One thing that Japan can reliably add to the school experience is exclamation points!!!!
Anime tends to take normal life and then amplify it past the point of all sanity. There is no human activity so mundane that a Japanese cartoon can’t depict it with dramatic music speed lines and exploding buildings. Heck I’ve even seen breathless pulse-pounding cartoons about the process of baking bread ( Yakitate! Japan 2004). So naturally there are hundreds of anime series about the various ups and downs of school life all hyper exaggerated to an absurd degree. School just happens to be one of the standard anime settings for some reason. The medium is as comfortable with an ordinary high school as it is with dojos spaceships and transforming robots.
So which aspects of school life tend to get distorted to giganto-size by the funhouse mirror of anime? Glad you asked. Let’s begin with….
• Unrequited love. Nobody in any anime series is capable of speaking to their secret crush without turning into a blushing babbling idiot. (Come to think of it this is an accurate depiction of realistic high school life.) Every single school-themed anime I can think of has this trope up the wazoo but an excellent example would be School Rumble (2004). A sweet-natured second-year high school girl has a secret crush on a classmate but she falls to pieces at the thought of revealing her feelings to him. She stashes a love note in his locker but the note is rather long and it takes the boy several hours to finish reading it. Sadly she forgot to sign the note so her effort was for nought. Meanwhile the girl herself is the subject of the unspoken love of the class delinquent a motorcycle-riding badass who terrifies everyone but who can’t seem to work up the resolve to approach a friendly girl. Wacky comedy ensues.
• Youthful rivalries. Lots of teenagers fight. When anime teenagers fight they tend to break things — blackboards desks gymnasiums skyscrapers entire city blocks….
Fans of Ranma ½ (1989) know this trope well but it’s even more exaggerated in Project A-Ko (1986) a delightful feature film that takes a pointless playground squabble and elevates it to the point where the two arguing schoolgirls are causing more property destruction than the alien invasion going on around them. The fact that one girl has superpowers and the other has a knack for inventing giant robots ensures that most of their school is a smoking crater by the time the film ends. This was an extremely exaggerated parody of school-themed anime back in the ’80s but it wound up being a template for all the crazy shows that followed in its footsteps. Still funny as hell though.
• Adolescent masturbation. In Midori Days (2004) a tough but lonely high school boy named Seiji complains that he’s probably only ever going to have his own right hand for a girlfriend. This lament turns out to be prophetic when a lovestruck girl named Midori inexplicably transforms into Seiji’s right hand. That’s right — Seiji just wakes up one morning to find that his own hand is now a miniature girl who loves him. (Actually their relationship remains quite chaste but the somewhat perverted possibilities of their situation hover over everything like an unspoken dirty joke.)
• Exams. The students in Baka and Test (2010) can improve their uncomfortable classroom by taking furniture snacks amenities and privileges from other classes but only by defeating them in a “summoning battle” in which they summon tiny living avatars that represent their scholastic ability. So the characters spend most of their time writing exams but this is represented by tiny replicas of students swatting one another with swords and lances.
• Ordinary school life. Flying in the face of anime’s usual excesses Azumanga Daioh (2002) has no fights no destruction no superpowers… heck it barely even has any male characters. Just a bunch of likable schoolgirls in normal situations doing normal schoolgirl things and graduating after their three years are up. How the hell did this wind up being one of the funniest anime series ever? Dunno. It just is.