If you’re into anime, you’ve probably already seen all these.
But if you aren’t… you MUST try it! Anime is NOT like your regular cartoons. These stories are unique, chock full of intense characters, and beautiful animation.
Action, drama, sci-fi, psychological, horror, apocalyptic, comedic, what it means to be human, humans merging with machines, the meaning of life. Anime’s got it all!
You might have seen Pokémon or Sailor Moon. There’s many more complex storylines and characters than that. Much of anime is a reflection of Japanese and modern society’s reaction to globalization and technological changes of the 21st century. So don’t be surprised to find intense themes in these stories. It might even be a bit difficult to completely digest the meaning of some of these anime.
So… there’s my pitch. By the way, I have only recently gotten into anime, so feel free to suggest other great anime in the comments below!
11. Tokyo Ghoul
Length: 12 episodes
Genre: Action / Drama / Horror / Psychological / Dark Fantasy
Plot: Kaneki gets into an accident and receives organ transplants from a ghoul. He struggles to maintain his humanity while living as a half-ghoul who must eat human flesh to survive.
Intense character development and symbolism included! There is a postmodern feel you can see in Kaneki’s hopelessness. The story criticizes modern society’s excessive consumption and discrimination.
Length: 25 episodes
Genre: Sports / Drama
Plot: Hinata has wanted to play volleyball since junior high. He finally gets the chance in high school. This is a story of teamwork and motivation between friends.
You learn a lot about volleyball from this anime. It is a fun, light story. If you’re looking for something not too dark but with fun characters, this is the story for you!
9. Death Note
Length: 37 episodes
Genre: Psychological / Drama / Detective
Plot: Light Yagami is a genius high school student who one day picks up a Death Note. He discovers its power to kill humans and constructs a crazy elaborate plan to rule to world and eliminate corruption through strategic murders.
It gets pretty intense and complex. The number of crazy plot twists in this story will keep you on your toes. This story looks into institutional corruption. But the most interesting part is how Light keeps coming up with such intricate plans that somehow work every time.
8. Attack on Titan
Length: 25 episodes
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Post-Apocalyptic
Plot: Eren Jaeger lives in a peaceful town walled off from man-eating titans. But after a colossal titan breaks through the outer wall, chaos ensues. Eren joins the military in order to fight against the titans.
This story brings to light the pain of losing innocence and the illusion of peace. It presents issues of the current state of Japan’s military, calling for forces to be at the ready1.
7. Blood: The Last Vampire
Length: 45 minutes
Genre: Action / Horror
Plot: Saya is a vampire who kills other vampires aka chiropterans. She goes undercover as a student on a US military base in Japan to destroy the threats. Her reasons for doing so? Unknown. Where she comes from? Unknown.
Saya is an interesting character. She’s super hardcore and cool. Besides the action, this story is also a reflection of Japanese and American relations.
6. Steins Gate
Length: 24 episodes
Genre: SciFi / Mystery / Romance / Drama
Plot: Okabe is your average guy with an intense interest in time travel. He stumbles upon a conspiracy involving the use of human subjects in time travel experiments. Okabe and friends must use their wits and determination to prevent the world from descending into an authoritarian dystopia.
Time travel makes this story a bit confusing, but once you get past the first few episodes, things begin to make sense. The best part about this story is the deep and meaningful relationships between characters.
5. Spirited Away
Length: 124 minutes
Genre: Fantasy / Miyazaki
Plot: Chihiro is moving to a new home with her parents. They stumble upon a spirit world and her parents are transformed into pigs after eating the spirit food. Chihiro faces many challenges in order to save her parents.
This is a coming of age story that incorporates deep themes about disappearing traditions, environmental degradation, optimism1, and courage.
4. Grave of the Fireflies
Length: 89 minutes
Genre: Drama / Anti-war / Historical Fiction
Plot: Seita and Setsuko become orphans as a result of the war. They struggle to take care of each other and survive in desperate times.
This story talks about WWII in an incredibly humanistic way. It is intensely sad.
3. Ouran High School Host Club
Length: 26 episodes
Genre: Romantic Comedy / Drama
Plot: Haruhi gets accepted to the prestigious Ouran High School on scholarship. She befriends the host club members and shares many hilarious adventures with them.
Many of the other stories I listed were intense and deep, but this one is just funny. It rates so high on my list because I’ve seriously never seen anything this funny before.
2. Ghost in the Shell
Length: 82 minutes
Genre: SciFi / Cyberpunk
Plot: Kusanagi is a cyborg woman working for public security agency Section 9. Their mission is to find a hacker known as the Puppet Master who has been taking control of people’s minds and making them commit crimes.
This story explores technology’s potential for enhancing or degrading the human race. It addresses philosophical and social ideas about what it means to be human.
1. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
Length: 64 episodes
Genre: Adventure / SciFi / Action / Drama
Plot: Edward and Alphonse Elric learn alchemy at a young age. In an attempt to bring their mom back from the dead, Al loses his entire body and Ed loses his arm and leg. The two brothers travel the world searching for a way to regain what they have lost.
This story has everything. Adventure, drama, hope, courage, inspiration, a good soundtrack. Ed and Al’s story is motivating as they face hardship after hardship with strength and a genuine belief in the good of mankind.
1. Mike Dillon presented this idea in his lecture in 2015 in JAPN 390 – Japanese Culture and Society: Anime at California State University, Fullerton.