Anime is a unique method of storytelling that often conveys more emotional intelligence, more dramatic urgency and more melodrama than any other animated medium. Classified as any form of animation from Japan, anime series are most often derived from popular manga, series of novels that encompass science fiction, action, fantasy, and everything in between. Animators can often show more of the vision of the source material through their animation than live-action, allowing their imaginations to run wild.
Some of the most essential anime to really dive deep into the genre should encompass a variety of intellectual properties, from the well known to the slightly more obscure. From the coming of age stories to the war epics that have waged for centuries within a world. From the romances to the incredible gut-wrenching tragedies, there's something for everyone in the genre. Below are ten essential anime every fan of the genre should see.
10 DRAGON BALL Z
A quintessential anime that combines action, humor, fantasy, and adventure, Dragon Ball Z has been around since the late '80s and gone through several different incarnations. It wasn't until the mid-'90s that it was introduced to Western audiences in an English dubbed version that was combined with network channels afternoon children's programming blocks.
Dragon Ball Z is the sequel to Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball and continues the adventures of Goku and his friends, fellow Z Warriors who are selected to defend the Earth from various supernatural forces, demons, and androids, all while safeguarding the mysterious dragon balls that give them their transcendent powers.
9 SAILOR MOON
No list of essential anime could be complete without the addition of Sailor Moon, a mainstay in any anime fans' collection. Written by Naoko Takeuchi and adapted into a popular cartoon in the early '90s, it gained immediate popularity among young girls who identified with the plucky protagonist.
The series chronicled Usagi Tsukino, a young school girl unaware that she's destined to become a brave warrior against the forces of darkness that threaten planet Earth. With the help of her magical brooch and the guidance of her familiar Luna, she transforms into the legendary Sailor Moon. Together with the Sailor Scouts, she protects their princess and the Silver Crystal.
8 GHOST IN THE SHELL
Not to be confused with the recent movie of the same name on which it's based, the original Ghost in the Shell anime is a classic animated series steeped in dark science fiction and gritty cyberpunk noir. Based on the manga written by Masamune Shirow, it's grown from a series of books, to an anime, to an entire franchise of animated films.
In a fictional Japanese city in the mid 21st century, it follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg operative and leader of a task force known as Section 9. An accident in her youth means her "cyberbrain" is housed in a synthetic body capable of incredible feats of athleticism and strength, but she struggles with the "ghost in the shell", or memories of her humanity.
Based on the highly popular (and prolific) manga written and illustrated by Rumiko Takahashi, Inuyasha reads like a fairytale partially inspired by ancient feudal Japan. It chronicles the misadventures of Kagome, a young teenage girl who trips and falls into her family's well, which acts as a gateway to the Sengoku period of Japan.
Once there, she meets the half dog, half-demon Inuyasha, who ends up being her protector from the spider demon Naraku. Kagome was unaware of a powerful relic she carried inside her that when shattered, would force her and Inuyasha to track down its pieces all over Japan ahead of Naraku.
A long-standing series with a loyal following, Naruto is an anime based on the manga written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto from the mid '90s. The main protagonist, Naruto wishes to become the Hokage or leader of his village. But first, he must train as a ninja warrior and prove his worth.
The manga sold millions of copies, and the anime that was adapted from it proved very popular in the early '00s on Cartoon Network. The anime, like the manga, follows Naruto from his boyhood years (part 1) into his teen years (part 2), and offers plenty of action, adventure, and humor.
5 ATTACK ON TITAN
A more recent anime that has proven immensely popular in the last decade, Attack on Titan combines action, adventure, and high fantasy. Originally a manga written by Hajime Isayama, the anime breathes life to the incredible world-building in the story.
Set in a world that combines elements of the future and the past, humans live within walled cities that prevent enormous Titans (titanic leviathans that devour humans that stray beyond the perimeter) from getting in. When a Titan smashes through the barrier, it's up to soldier Eren Jaeger and his compatriots as the last stand of humanity against the carnage.
4 BLACK BUTLER
When young Ciel Phantomhive's parents are suddenly killed, the young business magnate is all along in the world, save for his unflappable butler, Sebastian. But there is more than meets the eye to Sebastian, Ciel's only guardian amidst the perils of a gothic Victorian London. Black Butler is based on the manga written and illustrated by Yana Toboso, and combines gothic sensibilities with supernatural horror.
Sebastian isn't your average butler, but a demon who uses magic and spells to protect Ciel from all manner of other demons (and angels) that want to claim his soul and take over his estate. The series reveals secrets of Ciel's family history the longer it goes.
Relive the adventure of Ash Ketchum and his quest to become the ultimate Pokemon trainer with one of the most famous anime of all time, Pokemon. Now a global franchise that includes several animated films, the anime, a card game, and several video games, it all began with a boy and his first Pokemon, Pikachu.
In a world where fantasy creatures called Pokemon live side by side with the humans who train them, both compete in huge tournaments to prove their supremacy and gain fame and fortune. Ash and Pikachu go on a myriad of adventures meeting other Pokemon, trainers, and the evil nemesis who want nothing more than to crush their dreams.
2 MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING
In the realm of mecha-suit and fantasy science fiction, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing reigns supreme. Based on the popular '80s manga that inspired a generation of anime, the Mobile Suit Gundam Wing franchise continues to this day, with new animated films appearing all the time.
In the future, humankind will live in space, inhabiting giant space colonies. Earth's government still rules them, but it's cold and vindictive. Five robotic weapons are constructed to oppose it, flown by five young heroes who are the colonists only hope against a corrupt regime.
A feared gunslinger who doesn't like killing? That's the sort of paradoxical hero that is Vash the Stampede, who has an obsession with donuts and seems to never suffer as much damage to himself as the bounty hunters who pursue him endlessly across the desert planet.
An anime praised for its complex characters, intriguing storylines, and often absurd humor, Trigun is melodramatic, action-packed, and thought-provoking all at the same time. It also boasts an enigmatic soundtrack, and you'll want Vash's red trenchcoat by the end.
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