If you’re like me and often find yourself longing for exciting and different anime and are frequently disappointed by a lot of the newer series coming out, worry not, for I have composed a list of five great anime you probably haven’t watched before! Throughout this list, I’ll highlight what I think are some of strengths of each series and explain why I think they’re worth a shot. Now, let’s talk some anime!
Zankyou no Terror (2014)
It’s not every day you watch a show that can make you sympathize with terrorists, but Zankyou no Terror manages to do exactly that, as it beautifully depicts the dangerous game played between displaced and aging police detective Shibazaki, two haunted teenage terrorists, and Lisa Mashima, a depressed and isolated teenager helplessly drawn into their struggle. The series packs a lot of great plot twists and high-stakes drama, so I won’t talk about the plot any longer, since the story should be experienced with as little expectations and spoilers as possible. At just eleven episodes, Zankyou no Terror is ideal for your next anime binge session; there’s no filler to distract from its tight and well-told story, and you’ll lose yourself in its beautiful and tragic story.
Although it received quite a bit of attention and praise when it aired back in 2014, Zankyou no Terror seems to have faded into obscurity, and that’s unacceptable. With a creative premise and shockingly efficient execution for only eleven episodes, Zankyou no Terror leaves quite the impact. This series was one of the first anime I ever watched back in high school, after I was introduced to the medium through much more popular series like Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online. And while those shows also had an impact on me and I quite enjoyed them, there was something about Zankyou no Terror that made it stand out then and all these years later, as I still find myself thinking about the philosophical questions it raises.
One of the series’ strengths is undoubtedly its art-style and animation. Within minutes of the first episode, I was blown away by how beautifully drawn even simple objects like a grenade or truck were and was similarly awed by the fluidity of every movement the characters make. Casual and mundane animations or subtle facial expressions are given as much attention as any show-stopping shonen battle, and while I don’t wish to spoil anything, there’s a particularly gorgeous scene involving a motorcycle ride that is able to evoke an indescribable feeling of profound loneliness and heartache through crisp visuals and music alone.
Complementing the gorgeous visuals and intense narrative is an excellent soundtrack, composed by the legendary Yoko Kanno of Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell fame. The score ranges from dark and moody tracks to ambient synth piano solos, from haunting to hopeful, a brilliant parallel to the nature of the narrative itself. Of particular note are the absolutely eerie ED “Dare ka, Umi wo” by Aimer and the soft, nostalgic OP “Trigger” by Yuuki Ozaki (from the well-known band Galileo Galilei). Each song perfectly complements the tone of the score and reinforces the series’ interest in exploring the painful spaces between beauty and destruction.
While the show had finally found a home on Crunchyroll this past year, Crunchyroll has seemingly lost custody of yet another anime, and the series has returned to Funimation again. With a run-time of roughly four hours, Zankyou no Terror is a much more manageable watch than some of the other anime on this list, and if you have a subscription to Funimation or even a free trial, this series is a must-watch.
I absolutely love sports anime, but even if you don’t love the genre as much as I do, Touch may still appeal to you, as it is about a lot more than just sports. A saga spanning roughly a hundred episodes, Touch follows the lives of the Uesugi twins, Tatsuya and Kazuya, and their next-door neighbour and childhood friend Minami, who was also born the same day. Of course, a love triangle gradually develops, as the good-hearted but lazy Tatsuya and the diligent, ace pitcher Kazuya compete to win the affections of Minami and take her to the legendary Koshien Stadium.
Even if love triangle and baseball drama aren’t your thing, you shouldn’t dismiss this series, as it offers a lot more. Each of the three protagonists is extensively-developed and feels so realistic that the show is interesting even when it’s about their mundane life. Indeed, such domestic moments are what give the series its enduring charm. The story spans a period of a few years, and over those years, you see these kids grow and mature, discover new passions, get jobs, and come to terms with their complicated emotional baggage. While baseball is crucial to the story, don’t expect any disappearing or flying athletes, à la Kuroko’s Basketball. Like the complicated emotions of its characters, Touch handles the sport with realism, creating a sense of pure and raw emotion in a mere strikeout. The baseball here is personal and subdued, facilitating the larger character study of these childhood friends and the complications of their first crushes and high school love lives. I’ll always think back fondly on the journey undertaken by these intensely likeable and memorable characters (particularly Minami who gets a lot of development and is so much more than just a love interest for the boys). If there’s such a thing as comfort anime, this series is one of the best examples of the genre.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack. All of the OPs, most of which are sung by Yoshimi Iwasaki, are amazing and sound totally distinct from modern anime openings (although, you’ve probably heard a spoof of the original OP “Touch” without realizing it, since the song is quite famous in Japan). The insert songs, also performed by the talented Yoshimi Iwasaki, create a distinct sound of childhood optimism and innocence, and the more exciting tracks in the score heighten each tense moment of baseball goodness. Years later, I’m still listening to the soundtrack, particularly the inspiring “Silhouette of a Star,” to motivate me to write or clean or do whatever it is I’m procrastinating at that moment.
Although Touch is still one of the best-selling manga of all time in Japan, the series was never a hit in America and trying to find the anime subbed legally is unfortunately impossible at this time. That said, there are some less savoury sites (you know which ones) that carry all of the episodes. However you manage to watch the episodes, Touch is an anime you don’t want to miss, whether a sports anime fan or just a fan of good slice-of-life, character drama. So, strap in for a charming 80s throwback and enjoy a time of much simpler anime.
Planetarian is definitely the oddball of this list. It’s only five episodes, and those episodes can be as short as twelve minutes, making this an anime you can comfortably watch in a sitting. It’s also based on a visual novel, which I’ve never played, but the influence of the source material is still noticeable, as much of the anime is built on one-on-one dialogues between its two characters. The anime tells the story of a nameless traveler who wanders through post-apocalyptic cities in search of food and other materials in order to survive. While roaming the latest abandoned city, he stumbles upon a planetarium and meets an adorable android, who is still attempting to perform her job as a guide, oblivious to the damage the world has suffered. The two form an unlikely bond and try to find meaning in a desolate and dying world. The series is very much soft sci-fi and isn’t interested in exploring what caused the apocalypse and brought humanity to this point. Like any good Asimov story, Planetarian is more interested in questioning what exactly makes someone human.
Despite its brevity, the series packs a punch and will pull at your heartstrings as well as comfort you with its simplicity and wholesome approach to fairly dark subject matter. The story is incredibly short but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective than longer anime. It truly is short and sweet. Given that the series is so short, it’s worth giving a shot, since you’ll hardly regret the commitment of a couple hours even if you don’t enjoy it. I certainly recommend the series if you want something comforting and heartwarming to relax to one night this week.
Planetarian is currently available for streaming on Funimation.
Re: Creators (2017)
In this world of seemingly never-ending generic isekai anime, it’s hard to find genuinely original and exciting new anime series. And yet, Re: Creators not only manages to make isekai anime interesting, it also manages to make its bizarre pastiche of nostalgic 90s anime work as a coherent story. Technically a reverse-isekai anime, Re: Creators explores the idea of various fictional characters being brought into the real world, where their very existence is a threat to the physical integrity of the universe. Of course, shenanigans ensue, and soon the fate of the world is at stake, as each fictional character must reckon with the reality of their being manipulated by the “gods” of Earth and must choose to either defend their creators or destroy them.
While many anime fans have heard of Re: Creators, not nearly as many have actually watched the series, because it was so harshly criticized by a number of critics. Re: Creators is not a perfect anime by any means: the show has notoriously slow pacing in the middle episodes, and the main character Souta is essentially a self-insert for any geek watching the show. However, Re: Creators has a lot more to offer, and the flaws are outweighed by its tremendous strengths. In terms of creativity, Re: Creators doesn’t miss a single beat and explores so many ridiculous yet intriguing philosophical questions. What would it be like to meet your creator? How would it feel to realize the trauma you inflict on your characters for the sake of an interesting story is actually destroying a real person’s life? What types of characters repeatedly resonate with us, and why do we love them so much? And most importantly, what would happen if mechas from The Vision of Escaflowne and Neon Genesis Evangelion fought against Cardcaptor Sakura?
Thankfully, Re: Creators is unbelievably self-aware and acutely understands nerdy culture and fandom. Re: Creators is at its best when it’s diving into the varied elements of fandom such as fan-discs, fanart, fan-made music videos, or even twitter backlash to a series’ evolution. Each of these elements plays a key role in the story, as fan popularity both limits and grants the fictional characters power in the real world. The writers handle everything so cleverly that even the obligatory clip-show recap episode is a lot of fun, lampshading the anime tropes employed in the series and poking fun at fans that complain about recap episodes. Such minor details show the dedication to and familiarity with fandom and anime culture, and the series revels in such inside-baseball references. While not exactly a great gateway anime, the series rewards long-time anime fans and is chock full of genuinely delightful fanservice (not the sexual kind, though there is a bit of that too, mostly used as parody).
Of course, I have to mention the soundtrack. Composed by the legend Hiroyuki Sawano (Attack on Titan, Aldnoah Zero, Guilty Crown, Kill la Kill, etc.), Re:Creators’ score just might be his best work, with amazing and bombastic Engrish music numbers that elevate every single one of the show’s chaotic fight scenes. Both the OPs, “Gravity Wall” and “Shout” by Tielle and Gemie, are insanely hype and will have you singing along every time. Even thinking about skipping these OPs is an absolute crime.
A loving homage to the classics that founded modern anime fandom, Re: Creators looks back to anime’s past but somehow feels new despite all that. Although a lot of modern anime can feel lackluster or disappointing, Re: Creators delivers and deserves to enter the canon of anime classics.
Re: Creators is currently available for legal streaming on Amazon Prime.
Like Zankyou no Terror, Monster is a show that’s hard to summarize without grossly spoiling some of its most compelling twists. In order to preserve major plot twists, I’ll briefly summarize only the first four of seventy-five episodes. The story follows Kenzou Tenma, a Japanese immigrant to Germany and a brilliant neurosurgeon with a promising career as Head of Surgery ahead of him. On top of that, he’s engaged to the gorgeous Eva Heinemann, the daughter of the hospital director. His life is drastically altered and thrown into chaos, however, when he chooses to operate on a ten year old boy named Johan over a wealthy politician who funds the hospital. Ostracized for disobeying the director’s orders and refusing to bend on his principles, Tenma loses his prestigious position and all of his personal relationships. Even his small satisfaction of doing a good deed is ruined, as he learns the boy he saved grew up to be a psychopathic killer. Feeling responsible for the life he saved, Tenma sets out to stop Johan, an almost supernaturally strong and charismatic criminal. All of this happens in just the first four episodes, and that’s just scratching the surface of how crazy this show gets.
If you like history and politics, Monster expertly renders the chaos and turmoil of post-World Wars Germany, depicting the dark underbelly of the country, including Neo-Nazi extremists, starving and abused prostitutes, racial violence, abused orphans, corrupt policemen, and even Communist brainwashing. As the title suggests, the story depicts the kinds of social upheaval and trauma that can turn even good people into monsters. The story isn’t all darkness, however. No matter how bleak things become, there’s always a sense of hope and purpose that is never lost, and that battle between light and darkness is what makes Monster so compelling.
The cast of characters is undoubtedly the series’ greatest strength. The hero Tenma, an almost messianic figure of true goodness in a depraved world, is still three-dimensional and realistic, and each of his allies, acquaintances, and enemies are just as vividly drawn. Johan remains one of anime’s greatest villains, but perhaps what makes the characters so interesting is that each one is capable of being a hero or villain, of accomplishing tremendous good or evil. The tension within each characters’ soul, as they all struggle with their own monstrous nature, makes every character interaction riveting. Apart from Tenma and Johan, the supporting cast is perfectly developed and integrated into the larger narrative, and Eva Heinemann in particular is one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever seen in an anime.
Without a doubt my favourite anime of all time, Monster is the closest thing to a perfect story I’ve ever experienced. With expert pacing capable of balancing one-off, emotionally resonant episodes with intense story-driven arcs, Monster never missteps and weaves one of the best stories you’ll ever experience. Haunting and powerful, the show is a roller coaster of emotion and one that you will not soon forget.
While the show is sadly not legally available in North America, despite its excellent English dub, it is available on some other anime sites that must not be named. If you only check out one anime on this list, do yourself a favour and make it Monster.
Obviously, this list is by no means comprehensive, nor does it express what I think are the most obscure or unknown anime of all time (indeed, Re: Creators and Monster certainly have their fanbases). Furthermore, I attempted to make my selection as diverse as possible, so that at least one of these series could appeal to any anime fan. If there are any other great unknown anime series you think I missed or should have mentioned, feel free to comment! Who knows, maybe you’ll introduce me to something cool that’s escaped my attention too.