It’s easy for the uninitiated to think that anime is nothing more than strange-looking cartoons reserved for children. In fact, that’s what most people think, especially if they’re adults. However, if you’re willing to give them a chance it’s likely you’ll be surprised at the difference between the cartoons you expected and what they actually are.
Anime is a genre and style of animation mostly associated with Japanese studios, although due to its increasing popularity among people from Europe and America, western studios have also adopted and taken from certain aspects of anime and put them into their own creations.
But what makes anime different from something like The Simpsons? While there are certainly shows that are focused on humour, where the genre really shines is in its more adult-themed animes. Usually the shows delve into heavy subjects like death, religion, sex, family, politics; much more darker topics that are usually reserved for shows like Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad in the West. While the creators don’t hold back on plots or the characters, where anime truly shines and separates itself from any other animated genres is the way it is drawn.
When done right, the visuals created for anime shows are some of the best you’ll find anywhere on TV. Characters are sketched in such a way that their artists are able to accentuate each and every emotion they go through and the weirder the designs – and there are plenty of strange, out-of-this-world characters in anime – the more outside of the box and interesting they are to watch.
The main problem people face is the sheer amount of shows they have to pick from, which can be a daunting task when you’re not really sure what you should be looking for. Well, if you don’t know your shonen from your shojo or what a Cowboy Bebop or Outlaw Star, don’t worry. Here is an essential list of ten of the most exhilarating, visually breathtaking, character and plot-driven anime shows you’ll ever be able to find on TV.
10. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Religion, death, racism, genocide, war, politics… and alchemy?
Yes, these are the key aspects of the show Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Centred around the Elric Brothers – Edward and Alphonse – and their quest to regain their bodies after using the power of alchemy to try and bring back their dead mother, this show starts one way and is in a completely different place by the end of it.
Although it’s certainly a beautiful thing to watch, the real strength is in its fantastic storyline that takes you on a breathtaking 64 episode journey, dealing with way more social issues then you could ever dream of. The writer of the show, Hiroshi Onagi, crafts a well woven tapestry of plot twists for his characters which sucks audiences right in from the get go. Don’t worry though, it has plenty of action too, with some of the most epic battle sequences you’ll find on any show.
You may get a little bit confused when you’re searching for it – there are two options titled Full Metal Alchemist and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but you’re best going for the latter. Both are magnificent in their own ways, but Brotherhood hits the heart just a little bit more.
Don’t let the show’s title fool you, this isn’t an anime about a bunch of sword-wielding kitchen workers who have a serious love for a certain cleaning solution. No, this is one of the most action heavy anime shows you’ll find and although it has 200 plus episodes it certainly provides enough edge-of-your-seat moments to keep you interested.
Imagine if Michael Bay actually hired a good writer to craft a story about a teenager who becomes a soul reaper – a sort of samurai who uses their abilities to battle the dead demons who threaten the lives of human beings every day – and directed it with his particular brand of action filmmaking intact. Dial that up to eleven and you’ll get Bleach.
It’s a pretty decent storyline (with a few tasty plot twists thrown in) but the real great part about this anime is the way the art gradually changes with each chapter. Major battle scenes in the beginning look completely different to the ones in the middle of the show’s story and those look different to the fights at the end.
It’s certainly got its flaws, as some of those filler episodes are pretty boring. However, the main story is where it’s at and you definitely won’t be disappointed with it.
Aside from Dragon Ball Z and Attack On Titan (more on that later), no show has translated over to western audiences quite as well as Naruto.
It’s one of those shows that, when it’s airing, with clog up for Facebook/Twitter feed with fans reacting to the latest development. And while it might not make sense at first glance – what do people mean when they make reference to a Hokage or how awesome Sakura Uchiha is? – it’s well worth finding out.
Without spoiling too much – because it really is worth a watch without knowing too much – you follow the exploits of a young ninja called Naruto Uzumaki on the numerous missions he and his comrades go on. With 220-plus episodes of Naruto and 339 and counting episodes of its sequel show, it’s hard to even scratch the surface of this action-packed ninja thriller.
7. Gundam Wing
if you’re a little bit too old for Transformers, but the idea of robots who are prone to creating death and destruction secretly still tickles your fancy, then Gundam Wing is probably your best bet for entertainment of the anime form. Much like Full Metal Alchemist, on the surface Gundam Wing is an action tour-de-force, filled with robots being sliced into tiny metallic and wiry pieces and buildings being blown up in various cool ways.
However, beneath all its prepubescent teen, violent glory lies a deep political journey involving five child soldiers called Heero Yuy, Trowa Barton, Quatre Winner, Chang Wu Fei and Duo Maxwell sent from their respective space colonies to take on and destroy the corrupt political party OZ.
Certainly one to check out if you like your anti-establishment with a side of robots shooting big guns with even bigger bullets.
6. Death Note
Death Note might be the strangest anime on this list. Although like the others it sits comfortably within various sub-genres – in this case fantasy/drama – unlike the others it doesn’t really have an underlying message that it’s trying to put across. All it has is a question; what would you do if you had the power to kill anyone on the planet by just writing their name on a notepad?
Although it starts off very fantasy heavy, it quickly becomes a cat and mouse thriller as you watch two wonderfully intelligent minds in protagonist L and antagonist Light Yagami fight back and forth as if it was a chess game. Although it’s a brilliant show, it’s also as dark and can only really described as a mix of Michael Mann’s criminally underrated Public Enemies and David Fincher’s Se7en. If you want a roller-coaster ride that often offers up a few more questions alongside its answers then this is the show for you.
5. Outlaw Star
After the doom and gloom that is Death Note, next up is something a little bit lighter and easier to swallow. If you were a fan of Toonami or Cartoon Network back in the day you probably came across this show, looked at the title and thought it wouldn’t be your thing. Sadly, you were mistaken as Outlaw Star is a quality anime.
The show begins with two bounty hunters, Gene Starwind and his tech-head partner Jim Hawking, who suddenly find themselves in possession of the fastest ship in the galaxy as they and a rag-tag group of comrades go in search of the fabled Galactic Leyline, all with a horde of adversaries on their tail and searching for the same thing.
If Guardians Of The Galaxy was your thing or you still love yourself some Indiana Jones or Star Wars, then Outlaw Star should certainly be on your list. Hell, if Gene Starwind isn’t a complete rip off of Han Solo then what is?
4. Cowboy Bebop
If you want to watch an anime but you’re slightly worried about retaining your cool and not going completely nerdy then Cowboy Bebop should be the one for you. You might’ve heard Keanu Reeves mention its name over the years as he’s struggled to get the anime made into a flick and onto Hollywood screens. It’s a shame those efforts have proved fruitless – clearly Mr. Reeves knows a good property when he see’s one.
This is another show about a bounty hunter, one called Spike Spiegel and his motley crew of associates as they go about trying to earn money and, possibly, do some good while they’re at it. However, while Outlaw Star feels more like sort of film Guy Ritchie might make if he fancied stretching his skills and doing space opera western (try and wrap your head around that), then Cowboy Bebop would be Quentin Taratino’s stab at the spaceship bounty hunter culture.
With its amazing jazz soundtrack and old school, noir-esque vibe Cowboy Bebop is an anime experience you won’t forget any time soon. In fact, if this does ever make it to Hollywood the person playing Spike Spiegel might be in for career-defining role if they can pull it off. Sorry Keanu.
3. Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings
Fancy something with a hint of feudal Japan mixed with the type of action scenes that would send a child ADHD child with an over-active imagination wild, then Sengoku Basara might be the one for you. Based on a successfull video game series, Sengoku Basara follows a group of Samurai Kings and their clans as they fight for power and even join together to defeat the Devil King.
Sounds a bit crazy, but if you want something that has the type of visuals that will stun you and an interesting plot that will have you invested in all the characters on the show then it’s certainly something you should be searching for. Plus, who doesn’t like watching samurai fight?
2. Attack On Titan
Firstly, if you plan on watching Attack On Titan then bring a box of Kleenex with you because something might conveniently fall into your eye a few times during the first few episodes. Also, if you have heart problems you probably want to stay away from this show – it will put you on an emotional rollercoaster that’ll leave you gasping for air throughout.
You know how Game Of Thrones doesn’t give a damn about killing off characters or whe they decide to do it, regardless of how important they are to the storyline? Well, Attack On Titan is exactly like that, only more extreme. No punch is pulled and every heart string you have will be plucked.
The story follows Eren Yaeger, Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Ariert who have grown up in a city behind a wall which protects them from some very peckish and very naked giants who like nothing more than eating some fleshy humans. What starts off as a tasty, action romp becomes something really weird and depressing yet perversely entertaining at the same time.
1. Ninja Scroll
Although this show is set in Feudal Japan, don’t think this is anything like Sengoku Basara. Sengoku Basara is good, but Ninja Scroll is one of the most critically acclaimed pieces of anime that has ever been created. In fact, it’s probably even a little bit more than just a mere anime; it’s more like a work of art.
Ninja Scroll follows Dean Elliot (or Koichi Yamadera if you’re watching it with subtitles) as a ronin ninja who battle demon ninjas and all sorts of dastardly foes. Without giving too much a way, this is a swashbuckling action flick that is effortlessly cool in its execution, with stunning graphics and brilliant voicework.
The fact that it came out over 20 years ago and is better than a lot of today’s anime is a testament to amount of work writer and director Yoshiaki Kawajiri put into this. If you’re looking for the gateway drug into world of serious animated violence then hurry up and watch Ninja Scroll. You won’t regret it.