Great Anime Series and Films For Adult Viewers

The Best Anime for Mature (and Intelligent) Viewers

While there are a lot of anime series and movies made for children (such as Pokemon and Digimon) and teens (like Attack on Titan and Naruto Shippuden), there are also some brilliantly animated and scripted productions created for the more mature viewer who's looking for more in their anime than boob jokes and sweat drops.

Here are our top picks for anime that will appeal to adults. Some can even be enjoyed by the entire family.

Edited by Brad Stephenson


The Basilisk Anime Series
The Basilisk Anime Series. Gonzo

It's "Romeo and Juliet in the samurai era," with the star-crossed lovers being the young scions of two mutually antagonistic ninja clans ... who have just been sentenced to fight each other to the death. Each side is outfitted with a mind-boggling array of otherworldly powers, but it's their emotions that will prove to be hardest for them to defend against.

For mature audiences because: Extreme violence and grotesquerie galore, but also political machinations and a tragic lost-love story that spans multiple generations. Buy from Amazon »

Black Lagoon

Black Lagoon Anime Series
Black Lagoon Anime Series. Madhouse

So what would you do if you were a hapless office worker who found himself stranded in some scummy harbor city in Thailand, held hostage by pirates pointing guns up your nose? And what if your company decided to write you off as an acceptable loss and throw you to the wolves? That's right -- you'd run with the wolves yourself and join up with the very crew that was ransoming you. Such is the premise of this show, which is like every Hollywood and Hong Kong action movie distilled down to its purest acts of excess and blended into one.

For mature audiences because: Violence galore, bad language galore, and bad attitudes galore. It says something that the foulest-mouthed character in the show is a woman -- and that the most dangerous character in the show is also a woman. (See it for yourself and decide if I'm talking about the same person.) Buy from Amazon »


Berserk Anime Series
Berserk Anime Series. Liden Films

In a land wracked by war, Guts, a swordsman for hire, allies himself with the mercenary group known as the Band of the Hawks, and comes under the spell of both one of their fellow soldiers (the lovely Casca) and the Hawks's own leader (the charismatic Griffith). All three will have their loyalties tested -- and soon find themselves catapulted headlong into what might well be a battle at the end of the world.

For mature audiences because: Violence of just about every description, including a supernatural sexual assault that is (mercifully) one of the very last scenes in the whole show. But also for its superb depiction of medieval politics and a three-way love triangle that's among the most compelling in anime to date. Buy from Amazon »

Cat Soup

Cat Soup Anime Series
Cat Soup Anime Series. J.C. Staff

This surreal mindbender is a great example of anime as an art form, and not just a storytelling method. A boy and girl cat go on an odyssey to reclaim their souls from the land of the dead -- but that's a little like saying Moby Dick is about this guy hunting down a big fish. Out of print, and for that reason all the more worth the effort to track down.

For mature audiences because: Surreal, sexual, vulgar and suggestive imagery abound, and the movie also deals in concepts like death and resurrection in a heady way that might go right over younger viewers' heads. Buy from Amazon »

Eden of the East

Eden of the East
Eden of the East.

A young Japanese man wakes up outside the White House with a gun in one hand, a cellphone in the other, no memories, and not a stitch of clothing on his back. The phone connects him to an operator who can get him, it seems, literally anything he asks for. From there on out it's a mix of The Bourne Identity and The Social Network, as our hero tries to unravel the mysteries he embodies and the strange game he's been selected to play.

For mature audiences because: Political machinations galore, and also treatments of modern-day social issues like generational alienation. Buy from Amazon »

First Squad: The Moment of Truth

First Squad: The Moment of Truth Anime Movie
First Squad: The Moment of Truth Anime Movie. Molot Entertainment Film Company

This offbeat Japanese/Russian coproduction (Japan for the animation, Russia for the storyline) tells a secret history of WWII, where the Russian army had support from a secret cadre of young psychics. Their mutual enemy: a Nazi brigade whose dabbling in the dark arts might turn the tide of war in their favor.

For mature audiences because: Violence, alternate history (some of it pretty nuts-and-bolts stuff about Russia's involvement in WWII), and some surreal netherworldly spelunking. Buy from Amazon »

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Anime Series
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Anime Series. Production I.G

The members of the elite "Section 9" protect a near-future Japan from cyber-criminals of all stripes, harnessing not only cutting-edge technology but their own native wits and skills. Their greatest enemies, however, may be from within their own government ...

Widely lauded as one of anime's brightest stars, it's not hard to see why: it's excellently produced, and sports a storyline smart enough to give most top-end live-action TV a run for its money.

For mature audiences because: Violence and sexual innuendoes, but also deeply complicated political machinations and some heady thoughts about social organization, artificial intelligence, and the difficult nature of state and corporate secrets in an all-digital, all-information era. Whew. But trust us, it's more than worth the effort.

The standalone (pun intended) feature films, Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence also deserve a look for many of the same reasons, but the TV series is the most accessible and rewarding of the bunch. Buy from Amazon »

House of Five Leaves

House of Five Leaves Anime Series
House of Five Leaves Anime Series. Manglobe

A not-very-confident samurai, desperate for work, takes a job as a bodyguard with a mysterious man who turns out to be one of a cadre of criminals who kidnap (and ransom) for profit. Unable to leave since he's already implicated himself with them, the samurai instead digs deeper into the workings of this cadre that call themselves "The Five Leaves," and discovers a great deal about them -- and himself -- in the process.

For mature audiences because: Not because of violence or sexual content -- a rarity for a samurai-themed anime aimed at a mature audience! -- but because of the slow, involved, character-centric and, well, mature storytelling. This isn't a show where everything is resolved with a swordfight, and if it was it wouldn't be half the show it is. Buy from Amazon »

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade Anime Series
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade Anime Series. Production I.G

In an alternate-history version of Japan, an authoritarian central government ruthlessly suppresses dissent courtesy of their elite squad of heavily-armored police. One of their number comes to question his loyalty when a dissident woman finds a way to his heart -- but love rarely conquers all in real life. This grim but meticulously-observed drama has the same cynicism about mankind as a political animal as one of Graham Greene's novels.

For mature audiences because: Violence, politics, and an aura of relentless cynicism. Not for those who prefer happy endings. Buy from Amazon »

Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress Anime Movie
Millennium Actress Anime Movie. Madhouse

Satoshi Kon's homage to Japan's filmmaking industry as a dream factory is, well, rather dreamy -- just what to expect from a director who made the (blurry) dividing line between illusion and reality his favorite subject. The actress in question was a woman of great talent who vanished just at the peak of her creative power, and the film takes us back through her own cinematic history as well as Japan's.

For mature audiences because: The way the film explores reality vs. fantasy vs. imagination should appeal to adults as much as it might to younger audiences -- perhaps even more so. Buy from Amazon »


Monster Anime Series
Monster Anime Series. Madhouse

Doctor Tenma's life is destroyed when he chooses to operate on a young boy, a victim of an apparent home invasion, instead of the mayor of the town where he lives. The boy vanishes, and Tenma discovers disturbing evidence he might have become a serial killer. Determined to set things right, the doctor descends into Europe's underworld to find him and stop him any way he can.

Adapted from an equally spellbinding manga series, this psychological thriller has more in common with SE7EN, Silence of the Lambs, or the Alex Cross procedurals than many other anime titles. Once started, it is all but impossible not to watch it through to its quietly devastating conclusion. (It's also one of the few anime that is not set in Japan, although the doctor himself is Japanese.) Buy from Amazon »

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit Anime Series
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit Anime Series. Production I.G

Set in a land that's reminiscent of a mash-up of multiple Asian cultures (mainly Japan and Tibet), Moribito follows spearwoman-for-hire Balsa as she's entrusted with Chagum, heir to an embattled throne. The powers-that-be want the boy, and the two are forced to go on the run, change their identities, battle any number of foes, struggle to survivem and peel back one layer of deception after another.

For mature audiences because: Some violence (the show's a grand adventure saga first and foremost), but mainly because the way the show deals with concepts like the way a nation creates -- and attempts to live up to -- its own mythology. (The story was derived from a series of young-adult novels written by a woman who was also a sociology professor, and it shows in how smart and engaging it all is.) Buy from Amazon »


Paprika Anime Movie
Paprika Anime Movie. Madhouse

Dr. Atsuko Chiba leads two lives. By day, she's a researcher working on a revolutionary device that allows people to enter each other's dreamspaces (take that, Inception). By night, she's "Paprika," the feisty black-market dream therapist who uses the device to aid those for whom traditional therapy can't reach. When the device is stolen, it's up to her alter ego to save the day before reality's buried under a deluge of dreamtime madness.

Yasutaka Tsutsui's maverick SF novel read like a tarter version of Michael Crichton, and director Satoshi Kon brought it to life in an equally lively and wide-eyed way. Sadly, this was Kon's final feature film, as he died of pancreatic cancer while working on his next film, The Dreaming Machines.

For mature audiences because: Sexual and suggestive material abounds (the film is rated R), and like Kon's other movies it explores issues of identity and illusion that might be best appreciated by older viewers. Buy from Amazon »

Paranoia Agent

Paranoia Agent Anime Series
Paranoia Agent Anime Series. Madhouse

This was Satoshi Kon's one foray into episodic TV, and it's astounding stuff: it plays like a lost Rod Serling screenplay as directed by Christopher Nolan. An urban legend is circulating about a mysterious figure named "Little Slugger," who can put you out of your misery if your life's falling apart. A pair of detectives discover Little Slugger may in fact be real -- but the more they dig, the more one layer after another of lies and delusion fall away until the very fabric of reality itself starts to crumble.

For mature audiences because: Violence and some sexual material, but mostly because of the all-pervading sense of paranoia -- hence the title -- that makes this show all the creepier the more you think about it. Buy from Amazon »

Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue Anime Movie
Perfect Blue Anime Movie. Madhouse

If Paranoia Agent was Satoshi Kon channelling Hitchcock, this is Kon's Dario Argento moment. A pop star retires from her singing career to try and make it as an actress, but her life begins to spiral down into madness and murder when someone starts trying to drive her out of her mind ... or is she just cracking up all on her own? This was Kon's first feature-length production as director after being a supporting staff member on many other projects, and it has the confidence and audacity of a veteran director at work.

For mature audiences because: Violence, sexual material -- including a truly disturbing "simulated" rape scene that is somehow all the more disturbing because it's being acted out -- and many moments of head-spinning, heart-in-mouth terror. Buy from Amazon »


Redline Anime Movie
Redline Anime Movie. Madhouse

A far-future epic about the most dangerous, illegal, and eagerly-anticipated race in the whole galaxy, one which makes the street drags in The Fast and the Furious look like kids playing with Matchbox cars. Contestants JP and Sonoshee wrestle with both their rigs and each other's emotions while nefarious forces on all sides collude to either rig the race, shut it down, or blow the participants to kingdom come. The whole thing took seven years to make, and it shows in every single meticulously hand-drawn frame.

For mature audiences because: Bad language and some violence, but mainly for the way it hearkens back to the works of Ralph Bakshi, the 1970s animation director whose Heavy Traffic, American Pop and Wizards tried to make animation cross over to adult (read: R-rated) audiences. Redline recalls the funky aesthetic of that era, but with a modern fast-moving anime sensibility. Buy from Amazon »

Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise.

The nation of Honneamise has been boasting about their space program for some time now, but in reality it's little more then an excuse to funnel money into a PR program that trumpets its accomplishments for the sake of intimidating other nations. Then when a man is in fact chosen to be launched into space -- the soft-headed, single-minded Lhadatt -- the men behind this rag-tag mission find themselves coming together to make the impossible happen, despite their own cynicism. Magnificently animated by GAINAX, the same company behind Evangelion, it's like a documentary history for a time and place that never existed.

For mature audiences because: Those of you old enough to remember when Neil first walked on the moon, or when the shuttle first cleared the tower, will get more than a little thrill of remembrance with this film. (Also recommended for mature audiences because of a badly-handled scene of attempted sexual violence on the part of the protagonist, the film's biggest flaw.) Buy from Amazon »

Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen

Rurouni Kenshin Anime Series
Rurouni Kenshin Anime Series. Fuji Television

A prequel to the Rurouni Kenshin TV series, which spells out the origins of Kenshin as described in the final story arc that concluded the originating manga. Kenshin was rescued as an orphan by the man who trained him to be a killer ( better that than being sold as a slave) and is an assassin for a squad of revolutionaries. When he finds himself falling in love with the sister of a man he was assigned to kill, the last thing he expects is for her to return the same feelings. This proves to be the downfall of them both, and the consummate artistry of the storytelling and animation makes this almost unbearably sad story into something transcendent.

For mature audiences because: Violence (graphic bloodshed), political machinations, and a story of doomed love that will have the hardest-hearted in the audience blowing their noses. Buy from Amazon »

Shigurui: Death Frenzy

Shigurui: Death Frenzy Anime Series
Shigurui: Death Frenzy Anime Series. Madhouse

Two swordsmen -- one blind, the other crippled -- prepare to face off in an unlikely duel. This show is the story of how they came to be rivals in both love and honor, against the backdrop of a samurai-era Japan slowly choking on its own decadence. It's not a pretty picture, but it's one so skillfully put together that its very repulsiveness also becomes fascinating.

For mature audiences because: Violence and sex, both separately and together. "Graphic" and "disturbing" are some of the politer words for this show. (Was the title not enough of a tipoff?) Buy from Amazon »

Speed Grapher

Speed Grapher Anime Series
Speed Grapher Anime Series. Gonzo

Former combat photographer Saiga is sucked into a bizarre underworld where the ultra-rich can have any desire they want fulfilled -- and even others they don't know about yet. Suddenly he's become one of the "Euphorics," a subclass of humanity with powers that others would kill -- or die -- to have. If people plus superpowers equals X-Men, this is more like XXX-Men, with fetishism and eroticism galore -- but also a complex and absorbing story that speaks to a time where the rich get richer and everyone else pounds sand.

For mature audiences because: Violence, sex, perversion, political corruption, and the wanton abuse of paper money as cigarette papers. Yes. Buy from Amazon »

Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo Godfathers Anime Movie
Tokyo Godfathers Anime Movie. Madhouse

Satoshi Kon (yes, him again!) directed this very, very loose reworking of John Wayne's Three Godfathers. Instead of the Wild West, it's set in urban Tokyo, where a trio of homeless misfits -- an alcoholic, a runaway teenaged girl and a transsexual -- blunder across an abandoned infant and try to return it to its parents. This sets into motion a whole chain of insane misunderstandings

For mature audiences because: Mature situations -- homelessness, gender dysphoria, but also because of the way the movie hearkens back to the screwball comedies of classic Hollywood. Buy from Amazon »