With recent big-name anime like Dragon Ball Super, Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, and more getting most of the spotlight, it’s easy to see how shounen franchises are so mainstream. However, seinen and other older-skewing anime make up an impressive catalog of series within the genre.
Even outside of its native genre, they’re some of the highest-ranking animated TV shows on IMDb as well. Many of the usual suspects that longtime fans would recognize make the rankings, including the likes of the subversive One-Punch Man and the ’90s dark-fantasy epic Berserk.
10 Mushi-Shi (8.5)
Away from the world-ending tropes and over-the-top action of other series, Mushi-Shi scales things down to a soothing and supernatural anime tale. The story blends historical fiction with fantasy by taking place between the Edo and Meiji period of Japan. Following Ginko — a titular Mushi-Shi — travels the countryside to study the otherworldly Mushi entities.
They’re generally above the motivations of mankind and simply exist in the same space, with few being able to see or be affected by them in one way or the other. Mushi-Shi has been acclaimed for its peaceful, hauntingly beautiful atmosphere and retrospectively emotional storytelling, as well as the anthology-style format of Ginko’s mellow adventures.
9 Samurai Champloo (8.6)
From the mind that graced the genre with Cowboy Bebop — director Shinichirō Watanabe — also came the equal parts narratively compelling and stylish Samurai Champloo. In a hip-hop-infused revisionist take on Japan’s Edo period, this anime series follows the adventures of two ronin named Mugen and Jin alongside a former teahouse hostess as the two help her find the mysterious “samurai who smells of sunflowers.”
The aforementioned musical style is a great homage to the series director’s artistic approach to Bebop, and the slick animation, tackling socially conscious themes, and emotional character drama complete Samurai Champloo as a thoroughly investing watch.
8 Kaguya-sama: Love Is War (8.7)
Kaguya-sama: Love is War has proven to be one of the most entertaining romance anime and manga out right now. It’s a refreshing slice-of-life series that’s a welcome shakeup to the romance genre as well. The romance genre is easily susceptible to cheap clichés and storytelling, but Kaguya-sama: Love is War has been praised by fans for having a charming cast of characters, fast and fun pacing, and also some elements of subversion to genre tropes.
The story follows high school student council president Miyuki Shirogane and vice president Kaguya Shinomiya. Both are not-so-secretly attracted to each other, but their pride prevents them from admitting as much and results in comedic hijinks and scheming to get the other to crack first.
7 Berserk (8.7)
The late Kentaro Miura has been credited with perhaps the greatest fantasy manga ever with Berserk, and no doubt the manga’s recent revival and honoring of his legacy has thrilled countless fans. In the anime department, Berserk hasn’t been too fortunate, as most adaptations haven’t gone farther than the Golden Age Arc, and the series that went beyond it was widely panned.
However, the 1997 original anime is seen as a cult classic that compresses the Black Swordsman and Golden Age arcs into 25 episodes. Guts, Casca, and co.’s journey is a harrowing yet insightful tale of healing from trauma punctuated by an engrossing dark fantasy setting and brutal action.
6 Monster (8.7)
For fans that want a grounded crime drama, Monster might very well be the best option available. An adaptation of Naoki Urasawa’s manga, Monster is an enthralling 70-plus-episode crime saga that would feel right at home as a live-action HBO original. The series revolves around a Japanese former doctor living in Germany named Kenzo Tenma.
After Tenma refuses to operate on a high-ranking political figure in favor of saving the life of a young boy, he’s ostracized and later haunted by that same child — now grown up and morphed into an elusive serial killer. It’s a bleak and arresting watch all the way through, expertly conveying tension and an air of dread as well as exploring dark philosophical themes.
5 Code Geass (8.7)
Code Geass is anime-original series that takes a sci-fi spin on alternate history, with a story characterized by flashy action. But on top of the colorful mecha fights and bizarrely stylized character designs, the story centers around themes of greed and imperialistic obsessions of power by authoritarian figures of older generations.
Following the story of protagonist Prince Lelouch, the young man is given the “Power of Kings” to gather a team of allies and launch a rebellion against the oppressive Holy Britannian Empire. Its vibrant sense of spectacle when it comes to action, a wide cast of characters, and grand-scale story make Code Geass‘ brand of melodrama go down easier.
4 One-Punch Man (8.7)
Widely acclaimed as one of the best modern seinen anime on IMDb and elsewhere, One-Punch Man is excellent for several reasons. Whether it’s the stunning animation and action (of season 1) or the cleverly subversive comedic elements, manga writer ONE’s superhero series is refreshingly genuine with what it sets out to do.
Saitama has effectively become the strongest being on the planet, but that strength has bored him and led him to live an indifferent life. Paired with jaw-dropping fight scenes and smart comedy, One-Punch Man is an incredibly entertaining experience that flips superhero and shounen anime/manga tropes on their heads.
3 Vinland Saga (8.8)
Vinland Saga is another more recent anime adaptation that’s garnered massive acclaim in the seinen space. It’s deserved, as writer Makoto Yukimura’s manga source material is a gripping, character-driven odyssey, and Wit Studio’s season 1 adaptation beautifully covered Thorfinn’s tragic coming of age.
After the once happy-go-lucky Thorfinn sees his father murdered by the Viking private Askeladd, the former joins his band in hopes to gain the strength to kill him in a duel. What begins as a bitter revenge story fleshes out into a profoundly reflective story of living for the future and the fascinating stories of Thorfinn’s supporting cast. Fans will surely be eagerly anticipating MAPPA’s continuation in season 2.
2 Steins;Gate (8.8)
As far as science fiction goes, Steins;Gate is one of the darker, more grounded anime. It’s been lauded as a modern classic, with the series gradually and methodically building its world before spiraling into a plot with grand-scale consequences.
Okabe Rintaro is a self-proclaimed “mad scientist” with an ego problem, and he and his friends indulge his scientific obsessions and accidentally stumble upon the tech behind time travel. Steins;Gate has some serious world-ending stakes to it, but part of what makes this anime superb is how the massive conspiratorial threat is conveyed through a small-scale and intimate setting that almost tricks audiences into thinking it’s a slice-of-life.
1 Cowboy Bebop (8.9)
When it comes to the term “anime classics,” Cowboy Bebop is likely one of the first series to come to veteran fans’ minds. It was one of the industry’s crown jewels of the ’90s, combining slick art direction and acid jazz to create one of the most moodily stylish anime ever. Bebop is also one of the most influential series in the industry, but it also wasn’t a case of style over substance.
The series follows the adventures of Spike, Jet, Fay, Ed, and their Corgi Ein as bounty hunters in a world that masterfully mixes the sci-fi and western genres in a mostly anthology-style narrative structure. Delving into themes of loneliness, existentialism, and the ramifications of corporate greed, Cowboy Bebop also tells riveting and deeply emotional stories of character drama spread across its varied cast.