As all sorts of flashy new anime hit the scene, there’s something to be said for an action classic from the ‘90s like Trigun. Vash the Stampede is your mysterious “Man With No Name” gunslinger archetype. The series bills him as one of the most destructive forces in the nation and while he is an impeccable shot and gunfighter, he’s also an incredibly sensitive individual who’d much rather preach the gospel of “love and peace” than empty out his chamber. With an obscene bounty of sixty billion double dollars on Vash’s head, there is never a shortage of assassins and derelicts out there who are looking to take him down.
Trigun offers incredible gunplay and action set pieces that are amazing to watch, but also highlight Vash’s extreme skills and ability to avoid death, whenever possible. The series only becomes more complex and fascinating when Vash’s spotty past gets explored and he attempts to fill in the blanks surrounding his retrograde amnesia.
Trigun provides an emotional, suspenseful story about a man who wants to reject his violent talents and reclaim his past, but it’s also full of memorable villains and intense weapons that make the show even more impressive. Many chivalrous archetypes have come after Vash the Stampede’s time, but there’s a reason that he’s still such a classic character from anime (there will definitely be someone dressed up at him at the next Comic-Con you attend).
Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist
The series’ introduction (and even its lengthy title) gives you a pretty good idea of what’s going on here. In a world where pornography, lewd language, and even crude humor are made illegal, a certain group of freedom fighters try to insert sexuality back into the world. This mash-up of Bradbury with bawdy humor turns out to be an ingenious pairing. You’d have no idea that flashy terrorist acts involving nude photos raining down on the population could not only be so hilarious, but also saying something poignant at the same time.
There’s some exceptionally smart, informed humor coming out of this show (even their heavy “censorship” towards their language and gratuitousness is very funny while also servicing the story) and a delicious What If? scenario like nothing else. It’s also just nice to see the rampant sexuality that can so often dominate anime being portrayed in such an empowering light, too.
FLCL is a coming-of-age story as if told by William Burroughs or Alejandro Jodorowsky. Each iteration of the series looks at a complacent pre-teen or teenager who’s lost over the future and the hurdles of adulthood.FLCL puts such relatable themes in a blender with absurdist plotting and surrealist animation and the result is one of the most unique, infamous anime series to hit the market. FLCL is a vespa-riding, alien invading, sentient guitar-playing take on adolescence and even if certain aspects of the series go over your head, it’s always a delight to watch.
FLCL plays things fast and loose with it animation style and it incorporates many different aesthetics to illustrate its lost mental state. You may not always understand the show, but you’ll always be in awe of it. FLCL never slows down and even when the show doesn’t quite work, it’s still an astounding experiment that taps into deep pockets of humanity.
Adult Swim recently co-produced two sequel series, FLCL: Progressive and FLCL: Alternative that don’t quite carry the same manic magic as the original series, but they remain faithful to the show’s unique perspective. If you ever feel lost in life, pop on some FLCL to feel better (although be careful of the show’s dangerously addictive soundtrack).
In what’s one of the best concepts that I’ve ever come across, Assassination Classroom deals with an octopus-esque alien that declares that he’s going to destroy the planet in one year unless he can be killed. Oh, and if you don’t think he’s serious, he just blew up three quarters of the moon. The measures that have been set in place here is that a class of students—the bottom of the barrel, at that—are given the task of being trained as assassins to take him down, garnering one billion dollars in the process. The conditions however are that this alien is their teacher, and he’s unable to hurt any of his students, with them having a year to pull off their task, lest the planet be destroyed yada yada yada.
What’s kind of amazing is the symbiotic relationship between this alien, Korosensai, and his students/would-be assassins. Each episode has him genuinely bettering them and helping them grow, and it’s this bittersweet arrangement of them deeply caring for each other, yet this terrible asterisk hanging over it all. Now in the middle of wrapping up its second season, I legitimately don’t know how this show will conclude and I couldn’t be more excited about that.
If you’re sifting through anime, you’re likely going to come across some samurai titles. They’re a staple of the form. Samurai Champloo, unsurprisingly, is exactly that, but also so, so much more. While at its core a simple quest story involving a mysterious beauty, Watanabe’s series is an anachronistic mash-up that reimagines Edo-era Japan into a post-modern hip hop wonderland. Watanabe continues to remix these ideas by literally rewinding episodes or “scratching” them like a record with a DJ-like sensibility as these classical themes get mashed together with current aesthetics.
Just like Watanabe has revamped other classic anime archetypes, even if you’ve never been big on samurai series before, this one is likely to rub you the right way. Part of the fun here is just how successful Samurai Champloo is at creating its tone. It’s really a different way of presenting a narrative, and a smart pairing that deserves more credit. There’s also just something about seeing an elegant sword fight set to a hip-hop soundtrack.
Attack on Titan
Look, you probably don’t need me to tell you about or push Attack on Titan on you. It’s a series that has grown into an institution and has slowly become one of the most successful cross-pond anime in recent years. The sheer fact that this selection is also on Netflix is a testament to the growth in demand. If you have been unaware of Attack on Titan though, now’s the perfect time to make the jump with the series’ third season nearing some sort of release, and the production of two live-action movies having gone on in the interim time.
The series is set in an alternate world where humanity has caged itself in through a series of giant successive walls as a result of the threat of Titans. These monsters are huge human-like monsters with an unstoppable hunger for humans. The series begins with the breach of one of these walls and the discovery of more powerful Titans behind it.
There’s real art going on here as the series jumps in stretches of the time and chooses to selectively focus on certain characters, building a real full mosaic in the process. There’s also just some stunning animation going on at these fighters zip through the air in their gear to take down these behemoths. The story only becomes deeper and deeper too, with fantastic twists that litter the end of both seasons. Year two takes some risks by banking more on characters than action, but there’s still a story that’s unbelievable to watch unfold. This is how you effectively build a world and tell a full, nuanced story. Plus, monsters and the biggest daddy issues this side of Neon Genesis Evangelion!
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Some anime series take some time to find their audience, but Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba was 2019’s big hit and looks to be many people’s anime obsession for years to come. The series handles familiar territory where an underdog Demon Slayer sets out on a mission to take down the evil that fills the world. However, Demon Slayer adds an interesting wrinkle where the hero’s sister has been turned into a demon and he must hide her existence as he works to find a cure for cure. Demon Slayer is full of entertaining characters, a slick and dazzling animation style, and some wonderfully choreographed battle sequences that turn most episodes into animated spectacles. Demon Slayer isn’t exactly doing anything new, but it looks so good and has created such a rich world that it’s still one of the better shonen anime to come around in years.
Astra Lost In Space
It’s so satisfying when an anime can thoroughly surprise audiences and Astra Lost in Space is the perfect example of a show that acts like one thing, only to pull the rug out from under everyone and turn into a very different kind of show. The anime looks at a bunch of students who go off on a routine space expedition, but suddenly finds themselves transported thousands of light years away with survival looking slim. There’s a very Star Trek quality present as the group hop between planets, get to know one another, and struggle to survive, but the story becomes much deeper and becomes a fascinating commentary on independence and the power and dangers of a legacy. Astra Lost in Space is one of the biggest surprises of the year and it routinely defies expectations as it delivers a tight, smart anime about free will, friendship, and the wonders of the universe.
The Promised Neverland
The Promised Neverland is the very best variety of mysterious thriller that only becomes more unbelievable and addicting with each new episode. The series is set within a strange, secluded orphanage where children are relegated to numbers and those that run the place are shrouded in secrecy. As the children begin to grow suspicious of those that look after them and the stories that they’ve told, a vast conspiracy reveals itself where these children are pushed into an tense situation where survival seems impossible. This tightly paced, tense series explores the idea of child experimentation and a manipulated existence with creativity and elegance.
Fire Force is one of the more creative anime to come around in recent years. It’s set within a universe where many people are blessed with pyrokinetic abilities and others suffer from a vicious form of spontaneous combustion that turns some of them into vengeful flame entities known as Infernals. Many of those with pyrokinetic skills put their efforts towards the Fire Force, an organization set on taking down all of the Infernals and other corrupt and deadly criminal acts. Fire Force beautifully animates all of these fiery spectacles and every time the Fire Force is pushed into battle or a difficult situation they’re a joy to take in. The characters are sometimes too stereotypical for their own good, but the animation is so gorgeous and the action is so much fun that it’s easy to overlook its simpler flaws.
ID: Invaded is a fantastic crime thriller that’s like if Silence of the Lambs and Inception gave birth to a baby that was raised by Darren Aronofsky. The anime is set in a futuristic time where detectives are able to jump into the ids of serial killers as a means to study motive, gather evidence, and put together the pieces of these crime scenes. However, certain stipulations exist over those that can enter these killers’ ids, as well as the nebulous way that information is processed within these ids. The series’ protagonist is a detective who’s driven to murder after he loses his family and becomes the perfect detached candidate to help the police prevent more murders from taking place when a new serial killer is on the loose. ID: Invaded features engaging mysteries within every episode, but also contains grueling character drama that’s not afraid to show the darkness within ordinary people, albeit in a vastly creative way.
Also Available on Hulu: Yu Yu Hakusho, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, Rurouni Kenshin, Overlord, Dagashi Kashi, Kill la Kill, Boogiepop Phantom, Hellsing andHellsing Ultimate, Dragon Ball/Z/GT, Megalobox, Death Note, Tokyo Ghoul, Lupin the Third, Inuyasha, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Attack on Titan: Junior High, Sailor Moon, Crayon Shin-Chan, Fruits Basket, Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem and his perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.