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14 Brilliant Anime Intended For Intelligent Viewers

Updated September 21, 2018 38.6k votes 11.1k voters 358.2k views14 items

List RulesVote up the intellectual shows that really made you think.

The best anime are heralded for featuring captivating, unique visuals and complex characters who grow and mature over time. Despite all this, anime stories aren't always super complex. Particularly in shonen series, narrative arcs often boil down to an endless series of battles, a loner hero who eventually achieves social acceptance, or a one-sided crush that will probably never pan out. 

However, anime is a sprawling style, and there's room for thought-provoking, intelligent anime, in addition to the slew of high school dramas and tournament arcs. Some smart anime series tackle mature themes, such as Ghost in the Shell, which dares to question the nature of humanity. Other shows offer a critique of traditional anime conventions; after you finish Neon Genesis Evangelion, you'll probably think about your favorite shows in a whole new way. These brilliant anime aren't for everyone, but for viewers looking to expand their minds, they can take you to places you'd never previously considered. 

  • Photo: Funimation

    After a series of ecological disasters, most of humanity left Earth, and those who weren't lucky enough to escape survive in massive domed cities alongside robots called AutoReivs. In one of the domes, a detective named Re-L Maier is investigating a series of murders committed by a Proxys, god-like AutoReivs tasked with ruling over and protecting the remaining human settlements.

    While the Proxys aren't supposed to be sentient, some have begun to think for themselves, and have rejected the ideas instilled in them by their creators. Ergo Proxy is a cybernetic take on the rapture, and leaves audiences wondering about the true goal of humanity, and the relationship between humans and machines. 

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  • Photo: MAPPA

    At the start of Terror In Resonance, a terrorist attack carried out by by the mysterious group called Sphynx leaves Tokyo devastated. Twelve and Nine — the ringleaders of Sphynx — are escapees from a government facility where they were subjected to horrific experiments. 

    The series grapples with the wide-reaching effects of terrorism, and explores the motivations of terrorist groups in a way that is equal parts horrific and humanizing. Both Twelve and Nine are incredibly intelligent, and they see the consequences of their actions as part of a game they're forcing the citizens of Tokyo to play. In a world that often refuses to acknowledge the median between extremist beliefs and the accepted norm, it's chillingly refreshing to get a glimpse into the logic behind why someone might carry out such a ruthless act. 

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  • Photo: Madhouse

    Perfect Blue follows J-pop sensation Mima Kirogue on her rise to stardom. Unfortunately, as her career explodes, her grip on reality begins to fade, and she begins to alienate those closest to her. Perfect Blue explores real-world issues that many celebrities face on a daily basis, as well as the negative effects of popularity.

    The film questions the human mind's capacity for trauma, and asks the viewer to consider whether psychological wounds can ever truly heal. 

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  • In the world of Neon Genesis Evangelion, humanity is working hard to recover from the appearance of the horrific Angels, humongous extraterrestrial monsters who caused a global cataclysm in the year 2000. As the show starts, the year is 2015, and it seems as though the Angels' return is imminent. Earth's only defense against these beasts are Eva Units, towering creatures in metal armor piloted by children.  

    While the series is loaded with badass mecha fights, equal attention is spent chronicling the psychological toll piloting the Evas takes on the young heroes. The protagonists feel every last blow, and climatic fights are often followed by months-long stints in hospital wards. In many ways, it seems like the show is trying to subvert the shonen narrative, as the best thing protagonist Shinji Ikari can hope for is a normal, non-heroic life. While most anime heroes' special abilities lead them on great adventures, Shinji's bring him nothing but physical and mental pain. 

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