I know there’s a lot of lists out there, but this one is mine. I have an affinity for a very particular “vibe” in anime. What is that vibe? I don’t really know, but I always know it when I see it. Most of my more recent favorites tend to be…not necessarily obscure just less often discussed in peer circles. So I wanted to draw attention to them and kind of get down a bit into the meat of why these stories are so interesting, premise or presentation notwithstanding.
These are also in no particular order — I love them all for various reasons.
1. Sirius the Jaeger
Available on: Netflix
Studio P.A Works does some cool stuff. Charlotte, for one, which was great and caught me completely off guard, and this season’s Appare-Ranmen! which also looks delightful. But when I saw the PV for Sirius I knew it had those vibes. It was definitely for me.
Set in 1930, Sirius tells the story of a group of vampire hunters who go under the designation “V Shipping Company” as cover for their real occupation…hunting vampires. A coven pops up in Japan and they set out to hunt them. Yuliy is our protagonist, a young man who is a part of this motley crew of hunters, although his reasons for hunting vampires — and his background— are…let’s just say different from his fellow hunters.
Sirius is a great series to sink your teeth into (I didn’t mean to pun! No, I did, actually, I did) but I understand that not all of it’s characters are as compelling as the main one. What keeps this story on track and makes it so great is the relationship between Yuliy and his estranged brother, Mikhail. Their push and pull throughout the series won me over, and the ending song is absolutely enchanting. Give it a go — not just if vampires and subtle werewolves are your thing, but if you love found family, tragically separated siblings, and want something with crisp animation, great fights, and that will make you most likely cry.
2. B: The Beginning
Available on: Netflix
Production I.G also does a lot of good work. And when I saw the PV for B: The Beginning, I also knew this was right up my alley. For one, it has stunning visuals. Two, it’s ending theme features Marty Freidman, who was the lead guitarist for Megadeath. That’s nifty! B: The Beginning is one the the first Netflix originals that seemed to really want to capture what the studios were going for: high-end, odd, and artful. (Aside from Devilman: Crybaby, that is).
B: The Beginning is set in a sort of alternate world (well, Japan still exists there) that’s maybe a few years or decades out from our own. Washed-up detective Keith Flick joins the Royal Investigation Service to hunt down a killer known only a “B.” It turns out “B” isn’t just a murderer and Keith’s past eventually comes back to inform his current hunt. B: The Beginning churns out beautiful action sequences with some mystical elements and crime-solving capers.
This is the only show on here I’d recommend to friends who have had virtually no other exposure to anime. Based on the premise alone, I think it’s missing its right audience by being an anime (not to its fault though). It’s a great crime fantasy, and offers a lot of beautifully rendered shots and thoughtful, heavy-handed poetry readings. It’s got, strangely enough, a romantic vibe I can’t get enough of and know plenty of friends who’d enjoy that too.
I adored the story, which I reckon is a bit of a sticking point for some, but I’m all for ancient beings and weird bones and childhood traumas and migratory bird patterns. Also, it’s intro is lovely and like 15 seconds long, which is great and sets the mood for the show without being gratuitous. Overall, B: The Beginning feels ambitious and more of an art piece than other shows I’ve listed. I’d watch it if you like tragic love, an aesthetic, and storytelling that gets way out there creatively. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
Available on: Crunchyroll (or VRV)
I watched Un-Go in college and I remember playing the ending song for like a week whenever I left my house for class. It was a rainy winter, and so every day fit the song perfectly. Un-Go came to me at a time when I wanted something unorthodox and yet familiar. Plus, Studio Bones is the best.
The story is set in the…let’s call it the near enough future and revolves around a detective named Yuuki Shinuurou. Yuuki has a very curious companion. One who has the ability to ask a single question their target must answer truthfully. This is convenient for our detective and his companion both, as the former gets a confession, most of the time, and the latter gets…well, to eat souls.
It’s a political story where ancient demonic entities help solve the crimes. You know, the usual. It feels grounded enough for that simple element of fantasy to grab hold of you and the character of Inga is one I still find fascinating. If you like slower paced shows with a heavy focus on the more “boring” parts of dystopias and a demon and human duo that share a fascinating dynamic of who is really in control of who, this one’s for you. A niche audience though, I’m sure.
4. Xam’d: Lost Memories
Available on: ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) (Actually, also here if you don’t mind dubs!)
Xam’d: Lost Memories reminded me a lot of Eureka Seven. Which, obviously, they look alike and were both by Bones (I’d know that nose shadow anywhere!) But Xam’d holds a special place in my heart because, while it does share some traces of Eureka, it manages to break out of that shadow long enough to become something else. It’s a great show with a strange, high-flying premise and lovely visuals.
Xam’d tells the story of Akiyuki, who becomes a “Xam’d” after absorbing a strange orb into his arm that gives him the power to transform into, well, a “Xam’d.” He joins my favorite kind of crew— a motley one— aboard an airship and works with a young woman named Nakiama to help keep his human side in control while also working to understand the Xam’d within him. You kind of have to watch it to really get the gist of it. I watched it one summer in college and it was the absolute perfect summer show. Bright, exciting, and left me with great opening and ending songs that I could then get outside and run to.
It’s actually a very moving and thoughtful show, and I’d recommend it if, obviously, you liked Eureka Seven but also if you like the expansive sort of ensemble storytelling of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. Xam’d builds a dynamic cast really successfully and quite fast, and each of its stories are compelling if you’re in for a more contemplative and hopeful piece of work with some beautiful reflections on the diagnosis of life. It’s a lot of fun and I’m sad it isn’t talked about more.
5. Night Raid: 1931
Available on: ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
I want to tell you that being a history major means I am super picky about my historically set stories but I can assure you I am not and I will absolutely watch historically inaccurate shows if they’re creative and fun enough. Not that Night Raid 1931 is inaccurate, but it turns I don’t understand enough about 1931 Shanghai to know!
Night Raid is set in 1931, if the title didn’t clue you away, in Shanghai. It features a group of subtly super-powered individuals who work in the shadows to stop nefarious plots hatched by many different governmental and politically entwined entities. I honestly don’t remember as many details as I should, writing this recommendation list, but I remember enjoying it a great amount when I first watched it. The ending left me feeling a bit off, but that’s how a lot of my favorite shows end — just to the wider left of perfect. Mostly because they’re tragically inclined.
It’s a slower show in the vein of Joker Game and 91 Days and my previously mentioned favorite Un-Go. The characters are compellingly fun and there slower, reflective pace allows for more time with them. There’s simply something about these kinds of shows that suck me in, especially when they’re set in an interesting time period. Give it a shot if that’s your style.
Available on: VRV
I watched Towanoquon on a rainy evening in college. I watched a lot of these in college, actually. And this one I rewatched recently and it was just as lovely. It’s an outlier in that it’s only 6 “episodes”, or films, but they’re around 45 minutes or so, so you get a 13 episode cour technically. It just enables the story to be told differently. I would say less episodic but for a 6 episode show Towanoquon feels suprisingly episodic sometimes.
Towanoquon tells the story of a group of super-powered individuals infected with a particular kind of mutation that causes said powers to manifest. The higher powers of Custos want them captured, and employs cyborgs to do the dirty work. Quon and his team want to see these newly-born mutants safe and protected from those who’d seek to do them harm. Quon’s desperation to save them all sometimes borders on manic. And it all ties back to a tragic backstory.
I loved Towanoquon because of the genuine kindness and determination of its titular protagonist, Quon— honestly, I’d say all of the characters are compelling and lovingly created. Even some of the more side characters I got attached to in ways I normally don’t with these shorter shows, given the time contrasints. It’s a wonderful sci-fi that also features tragic histories and reflections of duty, humanity, and legacy. It’s also beautifully animated.
It’s got a lot of heart, and that’s honestly what makes it so great.
7. Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto
Available on: ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Alright, I get it! I’m sensing a pattern. Guys with dark hair and fated purposes. It’s fine. But in all seriousness, Irohanihoheto is a gem in that I didn’t even really know about it until I came across a site listing obscure animes. How the turns have tabled!
Irohanihoheto is set in the Bakumatsu era of Japan’s history and tells the story of a young man whose sole purpose is to seal a very particular artifact away. His hunt for this object leads him to a theater troupe, who have their own mission. I rewatched a few episodes recently and conclude only this: this is, like all the others on here, a me show. I enjoyed it immensely.
If you want a mystery show with a strong protagonist who has that whole “fated to do a particular task at any cost” schtick going for them, then you’ll enjoy this. The fact that it revolves around a theatre troupe has always been a highlight too, and the characters are crafted well and thoughtfully. If you like anything else on this list, you’ll probably like this too.
Darker than Black
Available on: Hulu
Only reason it isn’t on here in full is because it’s not that low-key fandom-wise. Lots of people flocked to it, and with good reason. It’s a dark, complicated crime story featuring superpowers that incur a cost to their users. It’s absolutely one of my favorites and it has an amazing soundtrack. I would say ignore the sequel series but I’m sure people also enjoyed that as much as I didn’t. Watch it all and judge for yourself!
Available on: Hulu
The original one. Although, like with Darker than Black, your judgement of the sequel Fam of the Silver Wing is your own. Last Exile is a quiet steampunk romp that’s definitely a personal kind of thing. You either like it or you really don’t. I enjoyed it, and am actually rewatching it now. It’s a good bedtime show thanks to its muted visuals and softer tone.
Chikyuu Shoujo Arjuna
Available on: ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Do you like Yoko Kanno’s musical work? You’ll like Arjuna. Arjuna’s a bit of a mystery in that it’s a super out-there show but it’s also quiet beautiful. It’s timely for now more than ever with a message of earthly understanding and coexistence. Unlike a lot of the more serialized, straightforward shows on here, Arjuna strays into Evangelion territory with its storytelling. It says a lot of things, but you might miss a few of them in a first watch. I certainly did.
8. Terra e…
Do you like space operas? That’s nice, because normally I don’t. Which is why Terra e (Toward the Terra) is the only space opera on here. It has to be. I discovered it way late, about a year ago, but I also knew upon watching the intro that, yup, this was for me. I’d love it. And so I did.
Terra e follows the trend of paradise searchers but does it way better than most (aside from Wolf’s Rain). Jomy Shim is a young man from earth who eventually falls in with the Mu and takes up the legacy of their search for a home. There’s a lot of moving parts and this show takes place over the span of a few decades. But it’s beautiful and plenty of people can attest to its staying power and charm. The characters, the world, the legacy of it. There’s something about Terra e that feels like a powerful statement. It’s a gentler story, which if you can’t tell is something I very much enjoy, that’s tragic and wistfully joyful all at once.
It’s one of the more obscure on this list in that it’s literally nowhere, but it’s gained a steady cult following for it gorgeous story and telling visuals. I bought a MacBook HDMI connecter specifically so that I could watch this show on my big TV. It was so worth it.
And that’s the list! If any of these spark your interest — give them a shot! I’m currently checking out Witch Hunter Robin, which doesn’t look to be exactly what I’m looking for, and Reideen, which might be a little more my speed. Letter Bee is next up on my list. I’m a sucker for slightly older and more obscure anime and will even stray into genres I don’t normally enjoy, like Kaiju stories, if they’re good enough with their characters. I highly recommend going through your own anime subscription service(s) on the hunt for new titles. There are so many cool ones I might never otherwise have checked out!
Happy watching, friends!