I have loved anime ever since I was in the fourth grade. I was diagnosed with a pretty serious auto-immune disease, and so I was only allowed to be at school for half days. I would go to my grandparents’ house every afternoon, and there I would have to lay down and rest. Luckily, I was greeted with Batman: The Animated Series, which was then followed by Ronin Warriors. I had never seen something so intense and deep, while portraying such emotion. This spawned my love of anime and it has carried me throughout my life, so for Anime Day, I wanted to drop some of my most cherished films as well (read that one here). Here is my top 15 list of favorite anime series in no particular order.
Hellsing follows the Helsing family as they continue their, now government funded war against the undead. Luckily the family has a secret weapon, the vampire Alucard, who is not some two-bit tenth generation weakling, but instead an original. He is powerful, thoughtful, clever, and above all else, loyal to the Van Helsing clan. With his newly created Police girl, Seras Victoria, Walter, the Van Helsing servant, and the family head, Integra, Alucard defends the nation against threats both domestic and foreign…and he does it like a total badass. This series is so much fun, and the OVAs and Hellsing Ultimate are just as good. If you want something bloody, fun, and full of style, Hellsing is the show for you. Also, it has one of the best characters in modern anime, the maniacal Alexander Anderson, an insane regenerative agent employed by the Vatican to kill Alucard. AND we cannot forget that Hellsing may have the coolest theme song of all time.
Former war photographer Tatsumi Saiga is working for a tabloid, trying to make ends meet after he returned from the war. On a new assignment, he infiltrates a secret fetish club and attempts to photograph their 15-year-old Goddess, Kagura Tennozu. He is attacked and almost killed but is kissed by Kagura which stops his execution. As they torture him, his wounds begin to mysteriously heal, and he begins a quest to rescue Kagura from the clutches of the secret club’s members. The character designs and animation are great and the villains all take on strange abilities, leading to some epic throwdowns. I stumbled onto this series by complete accident and it has quickly become one of my favorites.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When They Cry)
In the summer of 1983, Keiichi Maebara moves to the small, mountain town of Hinamizawa. Here he befriends a group of girls, all spanning multiple ages, and his new life begins. While most of the time things are normal and happy, there are occasional events which cause everyone to become very serious, even ominous. Keiichi is not sure what to make of the strange happenings in the village, and as the increasingly violent events continue, he is thrust into a strange mystery of secrecy, cover-up, and unbelievable murder. This show is so full of twists and turns, including a strange reset feature that starts the story over from the beginning after each climactic “ending for the characters.” Don’t let the character design fool you—the show is unflinching in its insane brutality. I recommend this to everyone I can as it is creepy and unsettling and downright ruthless.
[Read David's full review of Another as part of this year's Hallow-vent Calendar - Ed]
In the famed vein of ninja anime, there are few shows that rally such a positive outcry as Basilisk. This show follows two warring ninja clans who are constantly at war, trying to destroy one another with their most talented and ruthless warriors. The battle will determine the next Shogun so every opportunity is being explored. Each clan has released 10 Elite ninja to battle the other and this war threatens any peace that could exist between them. In the face of this, two star-crossed lovers, one from each clan, try to abscond and be together, but the clans will not hear of it. This ninja tale is full of many things: excellent animation, wonderful voice acting, a compelling story, and a Shakespeare adaptation (Romeo and Juliet). It has everything and is incredibly moving as well as full of extreme action. It is a must-see series.
When discussing anime, it is impossible not to bring up this classic and both critically and publicly loved series. Cowboy Bebop follows the crew of the Bebop, bounty hunters for hire, who operate from their spacecraft in lawless space. Most of the show deals with Spike, the protagonist (a smooth talking former hitman), who is in a constant quarrel with Vicious, Spike’s old partner and a member of the Red Dragon Syndicate, Spike’s previous employers. The show is too big to really lay out a perfect blurb, but it is fun, action packed, stylistic, and has an almost noir sensibility. There is a reason why Cowboy Bebop is so revered: it is an almost perfect series and if you consider yourself an anime fan and you haven’t seen this, you are sorely mistaken. Remedy that problem immediately.
I will probably get some complaints for this one, but this Netflix anime series is absolutely incredible. I have been a fan of the Castlevania videogame franchise since I was a child, and this show really does the game series a service. The show follows the quest for vengeance Count Dracula begins after his wife is burned at the stake by an overzealous and corrupt church. Dracula declares that the country or Wallachia has a year to vacate because in that time, he will amass an army and lay waste to what is left. At the same time, Trevor Belmont, of the once famous vampire-slayer Belmont family, has to reluctantly help a sorceress named Sypha stop the onslaught. After gaining the support of Alucard, Dracula’s son, the trio wages a battle to stop the dark prince before his genocide of Wallachia can be completed. The animation is spellbinding and the writing is full of depth and humor. It has literally everything, and it is such a short series that you can get through the entirety in one or two sittings. In my opinion this is the best Netflix original work that has been released.
Fullmetal Alchemist (Original and Brotherhood)
There may not be a better overall show in all of Television than this series. I know that I tagged both of the series in this, but that is because I fell in love with the show the first go round, and now with Brotherhood fully released (and honestly the superior show), I have to mention it as well. This show follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, both skilled alchemists, who travel the countryside trying to find a way to give Al his body back. He lost his body in an ill-performed alchemic reaction performed by Ed when they were children, and Ed was only just able to attach Al’s soul to a suit of armor. The action and visuals in this show are incredible but the story is what should draw you to it. It is happy and poignant and also brutally heartbreaking. It has everything, including a stellar English voice cast, and should be viewed by anyone…ever.
If you look at anime, not just as an entertainment platform, but also as a vehicle for emotion and philosophical pondering, you should really watch Wolf’s Rain. This beautifully animated series follows four wolves who are searching for their way into paradise by following the scent of the lunar flower. Wolves are believed to have been hunted to extinction, but they exist now by casting illusions to make themselves appear human. They encounter a multitude of obstacles, all while trying to survive in a world that hates them. This series is incredibly moving and poignant, and causes the viewer to examine philosophical ideas such as the afterlife, faith, and our connection to others. Yoko Kanno’s score is also incredible. If you want an emotional roller coaster, this show is for you.
Witch Hunter Robin
This series is a great addition for the October month, as its focus is on craft-users (witches). The show follows Robin Sena, a young but powerful craft user who was raised by the Catholic church and trained to use her power in tracking down other witches and capturing/burning them. She joins the STN-J, a branch of the government tasked with finding and disposing of these witches before their power can grow out of control, causing homicidal madness in a lot of cases. The show, much like Wolf’s Rain, raises some serious questions about accepting things at face value, and about what is considered acceptable to believe. It is animated in beautiful fashion with an impressive score and an incredibly immersive storyline.
As I said at the start, this show is what began my lifelong love of anime. It is considered a classic, but surprisingly it is very hard to find a copy of, at least in the US. Ronin Warriors follows five skilled warriors, gifted with mystical armor and weapons, who stand against the demon-lord of the underworld as he invades this plane of existence. The battle scenes are wonderful, and the storyline becomes emotional and engrossing, while never losing touch with the original tone of the series. It is the oldest series on this list but is a must watch for anyone who enjoys classic anime, as well as samurai themes.
If you are a fan of those anime that are ridiculous and border on slapstick, but shift hard into serious themes at the drop of a hat, Trigun is a perfect show for you. The series is about a man named Vash the Stampede who is known all over the country as a fierce, unstoppable force. As a running gag, every time someone meets and discovers who Vash really is, they have a hard time believing the idiot in front of them is feared by so many. He is silly and awkward and weirdly clumsy. Vash is not actually at fault for most of the destruction in his wake, as he is hunted continuously by bounty hunters. He is traveling, trying to piece together parts of his past and childhood, all while attempting to save everyone in as non-violent a way as possible. It is a true warrior tale, but with a seriously funny edge.
One word describes Samurai Champloo: Attitude. Developed by the same man who created Cowboy Bebop, the show has a similar style of animation and appearance. The series details the journey of three people as the search the countryside for the “samurai who smells of sunflowers.” In the group are Mugen, a vagrant and liberty-loving swordsman of incredible prowess, Jin, a brave and stoic ronin warrior, and Fuu, a brave waitress. The fight scenes in this are choreographed so well and the dialogue is funny and thought provoking. The show has a palpable hip hop edge, similar in feel to Afro-Samurai (a show that almost made this list), and its unique style is a large part of its charm.
This is one of the more beautifully animated series on this list. With a blend of computer generated animation and classic art, Ergo Proxy establishes an environment that is dark and foreboding, and with the use of CGI, the darkness feels three-dimensional instead of flat. The protagonist is Re-L, is a police officer who works to track down an AutoReiv (androids that look human) responsible for numerous murders. While the humans and AutoReivs used to exist peacefully, a strange infection known as the Cogito Virus causes the androids to become self-aware and lash out against humans. Meanwhile, the government has been experimenting on a strange creature known as Proxy, and when it escapes, they will stop at nothing to recapture it, as they believe it holds the key to the salvation of humanity. This show is beautiful to look at and even more fun to watch. It comes across as a mixture of horror and mystery—it reminds me of what would happen if American Horror Story were also a police procedural in the Blade Runner universe.
If you look over lists of the greatest anime series of all time, you will find some commonalities: Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Code Geass. Included in a lot of those lists is Elfen Leid, a strange 13-episode journey that begs us to ask questions of ourselves about the treatment of others and what it really means to be human. The show is about Lucy, a Diclonius (a human-mutant hybrid with telepathic abilities of immense power), who has been kept prisoner and experimented on by a secret government organization. When she escapes, she is shot in the head and falls into the ocean, later to be found by two teenage cousins, Khota and Yuka. Because of her injury, she develops amnesia and a childlike “other” personality they call Nyu. The children are unaware of her tremendous power and take her in to care for her. The show then chronicles what happens as the teens take care of this sometimes powerful, sometimes childlike creature, while the government pulls out all the stops to recapture her, including using other Diclonius to do so. It is sweet and heartwarming, but incredibly violent. This show is definitely worth a watch.
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Image - IMDb (Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood)