Obscure anime, titles that have fallen through the proverbial cracks.
As a huge fan of anime and manga, particularly older titles, I’ve had the pleasure – and in some cases, displeasure – of seeing a huge number of anime titles. In fact, I think I’ve probably seen well over 200 titles – not all at once mind you, I’m not that crazy about anime.
But it seems like certain anime titles have sort of disappeared and gone under the radar. Whether it’s due to time, age of the audience or some other factors (i.e. quality of the show and so on), certain shows seem doomed to this fate of disappearing through the proverbial cracks.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of anime titles out there, and sadly we can’t watch them all.
These are basically the titles that either are seldom, if ever, brought up in conversations about anime. The entries on this list don’t necessarily need to be old or obscure, just under-appreciated or not really talked.
That said, let’s get busy.
Here are 15 great obscure anime titles.
Number 15: Wolf’s Rain
Wolf’s Rain a series that, in my experience, very few people talk about. When it is brought up by those who have seen it, most of the time it’s the particularly emotional ending or the wide landscape shots that are discussed more than the story or characters.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the world is dying. According to an old legend, the end of the world will open the gates to paradise – but there’s one problem; the only ones who can find the gates to paradise are wolves… yes, you read that correctly, wolves are the only ones who can find the way to paradise.
Said wolves were thought to be extinct, when in actuality they’ve been living amongst humans disguised with various illusions. We follow a group of these disguised wolves as they search for paradise.
The series was produced by Studio Bones, Asatsu DK, and Fuji TV; it ran for 26 episodes airing from January 7th to July 29th 2003.
The animation is beautifully done and the characters are all very likeable – once you get to know them. It’s a shame that this series isn’t really talked about very much.
Number 14: Black Jack OVA
This 12 episode series follows the unlicensed medical genius Kuroo Hazama, “Black Jack” as he performs surgeries and saves lives that would otherwise have been lost – at a massive price, of course.
I first found this series on the Animax network when I was getting into anime at age 14, and while it is sort of disturbing at times, I loved it.
The animation and soundtrack are beautiful and the series’ episodes are all more or less standalone stories, so you don’t really need to watch from episode one to know what’s going on – though that is useful for the occasional references to previous episodes.
In terms of characters, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Black Jack seems heartless but you know as a viewer that he’s going to take the case regardless. The many patients/clients that the doctor works with are all more or less the same, with the only differences being in their circumstances.
Black Jack also has a really good level of realism. When Black Jack takes a case (which we know he will), the focus shifts to whether he’ll succeed or not. That’s one of the few things we don’t know: will he succeed in saving this patient’s life?
Much like in real life surgeries, the doctor does occasionally fail and lose a patient; the aftermath of such a loss serves as a reminder that Black Jack isn’t some supernatural miracle worker. He’s a mortal man and makes the occasional mistake – sometimes at the cost of a patient’s life.
Number 13: Record of Lodoss War
Lord of the Rings in anime format. Need I say more?
The land of Lodoss is under threat from an ancient witch’s spirit who is intent on creating political instability to prevent any single nation from gaining power. A young wannabe knight named Parn and five others are all that stand in this witch spirit’s way.
Yeah, the plot is your generic fantasy coming of age storyline, but the characters are all likeable (although Parn starts out as whiny as they come). The humour is admittedly flat in several instances but there are some particularly funny scenes sprinkled throughout this OVA’s 13 episode run.
Produced by Studio Madhouse, Kadokawa Shoten, TBS, and Marubeni, the series’ 13 episodes were aired from June 30th, 1990 to November 23rd, 1991.
Now, I freely admit that when I first saw this I wasn’t a fan. The animation, while I’ve come to appreciate it, looks very dated. The dialogue is very, very clunky in places and the characters themselves aren’t doing the series any favours either. Still, I like Record of Lodoss War, and it’s just a shame that most, if not all of the people I talk to about anime, don’t know about this series (or if they do they let you think they don’t).
It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
Number 12: Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier
Don’t let the dorky art style fool you, this is probably one of the darkest series I’ve seen in years – and I saw it back when it started airing in South Africa years ago!
Based on the manga of the same name and airing from 2001 to 2002 for 52 episodes, Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier follows nine ordinary people who were taken by the mercenary organisation known as Black Ghost and turned into cyborg weapons. Instead of working for their captors, they use their powers to protect people and become quite a team in the process.
It sounds like your typical kid-friendly shounen series; everything from the art style to the music seemingly pushes that idea. But there is so much that I missed when I saw it years ago as a kid that stick out to me now – the number of people who get killed in the first episode, for example.
There are also some really morbid discussions about death and dying in some episodes, which get pretty heavy. Thankfully there’s a significant amount of humour to offset the darker moments.
It’s a lot of fun to watch if you don’t mind the darker material, and it’s quite a shame that a series like this would just vanish into obscurity fated to be unknown to all but those who watched it back in 2001 and 2002.
Fun Fact: Cyborg 009 had its first screen adaptation with a film in 1966.
Number 11: Kiddy Grade
Kiddy Grade is a sci-fi/comedy/action series that ran from 2002 to 2003.
The series follows Éclair and Lumiere, two ES Members (covert operatives) of the GOTT, an organisation that acts as a sort of policeforce in space.
The two main characters go on various missions throughout the series, dealing with a variety of mysteries.
The animation and musical score are lovely. The voice acting is top-notch; Monica Rial, Colleen Clinkenbeard and Laura Bailley play their parts perfectly.
The series blends action, adventure and comedy seamlessly and even the sillier scenes are a lot of fun to watch.
Number 10: Kaiketsu Zorro/ The Legend of Zorro
I wonder how many people have actually watched this series because almost no one talks about it. It’s almost as if you had to grow up with the series in order to actually know what was up.
The series was based off of Johnston McCulley’s character ‘Zorro’, and ran for 52 episodes from April 5th, 1996 to April 14th, 1997. It was produced by Toho and Ashi Production Studios. Of the 52 episodes, however, only 46 were aired in Japan and the show became very popular in European countries, Portugal and Spain among them.
The first time I saw this series, it was on a cassette tape in my grandmother’s video cupboards – and I loved it! So much so, that I was actually able to get the whole series on tape – we’re talking a huge number of cassettes found in bargain bins in various supermarkets and grocery stores.
The Legend of Zorro follows the adventures of Diego Vega who returns from abroad to find the Spanish army oppressing the people of his hometown.
By day, he’s a cowardly fool. By night – or whenever there’s trouble (which is always in this series) – he becomes the black-clad, masked avenger Zorro to protect the people of California and right the wrongs of the Spanish army.
The action scenes are fantastic. The characters are all so likeable. And the comedy (particularly from the portly Sargent Gonzales) is hysterical. Just thinking of all the abuse poor Gonzales took while writing this had me in stitches!
The animation is a bit dated but I don’t think it’s as noticeable here as it is with other titles of the time. And who could forget that epic opening sequence and song?
Number 9: Samurai Gun
Think of Batman in feudal Japan and take away his ‘no killing’ rule; you’ll get something of an idea for this 13 episode series’ story.
Set at the start of the industrial revolution, the series follows a group of rogue samurai – the titular samurai guns as they fight against the cruelty of the current shogunate.
The animation and music are great, the voice acting is excellent, and the story, while not very original, is well thought out and fairly well executed.
The reason behind this series’ lack of attention is its content. There’s a lot of profanity, some sexual content and loads of violence. Not really ideal for viewers younger than 16 or 17.
Number 8: Perfect Blue
If you love a good mystery thriller then this might be something for you to check out. Based on the novel of the same name by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, Perfect Blue was the directorial debut of Satoshi Kon – who later became quite the prolific writer and director in the anime scene.
The film follows Mima Kirigoe, the lead singer in a pop music group as she leaves the music industry to become an actress and finds herself at the mercy of a mysterious stalker who causes all kinds of chaos, both physically and psychologically.
I’m not squeamish by nature, I don’t spook too easily anymore, but this film was downright terrifying. I was looking over my shoulder for months after I first saw this!
Number 7: Angel Cop
Angel Cop was a six episode OVA which ran from September 1st, 1989 to May 20th, 1994. The series was licensed by Manga Entertainment for its western release and was produced by Geneon Universal Entertainment, SOEINSHINSA and Studio D.A.S.T.
The story takes place in what is an alternate history, at the end of the 20th century. Japan is the strongest economic power in the world. A terrorist group called the Red May is trying to cripple the economy and bring down the government.
The Japanese government responds by creating the Special Security Force – an elite group of people able to operate outside of the law – as the opening narration says: ‘they were judge, jury and executioner’ – to hunt the terrorists.
It soon becomes apparent, however, that they aren’t the only ones on the hunt as someone else starts hunting and killing the terrorists before they can get to them.
The ’80s were a really, really weird time for anime lovers. The market was saturated with profanity-filled, ultra-violent titles which were seemingly quite popular.
And Angel Cop was no exception to this. There’s a lot, and I mean a lot, of blood and gore in this series. The profanity is near-constant.
I consider this one to be one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ titles. It’s not a masterpiece, but if you’re looking for mindless action then this one might be for you.
Shoutout to the line: “If this is justice then I’m a banana!”
Fun Fact: When the show was released in the United States, the distributors were worried that there wasn’t enough violence, gore, nudity and so on to get an R-rating so they instructed the voice director and voice actors to spice up the dialogue with near constant profanity, resulting in some unintentional hilarity.
Number 6: Speed Racer X (1997)
This is a reboot of the Speed Racer anime from the 1960s and ran for 34 episodes from January 9th to September 24th, 1997, before being given an English release in 2002.
The story is very much the same as its 1967 counterpart. There were, of course, a few minor changes to make it more dramatic. This is like the anime that time forgot, it’s one of those titles that you see as a kid and go, “Cool, a new series!” then a few years go by and you can’t remember it clearly enough so you dismiss it.
Those who know Speed Racer will know about the manga, the 1967 series, or the 2008 film or all three, but they’ll very seldom know much if anything about the 1997 reboot (unless they’ve seen it), which is sad as it’s not really getting much in the way of recognition, if any at all. And it deserves it.
Number 5: Vampire Hunter D
Based on Hideyuki Kikuchi’s ‘Vampire Hunter D’ novels, this 1985 classic is probably one of my favourite films ever.
The story follows D, a vampire hunter who is hired by a young woman to destroy the vampire Count Magnus Lee – who has taken a liking to her.
Fun Fact: Magnus Lee is a nod to the late Christopher Lee who played Dracula in a series of Hammer Films.
Number 4: Dirty Pair
I guess you’d call this series the older sibling of Kiddy Grade. Based on the novel series of the same name by Haruka Takachiho, this 1985 series ran for 26 episodes. Unfortunately, however, only 24 episodes were aired before the show was cancelled due to poor ratings. There have been a few OVA sequels and a movie though.
The story is pretty close to Kiddy Grade in that two members of an intergalactic police force go on adventures solving various problems each episode.
The difference between Kiddy Grade and Dirty Pair, however, is the characters. Eclair and Luminiere generally solve problems in Kiddy Grade. Kei and Yuri have a reputation for leaving destruction and chaos in their wake!
Dirty Pair is a riot. The first episode alone had me laughing for hours on end.
Number 3: Wicked City
This 1987 neo-noir horror thrill ride is NOT for the faint of heart.
The story is centred on a pair of agents protecting a VIP during a peace treaty signing between the human world and the demon world. Wicked City is like an anime version of Men in Black, if the aliens were replaced by demons.
If that sounds like something you’d like then by all means check it out. On the other hand, the squeamish may want to avoid this title. There are so many disturbing scenes which leave even the most hardened viewers uncomfortable – including a rather out-of-nowhere tentacle monster…shudders
Number 2: Golgo 13: The Professional
Golgo 13: The Professional was released in 1983 is based on the ‘Golgo 13’ manga by Takao Saito.
The basic story follows a contract killer, Golgo 13, as he completes various assassinations and tries to avoid a vengeful father. Much like Vampire Hunter D, I can understand how this title became one of the more obscure anime titles out there.
The story is all over the place with a number of glaring plot holes. The main character is a blank slate with little to no emotional range. He’s more a construct than a character – something for male viewers to project themselves onto.
Not fantastic, but an easy, enjoyable watch.
Fun Fact: Golgo 13: The Professional was the first animated feature to incorporate CGI animation.
Number 1: Band of Ninja
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of this one.
Released in 1967, this particular film is unique in that it features no actual animation. Yes, you read that correctly. Instead, the director of the film used still images from the manga of the same name and set them to sound as voice actors brought the characters to life.
The story is that the vengeful son of a murdered feudal lord finds a renegade ninja helping peasants to revolt against Oda Nobunaga’s regime.
Band of Ninja is also close to impossible to keep up with. As one reviewer put it: Band of Ninja immediately piles up the plot in the first thirty minutes.
The plot is basically dumped on the viewer within the first half hour. After that it just goes all over the place! The film’s pacing is also all over the place with action scenes coming out of nowhere and then vanishing to be followed by long minutes of silence as the stills play out on-screen.
Considering that it was made in 1967 (when voice acting was nowhere near where it is today), and that it is essentially just comic book panels filmed and cut together to sound, Band of Ninja remains a solid enough film, despite its flaws.
This is more of an interesting watch than an classically entertaining one.
Why have these titles become under-appreciated and obscure anime?
At one point these series were super popular (or else they wouldn’t have been made at all). As time went on, however, that popularity faded away. Every year more anime titles continue to come out with better animation, compelling stories with plot twists galore, and just an overall higher production value. These series and many others like them have kind of disappeared for the most part.
Anyways, there you have it, fifteen under-appreciated and/or obscure anime that don’t get nearly enough love! Maybe you’ll give them the love they deserve <3
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