Synopsis: Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel were best friends who lived by the law of the street, until one day they picked a fight with the wrong people and their life of freedom was suddenly taken away. With no one to turn to and nowhere to run, the choice to join Millenion, the city’s most powerful syndicate, seemed like an offer they couldn’t refuse. Now, amidst heartache, tragedy, and utmost betrayal, Brandon must take up the gun and help Harry climb the ranks of Millenion to succeed, in order to protect the people he loves, even if it means killing countless others in the process.
Why I Like It: Based off the game of the same name and created by the same guy who brought us Trigun, this show a bonafide mafia drama, and the first I’ve ever really seen in anime. The story of the two leads is a pretty tragic one as they climb up the ladder and make decisions that slowly drive them apart and eventually turns them into enemies as Harry’s ambition is weighed against Brandon’s devotion to his family. It also manages to weave the elements of the game into the narrative in a way that feels natural and though it certainly has the look of a more generic action show, it’s a drama at it’s core. Sadly the first episode doesn’t exactly help to give that impression but at least it can be skipped since it’s eventually covered in better context later down the line anyway.
Streaming Availability: Funimation, Hulu, Netflix
9) Hajime no Ippo (all seasons)
: Ippo Makunouchi is a loser. He has no friends, he spends his free time helping his mom with work, and he’s constantly being beaten up by bullies. But that all changes when one day he’s saved from another beating by Takamura, an up-and-coming boxer. Soon, Ippo turns his life around with a passion for the newly discovered sport, but his new lifestyle is far from easy! Before he can even dream of becoming champion, he’ll have to overcome a slew of fierce rivals and learn what ‘dedication’ really means.
Why I Like It: Alright so I said before that the appeal of sports shows is almost never found in the sports themselves but this show is the exception. As a series about boxing it features some pretty grand fist-to-fist brawls and has what is hands down some of the best fight scene chorography ever made with some of the matches featuring really explosive animation. It’s also a pretty fun cast of lovable jerks and works as a solid character piece as the main character Ippo slowlyn matures from a spineless doormat into a confident young man ready to take the world by storm with his fists. The manga it’s based on has been running for ages and likely isn’t ending anytime soon but what we do have animated is more than sufficient and it makes for some great viewing.
Streaming Availability: Seasons 1&2 (none), Season 3(Crunchyroll)
8) Hikaru no Go
: While examining an old Go board in his grandfather’s basement, twelve-year-old Shindo Hikaru is possessed by the restless spirit of Sai, an ancient Go master who has waited for over one thousand years to play the Hand of God: the perfect move. Sai convinces Hikaru to act as a vessel for making his moves, but it is soon clear that Hikaru also enjoys Go and wants to play his own games. Moreover, the rules of Go have changed since Sai’s time, and Go players from all over the world are now much stronger, having had the benefit of hundreds of years of evolution and experimentation by the masters before them. Can this unlikely pair form a successful partnership and rise to the top of Japan’s Go community, and can Sai finally play the Hand of God and find some peace?
Why I Like It: So Go isn’t really all that interesting sport and having tried it once or twice after seeing this show I can attest to that. Thankfully this show more than makes up for it in it’s character journey as it follows the life of Hikaru as he improves his skills at the game under Sai’s influence and gradually grows to become a skilled player in his own right. Also much like with Cross Game it’s also a series about overcoming the loss of a loved one, and that theme really hits hard in the show’s final stretch, but makes for an emotional conclusion and one that can really hit home for anyone who’s had to go through that kind of loss. Similar to Cross Game it’s a bit on the slow side but it has a lot more character work, and it easily stands as my favorite sports anime.
Streaming Availability: Neon Alley, Hulu
7) Yu Yu Hakusho
: Yusuke Urameshi was a normal middle school punk until he was hit and killed by a car, while saving a child. His selfless action earned him the right to gain his life back and serve as a detective of the spirit world, keeping the world of the living safe from a myriad of demons. But being reborn has its price: Yusuke must hatch a spirit beast that will develop according to his actions, and if he doesn’t act in a good and honest manner, it will eat his soul. Can Yusuke protect the human and spirit worlds and still manage to save himself in the process?
Why I Like It: I’m a simple person at heart and I generally enjoy a good battle shonen, though I also prefer them to be well paced and actually have an ending which is where this show takes the cake. The characters are fun, and the action’s solid with some excellent pacing and choreography courtesy of veteran director Noriyuki Abe, who’s an old pro at that genre. Though it doesn’t stray as far from it’s shonen roots as the creator’s other big series, it does get progressively darker and more complex as it goes along somethings withdrawing from action entirely in favor of character work and more grounded solutions to the situations the cast find themselves in. It’s hands down one of the best battle shonen ever made and thanks to it’s pacing and fairly tolerable episode count, one of the easiest to sit through and rewatch.
Streaming Availability: None (available for purchase through online and physical retailers)
6) Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
: The foundation of alchemy is based on the law of equivalent exchange; you cannot produce something from nothing. As such, alchemy is bound by one taboo – human transmutation. Four years ago two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, broke this taboo when they tried to resurrect their dead mother. During the process Al’s body disintegrated and Ed lost his leg. In a desperate attempt to prevent his brother from disappearing completely, Ed sacrificed one of his arms so he could affix Al’s soul to a suit of armor. When his missing limbs are replaced by auto mail parts, Ed bears the name of the Fullmetal Alchemist – the youngest ever State Alchemist and dog of the military. Now, alongside his brother, Ed uses his status within the military to attempt to find any way that he can return their bodies back to their original state.
Why I Like It: Keeping in line with my simplicity this is another big action-adventure show crammed with some fantastic battle animation courtesy of BONES, but one with a bit more meat to it. It’s not as character driven as it’s 2003 counterpart, but I’m a bit more of a fan of stories with a narrative that feels completely whole, where it feels everything’s planned and nothing’s wasted, which this series accomplishes on a grand scale. It also leans more towards the idea of overcoming tragedy and becoming stronger for it, rather than having to just live with and accept it, which while a bit more of an idealized message, is one I gravitate a bit more towards. Brotherhood may not be quite as deep as it’s other half, and is slightly hindered by the series partially assuming you’ve seen the 2003 version, but it’s a great action-adventure piece and there’s nothing out there quite like it.
Streaming Availability: Funimation, Netflix
5) Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars
: In the year 2070, a giant object appears over the skies of the small town Tenmo, scrambling the electrical grid and confirming the existence of extra terrestrial life. To young Hajime Morata, this news is exciting and new – but to the townspeople, school council members and even the new exchange student Muryou Subaru, nothing going on in the skies is out of the ordinary. For it seems that Earth houses both intergalactic ambassadors and planet defenders alike – at least one of whom can use the power of the giant Shingu to battle incoming invaders – and Hajime is somehow connected. In addition to helping plan school festivals and living his day to day life, Hajime slowly begins to discover the secret behind his town and himself.
Why I Like It: This is another extremely personal choice for me backed the fact that I’ve rewatched it more times than just about anything else, and is one of the first things I ever really got into, but it’s still a really nice show. Despite the potential heavy sc-fi premise it initially offers, in actuality the series leans more towards slice of life antics as the characters go about their daily lives while the mysteries concerning the larger story at hand are slowly rolled out in the background. It’s a really relaxing little show, and the characters are all warm and fun to watch even the plot takes it’s sweet time getting anywhere. I don’t really expect anyone to get as much miliage out of it as I did as it’s a really slow burn a good chunk of the time, but it’s good nonetheless and worth giving a shot if you have the time.
Streaming Availability: Hulu, Youtube
4) Hunter X Hunter (2011)
: Drawn to the mystique of the unknown, Hunters travel the world in search of terrifying creatures, incredible riches, and unexplored lands. Gon Freecss is a naive-yet-determined young boy who aspires to join the ranks of these individuals, in order to find his missing father Ging – a master of the profession himself. To reach his goal, he partakes in the formidable Hunter Exam, a series of tests that push the participants to their physical and mental limits, with a Hunter License as the prize. During the exam Gon befriends vengeful Kurapika, doctor-to-be Leorio, and skilled assassin Killua, who have entered for their own reasons. But with the sinister Hisoka standing in their way, will Gon and his friends be able to succeed in obtaining their reward, or even escaping with their lives?
Why I Like It: Yoshihiro Togashi is a very strange writer, and one who seems to enjoy a lot of experimenting in his titles. His other major work on this list, Yu Yu Hakusho also became gradually different as it went along but this series is a much more polished product in that respect. As Gon goes through his journey to find his father, the series explores various genres and themes, which each story arc being almost completely unrecognizable from the others. It’s also not afraid to get into much darker territory than it’s predecessor and occasionally reaches points where it’s barely recognizable as a shonen. The material itself is also greatly helped by the show’s outstanding production for a long running series, delivering consistent animation, a great soundtrack (well aside from the infamous theme song never leaving), and some really brilliant direction in the later arcs. Sadly, the manga is doomed to stay within an endless state of flux thanks to Togashi’s constant hiatuses but the anime reaches a perfect stopping point and is thankfully almost completely self-contained on it’s own. Hunter X Hunter is a work that transcends the boundaries of it’s genre (and often genre period) to make for an excellent masterpiece. If ever you need an example to prove shonen can have some serious substance, this is it. As of this writing, this show unfortunately has yet to be licensed for home media here in the states but hopefully it happens someday soon.
Streaming Availability: Crunchyroll, Netflix
Now onward to my top 3!