Ten Anime Series You Should See Before You Die

Ten Anime Series You Should See Before You Die

Tim Maughan
Thu Nov 17, 2011 1:00pm 228 comments 2 Favorites [+]

First off I’d just like to say a huge thank you to everyone that read my list of ten anime films you should see before you die—the response has been phenomenal—not just the number of people who read it, but also those who took the time out to get involved in the following discussion. Some people loved my selections, some people thought I was well off the mark, but it was clear that there was no way I was going to be able to avoid putting together another list, this time of TV series.

It has been a far harder list to compile. Not only because of the vast selection to choose from, but also because I knew from the start that I would be leaving out some shows that a lot of people hold very dear. As such, I hope that at least some of you will read the next paragraph first before scrolling down the list to see what is missing and getting upset.
Just like last time, the aim of the list is not only to present ten examples of the anime medium that showcase the art form at its greatest, but also ten examples that are accessible to those mature viewers for whom the scene is new or even completely alien. They are works that I would show to those friends that turn their noses up at anime—we all have them—to prove to them how utterly wrong they are. To do this they must be not only masterpieces of animation, direction and storytelling, but immediately accessible to any viewer. As such, I have had to leave out popular fan favourites, slice-of-life comedies and high school dramas that are aimed too directly at the otaku demographic and which rely on an understanding of the genre and Japanese pop culture to fully appreciate. Similarly, for us older fans, I’ve left out some longer series that I personally hold very dear—groundbreaking shows like Patlabor, Legends of the Galactic Heroes and VOTOMS—just because the commitment involved in watching such epically long series is probably too daunting for new anime viewers.

Again: The below picks are in no particular order, the term “mature” is kind of loose—seeing as at least two are really “kids” shows—and this is purely personal opinion. If you disagree, see you in the comments section.

Cowboy Bebop (1998) – 26 episodes

When it first hit Japan at the end of the 90s, Shinichiro Watanabe’s seminal Cowboy Bebop broke new ground for anime on TV. An overly stylistic take on the established space opera genre, it’s the story of a disparate bunch of planet-hopping bounty hunters struggling to make a living. It gave Watanabe a chance to shamelessly take influences from all of his favourite pop-culture sources—from Star Wars and cyberpunk literature to Hollywood westerns and Quentin Tarantino movies, all set to Yoko Kano‘s eclectic, vibrant jazz infused soundtrack. The result was an international hit; one of the few shows of the period that found itself transmitted not only on U.S. TV but also across most of Europe, spawning a theatrical movie, various different DVD releases, merchandise, and giving shameless inspiration to Buffy creator Joss Whedon to pen his cult favorite Firefly.

It’s easy to criticize Watanabe’s direction as style over substance at first glance, but in reality it’s Keiko Nobumoto’s skillfully crafted scripts that are the reason for the show’s success. Throughout the 26 episodes Watanabe manages to do the impossible—combine outlandish plots and settings with believable, empathetic characters that the viewer feels a genuine, true attachment towards. For all the choreographed fight scenes, orbital dogfights and John Woo style shootouts, Bebop‘s true heart lies in its dry humour, sexual energy and the gentle, masterful unfurling of its characters’ back stories. If I had to pick one episode of one anime to show a non-believer, it would be episode 17 of Cowboy Bebop “Speak Like a Child”; a perfect 25 minutes of script writing that starts with gentle comedy and ends in emotional heartbreak. Watanabe tried to recreate the vibe with his Chanbara-meets-hip-hop follow up Samurai Champloo, but the characters and plots were limited by the setting, and although Champloo is ingenious and riveting throughout, Cowboy Bebop still remains his masterpiece and one of the most exhilarating, watchable works of anime ever made.

Paranoia Agent (2004) – 13 episodes

The term “auteur” is often overused by critics—especially in anime circles—but if there’s one director that truly lived up to the title then it was arguably the late Satoshi Kon. After completing his masterpiece trio of experimental, reality-bending films—Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress—Kon found himself with an abundance of new ideas and desiring a break from the long production cycle of high budget anime features. Turning to television the result was the Madhouse produced Paranoia Agent; a dark, deeply twisted story of two cops tracking a mysterious teenage hoodlum dubbed Li’l Slugger by the media. As the two detectives investigate the case, the lives of Slugger’s seemingly random assault victims become the series’ initial focus and soon there appear to be no truly innocent bystanders. But just as Kon leads the viewer down one apparent path he, of course, pulls his usual reality-shifting, mind-bending, plot-twisting trick with the show’s surprising climax. Paranoia Agent is an unusual, brave and at times challenging example of what anime can achieve, and perhaps what no other art form can. Even just a few years after its first broadcast it seems hard to believe that it was made for television—especially in today’s recession hit, conservative climate.

Gunslinger Girl (2003) – 13 episodes

It’s impossible to deny that the vast majority of anime and manga rely heavily on established genres, well-trodden clichés, recycled storylines and archetypal characters. Which is why it’s refreshing when a show like Gunslinger Girl comes along to challenge the accepted standards of the medium. Set in modern day Italy, it follows the activities of the Social Welfare Agency, a shadowy government group that uses abused, brain-washed young girls as trained assassins to eliminate political rivals, and focuses on the relationship between the girls and their older, male handlers. A story about over-cute, teenage girls turned cybernetic killers is nothing new, but writer Yu Aida (who also penned the original manga) turns it into a chilling, scathing deconstruction of anime’s moral values. Everything is questioned—the over sexualisation of young girls and their idolizing relationships with older men, the continued, accepted association of children with violence. The celebration and stylisation of that violence is challenged in the most brutal, disturbing, and heart-wrenching of manners. Gunslinger Girl holds a mirror up to anime and it’s moe obsessed otaku followers, asking them to look at what they find so titillating and exhilarating, as if the blood and consequences were real and in their hands. Its challenging plot and message is backed by strong production values and its gentle European ambiance, making it one of the most controversial anime productions of the last decades. It splits anime fans even now, with many refusing to see it as anything more than fan-pandering—interestingly (in my experience) a reaction seldom seen from viewers from outside anime fandom.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1994) – 26 episodes plus various OVA releases and alternative versions

Few anime franchises have had the lasting impact on anime and wider Japanese pop culture that Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion has had. The story of giant mecha battling strange, powerful creatures, it is yet another show that takes standard anime clichés—angst-ridden teenage pilots, over-the-top battle sequences, end-of-the-world scenarios—and uses them to try and tell a different, deeper story. Focusing largely on the lives of the children that are forced—at times against their will—to defend earth from this unknown, mysterious enemy, it moves from being a simple coming of age story to dealing with psychoanalysis, mental illness, and the essence of human nature.

Similarly, in amongst the teen drama and city-leveling action sequences, Hideaki Anno’s script plays with Christian and biblical symbolism to explore philosophical and spiritual concepts, as well as questioning the nature of reality itself. As such, it has become one of the most widely discussed and analyzed anime ever produced. As if the series wasn’t complex enough, an OVA—The End of Evangelion—was released that gave an alternate telling of the series’ climax. While its philosophical explorations have helped it to stick in Japan’s collective consciousness, its visual style also played a massive role in revitalising the medium, on mecha and character design in particular, spawning not only many imitators but also a current movie series retelling. It is still the original TV run that remains compelling and essential viewing.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) – 26 episodes

Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell manga had already been a huge hit in Japan before Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film version turned it into a global cult hit, so the idea of it also spawning a TV show must have been circulating at Production IG for years. It wasn’t until 2002 that it finally happened, and along with allowing the powerhouse studio another chance to mine the property, they also took it as an opportunity to appease disgruntled fans that felt Oshii had strayed too far from the source material. The series recaptures the more lighthearted, action-driven feel of Shirow’s manga, but still remains a dark, serious story of high-tech special forces tackling hackers, terrorists, corrupt government regimes, and rogue AIs. Each episode is densely packed with complex plots that can, at times, be tough to follow, but are backed up by another eclectic, brooding Yoko Kano-directed soundtrack and probably the best depiction of Shirow’s distinctive weapon and technology designs, including the now iconic Tachikoma mechs. Those that can’t commit to the entire 26 episode run can try the Laughing Man compilation film, that edits together key scenes to tell the series’ over-arching main plotline, but you risk missing out on some of the more interesting standalone episodes. And for those who get understandably sucked in, there’s always the second season—Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd Gig—which is as equally well crafted, complex, and even more politically challenging.

Future Boy Conan (1978) – 26 episodes

A good decade before they turned Studio Ghibli into the internationally renowned animation powerhouse it is now, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata were making shows for TV, most notably amongst them Future Boy Conan. After global catastrophes have threatened mankind with extinction, a man and his 11-year-old grandson Conan, the only survivors of a group attempting to flee Earth, become stranded on a remote island after their spaceship crash lands. Believing themselves to possibly be the only remaining humans, their world is turned upside down when a young girl is washed up on the shore, pursued by mysterious military forces.

What’s fascinating about watching the show now is how distinctly the 30-year-old production feels like a more contemporary Ghibli classic. All the elements are there. Despite the obvious low budget and simple animation, the visuals exude the Ghibli magic, with the character and aircraft designs so clearly Miyazaki’s and pacing and background vista shots so blatantly the product of Takahata’s storyboarding. Even more importantly, it foretells the pair’s stunning gift for storytelling, with many of the themes of Ghibli’s output—environmental destruction, industrialisation, conflict and children facing up to their roles in the world—prototyped here. It’s a magical series that somehow manages to feel as much fresh as it does nostalgic, and one that should be shared with the whole family.

Planetes (2003) – 26 episodes

Sunrise’s Planetes manages to accomplish something that few sci-fi TV shows, animated or otherwise, have done: Convincingly combine slice-of-life soap opera, humour, a realistic scientific basis, and an analysis of global politics into accessible, polished entertainment. Set at a time when mankind is first venturing into living permanently in space, it shows you the high frontier from the bottom of the social ladder as it follows the lives of the crew of the Toy Box, an aging debris collection ship—basically the orbital equivalent of a road sweeper. Their mundane work gains more danger and significance as their orbital world is threatened by downtrodden third world terrorists. It’s here—and in it’s grim portrayal of the very real threat of cancer to those who spend too long in space—that the show questions the real importance of and celebrates human space exploration, accusing it of not only being politically and economically divisive and a waste of money and resources, but perhaps also biologically unnatural. It’s beautifully drawn throughout, with obvious visual nods to NASA, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and classic sci-fi literature, but it’s Ichirō Ōkouchi’s always tight script and believably fleshed out characters that are the show’s winning assets. While frequently mature and serious, it is paced with well-handled comedy and subtle romance that makes it a joy to watch. It’s this skillful balance and its compelling plot that make Planetes not only perhaps my favourite anime series of all time, but one of the best examples of science fiction that television of any form has produced.

Serial Experiments Lain (1998) – 13 episodes

Set in “present day, present time” according to the show’s opening scrawl, psychological thriller Serial Experiments Lain focuses on Lain Iwakura, a teenage girl living in suburban Japan, and her introduction to the Wired, a global communications network similar to the internet. At a time when internet use was blossoming amongst young people and online subcultures were first cohering, Lain was the first anime series to truly try and capture the emotional and social attachments that are so easily formed to virtual worlds, and how reality can seemed blurred when you divide your time between them and the actual world.

But it didn’t end there—Lain went beyond looking at the psychology of internet culture to touch upon themes of philosophy, theology, mental illness, depression, and existentialism. Director Ryutaro Nakamura and writer Chiaki J. Konaka set out to create a show that would deliberately be open to different interpretations, and they certainly succeeded, with Lain being the most vigorously analysed and discussed anime since Neon Genesis Evangelion in both academic and fan circles. With so much going on thematically it’s easy to forget the series’ visual impact; the angst-ridden character design would influence not just anime but also Japanese and gothic fashion for years afterwards, and the slightly trippy, surrealistic background art questioned the constant quest for realism in animation at the time. A challenging work at times, but ultimately a rewarding one.

Denno Coil (2007) – 26 episodes

In many ways Mitsuo Iso’s Denno Coil covers similar thematic ground to Serial Experiments Lain, but from a refreshingly different perspective. Centered around a group of Japanese elementary school children, the show is at first glance apparently aimed at that age group, but with closer inspection that’s about as useful an assessment as dismissing My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away as just kids films—and the comparison between Denno Coil and some of Ghibli’s better crafted output is a wholly deserved and justifiable one. Set in 2026, it tells the story of young Yūko Okonogi, who moves with her family to the city of Daikoku, the technological centre of an emerging half-virtual world, created after the introduction of internet-connected augmented reality eyeglasses.

It isn’t merely the age of its protagonists that gives Denno Coil its fresh perspective compared to Lain, however, it’s also the decade between when the two were written—DC’s understanding of how networked technology has become so interwoven with our daily lives means that it often succeeds where Lain tried but failed. One of my strongest beliefs is that good science fiction always makes social commentary on the time in which it was written, and it is here that Denno Coil excels, presenting a world where children are more in touch with technology than their parents, are obsessed with video games and Pokemon style fads, and where peer pressure and owning the latest gadgets can become almost disturbingly important. Truly a classic series that exudes subtlety and elegance, and not to be missed.

Mononoke (2007) – 12 episodes

In 2006 Toei released their eleven episode series Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales, an anthology of three separate stories based on traditional Japanese myths, written and produced by three separate teams. The show was only a moderate success until the third and final story about a mysterious traveling medicine seller caught the fans’ imagination, largely due to its unique visual style, which mimics traditional Ukiyo-e art. A year later Toei expanded the character into his series, and the breathtaking Mononoke was born.

Given a larger budget and 13 episodes to work within, director Kenji Nakamura was able to push his vision to the limit. The result was one of the most stylish, visually compelling series to emerge from Japan in decades. His use of traditional colours animated over an exaggerated textured paper effect, sprinkled with frenetic action and psychedelic sequences, all held together by a masterful eye for framing and direction makes every single second of Mononoke a mesmerising joy to behold. But again, it’s not just a case of style over substance; Mononoke combines sinister plot lines and minimal, subtle sound effects to create a truly chilling, creepy horror story experience, and an anime series that genuinely feels like no other.

So, what have I missed out? Gundam? Flag? Macross? Think I’ve completely missed the point here, and I should be trying to convert non-anime fans by subjecting them to 12 hours of Lucky Star? Hit the comments below and tell me what a fool I am. Go on, it’ll be therapeutic. For both of us.

When he’s not writing about anime Tim Maughan writes science fiction — his critically acclaimed book Paintwork is out now.

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1. FennNaten
Thu Nov 17, 2011 12:34pm 1 Favorite [+]
I think that’s a great list, thanks for sharing !
Of course we all have our favorites, I guess I would have put in Samuraï Champloo, Escaflowne, Chrno Crusade and Baccano!… and maybe Hellsing too.
But as you said, that’s so hard to pick up only ten out of so many!

2. DavidW
Thu Nov 17, 2011 12:37pm Favorite This
That’s a good list but I would add Ergo Proxy. Ergo Proxy is such an amazing show story-wise, animation, everything.

3. Orange_Hollow
Thu Nov 17, 2011 12:44pm Favorite This
I’ve seen 5 of those titles and agree with them being among the best anime ever made. Especially Paranoia Agent and Cowboy Bebop. So I guess I have to watch another 5. (And Planetes I even already downloaded own)
Also, the idea about non-anime fans and 12 hours of Lucky Star sounds really great!

4. INCyr
Thu Nov 17, 2011 12:51pm Favorite This
Escaflowne is one that I would throw in that list as well. Such a fantastic series, I’ve been meaning to go back and watch it again for a while now.

Just make sure that people know to stay FAR, FAR AWAY from the god-awful movie. Holy hell is that thing a piece of crap.

5. Ben Applegate
Thu Nov 17, 2011 12:57pm Favorite This
I think that your argument about Gunslinger Girl as a black satire of moe would hold up more if the designs didn’t conform completely to moe fan expectations. The animators didn’t take advantage of the medium to communicate that message in any way at all. They could have, say, made the character designs much more brutally realistic during the hits or switched to a rougher, more visceral style during the violent scenes. That would have driven home a “there is something wrong with you, the viewer, for being turned on by this” message much more by deliberatly playing against the viewer’s expectations. They could even have filmed the hits in live action. A real child actor in some of those scenes would have been incredibly shocking. As it is the show at best is trying to have it both ways, seeming to be satirical for smarter viewers while still pulling in the oblivious pervs, and that’s what I have a problem with.

6. ZetaStriker
Thu Nov 17, 2011 1:15pm Favorite This
Glad to see you back with another list, and this time I think you were spot on with your choices for the most part. Honestly I haven’t seen half the series you’ve listed; Gunslinger Girl in particular I’ll have to give a second look since you’ve said it deconstructs the offensive tropes it presents at first glance, and I’d never even heard of Denna Coil or Mononoke.

Two series that I cannot suggest enough that failed to make your cut I feel a need to mention here though. They hold top positions on my favorites list without any real opposition, and are inherently accessible to Western audiences in ways that most Anime are not. Those series are Gungrave and Baccano!.

Gungrave itself is really a story of two very, very different parts, as shown by the misleading first few episode. We open on a sci-fi fueled action vignette, with re-animated corpses and monsters battling in the streets as “Gungrave” appears to set out for vengeance against a Harry MacDowell and his Millenion organization.

We quickly flash back, however, to a time long before this. From the quiet streets of a 1940s-era slum, in a setting so different it almost feels like a different show entirely, we witness the slow rise of Brandon Heat and best friend Harry MacDowell from street punks to high ranking members of the mafia, and slowly build towards what we know from the opening to be an inevitable betrayal that will drive the two friends apart, leaving Brandon dead to eventually reanimate as the eponymous “Gungrave”.

Overall, these two settings build into a very enigmatic whole. The first half is almost entirely character exploration, while the more traditional action-driven second half is heavily influenced by the strong characters and emotions divulged upon the viewer by the preceding mafia story. With plenty of twists and turns and a wholly satisfying and unexpected ending, it remains my absolute favorite anime every made on those Eastern shores.

Baccano! fits into a similar genre, in a way. Like Gungrave, it is at its heart a mafia story, although in this case it fits much more firmly in a Western influenced setting. Taking place in Prohibition America simultaneously across 1930, 1931 and 1932, the non-linear story jumps between the three periods with ease while respecting the viewer’s intelligence enough to give them the clues to figure out what is happening where, rather than spell it out. Other than a handful of characters shared across the three timelines, the series explores the movements of “immortals” who have drunk from an alchemical elixer of immortality, and how they intersect with the competing mobs of the era.

Mixing healthy doses of humor and some really dark action to make a well balanced whole, Baccano! is an over the top exploration of one of the most romanticized eras in American history this side of the Wild West. The characters are vibrant and exciting, making it hard to choose favorites, and vary from a several hundred year old Russian immigant turned mob lieutenant to a psychotic assassin suffering from a severe case of solipsism. With one notable exception, there really isn’t much in the way of good and evil, meaning even sadistic characters like Ladd Russo can evoke some empathy and interest, and I’ve always been of the opinion that gray paints a better picture than black and white. The series is chaotic, exciting, and overall unique, which is sadly a rarity among most Anime these days. I just wish we’d gotten more of it.

7. aeria_lynn
Thu Nov 17, 2011 1:16pm Favorite This
Haibane Renmei is one of my favorites, although not as mindbending as seriel experiments Lain, which is my favorite.

8. mattishii
Thu Nov 17, 2011 1:33pm Favorite This
I don’t think Mononoke fit in with the rest of your list. The other anime all sort of mesh well with American sensibilities, and were all fairly popular with the American anime community. It seems like an anime that would go on a “Ten Great Anime You’ve Never Heard Of” list. In any case, my addendums to this list are:

Now and Then, Here and There: A standard ‘boy gets warped to a fantasy world’ story, where the excitement of a strange world quickly gives way to a story about the brutality of war.

Kaiba: A strange, dreamlike scifi, animated in a style reminiscent of the Jetsons, this anime is about a world where memories and bodies are freely interchangable, and a boy who wakes up with no heart.

Nana: A soap-opera about a group of 20 year-olds, several of whom are trying to hit it big as musicians. Lots of sex and rock n roll, no drugs. Has a pretty feminine sensibility. Just a really great soap opera.

Baccano!: A frustratingly non-linear story about mobsters and immortals clashing in Depression-era New York, this story is frenetic in the best way. See @6 ZetaStriker’s post

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: This anime was huge all over the world, and should be watched if only for that reason. That said, I love this anime. It’s about a normal guy getting swept up into a world of time travellers, psychics and aliens by a manic girl bored with the world. It’s hard to describe the sensibility of this show, but it’s unique, and doesn’t fit what you’re imagining from that description.

Last one I promise.

Gurren Lagann: This is the apotheosis of all Giant Robot anime. About a group of rebels fighting against an evil overlord, what really makes this show memorable is its bombastic visuals and over-the-top story. This is a show that’ll really get your blood pumping.

Sorry about the length, I got carried away. My list got more mainstream as it went on. I’m not sure if I really captured what made those anime great, but they’re all fantastic.

9. ZetaStriker
Thu Nov 17, 2011 2:13pm Favorite This
Now and Then, Here and There was fantastic, I’ll admit. It gets my “More Depressing than Grave of the Fireflies” award. XD

Escaflowne doesn’t hold up quite as well though in my mind. It was good, and certainly worth watching, but the ending didn’t hold up as well as the first half did in my mind.

I know we were straying away for longer series, but I have to put out a mention for Code Geass as well while it’s on my mind – if Gurren Lagann was a conglomeration of all the best aspects of mecha anime, Code Geass was a deconstruction of the genre. Set in an alternate history where the American Revolution failed and the “Britanian Empire” has become the world’s penultimate superpower, it takes place in a conquered Japan where the Japanese are second class citizens to the Britanians that had established their colony in the region.

So far, so normal, but it doesn’t take long for Geass to stray from the genre’s roots. The terrorist-held Macguffin turns out to be an immortal woman instead of a robot, the lead is a physically weak tactician and exiled Britannian prince who wants to see the world burn, and the cast of revolutionary “heroes” are manipulated by him to serve his own ends across the bredth of the series. The plot is full of twists, rarely going in the direction you expect it to, and the main character’s obscured motives and questionable morality make for a very interesting watch. The second season loses sight of some of these ideals for a minute before the absolutely perfect ending, but on the whole the series easily sneaks into my top five.

10. Beren
Thu Nov 17, 2011 2:19pm Favorite This
Not that I think this is one you should show to people new to Anime (unless, of course, they are on some strange diet consisting of only psychotropic substances) but I really feel like everyone should see FLCL at least once. If nothing else, you could watch it after an Evangelion marathon as a pallate-cleanser.

11. rattledbone
Thu Nov 17, 2011 2:54pm Favorite This
The two series I usually suggest for anyone new to anime are Cowboy Bebop, because its action sequences are perfectly tailored to suck in new US viewers (in fact, my anime viewing was in a near decade dry spell when CB first arrived– it got me watching again), and Planetes, which really has so much going for it to hook the casual, less action oreinted viewer. I’m glad to see them both on this list, particularly Planetes, which I find that even most seasoned anime fans have never seen and it’s a shame.

12. Draken
Thu Nov 17, 2011 3:02pm Favorite This
Surprised not to see a mention of Basilisk. Bleak and uncompromising. Certainly not archetypal in this fashion, if in others.

But ZetaStriker, totally agree with CODE GEASS. Most definitely one of my top 5. In terms of sheer storytelling, I can’t think of anything better. Every episode works, in some way, even if light hearted (and hilarious), towards the resolution of the story arc that forms the series – NO FILLERS! It deals with high issues and low: second-class citizenship, colonialism and imperial power, morality, sacrifice and the greater good, inter-familial strife/hatred/rivalry, etc., while being immensely enjoyable and thrilling to watch.

13. TimMaughan
Thu Nov 17, 2011 3:17pm Favorite This
Thanks for all the comments guys – some great suggestions. Keep em coming!

14. thomstel
Thu Nov 17, 2011 3:29pm Favorite This
My most recent favorite is Natsume Yuujinchou. It’s a little slice-of-life, a little supernatural, but very introductory in its presentation. The main character’s relationships, friends, development, etc. are all spelled out, with a focus on his realizations about life, not about moe, evil spirits/deathgods, human evolution, or any other big concept thing. People who don’t watch anime because they don’t want involved with that sort of stuff have watched Natsume and told me it was pretty enjoyable once they got familiar with enough of the Japanese cultural elements.

Highly recommended.

15. ThePendragon
Thu Nov 17, 2011 4:05pm Favorite This
I second Escaflowne and would like to add Rahxephon and Heat Guy J. Because I’m lazy, here are the Wikipedia descriptions:

RahXephon anime series about 17-year-old Ayato Kamina, his ability to control a godlike mecha known as the RahXephon, and his inner journey to find a place in the world. His life as a student and artist in Tokyo is suddenly interrupted by a mysterious female stalker, strange planes invading the city and strange machines fighting back.

The central elements of RahXephon‘s plot are music, time, archetypal mystery, intrigue and romance. The series shows influences from philosophy, Japanese folklore and Western literature, such as the work of James Churchward. The cultural background of the series is dominated by Mesoamerican and other Pre-Columbian civilizations.

Heat Guy J chronicles the adventures of a young Special Services officer named Daisuke Aurora and his android partner known simply as “J”. The pair live and work in the fictional, futuristic Metropolis of “Judoh” (Jewde), where the understaffed and underfunded Special Services Division of the Bureau of Urban Safety has its headquarters.

16. ZetaStriker
Thu Nov 17, 2011 4:30pm Favorite This
Rahxephon . . . I so wanted to like Rahxephon, but ended up being totally creeped out and dissatisfied by the end of the series. The reason being that central relationship of the series, at least post-plot twist. Spoilers – The simple fact that Haruka waited twelve years without ever getting over Ayato just strains my disbelief beyond the point of return – she comes across as a emotionally unstable stalker rather than a genuine love interest, and seeing them together triggers my pedophile detectors in ways that make me physically ill. It was just wrong, on so many levels, and it left me absolutely disgusted with the series as a whole. I understand others may not feel that way, but it was overpowering to me.

It doesn’t help that the ending was kind of a narrative cop-out too.

17. Guruj
Thu Nov 17, 2011 4:33pm Favorite This
I’m a little surprised Full Metal Alchemist (either version) didn’t even warrant an honorable mention. Those first episodes in particular are killer.

18. Chuk
Thu Nov 17, 2011 4:40pm Favorite This
I don’t really watch much anime (the occasional movie maybe) but my son got me watching Code Geass, so I’ll agree with that one, too.

19. Draken
Thu Nov 17, 2011 4:44pm Favorite This
Honorable mention: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
20x better than the first vers. btw.
That Chimera episode tore my soul a little.

Death Note would have gotten a mention – deserves a mention – but for the ending, which was so poor it wrecked the entire anime.


20. GoodbyeNavi
Thu Nov 17, 2011 4:47pm Favorite This
I agree with the earlier comment about adding Ergo Proxy. Being the scifi lover that I am, it would have made a perfect addition to the list. Not sure about Mononoke, haven’t seen Denno Coil so cannot speak on that. I will give it a look. I don’t agree that Code Geass should be on this list although I did like it, it didn’t keep my interest to the end and I felt the characters weren’t fleshed out enough. I also completely agree with FLCL. Its one of the series that I have watched more than once.

Nice list, bro.

21. Petar Belic
Thu Nov 17, 2011 5:14pm Favorite This
An odd list, mainly because of the omissions.

Essential anime series not mentioned here:

AstroBoy (80’s and recent series)
Macross (Original & Plus are the best)
Full Metal Alchemist
Last Exile
Wolf’s Rain
Lost Cities of Gold

All of these are accessible, extremely popular, and omitted in the original article.

22. JackofMidworld
Thu Nov 17, 2011 5:38pm Favorite This
Last Exile & Full Metal Alchemist are defintely ones that I’d agree with adding to the list.

One of my favorites, even if it’s from the cliched “girl who kills monsters” line-up, is Blood+. It was a sorta-spin-off of Blood and also one of the first ones that I watched when I started watching anime a couple of years ago, so it’s got a special place in my horr0r-black heart.

I love these articles, as well as all the ones added in the comments that follow. I’m guaranteed to find at least a couple that I end up queuing up on Netflix.

23. RemyP
Thu Nov 17, 2011 6:44pm Favorite This
If I had to choose only one anime series to show people, knowing it could be the only show they may ever watch, it’d have to be Boogiepop Phantom. I have a total soft spot for strange shows with twisted storylines and unique characters, and I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve watched it or how many people I’ve talked into watching it. Definitely my honorable mention.

24. Cain S. Latrani
Thu Nov 17, 2011 8:11pm Favorite This
Shikabane Hime, fr me at least, is a routine re watch. I never get tired of it.

Gai Rei Zero is also a fantastic show, with such heart and sorrow.

Last, for me, a must watch, El Cazador De la Brujah. THe final two episodes are beautiful.

That’s my list, shows that touched and moved me. There are MANY more, but those are pretty much my top three.

Okay, four. Fruits Brasket. I don’t know anyone who’s seen FB and not fallen in love with it.

25. Fenric25
Thu Nov 17, 2011 8:54pm Favorite This
Of this list, I have seen Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion and love them both, great series that I enjoy watching whenever I get the chance. Of the ones not mentioned, Fullmetal Alchemist is definitely my favorite (the second version, Brotherhood, which adheres more closely to the manga, is the better of the two by quite a bit in almost every way (especially in animation, music and story), though the first anime series is definitely a fun viewing experience as well.). Also add to the list Trigun, Code Geass, FLCL, Death Note, Gurren Lagann, Baccano! and its sister series Durarara! (this one is modern day, though still the same world as Baccano, takes place in Ikebukuro, Japan where there are gang wars, a motorcycle-riding Dullahan who’s lost her head, a crazily aggresive bartender who throws vending machines at his sleazy information broker nemesis, and a creepy red-eyed Slasher who attacks people with a mystical katana from the shadows, not to mention a group of bizarre pyromaniac otaku, teenagers with the usual high school romance problems, a black Russian sushi vendor who’s a pacifist yet is also incredibly strong and gets involved in stopping many of the crazy fights that occur, and a pharmaceutical company involved in human trafficking. The series starts off slow but gets good quickly and has lots of fine character study to go with the crazy action and strange humor. If you can’t tell, this series is the one I’m currently engaged in and definitely one of my new favorites) Glad to see the continuing interest in anime here on Tor.com, hope there’s more to come…

26. Goggolor
Fri Nov 18, 2011 12:02am Favorite This
Nice article, but please, for god’s sake, go back and proofread the thing. Pay special attention to apostrophes.

27. TimMaughan
Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:31am Favorite This
@26. Goggolor

Thank’s – I will! Its a weekness of mine, I must confess.


28. KaosNoKamisama
Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:32am Favorite This
Well… What a nice list you put together. I’m very glad o see that someone values content before form; something your recomendation clearly show.

I totally agree on your view of Cowboy Bebop being able to combine masterfully designed characters with highly emphatic level (gosh knows how much I cried in the “Hard luck woman” episode), with a mindblowing (and believable) environment. I also like your analisys of Gunslinger Girl a lot. It’s an incredibly good and dark take on futility and comodification of life, but, as you point out so well, it’s also a potent critique on the way the anime-industry relates to its audiences.

I’m very glad you included Lain, but I think you undervalue it a bit. While I agree that by today’s standards the view of global networks is maybe bit outdated, I feel that the topics of blurring limits and the even more present question of the socio-psychological construction of the identity are masterfully boarded in the series. Without uttering any spoilers, the final twist of the plot isn’t even so much a twist as it is a reflection on social constructivism and individual identity. There’s even a innuendo of political critique on the uses of technology as powerful tool.

As some have pointed out before, I would also recomend Ergo Proxy, even though all of its potential is revealed only after a closer re-watch. The series contains a lot more than it reveals and most of its incredibly complex and interesting topics (dealing mainly with sociological and psychological issues) are only revealed once the symbolic layers of the show are craked. If there are some Spanish readers here, I’d recomend this analysis (mor of am analytical deconstruction) of Ergo Proxy:
http://elnomadailustrado.com/?p=438 (that’s part 1, part 2 is on he same blog).

I would love to have seen Escaflowne in the list, but understand that the overall atmosphere of it (the list) is more charged towards darker, heavier mostly sci-fi related stuff. Even so, I believe Escaflowne has many merits to enter any must-see list. First of all, it’s probably one of the first series that challenged the whole strict audience specific model of the anime industry. It tells a story of fantasy and war, of heroes and sacrifices, but with an ongoing love story that turns into a triangle (and several other polygonal figuers). In my opinion it surpasses Macross by far in this regard. They even choosed on purpose a more “shoujo” (girl-oriented) visual design for an at-first-glance “shonen” (boy-oriented) series. During the series there are so many twists and turning points, so many discoveries that add layers to the characters, that it mannages to keep the interest. Another thing that I value is that, what starts as an apparently clear good-guys/bad-guys kind of plot, evolves into one much more complex, tainted by human feelings and the clash of idealism and pragmatism.

Also as sugested, I would include Haibane Renmei, a wonderfull and weird story where the symbolic is strong and many things are left untold in the best possible way, challenging the audience to leave their usual role as passive consumers of stories and become a bit of a creator themselves. Last Exile is also a must! Not only because it’s one of the most wonderfully crafted steampunkish worlds ever to appear in anime, but because its one of the last complex and challenging stories that came out before the “moecalyps”. Much like Haibane, it uses the “untold” as a tool. In LE the world is given, not fool-proof explained. Many have found this confusing and bothering… Personally, I think it’s a way of confidence in the inteligence of the audience. Last Exile seduces by presenting a world and characters that have a much greater background than we are told (this allways reminds me of he feeling I have when watching Porco Rosso; where you can imagine so many stories that came before and will ome after but you are not told). of course, this complexity has nothing to do with the ready-to-serve logic of hollywood and mainstream-anime storytelling logic.

If I may add a series I am really fond of, I would say Kino no Tabi, the anime based on The Wounderful World novels. In mostly stand alone episodes we follow Kino (a rather androgynous girl) and Hermes (her “talking” motorcycle) in her journey around a world that is as diverse and surprising as it can be. The strength of the show is not in the characters or even in the settings, but in the reflexions about human nature it presents using Kino’s travels. Unlike other shows on the list, Kino is a much less dark series, since it does not present a harsh critique or a worldview so much as it offers a contemplative (but not passive) look at out nature. It is probably the closest thing I could imagine to an animated ethnograpy.

I’m really happy to see how your lists encourage the serious talk about anime that has forsaken most of the anime-loving comunities in the world.

29. Robotech_Master
Fri Nov 18, 2011 8:25am Favorite This
Glad you mentioned Future Boy Conan. (Though I think you might have pointed out that it’s actually based on a western SF novel, The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key. Having read the book (written at the height of the Cold War), it’s interesting to note the differences, including the way Miyazaki, at the time an avowed supporter of Communism, flipped the ideology of the two nations from how they were presented in the books: Industria goes from Communist gulag to hyper-capitalist dystopia, and High Harbor goes from mom-and-apple-pie bastion of democracy to a farming commune.

But I think the big series you missed out on is another Conan: Meitantei (Great Detective) Conan, known in the US as Case Closed. Among other things, it has to be one of the longest-running anime out there, dating back to the 1990s; the fansub community just today released episodes 634 and 635 (which aired recently in Japan). The manga has been running for a couple of years longer.

The premise is that a renowned high school detective, Kudo Shinichi (“Jimmy Kudo” in Funimation’s dub of the early episodes) witnessed a shakedown by members of a mysterious criminal organization. Those organization members got the drop on him and decided to off him with an experimental poison, that ended up de-aging him by ten years instead.

With the aid of an inventor friend of his who is in on the secret, Shinichi adopts the moniker of “Edogawa Conan” (a portmanteau of mystery authors Edogawa Ranpo and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and goes to live with the family of his girlfriend, Ran, who is the daughter of inept detective Mouri Kogoro. (The idea is that, living in a detective agency, he’ll be in the best position to find out more about that mysterious organization if any details should surface.) However, if that organization should find out he is still alive, they might come after him—and anybody close to him. So he can’t tell anyone his secret—including (especially) his girlfriend, Ran.

In order to raise the profile of Kogoro’s detective agency, Conan takes to solving mysteries behind the scenes—and using a tranquilizer dart wrist watch and voice-changing bow tie that his inventor friend made to knock Kogoro out and announce the solutions to the mysteries in his voice. This leads to Kogoro becoming known as the celebrated great detective (meitantei) “Sleeping Kogoro.” The series is mostly composed of picaresque mysteries Conan and company solve, with the occasional linked arcs devoted to his continuing encounters with the mysterious criminal organization.

What are the appeals? Several.

For one thing, Detective Conan demonstrates that anime isn’t all space ships, giant robots, and tentacle monsters. It’s a relentlessly reality-grounded show (with a few minor exceptions, like the experimental poison and the professor’s inventions) in which all the crimes are solvable (and, usually, solved) and (nearly) every strange phenomenon has a rational explanation. It’s an anime twist on the classic whodunnit (or occasionally “howdunnit”) that mystery fans of any nationality should be able to appreciate.

For another, it’s fascinating to trace the cultural changes across Japan in the last decode just by watching the show. For example, at the beginning of the show, Conan uses his voice-changer tie and pay phones for a lot of calling, and one of the professor’s neat gadgets is a microminiaturized cell phone hidden in a clip-on earring. (Why it should be considered reasonable for a 1st-grade boy to be carrying a clip-on girl’s earring is one of the few mysteries the show never clears up!) But over time, cell phones seen in the show get smaller and smaller, and eventually Conan switched to using a pair of ordinary flip phones (one for his Conan identity, and the other for Shinichi).

There’s just so much of the show out there that Funimation never bothered to dub much past the first hundred twenty episodes or the first several movies. The rest has largely been carried by digital fansubbers (and they’ve gotten really good at their work, too, seamlessly localizing signs and written text to where it appears to have been originally animated that way—and recently they actually translated, subbed, and released an episode in less than 24 hour s after it originally aired!); the manga has been scanlated too.

30. jason e
Fri Nov 18, 2011 8:25am Favorite This
The first East of Eden movie. watch it!

31. joebuu
Fri Nov 18, 2011 11:41am Favorite This
I see Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood has been mentioned which is one I would recommend. I just finished introducing this series to my GF. By the end she was the one wanting to marathon the climax.

For myself my favorite anime series is Rurouni Kenshin. I wouldn’t place it on this list, but it is close to my heart so I always include it.

32. ZetaStriker
Fri Nov 18, 2011 12:18pm Favorite This
Last Exile is definitely a good choice; it’s one of my favorites, and I’m even using elements of its setting mashed up with Mistborn for my current campaign setting. Alex Row makes up a big portion of my enjoyment of the plot though – as much as I loved the (at first) lighter plot of Claus and Lavie, Alex was such an immensely charismatic and mysterious figure that I couldn’t help but be drawn to what he was doing in every scene. A lot of important elements were being moved by him in the background, right from the beginning, which did an excellent job of setting the stage for everything that would come by the series’ close.

Haibane Renmei I also agree with, although it’s been so long since I’ve seen it I can’t really engage on any rational discussion on the subject . . . other than maybe saying “yay” in my best derp voice while others make poignant comments.

Another good series that comes to mind now, and is also fairly obscure even among the greater anime community, is the Count of Monte Cristo retelling Gankutsuo. Right from the start, it gets major credit for taking the original spin on the tale by making Albert, the son of Fernand, our point of view character. With a futuristic backdrop and a unique art style, the series will seem familiar to those familiar with Dumas’ original story, but I found that the story carried a lot of additional weight by following the perspective of Albert, whose faith in the mysterious Count is betrayed as he is eventually forced to scramble and save what he can before everything he cherishes crumbles to dust at his feet. And the Count makes for a very charismatic villian, let’s face it – to the point it’s hard to call him that even when you’re on the receiving end of his plot for vengeance.

33. MichaelMJones
Fri Nov 18, 2011 2:28pm Favorite This
I’d suggest Revolutionary Girl Utena. Multilayered, complex, stylistic, and so very hard to put into any one box, it’s a real mindtrip of a series.
It really plays around with gender and sexuality, desire and growing up, and it leaves an impression.

And it has some nifty dueling scenes.

34. Shellywb
Fri Nov 18, 2011 11:18pm Favorite This
The list above is excellent. Here are my top 4 anime series of all time, that I watch again and again:

Revolutionary Girl Utena – bends every notion about gender and sex and shoujo that you might have.

Princess Tutu – It seems a typical magical girl series, and it is for the first half. Then it stops and rips all the cliches and your expectations to pieces and shows you what it means to write stories and be in them.

Natsume Yuujincho – a quiet unassuming series of tales about a gentle boy who learns to be a friend and family member by first befriending the spirits his grandmother once enslaved. It’s emotionally beautiful, and I’ve fallen in love with it.

Baccano! – others have mentioned this, but it’s witty and fast-paced and unexpected and fun, and it remains that every time I watch it.

35. KaosNoKamisama
Fri Nov 18, 2011 11:48pm Favorite This
I seriously didn’t enjoy Baccano that much. Maybe I had to high expectations… It’s not that the show wasn’t good 8actually it’s very well made), but I felt that it was an ttempt to cover too much (too many stories, too many characters, too many timeframes) and failed at getting things tight enough as to be coherent. In the end, imho, the show just duct-tapes all its loopholes by using a generous ammount of blood. Even being a nice show, I feel it is miles below the standards of the ones in the list (a bit like what has been said about Samurai Champloo, that is an awesome show, but doesn’t quite live up to the ones in the list).

Now to something completely different… Usually most people (including myself) have a rather disenchanted view on what the anime industry has been delivering in the last ten-or-so years. Even so, there have been some very interesting shows and I’d like to point out Puella Magi Madoka Magica (I know… the title sounds totally stupid). Just like Princess Tutu, it may seems in the beginning just another genere iteration, but it turns quickly into one of the most interesting excercises of deconstruction Japan has delivered lately, mainly because it takes one its most beloved genres, the magical girls, and sistematically (and cruelly, sometimes) subverts its codes ands cliches. Much alike Gunslinger Girl, watched through the right lens, it becomes a very interesting meta-reflexion on the industry and its modus operandi.

36. steelbound
Sat Nov 19, 2011 4:14am Favorite This
A pretty decent list but it definitely shades towards SF series a little too much.

I can’t comment on four of these titles since I haven’t watched them; of the other six I definitely agree with Paranoia Agent, GiTS:SAC, Planetes and Dennou Coil being placed. I won’t quibble with Cowboy Bebop because so many other people like it but I finally saw it after Firefly and Firefly was the much better show.

You seem to include Evangelion because of it’s importance to the medium more then for the show itself which seems counter to the intent of the list. Evangelion is definitely one show I wouldn’t show to perspective anime fans since Shinji is quite possibly the most annoying in anime ever.

A much better pick for Evangelion‘s spot would be a fellow Gainax production – Gurren Lagann. Other picks that should at least qualify for an honorable mention: Baccano, Haibane Renmei, Natsume Yuujinchou, Steins;Gate, Bartender, Kino’s Journey and Shiki.

37. NathanC
Sat Nov 19, 2011 3:19pm Favorite This
If these anime proposed in the comments are supposed to appeal to those new to the genre, then anime notable for it’s subversion of typical anime trope is out. It will just be confusing to those unfamiliar with this genre of entertainment. I don’t watch anime, and I found the descriptions of Planetes, Cowboy Bebop, and Paranoia Agent most intriguing of the lot. Just giving a friendly reality check.

38. Keni
Sat Nov 19, 2011 10:37pm Favorite This
Nice article! It is hard to narrow down favorites, especially for the specified audience. One of my favorites is Elfen Lied. It is a beautiful anime.

39. Eugene R.
Sat Nov 19, 2011 10:40pm Favorite This
While I am a stone Bubblegum Crisis (described as “What if Joan Jett and Coco Chanel became New Wave terrorists?”) fan, the series I usually point to is the 3-episode prequel, AD Police Files, an emotionally charged anthology that dissects the connections and intersections of violence and sex (“gore-nography”) in popular entertainment. The third episode, “The Man Who Bites His Tongue” is what Robocop only wishes it were.

40. Roceal
Sun Nov 20, 2011 4:16am Favorite This
It may be a slighly obscure choice, but Mushishi is honestly one of my favourite series ever. I think it’s worth a watch for anyone as a thoughtful, imaginitive, and varied series. My only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough. I’d love to get my hands on the manga if I could!

41. Giftess
Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:55am Favorite This
My vote is for Jubei Chan!!!

42. geniusinmaking
Mon Nov 21, 2011 3:06am Favorite This
I love to watch animation movies and love anime too and i have seen some of these and would like to add Final Fantasy series as well.

43. Roquefort
Mon Nov 21, 2011 3:32am Favorite This
What about Death Note???
It is a very intense thriller that everyone should watch.

44. KBKarma
Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:03pm Favorite This
@40 Mushishi is amazing, and I’m kicking myself for not picking it up cheap when it was available in my local DVD store.

@TimMaughan You may want to point out that Dennou Coil was never released outside of Japan; the only way to watch it (unless I’ve been out of the loop for WAY too long) is fansubs.

Your list is pretty good, and I understand why it veers more towards sci-fi (namely, the fact that most of the people here are sci-fi fans). However, I’d have added Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Baccano!, and Last Exile to that list instead of Eva (not a fan), Paranoia Agent and Gunslinger Girl (never watched the last two). More fantasy than sci-fi, except in the last case, but still really really good.

45. Saterade
Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:16pm Favorite This
No one would watch any of this if not for dragonball and mobile suit gundam. Both should be on the list. ’nuff said!

46. theRemix
Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:24pm Favorite This
Go watch Elfen Lied

I vote for death note too

47. strakul
Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:37pm Favorite This
I add my vote for Mushishi (see 40. Roceal). That is the only anime where I’ve watched one episode (on Hulu) and immediately went out to buy the box set. It is absolutely gorgeous.

In a completely different note, I also recommend Death Note and also Code Geass (like Death Note, but with Gundam-style robots). Both are intelligent and fun, if a bit dark sometimes.

48. Clovis
Tue Nov 22, 2011 2:14pm Favorite This
Hi Tim,

You are very good at reviewing a title, I really enjoyed reading this article and the other one about anime films.

But as a long time anime fan, the selections did not reflect what I expected to find after reading the title.

IMHO the ten above is more of the “ten examples that are accessible to those mature viewers for whom the scene is new or even completely alien” than “ten examples of the anime medium that showcase the art form at its greatest”.

The selections are also single minded, I mean they all have something in common and a person who liked 3 or 4 titles in the list will almost likely a fan of all 10. There are several types of people, and you might want to consider titles you don’t actually like but a lot of your friends do.

Maybe it would be better to make two lists instead. This list should have a new name to reflect it’s nature.

There are several series that started or topped sub-genres, they are those timeless titles that showcase the art form of that sub-genre at its greatest. Some of these titles might not have been released outside of Japan, but you can find it in the internet if you look hard enough.

One of the comments mentioned Meitantei (Detective) Conan, in which I agree that it was on top of the mystery sub-genre.

There are also culinary/cooking sub-genre, which you might want to choose between Cooking Master Boy or Born to Cook among others.

Saint Seiya with it’s many series is a sub-genre by itself, although there are some followers.

Evangelion is one of my favorite all time series, but although it have giant robots in it, should belong to a different sub-genre. Giant robots should have their own representative in the top 10, just choose one among a very long list of Voltes V, Mazinger Z, Jeeg the Steel Robot, Getter Robo, etc.

To be fair, there should also be at least one or more series that is intended spesifically for female audiences in the top 10, I don’t watch many of those because – well, I’m male. Gunslinger Girl in your list is not a member of this sub-genre, it have quite a lot of male fans. Perhaps something like Candy Candy or Minky Momo is a better representative.

There are other sub genres like sports, music, comedy, historical, etc that will supply strong contenders to the top 10.

49. Vulpine
Tue Nov 22, 2011 2:40pm Favorite This
A couple titles you missed that really caught my attention were:

Witch Hunter Robin
Wolf Rain

Both of them were very limited series, as far as I can tell and each had very ‘addictive’ factors that make you want to know what’s going to happen in the next episode without being so progressive as Dragonball, Bleach or even InuYasha (which really started with a great concept.)

A third that I find personally very intriguing is Trigun and a fourth is Big O, again limited series and I believe far more interesting for it. Personally, I like for a story–especially a series–to have a true finale and quit, rather than dragging the thing out so long you lose track of the original concept.

50. Neekaneeks
Tue Nov 22, 2011 3:29pm Favorite This
I think when making a top 10 list it’s always up to the writer to take on what is considerably a pretty large range of series and condesnse them down based off personal preference. So I have to say I respect and enjoy this list.

I would just like to add though honorable mentions though because they are on my top ten list (in no particular order): Kino No Tabi, RahXephon, Mushishi, Kemonozume and Kaiba.

51. StevenAnderson999
Tue Nov 22, 2011 4:19pm Favorite This
Where in the world is Clannad/After Story?

52. StevenAnderson998
Tue Nov 22, 2011 4:25pm Favorite This
Watch Legend of the Galataic Heroes before you kill yourself

53. Qrxn
Tue Nov 22, 2011 4:35pm Favorite This
I can’t believe Rurouni Kenshin is not on here…that was one of the series that really brought me into anime.

54. BDaggerhart
Tue Nov 22, 2011 4:41pm Favorite This
I have a hard time not putting Trigun on any “best” anime lists I make, though I’m more than aware that a lot of my love of the series likely comes from the nostalgia of being the very first anime serial I ever watched (well, minus Dragonball Z, but that show isn’t really worth bringing up in conversations like this).

55. PatronusX
Tue Nov 22, 2011 4:49pm Favorite This
I really liked your anime movie list and even though they were not all in my own top 10 picks, I could accept that they were indeed worthy of being there. I’m afraid I’m having a bit harder time accepting of your anime series list as presented. I honestly can’t see Paranoia Agent or Gunslinger Girl deserving to be listed, as I found both to be shallow and uninteresting. I’d probably replace them with the popular (and much better!) alternatives Haibane Renmei and Escaflowne. I’d be tempted to include Elfen Lied or When They Cry in place of Mononoke or Lain, but honestly to really appreciate either show the viewer need to be familiar with many of the common tropes from Magical Girl, Harem and High School anime they they play upon to truly appreciate them.

56. ayo
Tue Nov 22, 2011 9:20pm Favorite This
I have to agree with the comments suggesting that Fullmetal Alchemist (either one) and Last Exile be on this list. I’d also add Morito: Guardian of the Spirit, which is one of the best anime series I’ve seen and is something I think would be very accessible to someone who has never watched anime before.

57. MBWJoe
Tue Nov 22, 2011 9:36pm Favorite This
To borrow Remy’s first line:
If I had to choose only one anime series to show people, knowing it could be the only show they may ever watch, it’d have to be…

Monster. Specifically if you’re trying to “convert” someone with European or North American “sensibilities.” It’s a long series, but the plot is airtight, the pacing is brilliant, the animation is movie quality, the storyline grabs you tight… and every couple episodes it throws you up against the wall and punches you in the gut.

It’s a “film noir” Fugitive, animated (and 10 times better).

There are ton of animes I love more but not even my favorites could, even at the first viewing, hold me at the edge of my seat and focus my entire being like Monster.

58. BunnyM
Tue Nov 22, 2011 11:06pm Favorite This
There’s some good recommendations here, both in the article itself and in the comments.

I’ll definintely have to look up Baccano! and Gungrave, the recommendations listed have piqued my interest indeed.

I’m rather surprised no-one has mentioned Crest of the Stars or Banner of the Stars, especially given the inclusion of Planetes and Cowboy Bebop. Like these two SF series, it does a great job of insiring interest in and identification with the lead characters, but unlike Bebop, (and to a rather lesser extent, Planetes,) Crest/Banner really draws the viewer into the feeling of a vastly bigger world happening around and away from the viewpoint characters with a war between multiple star nations.

Without taking the simple path of just labelling one side or the other as ‘the bad guys’ or even implying that anyone involved is less than human or less complex. And it still manages to instill the sense of identification with and desperation of the characters that all the best (anti)war stories do.

59. CaptnEcks
Wed Nov 23, 2011 1:18am Favorite This
Where’s Inuyasha?

60. Geckomayhem
Wed Nov 23, 2011 3:09am 1 Favorite [+]
Cowboy Bebop – definitely agree. Loved it.Paranoia Agent – sounds good; had never heard of it, actually.Gunslinger Girl – heard of it but wasn’t interested; it does sound good, though.Evangelion – bleh; heard bad things about its humanistic, nihilistic views.Ghost in the Shell – I liked the movie and would definitely give it a shot.Mirai Shounen Konan – had never heard of this, but my eight year old daughter saw the picture and knew what it was. >.etty much for good. Might pay to look into what is out there these days, not just the oldschool stuff that has stood the test of time. 😉 My list would include Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Rahxephon and, for two series with way too many episodes to simply sit down and watch, Ranma 1/2 and Dragonball Z. 😀

There simply is just too much out there to watch everything you want. Back in the day, I watched everything in any given season that piqued my interest. These days, there just isn’t enough free time to commit to any given TV shows, anime or otherwise.

61. Geckomayhem
Wed Nov 23, 2011 3:13am Favorite This
Cowboy Bebop – definitely agree. Loved it.
Paranoia Agent – sounds good; had never heard of it, actually.
Gunslinger Girl – heard of it but wasn’t interested; it does sound good, though.
Evangelion – bleh; heard bad things about its humanistic, nihilistic views.
Ghost in the Shell – I liked the movie and would definitely give it a shot.
Mirai Shounen Konan – had never heard of this, but my eight year old daughter saw the picture and knew what it was. Miyazaki does high quality stuff.
Planetes – definitely heard good things about this, but never got around to watching it.
Serial Experiments Lain – I vaguely recall trying to watch this a few years back, but couldn’t get into it.
Denno Coil – no thanks. Gave up after about two episodes. It lacked… fun.
Mononoke – sounds intriguing. Might have to check it out sometime in the next 50 years. 🙂

Good list. I used to watch a lot of anime, but since moving to Japan really gave it up – pretty much for good. Might pay to look into what is out there these days, not just the oldschool stuff that has stood the test of time. 😉

My list would include Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Rahxephon and, for two series with way too many episodes to simply sit down and watch, Ranma 1/2 and Dragonball Z. 😀

There simply is just too much out there to watch everything you want. Back in the day, I watched everything in any given season that piqued my interest. These days, there just isn’t enough free time to commit to any given TV shows, anime or otherwise.

62. any
Wed Nov 23, 2011 6:01am Favorite This
It’s a nice list ( i really should watch mononoke and paranoia’s) but you really seems to appreciate just SF themes…(even when you list the ones you thought you’ve missed: gundam etc.)
Anyway, even if SF-centered, i loved to read it.
My personal list would have included Last Exile of course (i love steampunk sooo much), and maybe Ergo Proxy and Wolf’s Rain …and Death Note too.

just one other note:
you wrote that you wanted to include series “accessible to those mature viewers for whom the scene is new or even completely alien.”
How can Evangelion fit in that description? I surely liked it but the character are such a mess of extremized personalities (they remind my of dostoevsky sometimes) … I’m not sure it fits for an un experienced audience, but tha’s just me!

Thanks for your work again!It was nice to read and think about it!
(ps. sorry for my english, it’s getting a bit rusty)

63. Jammrock
Wed Nov 23, 2011 7:40am Favorite This
Serial Experiments Lain … really? That show was so boring. Bleh.

Replace that with The Vision of Escaflowne (the real Japanese version and not the bastardized one they butchered for American TV) and you’ve got a pretty good list.

The rest I either agree with or haven’t seen so I can’t commen, but if it were my list I would add The Record of Lodoss War somewhere. That is probably the best anime title from the 90’s.

64. HTD
Wed Nov 23, 2011 9:15am Favorite This
If you are trying to show people who have a preconceived notion about anime a show that will entice them in, my usual plan of action is to show them something serious like Monster or Twelve Kingdoms.

I showed a girl Monster and she ended up watching the entire series over the course of 4 days and gushed over how awesome it was.

65. Ann_louise
Sat Nov 26, 2011 2:11pm Favorite This
The first Fullmetal Alchemist – because it made me care more about it’s characters than most live-action shows ever could.

And I know it’s not an immortal classic by any means, but Record of Lodoss War is still endearing for doing its Tolkien-esque thing with complete sincerity, accompanied by one of the best themes ever done by Yoko Kanno.

66. Levine
Sun Nov 27, 2011 9:27pm Favorite This
That list if flawed.

Heroic Age, Escaflowne, Last Exile, Raxephon, Shura no Toki.

These you should watch before you die.

67. socrates187
Tue Nov 29, 2011 11:04am Favorite This
Inuyasha!! I love the titles in your list and I think some of the comments add some good ones. … but how can you not include INUYASHA? Based on the Manga series it lasted 167 episodes and was truly epic, it also spawned 4 movies. If people here like Full Metal Alchemist I think you will really enjoy Inuyasha, if you are more of Cowboy Beebop fan I think you’ll still appreciate the battles of good and evil but some of the relationship stuff will probably feel “little kiddy.” I think everyone will enjoy the art work in this fantastic series.

I would also recommend the Guyver series of movies, maybe not a top ten all-time canidate but some darn good anime. (warning: Guyver definately reaches adult levels of violence and gore, ok for a well adjusted teen in my opinion but not something good for little kids to see.)

Any Gundam fans? There are so many spin off series I haven’t even seen them all but the ones I have seen are pretty good Sci-fi Robo/Space themes.

Don’t know if anyone mentioned Trigun, but that is another good Sci-fi Western series I have enjoyed. I do think Gunslinger Gril is better though in general.

Hope you all like my recommendations.

68. allisonb56
Sat Dec 3, 2011 8:05pm Favorite This
Fullmetal Alchemist is the show that turned me from being a turn-up-my-nose-at-anime person to a wow-anime-is-awesome freak, so I definitely think it should be on here!

69. —
Sat Dec 10, 2011 2:50pm Favorite This
“I should be trying to convert non-anime fans by subjecting them to 12 hours of Lucky Star?”

Did that and it was hilarious
(the person in question now watches series like bebop or azumanga so it was a success!)

70. Rubi-kun
Mon Dec 12, 2011 6:20pm Favorite This
One small error in the article: Speak Like a Child is episode 18 of Bebop, not 17. 17 is Mushroom Samba (which can also serve as a successful introductory episode, though not as representative of the whole show).

The original Fullmetal Alchemist is definitely worthy of this list. At 52 episodes it may be more of a commitment to watch the whole thing, but really, after episode 3 I don’t know how anyone can not want to know what happens next.

Kino’s Journey is incredibly underrated and definitely appealing to a wider audience than just anime fans. If you like arthouse films or The Twilight Zone, you’ll probably like Kino.

Fruits Basket was one of the first anime my family really got into. Now it might not be for everyone and the shojo artstyle might put some people off but the show will make you laugh and cry and feel really good about life. A must-watch perhaps most for tweens/teens, particularly girls, but their parents if they give it a chance should be able to appreciate it too.

Big O, the first season at least, is very high on the accessibility scale even though it’s not the greatest show in the world and thus perhaps not “should see before you die” territory. Batman with giant robots. Who can’t enjoy that?

And FLCL, of course.

71. Tomoya
Sun Dec 18, 2011 3:59pm Favorite This
I’ll mention this and tell me what you think of it if you watched it. Koi Kaze; I feel it’s fantasic and definitely not typical. It’s characters are real and then not so much. I can’t describe the feeling it gave me properly. Closed minds be warned.

72. dasragon
Wed Dec 21, 2011 6:25pm Favorite This
i’m disappointed to see so little people mention Code Geass, it definitely mathes that list’s quality and intention, as well as Gurren Laggan, even thought it depends a bit on the anime tropes, etc…also i’d like to throw in a very obscure one, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

73. Colin P
Sat Dec 31, 2011 1:15pm Favorite This
Tim, Really enjoyed the two lists you created (tv and film). (and from comments)

I have a really hard time finding ‘new’ anime that is of a higher calibre. Nothing beats an anime (or movie) that keeps you thinking about it after the credits roll…

74. Garcia
Sun Jan 1, 2012 12:56am Favorite This
Last Exile.

75. Bibliotropic
Mon Jan 2, 2012 12:03pm Favorite This
Definitely a good list, and though I hate to be a naysayer, I kind of feel like I should point out that like anything else, anime depends largely on taste. Personally I would say that Yami no Matsuei is one that most people should take the time to watch, but for people who don’t enjoy a dark tale of the supernatural, that might not carry much weight. Ditto Wolf’s Rain (post-apocalyptic setting) or Juuni Kokki (historical fantasy). Fantastic shows, all, but there are plenty of people they wouldn’t appeal to no matter how good they are. I could never get into Cowboy Bebop, for instance.

Definitely want to give Denno Coil a watch, and Mononoke is on my To Watch list. They both seem pretty awesome.
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Ten Anime Series You Should See Before You Die


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