A person who says “I don’t enjoy films” is likely to be a philistine, but the term “films” encompasses such a wide range of amusement that the speaker just hasn’t discovered what they like.
The same can be said about anime, which delivers a wide range of nuanced, non-PG-13 thrills in everything from sci-fi epics to family sagas. Anime is widely accepted in Japan, and it’s about time the United States caught up. The older, more sophisticated anime fan can get a taste of what the genre has to offer by checking out this short selection.
1) Cowboy Bebop
Consider watching Cowboy Bebop, which has been hailed as the best anime of all time and is an absolute triumph of television. The series follows four bounty hunters as they travel around the solar system in search of a slew of wanted criminals, all while dealing with poverty, personal vendettas, and existential angst in the process. This wild-west-in-space tale by Shinichiro Watanabe features a jazz soundtrack that’s to die for. You’ll be baffled as to how you ever got by without intergalactic piano improv wars.
For those who love complex character studies and slow-moving drama, this is the entry for you. With enough gore to rival a Victorian tea party, of course. It’s hard to believe Berserk is nearly two decades old and still has such a strong hold on anime fans’ hearts. Mercenary gang The Band of the Hawk and its captain, the invincible and charismatic Griffith, are at the center of the show’s plot. As with Marlowe’s Tamburlaine or Julius Caesar, this is a tale of ascent and collapse that slowly nudges you toward its inevitable conclusion.
However, Mushishi is a fantastic series despite its lack of series-long story arcs, stunning color schemes, and relentless violence. Allegorical stories about Japanese people’s encounters with otherworldly beings known as mushi are interspersed throughout each episode. Even if you can’t decipher their meaning right away, you’ll be soothed by each episode’s calming and contemplative ambiance. Anyone going through an existential crisis should watch this film.
4) Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
The first Ghost in the Shell film had such an impact that it served as an inspiration for The Matrix and pushed cyberpunk to a whole new level of sophistication. In Stand Alone Complex, Motoko “Major” Kusanagi, the cyborg chief of counterterrorism unit Section 9, plots the machinations of the cyborg. When it comes to creating a sci-fi world, it is one of the best. When it comes to this show, you get the best of 24 and Battlestar Galactica in one beautiful package.
5) Puella Magi Madoka Magica
If you’ve ever seen a show like Sailor Moon, you’ve probably seen “mahou shoujo” anime. The usual format is a light-hearted comedy complete with flashy transformations and bombastic villains. Magician of the Magi By rearranging the cliches of the magical girl genre into a terrifying masterpiece, Madoka Magica flips this arrangement on its head. Just though this story of five girls and their battle with witches appears sweeter than thou doesn’t mean it isn’t a Faustian tragedy.
6) Gin Tama
Gin Tama is the lone outlier in this group. This is a comedy, and it’s been going for a long time, unlike the typical 23-26 episodes. What’s the deal with it going on so long? By being both hilarious and bizarre in equal measure. All of it is a masterpiece in comedy timing, and how to convert the simplest act into something that is simultaneously amusing as well as oddly amusing. When Gintoki, a Samurai in Edo-period Japan (which has been taken over by aliens) attempts to pay the rent by doing odd tasks, it goes down like Only Fools and Horses.
7) Paranoia Agent
A mysterious assassin known only as “shonen bat” is killing unrelated people, and strange things are happening on the streets of Tokyo. However, despite its page-turning plot, Paranoia Agent’s main goal is to investigate the characters’ psychological innards, which are frequently splattered on the screen in a beautifully abstract manner. Reality and magic are continually intertwined in this world of magical realism, making it difficult to determine whether or whether the unusual occurrences of each episode are merely symptomatic of a larger collective madness. Unmissable.
8) Neon Genesis Evangelion
Michael Bay’s Transformers films may have been influenced by the mecha genre (huge robots fighting each other up), but its manga and anime creators are a superior species. Neon Genesis Evangelion, a show that oozes intelligence while simultaneously giving everyone with their necessary dose of mecha against monster, is considered in greater regard than any of the others in this group. Known as ‘angels,’ these creatures have proven to be impenetrable save for the Evangelion line of humanoid robots. Incorporating child prodigy pilots with human drama makes for a masterpiece.
9) Attack on Titan
Ninety-nine percent of the human population has been consumed by the titans, and those who left cling to life behind a series of concentric walls to avoid becoming the next human Kit Kats. Does this seem really depressing? It is, in fact. Three young cadets desperate to free humanity from its oppressors star in Attack on Titan, a nonstop rollercoaster of “chomp,” “arrghhh,” and “sob.” Take a look at Band of Brothers, but swap out the Nazis for monstrous beasts who thrive on human flesh. Isn’t for the squeamish.
10) Steins; Gate
A time travel drama may not be for you, but you should give Steins; Gate a shot before you seek medical attention for your dissatisfaction. Okabe Rintaro, the show’s protagonist, is a self-described’mad scientist’ and inventor who gets caught up in a temporal warp that will leave your brain jumbled. Here, the beauty is in the dexterous plot organization and the seamless changes between light and somber tones that make this a truly remarkable film. This is a film that will make you laugh, weep, and most importantly, make you swoon over the entire ensemble.