Genshiken (げんしけん) is a 12-episode* anime from 2004 based on a manga by Shimoku Kio animated by Palm Studio and directed by Takashi Ikehata.
*There are a couple continuations which I’ll discuss more in the comments. For the purpose of this I’m only considering the first season.
Genshiken is a slice of life show about a college anime/manga/video game club known as the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture (which abbreviates to Genshiken in Japanese) and the various weirdos who hang out there. And really, thats it- you never see the members in class or really interacting with anybody not in the Genshiken as well, its all about this group of friends just chilling.
If the synopsis didn’t tip you off its all about the hang-out vibe. Have you ever been a part of a club where you could talk in nothing but obtuse references and in-jokes and know that everyone else there will get you instead of thinking youre strange? And considering the site you’re reading this on that answer is obvious. This show perhaps most perfectly encapsulates what its like to be in a college club with the personalities that entails and the completely inane ways you find to kill time which seem great at the moment. Helping it along is a very strong cast, while each of them is set up as something of an archetype of a different kind of otaku they mesh and play off each other so well you get the sense these are the types of people who would come together after getting run out of other clubs.
The two people who are closest to leads, Sasahara and Saki, embody that best. I see way too much of myself in Sasahara, someone who went to college as a fan of anime but only familiar with a limited scope of it and wanting to find so much more while also intimidated at first of actually seeking out like minded people before diving in head first. Saki is the inverse, the girl who early on proudly declares she hates otaku but is dragged to the club by her boyfriend and has the most character development over the course of the show in coming to realize that there’s somethings you just got to accept when youre in love with a nerd, eventually coming around to the club completely on her own at times.
I mean, the plot is pretty much non-existent. It follows them through the first year of college and outside of a couple instances of the student council giving them gruff there’s no real antagonist or tension to anything outside of what they create for themselves. Some of the characters can be a bit one note as mentioned above even if the show does know how to use them well. Its biggest issue is its only 12 episodes covering only about the first 3 volumes of the manga not getting to a ton of the best stuff in the later volumes.
Weeb Level: 1/10, or maybe 10/10? The show is chock full of references to other anime and games as thats what these peoples lives revolve around. Most of which are fairly obvious theyre references to something so you don’t need to know the specifics to get them, there just is another layer of enjoyment if you can pick up all of them.
Fanservice: 2/10. There’s really only two female characters and while one of them is a cosplayer she never wears anything that revealing. Even in the beach episode they spend most of the time sitting around playing word games because they’re nerds rather than chasing girls or anything. At most there is some talk of porn games and hentai because college guys.
Quality: 9/10. Were it not for its short length and not getting to the end of the manga this would be perfect. As is its just pure enjoyment sitting around watching people who are maybe too similar to you than is healthy making it a great time killer if you ever find yourself trapped in your house for weeks on end for some reason.
Where to watch: Alas, due to its age this gets tricky. The series was originally licensed by Media Blasters but thats since expired. The DVD sets are still out there however some quick searches show that its not streaming anywhere, every place only has the later season.