To say that Ghost in the Shell is a great anime undersells it's contributions to the entertainment medium. It's one of the most revolutionary advancements in the cyberpunk genre and even gave birth to popular Western cyberpunk franchises like The Matrix. In that regard, there's nothing quite like Ghost in the Shell whether we're talking about the original film or the Stand Alone Complex anime.
Even the Hollywood rendition for Ghost in the Shell fell short of expectations, proving once and for all that it's tough to replicate such a masterpiece. Hence, we turn our gaze to similar anime that handle the same iconography and atmosphere as Ghost in the Shell's. They're not as impactful, of course, but they work well to satiate your appetite for more cyberpunk/noir crime anime.
10 Cowboy Bebop
Each episode of Cowboy Bebop is a carefully painted artwork and most of them don't exactly continue the narrative of the last episode. Still, it's one of the best anime that even non-anime fans can start with. Unlike most anime, Cowboy Bebop has a more Western feel to it, which is similar to how Ghost in the Shell handles its story.
Cowboy Bebop takes the viewers on a sci-fi bounty hunter romp with poor and hungry bounty hunters nonetheless as they run around from adventure to adventure trying to get by. It's not as dark or serious as Ghost in the Shell, but it still deals with certain issues involving morality and existentialism all in a sci-fi flavor.
One of the closest anime to Ghost in the Shell would be Appleseed. In fact, it's from the same creator, so it also deals with the humanity of machines and the inhumanity of humans. That would be the film released back in 2004. Since then, Appleseed has grown its own cult following and has had an anime called Appleseed XIII and several more films.
Anyway, Appleseed follows the tragic story of the female warrior and war survivor Deunan Knute. Knute, upon surviving the Global War, finds out that her once human partner got turned into a cyborg due to his war injuries. The two of them try to make it work in their new and ruined world while uncovering and solving a conspiracy along the way.
8 Bubblegum Crisis
Bubblegum Crisis is like a mix of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell; basically, two of the best anime in the 1990s, except Bubblegum Crisis actually came first and aired back in 1987. Bubblegum Crisis' story centers around the Knight Sabers, a group of female mercenaries who don exoskeletons that basically make them super-powered.
They are tasked with taking care of their society's problems, which usually come in the form of rogue robots. It sounds very Power Rangers, but, make no mistake, Bubblegum Crisis is full of raw emotions and drama; it handles character deaths particularly well and maturely.
For a cyberpunk romp filled with skin-tight black suits and heavy consequence-laden decisions that characters have to make, Gantz can be quite a familiar setting if you're coming from Ghost in the Shell. The protagonists essentially died and were brought back to life by a mysterious black sphere known as "Gantz."
Afterward, they now have to play a depraved and rather brutal video game and have to play along with Gantz's rules and orders. If they play well enough and don't die within Gantz, they can choose to keep going with a shiny loot reward from Gantz or go back to Earth to live their boring lives. It's a tough call.
6 Darker Than Black
Darker than Black might look like your typical starter anime due to the art style, but don't be fooled, it can be quite confusing. Much of this stems from how the showrunners handle the narrative where up-front exposition is not exactly their concern.
Instead, you're merely watching in the backseat instead of a tour where the driver is the protagonist, Hei, a contractor in Tokyo who works for the Syndicate in order to find his missing sister. It all takes place in a world ravaged by a catastrophic war that only unveils itself the more you watch the anime.
Another cyberpunk anime that predates Ghost in the Shell is Akira, released back in 1988. It's worth watching even if you haven't seen Ghost in the Shell yet, as it's just a two-hour-long movie. Nevertheless, Akira will show you just how much animators can achieve with the old-fashioned pen and pencil method.
It has the animations to rival even today's anime. Meanwhile, the story and the world are breathtaking as well with the way it handles corporate greed, tyranny, and the general state of dystopian Tokyo. The tone comes quite close to what Ghost in the Shell sets.
4 Serial Experiments Lain
The shocking thing about Serial Experiments Lain is that it somehow explored social isolation and disconnection from reality long before social media even became mainstream. Serial Experiments Lain is about the protagonist, Lain Iwakura, who gets introduced to "The Wired," basically the internet but more powerful, as it can potentially alter physical reality.
Of course, it's not as simple as that. Serial Experiments Lain has one of the most complex stories out of all the anime in this list and can never really be summed up in a paragraph or a sentence. So, do the show some justice and get ready to tangle brain lobes because you're in for a crazy ride.
The world which Psycho-Pass built is similar to what the Hollywood film, Minority Report created. The plot centers around the "Sibyl System," a standard used to measure a person's state of mind and personality. It's a system that law enforcement uses to track down and catch potential criminals, like in Minority Report.
In that regard, Psycho-Pass is a cop buddy anime/drama involving two law enforcement officers with a past as they entangle themselves into a criminal conspiracy plot to destroy the Sibyl System.
2 Terror In Resinance
Terror in Resonance is mostly a crime drama involving cybercrime acrobatics and bombing acts and plots... in the subway. You'll also want to watch it as it was made by the creators of Cowboy Bebop, meaning you can expect the same level of detail and animations here.
The twist is that the protagonists are also the antagonists (like in Death Note); it was they who carried out the bombing plot, and what's even more disturbing is that they're only students and teenagers. It's made more interesting when a girl discovers their plot, adding a dilemma to their bomb recipe.
1 Ergo Proxy
One look at Ergo Proxy and you'll easily see the Ghost in the Shell resemblance, almost like it was made to look like the little sister of that title. Ergo Proxy, however, cranks up the philosophical themes to 11 and can leave you scratching your head with your mouth agape, assuming you can endure the slow pacing.
The story revolves around Re-l Mayer and her android partner, Iggy, as they investigate what's causing an android plague in their domed post-apocalyptic city. As you might have guessed, they end up unearthing a conspiracy, one that involves the sins of humanity. Who'd have guessed that the humans messed everything up again?
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