Everyone can find an anime at Paste, and we’re here to help. Because of this, a wide range of viewers, including women and those who identify as LGBT, are effectively ignored when such lists are published. Over half of North American participants at anime conventions are female, therefore it’s not surprising that these two subcultures have their own separate, specialized societies. So why do lists like this exclude anime made by women, for women, from their selections?? Why can’t anime be appreciated by males, too?
The process of compiling this list allowed me to reflect on my own aesthetic preferences and taste. I’ve always been a fan of shoujo, but when I thought of the best anime of all time, only programs featuring male protagonists sprung into my head. The problems of a man are a common theme in prestige anime, which tends to exclude a wide range of viewers and create an echo chamber of unassailable taste among enthusiasts. These anime are fantastic, and you’ll find many of the anticipated choices on this list. However, I made an effort to include some of the best examples of each genre. Regardless of one’s age, gender, or sexual orientation, there is a show for everyone. Whether it’s a slice-of-life show or a high-octane action flick, practically everyone may be seen in one way or another in these anime.
Animation is a rapidly changing medium, and we want to keep pace with it. Newcomers to the world of anime will find this list a great place to start, as it includes a wide range of titles that are both accessible and hard. If you find something you like, please let us know.
1. Cowboy Bebop
Is Shinichiro Watanabe’s science fiction masterwork Cowboy Bebop the peak of anime? This is a semantic argument. It’s a fact. One of the most successful and well-known fusions of cyberpunk, western atmosphere, martial arts action, and noir cool ever created in a seinen film. Many people can identify with the film’s existential and traumatizing undertones. Despite their flaws, the characters radiate coolness. Its vision of the future is ethnically diverse and uncannily accurate. The English dub, which features some of the best full-time voice actors in the United States, manages to match the quality of the Japanese-subtitled original. For a series that ran for 26 episodes, it was near-perfect. The show’s filler episodes are short, taut, and serve the show’s thesis even as they don’t detract from its main plot, which is engaging but not overwhelming. It’s simple enough for new players to pick up, and it continues to reward seasoned players with each subsequent play. The jazz-infused music and soundtrack by Yoko Kanno are works of art in and of themselves. The opening titles of this film are flawless. It’s not a reworked version of an existing work. Despite the fact that this is Watanabe’s debut series as a director, it feels like a monumental work of art. As an anime, let alone as a piece of art, it deserves to be counted among the greatest ever produced. It is with much anticipation that we await a new challenger. Nobody is holding their breath here. —John Maher, Jr.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Because Brotherhood is so beloved by so many, it’s easy to understand why. Brotherhood, the new film adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s hugely successful comic series, is more loyal to the manga’s original manga series than the initial film adaptation. In addition, the show is well-paced, with arcs that connect to each other and form a larger global story around selected subjects that are well-developed. There’s nothing too long or too short about Brotherhood, which shows that the conventions of the shounen genre are infinitely adaptable.
It’s no surprise that Brotherhood has a large cast, with characters from a variety of countries and backgrounds, and the show uses these moving forces to form factions, alliances, and foils that flow in multiple directions, mimicking the often messy, always chaotic nature of human relationships in wartime. Two alchemical brothers, Ed and Alphonse Elric, supported by the dictatorial Amestris military, are the emotional center of this show. Ed and Alphonse rapidly discover how deep Amestris’ dictatorship extends in this military drama.
A strong suit of Brotherhood rests in its sensitivity to the struggles of its diverse cast of characters, particularly those who identify as minorities or women, as well as the consequences of their choices and actions. In an attempt to bring their recently deceased mother back to life, Ed and Alphonse break the rules of prohibited alchemy. Winry, a childhood buddy who became an emergency midwife, is later depicted as a hero. Amestris exterminated the indigenous Ishvalans during a colonial war, and Scar is one of the last living members of this ethnic group. Scar’s quest has become increasingly poignant as we go farther into a post-terror world. Because it avoids cliché in order to make important points about human consciousness, the series remains to be awe-inspiring even now. Texas-based writer Austin Jones
3. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is well-known to the general public, whether it’s because of the abundance of branded items or the recurrent mentions in popular culture. For a show as well-known as Evangelion, the way we talk about it is constantly changing. However, after being hailed at first as an insightful parody of Gundam and Macross-era mechs as merchandise, the franchise quickly grew out of control and was overrun with filler material, just like the merchandise melodramas it was meant to parody.
Nevertheless, Evangelion’s cultural overlay can be found anywhere from Persona 3 to Gurren Lagann, making it a phenomenon that seems to go beyond the show’s actual text.. Hideaki Anno, the original creator of the franchise, has lost control over its expansion and has subsequently predicted the end of anime as we know it, previously remarking that Japan’s animation industry is “moving by inertia.” Texas-based writer Austin Jones
4. Revolutionary Girl Utena
In Kunihiko Ikuhara’s masterpiece Revolutionary Girl Utena, Kunihiko Ikuhara pierces the heart and soul of the shoujo genre. Utena is a post-structural investigation of lesbian identity and generational trauma via a surrealist perspective and romantic, heart-warming settings, inspired by Riyoko Ikeda’s key works and the famed all-female theater troupe Takarazuka Revue. To meet the prince who saved her as a child, Utena Tenjou, a 12-year-old middle schooler, dreams of becoming a royal. With her unwavering commitment to protecting other women, she has charmed the female student population at her school (which could be a Grecoman city-state with its own all-powerful student council and intertwining political processes). Having saved Anthy, the garden’s caregiver, from her abusive boyfriend, Utena finds herself entangled in a series of battles for her possession, which ultimately has the unintended consequence of reshaping the entire universe.
In order to portray the fluctuating, intertwining psychological profiles and taboo aspirations of the show’s key cast, the show effectively uses stock footage and repetition. Utena, like its fellow ’90s pioneers Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion, has made its mark on anime history with its decadent symbolism. Texas-based writer Austin Jone
You’ve never seen anything like like FLCL before, whether it’s an anime or not. From the band The Pillows, it has a fantastic Japanese alt-rock music. It is a fast-paced piece of work. It features characters who are either crazy, moody, or despondent. That a little boy’s injured skull sprouts robots, signaling the return of a powerful extraterrestrial creature, is all that matters in the end. For series director Kazuya Tsurumaki, none of that matters. The difficulty in understanding FLCL should not be an issue in the game, he stated in a comment thread on Production IG once. In my opinion, the constant presence of a rock guitar sound throughout the event provides a shortcut to gaining an understanding of it. Keep it up, bro. I’m not sure whether you’ve heard, but
6. Tatami Galaxy
It’s hard to choose just one film from Masaaki Yuasa’s body of work to include here, but Tatami Galaxy from 2010 is the quintessential work of the director. The characters speak with a rapidity that would make Aaron Sorkin blush, the style is lovingly surreal, and the subject matter is delightfully banal. In Tatami Galaxy, our protagonist (who is left unidentified) joins college, grows disillusioned, meets a girl and a boy his fate is indivisibly connected to, and something dreadful happens, causing the reset of his college life. Haruki Murakami fans, those who have experienced a deep sense of dread, or those who simply like beautiful animation will all enjoy Tatami Galaxy. Tatami Galaxy rewards repeated viewings and shimmers with an incredible reality that makes the show’s loop feel like a recurrent voyage through Dante’s vision of hell. The fact that Yuasa managed to squeeze so much content into a 20-minute time period is something to be admired. Texas-based writer Austin Jones
7. Aku No Hana
Aku No Hana is most likely not going to be to your taste. At the very least, not at the beginning. The play, which derives its title from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, is proudly twisted in its allusions to both his work and that of his contemporaries, Arthur Rimbaud. Baudelaire was the most disturbed of his Romantic friends, battling drinking, mounting debts, and syphilitic lunacy, all of which contributed to his demise. Kasuga, a 12-year-old middle school student in modern-day Japan, felt him relevant in some way. When a fellow outcast, Nakamura, sees Kasuga masturbating, he blackmails him into forming a twisted connection with him. Aku No Hana, on the other hand, is a sickeningly awful bildungsroman about teenagers who are unable to conform and the mismatch between personal desires and social currency that results from that inability.
Aku No Hana uses a polarizing rotoscope animation style to create a film that plays with dismal imagery to emphasize the desperation of its characters. The result is a film that is both nauseous and beautiful at the same time. This film will leave you feeling both disturbed and very seen. Its revelation resides in what we desire to hide about ourselves, about the shadowy aspect of our psyche. That darkness has a life-affirming quality to it. Texas-based writer Austin Jones
8. DRAGON BALL Z
With Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama’s place as one of anime’s best creators was all but assured in every practical manner. Son Goku’s escapades in his quest to acquire all seven of the mystical dragon balls, loosely based on the classic Chinese epic Journey to the West, inspired generations of manga artists and animators in Japan. The first series was a classic, but it was Dragon Ball Z that made the franchise a worldwide hit. Even now, Dragon Ball Z remains a pillar of the martial arts action anime genre thanks to its hyper-kinetic violence, showy energy strikes, dizzying displays of mass destruction, and suspenseful sequences of serial escalation. Theodore Egan
For more than two decades, the literary community both inside and outside of Japan has revered Naoki Urasawa as one of the most important manga writers of our time. He has written some of the most elaborately structured, character-driven and experimental comics ever published. Because of this, one of the greatest anime series ever produced has been based on Urasawa’s fifth serialized manga, Monster, which is one of his most well-known works outside of Japan. While the 74-episode storyline unfolds methodically, it never loses its focus and never loses its sense of urgency. As Dr. Kenzo Tenma’s career as a respected brain surgeon crumbles into a desperate manhunt for the man who framed him, so does the story of his fall from grace and his ensuing pursuit of the man who framed him. Take advantage of the opportunity to see this series if you ever get the chance. Theodore Egan
10. Michiko and Hatchin
This anime has everything it needs to become an instant classic: a cross-country road journey, an unstoppable spirit of exploration, a groovy samba score by Brazilian musician Alexandre Kassin, and two of the best female leads in the history of the medium itself. In Sayo Yamamoto’s direction, the show really shines, portraying the unforgiving allure of South America in every moment. Breaking out from prison to find her boyfriend Hiroshi, Michiko Malandro, is the show’s first scene. This woman’s sole point of reference is their adopted daughter Hana. After destroying their home with a motorbike, the two set out across the country in search of the one thing that binds them together.
Michiko and Hatchin is a bawdy story about poverty and exploitation that puts the focus squarely on the female protagonists. It’s one of the few animes that captures the spirit of Cowboy Bebop in its purest form. Nothing but compliments can be said for it. Texas-based writer Austin Jones