More than any other series of its time, Cowboy Bebop proved that anime, in addition to being a medium for storytelling and entertainment, could in fact be a work of art. Each of the 26 episodes of Cowboy Bebop exemplify a concerted effort to create artwork, music, plot, and character that best play off one another, establishing subtle but consistent series-long themes and arcs.
The series, set in 2071, follows the lives of two bounty hunters — Spike Spiegel and Jet Black — who travel through the solar system on a spaceship named Bebop (a reference to the proclivity of bebop jazz in the show's soundtrack). Both bounty hunters have murky pasts (Jet was once an Inter Solar System Police officer, while Spike was the member of a vicious criminal syndicate) that continue to creep back into their current lives, sometimes as flashbacks and, increasingly so as the show progresses, sometimes as recurring characters and conflicts.
Cowboy Bebop skillfully merges the aesthetic of several disparate genres — sci-fi, mystery, psychological thriller, comedy, noir — as well as different cultures and settings, such as the Jazz Age, modern Japan, the American Old West. The series also features what was, at the time of its airing, a revolutionary approach to soundtrack. The music of Cowboy Bebop (including its iconic theme song) was composed by Yoko Kanno, who wrote predominantly jazz and blues pieces for the series. Kanno was given unusually free reign on her compositions by the show's director, and in some instances she would compose a song that she felt was necessary for an episode, leaving the artwork and story to be built around it rather than the other way around. The decision to use music as a narrative force in anime is just one of the many reasons Cowboy Bebop broke boundaries with its launch, and is part of what makes it such a pleasure to watch.