I grew up watching TV with my siblings for three hours every Saturday morning. I had to share the remote with all five of my siblings and we had one rule: cartoons only.
There is something about animated shows that inspires the imagination more than live-action shows. Once an animated world has been created, the story can move seamlessly. Live-action special effects often look cheesy, but nobody questions a cartoon character who walks away from a volcanic eruption with barely a scratch.
I eventually outgrew my childhood cartoon storylines, but not my love of animation. Transitioning from childish cartoons to Japanese anime was easy, and I soon fell in love with the fantastical worlds I found in the genre.
Here are nine of the most captivating anime series I have come across.
1. Cowboy Behop
Loner bounty hunter Spike and his pilot Jet roam the interstellar world looking for bounties big enough to cover the cost of repairs to their ship, the Bebop. They eventually compile a larger crew of oddballs, including a Corgi named Ein. Spike’s personal vendettas and tragic past are slowly revealed throughout the single-season series. Mixing classic western themes with futuristic space adventure, this show is hard to confine to a single genre.
2. Attack on Titan
In a world overrun by Titans — giant humanoid monsters that live only to eat humans — Eren Yeager and his best friend Mikasa want to join the Survey Corps that leaves the safety of the walled citadel to survey the surrounding area. This is a very gruesome series, but the complexity of the storyline and the character development are almost unrivaled.
Kurosaki Ichigo is a normal high school student, except for the fact that he can see ghosts. When he gets mixed up with a soul reaper named Rukia, Ichigo ends up becoming one himself. A host of adventures follow his conversion, including fights with demented souls called Hollows. But the consistent theme of the show is Ichigo’s loyalty to his friends, regardless of the consequences.
4. Fruit’s Basket
After her mother dies, Tohru Honda begins camping in the forests on the edge of town. One of her classmates, Yuki Sohma, finds her and invites her to live with him and his uncle. Unbeknownst to Tohru, the entire Sohma family is under a curse that causes each member to turn into an animal from the zodiac when hugged by someone of the opposite sex. This is my favorite romance drama and I always go back to it when I’m in need of a laugh.
5. Black Blood Brothers
This dark comedy follows the lives of two vampire brothers, one six and one in his twenties, as they walk through life trying to remain unnoticed. They soon become tangled up with a policewoman who enlists them to help her solve crimes. It’s a surprisingly touching show with just the right balance of action and drama.
6. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Political debacles, terrorist attacks and cybernetic infiltration make this anime a non-stop psychological thriller. The setting is in the near future. Technology has enabled people to get cybernetic implants, even going so far as to replace sections of the brain. These cybernetic brains allow people to interact directly with cyber networks. Police Maj. Motoko Kusanagi is one such cyborg. The series follows her work as a member of the Public Security Section 9 police force. Intense fight scenes, a strong female lead and futuristic technology make this anime a must-watch.
7. Soul Eater
In this Halloween-like series, teenagers attend a school to become soul reapers. Death himself is the principal. Each of the students trains with a weapon that also has a human form. Their goal is to seek out evil souls and feed them to their weapons. Once a student and weapon collect 100 evil souls and defeat a witch, they become full-fledged reapers. The show is surprisingly comedic with vibrant and well-rounded characters, emphasizing loyalty and friendship.
8. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Eduardo and his younger brother Alphonse started practicing the science of alchemy as children. When their mother died suddenly, they attempted a forbidden alchemic practice: raising the dead. The attempt failed, and the price was the loss of Alphonse’s body and Eduardo’s left arm and right leg. Ed manages to bond Alphonse’s soul to a giant suit of armor immediately after the incident, and they both begin a journey seeking to restore their bodies to their original form.
9. Sword Art Online
In this world, the newest fad is submersing into virtual reality games, the most famous of which is Sword Art Online. Kazuto Kirigaya “dives” into the game only to discover that the game-maker has programmed it with a grisly twist; you can’t quit the game until you win, and anyone who dies in the game will die in real life. The show follows Kazuto, who goes by the name “Kirito,” as he befriends other players and strives to end the game.