15. Tokyo Ghoul
Region: UK, Aus
The show: You've never had a date as bad Ken Kaneki, whose encounter with the beautiful Rize Kamishiro ends with them both crushed under construction debris – and that's after Rize reveals herself as a ghoul and tries to eat Kaneki! Pulled from the rubble and saved by having Rize's organs transplanted into him during emergency surgery, the shy college student finds himself transformed into a half-ghoul, with a growing taste for human flesh. Now caught between worlds, Kaneki must learn to survive, without sacrificing the last of his humanity – all while a secret organisation hunts down ghouls. Based on Sui Ishida's dark manga, urban horror has rarely been done so well.
Why it's worth a watch: One of the best things about Tokyo Ghoul is simply its use of unfamiliar monsters. The ghouls' intelligence and ability to integrate with humans makes them more terrifying than mere zombies, while their supernatural abilities elevate the series beyond cannibal grindhouse. Despite all that though, Tokyo Ghoul is strangely positive, with Ken's desire to retain his fundamental humanity and the less predatory factions within ghoul subculture giving viewers something to root for – lights in the darkness.
Region: UK, Aus
The show: Vash the Stampede is the most wanted man on the planet Gunsmoke, with a $$60 billion price on his head – and yes, that's double dollars. Vash's fearsome reputation for unfettered destruction is a little unfair though, the majority of the carnage left in his wake caused by less reputable folks trying to claim his bounty. Pursued by insurance agents Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, trying to mitigate their employer's losses, Vash is more interested in spreading a message of "love and peace". Don't let his goofy demeanour fool you though – under the grin and the super-stylish red coat, his skills make him a force to be reckoned with, and his mysterious origins form the backbone of this sci-fi epic.
Why it's worth a watch: Creator Yasuhiro Nightow's space western is rightly regarded as a classic, and more than two decades on from its release, it's still clear why. Equal parts hilarious, thrilling, and emotional, Trigun is still one of anime's best gateway drugs.
13. Death Note
The show: With great power, there must also come great responsibility – but what if you apply that beyond a friendly neighbourhood? And what if the power in question was to... let's say 'remove' troublesome people without consequence? Light Yagami is faced with just such a conundrum when he finds the titular Death Note, a journal dropped by death god Ryuk, with the power to kill anyone whose name is written into its pages. As Light takes on the identity of serial killer 'Kira' and starts cleansing society with the aim of creating a utopia, he is drawn into conflict with a genius detective known only as L, while the world reels from his executions.
Why it's worth a watch: The dark wish fulfilment of the Death Note's powers alone is almost enough of a reason to pay attention, but the series is elevated by the Machiavellian cat and mouse game between Light and L. Deeply psychological and a brilliant character study, Death Note haunts your thoughts long after you've finished watching.
12. Attack on Titan
Region: UK, US, Can
The show: 100 years ago, the Titans appeared – giant humanoid monsters set on devouring people without rhyme or reason. A century later, survivors live in a fortress city protected by three concentric ring walls – until the outermost wall is breached by a terrifying new Colossus Titan. After Eren Jaeger and Mikasa Ackerman are left orphaned in the attack, they join the military's Survey Corps in search of vengeance and hope of reclaiming land for humanity. Training to use aerial manoeuvring gear to strike Titans' few weak spots may give them a fighting chance, but Eren's unexpected connection to the Titans reveals greater secrets.
Why it's worth a watch: Thrilling aerial combat against man-eating monsters is a unique selling point in its own right, but this gory fantasy-horror has won a legion of fans thanks to its compelling cast and exploration of class. While elements of Attack on Titan tap into Japanese kaiju tropes, the medieval European aesthetic helps ensure there's little else like it.
11. Little Witch Academia
The show: Inspired by the witch Shiny Chariot, young Akko Kagari enrols at Luna Nova Magical Academy, aspiring to follow her hero's path. The only problem is, Akko isn't from a magical background – but hard work and a powerful relic once possessed by Shiny may give her the edge she needs. Think Harry Potter from Hermione's perspective, for a small hint at what awaits in this beautiful, heart-warming, and often hilarious series.
Why it's worth a watch: Everyone loves an underdog story, and Little Witch Academia has one in both the tale it weaves, and in its own creation. Starting as a one-shot animator training project, then successfully crowd-funding a sequel (both also on Netflix) before progressing to the full series here, this is a true passion project from creator Yoh Yoshinari – and it shows in every frame.
10. The Garden of Words (2013)
The movie: Not all anime is explosive fights and giant robots – take this realistic and quietly reflective drama, for example. Takao is an aspiring shoemaker, skipping school one rainy morning to work on his designs in a park shelter. There, he meets Yukari, a mysterious older woman who leaves after reciting a poem to him. As the pair continue to cross paths, they slowly begin to understand each other's loneliness and form a connection. With settings modelled on real Tokyo locations, notably Shinjuku Gyo-en park, and achingly beautiful animation, this is an education in how versatile anime can be.
Why it's worth a watch: Running at a brisk 46 minutes, The Garden of Words sees director Makoto Shinkai returning to the tightly focused short film format where he made his name, before striking out to helm mega-hits Your Name. and Children Who Chase Lost Voices. With every frame, line of dialogue, sound effect, and piece of music used here perfectly considered, it's a brilliant introduction to Shinkai's talents.
The show: Shy, demure Retsuko is the perfect office worker, always eager to please and willing to put in extra effort to make sure the job is done, all with a smile on her face. Except behind that smile lies every suppressed bit of rage generated by uncaring bosses, gossipy co-workers, and a dead-end job. Thankfully, Retsuko has a release valve – a hidden passion for death metal, and a tendency to let out her inner demon for bouts of throat-shredding karaoke stress relief. But in an image-conscious business world, can 'Aggressive Retsuko' stay a secret, or will the next batch of pointless paperwork send her over the edge?
Why it's worth a watch: A brilliant tear-down of everyday workplace stress and office politics, mixed with screams of death metal catharsis, all in 15 minute chunks. Delivered with a subversive kawaii aesthetic from the studio behind Hello Kitty, Aggretsuko is the spirit animal we all need in 2019.
8. A Silent Voice (2016)
The movie: Years ago, Shoya Ishida took part in bullying deaf classmate Shoko Nishiyama, eventually driving her out of school. Then the bullies turned their attentions to Shoya. Driven by guilt and despair, he attempts to take his own life, until a last-minute a recollection of Shoko gives him pause. Seeking atonement, he searches for his former victim to make amends – but communication issues and Shoko's suspicious sister Yuzuru make forgiveness hard to find. Directed by Naoko Yamada, this multiple-award winning modern masterpiece is a tear-jerker, but one worth the heartache.
Why it's worth a watch: Tackling suicidal ideas may make this troubling for some viewers, but the overriding themes of this beautiful feature are hope and redemption. A powerfully emotional movie, with tender, nuanced animation to match.
Region: UK, Aus
The show: Satoru Fujinuma has a gift – an unexplained power to hop back in time, just far enough to prevent fatal accidents. Yet when his mother is murdered, Satoru is inexplicably jolted a whole 18 years back in time. Trapped in his own young body, he now has chance to prevent a kidnapping that lead to the death of three children, including his friend Kayo – and uncover how this time jump could save his mother's life in the future.
Why it's worth a watch: Everyone has wondered "what if I did things differently?" at some point, and it's that simple relatability that makes Erased – based on Kei Sanbe's manga and directed by Sword Art Online's Tomohiko Ito – so compelling. The deeply personal stakes Satoru faces makes this comparable to sci-fi classic Quantum Leap, but with a far more elaborate timeline to navigate this. A binge-worthy temporal mystery.
6. One Punch Man
Region: UK, US, Can
The show: Having trained himself to reach impossible strengths – at the great personal cost of losing his hair – Saitama can now defeat any foe with just one punch! The only problem? Life without a challenge is boring, and now the mightiest hero in the world is trapped in an existential malaise while the rest of the world's superheroes are struggling against a surge of monsters and supervillains. Can Saitama save the day? More to the point, can he be bothered? Based on a comedy webcomic by the anonymous One (a parody of Japanese kids' superhero Anpanman) and the 'remastered' version drawn by Yusuke Murata, One Punch Man is the most refreshing twist on superheroes in years.
Why it's worth a watch: It takes a truly special series to both subvert a genre and be an excellent example of it at the same time, yet One Punch Man manages to pull it off. A delight for fans of action anime, with enough deadpan humour for anyone else.