Popular anime like Naruto, My Hero Academia, One Piece, and Dragon Ball Z are stretched over multiple seasons, films, and spin-off series. Others, like Doraemon and Chibi Maruko-Chan, have been running for more than 1,000 episodes.
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At the same time, a handful of one-season anime have also garnered a cult following in Japan and the rest of the world. These include the likes of Death Note, Cowboy Bebop, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, among others. Given their legendary status and limited episode count, such brief series also make for perfect binge-watches for beginners to anime.
10 Cowboy Bebop
This cult Sunrise anime is essentially a space-Western, but with hints of the noir genre and with existential character arcs. One can also expect specific allusions to sci-fi classics, like Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the works of Bruce Lee and John Woo. Each episode follows the lives and adventures of a group of bounty hunters aboard the spaceship Bebop in the year 2071.
Directed by the legendary Shinichirō Watanabe, Cowboy Bebop is a landmark work of sci-fi anime and also helped win over a new generation of non-Japanese anime viewers in the 2000s.
9 Death Note
No list of single-season anime is complete without Death Note. A crime thriller with elements of fantasy, Death Note finds its protagonist in Light Yagami, a student determined to wage his own war against crime. Instead of resorting to vigilantism, though, Light spends his days using the titular notebook, which grants him the power to kill anyone whose name he writes.
However, instead of portraying Light as the righteous hero, Death Note tackles moral questions, as the notebook’s owner ends up seeing himself as a god-like figure. For its well-layered characters and constant twists and turns, the Madhouse anime easily makes for a quick binge.
8 Banana Fish
Based on the 1985 manga series of the same name, Banana Fish changes its source material’s setting to the modern-day. For instance, the trauma of the Vietnam War is replaced with that of the Iraq invasion. The series mainly focuses on a New York-based teenage gang leader and a photojournalist as they unearth a sophisticated mystery around the substance known as “Banana Fish.”
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Interestingly, each of the 24 episodes is named after a work by an American author from the “Lost Generation,” including Ernest Hemingway and J.D. Salinger.
7 Samurai Champloo
Following the success of Cowboy Bebop, Shinichirō Watanabe’s next directorial effort was Samurai Champloo. Just like Cowboy Bebop, this 26-episode anime again assimilated and subverted several genres. The two protagonists are master swordsmen who embark on an adventure with a valiant waitress. Despite its historical setting of the Edo Period, the style is mostly post-modern, with a heavy emphasis on hip-hop music. In fact, one of the aforementioned swordsmen is also an experienced breakdancer!
The show’s storytelling and genre-blending aside, it’s the four-member music team that stands out. The opening theme and overall score also significantly influence the then-nascent lo-fi genre.
6 Beast Claw
In a twist on the classic Beauty and the Beast formula, Beast Claw (Kemonozume) deals with the forbidden romance between Yuka and Toshihiko. While the former belongs to a race of flesh-eating monsters, the latter is an heir to a martial arts school dedicated to wiping out her kind.
The abstract and experimental nature of the subsequent romance is expected, given how Masaaki Yuasa serves as director. Yuasa is otherwise known for his surreal directorial debut, Mind Game, which employed changing visual styles to move the story forward, just like Beast Claw’s transient animation.
Monster is one of the most acclaimed manga from the ’90s revolving around surgeon Kenzo Tenma, who finds out that one of his patients is a serial killer. It was adapted into a 74-episode anime by Madhouse Studios in the early 2000s, with Studio Ghibli animator Kitarō Kōsaka helming the character design.
A nail-biting thriller, Monster explores the human psyche at its most unsettling levels. It follows a heavily realistic and cinematic premise to set up a fast-paced game of wits between the surgeon and the murderer.
4 Neon Genesis Evangelion
On the surface, Neon Genesis Evangelion might seem like just another action-heavy mecha anime,but it’s much more than that. A post-apocalyptic Japan recruits pilots to control bio-machine mechas and counter the attacks of the Angels. But this isn’t a simple “good versus evil” battle as the story progresses. The personal struggles and experiences of the pilots are fully explored, building up to a heavily profound albeit polarizing conclusion.
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Several anime that followed, like Pilot Candidate and Blue Submarine, can be compared to the themes of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Even video games like Xenogears and El Shaddai seem to bear traces of Hideaki Anno’s magnum opus.
3 Blue Literature
Blue Literature aka Aoi Bungaku’s 12 episodes don’t just offer a taste of good psychological anime, but also that of classic Japanese literature. The anthology series consists of adaptations of six works by literary greats from the country. Each of the segments is directed by seasoned anime veterans, like Death Note’s Tetsurō Araki and Galaxy Angel’s Morio Asaka.
It makes for a perfect break from the usual fantasy and sci-fi anime, as the stories delve into the human emotions of betrayal, depression, and ultimately the very concept of humanity.
2 Samurai 7
Samurai 7 is a mecha anime that largely borrows its plot from Akira Kurosawa’s groundbreaking samurai epic, Seven Samurai. Borrowing characteristics and names from the auteur director’s characters, seven warriors battle an army of bandits in order to save a village. However, the stakes are higher than an average samurai story, given how these bandits integrate their living cells with mechanized bodies.
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Adorned with adrenaline-fueled combat sequences, the show is a worthy modern update on the film that inspired it.
1 Ergo Proxy
A cyberpunk series from 2006, Ergo Proxy mainly drew positive reviews for its visual style that combined both elements of 3D effects and 2D digital cel-based animation. Much like other works of philosophical sci-fi, the premise deals with a future when androids are “humanized” with the ability of self-awareness. This change of thought prompts the post-apocalyptic robots to commit a series of unexpected murders. adding to the mystery.
Rather than a straightforward narrative, Ergo Proxy heavily depends on its introspective scenarios that largely stem out of notions of spirituality and philosophy.
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About The Author
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Hailing from and based in India, Shaurya Thapa harbors interests in freelance journalism, cultural diversity, and critical analyses on films and TV of varied genres.
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