10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
COWABUNGA! Ah, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The name alone conjures up images of colorful characters in entertaining settings. Ninja Turtles has become a cartoon icon, not just for the 80’s, but for all time. The story is that four ordinary turtles were transformed into mutants by chemical ooze. Once changed, they were raised by Splinter, a sentient rat who was once the martial artist Hamato Yoshi. Under Splinter’s training, the four turtles quickly become ninjas, and protect the city above them from crime. Soon, these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles face a looming threat, the leader of the Foot Clan, The Shredder. The ongoing story is how the Ninja Turtles try to thwart the evil plans of Shredder. The show is just classic, and no one can forget the actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themselves. From the prankster and party fiend, Michelangelo, to the hotheaded loner Raphael, to the awkward but brilliant Donatello, to the calm and collected leader of the bunch, Leonardo, these characters stayed imprinted on the minds of children everywhere. Ninja Turtles features martial arts action, with each of the turtles using particular weapons such as bos, nunchucks, sais, and katanas. While the show was mainly popular for its focus on the good guys beating up on the bad guys, there’s plenty of humor to be had as well. It’s a lighthearted show, and every kid can get into it. Also, its intro is probably the most awesome theme song for any show ever, animated or not.
Oh boy, I have to try to describe FLCL… well, let’s give it a whirl. FLCL is insane, absolutely bug-fuck bonkers. The show has innumerable segments where you just can’t tell what’s going on. I believe the show is partially a message on absurdism, and the struggle to find meaning in spite of an insane world. I also believe the show is a coming of age story where a child must become an adult. Of course, I could be completely wrong… it might all just be wacked. Either way, you’re introduced to the alien (who looks exactly like a 20 year old young human woman) Haruko. Haruko interrupts the 12 year old Naota’s boring life by hitting him in the face with a guitar. This less than stellar greeting brings about crazy changes in Naota’s life. In the spot that Haruko hit him, Naota has robots coming out of his head. I’m not really sure how everything ties together, but the show’s really good! Trust me! That, and the soundtrack is done by the best Japanese band I have ever heard, The Pillows.
8. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is the very definition of the phrase “flawed masterpiece.” Evangelion suffered from production troubles stemming from a budget that actually ran out of money towards the end. Despite this, it grew into one of the most well known names in anime. Evangelion to me is the best representation of philosophy in the animated medium. Basically, in Evangelion there exist these entities called Angels. No one really knows where they come from, only that they intend to destroy humanity. The only thing that can stop these Angels are the Evas. The Evas are giant mechs that only children can pilot for an unknown reason. The story centers around the Eva pilots Rei, Shinji, and Asuka. The story starts out slow, with them just destroying the Angels and calling it a day. But be patient and you will see a true psychological drama unfold as each of the psyches of the pilots are brought into focus. You will also be confronted with philosophical and moral dilemmas on loneliness such as “Is it better to be lonely and safe or is it better to be with people but in danger of being emotionally hurt?” Evangelion is truly one of a kind, but the main problem I have with it is how obscure it is. You will basically have to read online plot guides because the show will all too often leave you in the dark with a major plot point. Still, Evangelion deserves to be watched and talked about.
7. X-Men: The Animated Series
Western animated shows are almost all just dumbed down children’s cartoons. This is not the case with X-Men. X-Men stands tall in a crowd of stupidity and manages to be just as good as anything the Japanese have ever made. Not only does X-Men have fantastic action with varied super powers, it also has an elaborate and mature plot. The story is that there are certain individuals in the world with powers called mutants. Soon, the majority non-mutant population begins to fear the mutants. It’s the X-Men’s job to maintain the peace and promote good will all the while fighting Magneto, a sympathetic villain who attempts to destroy humanity in order to save mutantkind from genocide. X-Men deals with incredibly mature themes, and while it’s true that the show is still technically a children’s program, you would never know it. From showing incidents of persecution and intolerance, X-Men teaches kids the ugly side of people, and how to be brave in the face of such evil. Don’t be put off by its demographic, X-Men shines bright.
6. Samurai Champloo
Samurai Champloo is made by the same guy who worked on Cowboy Bebop. So that means it’s good, really good. Whereas Cowboy Bebop was set in space and had a jazz soundtrack, Samurai Champloo is set in feudal Japan and has a hip hop soundtrack. Samurai Champloo follows the story structure from Cowboy Bebop, meaning it is mostly episodic, meaning that the majority of episodes are self-contained and don’t really need prior introduction. Samurai Champloo consists of a motley crew, Mugen, Jin, and Fuu. Each character is very unique and the cast barely gets along, but they all have a grudging respect for one another. Samurai Champloo is a hot dish of crazy action with lots of swordplay and attitude. Still, as much as I love Samurai Champloo, it is still no Cowboy Bebop.
5. Yu Yu Hakusho
There are a lot of inevitable comparisons of Dragon Ball Z to make with Yu Yu Hakusho. Both have buff guys shooting energy or ki blasts at each other, and both feature rapid martial arts fighting. However, Yu Yu Hakusho is its own animal. Yu Yu Hakusho’s plot and characters are incredibly unique and no one will accuse it of swiping material from something else. The plot of Yu Yu Hakusho is an interesting one. In the very first episode our protagonist dies from saving a kid from a car. Yep. He’s dead. Luckily, Spirit World intervenes and restores Yusuke to his body for good deeds that he continues to do in the afterlife. Once back to the living world the action really cooks up. Yusuke, at the urging of Koenma, the toddler overseer of the Spirit World, becomes a “spirit detective” and must hunt down evil apparitions. This leads Yusuke on all sorts of adventures and he teams up with Kuwabara, his goofy rival, to Kurama the wise tactician, to Hiei a hot-headed demon. Yu Yu Hakusho is great because none of the good guys become irrelevant (except one, but that’s not until really far into the show) and they all competently help out fighting the villains. Like I said before, Yu Yu Hakusho features Dragon Ball Z style action, but in some cases it’s better because there is no filler in the show, only hard-knuckle action. Watch the show and you’ll learn how to shoot a spirit gun… that may or may not be true but you’ll still be entertained.
4. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
A remake done right? Can it be so? Can it be true? Yes. The first Fullmetal Alchemist anime was great… until they made up shit whole cloth. Yeah, in the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime they had a problem after a certain point in the story, the manga wasn’t done yet. This factor led the show to becoming ridiculous and completely without the guidance of the creator. Thankfully, just a few years later studio execs realized their screw up, and greenlighted the true story, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. Brotherhood follows the manga to a tee, and is completely without any filler or goofy side stories. The story thus far in Brotherhood is that the Elric brothers, Ed and Al, have lost part of their selves due to trying to perform human transmutation, the one taboo among alchemists. Ed lost a leg and an arm, and Al lost his entire body and only retains his soul in a suit of armor. Eventually, even with their handicaps they become state alchemists (or rather, Ed does, but Al is essentially one too) and become dogs of the military for the chance to get their bodies back. Little do they know that the military is hiding a dark secret, and not all is what it seems in the country of Amestris. There is a sinister plot to destroy the world as we know it, and only the good-natured and pure among the military and civilian populace can rise up and save it. The story in Brotherhood is just phenomenal and they’re backed up with terrific fight sequences that stand apart from other shonen energy blasts. The animation is also fantastic. In fact, it’s probably the most gorgeous anime I have ever seen as everything just looks like a painting in motion. Also, the final fight is epic as all hell, as all the good guys stand together against a titanic and terrible villain. It’s right up there with the Cell fight in Dragon Ball Z.
Trigun initially won’t leave a great impression on you. That’s the honest truth. Give it a chance to get going though, and you won’t regret it. Trigun’s story centers around a gunslinger known as Vash the Stampede, or otherwise known as the Humanoid Typhoon. He has these monikers because Vash has the uncanny ability for everything around him to be mysteriously destroyed. Once you actually meet the guy though, you realize that he’s as sweet as a kitten and absolutely detests violence and death. He detests it so much that despite the 60 billion double dollars on his head, he won’t kill any of the bounty hunters after him or even kill any villains who try to harm his friends. Vash will reluctantly injure them, but that’s it. Just who is this man and where did he come from? These answers, and others, are revealed in a meticulously brilliant manner. Trigun is about life, and how precious it is, and Vash is the perfect dude to explain it to you. Also, Trigun has the coolest support character, the cross toting priest Nicholas D. Wolfwood.
2. Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop is cool. It’s a show about four (initially two) bounty hunters set in the backdrop of the far future in outer space on the ship The Bebop. The show is hip and is backed up with a mellow jazz soundtrack done by the eclectic group The Seatbelts. Cowboy Bebop is, like its lesser spiritual successor, Samurai Champloo, episodic. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s a throw-away plot though. Cowboy Bebop shines as a tale of camaraderie through hardship. The Bebop’s crew consists of Spike, the laid back but kickass main character of the story, to Jet, the former police detective with a robotic arm, to Faye, a beautiful young woman with a mysterious past, to Ed, a little girl who’s a whiz at computer hacking. While they never would admit it, they are a family. They catch bounties to scratch on by, but sooner or later, bigger events shape up and confront the Bebop crew, and each must face their destiny. The show consists of epic gun shoot-outs to a wonderful film-noir feel that recalls movie classics like Chinatown… only in space. The final showdown with the series’ main bad guy, Vicious, is basically Rambo in anime form. It’s badass. Cowboy Bebop is art and it is flawless, but it’s still not my favorite animated series.
1. Dragon Ball Z
I honestly don’t even know where to begin talking about Dragon Ball Z. It’s a cultural phenomenon, but more than that, it was my childhood. I used to run home after school just to catch Dragon Ball Z on Cartoon Network’s anime block, Toonami. I remember the pumping electronic rock soundtrack by Bruce Falconer. I remember the crazy fights with Kamehamehas being fired by heroes that could destroy planets with their power. There’s just so much to say about DBZ, and so little space. The characters are just iconic, with Goku, the peaceful alien Saiyan who grew up on earth and will protect life in all of its forms, to the goofy bald headed Krillin, to the wise and battle hardened green Namekian, Piccolo, to Goku’s own young son, Gohan, who has an enormous power hidden deep within him. Out of all the characters though, Goku is the most well-known, and for good reason. I’ll be honest, Goku, although fictional, is a person that inspires me. I actually think that Goku is a role model right up there with Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but when I was a child, I was literally changed by Goku’s attitude and way of life. He detests violence but will never back down when evil threatens the weak. One of my favorite quotes from him, as he turns into a “Super Saiyan” and fights the evil space tyrant Frieza who has just killed his friend, is this “I am the hope of the universe! I am the answer to all living things that cry out for peace! I am protector of the innocent! I am the light in the darkness! I am truth! Ally to good! Nightmare to you!” This is the stuff of legends. If you want a child to be raised with good morals, let him watch Dragon Ball Z. I’m serious. Goku always does the right thing and even his enemies like the ruthless Saiyan prince Vegeta are changed by his heart and eventually convert to being one of the good guys. The show itself is full of ripped guys shooting energy blasts at each other and doing martial arts so fast that your eyes can barely keep up. The only bad thing about Dragon Ball Z is that the show is full of filler and stupid side-quests. Get past the junk though, and a treasure chest filled with gold awaits. Dragon Ball Z is not only the definitive action anime, it is the greatest animated show that has been made or ever will be made… just stay away from Kai.