For anime, shonen and (to a lesser extent) shoujo tends to be what accrues the most attention. Neither category is a proper “genre”, but more of a demographic target, with shonen aimed at young boys and shoujo aimed at young girls. Seinen, on the other hand, tends to be aimed at young adult males, with more complex themes explored and generally a greater focus on characterization over the action of a shonen series.
Sometimes, certain seinen light novels find their way to the world of anime, providing a necessary break from your Narutos and One Pieces and Dragon Balls. This list examines and ranks some of the best of those series.
When Japan finds itself under attack by beings and creatures from another world, it’s only thanks to the Japanese Self-Defense Force that they’re able to push these alternate world forces back and maintain peace. However, in the aftermath, they’re stuck with a Gate to another world in the middle of their country. Gate tells the story of a JSDF group sent to investigate this strange new world, running into everything from magic to demigoddesses and elves. It’s a simple enough idea, crossing high fantasy over with the modern-day and seeing whether their magic or our technology is better, but Gate manages to make it work because of its charming cast members.
9 CAT PLANET CUTIES
As one might expect of a series called “Cat Planet Cuties” on a list that’s like this the series is actually a lot better than it sounds. Admittedly though, it starts out as cliché as possible - a nondescript protagonist named Kio Kakazu winds up living with Eris, an alien girl with cat ears. But instead of settling for being your average boring harem, Cat Planet Cuties plays up its strangeness as much as possible. There’s drawn-out battles between all the different alien species in the series, and tons of references to science fiction from other forms of media from Red Dwarf to Star Trek.
8 ALDERAMIN ON THE SKY
Ikta Solork is a young man who’s more interested in being a librarian than being on the battlefield, but his country the Katvarna Empire just happens to be locked in an endless war with the Republic of Kioka. Alongside his childhood friend Yatorishino Igsem, an invincible swordswoman from a noble family, Ikta’s actions during his initial military officer exam leaves him renowned as the Invincible Lazy General, forcing him to learn how to lead both his fellow officers and other troops... while also dealing with the fact that he might not actually be on the right side. Alderamin on the Sky is basically what happens if someone took Shikamaru from Naruto and made him the main character in another series.
In the 1700s, a group of alchemists figure out a way to turn themselves into immortals. Two hundred years later, the elixir responsible makes a reappearance, being consumed by mafia members and creating an entirely new set of immortals all over again, during Prohibition-era America.
The long-running light novel series received an anime adaptation in 2007, and is well known not just for its sprawling non-linear plot that rewards particularly eagle-eyed viewers, but the massive cast of characters. Seriously, it’s Game of Thrones-esque in that respect, so it’s easy to get lost. It’s also known for its gore, so squeamish viewers will want to look elsewhere.
6 BLACK LAGOON
The Lagoon Company is a group of mercenaries known for smuggling goods around Southeast Asia in their ship. Working pretty deep in the black market, they’re known to run into everything from Chinese Triad to Columbian cartels as they “acquire” goods and deliver them to clients. The lead character of the series is Rock, a Japanese salaryman who winds up working with the Lagoon company after his own job legally declares him dead after he gets kidnapped. Black Lagoon is known for its over the top action and the foul-mouthed Revy who serves as the team’s muscle. Though the series started out as a manga, it was adapted into light novel form by Gen Urobuchi in 2008.
5 NO GAME NO LIFE
Take a teenaged brother-sister duo who are so excellent at games they’ve literally never lost a match and introduce them to a fantasy world where every battle is waged through some form of game, and you wind up with No Game No Life. The series follows Sora and Shiro, a pair that make up Blank, a legendary online gamer, as they enter the world of Disboard. In this world, humans are seen as the lowest race among the ten existing groups, but through a number of games played by Sora and Shiro, humanity gradually begins to gain respect again as other races are defeated. Meanwhile, Sora and Shiro work towards their goal of getting to challenge Tet, the god who sent them to Disboard in the first place.
4 SPICE AND WOLF
Kraft Lawrence is a young man with dreams of starting his own shop one day. While traveling, he runs into Holo, a wolf girl who happens to also be a goddess of the harvest. Out of boredom, Holo decides to travel with him, helping Kraft by using her knowledge of people to allow him to become a more successful trader. Spice and Wolf stands out from most fantasy anime by eschewing combat in favor of being a mix of a series about the realities of economies and trading and being a romance series, as Kraft and Holo gradually fall for one another.
3 DIRTY PAIR
Dirty Pair’s been so inextricably linked with the world of anime that it’s easy to forget the series got its beginnings as a light novel at the beginning of the ’80s.
A science-fiction series set in the 2100s, it follows Kei and Yuri, a pair of “trouble consultants” who are known for always solving whatever issue is asked of them... but causing a bunch of property damage along the way. The series balances comedy with sci-fi pulp adventures, and saw anime adaptations off and on throughout the ’80s and ’90s. It’s also got one of the catchiest themes in anime in Russian Roulette, by Meiko Nakahara.
2 HEROIC LEGEND OF ARSLAN
When the King of Pars is slain in battle as a result of betrayal, his land is taken over by the nation of Lusitania, leaving Pars’ crown prince Arslan forced to go on the run. With only his servant Daryun at his side, Arslan aims to gradually gain enough power to retake his homeland of Pars. The Heroic Legend of Arslan comes from the same creative genius responsible for Legend of the Galactic Heroes, choosing to do a fantasy focused story over science fiction. Though the series received an OVA adaptation in the early ’90s, the more recent series featuring character designs by Fullmetal Alchemist’s Hiromu Arakawa manages to adapt more of the actual novels the series is based on, and is still a quality adaptation.
1 LEGEND OF THE GALACTIC HEROES
In the distant future, the Milky Way galaxy is divided into two warring factions: the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance. For 150 years the two empires have been at a stalemate, but the rise of two military geniuses on opposite sides pushes the war towards a potential ending. The original adaptation of Yoshiki Tanaka’s sci-fi novels is considered to be one of the greatest anime series of all time—not just for its intricate political intrigue and complex characters, but for its unique usage of naval military tactics. Most recently the series has received another manga adaptation in Weekly Young Jump, as well as a new anime series by Production I.G.