Here at Paste, we wholeheartedly believe that there is an anime out there for every single person. However, we often see lists that only consider a very specific demographic, leaving out female and LGBT viewers. This is incredibly sidelining and problems like this often occur within other hobbyist communities too – for example, many fan groups only consider a certain type of viewer instead of being all-inclusive. This is something we strongly disagree with. Why should these lists only contain anime made by men and why can’t men enjoy the anime made for women? We believe that everyone should be given the chance to find an anime they love, regardless of gender or sexuality.
While I was working on this list, I took a close look at my own taste and the sort of aesthetic that guides me. I’ve always enjoyed shoujo for its florid style and high melodrama, but when I thought of anime that deserved to be on a list of the best ever, only shows with male protagonists came to mind. Prestige anime is often centered around a man and his struggles, themes that can exclude varied viewers and create an echo chamber of impenetrable, inarguable taste for fans to discuss. These anime are great, but you may not find them as relatable or enjoyable if you don’t fit into the target demographic.
1. Cowboy Bebop
Every debate over whether or not Cowboy Bebop—Shinichiro Watanabe’s science-fiction masterpiece—is the pinnacle of anime is a semantic one. It is, full stop. Cowboy Bebop has a unique blend of cyberpunk intrigue, Western atmosphere, martial arts action, and noir cool in seinen form which is unmatched and widely appealing. It has existential and traumatic themes that are universally relatable. The characters are complex and flawed, yet still ooze cool. The future it presents is ethnically diverse and eerily prescient. Its English dub, boasting some of America
No other show, not even with the greatest full-time voiceover talents, quite equals the subtitled Japanese-language original. Its 26-episode run was near-perfect, and episodes that might have served as filler in another series are tight, taut, and actually serve the show’s thesis instead of distracting from its overarching plot – which is already compelling without being overbearing. It’s accessible to new viewers and still rewards old fans with every repeated watch.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Brotherhood is widely considered to be the essential anime experience by many, and it’s not hard to see why. A more faithful adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s mega-popular manga series than the original adaptation, Brotherhood deals with complex issues such as loss, grief, war, racism, and ethics in mature and unique ways – often ahead of its time in nearly every aspect. What’s more, the show is paced perfectly, with neatly wrapped arcs that lead into each other and bolster
Brotherhood has a sizable cast of characters, all of different nationalities and ideologies, with motivations that often oppose one another. The show manages to use these moving forces to form factions, alliances, and foils that flow in multiple directions, paralleling the often messy, always chaotic nature of human relationships during wartime. The show’s emotional core revolves around the plight of the Elric brothers, Ed and
3. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Even if someone has only a passing awareness of Neon Genesis Evangelion, they’re likely familiar with it from the sheer amount of branded merchandise or references to it in popular media. But because Evangelion is such an ingrained part of the animation canon, the way we talk about it is constantly changing.
When Evangelion first came out, it was touted as a meaningful deconstruction of the mecha genre popularized by Gundam and Macross. But later on, the franchise became bloated and filled with superfluous content – much like the melodramas-as-merchandise it lampooned years before.
Evangelion’s influence is far-reaching, with a cultural overlay that can be seen in everything from Persona 3 to Gurren Lagann. Much like Star Wars, its original creator Hideaki Anno has lost control of the franchise’s growth and has become a vocal critic of the anime industry, saying Japan’s animation world is “moving by inertia.” – Austin Jones
4. Revolutionary Girl Utena
Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Revolutionary Girl Utena is a post-structural examination of queer identity and generational trauma filtered through a surrealist lens, inspired by the seminal works of Riyoko Ikeda and the legendary all-female theater troupe Takarazuka Revue. The show follows Utena Tenjou, a middle schooler obsessed with becoming a prince so that she might meet the prince who saved her when she was a young girl. She challenges the gender norms of her school (which is symbolized by the overarching dueling game) and is continually seeking to find her place in the world. Ikuhara’s use of metaphor and stunning animation create a wholly unique and riveting experience that has cemented its place as a shoujo classic.