Rei in Neon Genesis Evangelion
(Gainax/Studio Khara)

The Best Seinen Anime, Ranked

What does “seinen” mean?

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Quite literally, the word means “youth,” and it consists of anime that is targeted at young men. But wait? What’s the difference between that and “shonen” anime? Isn’t that targeted to young men as well?

Yes and no, the Big Three of anime tend to be targeted at young men, but REALLY their target audience is adolescent boys. Boys with big dreams of being the greatest Hokage or whatever. But seinen anime aren’t afraid to ask the BIG questions: what does it all mean? Doesn’t the desire to fight to become Hokage unknowingly feed a greater cycle of violence and pain? Wouldn’t the world be better if we didn’t have to throw kunai knives at each other all the time? Those are the questions that seinen anime tries to answer, usually through copious amounts of violence. And don’t we love it?

15. Black Lagoon

The four members of the Lagoon Company pose for a photo in "Black Lagoon"

What do you get when you put four sociopathic expats from around the world on a boat in the lawless oceans of Southeast Asia? You get the Lagoon Company! The Lagoon Company will take any job, whether it’s drug running, arms dealing, or straight-up murder. Black Lagoon is a series that revels in Tarantino-esque crime capers and wanton violence. Surprisingly enough, it also features one of the most romantic kisses in anime history. If you ever wanted the late 90’s crime thriller anime equivalent, Black Lagoon is the title for you.

14. Made In Abyss

'Made in Abyss'
(Kinema Citrus)

Don’t let the faces of these adorable children fool you, Made In Abyss is one of the most f*cked-up anime stories ever conceived. The story begins in a village on an island in the middle of the ocean. Things are quaint in the village. The streets are lined with quiet little houses and shops. The adults go to work. The children go to school. Everything is totally normal. Except for the BOTTOMLESS PIT IN THE CENTER OF TOWN. And when I say “bottomless” I don’t mean “really deep” I mean that no one who has ever gone down to the deepest layer of this abyss has ever come back. Some of the more adventurous townsfolk make their living as abyss divers, pulling up goods and resources from the cavern. One of the abyss divers hasn’t been seen for some time, and her young daughter decides to brave the big hole to bring her back. She soon uncovers a conspiracy of people who use the magic of the abyss to conduct horrific scientific experiments on people, often resulting in fates worse than death.

13. One Punch Man

Saitama with his cape billowing on "One Punch Man"

The titular One Punch Man has achieved has every shonen protagonist dreams of: becoming the strongest person in the world. After spending three years engaging in moderately intense calisthenics training, the hero Saitama is able to defeat any foe with only one punch. As a result, he feels… depressed. Nothing is a challenge for him anymore, so life has lost its spark. He runs errands. He plays video games. He blithely punches monsters. He wonders what else there is to live for. A better send-up of Shonen anime there never was.

12. Devilman Crybaby

The Devilman stretching his claws against a red background in "Devilman Crybaby"
(Science SARU)

After becoming possessed by a powerful demon while attending a devil-worshipping teenage sex party, the young Akira is transformed into a human/devil hybrid known as a “devilman”. He soon discovers that devils are attempting to take over the planet and gobble up all of its inhabitants. Not on his watch! Akira begins to wage a one-man war against the forces of darkness in hopes of liberating humanity from evil. It doesn’t go as planned… Be warned, this anime is a tragedy in the most Shakespearean sense of the word. But like all good tragedies, watching it is worth the pain.

11. Vinland Saga

Thorfinn wielding a knife while Vikings look on in "Vinland Saga"
(Wit Studio)

Vinland Saga eschews the familiar seinen trappings of demons and monsters and sets its story in one of the most horrific places imaginable: Medieval Europe. The young Thorfinn is the son of a famous Icelandic warrior named Thors, but after Thors is murdered by a group of degenerate Vikings right before Thorfinn’s eyes, the sweet and innocent little boy swears bloody revenge. While the series begins as a traditional tale of anime vengeance, Vinland Saga is a complex tale about the consequences of—and later atonement for—a life of violence.

10. Monster

Johan Liebert from Monster

Monster is about the adult thing of taking RESPONSIBILITY for your actions, even when it’s hard (and could prove fatal). A brilliant Japanese brain surgeon rescues a young German boy who was shot in the head. Great right? Well, what happens when that kid grows up to become the most evil, twisted, monstrous serial killer the world has ever seen? Doc has to do something about it, right? And do something he does.

9. Ghost in the Shell – Stand Alone Complex

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
(Production I.G.)

In the distant future, humans will be able to download their consciousness into cyborg bodies for enhanced physical abilities and greater longevity. Motoko Kusanagi is one of these people, and in Ghost in the Shell – Stand Alone Complex, she leads a team of crack soldiers in a government organization called Section 9, which defends Japan against cyber-terrorist threats. But what does it all mean, man? Is that computer virus actually conscious? Are you still you if your brain gets put in a new body? Do robots have souls? All these big questions need answers, and this series is gonna try.

8. Berserk

(OLM Inc.)

Berserk may in fact be the darkest anime series known to man. A young mercenary named Guts ekes out a living by separating men from their ghosts with his sword. In a brutal medieval fantasy world, how else are you gonna make money? Eventually, he meets a charismatic young captain named Griffith and decides to join Griffith’s mercenary group called Band of the Hawk in order to find riches and glory. They end up finding and fighting demons instead. And I don’t mean the inner kind.

7. Mushi-Shi

A man walks in a forest with a toothpick in his mouth in 'Mushishi'

Mushi-Shi is set in the rural Japanese countryside, where a man called Ginko travels around peddling his services as a Mushi master. But what are mushi and why do they need mastering? Mushi are semi-spiritual organisms that possess all sorts of magical properties. Sometimes a human being comes in contact with a Mushi, and can be made ill by its effects. Consider the Mushi that lives in the shadows of the tree in your backyard and then worms its way into your brain and eats your memories. Nobody has time for that. Call Ginko, he’ll help.

6. Psycho-Pass

Akane from Psycho Pass
(Production I.G.)

In the not-so-distant future, a state-of-the-art surveillance system is able to determine which of the population are mentally healthy, and which have the potential to become dangerous criminals. The system assigns each person a “psycho pass,” a number determining their mental health. Should a person’s psycho-pass get too high, that person can be arrested or even executed. Psycho-Pass follows a young police officer responsible for arresting “latent criminals,” and her struggle to maintain her own mental composure.

Related: Here’s the Best Anime from Each Decade on We Got This Covered

5. Attack on Titan

Promo art for attack on titan season 4

In Attack on Titan, a young group of children join a steampunk military to fight against giant humanoids that devour human flesh. After Eren Jaeger’s mother is eaten by one of these “Titans,” he swears that he will eradicate these monsters from the face of the earth. Little does he know, he may have to BECOME a monster to fight the monsters. Ooooooh, themes!

4. Samurai Champloo

Characters from Samurai Champloo

In Samurai Champloo, wandering warriors Jin and Mugen eke out a living in a hip-hop-inspired Edo-period Japan by selling their swords to the highest bidder. After a case of mistaken identity, the pair encounter the only swordsman they are not able to kill: each other. After their ensuing battle causes chaos in town, the pair are arrested and sentenced to death. Before the axe can fall, a young girl rescues them on the condition that they help her find “The Samurai Who Smells of Sunflowers.”

3. Death Note

Light Yagami from the anime Death Note

Death Note is for young people who have emerged from the cocoon of adolescence and become goth butterflies. Brilliant and bored high schooler Light Yagami finds a mysterious black notebook on the grounds of his school. When he touches it, a god of death dressed like a Hot Topic model reveals that the book is called a Death Note, and any person whose name is written on its pages shall die. Light decides to use the book to become the all-powerful god of a new world of peace and prosperity. All he has to do is thwart the genius young detective known only as “L” who is hot on his trail.

2. Neon Genesis Evangelion

Eva Unit-01 in Neon Genesis Evangelion

A fragile young boy named Shinji is coerced by his abusive father to pilot a biomechanical mech suit in order to fight off an invasion of interdimensional aliens known as “angels.” Yikes. Neon Genesis Evangelion is essentially about a boy who is forced to grow up too fast and must carry the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. Luckily, he’s got anime’s greatest tsundere to help him shoulder the burden. Be prepared for science fiction nonsense and brutal battles between aliens and man!

1. Cowboy Bebop

Spike from the anime Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop is the quintessential seinen anime, and many view it as the anime responsible for elevating the genre beyond its reputation of “weird after-school cartoons for kids.” In the not-so-distant future, a bounty hunter named Spike flies a spaceship through the Solar System looking for criminals to catch. While the series is rife with themes, the central one is that no matter what a person does, they cannot escape their past. It will always catch up with you, and when it does, be prepared to go down guns blazing.

(featured image: Gainax)

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Image of Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.