Anime is the abbreviated pronunciation of “animation” in Japanese and the term is typically used to reference any animation hailing from the country. Instantly recognisable by its vibrant animation, over-the-top characters and a willingness to go pretty bizarre at times, anime has a huge following all over the world.
10. Avatar: The Last Airbender
In a world divided into four nations – Earth Kingdom, Water Tribes, Fire Nation and Air Nomads – the Avatar’s job is to bring peace. What makes life difficult is that each nation’s people can control or “bend” one of the four elements based on their corresponding country of origin. The Avatar is the only one who can control all four element and keep balance. The story of The Last Airbender picks up after the previous avatar has vanished and left the Fire Nation free to invade their neighbours. After 100 hundred years, the Fire Nation nears victory in the war but the new avatar – a 12 year old kid from the now eradicated air nomads – could change everything. Although it’s an American series, the Last Airbender wears its asian influences firmly on its sleeves and is widely considered to be one of the best animation series ever made – even if it isn’t strictly anime.
9. Fooly Cooly (FLCL)
Fooly Cooly follows the story of Naota; a normal Japanese 6th grade boy. When his older brother leaves for America to play baseball, he leaves his 17-year-old ex-girlfriend Mamimi behind. Mamimi sends mixed signals and advances to Naota and he doesn’t know what to do about her. To make matters worse, Naota’s world is totally turned upside down when he is run over by a woman on a Vespa. During their encounter, she hits him over the head with her guitar which causes a horn to grow out of his forehead. She calls herself “Haruko” and her presence changes Naota’s life completely. Fooly Cooly was a truly nutty series which only lasted 6 episodes, but it’s bizarre tone and ‘out-there’ vibe left a lasting impression on anime fans.
Pokémon is a long-running anime which has probably enjoyed the greatest global success. Inspired by the popular video games, the anime series follows the story of Ash Ketchum as he travels around the Pokémon universe catching and training different creatures of all shapes and sizes on his quest to becoming a Pokémon master. Probably the most successful anime ever in terms of Western breakout appeal, the Pokémon anime still shows no signs of slowing down and the series is likely to be around for a few more years yet.
Ichigo Kurosaki is a 15-year-old-boy who has the ability to see ghosts/spirits. He meets a female death god named Rukia who, to save his family and friends from unwanted soul-eating spirits called Hollows, transfers her death god powers to Ichigo. As Rukia takes on a human form, the pair solve supernatural mysteries and Ichigo struggles with his newfound power (and responsibility) of helping usher departed souls onto the afterlife. The now concluded series ran from 2004 – 2010 for 366 episodes and, although it suffered from its fair share of filler story arcs, Bleach was an always entertaining and inventive addition to the genre.
Naruto follows the life of a boy who is feared and detested by the villagers of the hidden leaf village of Konoha. This distrust has little to do with the boy himself as the villager are instead concerned with what is inside him. Long before Naruto came to be, a Kyuubi (demon fox) with great fury and power waged war taking many lives. The battle ensued for a long time until a man known as the Fourth Hokage, the strongest ninja in Konoha, fiercely fought the Kyuubi. The fight was won by the Hokage and he sealed the evil demon in a human body – Naruto. The road to becoming the strongest ninja in Konoha is a long and arduous one (220 episodes long, in fact) but Naruto was a crossover anime hit which earnestly balanced action, comedy and drama to become one of the most popular “shōnen manga” series ever produced (anime which was typically skewed towards a young, male audience).
5. Elfen Lied
The Diclonius, a mutated homosapien that is said to be selected by God and will eventually become the destruction of mankind, possesses two horns in their heads and has a “sixth sense” which gives it telekinetic abilities. Due to this dangerous power, they have been captured and isolated in laboratories by the government. Lucy, a young and psychotic Diclonius, manages to break free of her confines and brutally murder the guards in her laboratory only to get shot in the head as she makes her escape. She survives and manages to drift along to a beach, where two teenagers named Kouta and Yuka discovers her. Having lost her memories, Lucy was named after the only thing that she could say (“Nyuu”) and the two allow her to stay at Kouta’s home. However, it appears that the evil “Lucy” is not dead just yet. Based on a hugely successful manga series, Elfen Lied was a controversial limited series which drew controversy for its explicit nudity and violence. Although some fans felt it didn’t do the comic justice, its dark, uncompromising tone and visuals sets it firmly apart from other anime series and made it required viewing for any anime fan looking to sample something a little bit different.
4. Death Note
Yagami Light is an ace student with great prospects who’s bored out of his mind. One day he finds the “Death Note”: a notebook from the realm of the Death Gods which has the power to kill people in any way he desires. With the Death Note in hand, Light decides to create his perfect world without crime or criminals. However, when criminals start dropping dead one by one, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer, and a battle of wits, deception and logic ensues when Light realizes that L will be his greatest hindrance. Originally published as a manga before being turned into a television series in 2006, Death Note is a rousing, compelling series which achieved crossover success with non-anime fans thanks to its accessible, serialized storytelling and addictive cat and mouse dynamic between the two protagonists.
3. Fullmetal Alchemist
After losing their mother, Alphonse and Edward Elric attempt to bring her back using the forbidden science of human alchemy. However, alchemy operates on the theory of equivalent trade, and breaking the human alchemy taboo carries a heavy price. Ed loses his leg and Al loses his body. Ed is able to seal Al’s soul inside of a huge suit of armor, at the cost of his arm. Years later, Ed (now with two mechanical limbs) and Al (still trapped in the armor) leave their childhood home, each brother concerned with the other’s happiness. Ed, who has a natural talent and skill for alchemy, becomes nationally certified and is soon known everywhere as the “Fullmetal Alchemist.” Their true objective is to search for any information on the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, hoping it will allow them to regain their old bodies. One of the most successful manga comics ever made (selling over 64 million volumes as of 2014), it was inevitable that Fullmetal Alchemist would be produced in other forms of media. Adapted into two anime series and two full-length feature films, the series was an instant hit in Japan and was praised for its deft blend of dense, complex storylines and exhilarating action.
2. Sailor Moon
Sailor Moon follows the story of Serena; a middle-school student who befriends Luna, a talking cat. Luna gives Serena a magical brooch enabling her to become a pretty soldier destined to save the Earth from the forces of evil. Along the way she meets the Sailor Scouts who fight with her to find their moon princess and the “Legendary Silver Crystal.” But their quest is fraught with dangers as they must save the earth from the clutches of the Negaverse and its Queen Beryl. Sailor Moon breathed fresh life into the fantasy anime genre and it was one of the first series to really break through into mainstream media. It’s enduring legacy has helped push the influence of anime into modern culture.
1. Neon Genesis Evangelion
At the age of 14, Shinji Ikari is summoned by his father to the city of Neo Tokyo-3 after several years of separation. While there he unwillingly accepts the task of becoming the pilot of a giant robot by the name of EVA01 and protecting the world from the enigmatic invaders known as “angels.” Even though he repeatedly questions why he has accepted this mission from his estranged and cold father, in doing so he helps gradually accept who he is as a person. However, why are the angels attacking and what are his father’s true intentions? Although Neon Genesis Evangelion was a short-lived series which only ran for 12 months and a total of 26 episodes, it was a complex, character-driven addition to the anime genre which had a lasting effect on the industry and left behind an influential legacy which has inspired countless anime series over the years.