I love anime – that much should be obvious with how many of these articles I’ve written.
But I do admit that it’s not for everyone.
Certain tropes might feel overused or downright stupid. And at this point, the phrase high school romance probably sends shivers down people’s backs.
However, there are still shows out there that you can watch even if you hate anime. You’d be surprised what a different approach to anime can yield.
And these are my top picks for anime that goes against the grain.
15. Vinland Saga
Shows about Vikings always seem to be very popular, so why not give the anime version a shot?
Unlike most of its anime colleagues, Vinland Saga is surprisingly down-to-earth and trope-less. It’s just a simple revenge story placed upon a pretty believable political background.
The cast is incredibly well-written, the action scenes mostly stay within the confounds of reality, and the season finale is bound to blow your pants off.
It does occasionally remember that it’s an anime – leading to some ridiculous feats of strength but it’s not consistent enough to really be a bother.
If you love a good Viking story and don’t mind a few buckets of blood, I suggest giving Vinland Saga a shot.
14. One Punch Man
The viability of this recommendation heavily depends on why you hate anime.
If you hate it because you’ve watched too much of it – this is the show for you.
It’s a rather hilarious parody of the most popular trope in the medium – the overpowered MC.
The rest of the cast behave as they would in any other show, but the MC is on a completely different wavelength. For this reason, he actually brings a lot of relief if you’re feeling anime burnout.
And if nothing else, the show has a killer soundtrack and some of the flashiest fights you can find. Overall, not completely ideal (as the side cast is full of trope characters) but a very solid choice.
13. Death Parade
This is the first in a long line of “shows that don’t even feel like anime, they just happen to have the same art style”.
After all, there’s no high school, no tournament arc, and no love pentagons.
Rather the show deals with human morals and how we act when we’re backed into a corner.
There’s an overarching plot as well, but the moral questions the show brings up are the thing that really drew me in. Well, that and the jazziest opening you’ve heard in your life.
Overall, a great concept executed perfectly that just happens to be animated. Definitely a good suggestion for any anime hater.
12. 91 Days
Just like with the last pick, this show doesn’t have a hint of anime to it. It’s just your traditional revenge plot that takes place within the mafia.
And even though “undercover mafia revenge plots” aren’t exactly anything new – you can’t look me in the virtual eye and say that it doesn’t sound interesting.
The cast is filled with rather believable characters (as everyone is either depressed, angry, or a combination of the two). And even the art style reflects a more serious, down-to-earth tone.
So if you’re itching for some solid drama with a hint of action, 91 Days could be the perfect choice for you.
11. Odd Taxi
Although you might initially be turned off by the fact that the cast is entirely made up of animals – don’t sleep on this show.
The story is incredibly well-written, and the characters are more believable than 99% of shows coming out these days. Yes, a literal walrus taxi driver is somehow relatable.
Don’t believe me? The MC pushes away those he loves in fear of hurting them, a side character chases online clout to get rich, and there’s an idol group with some serious predatory behavior.
I’d say those three facts alone speak volumes about how realistic this show can be. Definitely more realistic than most anime.
If you want a drama that will really blow your pants off and have you screaming at the screen, Nana is the show for you.
Not only is the show leagues above the competition in terms of maturity, but it also came out before a lot of anime tropes were even popularized. So, no nose bleeds and rushed relationships.
Instead, you get a gut-wrenching story of love, betrayal, and the many hurdles that present themselves within a relationship.
From cheating to pregnancy and age gaps, this show doesn’t play around.
If you’re sick and tired of PG stories and don’t really care for mindless violence, you’re bound to have a good time with Nana.
9. Samurai Champloo
Although the samurai aesthetic is as anime as you can get, trust me when I say that this show is different.
For one, the art style looks way more Western than shows that’ve come out in recent years. And the soundtrack is borderline hip hop – which is far from common in anime.
Secondly, the story is beautifully simplistic.
It’s just three individuals who happen to cross paths and decide to travel together for the time being.
There are no fantasy elements or speeches about friendship. Just good-old action scenes and very concise dialogue. AKA it’s like a cowboy flick but with samurai.
If you just read the synopsis for Rainbow, you probably wouldn’t even think for a second that it was an anime. In fact, it just sounds like a really good Netflix original that was animated by mistake.
It’s all about a group of prisoners and let me tell you – the show doesn’t shy away from what that can mean. From corrupted jailors to perverted old men in power, Rainbow really doesn’t romanticize life behind bars.
And the antagonists are so believably evil that it honestly makes me scared.
However, there’s one aspect that’s worth pointing out. The MC is like the second coming of Jesus and all the inmates love him way too much – which did feel like the usual “big brother” anime trope.
But if that one detail isn’t enough to turn you away, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the series.
7. Welcome to the N.H.K.
If Bo Burnham was Japanese and somehow even more depressed, this is the show he’d create.
It’s a deep dive into the psyche of a man who’s completely cut himself out from the rest of the world. And the price of that decision isn’t underplayed in the slightest.
You can truly see the desperation that emanates within him and for every step forward, he takes two steps back. Again, no nakama power and no romanticizing trauma – just reality.
And just like Inside, this show ages like a fine wine, with the older you get and the more pandemics that keep coming our way.
The best way to describe this show is “Zootopia but brutal”.
On a very surface level, Beastars also uses the depiction of animals in order to emphasize different power dynamics that exist within the modern world.
In fact, it goes quite in-depth, talking about predators with cut claws and powerful herbivores wanting to showcase their dominance. From the mafia to the black market and slavery, the show doesn’t shy away from extremely morbid topics.
And that makes it way more enjoyable. It also goes to show that in anime, shows that depict humans as animals are somehow the best representations of our psyche.
Maybe the furries were onto something this entire time.
5. Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan is the biggest show to have come out in recent times (maybe even ever). And I’m sure that all of your anime-watching friends have already told you this a million times – give it a chance.
And I have to agree with them.
Yes, there are hints of certain tropes – like an angry, loud MC and the “I’ll love you forever” female character. But on a larger scale, the show is brilliant.
From the dark tone to the surprisingly in-depth world-building and political setup, Attack on Titan definitely doesn’t talk down to you or oversimplify things.
The drama is very real and palpable. The soundtrack is one of the best you’ll ever find and the overall story (unless they fumble the ending) is nothing short of a masterpiece.
4. Death Note
Death Note has been the gateway anime for many years – and I think it still holds that title. That’s because it honestly doesn’t use a single trope that anime is notorious for.
The writing is incredibly clever, and the stakes are constantly high. It’s the best cat and mouse chase since Tom and Jerry with two geniuses trying to outsmart each other with every step.
Sure, the latter part of the series isn’t as strong as the first, but the show is still worth watching. And with the art style looking nothing like modern anime – it offers a breath of fresh air.
So if you somehow managed to go your entire life without watching this cult classic, now’s the time to change that and join the hype train.
3. Steins; Gate
If time travel is even slightly interesting to you, Steins; Gate is sure to blow you away.
With some of the best writing anime has to offer, it truly feels completely different from any other show.
The cast is absolutely stacked, with each character getting a solid arc and more character progression that you know what to do with. The overall stakes are insanely high (especially in the latter part of the story).
The art style is slightly more Western than modern shows and even when the story uses tropes, it’s done in a new, tasteful way.
The series, the movie, the alternative version, it’s all S-tier stuff. Its emotional notes are bound to make you cry and even its action scenes are far beyond what you’d expect.
There’s nothing more inherently Western than a good cop show – and this anime takes that concept and improves upon it greatly.
All of the elements that make a cop show good are still there – good action scenes, mystery, brooding “I get the job done” bad boys, it’s all there.
But the series expands on the concept by adding two things: a sci-fi setting and fifty shades of moral gray areas.
I can’t even count how many times this show has made me question who I should be rooting for. The twists and turns are all logical and yet unpredictable.
It’s truly just a joy to watch from beginning to end.
I decided to put Monster at number one as no other highly rated show felt less like anime than this one.
From how the story is set up to the art style, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was a Western adult series.
The series is incredibly tense but also very slow-paced. Most of the bombastic, flashy fight scenes (that you usually see in anime) were substituted by a prolonged sense of dread.
The series as a whole feels like a collection of many smaller stories with one main thread tying them all together. This is also not something you see all that often in anime.
And the characters are just brilliant.
I’ve already gone on record and said that Johan Liebert is one of the best-written antagonists of all time, and I’m sticking to my guns.
If you want to experience a truly brilliant story that will give you more questions than answers, Monster is the pick for you.