There are a variety of reasons to love comics, and it’s easy to see why they have such massive fan appeal. Whether it’s the compelling storylines, the dynamic characters, art style or the action scenes, comic books remain a powerful medium through which dynamic stories can be told and strong messages delivered. But, there is also another underrated art form that can produce the same kind of impact: Anime.
Yes, shows like “Dragon Ball Z” and “Pokemon” are examples of popular anime series... but they're just cartoons for kids, right? Wrong. Just as every comic is not suited for children, there are a variety of anime out there suited for a wide array of audiences. Like comics, it is a unique art that has the ability to tell powerful stories and deliver strong messages, explore themes like social class and idealism and challenge the morals of its characters. Plus, it has some of the best action you’ll find anywhere, and some of the most interesting and unique powers around. The battles found in anime can match some of the biggest brawls in Marvel and DC Comics, and even exceed them.
However, with the large amount of anime available, how does one go about starting or discovering a new series? How do you know if an anime series is the right fit for you? To help you out, CBR has compiled a list of 15 anime series that would be enjoyable and engaging for comic readers. The series listed are ones that, unlike "Pokemon," are geared towards older audiences, and have gained immense popularity while making a lasting impact on the anime community as a whole. Many of these series are fan-favorites to this day, and are shows that can easily find a similar appeal to comic fans looking to explore different avenues of storytelling.
With that being said, let’s take a look (in no particular order) at some of the more engaging -- and simply awesome -- anime that comic fans definitely need to check out.
15 Darker Than Black
Imagine a science-fiction espionage mystery series where detectives and special agents carry out covert black op missions and have special powers to help them in the process. That is “Darker Than Black” in a nutshell.
The series takes place in a world of espionage where, due to a mysterious appearance of spatial anomalies in certain parts of the world, a group of special people find themselves imbued with supernatural powers that are hidden from the rest of society. These people, known as "Contractors," are hired by various organizations and agencies to carry out special covert black ops missions, which range from espionage to assassination. The series follows a Chinese Contractor named Hei as he carries out various missions for an organization based in Tokyo known as the Syndicate, whose overarching goal remains a mystery.
Outside of the interesting premise of the series, “Darker Than Black” separates itself from other supernatural-related series in that its powers are not something one can use without cost; for every superpower a character has, there is a price for using it. Whether that cost is physical or mental harm to their own body or some other form of consequence, using your powers runs a calculated risk. Coupled with an espionage setting, the 25 episodes of “Darker Than Black” exist as an intense sci-fi mystery that is well worth the time for fans looking for a good thriller series.
14 Naruto/Naruto Shippuden
Set in a world where supernaturally-powered ninjas are commonplace, “Naruto” is a series for those looking for a great blend of fantasy action and classic martial arts. If viewers are interested in seeing ninjas run on water and breath fire, "Naruto" could be right up their alley.
Based on the manga by Masashi Kishimoto, the series follows the titular character, Naruto Uzumaki, a young ninja trained in the Hidden Leaf Village who is on a quest to claim the title of Hokage, an official designation given to the highest ranking shinobi in the village. To do so, he must overcome various battles, trials and tribulations while battling the immensely powerful demon sealed within him at birth and developing his own skills as a ninja. He is not alone, however, as he is joined by his fellow teammates and shinobi colleagues looking to make their mark for the sake of the Hidden Leaf Village.
There is no understating the long-running popularity of this series, which was so long that it was broken up into two parts. Part II of the anime, titled “Naruto: Shippuden,” takes place two and a half years after the conclusion of Part I. As a whole, the “Naruto” series, which spawned over 220 episodes in Part I and 478 episodes in Part II, is one of the most popular mainstream anime series today. It has gained a massive cult following akin to that of “Dragon Ball Z,” particularly in Western countries like the United States. When it comes to fight scenes, emotional moments, an engaging plot and overall creativity, this series is a worthwhile investment for any comic book reader looking to dive into anime.
For anyone looking for a series with great action, cool abilities and plenty of sword fighting, with a traditional Japanese motif, “Bleach” is the series for you. Based on the popular manga by Tite Kubo and one of the other popular long-running series, “Bleach” centers on 15-year old Ichigo Kurosaki, an orange-haired high school student with the ability to see ghosts from a young age. His powers may be a little abnormal, but they are nothing he can’t live with. That is, until he meets a mysterious black-robed stranger wielding a sword by the name of Rukia Kuchiki, who calls herself a Soul Reaper (or Shinigami in traditional Japanese folklore). While hunting a mysterious creature known as a Hollow, Rukia is critically injured, and Ichigo’s family is put in harm’s way. To save them, he absorbs Rukia’s power and becomes a Shinigami himself, and is tasked with the duties of ferrying souls to the afterlife and combating the threats to the living world. As a Shinigami, Ichigo must now traverse the various threats outside of the human world to protect his friends and family.
While “Bleach” is similar in some aspects to “Yu Yu Hakusho,” it does not make it any less enjoyable. In fact, it gained immense popularity in Western countries, and was praised for its character designs, action sequences and quirky characters. Consisting of 366 episodes, the series is well-known for its supernatural elements and the unique abilities associated with each character. “Bleach” is a series that is not short on epic moments of action, and is often one of the most underrated when compared to other series of its kind.
12 My Hero Academia
A new series that is very much based on superhero comics, “My Hero Academia” is a series that is still in the process of gaining traction, but has quickly picked up steam; deservedly so.
The series takes place in a modern world where, as a result of an unknown circumstance decades prior, the majority of the living population is imbued with special abilities, referred to as “quirks.” There are a wide variety of quirks among the population, with some being more useful for different situations than others. The main character, Izuku Midoriya, is one small segment of the population that does not have a quirk, but dreams of one day becoming as great a hero as his idol All Might. But his luck changes when All Might himself deems him worthy of inheriting his quirk “One For All,” which allows Izuku to enroll at U.A. Academy, one of the most prestigious schools for the next generation of heroes. The series centers on Izuku and his class as they learn the different aspects of what it truly means to be a hero.
Based on the manga by Kohei Horikoshi, the series recently aired its first 13-episode season back in March, with a second series already confirmed. While the series itself has only been running for two years, it is one that takes heavy influence from the world of comics. From its art style to its characters, "My Hero Academia" is a series that -- while on the surface, might look generic to some -- is one that is worth taking the time to watch. The manga itself has only 108 chapters and is much farther along than the anime. This is definitely a show worth investing in.
11 Code Geass
Imagine a futuristic world where the United States of America grew into an almighty empire and conquered various countries across the globe, stripping their names and designating them as “Areas.” Not only that, the people of those countries are no longer defined by their ethnicities or cultures, but by their area number designation.
Such is the world of “Code Geass,” which is centered in the Holy Britannian Empire’s "Area 11," the region formerly known as Japan. The series follows an exiled Britannian prince, Lelouch vi Britannia, who obtains a mysterious power known as "Geass" from an equally mysterious woman. Geass gives him the ability to compel anyone to follow his commands. Enthralled by his sudden power, Lelouch sets out on an elaborate journey of vengeance to topple the Britannian Empire once and for all.
The series, which spanned 50 episodes, has received much acclaim since its 2006 debut, with many praising its dynamic characters (especially Lelouch) and mature themes, which range from issues of social class conflict to political supremacy. Unlike other series with a standard protagonist, the main character is not your typical hero; he often makes viewers question his methods, and if he is someone they can truly root for in the end. In that way, he is comparable to someone like Jason Todd’s Red Hood character in comics. If you enjoy gripping thrillers that keep you on the edge of your seat with unexpected twists and unpredictable plot lines, this is the series for you.
10 Big O
For those who were fans of the 1992 “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Big O” is a classic anime series worth checking out, especially if you can’t get enough of characters like Bruce Wayne or James Bond.
Spanning 13 episodes, the series is set in a place called Paradigm City and follows a detective by the name of Roger Smith, a top-notch negotiator who is employed by the city for various purposes. In certain situations, Smith calls upon Big O, a giant mech suit he pilots to accomplish work in his line of duty. Aided by his personal assistant Dorothy Wayneright and butler Norman Roger is led through a plot that revolves around an investigation of why every citizen in Paradigm City seems to have lost their memories at the same time.
Despite the success of several similar series in the late '90s, “Big O” was not as big a hit in the United States as it was in Japan, but it gained a lot of popularity in other Western countries. One of the likely reasons for this was its heavy influence from Batman. Smith himself is a shining example of this; his persona closely matches that of Bruce Wayne, and his methods in accomplishing his goals are eerily similar. From the technology at his disposal right down to his Alfred Pennyworth-esque butler in Burg, Smith is the epitome of Gotham’s richest man and caped vigilante. The inclusion of a giant battle mech only serves to heighten the anime appeal of the series. For those who enjoy reading Batman's caped crusade, “Big O” is a perfect gateway into anime.
9 Cowboy Bebop
Picture a gripping crime-noir story in space with one of the coolest and smoothest fictional characters you’ll ever have the pleasure of watching, and you have the critically acclaimed “Cowboy BeBop” in a nutshell.
In 2071, humanity has managed to colonize the planets and moons of the solar system and developed quick interdimensional travel between them. The story centers on Spike Spiegel, a smooth-talking bounty hunter aboard the starship Bebop, as he traverses the solar system in search of criminal bounties. He is joined by his partner Jet Black, the enigmatic con-artist Fae Valentine, eccentric hacker Edward Wong, and a genetically engineered Welsh Corgi by the name of Ein. The series focuses on this group of outcasts as they travel aboard the Bebop seeking to fill their pockets while each character must face the ghosts from his or her respective past.
“Cowboy BeBop” received universal critical acclaim, and is often hailed by many as the greatest anime series of all time. Making its debut in 1997, it set the stage for anime’s popularity in the West, with the art for its time being unlike any other series before it. While the plot itself is mostly episodic in nature, the series’ mature themes of solitude and isolation abound, making each one feel like its own complex journey. The heavily jazz-influenced soundtrack is also one of the best viewers are likely to hear from any anime series. With only 25 episodes, “Cowboy BeBop” is hailed as a modern classic and should be well known among comic and anime fans alike.
8 Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
For all of the cyberpunk and sci-fi comic fans, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” is calling to you.
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow and spinning off from the success of the 1995 “Ghost In The Shell” film, this series is set in a futuristic Japan where much of the population has been equipped with cybernetic bodies, including the brain. As a result, many crimes committed often include the act of hacking into people’s bodies and other forms of cyber-terrorism. The main focus of this 52-episode series is on Major Makoto Kusanagi, a woman with a fully cybernetic body working as a member of Public Security Section 9, an elite black ops cybernetic team focused on stopping cybernetic terrorist threats.
The series, which has been well-received for its animation quality and soundtrack, is among one of the most unique of its kind. With good sci-fi action in a cyberpunk setting, “Ghost In the Shell” is a franchise that manages, despite the amount of action and politics within the series, to address the ideas surrounding this highly futuristic world, and just where our world is currently heading. For those fans who enjoy a good cyberpunk setting with plenty of sci-fi action and intrigue, “Ghost In The Shell” is worth your time.
7 Death Note
For those who adhere to the famous quote “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword,” a series like “Death Note” is best described by such methods and well worth the time.
Consisting of 37 episodes and based off of the best-selling manga by Tsugumi Ohba, the series focuses on high school student Light Yagami, a kid who is exceptional for his age and makes top grades in school, but who also feels unaccomplished and powerless in his life. That is, until he comes across a strange, black notebook known as the Death Note, which has the ability to kill anyone whose name Yagami writes in it. With his newfound power, Yagami sees fit to make it his personal quest to “become God” and rid the world of all evil. But, as the string of mysterious deaths increases, a top investigator known as "L" is assigned to apprehend the culprit responsible.
A gripping tale of suspense, “Death Note” is a thrilling psychological series that makes intriguing inquiries about morality and the actions one takes. Yagami’s development from the start of the series is arguably one of the most compelling and debated to date, as his actions continually make viewers question whether his approach is truly justified. Just like Lelouch from “Code Geass,” Yagami is more of a Red Hood type of character; or perhaps better, anime's version of Walter White in “Breaking Bad."
6 Yu Yu Hakusho
For those comic readers who enjoy solid martial arts or brawling style heroes like Luke Cage, Daredevil,or Iron Fist, Yu Yu Hakusho should quickly become a favorite.
Based on the manga series by Yoshihiro Togashi, the series centers on 14-year-old Yusuke Urameshi, a delinquent middle schooler who isn’t very good at much, apart from getting into street fights on a nearly daily basis. His street fighting days take a turn when he leaps in front of a speeding car to save a child’s life and dies in the process. Luckily, his unselfish action does not go unnoticed, as his soul is taken to the Underworld by Botan and presented to Koenma, who judges recently-departed souls and gives Yusuke a second chance at life. Once he returns to the world of the living, he is named a Spirit Detective and charged with investigating supernatural cases. To help combat these threats alongside duly-appointed super-powered partners, Yusuke is imbued with supernatural powers.
“Yu Yu Hakusho,” which debuted in 1992 and lasted 112 episodes, is a series that, while not being as over the top as "Dragon Ball Z," is still among one of the most popular action-oriented anime series, particularly when it comes to character development. While Yusuke and his main cohort see positive growth over the course of the series, one of its most underrated aspects is its villains, who challenge Yusuke with both physical and mental battles. If viewers want a story with plenty of action, characters with personality and non-generic villains, “Yu Yu Hakusho” is the answer.
5 Fate Zero/Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works
Imagine you had the ability to summon the great heroic figures of the past like King Arthur, Alexander The Great and Hercules, and have them fight each other. In series like “Fate/Zero” and “Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works,” comic fans will get the opportunity to see just that... and much more.
Based on the visual novel by Type-Moon, the “Fate” franchise is centered in Fuyuki City, Japan, where an event known as The Holy Grail War takes place. During the war, seven selected mages, referred to as "Masters," are selected to face off against one another, and must do so by summoning ethereal beings known as "Servants." These Servants are split into different types of classes, with each assigned to one Master. The last pair left standing is then declared the winner and granted a wish. The series is unique because, like the visual novel on which it is based, it follows various routes. Thus far, “Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works” has been the best received of these animated narratives, chronicling the Fifth Holy Grail war and focusing on mages Rin Tohsaka and Emiya Shirou. “Fate/Zero,” meanwhile, acts as a prequel, focusing on the Fourth Holy Grail War and the events that lead up to the Fifth Holy Grail War.
The “Fate” franchise has received much praise for its action sequences, fantasy elements, unique character development and animation quality. In addition, the series also explores themes and philosophies like idealism and utilitarianism while setting a pretty high standard when it comes to action anime. In that regard, it is nearly unmatched. For comic fans high on action fantasy elements and magic usually associated with characters like Doctor Strange or John Constantine, these series, each of which consists of 25 episodes, will allow fans to delve more deeply into a world of magic and intrigue.
4 Attack on Titan
With humanity on the verge of extinction, it is time to fight back. For comic fans looking for an engaging post-apocalyptic setting, look no further than “Attack on Titan."
Based on the manga by Hajime Isayama, the series is set in a post-apocalyptic period where giant, ravenous beasts known as Titans roam freely with a craving for one thing: human flesh. These Titans have almost entirely wiped out the human population and are nearly unkillable. To avoid extinction, the remainder of humanity sealed itself behind three concentric walls and have waged war against the mysterious creature with a fighting force known as the Survey Corps. “Attack on Titan” follows 15-year old Eren Yeager, who dreams of life outside the walls and joins the Survey Corps with his friends Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert to eradicate the Titans once and for all.
Since its debut in 2013, “Attack on Titan” has become one of the more popular mainstream anime series of all time, lauded for its unique action and its compelling, mysterious storyline. The fantasy elements surrounding the concept of the Titans themselves, coupled with the character development and feelings of hopelessness and tension the series is known for, has only succeeded in heightening its allure. The soundtrack and art style have received their fair share of praise as well. For comic fans who are looking for a good post-apocalyptic series and enjoy seeing combat eerily similar to that of a certain New York-based webslinger, consider joining the Battle for Humanity by checking out “Attack on Titan.”
3 One Punch Man
A parody, if done well, can become a rousing success and gain massive popularity. "One Punch Man” is one such parody that every fan of both anime and comics needs to see.
Based on the web comic by the artist known as ONE and the redrawn manga series by Yusuke Murata, the series follows a character by the name of Saitama, a young adult male who is the physically strongest hero in the series and easily defeats all of his opponents with a single punch. But, because of his overpowered strength, Saitama has become bored with being a superhero. Finding an opponent worthy of fighting has now become his biggest challenge. Once he joins the Hero Association, an organization of heroes registered by the government, Saitama not only gains more recognition, he also comes across monsters, villains and heroes, all of whom make up a rich universe in this eccentric superhero parody.
A series that has been self-published as a webcomic since 2009 and redrawn by Murata since 2012, “One Punch Man” reached unprecedented success once it was animated by Madhouse last year for 13 episodes. From its art and animation quality to the intense action scenes and comedy, the series is a great addition to the superhero genre. Saitama himself spawned much debate across the web, with many putting him in death battles against popular, iconic characters like Goku and Superman. Recently confirmed for season two, “One Punch Man” will have viewers enthralled in the madness that comes with the power of a single punch.
2 Fullmetal Alchemist/Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Set in a world where science and magic are not two separate entities, but are in fact intertwined and tapped into by people who can use this ability freely for a variety of purposes, “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" is, without question, one of the most popular anime series on this list.
Based on the manga by Hiromu Arakawa, the series centers on Edward and Alphonse Elric, two alchemist brothers who, due to a failed attempt to revive their deceased mother, suffer horrific accidents to their bodies. To restore their bodies to normal, the Elric brothers seek the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, an alchemical item said to be powerful enough to restore them. To begin doing so, they join the Amestrian military, with Edward Elric becoming a licensed State Alchemist. But, the two brothers are not the only ones seeking the Stone, as powerful and mysterious forces set their plans in motion against them.
Consisting of 64 episodes, “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” has gained immense popularity for its plot and dynamic characters. This series was particularly interesting in that it spawned two series, with 2005's “Fullmetal Alchemist” adapting a different ending from the manga. The 2009 series, “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood,” follows the manga much more closely and adapts its plotlines. While this does not mean the first series is without merit, “Brotherhood” stays more true to its source material, as it is able to explore complex morals and themes more closely while enjoying an upgrade in its animation style.
1 Hunter X Hunter
The ultimate blend of action and adventure fantasy combined with a little crime noir, “Hunter X Hunter” has a little bit of everything for fans of any comic. Based on the manga series by Yoshihiro Togashi, the same artist who conceived “Yu Yu Hakusho,” "Hunter X Hunter" chronicles the adventures of 12-year-old Gon Freecs, who sets out to become a Hunter in order to find his departed father Ging Freecs. But the world of Hunters is fraught with challenges at every turn, and Gon is going to need every bit of help and cunning he can get. He is joined by allies like Killua Zoldyck, Gon’s best friend, who hails from an elite family of assassins; Kurapika, a young survivor seeking to avenge his clan; and Leorio Paradinight, a young man who seeks to become a well-renowned doctor.
There are a number of things to love about “Hunter X Hunter” -- the character dynamics, the versatile, non-generic plot line, the world-building, the increasingly complex themes. Take your pick. The 2011 adaptation of the anime, overseen by Madhouse Studios, sparked a resurgence of popularity in the series. Spanning 148 episodes, the anime starts off as appearing very child-like, but gradually becomes increasingly more mature and complex, particularly as the plot thickens around our main cast. In terms of action, the power structure displayed in the series is unique when compared even to other series, further separating it from the pack. With everything “Hunter X Hunter” has going for it, there is no question it deserves the top spot on this list.
Which anime series do you feel comic fans would enjoy? Sound off with your picks in the comments!