21 Great Anime Series and Films for Adults

The Best Anime for Mature Viewers

Anime series and films may look like cartoons, but many are far from childish. These selections are complex, graphic, and engaging on a very adult level. Some are even R rated for sex and violence—a long way from the world of Pokemon!

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The Basilisk Anime Series

It's "Romeo and Juliet in the samurai era," with the star-crossed lovers being the young scions of two mutually antagonistic ninja clans. They've also just been sentenced to fight each other to the death. Each side is outfitted with a mind-boggling array of otherworldly powers. Yet, it's their emotions that will prove to be the hardest for them to defend against.

For mature audiences because: It's filled with extreme violence and grotesquerie galore. You'll also find political machinations and a tragic lost-love story that spans multiple generations.

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Black Lagoon

Black Lagoon Anime Series

What would you do if you were a hapless office worker who found himself stranded in some scummy harbor city in Thailand, held hostage by pirates pointing guns up your nose? And what if your company decided to write you off as an acceptable loss and throw you to the wolves?

That's right, you'd run with the wolves yourself and join up with the very crew that was ransoming you. Such is the premise of "Black Lagoon." It's like every Hollywood and Hong Kong action movie distilled down to its purest acts of excess and blended into one.

For mature audiences because: Violence, bad language, and bad attitudes galore. 

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Berserk Anime Series
Liden Films

In a land wracked by war, Guts is a swordsman for hire. He allies himself with a mercenary group known as the Band of the Hawks.

Guts comes under the spell of one of his fellow soldiers (the lovely Casca) and the Hawks' own leader (the charismatic Griffith). All three will have their loyalties tested as they soon find themselves catapulted into what might well be a battle at the end of the world. Guts is exceptional for its superb depiction of medieval politics. The three-way love triangle is among the most compelling in anime to date.

For mature audiences because: You'll find violence of just about every description. This includes a supernatural sexual assault that is (mercifully) one of the very last scenes in the whole show.

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Cat Soup

Cat Soup Anime Series
J.C. Staff

This surreal mind-bender is a great example of anime as an art form. A boy and girl cat go on an odyssey to reclaim their souls from the land of the dead. However, that's a little like saying "Moby Dick" is about a guy hunting down a big fish. "Cat Soup" is out of print, and for that reason, it is all the more worth the effort to track down.

For mature audiences because: Surreal, sexual, vulgar, and suggestive imagery abound. The movie also deals with concepts like death and resurrection in a heady way that might go right over younger viewers' heads.

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Eden of the East

Eden of the East

 Production I.G

A young Japanese man wakes up outside the White House with a gun in one hand, a cellphone in the other, no memories, and not a stitch of clothing on his back. The phone connects him to an operator who can get him, it seems, literally anything he asks for. From there on out, it's a mix of The Bourne Identity and "The Social Network," as our hero tries to unravel the mysteries he embodies and the strange game he's been selected to play.

For mature audiences because: This one has political machinations galore. It also includes treatments of modern-day social issues like generational alienation.

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First Squad: The Moment of Truth

First Squad: The Moment of Truth Anime Movie
Molot Entertainment Film Company

This offbeat Japanese/Russian co-production (Japan for the animation, Russia for the storyline) tells a history of WWII in which the Russian army had support from a secret cadre of young psychics. Their mutual enemy: a Nazi brigade whose dabbling in the dark arts might turn the tide of war in their favor.

For mature audiences because: Violence and some surreal netherworld spelunking. Need we say more?

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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Anime Series
Production I.G

The members of the elite "Section 9" protect a near-future Japan from cyber criminals of all stripes. They do so by harnessing not only cutting-edge technology but their own native wits and skills. Their greatest enemies, however, may be from within their own government.

Widely lauded as one of anime's brightest stars, it's not hard to see why. This one is excellently produced and sports a storyline smart enough to give most top-end live-action TV a run for its money.

The standalone (pun intended) feature films, "Ghost in the Shell" and "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence," also deserve a look for many of the same reasons. That said, the TV series is the most accessible and rewarding of the bunch.

For mature audiences because: It includes violence and sexual innuendoes. It also has deeply complicated political machinations and some heady thoughts about social organization, artificial intelligence, and the difficult nature of the state and corporate secrets in an all-digital, all-information era. 

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House of Five Leaves

House of Five Leaves Anime Series

A not-very-confident samurai, desperate for work, takes a job as a bodyguard with a mysterious man. He turns out to be one of a cadre of criminals who kidnap (and ransom) for profit. Unable to leave since he's already implicated himself with them, the samurai instead digs deeper into the workings of this cadre that call themselves "The Five Leaves." In the process, he discovers a great deal about them—and himself.

For mature audiences because: Not because of the slow, involved, character-centric and, well, mature storytelling. This isn't a show where everything is resolved with a swordfight and, if it was, it wouldn't be half the show it is.

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Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade Anime Series
Production I.G

In an alternate-history version of Japan, an authoritarian central government ruthlessly suppresses dissent courtesy of their elite squad of heavily-armored police. One of their number comes to question his loyalty when a dissident woman finds a way to his heart, but love rarely conquers all in real life. This grim but meticulously-observed drama has the same cynicism about mankind as a political animal as one of Graham Greene's novels.

For mature audiences because: Violence, politics, and an aura of relentless cynicism. This one's not for those who prefer happy endings.

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Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress Anime Movie

Satoshi Kon's homage to Japan's filmmaking industry as a dream factory is, well, rather dreamy. It's exactly what you'd expect from a director who made the (blurry) dividing line between illusion and reality his favorite subject.

The actress in question was a woman of great talent who vanished at the peak of her creative power. The film takes us back through her own cinematic history, as well as Japan's.

For mature audiences because: The way the film explores reality versus fantasy versus imagination should appeal to adults as much as it might to younger audiences. Perhaps even more so.

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Monster Anime Series

Doctor Tenma's life is destroyed when he chooses to operate on a young boy, a victim of an apparent home invasion, instead of the mayor of the town where he lives.

The boy vanishes, and Tenma discovers disturbing evidence that he might have become a serial killer. Determined to set things right, the doctor descends into Europe's underworld to find him and stop him any way he can.

Adapted from an equally spellbinding manga series, this psychological thriller has more in common with "SE7EN," "Silence of the Lambs," or the Alex Cross procedurals than many other anime titles.

Once started, it is all but impossible not to watch it through to its quietly devastating conclusion. This is also one of the few anime that is not set in Japan, although the doctor himself is Japanese.

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Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit Anime Series
Production I.G

Set in a land that's a mash-up of multiple Asian cultures (mainly Japan and Tibet), "Moribito" follows spearwoman-for-hire Balsa as she's entrusted with Chagum, heir to an embattled throne. The powers-that-be want the boy, and the two are forced to go on the run. They change their identities, battle a number of foes, struggle to survive, and peel back one layer of deception after another. The story was derived from a series of young-adult novels written by a woman who was also a sociology professor. 

For mature audiences because: There is some violence (the show's a grand adventure saga first and foremost). Mainly, though, the show deals with concepts in the same way a nation creates—and attempts to live up to—its own mythology.

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Paprika Anime Movie

Dr. Atsuko Chiba leads two lives. By day she's a researcher working on a revolutionary device that allows people to enter each other's dream spaces (take that, "Inception"). By night she's "Paprika," the feisty black-market dream therapist who uses the device to aid those whom traditional therapy can't reach. When the device is stolen, it's up to her alter ego to save the day before reality's buried under a deluge of dreamtime madness.

Yasutaka Tsutsui's maverick sci-fi novel reads like a tarter version of Michael Crichton. Director Satoshi Kon brought it to life in an equally lively and wide-eyed way. Sadly, this was Kon's final feature film. He died of pancreatic cancer while working on his next film, "The Dreaming Machines."

For mature audiences because: Sexual and suggestive material abounds (the film is rated R). Like Kon's other movies, it explores issues of identity and illusion that might be best appreciated by older viewers.

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Paranoia Agent

Paranoia Agent Anime Series

This was Satoshi Kon's one foray into episodic TV, and it's astounding stuff. It plays like a lost Rod Serling screenplay as directed by Christopher Nolan.

An urban legend is circulating about a mysterious figure named "Little Slugger," who can put you out of your misery if your life's falling apart. A pair of detectives discovers that Little Slugger may, in fact, be real. The more they dig, the more one layer of lies and delusion after another fall away until the very fabric of reality itself starts to crumble.

For mature audiences because: There is violence and some sexual material, but mostly because of the all-pervading sense of paranoia—hence the title. That makes this show even creepier the more you think about it.

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Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue Anime Movie

If "Paranoia Agent" was Satoshi Kon channeling Hitchcock, this is Kon's Dario Argento moment.

A pop star retires from her singing career to try and make it as an actress. Her life begins to spiral down into madness and murder when someone starts trying to drive her out of her mind. Or, is she just cracking up all on her own?

This was Kon's first feature-length production as director after being a supporting staff member on many other projects. It has the confidence and audacity of a veteran director at work.

For mature audiences because: The film has violence and sexual material. This includes a truly disturbing "simulated" rape scene that is somehow all the more disturbing because it's being acted out. You'll also find many moments of head-spinning, heart-in-mouth terror.

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Redline Anime Movie

A far-future epic about the most dangerous, illegal, and eagerly-anticipated race in the whole galaxy. This one makes the street drags in "The Fast and the Furious" look like kids playing with Matchbox cars.

Contestants JP and Sonoshee wrestle with both their rigs and each other's emotions. At the same time, nefarious forces on all sides collude to either rig the race, shut it down, or blow the participants to kingdom come. The whole thing took seven years to make and it shows in every single meticulously hand-drawn frame.

For mature audiences because: Bad language and some violence, but mainly for the way it hearkens back to the works of Ralph Bakshi. This 1970s animation director tried to make animation cross over to adult (read: R-rated) audiences with titles like "Heavy Traffic," "American Pop," and "Wizards." "Redline" recalls the funky aesthetic of that era, but with a modern fast-moving anime sensibility.

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Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise


The nation of Honneamise has been boasting about their space program for some time now. In reality, it's little more than an excuse to funnel money into a PR program that trumpets its accomplishments for the sake of intimidating other nations.

When a man is in fact chosen to be launched into space—the soft-headed, single-minded Lhadatt—the men behind this rag-tag mission find themselves coming together to make the impossible happen, despite their own cynicism.

Magnificently animated by GAINAX, the same company behind "Evangelion," it's like a documentary history for a time and place that never existed.

For mature audiences because: Those of you old enough to remember when Neil first walked on the moon, or when the shuttle first cleared the tower, will get more than a little thrill of remembrance with this film.

It's also recommended for mature audiences because of a badly-handled scene of attempted sexual violence on the part of the protagonist. This is, by far, the film's biggest flaw.

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Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen

Rurouni Kenshin Anime Series
Fuji Television

A prequel to the "Rurouni Kenshin" TV series, which spells out the origins of Kenshin as described in the final story arc that concluded the originating manga.

Kenshin was rescued as an orphan by the man who trained him to be a killer (better that than being sold as a slave) and is an assassin for a squad of revolutionaries. When he finds himself falling in love with the sister of a man he was assigned to kill, the last thing he expects is for her to return the same feelings. This proves to be the downfall of them both.

The consummate artistry of the storytelling and animation makes this almost unbearably sad story into something transcendent.

For mature audiences because: Violence (graphic bloodshed), political machinations, and a story of doomed love that will have the hardest-hearted in the audience blowing their noses.

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Shigurui: Death Frenzy

Shigurui: Death Frenzy Anime Series

Two swordsmen—one blind, the other crippled—prepare to face off in an unlikely duel. This show is the story of how they came to be rivals in both love and honor, against the backdrop of a samurai-era Japan slowly choking on its own decadence. It's not a pretty picture, but it's one so skillfully put together that its very repulsiveness also becomes fascinating.

For mature audiences because: Violence and sex, both separately and together. "Graphic" and "disturbing" are some of the more polite words for this show. Was the title not enough of a tipoff?

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Speed Grapher

Speed Grapher Anime Series

Former combat photographer Saiga is sucked into a bizarre underworld where the ultra-rich can have any desire fulfilled—and even others they don't know about yet. Suddenly, he's become one of the "Euphorics," a subclass of humanity with powers that others would kill or die to have.

If people plus superpowers equal "X-Men," this is more like XXX-Men, with fetishism and eroticism galore. It also has a complex and absorbing story that speaks to a time where the rich get richer and everyone else pounds sand.

For mature audiences because: Violence, sex, perversion, and political corruption.

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Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo Godfathers Anime Movie

Satoshi Kon directed this very, very loose reworking of John Wayne's "Three Godfathers." Instead of the Wild West, it's set in urban Tokyo.

A trio of homeless misfits—an alcoholic, a runaway teenaged girl, and a transsexual—blunder across an abandoned infant and try to return it to its parents. This sets into motion a whole chain of insane misunderstandings

For mature audiences because: The movie explores many mature situations, including homelessness and gender dysphoria. Also, the movie hearkens back to the screwball comedies of classic Hollywood.

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