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24 Anime You Absolutely Need To Watch Before You Die

Classics and new stuff included.

by ,
iStock / Toho / Aniplex / Andy Golder / BuzzFeed

1. Cowboy Bebop (1998)


It's one of the most beloved anime series of all time (and one of the best dubbed, btw), and for good reason. The characters have depth to them, the story has weight, but it still manages to be consistently wacky and fun. Oh, and it has one of the best opening theme songs ever. I mean, it's bounty hunters in outer space! What's not to love?

2. Your Name (2017)


The quiet, engaging beauty of this movie led it to be the top-grossing anime movie of all time, even beating the likes of Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away. It takes a premise that sounds completely comical — a boy living in Tokyo and a girl living in rural Japan magically swap bodies at random and have to figure out how to navigate each others' lives — and turns it into a gorgeous story about love, family, and the connections we make through life.

3. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)

TV Tokyo

In retrospect, some aspects of Evangelion are the kinds of things you'd find really deep when you're 14, but later on seem to be trying too hard to be philosophical. But that's not to say that this dark, shocking series isn't still worth watching if you haven't seen it. It's a cornerstone of the genre, and pushed the limits of what kind of messed-up stuff you could put in an anime show back when it came out. Hell, it's still pretty fucked up, even by anime standards.

4. Akira (1988)


Speaking of genre-defining, if you've never seen Akira because it seemed too old-school, you might want to reconsider that stance. Plus, the movie was set in 2019, so we're coming up IRL on the year the events in Neo-Tokyo take place.

5. Yuri!!! On Ice (2016)


OK, so things like Evangelion and Akira are great, but they're a little...intense. Right? So if you want something lighter, consider the excellent sports/romance/comedy anime Yuri!!! On Ice. You got figure skating. You got love triangles. You got cute anime boys that'll make you wonder what exactly is wrong with you that you're so attracted to cartoons.

6. One-Punch Man (2015)

TV Tokyo

What originally started as a webcomic has turned into one of the funniest and most genuinely enjoyable anime series ever made. Since the show follows an overpowered superhero who can defeat anyone with one punch (and suffers from serious ennui as a result), prior knowledge of anime and superhero tropes helps you get the most out of One-Punch Man. Still, there's enough silliness (and plenty of actual action, too) for anyone to sit down, watch, and love this series.

7. Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)


Everybody has their favorite show from the Gundam franchise, and some might find the likes of Gundam Wing more enjoyable than Mobile Suit Gundam. But you have to give props to the original, right? After all, would mecha anime even be a thing without this and Mazinger Z?

8. Dragon Ball Z (1989)


When creating a list of "essential" anime series, there are a handful of shows that seem unnecessary to even add, because just about everybody has seen them. But on the off chance that there are a few readers who haven't seen Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z, here's this list's official recommendation: watch them. They're fun as hell. The fights, the long exposition, the relentless power's the epitome of what makes anime ~anime~. You can start with Z and double back to the original if you like it, and there's also Dragon Ball Z Kai, which helpfully cuts out a lot of the filler, moving things along much quicker.

9. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2010)


Kinda like Battlestar Galactica the second attempt at this series outshines the original, even if the original holds a special place in our hearts. Brotherhood took this elegantly built world and its fleshed-out (sorry, Al) characters to new heights, providing a very faithful adaptation of the manga.

10. Your Lie In April (2014)


If you loved the heartstring-tugging that happened throughout Your Name, then Your Lie In April is a good follow-up. In a world where drama shows tend to rely on increasingly unlikely scenarios to emotionally manipulate the audience, Your Lie is a refreshingly quiet, thoughtful, and grounded story...that'll still totally fuck you up.

11. Attack on Titan (2013)


Oh, was the dark, dreary futility of Evangelion not enough for you? Then how about Attack on Titan, one of the only shows that rivals it in post-apocalyptic bleakness? It's become a phenomenon in the few years it's existed. The action's good, too.

12. Death Note (2006)

Viz Media

If wish fulfillment is a cornerstone of anime, then Death Note really says a lot about human nature. This series (about a genius high schooler who finds a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it) is so well-made and so beloved that it spawned a live-action movie adaptation...that was almost universally panned. So, stick with the series, is what I'm saying.

13. Naruto (2008)

Viz Media

Listen. I've seen the memes. I know that Naruto is as much a punchline as it is a classic. But the existence of all the memes says that enough people have seen and ~felt something~ about this show that it deserves to be considered a must-watch. Maybe you try it and you hate it. Or maybe you try it and it's your new obsession/guilty pleasure.

14. Steins;Gate (2011)


This series, adapted from a video game by the same name, has everything:

* A cute mad scientist.

* A "phone microwave" that can send emails into the past.

* Shady scientific organizations dedicated to discovering time travel in order to take over the world.

* Dr. Pepper.

* Brutal emotional pain.

Basically, this show is bonkers and you should absolutely watch it.

15. Spirited Away (2001)

Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli's highest-grossing movie — which won an Oscar, by the way — stands out even among its incredibly high-quality Miyazaki-made siblings, like Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle. If you somehow missed it during its heyday, watch it now.

16. FLCL (2000)


It takes a special kind of show to completely win over the hearts of fans with just six short episodes. It's tough to explain what exactly it is that makes it so damn good, so it's best to just watch it. Considering that it finally got a renewal for more seasons 18 years after the original was released, now's the time to catch up.

17. Trigun (1998)


OK, so it's a gunslinging western...set on an alien planet...where two insurance adjusters harass the protagonist for all the collateral damage his fights cause. Sounds silly, right? It is! And it's incredibly fun. And then the second half of the series hits you like a punch to the gut and suddenly every episode starts breaking your heart. It's amazing, and it makes a lot of interesting points about pacifism in the face of evil.

18. My Hero Academia (2016)


Since Boku No Hero Academia is still fairly new (the show's third season is just now airing), it's tough to say whether it'll stand the test of time to be truly "must-see." However, the show has had a strong start and already has a dedicated fan base, and the strong premise (students with superpowers enroll at a school for heroes) could serve for many seasons.

19. Lupin III Part 2 (1980)

Yomiuri TV

The Lupin III series follows gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III and his cohorts as they make trouble and get pursued by Interpol. The 155 episodes of Lupin II Part 2, which ran from 1977-1980, became well-known in the U.S. after playing on Adult Swim in the early 2000s. A light-hearted crime show, Lupin's characters stay with you long after the series is over.

20. Sailor Moon (1992)

TV Asahi

If you haven't watched the original Sailor Moon, stop reading this and go watch a few episodes immediately. It's the quintessential magical girl show for a reason — you'll laugh, you'll roll your eyes, and you'll cry as you watch Usagi and her friends grow and mature, all while fighting evil and protecting the world.

21. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)


What can I say about Madoka Magica? Most importantly, it's not your typical magical girl anime. Sure, a group of middle school girls make a deal with a cute, cat-like creature called Kyubey, who grants them a single wish in exchange for gaining magical powers in order to fight witches. But that's just the surface. The more you watch, the darker it gets. And the ending? Whew boy, get your tissues. You're gonna need 'em.

22. Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997)

TV Tokyo

There are some shows out there that play with gender roles and norms, but Revolutionary Girl Utena completely upends them. It's a classic prince-saves-princess story, but the prince is actually a woman who wants to be a prince and just decides to go for it. Honestly, the show was ahead of its time, and it holds up. Plus, sword fights!

23. Serial Experiments Lain (1998)

TV Tokyo

When Lain came out in 1998, home PCs and the internet were still a relatively new thing for everyone to have access to. The show follows introverted high school student Lain, who receives an email from a dead student at her school. We then see Lain's journey through the virtual-reality "Wired," aka the internet, and her interactions with groups that seek to control it. This series tackles some heavy stuff — the major themes are about loneliness, mental illness, how technology both separates and connects us, suicide, and, uh...the nature of reality. It's unsettling, but well worth watching.

24. Ouran High School Host Club (2006)


Need a light-hearted, fun show to cheer you up? Ouran High School Host Club is short, funny, sweet, and surprisingly emotional at times. Brilliant but shy Haruhi gets a scholarship to prestigious Ouran High School, stumbles into the wrong study room, and ends up joining the school's popular "host club" ~because reasons~. This show pokes fun at the shōjo genre, turning stereotypes on their head. This sweet show about friendship and growing up is well worth a watch!

Now, of COURSE there's no way to include every essential anime in one list. So if we missed something, make sure people know about it in the comments!

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