For those wanting to get into anime movies, it certainly can be intimidating given the unfamiliar descriptors like kodomo, shonen, seinen, josei, and kodomomuke which are used to describe the overarching genre. And as our exploration of 20 Essential Anime for Beginners revealed, it’s a hot topic when there are perceived omissions.
If there were a single unifying trait for the above sub-genres, it’s that most anime movies are action-packed — albeit interpreted in a much different way that your average Hollywood blockbuster which are often formulaic and easy to predict.
Equal parts dreamlike and serious, these are the 20 action anime movies and TV shows you need to know more about.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is a series with eight distinct stories that all center around a different character (all named JoJo, all part of the same family) who learn that they are destined to battle supernatural forces in the various time periods in which they live.
Featuring vampires, Egyptian ghosts, murder mysteries, 19th Century New York, and a soundtrack that feature’s ’90s pop group Savage Garden, this thing is nuts! Also worth a look is movie legend Takashi Miike’s live action feature film adaptation of the same name.
Comics legend, Warren Ellis, pens a stunning video game adaptation that goes for the emotional jugular. The series is currently two seasons in on Netflix and watching Trevor Belmont tussle with Dracula and his cohorts is a joy to behold.
Astro Boy was made for kids in the ’60s. Thus, it is pretty gentile for today’s audience which is more accustomed to a more violent genre. Then why is it on a list of action anime? Because without it, there’d be no list. 40% of Japan’s television owning population watched this show’s original 193 episode run. Without its beautiful renderings of a robotic future, who knows what the landscape of Japanese animation would look like today?
Ninja Scroll is one of the anime feature films that managed to infiltrate the west (likely via many a college dorm room on sketchy VHS tape). There’s no real artful message or dreamy sub plot here, but there is a Ninja hell-bent on fighting up a bunch of demons and doing so in an incredible animation style that still slices through you nearly 30 years later.
Legendary animation house Studio Ghibli’s sprawling fantasy epic is a must-see for any anime fan. It’s a slow burn, but hyper-violent. A rich and rewarding piece of magical-historical fiction that explores humanity’s impact on the environment beautifully.
One Punch Man
Our titular hero of One Punch Man, Saitama, is so powerful that he can end all battles with a single punch. While this immense power might suggest a lack of drama in this action anime series, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Thanks to a depth afforded to Saitama’s character, the viewer is left to contemplate a Clark Kent-esque existence where the internal battle is often more impactful.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
In a world where humans have been confined to live and work in isolated, underground communities by a cruel overlord known as the Spiral King, two boys hijack a mecha named Lagann and join the human resistance on the surface. This series features some of the biggest, craziest mecha you’re likely to see on screen this side of Mobile Suit Gundam.
My Hero Academia
A relative newcomer, My Hero Academia is becoming insanely popular. In a world where having superpowers is pretty normal, Izuku finds himself one of the unlucky ones to be born without any. Obsessed with becoming a superhero, he’s enrolled in a school for heroes after a chance encounter with the world’s greatest hero.
Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan is a recent — but incredibly solid — addition to the world of action anime which sees humans pitted against massive, man-eating giants. Of course, it’s much more complex than that – and the gorgeous, creative renderings of the titans themselves should be enough to hook you in.
Hunter X Hunter
Gon, our young protagonist, discovers that the father he thought was dead is not only alive, but is actually an elite member of humanity known simply as a “Hunter.” It’s a touching coming-of-age tale complete with dad issues, ethics, and tons of fighting.
Mobile Suit Gundam
It’s a familiar story in the world of anime; a dystopian future ravaged by war in which a teenager who loses everything finds himself piloting a full-body prototype war robot across the galaxy, defeating evil in the name of good.
1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam laid the blueprint for this kind of thing. As a result, there’d be no Pacific Rim or Transformers if Gundam hasn’t flown in first.
Dragon Ball Z
Is there anybody left in the world who needs Dragon Ball Z explained to them? The sequel to the original Dragonball series sees Goku — now an adult (and also an alien?!) — on a quest to save his son, who was kidnapped by Goku’s alien brother. The series is vast, the fights are stunning, and its cultural impact is incredibly far-reaching.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Two brothers use the scientifically-proven process of alchemy to resurrect their dead mother, only to accidentally lose their bodies and keep their mother very dead. Now joined on a quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone in order to get their bodies back, Fullmetal Alchemist quickly turns into an intense exploration of alchemy-infused government conspiracy.
Teenager, Ichigo, finds himself reluctantly becoming a Soul Reaper responsible for defending humans from evil spirits and other Grim Reaper-related activities. In the 366 episode series, Igchigo and his classmates set out to rescue Rukia, the Soul Reaper who originally deputized Ichigo but makes some world-shattering discoveries along the way.
The series gained cult status in the early 2000s — and despite some episodes being fillers (nobody knocks it out of the park 366 times in a row, right?) — its story and character work on the whole never disappointed.
One Piece is more than enough to keep you occupied for a while — seeing as there are over 860 episodes and counting. Focusing on the adventures of teenager, Monkey L. Duffy — and his obsession with becoming the world’s greatest pirate by obtaining the ultimate treasure (the titular One Piece) — it scores weird points for the fact that Monkey’s body is essentially made of rubber because he ate a ghostly piece of fruit.
A global phenomenon that reached hungry western audiences thanks to Cartoon Network in the early 2000s, Naruto follows Naruto Uzumaki, a young ninja who wishes to be recognized as the strongest in his village. He’s not exactly there yet, though. The series’ 220 episodes are just downright fun.
Ghost in The Shell
The dystopian future-noir sets the bar impossibly high with its sophisticated exploration of identity threaded intricately through blistering violence and a hail of bullets. It’s been massively influential in the east and west without Scarlett Johansson ever having to go near it.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is the grand daddy of ’90s Mecha-Anime. Credited with being so good that it basically saved TV anime during the era, the series follows a teenager, Shinji, who gets recruited by his estranged father to pilot a battle robot on the front line against a race of demonic aliens called “Angels.”
If you’re getting a bit of a religious vibe, you’re not wrong; Neon Genesis Evangelion literally means “The Gospel of The New Century.” It’s an essential work that has been legendarily tough to get hold of (a DVD will currently cost you in the region of $500) but all is not lost. Netflix announced that all 26 episodes will be available to stream worldwide this year.
Yet another stone-cold influential classic, and a perfect entry-point into the world of action anime. It’s almost a cliché concept now, but at some point in the past, the idea of setting a western in space was a new and weird concept.
The series follows an eclectic team of misfits, hitmen and hyper-intelligent Corgis as they muddle their way through the wasteland of the solar system. Netflix just announced a live-action remake is hitting screens in 2019 so get in on the action now and get up to speed with this darkly inventive series.
Thirty years into the future (in a film made thirty years ago… so now, basically) and Neo-Tokyo is a sprawling metropolis of crime, futuristic military technology, and biker gangs. The combination of which makes for a sublime tale of post-war catharsis and cold war panic in one incredible white-knuckle narrative. It’s simply stunning, it’s the definitive action-anime and it deserves your full attention.
For more recommended viewing, here are the A24 movies you should be on the lookout for in 2019.