Ryuji is a high school student who inherited his gangster father's ominous looks, with eyes so scary people avoid him. He's actually a nice guy who's misunderstood. On his first day of school, he encounters Taiga, a small girl nicknamed the "palm top tiger" due to her temper. About 10 seconds later she's already kicked his ass. Later that day Taiga slips a love letter into Ryuji's book bag by accident, instead of his friends bag like she intended.
Realizing her mistake, Taiga infiltrates Ryuji's home in an attempt to assassinate him (or at least beat him until he forgets), but fails. The two talk through the night and it's revealed Ryuji has a crush on Taiga's friend Minori. The two form an alliance to assist each other in confessing to their respective friends. Adding another girl to the mix creates a group of 5 that will have an interesting school year. While Ryuji and Taiga started as collaborators, they become steadfast friends. They may end up more than that.
The Japanese anime industry can pump out high school romance/drama/comedy titles like it's nobody's business, but it's only once every few years that one comes out that qualifies as above average. Then there's the rare breed of high school anime that makes it all the way to the finish without screwing anything up. Only Toradora and Kimagura Orange Road come to mind in this category. This isn't all magic sprinkles however, because even though it's good, it doesn't go beyond being formula high school stuff. It even looks a bit lame in how the cast appears to conform to typical archetypes. The difference is that Toradora takes those archetypes, and develops them into real characters. It then glues them together with genuine friendship and develops them in a great story. This doesn't sound like much, but when taken into consideration of how few titles ever get this just right, says a lot about how complicated it is.
A tsundere is a character type that is loud and abusive, but also has a tender side. Taiga looks like such a stock tsundere that it's almost scary. She's a good example of how developed the cast is. Her antics aren't simply there for laughs (but often amusing). It becomes apparent that her emotions are totally out of control, and even non angry feelings end up expressed aggressively. As the series progresses, she is better able to cope with her emotions and becomes a more functional person. Her alliance with Ryuji and ever evolving relationship with him is what really makes this show.
The other characters a usual assortment like the "good guy" class rep Yusaku, and the overly energetic Minori (not a ditz, just hyper and a bit weird). Ami was of particular interest with her beautiful, kind, considerate act being completely fake, but even when confronted by Ryuji knowing her true nature, she admits that she can't just turn it off because it's almost an unconscious reaction. All of these characters develop and change a bit through the show, but in a way that is subtle and not unrealistic. As the cast grew on me I got a bit worried that this anime would go out of its way to break them down and traumatize the viewer, but thankfully that never happened. There is a fair amount of drama in Toradora, and everyone has their share of things to overcome, but the cast is pretty resilient, and friends are there to support them. The group of 5 friends is also interesting, as they aren't just "a group", but instead each of the five develops a friendship with the other four, and each of the relationships is a little different. That's pretty cool and what I think of as a defining feature that makes this anime stand above others.
It's not a foregone conclusion you'll like Toradora as it is still yet another high school anime title. It's got lots of comedy, some romance, and of course the drama (which gets kind of thick towards the end). If you're feeling burnt out on this kind of thing, I'd recommend a cool off period and coming back to it later. It's pretty easy to be judgmental on this title without giving it a proper chance.
So what do I think of Toradora? Saying I love it to death would almost be an understatement. It looks mundane but there is so much beneath the surface. I loved all the characters (even the retarded parakeet), and how they developed. It gets into drama, but never gets overwhelmingly depressing, and they even grow through their experiences. It does all the high school anime stuff, but I found it very sincere. Giving this my highest rating might seem like I'm stretching it, but as I've said: getting all the way through with a perfect performance is a rarity.
Toradora: pretty much everything a high school series should be.
Tiaga: Even though those stars look like they're right next to each other, they're really far apart. Everything we see isn't necessarily the truth.
Screen Caps: >