When it first launched in 1998, Cowboy Bebop’s director Shinichirō Watanabe claimed that it would defy genre, becoming a whole new beast of its own. Well, it looks like he was right because 20 years later, this anime is still talked about and beloved by the world. It's a blend of gritty sci-fi, film noir, and thriller with dark and dense themes that will be touched upon in the below list.
This year, Cowboy Bebop will receive a live-action reboot courtesy of Netflix, meaning it’s the perfect time to not only return to one of the '90’ greatest anime, but to also branch out and see what else is out there for us space cowboys.
10. One-Punch Man
Cowboy Bebop succeeds in two big areas: its stylised and perfectly executed action scenes, and its themes of boredom and existentialism. In all of this, Bebop and One-Punch Man have much more in common.
Saitama, a "hero for fun" who is so grossly overpowered that he can reduce each enemy to a puddle of whatever they’re made of with a single punch, is suffering a big existential crisis. After achieving his dream of being the ultimate hero, what’s left for him each day is a dull slog; there are no obstacles left for him to overcome. On top of this, each obstacle he does face still manages to be an over-the-top spectacle of expertly-directed action shots and intense thrill-of-the-fight battle scenes.
9. Megalo Box
While the live-action reboot of Cowboy Bebop is rejuvenating the '90s beyond the animation sphere, within that sphere we’ve had another kind of '90s nostalgia: Megalo Box. A spiritual successor to '70s darling Ashita no Joe, Megalo Box also pays deep homage to the '90s aesthetic with its art and animation designed to look like it was made with traditional pre-digital cell animation (it wasn’t, but the look is very convincing). The show’s stripped-down story of a boxer rising through the ranks is familiar, but its gorgeous fight scenes and its Mad Max world of junk piles feels right at home next to Bebop’s lawless cowboy sci-fi world.
8. Neon Genesis Evangelion
What is basically the other anime darling of the '90s (not counting shonen shows like Dragon Ball Z and magical girl shows like Sailor Moon), Neon Genesis Evangelion has been in a two-decades-long war with Cowboy Bebop for reigning champion of the '90s. With themes and philosophies that run arguably deeper than those of Bebop, and action scenes that rival it in style and substance, this clever show is very much the yin to Bebop’s yang (or the yang to its yin, if you prefer). You can’t have one without the other. While it may be different in style, it is very similar in tone. They both share brooding characters battling with their demons, lost in a daunting world and making sense of it as best they can.
7. Gurren Lagann
Hailed by many as the mecha anime to end all mecha anime, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a show that harks back to the melodrama fuelled shows of the '90s. This story of a ragtag bunch of down-and-outs with nothing to lose but each other is iconic. They adventure across wastelands and face enemies and challenges far greater than themselves, owing more than a little to the inspiration which bled from Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion. With a post-apocalyptic sci-fi style and aesthetic, this mecha anime may be larger in scope, but it is the perfect follow-up for fans who have just re-familiarized themselves with Bebop.
The biggest, darkest, most inspirational anime film of all time, Akira changed everything. Even the creators of The Matrix have gone on record saying that their movie would not have existed if Akira had not come before it. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single work of Japanese animation more vitally important than this. Beyond that, it’s a gritty, noir, cyberpunk story set in a dark future where the rules are few and the fights are plenty. Meticulously stylised by a team of crack animators, bleeding style and substance, the film shares much in the way of style and theme with our beloved Bebop.
5. Samurai Champloo
A clear and obvious choice, perhaps, given that Samurai Champloo was Bebop director Shinichirō Watanabe’s follow-up show. Released six years after Bebop, in 2004, Champloo has every ounce of the visual style and unique animation flair of its predecessor. While it might be set in feudal Japan rather than future space, absolutely nothing was lost in that shift in time. With an art and direction style that very much harks back to its daddy anime, a boldly chosen hip-hop soundtrack, and a lot of gratuitous gore, Champloo is a more-than-worthy spiritual successor to Bebop’s greatness. The prince wears the crown with grace and style to spare.
4. Ghost In The Shell
A cyberpunk sci-fi aesthetic? Check. Themes of identity, purpose, and existentialism? Check. Looks gorgeous? Check. Ghost in the Shell is everything a Bebop fan could want and vice versa. If you stumbled upon this list as a GitS fan looking for more, then Bebop is your show (as is Evangelion and Akira).
What began as a manga series became a 1995 film, and later a 2002 series titled Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. There is a rich history here, as well as a rich story. Its deep, dark themes, and a soundtrack that is mouth-watering is enough to watch it alone. Everything ambitious and possible in the world of sci-fi anime is epitomized right here. Start with the 1995 film.
Naota, a 12-year-old boy, is run down by a girl called Haruko who rides a Vespa. After saving his life with CPR, she smacks him ‘round the head with her bass guitar. In turn, this opens up a portal which robots occasionally pass through. And so it goes from there.
FLCL (pronounced Fooly Cooly) is an odd story that blends trippy, manic visuals with a story that viewers are constantly running to keep up with, but inevitably fail to catch up to. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride, to say the least, and one which only lasts six episodes. It is a fantastic world to explore after the wonderful adventures of cowboy Spike and Bebop, and it’s a show that deserves more attention.
China today is doing some scary stuff with its surveillance technology; the kind of stuff that Orwell initially envisioned in his magnum opus, 1984; stuff that most of us assumed would stay fiction. If you want to see where this line of thinking takes us, welcome to Psycho-Pass. It's a nasty, dark, gritty, grizzly dystopian noir sci-fi drama. It’s certainly for fans of the tone made famous by Watanabe and his darling child Cowboy Bebop. Although Bebop, at times, leans towards the more charming and fun side of action, it still has a lot to say to get its audience thinking on their place in the world. Psycho-Pass, in that way, is very much the same, but more. Much more.
Can one be so bold as to definitively call something the best manga? No. Absolutely not.
That being said, Berserk is the best manga. It’s also an okay 1997 anime and a terrible 2017 anime. But the (best) manga shares much in common with Bebop, most obviously its melodramatic, gritty, grainy aesthetic, and its brooding tone. Telling the story of Guts, the man who set the Japanese standard of a reasonably-sized man wielding with grace an unreasonably-sized sword, and his mission to find his place in the world. A world that really, really doesn’t like him. Guts is a sad, sorry character wandering a place so grim and gruesome that it played a massive inspirational role in the creation of the setting and style of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls games.