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.
Light Yagami is a pretty normal high school student, up until he finds notebook dropped by a Shinigami (a Japanese Grim Reaper). He soon discovers that anyone whose name is written in the book dies, and he can even specify the way in which they meet their end. Light quickly begins using the book to murder criminals and inflict his own brand of justice upon those who stand in his way.
Death Note presents viewers with a variety of morally gray situations, and explores the ways in which power can be abused, even when it is in supposedly good hands. Sure, most of the people Light murders are on the wrong side of the law, but is he any better than them?
The dystopian sci-fi series Psycho-pass follows Kogami as he enforces for the Sybil System, a government-run program that constantly scans the public's mental state to assess whether individuals have "latent criminal" traits. This allows authorities to stop violent criminals before they actually commit any crimes.
Even if an individual's mental state changes after a traumatic incident, this could still raise red flags, leading to their detention. The series questions the idea of the inherent criminal, and whether arresting people before they do anything wrong is ethical, provided the illegal act is definitely going to occur. After watching this show, you'll probably be left wondering whether such a system could work in real life, or whether we'd even want it to.
In the futuristic Japanese city of Niihama, most people have cybernetic enhancements, or depend on robots for their daily needs. When a virus begins wreaking havoc on the populace, Captain Kusanagi is tasked with investigating a series of murders associated with the outbreak, which leads to her discovering dark secrets about herself.
Ghost in the Shell is a landmark film that questions morality in a futuristic age. It also offers an interesting glimpse at what the world may be heading towards as humanity becomes increasingly dependent on technology.
In Monster, Dr. Tenma is a talented Japanese neurosurgeon living in Germany, who reunites with Johan Liebert — a former patient of his — nine years after saving his life. Unfortunately, Johan has gone on to become a murdering psychopath. Later, Dr. Tenma learns Johan was a product of a government plot to create psychologically altered supersoldiers in East Germany, and he swears to save Johan's life by putting an end to the atrocities.
Monster explores the dynamic between patient and doctor; if you save someone's life, and that person goes on to do something bad, how complicit are you in the misdeed?