We’ve all had those days:
You feel mentally drained, and just want to watch some stupid action anime to satisfy the caveman part of the brain.
But other times, you want a story that you can really sink your teeth into.
Well those juicy stories are what we’re covering in this list. Here’s my personal list of the best shows that narratively blew my pants off.
20. The Promised Neverland (Season 1)
If this show never came out with a second season (or God forbid actually adapted it well), it would be in my top five.
That’s because the first season is near perfect if you ask me. Even the first episode on its own tells a more compelling story than 80% of the shows coming out these days.
There was a looming sense of dread in the air, and I generally couldn’t figure out how the kids were going to escape.
In fact, it was so beautifully written that I saw fan theories pop up after every episode. And that’s honestly the best indication of a good plot if you ask me.
But since the second season sucked the bone marrow out of the source material, the story as a whole will have to stay in last place.
19. 91 Days
This is one of my favorite revenge stories simply because of how down-to-earth it is.
Sure, some of the characters are absolute psychopaths but it never felt too exaggerated.
At least not by anime standards.
And the story itself was rather compelling. Seeing how the different crime families operated internally as well as how they handled outside threats was really intriguing.
And seeing how the show has an R rating, you were never too sure exactly who was going to make it out alive. This is a big selling point for me because I live for that type of suspense.
18. Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
Mushoku Tensei definitely isn’t for everyone.
It tackles some problematic material and generally does away with the PG tag completely.
However, that made the story a lot more interesting if you ask me. Because once you know that nothing is really off the table, you never know what to expect.
The world is brutal and the power of friendship is nowhere to be found.
You have troubled family relationships, slavery, murder, sex, the whole nine yards. And the world itself is just fascinating (especially the power systems they have in place).
So while I can’t support certain decisions made with the plot, I can guarantee that it’ll keep you at the edge of your seat.
17. Monogatari series
This series is quite the experience.
For one, the timeline is all over the place, with each season taking a different plot point and even carrying a different name.
This makes the plot overall feel rather vague and mysterious (in a good way) – especially if you watch the seasons as they came out.
And the world itself is fascinating.
Not because they threw anything all that new into the mix but rather how each plot point is written.
There were plenty of plot twists I never saw coming and I have to say that the show sports one of the strongest casts I’ve ever seen.
Baccano has a very similar vibe to Monogatari but it’s a lot more compact.
The entire story is within a single train ride and yet it manages to build up the word phenomenally well (especially considering that it’s only 13 episodes).
It doesn’t even have one central character but rather an entire cast that all take turns in the spotlight, bumping into each other at key points in the story.
And when everything is said and done, the plot unravels brilliantly. It’s far from predictable but it also all makes sense given what we’ve seen.
It’s just one of those gems in anime that does in 13 episodes what some shows can’t do in 5 seasons.
There are a few amazing shows that are basically just collections of smaller stories. For example, Violet Evergarden or Natsume’s Book of Friends.
However, I always found Mushi-Shi to be just slightly above the rest.
For one, the mystical element is done perfectly and makes you feel like you’re living in a fairy tale. It never feels too overbearing or too subtle.
Plus, the human aspect is extraordinary. Every episode feels like a compact movie, and you feel like you can truly relate to each and every character presented.
Therefore, it’ll be my token “story of a million stories” pick.
This is one of the few shows where I’m honestly not even sure what makes it so great.
In a lot of ways, it follows the trends, and the initial plot setup seems pretty basic. But there was always something slightly off about the whole thing.
But then the further in you go, the more interesting it gets. Characters and plot elements that seemed like throwaway additions are suddenly very important.
Plus, I can’t overstate just how difficult writing a good conclusion is. And yet in just twelve episodes, this show managed to tell an incredibly compelling narrative.
And the very last scene basically threw me into a frenzy, researching everything about the show and what it all meant.
13. Odd Taxi
Let me tell you, I had no expectations going into this show.
But man does it deliver in every way imaginable.
It’s just your standard character drama set in a normal world and around normal events. That statement might seem odd, given that the MC is a walrus, but it makes sense.
And the writing honestly had no business being as realistic and deep as it was.
The show didn’t shy away from any of the many dark corners of society. And the cast is so human that you honestly just forget the fact that they’re talking animals.
I’m not going to give anything away (as this show is relatively new) – but make sure you give it a watch.
12. From the New World
Good world-building can cover up a lot of hurt.
But when you have good world-building and a terrific overarching plot, you’re golden.
And that’s probably the best way to describe From the New World.
The setting is simply surreal, with so much fantasy and yet an undoubtedly human element to it. And if you’ve seen the show, you know that a few characters, in particular, are masterpieces in terms of development.
It had the same type of energy as season one of The Promised Neverland, as you never felt safe and mysterious were all around.
I have to be vague about it – but let’s just say that you’re in for the shock of your life in the latter part of the show.
11. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
This is one of those shows that a lot of people will look away from the second they see the cover art. And yes, it’s a magical girl anime.
However, to say it’s subversive would be an understatement.
The show just keeps pelting you with plot twists one after another, and any preconception you had is quickly destroyed.
Things get dark, things get real, and boy do the action scenes slap. It’s simply one of those shows that deliver on something you never even knew you wanted.
If you love watching cop shows and endlessly torching yourself with moral dilemmas, Psycho-Pass should already be on your radar.
It was one of those shows that had such a strong hook that I was instantly onboard. After all, how can a cop show where there are weapons that judge your morality not be a banger?
And the anime fully delivers on this front.
Especially the first season – as it just has some of the best character work I’ve ever seen in a show.
The second season and the movie aren’t as strong, but they’re far from bad as well. Plus, you can always just watch the first season and act like that’s all there is.
9. One Piece
I generally avoided putting too many shounen on this list as it felt a bit unfair. After all, they usually have hundreds of episodes and the most powerful hype trains.
However, I still can’t deny that One Piece has some of the strongest world-building in the entire game.
And it’s not like “it has the best world-building because it’s 1000 episodes long” but rather “it has the best world-building DESPITE being 1000 episodes long”.
Seriously, most shows can’t even handle a second season without tripping up and One Piece is out here dishing out good content for over two decades.
However, I’m still not going to place the show too high as it wouldn’t feel all that fair – being that the story isn’t even over.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Nana is one of the best dramas in the anime world. Don’t think about how old it is or about the art style and just trust me – it’s a banger.
The story is honestly just brutal but in a very realistic way.
There are no “my entire family got killed” plot lines but rather unwanted pregnancies and genuine manipulation.
And this is what makes the show such a punch to the stomach.
I’ve yelled at the screen more times than I care to admit and cried just as much – because almost every plot point will hit close to home in one way or another.
Just goes to show that you don’t always need a fantasy world in order to flex your writing muscle.
7. Death Note
Since the dawn of man, Death Note was the best gateway anime to recommend to your friends. It was grungy, intense, and had some of the best writing in all of anime.
Although the concept was quite simple (at least by today’s standards) the writers did wonders.
A cat and mouse chase between two geniuses with the addition of death spirits – who’s not going to enjoy a show like that?
The first half is especially impressive, with plenty of iconic scenes and plot twists that honestly made your head spin. However, many believe that the ending didn’t really rise to the same standard.
For that reason, I had to nerf the show’s ranking ever so slightly.
6. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Since we’re already talking about the classics, we might as well throw the king himself into the mix.
FMAB has been the number one ranking show on MAL for quite some time, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Even just the first episode should be analyzed in any class on how to write a good story.
Plus, alchemy as a power system just allowed the writers to make some truly insane fights.
But it’s the dark mood throughout that really made it stand out. From Satan’s older brother (Tucker) to Envy ruining all my hopes and dreams – the show doesn’t hold back.
Monster is just one of those classic shows that get overlooked these days because of its art style.
I should know, I put it off for quite some time.
But trust me, this show has some of the best writing you’ll ever find. To be more precise, it has the most interesting antagonist I’ve ever seen.
Not to mention that the story is riddled with mysteries that feel rather genuine. There’s no looking for the map to Atlantis or something but rather uncovering trauma and corrupted systems that stopped at nothing in pursuit of power.
Plus, the show is quite long (especially by modern standards) so you really get to sink your teeth into it.
4. The Tatami Galaxy
This is one of the very few shows that genuinely feel like proper literature. To the point that I could 100% imagine a professor making their students analyze every scene and every curtain.
And let me tell you – those hypothetical students would learn a lot!
This show is so chock-full of symbolism and important life messages that I honestly felt like I was meditating the entire time.
And the best part is, that the magic isn’t lost even after multiple viewings. In fact, it enhances the experience quite a bit. Especially that last episode.
If the last episode doesn’t make you oddly contemplative about human nature and life itself, I don’t know what will.
3. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Code Geass and Death Note are compared pretty frequently – as having a teenage boy with a 500 IQ and a god complex wasn’t as common in those days. And I have to say that when considering the story as a whole, Code Geass was better written.
For one, it has an actual satisfying ending that ties up most of the major threads in the show.
And two, the side characters have a lot more flavor and nuance.
Plus, who doesn’t like a grand story about a rebellion force kicking out their oppressors and getting their land back? Definitely a bit more action-packed than just killing off random prisoners.
In all seriousness, the story of Code Geass just feels very grand and well put together.
Everything that happens makes sense – but there’s also a healthy amount of insane plot twists.
2. Steins; Gate
As a general rule, I hate most shows with time travel. It almost always feels clunky and leaves more plot holes than a literary Swiss cheese.
However, Steins; Gate is a showcase of how it’s supposed to be done correctly!
Although it starts off pretty slow (which is a good thing all things considered) the story just grips you by the throat and never really lets up.
All of the various timelines seem plausible, and the writers really pushed all of the characters to their logical limits when it came to how they were portrayed.
And the movie is nothing short of a masterpiece. To say that I cried my eyes out would be quite an understatement.
If you were forced to watch one sci-fi anime in your life, let it be this one. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
1. Attack on Titan
I was initially considering putting Attack on Titan way lower on the list, as the story hasn’t even concluded yet. But then I remembered some of the iconic scenes the show has already brought us.
And that’s how we got here.
The story is simply larger than life – with so many subplots, foreshadows, and twists that it’s honestly hard to comprehend. Not to mention one of the strongest casts in anime history.
All of this was true of Attack on Titan in the first three seasons, but then the fourth one came along and somehow upped the stakes even more. The world-building just exploded, dozens of questions got answered, and another hundred questions got posed.
It’s no exaggeration to say that if Attack on Titan sticks the landing, it’ll go down in history as one of the best anime to have ever existed.