There’s never been a better time to be a fan of the anime genre. Growing from a niche genre that had a single aisle in video stores and late-night TV slots in the 80s and 90s, today the latest anime can be live streamed directly from Japan to your laptop.
With this increase of accessibility, an increase of availability of titles and genres has come. There are only so many hours in the day, though, and with such an overflow of content to choose from what is an anime lover to do? Much as you’d love to watch every show, that would take up all your free time.
It is certainly one of the most influential and well-known anime shows of all time
There’s a huge cast, and an easy, strong balance between dramatic and comedic elements
Trigun is a space-western-steampunk-spaghetti show with both a religious and spiritual sensibility
It was based on the manga of the same name that consisted of two volumes
Persona 4 The Animation And Persona 4 The Golden Animation
Adaptations of the best-selling game by Atlus
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Is the second adaptation of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga
Neon Genesis Evangelion
An anime about human-controlled robots fighting monsters
1. Dragon Ball
If you are new to anime, or a geek who’s lived under a rock for the last twenty years, you’ve got to watch Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball. While Dragon Ball hasn’t always had the most consistent quality of content, it is certainly one of the most influential and well-known anime shows of all time.
For many anime fans outside of Japan, the Dragon Ball franchise was their first exposure to anime. Dragon Ball initially began as a serialized manga that was published from 1984 to 1995. In 1986 the manga was adapted into an anime television series.
This anime was broadcast from 1986 to 1996 and was split into two separate shows: Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Later, in 1996, the much-derided sequel series by the name of Dragon Ball GT was released.
The over-arching story of Dragon Ball is inspired by Chinese folklore and depicts the adventures of a boy called Goku. The series follows him from his childhood through becoming an adult as he trains in martial arts and seeks the seven legendary artifacts called the Dragon Balls.
When the Dragon Balls are gathered together, they summon a legendary dragon capable of granting a wish. Much of the series is based around the attempts to gather the balls and protect the artifacts from being taken by an evil person. As the story progresses, Goku grows in maturity and power, and is able to defeat mighty enemies.
A common theme throughout the whole series is defeating the enemy and then befriending them and gaining new allies. You know, like two boys in high school having a knock-down drag-out, then becoming best friends. The original intended audience was boys aged 10 to 18, but the fandom has grown to include pretty much anyone of age, gender, or background.
Bleach is an anime that ran from 2004 to 2012 is based on the manga of the same name that ran from 2001 to 2016. Since Bleach has run well over 300 episodes, it’s no surprise that there’s a huge cast, and an easy, strong balance between dramatic and comedic elements.
Image via cordcutterstalk
Along with Naruto and One Piece, Bleach has been one of the longest-running manga/anime series. The plot of Bleach follows the life of a Japanese high school student by the name of Ichigo Kurosaki who gains the power of a Shinigami – a being whose job is to guide spirits to the afterlife – from a female Shinigami by the name of Rukia Kuchiki.
Because of this accidental gifting of power, Rukia becomes a normal human and Ichigo takes up her job of directing good spirits to heaven and defending his hometown from evil spirits. As the story unfolds, many of Ichigo’s friends discover they have powers and use them to help him protect their home and unravel plots to destroy both human and the spirit world.
The one drawback of Bleach is that it’s currently incomplete. But while the final arc of the manga was never adapted into the anime, there is still a great run of 16 seasons to enjoy. It should be noted that the creator of Bleach, Tite Kubo, cites Dragon Ball as being one of his major influences when he started drawing the manga for Bleach.
Trigun is a space-western-steampunk-spaghetti show with both a religious and spiritual sensibility. The 26-episode anime aired in 1998 and is a partial adaption of the two series of manga that ran from 1995 to 2007.
Around halfway through the anime, the story begins to diverge from the manga and follows a partial outline that the manga creator, Yasuhiro Nightow, created at the time.
Image via technobuffalo
The over-arching story is set on an alien planet in the far future where the survivors of a cataclysm of the earth have settled and developed a society like the American Old West. The most infamous outlaw on this planet is a man called Vash the Stampede, who has a 60-billion-dollar bounty on his head.
As the story unfolds, it’s revealed that despite being the most wanted man alive, Vash is an ardent pacifist with a love of doughnuts and a philosophy of preaching “Love and peace.”
Doing his best to avoid gunfights with the endless amount of bounty hunters after him, Vash and his friends gradually uncover the mysteries of the world on which they live and the spaceships that brought their ancestors there.
4. Cowboy Bebop
The best way to describe Cowboy Bebop is to think of a space western meets film noir with a jazz soundtrack created in heaven. Cowboy Bebop had a 26-episode run that lasted from 1998 to 1999. It was based on the manga of the same name that consisted of two volumes.
Upon its release, the series was both a critical and commercial smash hit in both Japan and throughout the world. The series won numerous awards and has been called a masterpiece, often considered to be the pinnacle of the anime genre.
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Because of the amazing storyline, incredible soundtrack, and wonderful characters, some critics have deemed Cowboy Bebop the best anime “gateway series” for introducing not-yet-fans to the anime genre as a whole.
The story of Cowboy Bebop takes place in 2071 and follows the lives of a bounty hunting group on their ship called Bebop. Earth has been abandoned and people have taken to colonizing the planets and moons in the solar system. As crime rises in the solar system, the police bring back the concept of wild west bounty hunters and call them “cowboys.”
The main characters are part of this group of bounty hunters, and the story follows their exploits throughout the solar system. Besides containing an obscene amount of musical references, the story is notable for being dark, and gritty, and for deep exploration into the concepts of existentialism and loneliness.
As noted above, Cowboy Bebop’s soundtrack is famous for its incredibly diverse and colorful sound. This is thanks to the composer, Yoko Kanno.
Yoko Kanno is an extremely versatile composer and musician who has put together the soundtracks for an extensive list of anime, video games, and films, and has composed pop music for various artists. Due to her unique ability to compose in practically any genre and her body of work, she is one of Japan’s most famous composers.
5. Persona 4 The Animation And Persona 4 The Golden Animation
Persona 4 the Animation and Persona 4 the Golden Animation are adaptations of the best-selling game by Atlus. Persona 4 the Animation was released as a 25-episode run in 2011, with a movie to wrap up the story in 2012. Persona 4 the Golden is a 12-episode series which presents a twist on various scenarios and introduces new characters into the Persona 4 story.
Image via draculascave
Persona 4’s story is about a teenager by the name of Yu Narukami who moves to the rural Japanese town of Inaba. Within days of arrival in the town, a serial murderer begins killing people. During their daily lives, Yu and his friends discover a mysterious world that exists behind televisions.
The teenagers discover a link between the murders and the TV world and take it upon themselves to investigate and try to find the culprit. As the investigation goes on, the teenagers confront their personality flaws and fears as they unlock the mysterious power of Persona.
It should be noted that the music was composed by the Persona video game composer Shoji Meguro. Like every other soundtrack Meguro has worked on, the music for Persona 4 is a genre-hopping joy to behold – and one of the absolute best anime soundtracks you’ll find anywhere.
If you enjoy collecting soundtracks, then this is one to keep an eye out for.
6. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the second adaptation of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. The anime is a 64-episode series that ran from 2009 through 2010. It is an adaptation of the 27-volume manga that ran from 2001 through 2010.
The first anime adaptation was simply named Fullmetal Alchemist and was a very loose adaption of the original story. The second series was conceived with the intent of being a more faithful adaptation.
Image via magnuzone
The story of the anime is set in a world reminiscent of the European industrial revolution where the strongest power is the magic of alchemy. Two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, are orphans who are both prodigies at the art of alchemy.
After losing their mother to an illness the brothers travel the world to grow in power. Eventually they return home to try and bring her back to life. Due to a mistake in the alchemy, Alphonse loses his body and Edward suffers the loss of his left leg.
To keep his brother alive, Edward sacrifices his right arm to place Alphonse’s soul in a suit of armor. Eventually, Edward acquires magic-powered prosthetics for his missing limbs and the two brothers set out on a quest to become state-sanctioned alchemists.
7. Neon Genesis Evangelion
To simply call Neon Genesis Evangelion an anime about human-controlled robots fighting monsters is akin to simply calling Apocalypse Now a popcorn summer blockbuster. From the outset, this 26-episode anime was intended to delve deep into both psychology and examinations of Abrahamic religions.
The story of Neon Genesis Evangelion takes place fifteen years after a global cataclysm. The main character is a teenage boy named Shinji who is recruited to pilot a giant cyborg called an Evangelion to help combat invasions from giant alien monsters called Angels.
Image via polygon
The series examines the emotional states of the teenage pilots as they wage war and begin to uncover the hidden agendas of the government agency that trained them to fight.
Part of what propelled the series to its height of popularity is the controversy surrounding the original ending of the series. The trifecta of parents complaining of the series’ violence, budgetary constraints, and the series director’s battle with depression led to the creation of an extremely abstract ending that mostly consisted of still images, photographs, simple line drawings, and voice-overs.
In 1997, two animated feature-length films were released in order to restore the ending that was originally envisioned. The original run of Neon Genesis Evangelion was from 1995 to 1996 and was a critical and commercial smash.
At the time it aired, the anime industry was in a slump and Neon Genesis Evangelion has been credited with helping revive the industry. The series has had a significant cultural impact around the world, helping to spread Japanese otaku culture, and to also establish anime as a subject worth taking seriously.
Anime Worth Investing In
As you can see, there is a variety of different anime out there to watch. These seven are the best anime because of their story, themes, and great character development. You can’t go wrong with streaming these anime, or buying the DVDs from online retailers, stores like Best Buy, or selected bookstores.