The world of anime is vast and bountiful, with a seemingly endless number of shows, movies, and shorts to choose from, whether you’re a neophyte or a die-hard otaku. Dozens of anime premieres every season, and with major streaming services vying for exclusive premieres and funding the production of dozens of more original anime for their respective platforms, the amount of What to watch and the decision behind or looking at it can be intimidating.
But what are you looking at when you’ve already gone through everything this season has to offer? We’ve combed through our shelves and watchlists to bring you six primo anime you absolutely should watch. Don’t worry – these aren’t huge shōnen epics spanning hundreds of episodes (though we can recommend a few as well). Instead, we’ve picked out a few digestible limited-edition anime that you can hone over a weekend or over the course of a week. Cult favorites from the directors of crybaby devilman and Mob Psycho 100 to cerebral sci-fi oddities and outlandish supernatural horror anthologies, here are six underrated anime that should be checked out.
More than a decade before Don’t Touch Eizouken! and its 2018 Netflix series crybaby devilman propelled it to worldwide success, Masaaki Yuasa was already asserting his claim as one of modern anime’s preeminent writers with his 2008 sci-fi anime Kaiba. Set in a distant post-human future where consciousness and memory have been externalized into chips that can be switched between artificial bodies, a young man named Kaiba wakes up in a strange underground chamber with a hole in the middle of his chest. With no memory of his past except for a pendant containing a photo of a mysterious woman, he embarks on a journey to discover his lost identity and why he lost his memory in the first place. Over 12 episodes, Kaiba is a beautiful series about enduring love and mortality in a world of high technology expressed through psychedelic visuals, evocative music, and endearing characters.
Kaiba is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
A Canadian-Japanese adaptation of a cult Argentinian science fiction comic book, Cybersix centers on a leather-clad female android who battles her mad scientist (and former coded Nazi) creator, Dr. Von Reichter, while living a day-to-day double life as a high school English teacher named Adrian Seidelman. Courtesy of renowned Japanese studio TMS Entertainment, Cybersix can be seen as a prime example of the aesthetic and narrative elasticity inherent in the globalized definition of anime as a culturally specified permutation of global animation. But that’s not the only reason you should watch the show; you should watch it because it’s short (only 13 episodes), has fantastic action sequences, beautiful settings, a cool sentient panther who serves, and a fascinating love “triangle” between Cybersix and a working high school biology teacher alongside his alter-ego.
Cybersix is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
The Japanese Horror Anthology Series Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories has been on TV since 2013, amassing over 91 episodes over its eight seasons. If that sounds like a daunting commitment, don’t worry: each episode is under five minutes long (the perfect length to cram a few into on your lunch break), and each focuses on its own story and characters. Featuring a distinctive animation style deliberately reminiscent of Kamishibai, the popular method of Japanese street theater and puppetry of the early 20th century, Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is the perfect anime for someone looking for a unique, low-commitment horror series.
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Before delivering one of the best anime surprises of the last year in the form of Decadence and directing the first two seasons of the hit adaptation of Mob Psycho 100Yuzuru Tachikawa cut his teeth with his 2015 series death parade. The anime follows Decim, a psychopomp working as a bartender in a mysterious tower. Tasked with weighing the worth of the souls that cross his tower level, Decim subjects his often bewildered and unsuspecting guests to a gauntlet of seemingly benign trials like a game of pool or darts in order to decide whether they will ascend to the sky or to be plunged into the darkest depths of the afterlife. Comprising only 12 episodes (plus a canonical pilot titled “Death Billiards”), the series packs an impressive amount of world-building, drama, and gripping surprises into every episode. death parade is the perfect anime for someone looking for a cerebral, beautifully animated take on Seen meets The seventh seal.
death parade is available to stream on Hulu.
Based on an episode of the 2006 horror anthology series Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales, Mononoke follows the stories of a mysterious wanderer known only as “The Medicine Seller” as he travels through Edo-Meiji Japan, battling supernatural monsters and exorcising wayward spirits known as “yokai” . Animated in an exuberant Ukioy-e style filled with bright, vivid colors punctuated by textured parchment-like backgrounds, the series resembles the 2005 Mushi-Shi anime adaptation as filtered through the flamboyant maximalist art style of the 2004s Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. If you’re looking for a fine murder mystery anthology series with a focus on nuanced characters and style, Mononoke is a must watch.
Mononoke is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Set in a near future dominated by immersive augmented reality technology, Den-noh coil follows a group of children who live in and around the fictional town of Daikoku who use special AR glasses to perform odd jobs and go missing around town. As the series progresses, the mysterious technology that sustains this world begins to show visible signs of stress and decay brought on by viruses and glitches, and soon enough it falls to the fearless members of the agency to detective Coil to find and remedy the cause behind it. Corruption. Directed by Mitsuo Iso, renowned for his expressive animation work on anime such as The End of Evangelion and Blood: The Last Vampire, Den-noh coil is a seductive slice-of-life sci-fi mystery series that explores deep thematic questions whose answers are buried in the liminal technological gap between the real and the unreal.
Coil Den-noh is available for purchase at Amazon.