While every anime has a story to tell, some have gone a step beyond. From tackling social and cultural issues to offering insights into art, philosophy, and history, these series were bold enough to run with an unusual concept, a unique vision, and oftentimes unusual art in pursuit of the story they wanted to tell, without fear of whether it would be popular or not.
Genre need not be a limit on such things. A unique and action-filled shonen anime can provide as intriguing of a premise as a slower-paced slice-of-life with something to say, and both are equally worth a watch for a curious anime fan looking for something to try, whether a new series or an old-time classic.
10 Cowboy Bebop Is A Classic Piece Of Science Fiction
Mixing elements of classic westerns and neo-noir against the backdrop of space, Cowboy Bebop is considered a classic for many good reasons. The show follows the adventures of Spike, Jet, and Faye, a band of bounty hunters aboard the titular ship "Bebop" as they hunt down targets across the solar system.
Cowboy Bebop backs up excellent writing and spectacular animation with a jazz-centric soundtrack that gives the series an energy that few others have matched. While the series mixes in levity as well, it also manages to tackle heavier issues at times, especially in regards to confronting the past.
9 Stardust Crusaders Has A Unique Style & A Deep Attention To Detail
Stardust Crusaders may be the third arc of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, but it's also where many fans were first introduced to the series. It's also the first generation of the now ubiquitous Stands, a manifestation of fighting spirit as a supernatural entity that "stands" by its user resolutely.
While the story is plenty exciting, Stardust Crusaders excels in other ways too, from excellent art and amazing landscape shots to an uncommon attention to detail, whether reminders of the 1980s or more subtle touches. One such reference includes Joseph's encounter with "hot cola" in Hong Kong, where it's a classic drink said to help with colds.
8 Log Horizon Combines A Plausible Game Engine With Political Tensions
Log Horizon offers an unusual spin on the classic "trapped in an MMO" formula. Unlike the worlds of .Hack or Sword Art Online, Log Horizon's "Elder Tale" takes much heavier inspiration from how real games work, with mechanics such as respawning after death, in-game housing, and crafting skills all intact.
That isn't to say everything is the same though. Former NPCs now roam as real people, and it certainly wasn't a virtual reality experience before. Amid this chaos, it's up to Shiroe and his friends to try to bring some semblance of peace while also trying to figure out what happened.
7 Den-noh Coil Looks At The Potential Of AR Technology
Set in the near future, Den-noh Coil follows the adventures of Yuuko and Kyouko, two young girls who move to the city of Daikoku. Daikoku is old city that nonetheless has embraced the rise of augmented reality technology, including an overlaid virtual world viewed only through special "cyber glasses."
While pure science fiction when it released in 2007, Den-noh Coil managed to predict many tech trends of the future. Examples include wearable computers and self-driving cars, as well as the embrace of "AR" elements in games and apps. These are all mixed in its story with aspects of urban legends and folklore.
6 Akagi Turns A Game Of Mahjong Into A High-Stakes Thriller
Akagi starts with a thirteen-year-old boy wandering into a yakuza den, soaked with rain and very possibly involved with an incident that led to two cars plummeting off a cliff. From there, he not only saves an unlucky gambler but also beats a yakuza leader in high-stakes Mahjong.
Carrying Nobuyuki Fukumoto's iconic art style,Akagi also shows a deep love for the game of Mahjong. Akagi manages to turn a board game into a psychological battle as intense as any physical one as Akagi faces challenge after challenge, slowly growing his persona into a truly legendary gambler.
5 Revolutionary Girl Utena Mixes Complex Symbolism With LGBTQ+ Themes
Revolutionary Girl Utena is a favorite among many anime fans, not only for its clever use of symbolism and its beautiful aesthetic, but also for its LGBTQ+ themes and its strong female lead. The former is a relative rarity among most other anime series from the 1990s.
The show follows Utena Tenjou as she joins Ohtori Academy and soon finds herself in the middle of a dueling tournament run by the seemingly all-powerful student council with Anthy as the prize known as "The Rose Bride." Utena also supposedly possesses the key to a mysterious and unknown "power to change the world."
4 Doctor Stone Puts A Lot Of Effort Into Its Science
"Science!" could well be the catchphrase of Dr. Stone. Set thousands of years after all of humanity was petrified, the story begins when Senku abruptly awakes. It's not long before he sets out on a quest of his own making: to revive humanity and rebuild the world anew.
Not only is Dr. Stone a fun and creative take on a shonen anime, but a lot of effort also went into Senku's inventions. there's real science behind a lot of them, from spinning cotton candy machines to lead-acid batteries and flashbulbs, all rendered with the series' unique art style.
3 Golden Kamuy Provides A Well-Written Look At Ainu Culture
Set shortly after the Russo-Japanese War, the plot of Golden Kamuy follows the journey of "Immortal" Saichi Sugimoto, a veteran that now seeks to fulfill his friend's dying wish. He soon becomes embroiled in the hunt for a stolen horde of gold, meeting the young Ainu girl Asirpa along the way.
Not only does Golden Kamuy offer a thrilling treasure hunt, but its respect for Ainu culture is refreshing and offers a look at an often overlooked people. The story showcases not just the Ainu language, but also aspects such as clothing, art, and food, alongside the struggles they've faced.
2 Ascendance Of A Bookworm Offers A Look At The History Of Literature
Urano Motosu dreamed of becoming a librarian, but her dreams were cut short as an accident robbed her of her life. In her dying moments, she had one last wish: to be reincarnated in a world where she can read books forever. A wish cut short when she awakes.
Now inhabiting the body of a girl Myne, she embarks on a quest to find a book in a medieval world where even the cheapest books are still the obtainable only by nobility. With excellent attention to historical detail (and a touch of fantasy), Ascendance Of a Bookworm is a very unique isekai.
1 Wandering Son Offers A Look At The Difficulties Of Growing Up Trans
A heartwarming and sometimes tear-jerking slice-of-life, Wandering Son follows the lives of two teenagers, Shuuichi and Yoshino. Both of them deal with starting junior high school, their first romances, the onset of puberty, and the difficulties and double standards faced as a trans person living in Japan.
It's very refreshing to see well-written trans characters in anime, but Wandering Son also highlights many of the challenges LGBTQ+ people face in modern Japan, from the difficulty in changing legal gender to bullying. Not all is grim though, as Shuuichi perseveres and gains confidence in her identity.
NEXT: 15 Anime With The Most Unique Art Styles