It's been twenty years since Cowboy Bebop concluded, but it still holds the accolade of being one of the most highly regarded and popular anime series of all time. Bolstering the interest of anime in the West when it first hit TV screens in 1998, it proved these cartoons had all the violence, grit, and depth to challenge the very best storytelling on offer.
Audiences quickly fell in love with the rag-tag team of misfit bounty hunters: the wise-cracking fighting expert, Spike Spiegel; the gruff ex-cop with a soft heart, Jet Black; the determined but lost Faye Valentine; computer whizz-kid, Edward; and their adorable corgi, Ein. Excellent characterization combined with stunning cinematography, stylish action sequences, and an incredible soundtrack took viewers by storm. The show still holds up today, even multiple years, and multiple rewatches, later. We thought we'd revisit these space cowboys and rank the ten best episodes of Cowboy Bebop.
10 Jamming with Edward
It isn’t until Session 9 that the team is complete. When someone uses abandoned satellites to vandalize earth, the Bebop crew decide to track down the culprit. With Spike, Jet, and Faye preferring the hands-on approach to apprehending bad guys, they enlist the help of super-hacker, Radical Edward, to solve this case and win the bounty.
Edward is a young, hyperactive computer genius and brings some much-needed levity to the team, particularly as the darker elements of the ongoing plotline begin to come through. Not only does ‘Jamming with Edward’ finally bring the entire Bebop team together, but it also gives the viewers their first proper look at Earth in this futuristic dystopia, demonstrating Cowboy Bebop’s flawless ability to weave essential world-building foundations subtly into its narrative.
9 Jupiter Jazz
‘Jupiter Jazz’ is technically a two-parter but is best considered as a whole. Feeling like she doesn’t belong as part of the team, Faye cleans out the Bebop’s safe and flees to the nearest planet. With Spike uncovering clues about ex-girlfriend Julia’s location, the team follows Faye to one of Jupiter’s moons. Faye meets a mysterious saxophone player named Gren who appears to have a heated history with Spike’s nemesis, Vicious.
Despite moving at full-speed and crammed with stylish action sequences, these Sessions unfold deep character drama, unveiling more of Spike’s mysterious past and cements Vicious as a cold, irredeemable villain, leaving viewers desperate to learn more.
8 Speak Like A Child
While ‘Jamming with Edward’ was the episode to finally draw the complete Bebop team together, ‘Speak Like a Child’ was the first Session to firmly mark them as a family, albeit a dysfunctional one. Up until Session 18, it often felt like the four characters were distant, bickering roommates. When a mysterious videotape arrives at the Bebop, however, Spike and Jet embark on a quest to find an antique Betamax player to view the footage and ultimately help uncover elements of Faye’s forgotten past. The humor throughout the episode comes to a heart-wrenching halt as the crew gathers around to watch a young Faye promise she’ll always be there for grown-up Faye while telling her adult self, “Don’t lose me!”; a tragic revelation given Faye’s amnesia.
7 Pierrot Le Fou
While Cowboy Bebop does have a main plotline running throughout, many of its episodes stand alone. These one-off adventures allowed the creative team to experiment outside of the show’s noir sci-fi western core, and this is perhaps most brilliantly demonstrated in Session 20, ‘Pierrot le Fou.’
When Spike witnesses a murderer killing a victim, the bright tones and humor usually present in the show take a sharp turn into a terrifying cat and mouse thriller which doesn’t shy away from horror elements. The killer, known as Mad Pierrot, sets his sights on Spike and pursues him relentlessly. While it’s a straightforward story, the stunning visuals, creepy tone, and a dramatic final confrontation in Space Land makes this a stand-out episode.
6 Waltz For Venus
The bloody work of bounty-hunting in this world means there’s no clear line drawn between wrong and right. This murky grey area is explored in Session 8. As the crew find themselves tracking a mob on Venus, Spike meets and befriends a would-be gangster named Rocco Bonnaro. Rocco’s on the run from the mob the Bebop crew are hunting because he stole a rare plant from them. However, he didn’t steal for wealth or fun; Rocco hoped selling the plant could pay for his sister Stella’s eye surgery.
The cool fight sequences give way to emotional melodrama as Spike’s soft nature shows. When his new friend dies in a gunfight, Spike breaks the news to Stella who suspects it was Rocco’s own fault for being caught up with a bad crowd. But Spike knows different – Rocco was a good guy, doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
5 Toys In The Attic
‘Toys in the Attic’ is undoubtedly one of the most light-hearted Sessions of the entire series and enjoyable comedic break from the drama. A dedicated and loving homage to the science-fiction genre, it knowingly nods to numerous classics including Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A mysterious venomous blob has infiltrated the ship and is rendering the crew unconscious one-by-one. Spike relentlessly tracks the creature through vents and into the ship's darkest corners, only to realize he created the monster, having left a rock lobster out of the greedy reach of his crew in a secret fridge and consequently forgotten about it. The episode is tremendous fun which shows the creators’ passion for sci-fi adventures.
4 Asteroid Blues
The very first Session, ‘Asteroid Blues’ throws viewers straight into the deep end, giving them a full-throttle introduction to the world of Cowboy Bebop. We join Spike and Jet in the middle of a hunt as they track down maniacal dealer, Asimov, and his girlfriend, Katerina, who are looking to sell the illegal ‘Red-eye’ substance.
It’s a simple story that propels the audience through the world at top speed, all while giving us a great introduction to the characters and the rules of this future dystopia. It’s violent, exciting, and funny, and showcases Cowboy Bebop’s excellent soundtrack and astounding visuals. This episode expertly hooks viewers in, no matter how many times we revisit it!
3 Ballad Of Fallen Angels
The first episode to touch upon Cowboy Bebop’s main storyline, ‘Ballad of Fallen Angels’ gave viewers a glimpse into Spike’s past, revealing a darkness that lies beneath his wise-cracking, laid-back persona. Revealed through a confrontation with his past partner, Vicious, and a series of beautifully animated flashbacks, we learn that Spike used to work for the Red Dragon Syndicate – a major criminal organization. We also learn there was a woman named Julia who is evidently important to Spike.
Pairing heightened drama with intense action sequences and a perfectly suited soundtrack while feeding the audience just enough clues about Spike’s past to spark intrigue, this Session demonstrates the true power of expertly crafted anime.
2 Hard Luck Woman
With the show’s end fast approaching, Session 24 focused on tying up loose ends for Faye and Ed. It’s filled with emotional gut-punches and brilliantly sets the tone for the season’s eventual conclusion. Arriving on Earth, Faye tries to find her home, following clues from the videotape found in ‘Speak Like a Child’ while Ed tracks down her long-lost father.
While Ed’s conclusion is ultimately a happy one, leaving the Bebop with Ein to live with the father she’s sought for years, Faye’s is far more tragic. Holding onto the sparse hope that she might discover who she is, she arrives at her childhood home only to find it has been destroyed. It’s a deeply moving episode, and one that explores the idea of what home really means while cementing the Bebop crew as Faye’s true family.
1 Real Folk Blues
We’re cheating again here by folding two Sessions into one, but the grand finale of Cowboy Bebop is an epic tale, allowing the show to end with a literal bang. Spike and Jet have finally tracked down the Red Dragon Syndicate and prepare for the final confrontation between Spike and Vicious, now that the evil criminal has seized control of the organization. Session 25 acts as the scene-setting calm before the violent, bloody storm of Session 26.
Fueled by vengeance, Spike single-handedly storms the Red Dragon headquarters, fighting his way to the top floor of the giant skyscraper to face Vicious. And while Spike may be victorious, his ending isn’t a happy one. ‘Real Folk Blues’ is a stunning finale, acknowledging that you can’t outrun your past. Whether it’s finding a new family or confronting old enemies, all we can do is embrace our future and move on. Filled with drama, action, swelling music, and a heartfelt message, it’s a perfectly suited conclusion which has us reaching for the tissues every time.