Have you ever wondered what the most influential Japanese anime in the U.S. is? Perhaps, you might be surprised that is changed American animation in ways no one expected. Not surprisingly, Japanese Animation, or “Anime” as it’s known in the U.S., took America by storm in the 80’s and 90’s. Needless to say, they’re known for exaggerated features, such as big eyes and oddly colored hair. Moreover, popular anime movies and television shows portray fantastic stories, and usually, it’s about some supernatural power, that is just as beautiful to watch as they are entertaining.
For a long time, most American cartoons geared their stories toward children, making them silly and generally wholesome. Sadly (or not so sadly), it stayed away from serious storylines and ideas that pushed the envelope. Interestingly, American kids watched G.I. Joe fight a bad guy and give a life lesson at the end. In contrast, Japanese Anime broke the mold, showing dynamic Japanese anime characters struggling with nuanced emotions and concepts. You know, kid stuff, like existentialism.
With stunning animation, grounded storylines, deep characters, and serialized stories, the most successful anime reshaped American animated programming for years to come, influencing several American spins on the anime style. Here are the Most Influential Japanese Anime in the US.
Yu Yu Hakusho
A Japanese manga series that was adapted into an animated series in 1990; Yu Yu Hakusho revolved around the story of a teenage delinquent named Yusuke Urameshi who got struck and killed by a car as he sought to save the life of a child. After he was revived, he was appointed as an Underworld Detective to investigate the cases of demons and apparitions on Earth.
Berserk aired in 1997 and centered on the life of an orphaned mercenary warrior named Guts, who called himself the Black Swordsman, as he served the Band of the Hawk. This is an intense anime filled with great action and some colorful scenes which may not be appropriate for children.
An anime television series that was released in 1982, Super Dimension Fortress Macross featured a love triangle among its major characters, plastered against the backdrop of battles that existed between aliens and humans. When shown in the US, it was re-titled Robotech. It rose to fame because of Linn Minmay, the pop star idol in the show, along with transforming air fighter units called Valkyries.
Code Geass was a Japanese anime series that was directed by Goro Taniguchi and written by Ichiro Okouchi. Set in an alternate future, the story revolved around a former prince named Lelouch Lamperouge who obtained the Geass power and used it to destroy the Holy Britannian Empire.
Elfen Lied was a Japanese manga series created by Lynn Okamoto. Its story revolved around the interactions, emotions, similarities, and differences between human beings and the Diclonii. The Diclonii are a mutant species that resemble humans in build but have two horns and vectors. The anime series centered on the protagonist named Lucy, who sought revenge after being rejected by humans.
A Nintendo game adapted into an anime series in 1989, Dragon Quest had a total of 43 episodes, supervised by Horii, with characters similar to the original Dragon Quest game. The first 13 episodes of this anime series was translated into English and released in North America.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
An anime television series based on the manga series, Ghost in the Shell, Stand Alone Complex revolved around the story of the members of a team called Public Security Section 9. Written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama, it first aired in Japan in 2002 and released in other parts of the world a year after. Its lead character, Agent Motoko Kusanagi, turned heads because of her beauty and fighting skills which was crucial to the appeal of the series.
A manga series written and illustrated by Yuki Urushibara, Mushishi was adapted into an anime television series in 2005 and featured some ubiquitous creatures called Mushi. These characters had supernatural powers and had a purity beyond normal living things. The main character in the story, Ginko, was among the few who possessed the ability to interact with the divine Mushis.
Future Boy Conan
Future Boy Conan first aired in Japan and China in 1978 with the official title Conan, The Boy in the Future. The story was set in 2008, the time when human kind was already in the face of extinction. Its story revolved around a devastating war fought by two nations armed with ultra-magnetic weapons. This war resulted in a series of earthquakes and other massive movements that eventually devastated the Earth until everyone else died except for three survivors, including Conan.
A Japanese manga series created by Katsura Hoshino, D Gray-Man followed Allen Walker, a member of the Exorcists—an organization that made use of an ancient substance called Innocence to fight the Millennium Earl and Akuma, its demonic army.
Serial Experiments Lain
Directed by Ryutaro Nakamura, Serial Experiments Lain aired in Tokyo, Japan, in 1998 and derived from a PlayStation game with the same title. It tackled philosophical concepts such as identity, communication, and reality. It focused on a teenage girl named Lain Iwakura, who was introduced to the Internet and bound to a path that took her into the network of her own thoughts following her discovery of “The God in the Wired.”
A Japanese hard science fiction manga created by Makoto Yukimura, Planetes was adapted from a television series broadcasted between 2003 and 2004. The story was about a team of space debris collectors that boarded the Toy Box debris ship in the year 2075 to prevent the destruction of Earth’s satellites.
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
An animated series based on the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime and created by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino, it’s about a war between planet Earth and its colonies in space. The pilots in this series were more closely allied in compared to those in Gundam. This had a total of 49 episodes and borrowed its storyline from another series entitled War and Peace.
One of the most watched anime in the U.S., Naruto is an ongoing Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto. The plot tells the story of Naruto Uzumaki, an adolescent ninja who constantly dreams of becoming the next Hokage (the leader in the ninja village).
Space Battleship Yamato
A science fiction anime series that featured an eponymous space craft, Space Battleship Yamato is an English-dubbed series that was broadcast on North American and Australian televisions as Star Blazers. It tells the story of a multinational teenage crew that journeyed through space to look for the planet Iscandar. The antagonists were aliens called Rajendora, who prevented the crew from catching a glimpse of the planet that they were searching for.
Styled after the European Industrial Revolution, this story was set in a fictional universe where alchemy is the most advanced scientific techniques known. The protagonists of the story, Edward and Alphonse Elric, were searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, which was needed to restore their bodies following a failed attempt to revive their mother through alchemy.
Adapted into an anime television series from 1986 to 1989, this story focuses on mystical warriors called Saints who wore sacred armors called Cloths. These Saints pledged to protect the reincarnation of Athena in her fight against the Olympian Gods, who sought to gain rule over the Earth.
Led by renowned director Koichi Chigira, Last Exile took place in the fictional world of Prester, where aerial vehicles dubbed as van ships were popular.
Taking place during the Edo period and characterized by its anachronistic, hip-hop setting, this television series was the first directorial effort of Japanese director Shiichiro Watanabe, following the widely acclaimed Cowboy Bebop.It followed the swordsman Mugen and a brave young girl named Fuu, who asked him to accompany her to Japan to find the “samurai who smelled like sunflowers.”
One of the most mind-bending anime around, Death Note featured a high school student named Light Yagami who discovered a supernatural notebook dropped on earth by the god of death, Ryuk. This notebook granted its user the ability to kill anyone they could identify.
Fist of the North Star
Illustrated by Tetsuo Hara and written by Buronson, Fist of the North was a Japanese anime series that took place in a post-apocalyptic world that had been destroyed by a nuclear war. The story of this anime series revolved around Kenshiro the warrior, who was also the successor of a deadly martial art dubbed as Hokuto Shinken. The protagonist of this story dedicated his life to fighting against the ravagers who took advantage of the poor and the innocent.
One Piece is a manga series that was skillfully written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda. The first episode of this series was released on December 24, 1997 and was about a young man named Monkey D. Luffy, whose body turned into rubber after accidentally gobbling up a Devil’s Fruit. The story also revolved around the crew of pirates of Mr. Monkey Luffy called Straw Hat Pirates, who accompanied him as he explored the ocean in search of a treasure called One Piece.
First shown in 1998, Cowboy Bebop is considered to be a Japanese animation masterpiece. It premiered in Japan in 1998 with a total of 26 episodes and was among the most influential anime shown in America because it tackled the philosophical concepts of existentialism, loneliness, and nihilism. It was also adapted into two manga series.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Created and owned by Gainax, Shin Seiki Evangelion, more commonly known as Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most popular anime of all time. Neon Genesis Evangelion was about a parliamentary organization that made efforts to fight against “Angels” through the use of giant humanoids they called Evangelions. These Evangelions were piloted by a group of teenagers led by Shinji Ikari, the protagonist.
Dragon Ball Z
A Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball Z was one of the most watched anime to have ever been shown in world television. Inspired by the classic novel in China entitled Journey to the West, it was about the adventures of Son Goku as he trained in martial arts from his childhood until he reached adulthood. He explored the world in search of the seven Dragon Balls with the capacity to grant wishes through the help of a wish-granting dragon.
So, what about you? Did you have an Anime that influenced you as a kid we didn’t mention? Sound off in the comments and tell us about it!