next Demon King.

Kyo Kara Maoh is a brilliantly funny isekai (another world) anime that combines with the reverse harem concept in that there are really good looking men in it. Yuri’s lack of knowledge about the world’s customs leads to some wacky situations like his engagement and duel with the previous ruler’s son. It is also an adventure series, in that there is a reason why the two worlds are connected and why Yuri had to be brought here.

No 16: Psycho-Pass

Clearly inspired by Minority Report and similar futuristic narratives, Psycho-Pass is set in a world where the Sibyl System measures the psycho-pass of its citizens. The rating decides your education, your career and more importantly your criminality index. Akane Tsunemori is a rookie inspector who has an ideal psycho-pass measure. When she and her team come across a criminal mastermind who cannot be judged by the Sibyl System, they are forced into dangerous moral territory by the situations he creates. This flaw in the system throws up a question, who or what is Sibyl?

An intense series, Psycho-Pass can be a little too much to stomach in that it is rather violent. The world that the characters inhabit is seemingly perfect but one wonders how much of free will is surrendered to create such a space.

No 15: Nodame Cantabile

Shinichi Chiaki is a gifted pianist who wants to train as an orchestra conductor. To do this, he needs to relocate to Europe to learn under his mentor Viera among others. But he has phobia against flying and the ocean. Stuck, and in a particularly low point in his life, he gets drunk and passes out. Only to wake up in a garbage dump, that is actually his next door neighbour’s living room. While scandalised by Megumi Noda’s general untidiness and eccentricities, he is irresistibly drawn to her captivating cantabile style of piano playing.

The viewers are introduced to the narrative through the straight-laced Chiaki and his reaction to Nodame as well as the other strange characters like his new mentor Stresemann. It is one of my favourite romantic comedies with the most unlikely slob-like female lead. The animation does seem a little repetitive at times but the accuracy of the finger movement while playing instruments is laudable.

No 14: Steins; Gate (2011)

Steins; Gate is about an oddball group that run a ‘future gadgets’ lab. They design a microwave phone capable of sending “d-mails” – messages across time that alter events. Masquerading as a comic series, Steins; Gate hurtles forward, transforming into a slick thriller on time travel. With its eccentric cast, including a self-proclaimed mad scientist, it puts forward probably one of the most plausible explanations regarding time lines. I love it for how it stumps you at every turn.

No 13: Assassination Classroom

An overpowered alien has destroyed 70% of the moon. He has claimed that he will destroy Earth in a year’s time. He however, has an offer – he will teach class E students of Kunugigaoka Junior High School and they are free to try to assassinate him. So begins Assassination Classroom with Koro-sensei teaching the students regular Junior High subjects as well as the finer points of assassination.

When I watched it, it emerged as one of my favourite animes. You may wonder as I did if Junior High students should really be exposed to something so harsh, but in the course of the series you realise that they are already accustomed to it. They live in a world that judges them on their grades; cementing their status in society on something so arbitrary. It is deeply critical of the education system, asking poignant questions on what a teacher should actually do and by extension, society.

No 12: Run with the Wind

Based on the novel by Shion Miura, Run with the Wind has been adapted into a manga, live-action and an anime. Kakeru, a first year Kansei University student, is chased after shoplifting from a convenience store. Haiji, a senior saves him while marvelling at his running style. He invites him to join the Chikusei-so dormitory – a cheap university housing facility; incidentally also the track and field team’s official dormitory. With Kakeru joining, there are exactly ten members. This allows Haiji to put into motion his long-term dream of running the Hakone-Ekiden.

A sports anime unlike any other, it focuses on long-distance running as an individual and as a team. The question that echoes throughout the series is Haiji’s to Kakeru – Do you like running?

No 11: Banana Fish

Banana Fish is a moving series with action elements. Since the story is set in America each episode is named after a prominent American text. Vividly constructed with tight pacing, it draws you into a heartbreaking world. A child growing up unprotected, groomed as a sex slave, grows up to be the well-respected gang leader Ash Lynx. He wants to take down his ‘master’ Golzine and protect the people who matter to him, be it his men who follow him or friends like Eiji Okumura who might get caught in the conflict. He also wants to find out about the mysterious drug ‘Banana Fish’ corrupting the streets and impacting the lives of the people around him.

Banana Fish straddles two different demographics – shoujo (girls) and shonen (boys). It has BL (Boy Love) themes and yet does not fall into the usual BL rape fantasies trap.

No 10: One-Punch Man

Saitama is a ‘hero for fun’. After he saves a child from a monster, he decides to train as a hero. He loses his hair in the process but his rather unremarkable training regimen awakens his talent and he is now the most powerful hero in the world. Since he can defeat anyone with one punch, there is no one to challenge him so he slips into depression. Along the way, he gets a disciple and through him meets a host of new characters.

One-Punch Man is an improbable yet relatable superhero series. Saitama’s existential despair mirrors our own feelings and more importantly his cardboard -like personality is such a refreshing change from the staple of larger-than-life hero figures. The unpredictability of the story and the characters actions make it genuinely fun.

No 9: Paradise Kiss

Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss follows the serendipitous meeting between Yukari, a high-schooler at a prestigious school and the students of Yazagaku fashion school who are looking for a model for their annual show. The students run an atelier to promote their brand Paradise Kiss or ParaKiss. Torn between the parental pressure to excel academically and her fascination with these passionate students she yearns to find herself. Her tempestuous relationship with the enigmatic Joji ‘George’ Koizumi, the main designer of ParaKiss is a catalyst.

Paradise Kiss was my first josei (adult woman) series and in 12 episodes it took me through an emotional roller-coaster. NANA is probably Ai Yazawa’s most famous work but the manga has been on hiatus for years (stuck at an unbearable cliff-hanger) so I won’t push you to start that. But, if you like mature themes, compelling stories and gorgeous fashion, you may find Ai Yazawa’s works your thing (as someone who has binge-read everything – I vouch!). Her art style is one of my favourites. Since she’s a fashion design student, you can understand why she takes great effort with the sartorial choices of her characters. 

No 8: Bungo Stray Dogs

Atsushi Nakajima, on finding out that he has supernatural abilities, is recruited by Osamu Dazai into the “Armed Detective Agency” to handle cases beyond the abilities of the police and the military. They have many clashes with the Port Mafia, a sketchy organisation controlling the underbelly of the alternate Yokohama that the series is set in. Bungo Stray Dogs’s style is reminiscent of the 20s but it is actually a modern narrative.

The most fascinating thing about Bungo Stray Dogs is the characters themselves. Each character is named after a famous author and their power is based on a quality represented within that very writer’s work. The scale gets grander in season 2 when American ‘authors’ join the plot as new antagonists. It is a book lover’s dream plotline.

No 7: Demon Slayer

Tanjiro returns from a trip into town to find his family slaughtered in a demon attack and his only living sibling Nezuko turned into a demon. So begins Tanjiro’s journey to avenge his family and find a way to turn his sister human.

Demon Slayer has stunning animation with a 3D-like feel. The characters are stunningly drawn; it almost feels like they’ll leap out of the screen. The story has great pacing with its competent handling of humour and pathos.

No 6: Hunter x Hunter (2011)

Getting a Hunter license gives a person access to almost any space in the world. The economic benefits and the free reign to your desires to ‘hunt’ anything mean that one is even granted immunity for murderous actions. While the apparent amorality might raise a few eyebrows, the unpredictability of the story despite using classic shonen tropes is what makes it fun. Gon Freecss wants to be a hunter because his father Ging put parental affection aside to pursue hunting. It is not anger at the abandonment that prompts Gon to become a Hunter but the fact that hunting must be truly exciting for Ging to leave him behind.

If you’ve watched Yu Yu Hakusho, by the same mangaka, you may recognise patterns here but also notice how Hunter x Hunter is such a level up in friendships and queer depictions. 

No 5: Haikyu!!

Karasuno High Volleyball team or the Crows, was a once great team that went to the nationals. Its then member, nicknamed the ‘Little Giant’, is a huge role model for Hinata who is short as well but passionately in love with volleyball. When he joins Karasuno as a high schooler, he finds Kageyama, his middle school volleyball rival, his new teammate. The Karasuno team isn’t really that strong but they want to be and work hard to make the crows fly again.

Sports animes frequently have unlikely premises, over the top abilities that self-parody the genre but Haikyu!! is different in that they truly are an underdog team. There are no miraculous implausible wins it is just blood, sweat and tears. With an adept portrayal of athletic spirit, desire and an accurate psychological profiling of sportsmen – their fears and inadequacies, Haikyu!! succeeds in showing a different sports anime.

No 4: Kaguya-sama: Love is War

The student council president Miyuki Shirogane and vice president Kaguya Shinomiya are in love with each other. For their relationship to go to the next level, a confession needs to happen. But neither of them wants to, because to confess means to lose, so they each use different stratagems to get the other to confess.

A parody on the romance genre, Kaguya-sama: Love is War is put together like a game show – who will win the game by forcing a confession out of the other? Wickedly funny, it mocks the bizarre games of flirting and courtship that have been played out for centuries.

No 3: Violet Evergarden

Violet is an orphan who in living as a child soldier and being treated as a weapon, is out of touch with emotions – her own and everyone else. Unable to find her senior officer Major Bougainvillea, she is taken in by former Lt Col Hodgins to work in his postal company. Working as an Auto Memory Doll – women who write letters on behalf of others, she slowly learns to communicate emotions.

Violet Evergarden brings back the soulfulness of letter writing. An anime about healing from trauma, we join Violet on her journey as she meets people from different walks of life, helping them, her and us by extension, in understanding the importance of words in conveying heart and humanity.

No 2: A Place Further than the Universe

The premise of four high school students going to Antarctica might be implausible but A Place Further Than The Universe takes great pains to make it as realistic as possible. Well-researched, it authentically portrays life on a ship and on the coldest continent.

The four girls are each grappling with their personal trials, but forging ahead together to make the dream of one of the girls a reality, gives all of them a chance at growth. It is a beautiful slice of life and coming of age anime.

No 1: Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

Devastated by the death of their mother Trisha, Edward and Alphonse Elric, attempt a forbidden alchemy technique – human transmutation. The price? Edward loses a leg and Alphonse, his entire body. Edward sacrifices his arm to bind his brother’s soul to a suit of armour, and so begins the boys’ journey to find a Philosopher’s Stone and get their bodies back.

They encounter many people on their search, including coming face to face with human ‘sin’. On the way, they uncover a sinister plot that could jeopardise the country’s fate. The anime manages to weave humour into a heavy narrative about war, genocide, bloodshed, loss, with Machiavellian figures who desire power and immortality at the cost of others.  The rounded character building is a huge plus for me because it gives an intimate perspective even on characters that discomfort a viewer.

Unlike the 2003 version which differs from the manga after a point, this follows the plotline faithfully. I would suggest that both versions should be watched because Brotherhood rushes through the segments already covered in the 2003 anime.

Honourable Mentions:

Ouran Koukou Host Club: High school boys who start a host club to give the girls a chance at playing romance. It is a parody on the romance genre, especially the reverse harem type. It frequently breaks the fourth wall.

Given: Mafuyu has been ‘given’ a guitar. It holds bittersweet memories. His meeting with Ritsuka opens up a world of music for him A BL music anime about a band.

Food Wars: Set in a world where students training to be chefs are expected to fight with the taste of their food if they want to sit at the top of the culinary world. With sexually explicit imagery it parodies the impact of food on a person.

Yuri On Ice: Ice skating BL anime about a skater at a low point in his career being coached by his idol.

Cardcaptor Sakura: A magic girl anime about an elementary school girl who needs to capture the magic cards that have been released from the Clow Book.

Shirobako: An anime about a group of girls who ran an anime club in school and as adults want to make an anime.

Prince of Tennis: The young tennis prodigy Ryoma Echizen joins his father’s alma mater hoping to become better so that he can finally beat his dad at the game.

Welcome to the Ballroom: Tatara finds motivation in his life when a chance encounter with ballroom dancing opens his heart.

A Corpse Buried Under Sakurako’s Feet: A high schooler who ends up in odd situations while working with an osteologist whose fascination with bones leads them into mysteries.

Orange: Naho receives a letter from her future self telling her to prevent something regretful from happening. It deals with issues like self-harm.

Gosick: Set in a fictional European country in an alternate 1920s, a young Japanese transfer student gets acquainted with a strange girl who solves improbable mysteries. A Sherlock Holmes’ inspired series.

Kuroko no Basket: A basketball team trying to make it to the nationals by using an unexpected player.

The Seven Deadly Sins: A princess who wants to save her kingdom from a coup goes in search of seven banished knights. Funny and a little problematic at times, at heart the series is a romance.

Yu Yu Hakusho: An occult martial arts anime about a young delinquent whose altruistic decision to put himself in the way of harm to save a young child’s life gives him a second chance, by becoming a spirit detective.

Irregular at Magic High School: Two mysterious siblings making their way in a world where magic is weaponised.

Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun: After being sold by his parents to the demon Sullivan, the kind-hearted Iruma is officially adopted as his grandson. He must now hide his human identity and survive in demon school.

Scum’s Wish: Two students who get into a physical relationship with each other because they cannot be with the ones they want.

Yowamushi Pedal: Sakamichi is an anime-loving nerd who is the unlikely recruit of the school cycle club. Picked for his climbing abilities, the reason he is so good is that he wants to travel fast enough to Akihabara to give free rein to his anime desires.  

My Top 20 K-drama Recommendations

It’s been five years since I fell down that rabbit hole called K-drama and during the pandemic I pretty much doubled my watching. Korean dramas have great aesthetic, brilliant performances and are beautifully shot. Its compelling stories, well-sketched out characters that are flawed yet fascinating really draw you in. So these are my top 20 recommendations.

No 20: The Moon Embracing the Sun

Like all historical dramas, The Moon Embracing the Sun is rife with political machinations only here since it has supernatural elements, there is shamanistic intervention when ambition needs to be furthered.  The young Crown Princess, Heo Yeon-woo is ‘killed’ just before her marriage is officiated. The Royal Concubine Yoon Bo-kyung is put in her place but the devastated Crown Prince Lee Hwon refuses to consummate the marriage and falls into a psychosomatic illness. The young girl however, now an amnesiac, grows up ironically trained as a shaman, till fate places her before her betrothed, the King.

While the last two episodes sort of lose steam, I love how the series successfully portrays the anguish of the lovers, the cruel ambition and blind passion that puts them on this path. They really have to struggle to come to terms with their memories and reconcile with what has been done.


No 19: Nevertheless

Na-bi is a Fine Arts major who has closed herself off emotionally after a rather toxic relationship. Her chance encounter with Jae-eon, an enigmatic college mate, has her irresistibly drawn into a passionate label-less relationship. Nevertheless through four different pairings including Na-bi and Jae-eon look at commitment, toxicity in relationships and cynicism in the world of dating.

It works because it is well-crafted, does not become overlong and keeps the tension in the narrative palpable, aided by the haunting OST. With its intelligent storytelling, it doesn’t over-explain situations, leaving it to the viewers to understand the characters and their motivation.

No 18: Misaeng

Misaeng is a workplace dramedy about a washed out Baduk player (Game of Go) who for various reasons was unable to go pro. Armed now with just a GED, he gets into a corporate workspace and has to prove his mettle. And just maybe, baduk may become useful.

The term ‘misaeng’ means an incomplete life and it is accurate in how it presents workplace politics, colleagues who are frenemies but still there for you and how you may have to work against the inevitable judgement that comes with being too incompetent and sometimes too competent. Based on a webtoon, the realism of the story is because the writer drew on actual interviews with people in the corporate life.

No 17: SKY Castle

A dark comedy about education and material accomplishment, SKY Castle follows the lives of the residents at the eponymous housing society for the prestigious graduates of Seoul University, Korea University and Yonsei University. Behind the glamour, the pleasant faces and the gorgeous cutlery lies ruthless murderous ambition to be better than everyone else. No one wants it more than Han Seo-jin who lives her life hiding her less than accomplished past.

SKY Castle is that series that works against every expectation a viewer may have. Midway through when you think you have an idea of where it’s going and you begin to wonder, ah this is predictable; it drags the carpet right under your feet. One of the most beautifully shot television dramas, the camera tells a captivating story.

No 16: Two Weeks

Jang Tae-san, a low-level gangster finds his life in a tumult when he his former girlfriend, whom he abandoned, that they had a child. The child is undergoing treatment for cancer and he is a bone marrow match. Him being a match seems like a shot at redemption, that is till he finds himself framed for murder and possibly eliminated to keep the truth from coming out. He now has two weeks to prove his innocence, stay alive and make it for his daughter’s surgery.

Except for the first two episodes that set the framework of the story, the next 14 episodes are literally a nail-biting day to day record of Jang Tae-san’s life. If you are familiar with the profile of the lead actor Lee Joon-gi who is a known action star, Jang Tae-san inability to fight competently can nearly give you an aneurysm.

No 15: Boys Over Flowers

Based on the famous shoujo manga Hana Yori Dango by Yoko Kamio, Boys Over Flowers is a Cinderella-inspired story. Geum Jan-di joins Shinhwa School on a swimming scholarship and ends up targeted by the F4 – the four senior boys who run the school like a power hierarchy. Power, class divisions, bullying and violence feature in this series about a plucky Cinderella who tames the four ‘princes’ by getting them to access their vulnerabilities, rethinking the world they inhabit. An emotional rollercoaster, Boys Over Flowers never lets the tension drop.

Hana Yori Dango has been remade many times and in manga, it has established many shoujo conventions. It also happens to be my first Korean drama since I had read the manga, knew how brilliantly messed up the story was and it more than fulfilled my expectations. It does however, divert on some points from the original manga. What makes the female lead so much fun is that she does not suffer fools and she has no qualms in making her opinions known.

No 14: Hyde, Jekyll, Me

Like the name implies, it is a series about dissociative identity disorder (DID). Goo Seo-jin is a cold-hearted amusement park owner who lives unwillingly with his kinder personality Robin. The two are aware of each other’s existence and leave video messages so that a façade of normalcy can be maintained, for his prominent family’s public image. Their identities seem to be tied to the new circus manager Jang Ha-na, who might end up evicted from the amusement park if Seo-jin has his way. With Seo-jin’s psychiatrist kidnapped so close to his possible complete recovery, there might be something more sinister afoot.

It is a refreshing depiction of DID in that the two alters do try to communicate with each other. It looks at trauma, childhood abuse and unreasonable parental expectations.

No 13: My Love from a Star

Do Min-joon is an alien, who due to certain circumstances, ended up stuck on Earth, 400 years ago. The planetary event that might send him back home is finally nearing. But when his life gets entangled with the temperamental movie star Cheon Song-yi, who might have ties to his past, he may not feel inclined to leave. Especially since, she seems to be somebody’s target for murder.

Alternating between comic and thrilling, it is a rollicking watch. The opposites attract trope is used well in how straight-laced Do Min-joon can be to Cheon Song-yi’s dramatic responses.

No 12: Coffee Prince

Coffee Prince is a gender-bender romance drama. Choi Han-Kyul has to take charge of a failing café if he wants his grandma’s approval and financial support. He decides to start a prince-style coffee shop and hire good-looking men to attract female customers. When he accidentally hires tomboyish Go Eun-chan, she hides the truth because of her family financial constraints. When feelings get involved, the whole equation gets a lot more complicated. A mature series, Coffee Prince effectively handles complexities in relationships that stem from commitment and desire.

Gender-bender stories inevitably look at queer romance even if it gives it a socially acceptable conclusion. But its ambiguity is fascinating, especially since it does not follow the route of mocking that desire but faces it head-on. The female characters are strong, independent and want to be the ones to make decisions regarding their bodies and career – that’s a huge plus.

No 11: Mr Queen

Jang Bong-hwan is a talented, arrogant playboy chef who after a drowning accident ends up swapping his soul with a young noblewoman Kim So-yong, who about to be is crowned Queen in the Joseon era. His anachronistic and unfeminine actions add to the comedy of the series as does his attraction to the King’s concubines. His decision to stay apolitical doesn’t work in a world of political intrigue. So he uses his extensive knowledge of history as a weapon to protect himself and gets unwittingly drawn into his ‘husband’, the King’s life.

It is Shin Hae-sun’s convincing performance in playing a woman, and a man trapped in a woman’s body that make it gold. The tension of the story is deftly handled in that it constantly switches between intrigue, humour and romance.

No 10: Signal

Detective Lee Jae-han makes his last transmission to his friend and colleague Park Hae-young before he is killed by an unknown person. His colleague? A young profiler in 2016 and these transmissions start in the 80s. The two detectives across time, united by a walkie-talkie, need to solve some deadly cases and possibly get insight into why they are being targeted.

The drama uses real-life criminal incidents including the Hwaseong serial murders (which have incidentally featured in many films and series). Since it is also a time narrative, what is bound to occur is that tampering with time, will have consequences.

No 9: Iljimae

Iljimae is a popular Chinese folklore about a Robin Hood figure from the Joseon-era. This is an origin story of a young nobleman Lee Gyeom who loses his memory after witnessing his father’s brutal murder, and the selling into slavery of his mother and sister. Renamed Yong and raised by a former thief and a woman connected to his father’s past, he is a Machiavellian figure who will do whatever it takes to survive. But when Gyeom regains his memories, will it only be for personal gain that he dons a mask?

What makes this story great is that the characters, even if they are romantically inclined towards someone, they do have something of their own that matters to them. The female lead for instance, isn’t reduced to just some damsel in distress, she is her own person.

No 8: It’s Okay to Not be Okay

The series explores emotional and psychological healing for the three main characters from their traumatic past. Moon Gang-tae, as the main caretaker of his older autistic brother Moon Sang-tae, has been living emotionally repressed. His chance encounter with an anti-social children’s writer Ko Mun-young sets off a series of events that take them back to their hometown. Each episode uses a different fairytale to express trauma, affect healing and peel away another layer of the story.

Not only are the episodes titled after different fairytales (a couple of them are originals, written for the series) but it uses the story of the fairytale, the darker side of it and ties it up with the plotline. The drama uses animation in some instances to tell the tale, blending different cinematic techniques.  

No 7: Vincenzo

Vincenzo is like an upgraded dark comedy take on Lawless Lawyer that pits an unsavoury corporation with a not so upstanding lawyer. Vincenzo Cassano is an Italian mafia lawyer who is in Korea to take care of some ‘personal business’ (getting the gold stashed under his building – Geumga Plaza). While at first thwarted by the strange residents of the Plaza, he ends up butting heads with the unscrupulous conglomerate Babel Group. The group wants the building for their expansion project and will get rid of anybody to achieve that. Vincenzo sides with the residents but he is a consigliore that imparts amoral justice according to the mafia code. What then occurs is a devil against devil thriller.

Vincenzo is peppered with fun references, my favourite being the comic recreation of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

No 6: Memories of the Alhambra

Memories of the Alhambra is an AR game designed by the 18 year old Jung Se-joo, who after a frantic call to Yoo Jin-woo, the CEO of a game developing company, disappears off the grid. Jin-woo comes to Granada to meet the developer and try out the game. Incorporating actual locations and historical elements, it becomes a fascinating live experience for him. Everything goes great that is till, a strange glitch results in an overlap between the real world and the game world with nightmarish results. Pro-tip: run as soon as the guitar starts.

The series takes up till the third episode to establish the setting and then hurtles forward.

No 5: Flower of Evil

Do Hyeon-su is hiding his past by forming a picture-perfect family with his wife and daughter. But his assumed identity Baek Hee-sung comes under threat when his detective wife starts to investigate a cold case related to a serial killing in the past. And the truth behind the case might be closer than she thinks. Flower of Evil is a heartbreaking suspense thriller about trauma and processing emotions.

No 4: Reply 1988

The Reply series recreates South Korea in the year it is set and of the three, 1988 does it best. It is a heart-warming story of five friends and their families, growing up in the same neighbourhood in Seoul. The socio-political and economic upheavals of the country are examined in the microcosm through the five families. Reply 1988 shifts between 2015 and the past, with the adult versions of Duk-seon and her hitherto unnamed husband narrating the story. It keeps the viewers in suspense to the characters’ future. After all, Duk-seon, the only girl in the group marries one of her friends, but which of the four boys ends up as her husband?

No 3: Crash Landing On You

Star-crossed lovers’ stories have always been popular. So when you get a South Korean heiress whose paragliding accident has her crash land onto a North Korean soldier, you know there is an epic romance waiting. That is if the volatile relationship between the nations doesn’t bring danger and death to the characters. With a host of fascinating characters, it is a gripping story that is both thrilling and romantic.

One of the most relentless villains in a drama, the pace of the story does not stop from the go.

No 2: Hospital Playlist

A story by the writer of the Reply series, Hospital Playlist is a realistic portrayal of the medical profession and the emotional and physical demands on its personnel. It is about five friends, now in their forties, who met 20 years ago at medical school. Circumstances ensure that they are working together at the same hospital after so many years. Workaholics, each with different demands upon them from their personal and professional spaces, they jam together in a band. The series delves into adult friendships – its whimsical and petty side while growing together as people.

Watch it for the humour, the music and the truly heart-warming stories. The second season seems slower in comparison but it continues from exactly where the previous stopped.

No 1: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Hearts Ryeo

Based on the famous Chinese novel Bu Bu Jing Xin, Moon Lovers explores the ill-fated relationships between the children of King Taejo as they vie for power in the Goryeo period.

Go Ha-jin drowns during a total eclipse and ends up a thousand years in the past, in the body of her ancestor, a noblewoman Hae Soo. Living in the house of King Taejo’s son the Eight Prince Wang Wook, she becomes acquainted with the other princes especially the Black Wolf of the family, the scarred Fourth Prince Wang So. While there are some instances of anachronistic humour, the story delves into the twisted palace politics which is further complicated when Hae Soo starts to have visions of the future.

Why does this become my number one? Incidentally, it did badly when it released, eventually becoming a cult hit. There are good reasons for that. Despite being a historical fusion, it tries to stay as close to history as possible. Brilliant characterisation is what fuels this story. And the epic romance of the story is raised to great heights by the incredible OST (both songs and background music).  

Honourable Mentions:

The K2: Snow White meets disavowed secret agent. But honestly, the Evil Queen is far more interesting.

Goblin: A Goryeo general is made into a Goblin, a mythical figure, as punishment and reward. The catch? His bride is the only one who can release him from eternal life but she may also be his first love. The pacing is rather slow but the bromance is just great.

When the Camellia Blooms: Serial killer targets people he thinks are a joke; unfortunately he seems to have turned his attention to the single mother who runs the town bar. Probably one of the best screenplays, also watch it for Kang Ha-neul’s performance.

Oh My Ghost: An amnesiac virgin ghost and a timid chef who sees ghosts get entangled. Worse still, they happen to be in love with the same man.

Something in the Rain: A woman in her late thirties, grappling with workplace harassment finds love with a younger man, who happens to be her best friend’s brother. The melancholic setting of the story can be a little draining even though it is a beautifully told narrative.

 The World of the Married: What’s worse than finding out that your husband is cheating on you? That everyone else may be in on the secret.

Stranger 2: A continuation of Stranger, a series that delves into political corruption in the upper echelons of society.

Descendants of the Sun: A star-crossed lovers pairing – a soldier and doctor reunite in a war-torn land.

Love in the Moonlight: A young woman forced to live as man to hide her identity, ends up moonlighting as a eunuch in the Crown Prince’s palace.

Hwarang: A riotous fun with great bromance and comedy. The story is interestingly complex but becomes a little predictable towards the end.

A Korean Odyssey: A modern day adaptation of Wu Cheng-En’s Journey to the West. It is about a woman who can see ghosts and the self-serving God who is her unwilling protector.

The List: Films on Food #SherylPuthur

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink – Epicurus

Food is denial. Food is pleasure. Food is honest. Food is sinful. Food is expression. There are many ways we label what we eat and would like to eat. So closely connected with bodily functions, it has been rejected, upbraided and worshipped. So presenting, a collection of films that excite the sensory organs – Films on Food.

Food is the near-perfect beginning to a New Year. The films are placed in the order of release, with the oldest first. It is the reader’s decision as to what makes their list and what doesn’t. The table has been set, please enjoy your meal!

Babette’s Feast (1987)

babette's feast

Director: Gabriel Axel Screenplay: Gabriel Axel Story: Karen Blixen

Gabriel Axel’s adaptation of Karen Blixen’s short story Babette’s Feast has fable-like qualities. Set in a desolate landscape, the Jutland Coast, it narrates the story of two elderly sisters Martine (Brigitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kerr), the daughters of the deceased puritan pastor of the village. The story delves into their past to explain how they came to employ a French housekeeper Babette (Stephane Audran). The story comes a full circle with Babette’s celebratory feast in honour of the birth anniversary of the pastor. The feast juxtaposes a fine food connoisseur against the simple folk of the pastor’s austere sect, who believe extravagant food is sinful. There is displayed in the film, paternal selfishness and a loss of the original idea of what the religion was to stand for but the beauty of the film is that it does not condemn but accepts. The meat preparations may seem unpalatable to vegetarians but there is so much more to it than just that. Pope Francis has claimed this to be his favourite film.

Chocolat (2000)


Director: Lasse Hallstrom Screenplay: Robert Nelson Jacobs Story: Joanne Harris

Set in a quiet French town that believes in tranquillity especially during the season of lent, the film follows Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), who like the wily north wind blow surprising changes into the lives of the townspeople. The film is rather obviously about chocolate but also living life as opposed to seeing the time on earth as only a preparation for the heavenly abode. Life is not for flagellation alone but pleasure as well.

The film sells the idea that chocolate could be the answer to every ailment and the viewer willingly buys it because it is so exquisitely presented.

For more, read my full review of Chocolat.

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Under the tuscan sun

Director: Audrey Wells Screenplay: Audrey Wells Story: Frances Mayes

Most would catalogue this movie into films on Travel. While it is true that it is about travelling to Tuscany, it is also a film about self-discovery.

Frances Mayes (Diane Lane), a writer and book critic, goes through a painful divorce, battling insecurity and lack of self-worth. A gift by her friends sees her on a trip to Tuscany. There, she makes the impulsive decision of buying an Old Italian villa because she feels it’s a sign. In the process of restoring the villa, she begins to heal and more importantly, build valuable relationships, with the workers, her neighbours, potential love interests and Katherine (Lindsay Duncan), the enigmatic English female actor who doles out advice by the Great Fellini and vociferously defends vanilla ice cream’s power ‘to change fate’. Traditional Italian families still believe in the sit down dinner because as Placido (Roberto Nobile) points out “it is unhealthy to eat alone.” Sharing a meal and having someone to cook for is the warmest idea of community.

Ratatouille (2007)


Director: Brad Bird Screenplay: Brad Bird Story: Jan Pinkava; Jim Capobianco; Brad Bird

Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat who has a wonderful sense of smell and the creative mind for cooking. Of course, the chances of a rat being allowed to cook in a restaurant are next to impossible, which is why a chance relationship with Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) the garbage boy, results in a partnership that lets each have what they want. Throw in a couple of short-sighted avaricious villains, a frightening sallow-faced food critic Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O’Toole and – Bon appétit!

The signature line of the film, in Chef Gusteau’s words – Anyone can cook!

No Reservations (2007)


Director: Scott Hicks Screenplay: Carol Fuchs; Sandra Nettlebeck

No Reservations is about two chefs who end up working in the same kitchen to interesting results. Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a fastidious head chef of a popular restaurant. The untimely death of her sister makes her the guardian of her nine-year old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin). From being someone who doesn’t allow people and relationships to interfere with her work she now has to deal very closely with grief and more importantly, her niece’s grief.

Added to that disturbing state of affairs, is the entry of the new sous-chef her boss Paula (Patricia Clarkson) hires. Nicholas Palmer (Aaron Eckhart) is a carefree chef who is popular in his own right but wishes to work under Kate and hence joins the restaurant. Kate is suspicious of his motives but slowly begins to warm to him. The rest of the film follows the characters as they journey towards a sense of completeness. While not particularly moving, the obsessive love for cooking displayed by Kate is awe-inspiring. Especially her early morning visits to get the best ingredients for her dishes, making it a point to choose them herself.

Julie and Julia (2009)


Director: Nora Ephron Screenplay: Nora Ephron Story: Julie Powell; Julia Child; Alex Prud’homme

Julie and Julia is based on two true stories – that of Julia Child and the other of Julie Powell. They have both moved to a different place because of their husbands work. While Julia (Meryl Streep) happens to love France, Julie (Amy Adams) hates her new home. Both women find themselves in a rut professionally, and use food to find themselves – one as a cook and the other as a writer. What is really beautiful about the film is that Julia Child’s journey which took place post World war helps Julie Powell find herself as she decides to make all of Child’s recipes and blog about it. The relationships of the characters with each other even through space and time and most certainly with food, defines the film.

Stanley ka Dabba (2011)


Director: Amole Gupte Story: Amole Gupte

Stanley ka Dabba is a children’s film with heart. It says so much but does so without being preachy. A sense of nostalgia coupled with a vague sense of unease accompanies the viewer as they follow Stanley’s story. The film opens with Stanley (Partho Gupte) coming rather early to school with marks that look suspiciously like bruises. However, Stanley is a storyteller who can spin a yarn about just anything and that makes him well-loved. He doesn’t carry a dabba (tiffin) to school so one begins to suspect the state of affairs at home. One poignant scene shows him filling his stomach with water because he has no food.

There is also a teacher Babubhai Verma (Amole Gupte) nicknamed Kadoos (grumpy) who also does not carry a dabba but eats from others. He steals from the tiffins of his colleagues or else bullies students into sharing their food. His mannerisms are disturbingly that of a child abuser and within the narrative an important metaphor.

Food is central to the film but it is about the simple meal a child would carry to school in a dabba. It states the value of a home cooked meal.

Salt and Pepper (2011)


Director: Aashiq Abu Screenplay: Syam Pushkaran; Dileesh Nair

The title of the film is a pun on food and age. It follows Kalidasan (Lal), a middle-aged archaeologist who is a food connoisseur. His closest relationship besides his work and food is with his cook Babu (Baburaj). Even his nephew Manu Raghav (Asif Ali) loses precedence in front of these. A missed call by Maya (Shweta Menon), a dubbing artiste, leads to a misunderstanding between Kalidasan and her. Eventually, their shared love for food becomes the foundation stone for a telephone friendship. The conversations follow the histories of various dishes especially Joan’s Rainbow cake. Their own romance and that of the secondary couple display classic elements of Shakespearean drama. The fact that love has no age makes this film comfort food.

Ustad Hotel (2012)


Director: Anwar Rasheed Screenplay and Dialogues: Anjali Menon

Ustad Hotel is Faizi’s story. The beauty is, Faizi’s (Dulquer Salman) story starts long before he was born. His one defining memory is shown to be, his grandfather Kareem ikka (Thilakan) feeding baby Faizi sweet milk. Food in all its forms makes up this movie. Be it the conversations on love and philosophy over a cup of sulemani chai between Kareem ikka and Faizi, or that being a good cook is about satisfying the heart.  Conversely, there is a stigma attached to becoming a chef in the rich orthodox Muslim community. Chef = the guy who makes biryani at a feast. Hence, it’s not an honourable profession. It makes Faizi a poor match for Shahana (Nitya Menen). The film is then about changing stereotypes and fixed notions of what your destiny is.

The film with its evocative camera work and vivid dialogues brings forward a mouth-watering array of Calicut cuisine.

The Lunchbox (2013)


Director: Ritesh Batra Screenplay: Ritesh Batra

Originally planned as a documentary on the Dabbawalas of Mumbai, it developed into a love story between a cantankerous office worker and a house wife. Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) is due for retirement and has shut himself post the death of his wife. Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is trying to regain her husband’s interest in her by making delicious lunches for him. However, the lunchbox, in a one in a million chance gets wrongly delivered to Saajan. On realising her mistake, Ila writes a note explaining herself and that starts off an exchange of experiences through notes, accompanied with delicious lunch.

The film does a lot of things differently. It shows a connection being drawn through the old fashioned means of writing a letter. It is a portrayal of loneliness and the need for validation from another human being.

Chef (2014)


Director: Jon Favreau Screenplay: Jon Favreau

A head chef Carl Caspar (Jon Favreau) in a fine dining restaurant drags his reputation through the dirt after engaging in an online slingfest with a popular food critic who pans his cooking. Post his rather public meltdown, he walks away from the restaurant and finally agrees to his ex-wife Inez’s (Sofia Vergara) decision to start a food truck. The road trip that he sets on is as much about finding his creative centre as it is about mending his dented relationship with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony).

The film abounds in clichés but certain things set it apart, for instance his relationship with his ex-wife who is still very supportive. The surprise element like the legendary chemical X is Robert Downey Jr. who plays Marvin, Inez’s ex-husband. He literally lights up the screen. And yes, the food. If it was humanly possible to put your hand through the screen and grab a cubano you would do it. It is your junk food fantasy film.