[Description]: While not a conventional genre, I think there are many shows which can best be understood and recognized by how they explore their characters and worlds in a thoughtful, provocative way. These kinds of stories are usually about a character or group of characters that travel around and explore their world in search of meaning or understanding. These shows are about ideas, messages, and themes and ultimately intend to leave the viewer thinking – about themselves, the cast, and the human condition. Links to spoiler-free reviews of all of the shows that have them are included
6. Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World
Alternative Title: Kino’s Journey
Episode Count: 13 Episodes (24-minutes each)
Studio and Year: A.C.G.T.; 2003
Details: Kino no Tabi follows the journey of the titular character Kino, a young, gunslinging girl, and her talking motorcycle Hermes. The two travel through countries and towns and learn about the people that live there as well as their customs and cultures. It’s an atmospheric show about self-discovery and human nature presented through an episodic series of encounters. Kino is a wonderfully endearing character with a lot of minor quirks that makes her both memorable and interesting to watch and the dialogue of the show is very thoughtful. The show likely won’t discuss anything you haven’t heard of before and in greater depth but its topics are charming none the less. The more of these kinds of shows you’ve seen, the less you will take away from Kino no Tabi and vice versa.
Alternative Title: Fooly Cooly
Episode Count: 6 Episodes (25-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Gainax, Production I.G; 2000 – 2001
Details: While most of the shows in this category are slow, atmospheric, and thoughtful, FLCL is chaotic, boisterous, and bizarre. It’s a coming-of-age story centered around a young boy named Naota, his family, and strange, guitar-wielding, Vespa-riding, girl named Haruko who one day crashes into him. Naota’s normal life is completely upended by their encounter and between the involvement of the Bureau of Interstellar Immigration and giant robots intermittently bursting out of his head, things only get crazier. FLCL is a fast-paced action comedy that despite the craziness and lunacy of its presentation, is an unexpectedly provocative exploration of what it means to grow up.
4. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei
Alternative Title: The Tatami Galaxy
Episode Count: 11 Episodes (23-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Madhouse; 2010
Details: Tatami Galaxy follows an unnamed protagonist as he relives his college experience and across different episodes of the show, experiences multiple iterations of where his choices could have led him. There is also a particular focus on both Akashi, a composed college freshman, and Ozu, the protagonist’s only friend and sometimes worst enemy who he sees as someone that attempts to make his life as miserable as he can. The story follows the protagonists’ various exploits in joining different school clubs and pursuing different kinds of romance which typically end in some kind of failure. The show is very heavily thematic – it’s about opportunities, mistakes, and self-perception. With Tatami Galaxy, be prepared for a wild, surreal ride delivered in rapid, breakneck dialogue.
3. Casshern Sins
Episode Count: 24 Episodes (24-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Madhouse, Tatsunoko Production; 2008 – 2009
Details: Casshern Sins is an episodic journey through an apocalyptic world where almost all of humanity has died off and the countless robots that inhabit the planet rust and disintegrate with each passing day. Bereft of his memories and blessed with an invincible body, Casshern awakens to this bleak world gripped by a cataclysm referred to as ‘The Ruin’ and is shocked to learn that everyone believes he is responsible for what has happened. Tormented and pursued by innumerable robots that want him dead, Casshern begins his journey in the hopes that he can come to understand himself, his past deeds and perhaps even halt the devastation racking the world. Casshern Sins is all about confronting death and the implications of immortality. You can read a spoiler-free review: here.
2. Cowboy Bebop
Episode Count: 26 Episodes (24-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Sunrise; 1998 – 1999
Details: One of the most renowned anime of all time, Cowboy Bebop takes place in a universe where humanity has left earth behind and spread out across the stars. The show follows former-gangster Spike Spiegel and ex-policeman Jet Black who make their living as bounty hunters, capturing criminals aboard their spaceship Bebop. In their journeys they are joined by Faye Valentine, a con-artist on the run from considerable dept, Edward , a young girl and genius hacker, and a genetically-altered Corgi named Ein. Cowboy Bebop details the unlikely crew’s adventures and mishaps as they pursue various bounties and struggle to come to terms with their respective pasts. It’s an adventure for the ages and the show is told with such style, introspection, and finesse that it’s clear to see why it has become such an enduring classic. You can read a spoiler-free review: here.
Episode Count: 48 Episodes (24-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Artland; 2005 – 2014
Details: Mushishi is an absolutely gorgeous show about a man named Ginko who has the ability to see otherwise invisible lifeforms called Mushi which, in essence, are the purest form of life in the world. As a Mushishi, Ginko specializes in dealing with these Mushi and their various attributes as he journeys from place to place across lush and vivid countrysides in order to help people who suffer from the adverse affects of living near Mushi. These lifeforms aren’t necessarily malicious or evil, and Ginko helps people and Mushi understand each other. Mushishi is an episodic show full of touching and dramatic vignettes about people living in this imaginative world and all the different kinds of Mushi that surround them. The visuals are utterly beautiful and the soundtrack is as breathtaking as it is haunting. As one of the best anime ever made, it is well worth checking out.