Binge Watch This – Anime recommendations

Daniel Ortiz, Contributing Writer

Many people grew up with some form of anime in one way or another, most likely without the knowledge of what it was at the time. Anime is any form of animation originating from Japan.

Whether it was Generation X growing up with “Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac,” millennials growing up with “Sailor Moon” and “Pokémon,” Generation Z growing up with “Naruto” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” or the generation-spanning appeal of the cultural juggernaut known as “Dragon Ball,” anime has been present in western media for quite some time now.

With the broadcasting of various Japanese shows to American TV networks during the 2000s, such as Toonzai, and a select few aired on Cartoon Network and Fox Kids/Jetix regular programming, as well as the rise of the internet and streaming platforms, anime reached a larger audience.

By the 2010s watching anime wasn’t reserved for geeks. Everyone started noticing the appeal of anime and the impact it had on popular culture. It is estimated that “more than 60% of animated shows broadcast across the planet originate from Japan,” according to Our Culture magazine.

Aside from the unique art style, which is perhaps anime’s most prominent feature, with its sharp lines, exaggerated expressions and color palette, what also attracts adults to anime is its mature writing and themes compared to western cartoons, which are either marketed for children or explicit adult comedy shows.

Anime shows tend to be much more layered, with a variety of genres that range from comedy, romance and adventure to suspense and psychological thrillers, which are rarely one-dimensional. Some shows strike a tender balance between light-hearted comedic moments and serious emotional character arcs that deal with themes of grief, social injustice and even taboos such as sexuality and violence. This wider variety is what makes anime so successful. There are shows for all tastes.

It is important to note anime does require an open mind to fully appreciate it. The culture gap between Japanese and western audiences leads to fairly objectionable aspects of the medium, most notably the over-sexualization of female characters and how lightly it is treated. Anime can also get really weird which can turn off some audiences.

This binge-watch list aims to showcase an appetizer of what the medium has to offer: colorful, well-developed characters, amazing world-building, beautiful animation, spellbinding music and brilliant storytelling.

Illustration of cowboy bepop character
Maria Elena Franco

Cowboy Bebop (1998)

This space western directed by Shinichirō Watanabe is highly regarded as one of the shows responsible for popularizing anime in the west thanks to its charismatic cast of characters and its groundbreaking English dub. Being one of the last fully hand-drawn animes before most studios shifted to digital animation, studio Sunrise injects a heavy neo-noir style that envelopes the entire show and balances existential themes, light-hearted comedy and riveting action held together by Yoko Kanno’s iconic music score. Fifteen years later, Cowboy Bebop’s legacy hasn’t waned and continues to leave its footprint on pop culture.

Samurai Champloo (2004)

Another Shinichirō Watanabe masterpiece, this time produced by Studio Manglobe, this unique adventure show fuses an Edo period samurai setting with a modern hip-hop inspired soundtrack and style that surprisingly creates a timeless work. The show even inspired western shows, such as Aaron Macgruder’s adult comedy show The Boondocks. Samurai Champloo, follows a young girl and her two swordsman bodyguards traveling across Japan in search of an ancient Samurai. The show is quite episodic in nature and focuses mostly on the high jinks the group encounters in their journey, leading to both comedic moments and stunningly choreographed sword fights.

Illustration of character from gurren lagaan
Maria Elena Franco

Gurren Lagann (2007)

Made by the same studio that made Evangelion, but this time directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, Gurren Lagann is also a Mecha anime, but much more light-hearted than Evangelion. It is centered on a dystopian future where humans are forced to live underground by an evil ruler but a pair of brothers discover a gunmen ship that allows them to surface and rebel against the ruler’s army. Along with a colorful cast of characters, they form a team to free all of mankind in a show that never slows down its pace and ensures high adrenaline in every episode. The animation is absolutely superb with every character in a unique design and every battle a non-stop blast that never ceases to hold the viewer’s attention.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)

A Bones studio production, Brotherhood, is a remake of the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime aired in 2003, but with a more faithful depiction of its source material. In this steampunk-inspired world where humans can use the science of alchemy for combat and other applications, the Elric brothers search for the philosopher’s stone as they seek to regain their bodies after they failed to resurrect their mother. The show’s themes of sacrifice and humanity are wonderfully interwoven between the pulse-pounding action scenes and deep character moments.

Illustration of death note character
Maria Elena Franco

Death Note (2006)

With perhaps one of the most iconic and recognizable premises in anime history, studio Madhouse’s supernatural crime thriller remains one of the most engaging and thought-provoking shows of the last couple of decades. Centered around a high school student’s discovery of a magic notebook, which allows him to kill anyone whose name is written in it and the moral dilemma surrounding his goal of ridding the world of all criminals, the show hooks viewers with a cat and mouse game between Light Yagami and the investigation team led by the enigmatic L, seeking to find out his methods and bring him to justice.

Soul Eater (2008)

Bones studio crafts a stunning gothic world in this dark fantasy action show. In a world where humans can transform into weapons and pair up with other humans skilled enough to wield them, the story revolves around the students of Death Weapon Meister Academy led by the Grim Reaper himself. They train to collect the souls of witches and become “death scythes,” weapons powerful enough to be wielded by Death himself. While quite comedic in nature, the story steps into second gear to deliver a high-stakes, high-adrenaline show that oozes with style at every corner.

Illustration of character from Neon Genesis Evangelion
Maria Elena Franco

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)

This Hideaki Anno-directed classic is hailed as one of the most influential anime of all time, and for good reason. Produced by Gainax, Evangelion has been the subject of analysis and discussion to this day, regarding its dystopian and philosophical themes, as well as its controversial ending. Behind these complex themes and character studies lies an entertaining and action-packed production that over 20 years later has maintained popularity.