Last week we recounted how Toonami ushered in the American Anime Apocalypse, and how nothing has been the same since. The research for that post drowned me in nostalgia for all the fighting, the excitement, the over-abundance of bishounen, and even for all the drama peppered through it.
I found a list of shows Toonami aired, and I was surprised at how many of them I remember. Not only did I recognize them, I could easily recall myself watching them back in 1998 and early 2000s. These crystal clear images are a testament to how much of an impact Toonami had, earning them some special places in the hall of fame. Love ’em or hate’em, these are the top ten anime shows on Toonami.
As always, these are just my favorites. Feel free to share any you loved below.
- Cowboy BeBop — only excluded because it’s more new Toonami than old Toonami. Otherwise, one of the best shows of the medium, and everyone should see it at least once.
- One Piece– Freaking awesome show, but excluded from this list because old Toonami aired the godawful 4kids dub back in the day. Best viewed in its original form.
- Ronin Warriors
Power Rangers had a pretty simple formula: a group of teenagers fighting the forces of evil in cool get-ups with cool powers. Imagine that with ancient Japanese magic, and you have Ronin Warriors.
Instead of teenagers with attitude, Ronin Warriors stars five men whose families were tasked with guarding five armor pieces that were blessed imbued with good magic. But the evil demon Talapa, who originally owned the evil armor, returns to the mortal world and starts killing to get his suit back. To save the world, these five men must don the ancient armor and fight their way through four demon warlords.
This was one of the first shows Toonami ever aired, and it works well. It never really sought to be more than a cool action show, like Voltron, giving it an enjoyable sincerity. If you can get into Power Rangers for its silly and honest nature, than this will be no problem.
- Bobobo-bo Bo-Bobo
For a show to be good, it doesn’t have to be super serious… or make too much sense, really.
Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo is the comedy that Teen Titans GO should have been. From the crazy mind of Yoshio Sawai, we have a Fist of the North Star parody about hair, anime tropes, and so many puns. references that are funny even outside of Japan. Follow Bobobo, an afro-clad fighter saving the world from Sir Baldy-Bald and his dreaded Hair Hunters. Along with a very “colorful” cast of characters, Bo and company get into all kinds of trouble, but nothing can stand in the way of Bo’s utter randomness, or his “fist of the nose hair” style.
Here, what shines is the work of the translators. Manzai humor relies on puns, visual gags, nonsexual cross-dressing, and pop-culture references that can be difficult to transfer overseas. But the translators took enough liberties to keep things sounding smooth and kept the comedic timing taught. Fast-paced, random and cocky as it comes, this show will either make you laugh or question what you just sat through. Either way, you’ll never forget it.
- Dragon Ball Z
One of the few some of you saw coming, I’m sure. But yes, the granddaddy of all Shounen anime was indeed one of the best moves Toonami made, and one of the very first anime I ever saw.
Dragon Ball Z came from the manga of the same name by Akira Toriyama, about monkey-alien karate fighter Goku and his rag-tag group of Z-fighters. They routinely defend earth (and other planets sometimes) from various awesome threats by using Ki energy and cool fighting styles. The episodes were either fight-heavy or talk-heavy, depending on where the plot was, but the show did know how to be pretty damn funny when it wanted to. Action-packed and high energy, it’s hard not to get caught up in the show’s uber-machismo.
But action can only get you so far. And, just sometimes, you want more drama than fighting. This is where .Hack//SIGN comes in.
If you’re new to the .Hack franchise, allow me to welcome you to The World, a fictional MMORPG before MMO’s existed. Here you can fight, make friends, hang out, open a shop, or anything else you want. But, for some people, it’s the place where their biggest fears, their faults in life, and their insecurities are given terrifying shape. And when that happens, there’s nothing you can do but confront it.
Such will be the case of Tsubasa, who’s now trapped in The World with no means of logging off. But, instead of the permanent escape, Tsubasa’s problems have followed him to The World, and a strange entity is set on making everyone else feel his pain.
.Hack//SIGN is pathos over punches, providing a much slower, emotionally paced anime over the Shounen-action-fests prior. It was an experiment that didn’t last long enough to bring more .Hack shows to Toonami, but it was enjoyable while it lasted.
- The Big O
But you know what I love? Action, drama, mystery…and giant robots.
Welcome to Paradigm city, where every citizen has lost their memories! Enter Roger Smith, the city’s top negotiator who occasionally has to make use of an ancient relic from the past: a giant fighting mecha named Big O. With the help of an android named Dorothy and his battle-butler, Norman, they solve crimes, fight bad guys, and try to uncover The Big Secret hovering over the entire city. It would have been one of my favorites, had it lasted longer than two seasons.
But what we did get was still awesome. We got ourselves a unique blend of film noir, western animation, action, and mecha anime. With one of the catchiest openings in anime tacked on, and the smooth voice acting of Steve Blum accenting the action, you’re in for one hell of a ride. I only wish that the anime’s second season hadn’t been so subpar. What a letdown.
While a kid’s show doesn’t need to be super dramatic, it helps to have a plot both kids and adults can enjoy. Cardcaptors, or Cardcaptor Sakura in its original form, follows little Sakura Kinomoto as she accidentally releases the magical Clow Cards from the book in her father’s study. Now they’re scattered all over town, and she’s been anointed a Cardcaptor to capture them all. No shiny transformation sequences here, but we have an abundance of cute outfits, fast-paced action, real suspense, and some awesome looking magic.
The best part about the show was the mystery in each episode: which Clow Card revealed itself, and how do we stop it? If you wanna see some real gold in storytelling, I highly recommend “Sakura’s Scary Test of Courage” where she goes after The Erase Card. You’ll scare yourself silly if you think about the concept hard enough.
- Outlaw Star
Outlaw Star is the unfairly compared cousin to Cowboy BeBop, that looked more to be its own thing than an actual follow-up. Both concern a rag-tag group of people making a living in the deep cosmos of space but where one is attempting to stretch the limits of action and drama in anime, Outlaw Star just wants to be a fun Space Western.
Gene Starwind, a gruff, rude, perverted, but ultimately decent odd-job man finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of events when he accidentally takes a job from infamous outlaw, Ice Hilda. You see, Hilda’s carrying some rather hot contraband that can open the gates to the greatest power in the galaxy; her name is Melfina. When Hilda drops Melfina and her ship on Gene’s shoulders, he decides it’s time to get his ass in gear and do what he’s always wanted to do: became a Space Outlaw.
The humor in this show is always golden, it laces so well with the action. I love anime that can give me compelling gunfights, and I love Sci-Fi that can balance technology with plot. Outlaw Star is just pure grade fun from start to finish and deserves a comeback to television.
- Yu Yu Hakusho
Why yes, I did just say a lesser known martial arts anime is better than DBZ. I eagerly await the angry emails.
Yusuke Urameshi is a lot of things: a punk, a flunkie, a disappointment to his mother, but no one ever expected him to be a hero, especially at the cost of his life. But Yusuke’s sudden sacrifice pays off with a new gig: Spirit Detective. Now the high school thug is The Spirit World’s champion, fighting demons and solving crimes. Joining him for the ride is his rival/best friend Kuwabara, Hiei the fire demon, and Kurama the former Thief King.
This show has the same focus as DBZ, what with the group of young men fighting bad guys for greater good, but the characters are far more fleshed out. The show successfully balances drama and action, providing real moments of pathos alongside well-choreographed fights. This is the fist-fest of DBZ refined to a wider audience, and I adore it to teeny, tiny pieces.
- Sailor Moon
Gotta love the classics and the anime that kickstarted my love for the medium.
Usagi Tsukino (or Serena Tsukino if you saw it in my time) is a clutzy crybaby who’s given the power to transform into Sailor Moon, earth’s defender and champion of justice. With the help of her fellow Sailor Scouts, they save their home from enemies that seek to drain its energy, awaken great evils, or even destroy the planet.
What makes Sailor Moon so amazing is its focus on female empowerment through traditionally female means. There’s no leather-clad bad-ass who “likes to play with the boys” here, there’s a rag-tag group of girls who wear their skirts proud and actively want to be swept off their feet. It empowers women through their femininity, something I explored in a previous post, and worth a second glance.
- Rurouni Kenshin
Kenshin Himura practically swam through blood for the Meiji Revolution, killing so many people that he was known as the hitokiri Battousai. But the great manslayer vanished at the war’s conclusion, trading swords and vowing to never kill again. While wandering Japan in atonement, he finds himself at the Kamiya Dojo in Tokyo, run by a young assistant master, Kaoru Kamiya, her student Yahiko, and a host of other new friends. He decides to stay awhile but has no idea what massive danger he brings down on their heads.
Not many shows can boast to balance comedy, drama, romance, and action in one place, but Kenshin does just that. The focus is mostly on the action and comedy, but the romance and pathos are sprinkled in as accents, a sweet sugar lining to the cocktail glass. A well-balanced show with well-rounded characters, Kenshin is a hidden gem that deserves more screentime, and a season that doesn’t end in filler.
What shows from Toonami did you love? Feel free to comment below! And don’t forget to like and follow for more content.